Quiz Question: "Who is the only person to play for the New York Rangers, New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Dodgers?" It's the end of another frenzied day in port, and you'd think that folks would be somewhere quiet, chilling out. But no way. Martinis is packed with passengers playing the daily Parlor Team Trivia. The answer to the above question -- which absolutely no one got -- was "Gladys Gooding," who, er, played the organ rather than shortstop or forward. The groans that followed were good-natured and the room erupted with lively chatter.
That pretty much describes Nautica's entertainment approach in a nutshell. The ship's daytime fare is pretty much modeled after old-school cruising traditions, but that doesn't mean they're not fun. They are interactive, in many cases, and designed to foster group enjoyment. Social bridge, board games (the ship has an excellent selection, including Monopoly and Scrabble), line dancing lessons and galley tours are among the regular offerings. On sea days, there's usually a guest enrichment lecture, though it was a contrast to the aforementioned get-togethers, as people basically watched slides and listened. Quality can vary. I sat in on a few minutes of "Feeding the Planet" and it was a tad too dry to hold my attention.
More interesting -- and this applies primarily when the ship visits major marquee ports -- was the shore excursion manager's presentation on Cairo and Alexandria. It wasn't limited, as on most cruise lines, to "here's what tours we have," but focused instead on a really solid, common sense "here's what you need to know -- regardless of what type of tourist you are." Her presentation was excellent.
Also intriguing was the line's first ever seminar on the "Introduction to the iPod" (it was successful enough that it will be rolled out on the rest of the fleet). I was impressed that nearly 100 passengers were on hand for that. (Even better, I finally was able to figure out how to use the dang thing.) There was also an interesting lecture on improving digital photos.
Oceania features other cruise traditions such as art auctions and bingo.
At night, there's lounge music in places like Martinis (where a pianist and his huge repertoire of torch songs made for a romantic spot); a "main event" show that varied from a classical guitarist who was a guest performer (fantastic) and a troupe of folkloric performers who came onboard in Istanbul, to song and dance revues by in-house entertainers (a fair diversion) and incredibly creative productions, like "Salute." This original Oceania show features the cast members and cruise director in a show that's a hodgepodge of scenes, culminating in a special appearance by "hundreds" -- which of course were the crew -- singing "We Are Family."
For more low-key fare, the Con Fuoco String Quartet plays in the Upper Hall. It is not really a venue, but merely an area in which people are passing through on the way to dinner or the casino. Still, it set an elegant tone to the evening.
Late night revelers -- and there weren't many to be honest, as the ship's destination-intensive itineraries tended to tucker us all out early -- headed to Horizons to dance and so forth.
While shore excursions -- which were efficiently managed -- tend mostly toward the tried-and-true motor coach expedition, the line has definitely improved on its quality and pricing since I last sailed on Insignia two years ago. First of all, the basic overview tours -- I took one in Tunisia that visited Carthage and Sidi Bou Said -- were solid if unsurprising; ours was well-run and fairly priced at $62 for about four hours. I noticed that the offerings were most creative in the marquee port on our itinerary -- Cairo/Alexandria -- which stretched beyond the pyramids and the Cairo museums to feature a separate tour of World War II battlefields (I met several folks, veterans, who'd taken it and had a marvelous time).
I was also impressed by the fact that though the medieval Cairo tour only drew the interest of six passengers (as opposed to "Classical Cairo" which pretty much occupied the rest of the ship), the ship simply downgraded the size of the bus, and the tour proceeded as usual. Most lines, luxury and mass market alike, would have canceled the trip outright.
Another point to note is that in many ports the line offers a chance to rent private cars and mini-buses with guides and/or drivers; it's an excellent alternative to the mass motor coach experience.
Nautica Public Rooms
Nautica's library is one of the most beautiful -- and functional -- at sea. Not only is the room simply gorgeous, with its faux fireplace, garden-esque ceiling murals, cozy chair and table settings, and views out to three sides of the ship -- it also has an excellent book selection. I found several new releases that I hadn't been able to get at my local library. And even better? They don't insult passengers by locking the bookshelves. The whole facility, which also includes a couple of Internet-connected computers, is open around the clock (a note for those whose laptops have wireless capabilities: It was an extremely pleasant place to check daily e-mails).
The Internet cafe is quite active, particularly while at sea, with various classes being offered, including Adobe Photoshop, Windows for Beginners, etc. One downside to the huge popularity of Oceania@Sea, which hosts the classes, is that on sea days, the Internet cafe is frequently out of service for folks who simply want to send e-mails or surf the Net. There are of course two terminals in the library, but that's not nearly enough. Wireless access is available in public areas for those who tote their own laptops. A note: The Internet service is incredibly slow, and while Oceania, like other lines, is trying to solve the problem, it is not yet solved. Also the rates are pricey, starting at 90 cents per minute (packages for heavy Internet users may bring costs down to about 60 cents per minute).
