8 Athens (Piraeus) to Europe - Eastern Mediterranean Oceania Nautica Cruise Reviews

We were originally scheduled to take the NYC-Montreal cruise, but we received an offer we could not refuse! Our September 19 - October 1 cruise (Greek Isles - Istanbul) on the Nautica was probably the best cruise we have ever taken. We ... Read More
We were originally scheduled to take the NYC-Montreal cruise, but we received an offer we could not refuse! Our September 19 - October 1 cruise (Greek Isles - Istanbul) on the Nautica was probably the best cruise we have ever taken. We used O's air, transfer and hotel in Athens due to the possibility of unrest. We upgraded to business class and were extremely pleased with our flights. A driver was waiting in the airport with our name on a sign as well as an O rep. Couldn't have been smoother! Arrived at the Hotel Grande Bretagne to find an O information center and our room waiting. Quite comfortable and we could view the parliament building (changing of the guard) from our balcony. Had dinner reservations for the rooftop restaurant. It was very crowded, but our "special anniversary" table was waiting for us with a view of the Acropolis. Spectacular! Food and service were both great, but as discussed on this board, a little pricey. Being from NY, we were prepared for that! A small demonstration in the street below broke out during dinner but was quickly contained. Slept well and had breakfast (included) in the same restaurant the next morning. The lobby was a little packed the next morning as post cruise passengers and new cruisers were coming and going. It was very organized and when our luggage was loaded, we left for the pier. Embarkation was smooth, but different from our last Athens departure. We checked in at the pier and headed for the lounge on 5 for actual check-in. Rooms were not ready yet, so lunch at the Terrace was next. Our suite was amazing. The wrap around balcony had a table and four chairs as well as two full sized lounges. Long stemmed roses were on the coffee table. The bathroom was enormous, and even better, the guest bathroom was ready and waiting for my husband's toiletries! The closet space was never ending, but I did manage to fill them up. I could see myself feeling right at home for 12 days! Our butler, Iljco came to greet us and ask what we needed to make our cruise special. It already was! We enjoyed full breakfast in our suite most days and had dinner from Toscana "en suite" 3 times. We changed and went to the cabana, where our attendant, Aung, introduced himself and asked what we would need. He always seemed to know what we needed before we did! We often enjoyed lunch from WAVES, ice cream, afternoon tea and drinks while in our cabana. Worth every penny! We dined in Polo 3 times and were always pleased with our meals and the service. The GDR was our favorite. The service was amazing (Brandon, Ron and Ernesto)and we always requested to be in their section. One nite, we even passed on the GDR when a table in their section was not available, that's how great they were! Did not make use of the spa except for the sun deck. Being a port intensive cruise and using the cabana daily, we never really had the time. While it is no secret that entertainment is not the reason to choose O, we often enjoyed snippets of a show or performance. I think we were just too tired after an early rise, an excursion, a big dinner, etc. The show rooms were always packed, though, and many people enjoyed the performances. O shore excursions were great this time. We purchased a number of "Oceania's Choice" excursions (10 - 16 people max) and they really worked for us. Tours were efficiently dispatched from the lounge, buses were always clean and guides knowledgeable and friendly. Ship was clean and well maintained. The staff seemed extra friendly. When I mentioned this to anyone, they always answered that the Captain sets the tone. Captain Rye, who renewed our vows on a previous cruise, was always friendly. It was fascinating to watch him work on the bridge. He took the helm and allowed all of his crew to answer our questions and demonstrate their duties. What a treat! Ports were amazing. We had been to some of them on a previous cruise, but Rhodes is my new favorite. We bypassed Delos and Mykonos due to weather, but having been there before, we welcomed the sea day. Kusadasi and Istanbul were exciting. Ephesus was special for us, allowing us to spend time at Mother Mary's house and enjoy the ruins as well. Our guide that day, Sibel, was very interesting and knowledgeable. It is never fun to disembark, but I must say that this disembarkation was the smoothest we have ever experienced. Kudos to Sonja and her staff! Not only was it efficient getting off the ship and getting to the airport, O reps even helped us off of the bus, got all luggage identified,loaded and scanned and escorted us to the check in desks. This is a chore we always dread, but it couldn't have been smoother or more pleasant. I can't wait for my next O cruise! Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
Greek Isles Odyssey, 10-22 Sep, 2010 onboard Oceania ship, Nautica 3 days in Athens pre-cruise and 3 days in Istanbul post-cruise This is the "executive summary" or should I say, well expanded ES of our cruise. It will ... Read More
Greek Isles Odyssey, 10-22 Sep, 2010 onboard Oceania ship, Nautica 3 days in Athens pre-cruise and 3 days in Istanbul post-cruise This is the "executive summary" or should I say, well expanded ES of our cruise. It will be a combination of "here's what we did and liked/didn't like" and lessons learned from first timers (it may be worth exactly what you are paying for it ?)) Diane and I are not cruisers per se having only been on one 4-day NCL cruise in 2005. I am a retired navy guy so this is like a busman's holiday for me. Don't get me wrong, I love being at sea and the Nautica spoiled the heck out of both of us! (Okay, I've just finished this Executive Summary and found myself on page 6. So the first part will be a bullet point of key items. If you care to drudge through the full write up be forewarned that I did say 'drudge'. I don't mind answering direct questions and will read the Oceania board on Cruise Critic every so often should you have a question. Here goes.... Pre-cruise: • Join and absorb Cruise Critic boards about Oceania, ports of call and the roll call for your specific cruise. • Check out Tripadvisor dot com for city restaurants, hotel and site recommendations • Open up a separate checking account with an ATM card. Deposit funds for the cruise - protects your main bank account funds. • Use a 4-digit PIN for your cards. Do not start the PIN with a zero • Learn some language words and phrases. Audio books In Flight {Greek} Learn Before You Land and great • Pre-pack two weeks before the trip. Guys - no sports jacket is needed On board the ship • Concierge stateroom - 216 Sq. Ft including veranda; lots of storage space. Veranda a must • Board early especially if this is your first time on the ship. Lots of activities that first day • Get the small floral arrangement if you plan on ordering one • Future Cruises presentation - don't waste your time • Coffee available 24/7 in Terrace Cafe, starboard side. Machine makes single cups of coffee, cappuccino or latte. Horizons coffee and Danish service opens at 6:15ish. Room service is QUICK! Enjoy the coffee while sitting on your veranda. • In-room frig: you can get it stocked with your favorites Restaurants: • Toscana was favorite; Polo Grill excellent with unwavering menu. Grand Dining Room also excellent. • Food was well prepared and presented well. Service was fantastic with one experience in the Polo Grill being a bit too much. • Maximum time we ever waited to be seated was 3-4 minutes. Portion sizes were great. • Tapas on the Terrace was most often the choice for breakfast buffet. • Fruits and vegetables always fresh and plentiful • Can order a bottle of wine and have it available in any restaurant. • Additional reservations are made in Terrace Cafe at the start of breakfast. Line up early for better chance. • Pastries & cake were uniformly dry. Off ship activities: Port tours: Ship tours are good but don't cover as much as most privately arranged ones and are usually more expensive for what you get. Go with private tour guides who have been recommended on CC boards. Tendering: Ship tour folks have priority boarding of tenders but usually space is available from the first tender on for DIYers Get tender pass in Nautica Lounge - try and be there about 15 minutes before first ship's tour group is to arrive On board comments and general demeanor by ship's staff. • Problems and requests are handled very, very expeditiously. The entire crew is warm, welcoming and eager to be of service to make your trip the best it can be. Diane and I would rate the cruise 5 + stars Pre-cruise Planning help: I joined Cruise Critic and absorbed every bit of information that I could about the ship and the different ports that we were going to. A world of experience is available for the taking (ask your question - you'll get an answer! (in retrospect, I really don't understand anyone who complained loudly about shipboard stuff - it wasn't perfect but darn near) The roll call for our trip wasn't as active as I thought it would be but those of us who did communication were able to set up our private tours very quickly and nicely. I also reviewed TripAdvisor dot com and found that the ratings of the hotels, restaurants, etc. were fairly spot-on. Use of ATM on holiday On the advice of a CCer (Cruise Critic blogger), we opened up a separate checking account at our bank, transferred funds to meet our ATM needs while on the trip and felt much more comfortable knowing that our primary checking account was safe. !Use a 4 digit PIN that does NOT start with zero for use with European bank machines! Other stuff Learn a few language words & phrases. In-Flight Greek (& Turkish) Learn Before You Land audiobooks (under $12 through Amazon) are an easy way to learn a few key phrases in {Greek and Turkish}. Simply learning how to say Please, Thank you, good morning (and for me, "Beer") will bring you much warmth from those you come in contact with. Prepack Two weeks before our trip we pre-packed. Our goal was to travel with one (count 'em) ONE medium sized suitcase each and a reasonably sized carry-on. Pre-packing gave us an unhurried opportunity to figure out what goes where, what was missing and what we needed to take out. We made our goal! Guys, you really don't need a sports jacket! I took one but only wore it once. Next time it will stay home!! Shipboard stuff Stateroom Stateroom 7063 (starboard {right} side amidships was our concierge home-away-from home for the 12 day trip. The size was reasonable as we didn't spend very much time in it. What is nice - and I wouldn't do it any other way - is the veranda. Now I know there are lots of folks who would rather spend the $$ ion something else on the trip but having that veranda to view the waves, watch the sun rise or set and other out-of-ship experiences while sipping coffee in the morning or a cocktail at night makes it all worthwhile. We slept most nights with the slider ajar and the soothing sounds of the ship and sea along with the fresh ocean breeze was priceless. Our trip was a celebration of several milestones (we stretched the truth a tad on how close in time we were to those events}: Diane's x0 birthday; our 25th wedding anniversary and two or three other minor occasions. In addition to receiving a Happy Birthday card and a Happy Anniversary card (and celebratory dinner in the Polo Grill complete with a special cake and singing wait staff) I ordered a floral arrangement for the room. It was a beautiful bouquet which livened up the room with color and fragrance but...after 3 days it simply was in the way. At 216 sq. ft. of floor space, including veranda, the floral arrangement assumed a disproportionate amount of space as time went by. (If you are going to get an arrangement for the room - get the small one) Boarding time Next time, we are going to board earlier. On the day of embarkation, we took a private tour of Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon and planned it so that we would arrive at the port of Piraeus about 3:30. Boarding and check in was quick and painless. When the limo pulled up to the pier area we were greeted by a Nautica staffer and a crew of stevedores (I think the Greeks call them that too). The luggage was checked against the manifest, tagged (I forgot to attach the ship's luggage tags...oops) and whisked away within a minute. Carry-ons over shoulder, the security and passport check was perfunctory and the bus to take us to the gangway (FYI: It's NOT a gang-plank...that's whats ya gotta walk when yur feed to the fish...arrrgh, matey} Had we known the 10 minute wait on the bus, the 10 second bus start up and door closing and the 23 second ride to the ship could have been avoided by walking...another "next time". Before actually boarding, our passports were checked again against the manifest, another package scan and we were escorted up from the deck 3 entry to deck 5 and the Nautica Lounge. There were 3 lines for checking in: Owner's Suite Vista Suite guests (1 couple in line); Concierge level guests (3 couples in line) and all other staterooms (10-12 couples). Pictures taken, "World Cards" made and given - along with a nice amount of shipboard info to read (no test on the material was ever given). The World Card is a combination ID, room pass and charge card. (WARNING - make sure you keep the World Card from magnetic stuff or whatever causes them to go flat. We had to get new ones 4 times! What's worse, if one person needs a new one both must get new ones.). The Nautica Lounge check-in took no more than 10 minutes. Up two levels to deck 7, turn left then right to head aft on the starboard side to room 7063. A quick check out of the room and read of some of the info we were given along with more papers that awaited us in the room. Champagne was cooling in the ice bucket and the floral arrangement