For a ship that seriously has some of the best cuisine at sea, surprisingly, it is not necessarily a given that you will gain weight on Nautica. That's because so many of the offerings lean toward healthy fare -- lots of salads, fruits and fish (including delicious sushi and sashimi every night at Tapas on the Terrace).
Having said that, you probably will (gain weight). The food is that good. I'm embarrassed to reveal that, for the first time in my life, I capped off a delicious lunch in the Grand Dining Room by ordering not one but two desserts. And I don't even have a sweet tooth!
Nautica, like its Oceania siblings, is an all-open seating flex-dining ship. There are four restaurants: The Grand, its main eatery; the Terrace Cafe (which becomes Tapas on the Terrace for dinner), its buffet venue; Polo Grill, for an elegant steak-and-chops experience; and Toscana, featuring upscale Italian.
The Grand is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and its menus reflect the cruise line's partnership with celebrity chef Jacques Pepin (definitely don't miss his signature dishes, such as steak frites, poached salmon and salad nicoise). Breakfast is "standard" gourmet -- with options that range from the usual (omelets and eggs Benedict) to the more exotic (such as lamb chops and steamed haddock). There's a nice "express breakfast" option (scrambled eggs, toast, bacon) for folks who want to eat fast -- while avoiding the buffet mayhem.
At lunch and dinner, The Grand offers marvelous variety. Each menu includes spa cuisine selections (a meal of grilled scallops could be accompanied by a beef consomme, for instance) and a variety of courses, starting with appetizers and finishing, natch, with dessert. You'll always find soups and salads along with a pasta of the day, a highlighted vegetarian dish and a wok selection. At dinner, you could conceivably tuck into a six course extravaganza -- but since portions are moderate, you won't feel overly indulgent.
The Terrace Cafe is open for buffet breakfast and lunch. Breakfast offerings are pretty much in range with buffets everywhere -- not too many surprises here -- with items ranging from breads and cereals to steam table pancakes and cooked-to-order omelets. What sets this venue apart from so many, however, is the superb service; wait staff is quick to take plates out of hands (it was particularly pleasing to note that they really kept an eye out for more fragile folks and were assisting these passengers before even they knew they needed a hand!) and refill coffee and juice. At lunch, the selection is more varied from day to day, with the occasional theme spreads (Asian and Mexican among them).
The cafe has indoor and outdoor seating (its "terrace" on the back of the ship is an absolutely charming spot in good weather). Adjacent is the Waves Grill, which features lunchtime fare such as grilled fish and burgers.
Nautica has two other restaurants; folks onboard don't like to position them as alternatives to the main dining experience (in the manner of other cruise lines), but in fact, they offer just that: an alternative. Polo Grill features steaks, chops and seafood in a pubby, clubby atmosphere. The menu is more traditionally Continental, with dishes like veal chop, lobster and rack of lamb (also available are a good range of fish dishes, like ahi tuna and mahi mahi). Accompaniments come in the way of side orders, and you can get potatoes prepared mashed, au gratin, baked and so forth; veggies include creamed spinach and asparagus. If you can make it to the dessert course, this ship has the best cheesecake I've ever tasted.
Next door, Toscana is seriously Italian; favorites include the "trio Toscana" starter, which features tastes of gnocchi, fettuccine carbonara and mushroom risotto. The fried calamari is as delicate as the Tuscan bean soup is hearty. For starters, options include veal shank, lamb chops, rotisserie chicken (the galley actually has its own rotisserie) and sea bass. Chocolate lovers shouldn't miss out on the "Lasagne al Cioccolota."
Reservations are required for both restaurants (and trust me, make them at the beginning of the cruise to avoid disappointment as they are extremely popular). All guests are guaranteed a reservation at least once in each. There's no extra fee to dine in either Polo Grill or Toscana. Another tip: if you can be flexible and can't get a reservation, ask to dine late -- 9 p.m. or so. You also stand a better chance of making extra visits if you're willing to share a table with others.
The last (but by no means least) option for dinner is Tapas on the Terrace. The buffet venue, quite elegant to begin with, is gussied up a bit with linen tablecloths (and you can dine outdoors on nice evenings). A different menu each night, selections boast a myriad of small tastes (hence the tapas moniker), and include cold dishes (seared tuna loin, smoked salmon for instance), hot ones (chicken fritters or escargot), and a hot and cold buffet. There are also stations for pasta, Asian dishes and carved meats. And in keeping with the Spanish theme, the restaurant offers house-made sangria.
Room service is excellent; a 24-hour menu includes hot dishes like steak and spaghetti, and sandwiches, from burgers to ham and cheese. For those desiring breakfast food, however, only a Continental breakfast is available through room service (unless you're a suite inhabitant).
Afternoon tea is served daily in the Horizons Lounge, and it's as elegant as it gets, with scones (clotted cream included), small sandwiches and cakes to go with the tea. The ship's classical musicians perform at tea time, providing a backdrop to the event.
For drinks, the Terrace Cafe has 24-hour coffee, tea and juice. Cappuccino and espresso are complimentary at meals. Wine and cocktails are on the pricey side -- but we'll offer kudos where they're due: Alongside the more expensive wine-by-the-glass options (at $9 plus), a house red and white is available for $5.50. The ship's wine list is fantastic, with a good representation of old and new world wines. The mark up, though, is pretty steep; a glass of LaCrema chardonnay is $9 -- you can buy a bottle for that at home. Also, a bottle of Jordan chardonnay, a favorite of ours that's typically priced at $50 on restaurant menus, is $58 here. The ship's sommeliers tend to be very well educated, and some very excellent recommendations gave me a chance to try a few new wines.
Very unusual for a cruise ship's main dining room, all dishes are prepared to order -- and that extra effort definitely comes through in the consistently high quality of the cuisine.
A major improvement on Nautica, which had undergone a considerable redesign of its main restaurant, is that there are now numerous tables for two; you won't be forced into a shared dining situation if what you want is to dine quietly.