The ship's casino is almost an afterthought; there are a handful of table games and a few rows of slots.
Nautica's two-deck atrium starts on Deck 4 in a beautiful country house living room setting (lots of plush, comfortable couches and chairs -- this is a great place for those looking for quiet nooks). Here's where the business of the cruise is conducted, and where you'll find the purser's desk, the shore excursion area and the concierge. Ascend the lovely "Titanic"-like curving staircase to Deck 5, and you'll find two shops with some surprisingly interesting finds, such as the whimsical (and alas outrageously pricey) evening purses handcrafted by Mary Frances.
There are also couch and table groupings in this area of the ship -- and while there's no bar, folks who want to order a drink can simply walk next door to Martinis.
There is one laundromat on Deck 7; you buy tokens for the machines at the purser's desk. On sea days it's a free-for-all (splurge and just send your clothes to the ship's laundry!).
Nautica Spa & Fitness
The pool area is simply gorgeous -- intimate and well designed, with teak lounges framing the solo pool; they're covered in thick blue cushions that are protected by white terry cloth covers. Some of the lounges are doubles, a lovely treat for couples. The deck is outfitted in teak as well.
Two whirlpools surround the pool.
For folks who prefer to sit in the shade, Nautica has taken an under-cover space behind the pools and converted it into a gorgeous living area, boasting plush couches and deep armchairs -- and a view of all the goings on.
On Deck 11, all the way forward, Nautica has created a sanctuary of sorts, with private cabins outfitted with double chaise lounges facing out to sea. The glass fronts provide protection from the wind, but the framing of the cabanas includes a ceiling that can be peeled back to let in light and air. These cabanas cost $50 per day in port and $100 while at sea. Beyond the privacy, passengers are entitled to waiter service, a free ten minute chair massage, a $25 discount on any spa service that can be performed in the cabana, and even the delivery of high tea.
The spa and fitness facility is managed by Mandara, the Balinese-style offshoot of the industry's ubiquitous Steiner. The fitness facility wraps around the outside (offering floor-to-ceiling views) and is adequately outfitted with Cybex equipment.
Numerous classes are offered, including circuit training, "awesome arms," "stretch and relaxation," "detox for weight loss," and "abdominal attack" among others. These are free of charge. "Pathway to pilates" and "pathway to yoga" are featured nearly every day for $12 per class.
The spa is one of the nicest at sea -- truly! It's compact but feels intimate and serene. There are four treatment rooms; services range from basic massage to fancier fare, such as a four hands massage, an exotic coconut rub and milk ritual (with or without massage), and a series of facials. Men's and women's locker rooms have steam and two showers. A day or so after embarking, I tried the "hot lava rock massage," and it was performed expertly -- it managed to repair the damage that a long flight in a tight seat had caused.
Keep an eye out for discounts. My hot lava rock massage normally costs $171 (it was the 50 minute option; you can also opt for 80); on this port day it was $155. Value prices, which are listed on the spa sheet at the front desk, are available from 8 a.m. - 2 p.m., on port days only. I was tempted by a 20 percent off special on the Frangipani Body Nourish Wrap with a 50 minute massage; the value price was $263, but the discount brought it down even further to about $230.
The difference isn't huge -- but every bit helps!
Sometimes there were special treatment combos; these were usually listed in the day's Oceania Currents. I tried one that was offered by the beauty salon, a frangipani hair and scalp treatment, with a head massage, and a neck and shoulder massage. At $69 it was marvelous.
On the whole, though, the prices seem higher than average -- with a basic pedicure priced at $53 and a basic 50-minute massage at $132.
And you may get the famous Steiner product pitch (Mandara's parent company sells a line of beauty products and has been known for its therapists' aggressive sales tactics), whether you want it or not. My conscientious massage therapist insisted on making such suggestions -- "I'm required to," she said -- but she kept it low-key.
Don't miss out on the fantastic thalassotherapy pool and sun deck area for spa-goers only (it's free for one hour before or after a treatment; you can also pay $18 a day to use it without a spa service). It's got steamer chairs outfitted with cozy cushions, tables, and the pool, whose water temperature is just above body temperature. It's very private (though on this ship the main pool area never really gets too crazy to begin with).
Gratuities are automatically included on the bill at 18 percent.
The ship has a few recreational facilities -- shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, and a walking/jogging track (13 times around makes a mile).