was beautiful. As luggage had not yet arrived our plan was to tour the ship top to bottom. Forward and up the stairs (on naval vessels those things which you climb taking you from one level to another are called ladders. On the Nautica they were STAIRS - too ornate to be plain 'ole ladders.) to deck 11 - sun deck and cabanas - down the steps to deck 10, u-turn to walk forward and into the Horizons Lounge; back across the fitness track and visit the library and peruse the vast selection of books. Chatted with another couple we had met in Athens for a few minutes as we walked out to view the pool deck partial filled with passengers who were enjoying the sunshine and water in the pool... It had been about an hour since we boarded and so we skipped the rest of the self-guided tour and returned to 7063. Our luggage had arrived and was waiting impatiently for us in the passageway. Unpacking time! There was plenty of room for all of our stuff. In fact the plastic hanging shoe bag that we were going to hang over the bathroom door wasn't needed. Lots of wooden hangers in the closet, a safe for valuables and we were set. There were dual electric outlets: 110 & 220 on the desk and another in the bathroom so using the3-slot extension cord I brought it made recharging all of my electronics relatively easy (I had fried my outlet strip in Athens so I did need to change items to be charged every night). Just as we were wrapping up the distribution of clothes the call went out for the mandatory lifeboat drill. The Orange (lifejackets) stored in the closet were donned and all passengers made their way to the Grand Dining Room. A short presentation about how to put on the lifejacket was given and we trundled off to our lifeboat station on the outboard walking area of deck 5. There we listened while Leslie Jons, our fantastic cruise director, gave the "In case of emergency" lecture to all. By the time we scurried back to our stateroom it was time to dress for dinner which was preceded by our Cruise Critic party held up in Horizons Lounge. This was a no-host event that one of the bloggers set up with the concierge ahead of time. Nautica provided us with simple snacks and the wait staff was very attentive to our need for much needed beverages. Dinner in the Grand Dining Room followed on the heels of the CC get together. Bill & Vickie from Palm Desert, California shared a table with us that first night (I was delighted to see that they were both beer drinkers!!). This night, like every night eating in the GDR there was absolutely no wait for a table. But we did linger over the scrumptious meal and waddled out about 9:30 fully sated and satisfied. It was perfect timing as the ship got underway about 10 and we watch Piraeus harbor fade from sight from the comfort of Tapas on the Terrace, aft on deck 9. As both of us were quite tired by then we shuffled off to our room and readied for bed. Our heads were spinning with all of the constant activity that had gone on since we boarded! As we paused on the veranda - Diane with her evening tea and I with a final cocktail - we both agreed that "Next time" we will board earlier so that we can enjoy the ship and the day as a much more leisurely pace. Other stateroom related info Bashi, our room attendant, was great! Never did we see him without a smile or a warm hello. He (as well as a number of the staff) was kind enough to let us into his life. We learned about his home in the Philippines, he's family and some of his life's detail. It made us feel very welcomed. Bashi made up the room twice each day. (and even worriedly asked us if he could when we had the "do not disturb" sign on the door just so that he wouldn't need to). The room temperature/humidity was higher at night than we normally like. That was easily corrected by leaving the slider to the veranda ajar. That had the additional benefit of serenading us with the sounds of the ocean while we slept. Room service is 24/7. The last day was the only time we used it for anything other than morning coffee. Which leads me to one of the absolute necessities - morning coffee. The first night neither of us slept particularly well. I finally gave up trying to return to the land of Morpheus, grabbed my Kindle and went looking for coffee. In the Terrace Cafe on the starboard (right) side just aft of Waves Grill there is a new coffee machine which makes decent single cups of your favorite hot beverage: coffee, cappuccino or latte. I wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep. If you want coffee and Danish about 6:15ish then the urns of caffeinated, decaffeinated and hot water (for tea drinkers) are set up in the back of Horizons Lounge on the starboard side (sorry about the starboard/port thing.. I just can't bring myself to say left side and right side on a ship) But there is an even better way! Room Service! Here's how to: Arise groggily from your deliciously comfortable bed, pick up the telephone handset, feel around on the floor to find the handset because you dropped it; press #02 on the telephone keypad -the metallic voice will tell you to wait a few seconds while it's paging room service; hang up the phone and about 5 seconds later it will ring. A -much too cheery for this time of the morning - voice will say, "Good morning" and you can hoarsely mumble, "Two pots of coffee, quick"; hang up the phone and go put your bathrobe on. You'll need to do that quickly because it never took more than 4 minutes (usually 2) for a smiling waiter to be at our door with our two carafes of coffee! THAT was well worth the 1 Euro tip that we gave him. In-room frig The under-desk refrigerator is stocked with an assortment of things: water, soda, wine; beer, hard alcohol, etc. You can ask your room attendant to stock it with your own personal choices. The water is free and the alcoholic beverages are a price similar to that which you pay on an airline. As has been described on the CC blogs you can bring your own booze or soda aboard and drink it in the room (or in a lounge area if you don't flaunt it). Restaurants For us the choice of where to eat {I was going to list the 3 main meals but there are other times that you can eat/dine/sup that it begins to sound like Shire-like {as in Lord of the Rings}: "breakfast and then seconds, 3rd breakfast, 11 o'clock snack, lunch, tea......")...our choice of dining venue was mostly driven by the day's activities. Breakfast was usually in Tapas on the Terrace (7:00-9:00) and the buffet line. There are two sides to the main hot buffet area, both mirror images. Between the sides is the daily specialties; French toast, omelets, pastries. On the aft side of the room the food choices are the fruits, cereals nuts and berries, yogurts, etc. Fill the plate and head out to the alfresco area (or indoors) to select an empty table and await others to ask if they can join you or select a table already in use and join them for conversation. The wait staff will get you coffee, tea, juice, etc. Diane always has fruit for breakfast and the selection of fresh fruit in Tapas was extraordinarily good & fresh. I occasional tried a pastry and quite frankly found them to be very dry. This was uniformly true in all dining venues for all pastries and cakes - the only real disappointment in eating on the Nautica. The Grand Dining Room was my choice 3 times as I absolutely needed to have the grilled lamb chops - I was in heaven. The GDR is sparsely used for breakfast. Most days we were ashore at lunch time but we did eat in Tapas and Waves. Waves has burgers and good milkshakes and smoothies. My favorite sandwich was the Mahi Mahi burger with a side of French fries. Truth be told I found the fries to be a bit saltier than I like and the shakes to be a bit on the thin side. Never did eat lunch in the GDR. Like the fruit, the salad and fresh vegetables were excellent and always crisp and fresh. Dinner time is an adventure that we savored. Most of the time at home we are very plain eaters: grilled chicken (occasional fish or meat) and steamed veggies or pasta with a snippet of sauce. Dinner is over in about 20-25 minutes, max. On board the Nautica we lingered. Drawn by the multiple courses of the meal and conversation with new found friends resulted in supper being a 1 ½ - 2 hour event. We made reservations in the Polo Grill and Toscana on line before the cruise. Choosing nights early on in the cruise would, hopefully, give us a better opportunity to snag additional meals in these specialty restaurants. Our favorite restaurant by far was Toscana. The setting is soothing, the service was impeccable and the food on both occasions was done and served to perfection. The first meal in Toscana was, in our minds, one of the top dining experiences of our life. The bread basket delivered to the table was a work of art and the breads were crisp on the outside and tender, moist and warm on the inside. Our largest challenge was the olive oil and vinegar choices. The condiment cart was wheeled up to us and there was a choice of 8 different varieties and flavors of olive oil. {I need to go back to school and take a course in oils!). Salad, appetizer and main course were all perfectly size - thankfully. The menu is reasonably stable but there are nightly specials. The choice of pasta (capellini?) with crab salad was heaven on a plate. Diane had it as an appetizer and I for the main course. The place settings on the table are beautiful and very much enhance the meal. (however, while at school studying up on olive oils I am going to take a refresher in which of the 47 knives, forks and spoons to use when). I did mention the service being impeccable. Between the head waiter, 2 or 3 wait staffers assisting, the sommelier and the maitre 'de being unobtrusively attentive we felt well cared for yet not hurried. The Polo Grill has an Englishman's den feel to it. Leather upholstered chairs and china that evokes visions of fox-hunting pay compliment to the wood paneled room. We ate here three times (third visit was a gift from the Maitre 'de, Georgios (sp??). The food was good but first meal porterhouse steak was gristly . As I mentioned before, we found the portion sizes in the restaurant venues to be a good size (un-American like because the sizes weren't gigantic). In the Polo Grill it was a bit different. The steak was put in front of me and I took one look at it and said, "This isn't a Porterhouse steak, it's a porter mansion!" and I ordered a small one. I simply can't even imagine trying to wrestle with a 32oz steak! The first dinner in the Polo Grill also felt somewhat rushed. We were seated promptly (good) a menu was ready to be handed to us even before we sat down, drink order taken, and immediately the waiter was there to take our order. Bread, salad and main course seemed to come before we were finished with the previous course. Both issues turned into positives, as far as I'm concerned: On our mid-cruise comment card I made mention of both negatives from our visit to Polo. That card was turned in at the reception desk on deck 4 in the morning. By that afternoon we had received a call from the Polo Grill chef and Georgios, the Maitre 'de. The chef said he was glad to hear of our problem and assured us it would be looked into and taken care of - all future cuts of meat were excellent. We didn't get a chance to talk with Georgios about the rushed feeling but during our second meal in the Grill, 3 nights later, he stopped at our table and spoke to us at great length about our concerns. He apologized and then offered us another reservation, which we took. During the second evening in Polo the service was much better, less hurried. By the third visit we are positive that Michael, our head waiter, had been told to ensure that we were well cared for. We enjoyed Michael all three times there as he was very personable and very good at his job! The Grand Dining Room dining was also very high quality. Naturally the room is a bit noisier than the smaller venues but still within reason. The wait staff was usually prompt and took good care of their charges. There was only once when it was necessary to ask about our food delivery. Food was generally very tasty, well presented and the right temperature. Twice we couldn't decide between two entrees and opted to have both delivered together...made for a crowed table. Room service meals - The only time we had room service for other than our morning coffee was the last day. While packing we ordered some cheese and crackers. It was delivered within about 10 minutes and was a nice arrangement of several types of crackers and a good assortment of cheese - including, as our video showed - Limburger. I haven't tried Limburger since I was a pre-teen when my grandfather and I would take cheese and pistachio nuts down into the basement to share. It definitely is an acquired taste which we still have yet to accomplish....and really are not going to try. While we are on the subject of dining: There are several things which, in my opinion, make dining onboard Oceania Lines even nicer and one that's not so great: • You can order a bottle of wine with a meal and have it available later in most of the ding venues: Toscana, Polo, GDR and even Tapas. • Tip is automatically included with drinks and, of course, there's no tipping in the restaurant. It is very nice that when you are finished with a meal or a drink at the bar you simply get up and leave • Michael the head waiter in the Polo Grill • Making additional reservations in Toscana and the Polo Grill is cumbersome. The ONLY way to get additional reservations above and beyond your room's allotment is to go up the Terrace Cafe and wait in line before breakfast starts. I tried it twice arriving each time about 15 minutes before the restaurant opened and was about the 7th to 8th person in line. Didn't get additional seating either time. There's got to be a better way. Other shipboard related stuff Tours at each port It is not difficult to learn a great deal of information about most places that the ship will stop. Googling the name of the city/area will reveal a wealth of information. Tripadvisor dot com is a good site to find out information about restaurants, hotels and even places to visit. Of course, the tried and true book guides: Frommer's, Rick Steves (excellent!) But the best spot is the Cruise Critic boards. There you can ask very specific questions and learn from the experience of well-seasoned travellers (ya might say that some are...wait for it...old salts!) We decided, after extensive research on the various ports to do some DIY, some with a privately arranged tour and, to gain the experience of it, some shipboard tours. Most private tours that we took were much, much better than ships tour because we saw more sites, learned a greater amount of detail, could customize the tour to suit the tastes of the fewer number in the group and for the most part were less expensive that the ship's offerings. With a ship's tour there is always the necessity to ensure that ALL of the tourists in the group are on the bus or with the group as you explore. This means that the pace is CONSIDERABLY slower than a small group. Of course, due diligence must be taken when setting up the private tours: ensure the extent of the services that will be provided by you guide: transportation, dialogue while riding; qualified (and licensed) tour guides at major sites (Or at least arrangements for such a guide); itinerary and naturally the price. Confirm the arrangements about a month before the date of your tour AND confirm a day or two before. Using a cell phone is easy and relatively cheap in most places and well worth the dollar or two it costs to use. The use of tenders by those who are DIYing it or taking a private tour is painless. As can be expected, these on a ship's tour have first priority on the tender. However, if there are extra seats on a tender others may use them. We never found a day when we weren't able to get on the first tender leaving the ship. In the daily bulletin the ship's tours will be listed along with the time to report to the Nautica Lounge to pick up the tender tickets. If you are taking a ship's tour the voucher(s) for that tour will be in your stateroom when you board. Take the voucher to the Nautica Lounge at the appropriate time and trade it for a tender ticket that has on it the number of the tender to which you are assigned and bus pass. Wait in the Lounge until your tender is called (A nice Swedish voice will gently call out, "Those on tender #1 may now proceed to deck 3". Follow the leader down to the debarkation deck, deck 3. If you are DIYing or private touring and you want to get off the ship as early as possible be in the Nautica Lounge about 15 minutes before the first ship's tour people. Go up to the check in desk and they will give you a tender pass. If there are seats on tender #1 that's when you'll go. We took private torus in 4 or 5 ports and were always able to get on the first tender. Most of the time when we DIYed it we didn't leave the ship until an hour or two after the first wave of tenders departed so there was never any wait. In fact, the cruise director will announce when open tendering starts so you don't even need a pass. Returning to ship is even easier. Hopefully you've remembered where the boat pulled in (suggestion - take several pictures of the surrounding area so that on return from a long day of walking/shopping the location can be confirmed) There was always a welcoming Oceania umbrella with a table that had cool drinks of water or juice and a few chairs. Ship staff is on hand and greet you with a nice smile. The shore based staff will check your World Card to ensure that you are headed to the correct ship. Of course, if the ship is pier side there is no restriction on when any passenger can disembark. Other minutia and opinions: Cost of "extras" onboard. DIY vs. Laundry service. Opinion - we were on vacation we did not want to spend our time in the Laundromat. Even with sending out underwear to be cleaned and several loads of shirts/slacks/dresses our total laundry bill wasn't any more that $50 {yes we did rinse out our socks in tour bathroom}. Booze: No more costly than could be found at a decent bar/restaurant. $4.50 for a 'standard' beer and $6.00 for the two or three premium ones (Guinness, Grolsche). $9-10 for a martini. {I recently went into a local bar complete with pool tables and one or two patrons drinking shots & beers (NOT a high class joint). My bourbon on the rocks cost $8} Shipboard booze cost is really not excessive. 18% gratuity automatically included: I'll ask you this: If you got out to dinner at a nice restaurant and wait for your table at the bar with a martini or two, what will the bill be and how much tip will you leave? I see a $20 tab, I'm probably going to add 3-4 dollars - 15-20%. $12/day/person added to your ship's invoice: Again consider what would it cost if you would eat breakfast and dinner at a restaurant (the adjective 'nice' is assumed). Breakfast would cost $15-20 and dinner $60-80 at a minimum. Total per day would be $75-100. A 15% tip would then amount to between $11 & $15. Considering all of the other services rendered $12 ain't half bad. Port touring: I had meticulously planned a combination of ship & private tours and several stops where we DIYed it. Those DIY days were to be lighter on the shore based activities. Alas we didn't follow through with that plan. Reflecting back, we wished we did have more time on board the ship to lounge by the pool, join in some of the activities and just relax. NEXT TIME Future Oceania Cruises presentation: If it is anything like the one they gave on our cruise, don't bother. It was simply a reading of the list of cruises coming up. (If one of my students had made a presentation like that I would have flunked him/her) Response to 'suggestions' (read: problems). Whenever there was an issue that was brought to the attention of a staff member it was addressed immediately. You will notice that I didn't say "most of the time" because it was dome EVERYTIME. This is an extraordinarily superior service (and obvious mandated goal) of the ship and by extension the company... (The response was so good that one needed to be mindful of off handed comments because it may result in an unnecessary immediate response). Cases in point: Mid-cruise comments. This was filled out about the 5th day of the cruise and turned in to the reception desk before going ashore about 9 AM. When we returned in mid-afternoon, the door in our room was fixed; there was a note about reusing towels on our bed and a message from both the chef and the maitre 'de from the Polo Grill on our telephone's voice mail. The chef spoke to us about the quality of the meat cut and assured us it would be watched - never had a problem in the next two visits there. We missed being able to take immediately to the Maitre 'de, Georgios (from Corfu) but he came to our table 3 nights later and we spoke at length about the service. This concern was attended to and we were offered an extra reservation in the restaurant - which we took. A mention to Bridget, the trainer in the gym about missing towels brought an instantaneous supply; a question about use of the equipment launched a full blown demonstration on the equipment and some good info on work out routines. Bridget, by the way, was delightfully upbeat and pleasant any time we saw her in the gym or elsewhere on the ship. General ship's crew demeanor: The treatment and pleasant willingness of ALL of the crew was another very strong point of the ship. Especially those with whom you have numerous contact; room attendant, waiter, bar tender they were not only pleasantly polite but genuinely happy in their positions. Learning about their lives and families made the trip even more special because you felt a bit like you were with your own family. Was the entire ship-board experience perfect? NO, but then again perfection wasn't expected. But overall, 99% of the time we felt pampered and felt that whatever we wanted we could have. It was delightful to be spoiled and for us... NEXT TIME will definitely be Oceania Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Blissfully Sliding on Garlic Infused Greece into Turkey Nautica: Athens to Istanbul, October 29 - November 10, 2009. We are not first time cruisers -- we are veterans of over 350 days aboard cruise ships including extended ... Read More
Blissfully Sliding on Garlic Infused Greece into Turkey Nautica: Athens to Istanbul, October 29 - November 10, 2009. We are not first time cruisers -- we are veterans of over 350 days aboard cruise ships including extended cruises of 30-65 days. This was our first cruise on Oceania having been attracted by a stunning itinerary (Athens, Crete, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon, Santorini, Delos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Istanbul) packed efficiently into 12 nights. Nautica is a perfect sized ship from which to absorb these incredible ports. At a maximum capacity of 684 our passenger complement never overwhelmed our ports and we were often the only ship in port for half or all of our port time. Perfect. We have memories of exploring the extensive ruins at Delos as exclusive tourists peeking into the heretofore lost mysteries of our ancient past, and a quiet afternoon enjoying the scenic, gustatory and shopping delights of Santorini after the much larger Costa Fortuna had already left to steam on to her next port. Nautica is well maintained, exceptionally clean, and staffed with a core group of wonderful folks who continually went out of their way to make us feel like this ship was our elegant home. We enjoyed a level of service that has become difficult to provide on today's larger behemoths. We had originally booked a basic, outside cabin for this trip -- later we purchased a very reasonable upsell offered by Oceania. As Concierge Class cruisers we were allowed early embarkation -- there were no lines --there were but a few quick stops for details and a virtual walk on board the Nautica which was docked at Pireus in Athens. We enjoyed a quiet, excellent lunch at the Terrace Cafe on deck 9, our cabins were ready a full two or three hours before the cabins on the rest of the ship, our luggage was delivered to our cabin immediately, and we were able to negotiate the one self service laundry on board and complete three loads of wash (we had arrived in Athens several days earlier) before the throng of passengers from the lower deck staterooms began to flood this small facility. The dining experience at the Terrace Cafe was excellent. Our food was always served by Oceania Crew who cheerfully loaded our plates with exactly what we requested. There were no trays, but the size of the food venue was not large so getting seconds or additional courses in general did not involve long lines or, often, any lines at all so the process was quick and efficient. Crew members were usually there to carry our plates and help us find a table. The tables were set with clean linen place mats as well as glassware, napkin and silverware set ups. Beverages were not self service -- they were cheerfully provided by crew who attended to refills as soon as they became necessary. Emptied plates were cleared with similar precision. Surprise discovery -- orange juice (which certainly tasted fresh squeezed) was complimentary and available at all times in all dining and bar venues. As soon as a glass was emptied a refill was offered. Tea was served with a ceramic tea pot full of really hot water -- the capacity of the pot offers the tea drinker three or more cups of tea. The hot water never had a lingering coffee grounds taste as happens when carafes are shared between coffee and tea service. And a large selection of teas were available -- I was able to enjoy my favorite Jasmine Green Tea throughout my voyage. The ship is petite. The cabins are petite. They are well appointed with all the amenities that we could have desired, including robes, slippers, 150 ml bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower gel, shower scrub, and body refresher, soaps, sewing kit, lap robes, umbrella, tote bag, hair dryer, ice, glasses, mini-bar fridge... Extra bottles of bathroom amenities as well as bars of soap were always stored below the sink in our very tiny bathroom. Actually bathroom is a misnomer as there was only a shower sized for an average to small person to stand up but not necessarily turn around -- the room itself had a scant sized space in which only one person could expect to stand -- but there was adequate storage space for bathroom and toiletry needs and there were always twice as many clean towels available for us as we might need. Every time the room was cleaned towels were replaced. No signs about saving the environment and keeping towels. Though this policy may be a blow to the environment having clean towels twice a day (like having the crew serve all food on the buffet) probably helps to limit on board illness. The cabin itself was as well appointed as the bathroom, and also as petite. There was a small love seat, barely large enough to seat two, a small table, a desk, and the bed(s). In order to accommodate a fridge it was clear that the desk was extended about six to eight inches post construction -- an unfortunate 6-8 inches as with our beds in the twin position passage around the beds to the sitting area and verandah was a real knee knocker. Between closet, desk and bed side table storage we had no difficulty completely stowing all that we had brought with us for our journey. The verandah though petite had two comfortable chairs and a small table. Another surprise was what happened when we ordered room service. An alternate, larger table top appeared from behind the couch, it was placed on our cabin table and covered with a table cloth, and the breakfast was elegantly set out for us by the room service steward. We felt very honored to be passengers this cruise on the Nautica with Captain Jurica Brajcic who was the Nautica Captain who outran the Somali pirates a couple of years ago. One evening's entertainment was a talk by our captain on the details of Nautica's encounter. It was standing room only by the time we arrived at the Nautica Lounge for the talk so we enjoyed it later on video on our cabin TV. The ship offers the usual on board shops and casino which operate when at sea - and the entertainment staff offer daily bingo, trivia and other activities, as well as movies and live entertainment each evening. There were the strings that played in the Upper Hall and a real human musician dance band that played for dancing and enjoyment each day. There were also guest entertainers as well as musical reviews in the evenings. There is an onboard Canyon Ranch Spa offering all of the expected spa and beauty services. I have to admit that we took advantage of very few of these amenities since we experienced a very port intensive cruise -- only one full day at sea out of twelve days on board. The ship also has a gym area (petite as is the whole vessel) offering a petite array of free weights and machines and a small, open air "hamster track" for those desiring to walk or run. I truly missed the wrap around promenade decks found on ships like Holland America as the decks that wrap the whole ship are much larger than the confined tracks on Oceania, and they are also sheltered from the sun and much of the elements. On the upside you are allowed to run on the "hamster track" which is not allowed on a classic promenade deck. We enjoyed most of our evening meals in the Grand Dining Room which is open seating. It, too, is petite with very little space between tables and some tables that are located well back in corners -- blocked in by walls or railings that feel claustrophobic. Food is always subjective. We found most of the food just fine (we ate very well), a few items that were really special, and a very few items like the crispy risotto that I was served not really acceptable. The desserts were, unfortunately for my hips, excellent. And, according to our oenophile traveling companions the wine selection on board was also excellent. There was only one evening when we had to wait for a table in the Grand Dining Room -- on that evening we were offered the chance to go upstairs to the alternative Italian dining room Toscana which we cheerfully accepted. As for service in the dining room -- when it worked (which was about 60% of the time) it was excellent. The crew operated like a well oiled, very attentive machine providing service that was in finely tuned concert with our needs and desires. But then there was the other 30-40% of the time when things just didn't go as they should -- such as extensive waits between courses or to have that water glass refilled or to get the sommelier over to the table ... We find ourselves wondering if something happened along the way as our dining room service was impeccable during the first half of the cruise and it seemed to deteriorate somewhat as the cruise wound down. Our experience at the Toscana Restaurant was, in our opinion, over the top. The menu included the ability to order multiple courses (appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, entree, etc.) and the food was rich and done well -- with lots of garlic, and lots of over the top rituals ... for instance after our elegant bread basket was delivered a cart was wheeled up with an "olive oil" menu that contained no fewer than 20 olive oils and oil infusions from which to choose to fill our Rosenthal olive oil cups. Though we enjoyed the meal and the service was great it was a bit too much for us and we did not repeat this dining venue. We also supped one evening at the Polo Grill (steaks and seafood), another alternative dining room. Our experience there was excellent. We enjoyed superb steaks, salads, appetizers and sides and a high standard of service. It is interesting to note that on this cruise it was almost always possible to obtain a reservation at Toscana, but it was very difficult to get space at the Polo Grill -- the night we dined there the four in our party shared our table with another couple. We also enjoyed a few tasty hot dog lunches at the Waves Grill on the pool deck. They serve hot sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers as well as ice cream and milk shakes. And they are open until 4 pm so on those port days when lunch in port was not possible and when we could not get back before the buffet closed at 2 pm, this dining venue was essential. The ports on this cruise were absolutely fantastic. We cannot comment on Oceania's excursions as we usually did our own thing in port. We did our homework before the cruise and either walked ourselves to do our touring or we hired a taxi that we found ourselves after reaching the port. There were four of us in our party and we found that in most ports the cost of the taxis were very reasonable to share between four adults and the advantage to us was a personalized tour that went only where we wished to go. We had no trouble finding transportation anywhere. In most ports the going rate for a taxi was about 40 euros an hour however it was possible to bargain. For our ports in Turkey our travel agent at home had arranged for private tours to Ephesus and two days of private touring in Istanbul. Our guide in Istanbul was absolutely the best that we have experienced anywhere making our time there truly magical. Highlights of our experiences in port include walking all the way down the donkey trail on Santorini (not for the faint of heart), realizing that those orange-brown bits of stuff that were all over in the grass at Delos were actually large pottery fragments, the terrace houses at Ephesus, the Acropolis in Athens, and just about everything that we did in Istanbul. Nautica has a nice library with an excellent selection of books and resource materials -- especially so for a ship of her size. The ambiance aboard Nautica is reminiscent of a classy gentleman's club. She really looks great but if you look close, there are truly cheesy elements in her decor. I understand this this ship was one of eight originally built for the old Renaissance Cruises -- those that are not with Oceania currently sail under the Azamara or Princess logos. We cruised the Azamara Journey a few years ago and it is a dead ringer for Nautica -- down to the identical (and rather bizarre) paintings on the walls and ceilings, and the identical pieces of "art" around the ship. I am just as puzzled as to why the cherub in one of Nautica's dining room ceiling murals has his arm up the robes of the oddly one legged woman as I was on the Azamara Journey three years ago. I am similarly just as offended by the chubby, naked female statue which seems to have a coat hook rather than a head in Nautica's reception area as I was at the identical statue found in the Journey's reception area three years ago. The "plates" and other artwork that appear to be stored behind glass cupboard doors in the Grand Bar are, upon close examination, merely faux painted representations that sit behind glass on a shallow two inch faux shelf. This is certainly not the caliber of the art collections that we have experienced on lines like Holland America but, I admit, that the net effect works. Would I cruise Oceania again? Yes, without a doubt if another outstanding itinerary presented itself. We choose our cruises for itinerary first, cruise line second. And we did have an absolutely wonderful cruise. We very much enjoy extended cruises of 30 or more days. Would I be willing to do that (or possibly an ocean crossing) on Oceania? The answer here is a resounding No. So many of her amenities are packed into such a petite space on board this ship that for a period of time longer than, say, 15 port intensive days, or during several consecutive days at sea, I believe that we would get uncomfortably claustrophobic. DH and I who cheerfully completed 65 days aboard Holland America's Amsterdam a year ago but feel that we could not get along for that length of time in one of Oceania's petite cabins. Unfortunately, the purchase of larger digs would be prohibitively expensive for us on this cruise line. Other related difficulties to extended cruising aboard Oceania's current ships include the lack of a real, sheltered, classic promenade deck. The ability to take long walks without getting dizzy or sunburned while on a long cruise, or one with several consecutive sea days, is essential. We also feel that to meet the needs of extended cruisers Oceania needs to offer more laundry venues. At present, even on our 12 day cruise, the very clean and well maintained single self service laundry venue was always crowded and often tension ran high when trying to find an available dryer. The alternative is to send your clothes out for laundry or dry cleaning services which we also did. These services were good but rather pricey, charging by the piece. And, last -- we feel we need to mention what became our pet peeve on this trip. Our port side deck seven cabin was located not far from the aft stairs and three decks down from the Italian Toscana restaurant kitchen. Every day from mid afternoon through early evening we were infused with garlic odors that wafted down the stairs and filled our cabin. No question that we were well protected from vampires throughout this voyage but we did find the odors unpleasant and they did penetrate our clothing so that we brought home garlic infused garments. We have never experienced this type of proliferation of cooking odors on other vessels so we are left with lingering questions as to why they occurred on Nautica and what, if anything, Oceania could do to correct this situation. Even though garlic infused we have to give Oceania and this cruise five stars for providing a tremendous cruise experience for us and our travels through Greece and Turkey. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
GREEK ISLANDS HONEYMOON NARRATION: 2009 * Wednesday, July 22 Depart from Boston Airport (10:00pm) to Frankfort, Germany, Airtime: 6 hours, 32 minutes. Ah! The flight with 50 nocturnal Italian teenagers! The sardine conditions daunted them ... Read More
GREEK ISLANDS HONEYMOON NARRATION: 2009 * Wednesday, July 22 Depart from Boston Airport (10:00pm) to Frankfort, Germany, Airtime: 6 hours, 32 minutes. Ah! The flight with 50 nocturnal Italian teenagers! The sardine conditions daunted them not at all. They were in perpetual motion and their joyful mating noises echoed nonstop for seven hours. They entered the minute bathrooms in groups of three, and swarmed over and around us, happily using the back of my seat as a kind of pinball flipper when the lurching plane altered their intended trajectory. I discovered fifty painful positions to not-sleep in my cramped space. My favorite was back flat on the seat and legs curled over my chest like noodles. Gary sat bolt upright staring like a dead thing. I was impressed. It felt like a long flight, but compared with a recent eight hour drive from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. through New York city traffic, it wasn't that bad. * Thursday, July 23 Depart from Frankfort (1:50 pm their time) to Athens, Greece - 7 hours difference from U.S and Athens. Airtime: 2 hours. Arrive 5:30 pm and take transfer to Nautica, Oceania Cruise Ship. And would you believe all went smoothly! No runway jams, vomiting babies or violent weather! Food served on Lufthansa Airlines consisted of darling little portions of schnitzel noodles, delicately marinated chicken and exotic cheeses. The airport at Frankfort was memorable by its lack of color - a monochrome of regimented black and white. However, a maintenance guy wearing silver sneakers flashed me a heavenly smile as he pedaled an old grey bicycle down a corridor. We were met in Athens by a very beautiful woman named Elena from the Nautica. Gary was so impressed by her that he proceeded to call every female tour guide for the rest of the trip "Elena", (much to their helpless irritation as every tourist within hearing copied Gary's example) People do things for different reasons. Yes, we wanted to celebrate our love with a romantic voyage, and yes I'm an art teacher who loves archeology. But I also wanted to come to Greece because of two very wonderful dreams. I dreamed I was once a Minoan girl running along a cliff by the edge of the sea in ancient Crete. In another dream, I was Gaia, earth goddess, surrounded with stones from deep within the earth, and then flying above. I wanted to come to Greece to honor them both. It seemed a pity that our two top stops, Delphi and the Minoan palace of Knossos were at the beginning of our cruise, while we were still feeling slightly disoriented from the time differences, but oh well. I had insomnia the night before our trip to Delphi (home of Gaia, earth goddess). I woke up Gary to tell him. * Friday, July 24; (Departs 6:00pm) Athens, Greece Excursion 8 Delphi TOUR LENGTH: Full-Day (Approximately 9 hours) Enjoy a scenic drive through the Greek countryside on your way to Delphi, once considered by the ancients to be the physical and spiritual center of the earth. We had seen the Acropolis last year, and we admired it again in the distance as our bus circled through Athens. Some of the cruise passengers we talked to preferred small private tours they arranged on their own, but we've always enjoyed the tours offered by the cruise ships. They are effortless to book, (we did it on the internet one morning, as we lay in bed), and the groups have never felt too large. Listening to people's questions and responses to the sites has always been interesting, and there are plenty of opportunities to socialize. Our tour began with exiting Athens, and our guide (Jana, renamed Elena), proudly informed us that exiting Athens is near impossible, due to accidents, due to impatient Athenian drivers, which leads to sitting in traffic for the rest of your life. Gary asked about the mailboxes thickly lining both sides of the highway. They looked like miniature churches. Our guide informed us they were memorials placed by families for drivers who had crashed at that spot. Traversing five miles took us three hours of lurching starts and stops to avoid teeny little "smart" cars careening madly in all directions. Gary shared with me that the sickening lurches didn't bother him, because this was how his father drove. I draped myself over Gary and closed my eyes. I knew we had exited Athens when the lurching smoothed into a strange sideways rocking. I sat up to see huge mountains looming before us which we were traversing in hairpin curves. The narrow two lane road was paved right up to a sheer cliff dropping off on one side and rising up like a wall on the other. Although we were possibly doing 70 mph, little smart cars still whizzed past us, creating three lanes when they aimed at each other unexpectedly. Yes, there were LOTS of little lopsided mailboxes perched along the cliff edge. Near the top of the mountain we entered a picturesque town clinging to the mountain side. Our guide let us know that the shopkeepers refused to widen this medieval part of the road, making it difficult for tour buses. A bored looking policeman looked on as our tour bus was suddenly face to face with another tour bus coming from the other direction in what was a one tour bus space. Smart cars and motorcycles still careened between us, but we were clearly stuck. While the policeman watched, the drivers and guides of each bus screamed at each other in animated Greek. At long last a depressed looking man came out from a shop with a broken façade. He guided the buses up on the sidewalks to inch past each other. For tense moments we were nose to nose with a horrified looking Asian group on the other bus. After a five hour bus trip we arrived at Delphi. Our tour guide excitedly let us know our trip was possibly a record, a good two hours longer than it should have taken. Set nearly 2,000 feet high on the slopes of Mount Paranassu, the Shrine of Apollo even today exerts a potent grip on visitors. During the height of its glory, Delphi grew fabulously rich and although most of the magnificent structures have almost disappeared, you can still gaze upon these amazing ruins and picture how life here must have been during its 1,000 years of prestige in antiquity. During your visit to the site you will see the Castalian Spring; The Sacred Way, once lined with great statues and treasures; The Grand Temple of Apollo, beneath which the priestess Pythia sat; the theater with its excellent acoustics; and the well-preserved stadium with the marble starting blocks in position. Adding to your enjoyment of Delphi is a panorama laid out before you of incomparable grandeur. Your time here will also include a visit to the Delphi Museum where you will view such treasures as the Omphalos, which marked the center of the world, and the glorious bronze Charioteer, one of the finest pieces surviving from the 5th Century B.C. One of our fellow tourists anxiously asked Jana how our late arrival would affect our tour. She was a massive woman and she answered in a deep, determined voice, "It will be very quick and you must go very fast and do only what I say." We jogged through the museum with Jana yelling out things like, "This is my favorite piece, very nice, yes? NEXT ROOM, NOW!" The glorious bronze charioteer is very glorious, and I didn't feel shortchanged, but I'm sure it's the fastest any large group of old people ever moved through a museum. We jogged out the back door, up the sacred way, past the Treasury of Athens, up a cliff, past the rock where the Oracle sat, past the temple of Apollo and back down again. The steps leading to the temple glistened from the wear of human feet and the iridescent gleam of shells. Now an ancient mountain top, this rock had once been an ocean floor. "Water!" Gary gasped. "Gotta get water." I could barely breathe, but I managed to say, "She may leave you here if you do!" Gary can be like a bull dog when he gets an idea in his brain, but he was worried she'd leave him too. Knees pumping, sweat pouring off us, we leaped on the bus and collapsed. August is not the optimum month to visit Greece. However, I need to travel during school vacation, and hot Greece is better than no Greece. At the conclusion of your guided tour of Delphi, you will next travel to the village of Arachova, a popular destination for Athenians during the winter as the ski resort of Mt. Parnassus is located close by. Here, you will be treated to a traditional Greek lunch before re-boarding your coach for the return to Athens. The bus careened back down the mountain and gunned it through Arachova's narrow street to the restaurant. Jana announced on her microphone, "I have called ahead and they are expecting us. It is not fast food, but you must eat very fast to not miss your boat. They know this and will serve very fast because I asked it, THIS WAY NOW." We jogged in to a beautiful restaurant set into the side of the cliff, most of the walls clear glass to take advantage of the view. Our group rushed over to two long tables, set at intervals with plates and pitchers of wine. As we sat down, six waiters raced along the tables tossing greek foods at us with tongs. I felt a little like a family of walrus being fed in a water park. After several glasses of wine I could feel a distinct emotional shift in my fellow tourists. They were starting to hunker protectively over their plates. I watched a man on the left have a tug of war with his waiter over some yalanchi (grape leaves and rice). I myself liberated a bowl of yoghurt from a flying tray. It was delicious! I overheard muttered conversations on whether the cruise ship would really depart without 38 passengers, "And dammitall, who wants more wine?" The more serious question no one addressed was what Jana would do to us. Being a peaceful person, I took off to the ladies room. By the time I returned everyone was back on the bus and Jana was informing them she had been a tour guide for 34 years. On reflection, we all agreed it had been an awesome lunch. We arrived back at the cruise ship five minutes before departure time! Jana was an educated, logical/sequential woman who did not resonate with Delphi magic, and explained the Oracle's role rationally. Apparently, priest representatives from each of the Greek city states would meet at the Apollo Temple and discuss important political issues. If a joint decision was arrived at, the Oracle would announce it as a magic omen. If no decision could be reached, they would say the Oracle had announced the timing inauspicious due to a non-trembling albino goat, (which they ate.) That bought them another month to hammer out an agreement. In this way they successfully ruled a population of oppositionally-defiant Greek citizens who would have disagreed with any decisions arrived at by more normal means. I could tell Jana approved. HOW'ERE I still wish to believe that the more ancient relationship with Gaia that occurred before Greek males dominated the scene, was deeper and more instilled in magic - or reality, depending on your definition. * Saturday, July 25, (8:00am-6:00pm) Crete - Aghios Nikolaos, Greece Excursion 2 The Palace of Knossos TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (About 4 1/2 hours) Forty-five miles west of cosmopolitan Aghios Nikolaos lies one of Crete's finest archaeological sites, "Knossos," the ancient capital of the great king Minos. The original palace of Knossos was constructed around 1900 B.C., but a few hundred years later, an earthquake destroyed it. In its place, another palace was rebuilt on an even grander scale. In 1900, its remains were excavated and some of the sections were painstakingly restored. The present palace consists of four wings, spread out from a central court, a complex that once served as the administrative and religious center for the whole region. As you tour the labyrinthine site, you will see the royal living quarters, rooms where state occasions were held, a theater area, store rooms and potters' workshops. Although the restoration, undertaken by Sir Arthur Evans, was controversial at the time, it offers great insight into the complexity of Minoan life nearly 4,000 years ago. With nervous trepidation, Gary and I boarded the tour bus, but the ride was blissfully brief. Our guide Helen (who only looked briefly puzzled when everyone started calling her Elena) was eager to answer any questions. High mountains gave way to a lonely stretch of road that curved along the coast. My dream of running along this coastline back in the heyday of King Minos, was reinforced by seeing exactly the same flowers growing along the cliffsides that I had seen in my dream. I asked Helen what they were called and she said they were Oleander. Ah, proof positive! The ancient palace of Knossos had the same feeling of antiquity as Mexico's Chichan Itza ruins, but such a different culture! Here, the wall frescoes did not depict war and human sacrifice. Minoan walls display dancing men with cascading curls and fashionably slender waists. Athletes somersault over bulls, and bare-breasted women apply mascara to their beautiful eyes. Helen shared that no scenes of war appear anywhere in Minoan art, and no fortifications were built around the castle. These were a peaceful, happy people. This tour also affords you a short visit to bustling Heraklion's main square, a wonderful contrast to the quiet splendor of Knossos. Gary and I toasted each other on a silly looking pirate ship docked next to the Nautica. That evening we had a wonderful dinner of lobster and steak. I am glad to think I was once a dancing girl in the Palace of Knossus, but I am happy to be a modern Crete tourist! * Sunday, July 26, Cruising the Ionian Sea The next day we woke late, and ordered breakfast in our room. The food was so pretty that Gary honored it with its own fashion shoot. In a larger ship, we never would have found deck chairs this late in the morning, but we found two perfect lounge chairs overlooking the pool right away. I sat like a queen in my very chic Italian bathing suit - the most expensive item I'd purchased for the cruise - and sipped discounted "drinks of the day" while I wrote what you are now reading. Gary re-read his beloved "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" on his Kindle's extra large screen. His kindle was much admired by many on the cruise deck, and gave Gary an opportunity to talk to people, an activity he also enjoys. * Monday, July 27, (8:00am-5:00pm) Dubrovnik, Croatia Walking the medieval wall on our own. Main street is the Stradun, and a restaurant on the wall. Now I presume that anyone perusing this journal is saying impatiently about now, "But what else did you wear?" Let me say that we had a few fashion "moments" that left me reluctant to give this important subject full justice. One "moment" was two hours before we left for our trip when Gary informed me that my absolutely to-die-for ivory satin sandals sent to the shoe repairman to have the backs fixed HAD NOT BEEN FIXED! The Neanderthal clod (referring to the shoe-repairman, although Gary was not one of my favorite people at this moment) had had the temerity to take the backs off, rendering them unwearable, and THEN suggest they weren't worth his while! I apologized several times to Gary later for my reaction. I believe there is a Greek Myth roughly on this subject - something about killing the messenger. The other incident, minor in comparison, has to do with the black and white bandana that Gary wears bunched in a large ball under his hat to soak up sweat. No one actually pointed when he removed his hat in Greece, possibly because they thought it had some strange religious importance. But I'd make him remove it when I caught people staring. On the whole, however, we were beautifully and stylishly turned out! For example, I shall briefly describe our ensembles worn to the prestigious Polo Grill. I wore a midnight-blue satin strapless cocktail dress, brushed antique gold leather sandals with an understated celtic design, a lighter-than-air white silk gauze Italian shawl, and a delicate three-strand necklace comprised of white gold, yellow gold and platinum. Gary wore a short-sleeved silk Mexican shirt with front pintucks, beige silk pants and loafers (which the shoe-man had deemed worthy of repair!). We set off for the Polo Grill and realized it was more "aft" than we had thought, and so we were forced to traverse the outside middle of the pool area in a fierce wind. We had a more "relaxed" ambiance when we arrived. On the somewhat less interesting subject of food, Gary ordered the oysters Rockefeller, tomato and onion salad, lobster bisque, and a 5 inch by 5 inch blob of raw flesh, which made him very happy. I had the crab cake with bEarnaise sauce, wedge of lettuce with blue cheese and bacon, lobster bisque with brandy, a wild mushroom ragout, and a whole steamed Maine lobster. I must add that the lobster arrived with a waiter who entirely de-shelled it with tiny dental instruments as I watched. He took about 10 minutes. I sweetly refrained from exclaiming, "Honey, I'm from Maine! Just shove the fork up its tail!" But the look on his face as he completed his operation was so proud that I thanked him warmly. Coffee and Crème Brulee completed our repast. * Tuesday, July 28, (8:00am-6:00pm) Corfu, Greece. Browse the Parisian arcades, Italian architecture and English cricket square. Known for silver, fisherman's sweaters, sandals and olive wood carving. Food: stuffed grape leaves, retsina wine, lamb souvlaki. This was a stop where we had not booked a tour. The proximity (according to a map) to points of interest looked do-able, so we were fairly confident when we set off at 8:30AM. I SAID to Gary as we left the ship, here's the map and I haven't got my glasses. Translation - "You do it." Is this hard to figure out? NO! But my new husband is a stubborn man. He understands "You do it" even when you don't directly SAY it. So he didn't acknowledge he'd memorized the map. Hey, what do I care. I love getting lost. Now Gary's agenda was that I should walk in front of him and go where he wanted me to go without his telling me. He SAID it was so he wouldn't lose me. Needless to say, I went where I wanted to go, without benefit of the map. While he ducked in a shop to buy water. NEED I SAY MORE! When I saw all the Corfu shops leading right, I went right. Gary was into walking in a hot parking lot for six miles because of the map. I found another issue interesting...what's "old"? Apparently the Corfu map had "Old Fort" and "New Fort" printed on it. I point out a clearly old area, (when I was retrieved and now obediently trekking through the parking lot) and say, "Is that the Old Fort?" "No", Gary grumps. "Why not? Looks old to me." I observe. "It isn't old enough," Gary says. "Why not? Looks old to me," I repeat. "No," Gary snarls. I insist. "Look, it has a green sign". "It's CONDEMNED!!!" Gary yells. "The green sign says GO AWAY BEFORE THIS FALLS ON YOU! It's not OLD!" "Looks old to me," I say cheerfully, loving every minute of this conversation. Payback of course for losing me. The Old Fort was subsequently found and yes, it was probably older than the New Fort, which was probably older than the falling down place with the green sign. I have to say that tours are useful. The end of Corfu consists of a labyrinthine maze of medieval streets packed with tourists and shops selling tourist items such as mugs labeled Corfu, salad tongs carved from olive wood and cheap miniatures of Roman statues. Stores also sold luxury fur coats, hammered silver and jewelry. I wondered how they could all exist, but the supply of tourists seemed pretty dense. Shop-keepers followed you attentively in the shops, boasting of their wares. "These very ancient silver objects have been in my family for generations," one informed me proudly. I had just seen 40 shops with identical items so I was skeptical. "And these are original cycladic sculptures," he went on..I looked at the endless rows of new, modernly simplified Chinese knockoffs and winced. Whatever. Gary let me know he was about to collapse, so we found a sidewalk restaurant and ate Greek foods while we people watched. I was finally able to try retsina, a Greek wine made from pine trees. It tastes like it should be in a lamp with a wick coming out of it, but it does grow on you. After we arrived home, Gary learned that pine resin had been used to seal the clay amphora the wine had been stored in, and the taste seeped into the wine. Our guide in Rhodes said that it became a source of local pride, and later was purposely added to wine. I also asked for a glass of ice water. My waiter looked up and asked the gods, "What climate does she think she's in?" And brought me a small bottled water which was added to the bill. It came in handy on our six mile trek back to the ship through hot parking lots. By the time we returned to our room, everything on Gary was soaked with sweat and I looked like a tomato. BUT, two lovely showers later, we scampered down to dinner like two over-fed rabbits. SUCH nice food everywhere! Wednesday, July 29, (8:00am-4:00pm) Katakolon, Greece Excursion 1 Ancient Olympia TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (Approximately 4 hours) After a pleasant drive through the Greek countryside, you'll arrive in Ancient Olympia, site of the first Olympics in 776 BC and, most recently, where the shot-put competition was contested in the 2004 Olympics. It's soon apparent why this is one of the country's most popular attractions. The impressive, compact ruins at the foot of Kronion hill include the expansive Temple of Zeus and numerous temples and altars. As you walk the fabled grounds on the ancient fields of play, it's easy to imagine the fierce competitions took place here. Be sure to see the Leonidaion, a former guesthouse, and Pheidias's workshop, where the sculptor created his revered statue of Zeus. Later, tour the ancient village of Olympia. At the start of every tour the tour guide tells you over the microphone where you are going. Our guide bellowed desperately to get it through the thickest of us, "We are on our way to O-LEEM-PEE-AHHHH!" (No, not Baskin Robbins, you stupido tourists.") Moving east from the coast we passed innumerable, identical low hills. Before long our guide pointed to one of the hills and announced "THIS hill the ancients named as the place of the birth of Zeus' father Kronos, and because of this hill the site of the O-LEEM-PIX. I looked at it in baffled surprise. Delphi was marked by spectacular mountains, the most amazing among them chosen as godlike. Why would someone choose a boring little lump for the birthplace of the father of the Gods? I wanted to ask, but felt rude. When we drove into a parking lot our guide pled desperately, "We will not be parked at this spot when we leave! You will forget this spot. This spot you have never seen. Do not ever in your lives come to this spot. This has not happened!" Everyone on the bus looked childishly delighted and turned to his/her partner and attempted a Colonel Klink voice, "I know nothing!" Except for a middle aged fellow with a waxed apple face who approached nearly everyone in the group to ask, "I'm confused! Do we come back here?" I immediately thought "Brain damage!" Yet he seemed attached to a normal looking woman and three kids. The two daughters looked okay. The boy looked unfortunate, but he was young. The wife turned to Gary and muttered, "You can hit him with your cane if you want." We arrived on foot to a designated spot and our guide bellowed, "Use your imaginations. This is the site of the Olympic Games starting in 1700 BC. Picture forty five thousand people arriving in this small village to attend Olympic Games." (My imagination worked on a picture.) "They were all men," she continued. "Women were not allowed." (adjustment to picture) "Uh, naked men, as the Olympics were performed naked," she added. (adjustment to picture). "Here we have a sculpture of Zeus and a young boy he has fallen in love with. The male body was considered more perfect than the bodies of women, and love between males of all ages the most ideal." (adjustment to picture.) "When a woman disguised herself as a man to attend the Olympics, she was discovered to be a woman when she stood to cheer for her son. The only thing that saved her from being put to death was belonging to an extremely wealthy family." I wondered why, in the same part of the world, the Minoan culture accepted women as equals, yet they stood alone in the history of this region. I felt it was naïve to ask our female guide, but I asked anyway. "Why did men believe women were inferior?" "It is still so in Greece today," she answered bitterly. "It is the way of men everywhere." I felt glad to be with Gary, because it is not his way. * Thursday, July 30, (8:00am-6:00pm) Santorini, Greece No tour. Exploring the town of Fira on our own. The night before we anchored at Santorini, I was wakened from a deep sleep by the wild music of howling winds. I had a feeling of happy exhilaration. I had had the same magical experience last year when we arrived at this place. At no other island did I have this experience. When I fell back asleep, I dreamed of being under turquoise water. The surface above me was dappled with shifting, round coins of golden sunlight that lit the water. I was surrounded by submerged bronzes of gods and goddesses linked together in a long frieze. We were warned that eight cruise ships had descended on Santorini on the same day. The weather was scorching, and the wait to take the cable car up the mountain was brutal. But the views from the top were just as breathtaking as I had remembered. I am old, and in my life I have learned that there are times when you must leave behind you what you most love. I cried at leaving Santorini. I felt my heart breaking. In discussing our dinners, Gary and I had a divergence of opinion on the definition of "intimate". Typically, we would arrive at the main dining hall, the most popularly attended restaurant, which did not require a reservation. We were greeted by a gentleman who viewed the available tables and selected one for us. (1) Another gentleman led us to our table. (2) Another gentleman pulled my chair out and in. (3) Another gentleman placed my napkin in my lap. (4) Another gentleman asked us our liquor desires. (5) Another gentleman asked us our wine desires. (6) Another gentleman poured our water. (7) Another gentleman brought us a bread basket and tongs and asked if we wanted bread. (8) Another gentleman asked us for our menu selections. (9) Another gentleman brought the h'oeur dorves. (10) Another gentleman asked if we wanted ground pepper. (11) Another gentleman refilled the water. (12) Another gentleman brought new utensils for the next course, and removed the old. (13) Another gentleman wiped crumbs off the table with a silver brush. (14) Another gentleman brought the soup. (15) Another gentleman removed the soup and brought new utensils. (17) Another gentleman brought the salad. (18) Another gentleman offered more ground pepper. (19) Another gentleman brought more beer and wine. (20) Another gentleman removed salad and provided new utensils. (21) Another gentleman brought entrEe and stayed to prepare entrees. (22) Wine and water and pepper guys returned. (23)(24)(25) And crumb guy with silver brush. (26) Another guy removed entrEe dishes. (27) Dessert guy came and took our order. (28) And coffee order guy. (29) And new utensil guy. (30) Dessert guy delivered order. (31) Coffee guy delivered order. (32) Liquor guy made a last ditch effort. (33) Crumb brusher, water guy, entrEe guy, and remover guy returned for bows, say farewell, and pull out our chairs. (34) (35) (36) (37). As interesting as all this may be, (I couldn't believe the amount of silverware we went through!), if I am pausing conversation to accommodate 37 interruptions, I feel like I am part of a much larger group than two. The most awkward for me was the meal when we were first in the restaurant and all 37 guys, dressed in diverse and symbolic finery, clustered around us like butterflies. Gary liked it. Later that evening as we lay in bed with the lights out, listening to the ocean waves, I asked Gary if we could order room service. "You're hungry?" he asked in surprise. "There were all those people waiting on us! I got nervous." "Alright," Gary said. "What do you want?" I turned on the light and looked through the menu. "Fruit platter," I said decisively. "Alright," Gary said, getting up to dial room service. "And the cheese platter, and the shrimp platter and the dessert platter and the chicken dinner looks good." Gary put the phone down. "What?" I ask. Gary said carefully, "You're going to eat all that?" My eyes shifted sideways, "Eventually." "Alright," he said. Literally two minutes later a tiny Asian guy lurched into the room, staggering under the weight of the food. He lowered it to the floor, and lifted a huge banquet sized board from behind our couch, which he placed carefully over our glass coffee table. He covered it with a beautiful linen cloth and proceeded to arrange the silver plates of food, beautiful crystal, and obscene amount of silverware on top. When I thought he was done, he whipped out an extremely phallic Greek flower and placed it dramatically in the middle. Gary tipped him, and we enjoyed our midnight feast on our private balcony under a full moon. Every bite full of food was of the best quality and beautifully prepared. You have no excuse to ever be hungry on a cruise! On the topic of small cruise ships (such as ours, or larger ones such as we had last year), Gary much prefers small ones. However, I miss the more international and younger group we encountered on the larger ship. I like children, and I enjoyed watching the multi-generational families interact. In contrast, it seemed most of us on this cruise were ancient - our age! For example, Gary was complaining loudly that his Hawaiian shirt, (off the woman's rack) had the buttons on the wrong side and was difficult to maneuver. A young woman leaned over and said earnestly, "It's good exercise for your brain. It may stave off stroke for a little longer." I snickered. I also realized that my prejudice about old people is pretty ironic, considering I am one. Yet, I have to acknowledge that not one of our fellow passengers dropped out of our tours. I am delighted to know now that Gary and I have at least another 20 years to travel the world! As I am in a sharing mood, I will share with you that a Feng Shui interior decorator once informed me that my Chinese birth element is water. Apparently water people seek truth, creativity, sensitivity, are reflective and love bathrooms! When imbalanced, a water person can become restless or fearful. Bathrooms are our refuge! So, I digress on the topic of WC's. I found the architectural conservation of space on our cruise ship fascinating. Our bathroom sink was completely functional, but incredibly long and narrow, more like a tiny shelf with a faucet on one end. The best WC on the trip was a public facility on Mykonos. It was an ancient little adobe room perched directly on the sea and painted sunshine yellow. A huge window overlooked the ocean, and the sounds of the waves hitting the wall outside echoed all around me. As I came out, dozens of cats slept on a bench, surrounding an old woman, who was also sleeping. I placed a euro in a small plate and quietly left. The perfect bathroom! * Friday, July 31, (8:00am-12 noon) Delos, Greece; Excursion 1 A Visit to Delos TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (Approximately 2 hours) The small, uninhabited island of Delos lies just a few miles from Mykonos, and, by law, it can only be visited during daylight hours. This tour offers that rare opportunity. Delos was once the religious center of the entire Aegean area, and according to mythology, it was the birthplace of Apollo, the god of music, sun, light, harmony and beauty. Pilgrims from all over Greece and other countries came to pay their respects to the god, bringing gifts and offerings, which made the island a highly respected sanctuary, a position it retained throughout antiquity. In the early 19th century, excavations uncovered the ruins of a whole city on Delos, much of which you can explore. Some of the most archaeologically important remains include the Naxos marble lions, the three beautiful temples dedicated to Apollo, and various houses with splendid mosaic floors. Rising above the ruins of this ancient city is Mount Kynthos, the island's highest point, where the earliest traces of inhabitation date back to the 3rd millennium BC. Our cruise ship anchored a short distance from the Island of Delos, and an unfortunate number of us packed into a small life boat to reach shore. The water was so rough from raging winds that the pilot lost his hat when he stuck his head out his hatch. I held Gary's hand very tightly and asked questions about 600 people stuffed into a boat made of old tires. "It's a LIFEBOAT, Meredith," Gary said testily. "It CAN'T sink." (But I found the sign on the wall "You are not a survivor until rescued," confusing.) Indeed, we didn't sink, and shortly arrived on the deserted shores of Delos. As we started to unload, I could see our tour guide waiting for us on a nearby rock. I thought she was oddly dressed for glaring sun and sirocco-like winds. She wore long pants, high shoes, a sweatshirt that zipped up to her neck, giant whole-face wrap-around sun glasses and a hat with a thick rope knotted under her chin. As I clambered onto shore, a gust of wind shot my skirt past my nose and blasted my naked thighs with Delos sand. I suddenly appreciated her attire. Brushing my hair out of my nose, holding my skirt down, clutching my hat, grabbing my pocketbook, map and glasses, I had to make quick decisions which two items I needed most, as I only had two hands. I chose my sunglasses and pocketbook. I buried my hat in my bag, and resigned myself to wearing my hair up my nose and skirt under my armpits. Gary chose his knapsack and camera. He bagged his hat. His head ripened to a cherry red under the glaring sun and I worried about him the entire tour. The history of Delos was perhaps the most fascinating of all our tours, and the complexity of ruins the most evocative of bygone times. Pompeii was saved for archeologists by volcanic ash. Delos had no earthquakes and volcanoes, but these powerful winds had buried the ruins in African dust. At one point every inch of this barren island, sacred to Apollo, was utilized as prime real estate. Tall homes built next to each other were separated by narrow roads. Each home had indoor plumbing and was connected to a public sewer system. The city-state of Athens took over the religious site and in order to maintain political control, ordained that Apollo didn't like death and therefore no one was allowed to be born or die on Delos. Control passed from Athens to a more international business complex through the ages, but the island remained a major religious site, with temples dedicated to Greek, Christian, Egyptian and Jewish gods. More than 25,000 people lived on the barren rock, enjoying a cosmopolitan lifestyle that was the hub of the ancient world. In 88 BC Mithridats VI, King of Pontus, now Turkey, came in with a militia and killed everyone. And looted Delos. And set it on fire. After which no one came back. So, our guide began our tour. "And here is a typical home," she informed us. "Here is the central garden with mosaic floor. And here is the dining area where men enjoyed socializing with other men and mistresses. Wives were not allowed. And here is the bathroom for 12 used by men only. Women not allowed. And here is the theatre where all of Delos came to enjoy wonderful plays by brilliant writers. Women not allowed. And here is gymnasium and baths for men. Women not allowed. There also boys were educated, but not girls. And here is agora, or public meeting place. Women not allowed. Dionysus the god of wine, ecstasy, and of epiphany, "The God That Came" was worshipped and here we have examples of 7 foot marble penis and testicles which appeared often throughout Delos, in his honor. Here in agora slaves were brought in chains and sold like animals. Animals were brought for sacrifice to the gods and was said that the smoke from fires cremating their dead bodies could be seen by sailors for hundreds of miles. No one was allowed to be born or die on Delos, so all pregnant women, old women, or sick women were taken to the next island to die. Very high mortality rate, and most women died in child birth." I'm thinking about this time Greek culture had a lotta warts. And I'm not impressed by the Delos population being wiped out in one afternoon - keep in mind that Delos men hung out in the gym all day! Friday, July 31 (2:00pm-10:00pm) Mykonos, Greece; No tour. Most popular port city in Greece. Windmills on hill, Archeological Museum of objects from Delos, 15th century bakery. Narrow whitewashed streets were designed to confuse pirates. Panagia Paraportiani church in the Little Venice district. Waterfront walk you can see Petros the Pelican. The island was over-run by bars and rich kids on motorcycles. The archeological museum closed just as we arrived, and every shop sold the same merchandise. We know because we saw them all, although not by choice. The narrow whitewashed streets designed to confuse pirates confused us as well. We never actually found the bakery, although we smelled it several times. Gary and I had just chosen a lovely outside cafe to collapse in by the dock, when the star of the island made his appearance; Petros the Pelican. A fearless and cosmopolitan resident, he flew in on giant wings and proceeded to smirk and strut up and down the entire dock. He had the presence of Dean Martin, pizzazz of Cary Grant, and strut of Red Skelton. Whatta Bird! * Saturday, August 1 (9:00am-6:00pm) Rhodes, Greece; Excursion 1 Highlights of Rhodes TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (Approximately 4 hours) The old port of Mandraki, where this tour begins, is believed to be the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Historic sites abound in Rhodes, as you will soon discover after enjoying a panoramic view of the city and Rhodes Bay from atop Mount Smith. You will then visit the fully restored 14th-century Grand Masters Palace, which contains beautiful alabaster windows, French and Venetian furniture, and floor mosaics with scenes from Greek mythology. It served as a fortress in times of war, and a residence for the Grand Master and a meeting place for senior knights during times of peace. As you continue down the Avenue of the Knights, where the knights lived, the cobblestoned street seems to exude a noble and somewhat forbidden aura, as its lofty buildings stretch in an unbroken wall of honey-colored stone, punctuated by huge doorways and arched windows. At the conclusion of this tour, you can either return to ship, or remain in the old town to explore further. Today I, Gary, will narrate the continuing saga of our visit around the Aegean Sea. We arise to the strident ringing of the 6 am wakeup call. The tour doesn't leave until 9:15 but you can't be too early. We have time for a leisurely breakfast on deck 10 overlooking the port of Rhodes - Eggs Benedict, hash browns, and coffee! It doesn't get any better than this. The attention of the coffee server is welcome. He seems to lurk somewhere behind me and appears whenever my cup is half empty. If only the beer guy was as attentive. We proceed to the collection area where we exchange our tour tickets for two small cards with a blue 5 imprinted on them, and wait to be called. Finally the number is called and we all travel down the stairs to deck three. Interestingly enough, the two stairways going down merge into one, causing a traffic backup not much different than the commute most of us are trying to avoid by going on vacation. We look for bus 5 and who do I see but Elena from our first bus ride! She is our guide for Rhodes. It turns out she is a numbers person. As we ride along, she tells us of the number of olive trees, the number of foreign occupations, the number of gods and children of gods, and the number of cities they founded. As Elena checks the time and waves impatiently at the bus driver, I am guessing she knows exactly where she should be in her narration at exactly what time. The roads are just as narrow and twisting as the roads of Delphi, but our driver travels at a slower pace, untroubled by the constant passing of small cars and motorbikes that made our other bus trips so memorable. I also notice there are less roadside shrines, so maybe life in Rhodes is calmer. We arrive at the top of Mt Smith (Smith was an English general who used the mountain to spy on the French when Napoleon was running his fleet in the area). This points to a Basic Problem we tourists encounter. There seems to be a number of names for any one place, used interchangeably. I am reminded of the New Englanders' habit of giving directions using landmarks that no longer exist. "Turn where the old white church used to be". Which reminds me of the Colossus of Rhodes, a huge statue said to have straddled the entry to the harbor of Rhodes, which also smells like Maine. The Colossus was a 105 foot Apollo holding a torch. All ships passed between his legs. As it is no longer there and nothing remains, there is some doubt about where it might have been. This somewhat diminishes the story. If he didn't straddle the harbor entry, and he was just another giant statue somewhere in another old city, what happens to Rhodes' claim to fame? Many of the ruins of Rhodes are Medieval. The Knights Templar, also known as the Order of St John, had settled on the Island for 200 years (1309-1522), and were finally forced out by the Ottomans. Prior to purchasing Rhodes from a king, they had tried living in many locations in the region, such as Crete, in an attempt to keep their considerable wealth intact. Upon receiving Rhodes, they began building forts palaces and monasteries on top of pre-existing Greek temples. One of the stops on our tour was the ancient Greek Temple of Athena at the top of Mount Smith which the knights had converted into a monastery. Here, the Knights lived a celibate life. At any one time there were only 600 members, some Spanish, English, French or Italian. If a knight died, a replacement would be sent for from Europe. By the harbor of Rhodes, the knights built an impressive fortification called the Palace of the Grand Master. Many years later, during the Turk's occupation of Rhodes, (in what appears to be more than a simple twist of fate), ammunition was stored in the basement, and it exploded. Sound familiar? What happened to the Acropolis in Athens? Those pesky Turks playing with dynamite again. Not only should we beware of Greeks with gifts, look out for Turks wanting to store things. The palace was totally destroyed and then rebuilt by the Italians as a summer home for Mussolini around 1940. The second world war intervened and Mussolini, executed in 1945, never set foot in the new palace. Rhodes reverted back to the Greeks, whose culture and traditions had remained intact, despite the numerous foreign occupations. Today, the Palace has become a public museum, housing art treasures from all over Greece. * Sunday, August 2 (8:00am-2:00pm) Kusadasi, Turkey; No tour. Missing what could have possibly been Virgin Mary's retirement home, now a church. Missing Grand Theater in Ephesus where St. Paul preached. See Kusadasi bazaar and nearby shops selling rugs and antique jewelry. (Gary again) Our ship docked and we walked through customs into a brilliantly beautiful day. Our first encounter with the people of Kusadasi was a nice young man wearing a red tie who asked us earnestly if we were English. I thought he meant do we speak English, but no, he wanted to know if we were from London. This curiously pointless conversation included information about his family, and his knowing somebody who had been somewhere he thought might be near Springfield, MA. This segued into a staggering bit of misjudgment as he insisted on showing us a 9 karat diamond ring...for only $35,000 per karat! We turned him down on exiting the port, but succumbed on our return. It became obvious he was a portent of things to come. Kusadasi salespeople thickly lined the middle of every promenade (drinking apple tea). Loudly and insistently, they tried to herd passersby into their shops. Think Time Share sales times 1000. (Meredith describes more encounters below.) Looking only down, with a constant "no thanks" on our lips, we ran up the street, hoping for relief. I was so concentrated on avoiding sales pitches; I almost didn't hear a beautiful young woman who simply said, "I have pins". It took 5 steps before it registered in my brain. I stopped, turned back and pointing to my hatband heavily weighted with pins, said stupidly, "You have pins?" "Come into my shop", the spider said to the fly. I followed after her. She headed to the back of the shop and I passed an assistant mopping the tile floor. He gave me an evil grin. The thought occurred to me that this was the remains of the last customer. But yes, she had a small collection of pins. "You want biggest one? You take four, yes?" I purchased ONE small Turkish emblem for only 2euro. (My turn) (I just added to Gary's part what the saleswoman said about buying more than one pin. "How did you know that? I thought you were out in the street the whole time?" Gary asks. I give him a pitying look.) Anyway, we lasted less than an hour before we came back to the ship drenched in anxiety related sweat. It was awful beyond conception. Mind you, I purchased the carpet I wanted and three boxes of Turkish delight. I owe this to experiences from my past which gave me a demonic shopping fury that kicks in when needed. Our second salesperson poked us with his fingers, blocked our escape with his chest and confused our brains with curiously transparent lies. He also told us the complete history and construction of Turkish rugs. The only way we could have avoided his twenty minute diatribe was physical violence. He paused to breathe and we ran away. Every store salesman, often in groups of three or more, stood outside their establishment and screamed aggressively at us, often blocking our way physically, "Come inside, Where you from? I take your money! You need me now! You need leather jacket, nice plate, carpet, jewelry! Why not? You tell me why not, NOW! This is better shop than there, the others they all cheat you! Don't look at him, look only at me! You break my heart! You come with me!" I made the mistake of slowing in front of a second window and trying to see what they sold. Several salesmen dragged us by our elbows to a deserted third floor and plied us with apple tea we didn't want while I kept insisting, "NO! I have no money! Just BROWSING! PLEASE, NO!!!!" They showed us small silk rugs of exquisitely beautiful design he said were worth $35,000 to $160,000 and he would sell for only $3,000 to $10,000. When we tried to say no, we got another half hour lecture on the construction of Turkish rugs. We got loose from that one too, and sprinted down the street dodging fists grabbing at us, while I screamed, "NO!" And Gary whimpered, "This is the single worst experience of my life! Can we go now?" My chin jutted out, my teeth clamped shut and my eyes narrowed. I had had it by this time in our trip with Mediterranean Men. I marched into the next rug shop and when we were bodily lifted to an upper floor I turned on the salesman and snarled, "I will take your $10,000 piece of carpet if it is FREE. I won't if it isn't. I have less than one hundred dollars, my ship leaves in an hour, and DON'T WASTE MY TIME." (Gary collapsed on a luxuriously carpeted bench with another apple tea and was visibly hyperventilating). The salesman eyed me briefly and brought a new pile of rugs quoting prices $300 up. He started in on the "construction of Turkish rugs" lecture, but I jabbed one with my finger and said, "That one, onefifty now. I'm leaving." He stared again, shrugged and sold me a ten dollar rug for one hundred fifty dollars. We both thought, "ass-hole!" My adorable, well-mannered husband and I marched our way back to the ship and the first abusive salesman we had encountered said sadly, "Ah, you bought something, but not from me." Gary announced with pride, "She's part Turkish." Another positive result from the experience is that we now feel quite knowledgeable about the construction of Turkish rugs! * Monday, August 3 (12:00noon- ) Istanbul, Turkey Excursion 6 Ottoman Essentials W/Visit to Grand Bazaar TOUR LENGTH: Half-Day (About 3 1/2 hours) This delightful half-day tour of one of the world's most fascinating cities is designed to show you the highlights of Istanbul's stunning architecture and attractions. Starting off by coach, your first stop is the impressive Blue Mosque. This breathtaking mosque is the only one in the world with six minarets. Although built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmed I (and named after him), the mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of the 21,000 Blue-green Iznik tiles, which decorate the interior. After a look at this amazing site, you'll next proceed to the Byzantine Hippodrome, which lies in front of the Blue Mosque. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, the Hippodrome was the center for entertainment, amusement and sports in the city. Later, during the Ottoman rule of the city, the Hippodrome grounds were used for festivities and ceremonies. No visit to Istanbul is complete without seeing marvelous Topkapi Palace, which served as the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for more than four hundred years. The Palace is located where the Acropolis of Byzantium once stood, on a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The palace complex covers an area of approximately 700,000 square meters and it is surrounded by five kilometers of walls. Within the palace grounds are courts, pavilions, mosques, fountains and a beautiful treasury section. One of the richest collections of French, Japanese & Chinese porcelain collections and the most valuable pieces of the treasury of Ottoman Empire are on display in the pavilions of the Palace. Your final stop will be at the Grand Bazaar, the largest and the oldest covered market place in the world with more than 4,000 shops in the labyrinth of streets. Enjoy the colorful array of shops that offer an endless selection of goods that includes jewelry, fabrics, spices and local handicrafts. Our tour guide Hyatt, explained to us that her name meant "life" and not "Hotel Chain." She was a No-Nonsense, Muslim woman, (about 70 years old), who spoke English with a Pennsylvania Dutch lilt. Calling us Dear Friends, she stiffly informed us of her doctorate in sociology and masters in art history. As our bus passed many beautiful mosques with tall minarets, roman ruins, and narrow, medieval looking shops filled with beautiful things, Hyatt described their significance. When we stepped off the bus into 115 degree heat at our first stop, I was startled to see that Hyatt was barely more than four feet tall. She herded our group across a busy street, and when a car started backing into us, she rushed over to the driver with the fury of a pit bull and abraded him, pounding his door with her small, elegant fist. "One can see, but not see," she explained with royal displeasure. When salesmen on sidewalks interrupted her lectures, she stopped for a full minute to give them a long, low "evil eye". They retreated in terror. Gary was delighted! With grand precision, Hyatt described the history of an immense Egyptian obelisk placed amid Roman ruins, and a beautiful fountain covered with gold leaf. She paused. At the exact moment of noon, the ululating cry of Muslim singers rang out from every Mosque in Istanbul. Exaggerated by sound speakers, their wild cries seemed to make the hot air pulse, and I could feel myself starting to cry. Later, in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, so named for its mosaic tiles, Hyatt described her Muslim heritage with defensive, but passionate love. In the mosque, we had to remove our shoes and Gary had to wear a blue skirt to cover his knees. Naked feet - good, naked knees - bad! The interior of the mosque was a vast space with lights suspended from the roof on long wires. A tall latticed fence extended all along the exterior walls, behind which heavily robed women knelt in prayer. An inner area, not available to tourists, was filled with chatting men and little Turkish boys dashing about or rolling comfortably on the rug. Hyatt stood on a bench to address us. "When I was a girl and I came here to the Blue Mosque, I could not understand why I was not allowed to pray at the alter with my father and brothers. Later, as a young woman, I protested that it was not right. But I have at last come to terms with it, in a way that is just my own. Please know that Devils are always presented in art as male. See how it is men who pray right by the alter. Our God must speak to them very closely. Angels are always presented in art as female. See how our women look out over our men from a distance, like angels over devils." I thought to myself that here yet again was another female tour guide informing tourists about yet another misogynist male culture. I heard bitterness in all their voices, but Hyatt seemed the most heroic. She loved her Muslim culture, and with education, wisdom, humor and compassion, had found a way to resolve the philosophical conflicts. It was interesting to me that my standard art history background, small and inaccurate as it was, had made me feel quite comfortable in Greece. But I was very uncomfortable viewing Arabic art until my rudimentary studies in Islamic calligraphy kicked in. When Hyatt discussed the beautiful tiles covering the interior of the Blue Mosque, I felt quite proud that I already knew some things. For instance, out of respect, Islamic artists were not allowed to represent living creatures that only Allah could create. Instead, they depicted organic designs and calligraphy from the Koran. They looked like a geometric variation on Irish Celtic designs, and were very beautiful. Hyatt was outraged that the ancient Turkish prayer rugs that had once covered the floors had been replaced by a cheap wall-to-wall carpet ten years ago. "Very wrong capitalist plan to line pockets," she sniffed. "Very inferior! They have been replaced now several times! Traditional carpets do not wear out! Do you know how our carpets are made?" she asked, looking directly at Gary and I. She seemed startled by the pain in our jointly screamed, "Yes!" Next, Hyatt led us across several streets to arrive at the Topkapi Palace. Most of our guides had been adorned with stunning jewelry, stopping our tours to advocate expensive jewelry stores. In contrast, Hyatt was dressed modestly and stopped us only to buy postcards from a tattered young man who was selling them from a box on the sidewalk. She announced proudly that he was from an honorable family, and he was seeking an education, and if we were to buy from him, our money would be well-spent. The royal treasure houses displayed an incredible wealth of precious objects from the Ottoman Empire. I wandered through several rooms, viewing daggers adorned with emeralds the size of eggs, flasks of gold and diamonds, ruby studded helmets that rose up to points at the top, and amazing jewelry. Gary didn't come with me because the rooms had no oxygen. I thought he looked like he was going to pass out, so we found a cafe selling water. Interestingly enough, unlike Greece, Istanbul accepts all money, any money, of any denomination. The cashier looked at my American dollars with distain, but took them and kindly gave me American change. Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar, which Gary will write, as well as our flight home. (Gary) The Grand Bazaar is reported to be the largest, oldest covered shopping area in the world. I can believe it. The bus dropped us off about 2 blocks from the Bazaar on an open promenade lined by shops and restaurants. We ducked into the first open door. Wow! Who'd guess it would be a rug shop! We were escorted up stairs to the viewing rooms "like a museum" our abductor announced proudly. The sounds of scampering feet could be heard and lights were turned on by invisible hands as we passed. We entered another showroom with rugs hanging from the walls and piled around the room. Benches covered with rugs lined the walls. I took a seat and Meredith tried to explain we had already heard the "rug construction lecture," and only wanted to see small, cheap wool rugs. Our salesman seemed to understand we weren't in the market for a $20,000 floor covering and showed us the under $1,000 stuff. This is where it gets interesting, as they seem to use various currencies interchangeably. "Look," they say, "the price is marked right here 1000." "1,000 what?" we ask? "Lira, dollars, euros?" I thought a lira was .68 cents USD and the euro 1.42 USD - quite a variation. Anywho, we bargained a price of 300 USD and everyone seemed happy. He offered us apple tea and even wanted to send out for a beer for me. So I guess we got taken. They did pack the rug up neatly and offered to hold it for us until the bus returned. I asked what would happen if I carried the package into the Grand Bazaar. Specifically, would other rug guys leave us alone. Our salesman laughed and said, "No! They will ask, where, what and how much. Then tell you they could have sold it you cheaper." We re-entered the street and proceeded ten steps to a nice cafe for a Turkish coffee and beer. The bill was once again in lira, so I used an application on my phone to calculate the US amount and left that amount. No complaints from the waiter. Two blocks later, we entered the Grand Bazaar! It had a big arched entrance, beyond which were painted domed ceilings, and crisscrossing streets lined with small shops. We walked up and down, left and right, and never saw an end. The shopkeepers were less aggressive here, probably because there were lots and lots of people walking the halls. Luckily, we were able to find our way out again and get back to the bus with just enough time to retrieve our rug. • Tuesday, August 4, (1:55pm) Depart from Istanbul to Frankfort, Germany, Arrives 3:55pm. Leave Frankfurt (6:00pm) Arrive in Boston 8:15pm. The last day arrived too early. The 5am call to prayer is impossible to ignore as it resonates through the city like an electrified cat fight. All our possessions, other than the clothes on our back and a limited amount of carry on stuff, had been packed up and taken away in the dark of night. After arising and showering, we went up to the 9th floor for breakfast: my last eggs Benedict of the cruise and coffee - with of course, extra bacon. With the variety of food available on the ship, the only pork I saw was bacon...a mystery. Sadly, we traveled down to the waiting area. We were called after a short wait and preceded off the ship and into the baggage area. The bags were sorted by tag color, so we had no trouble locating ours. Customs was easy and we got on to the bus. Being one of the first off the ship, we had our choice of bus seating. However, as the driver was busily loading luggage, he had not started the bus and there was no AC. I started to steam and sweat, finally running out to cool off in the 110 degree sunlight. Finally, the bus was loaded, started and cooled. I reentered for the ride to the airport. We arrived at Istanbul airport (TAV) at about 9:30am for a 1:55pm flight. We left the bus, gathered our luggage and were pointed toward the entry. I'm sure if we had done our "homework" more thoroughly, this part of the trip would have felt less stressful. Maneuvering specific airports is something we'll be sure to ask our travel agent about before our next adventure. For instance, this airport did not have assigned check-in areas. The counters are unmarked until someone turns on an electric sign board. We plopped down in front of a large display of flight numbers, and after a bit of study it appeared all the Lufthansa flights were assigned to E-F counters, so we wandered down the terminal. Meredith found an airport personnel who pointed to an unmarked counter, verifying that Lufthansa would open there at 10:30. I figured the Germans to be a punctual people, so I was a bit surprised when they opened at 10:45. But we had nothing else to do, so who cares? Not quite true, as Meredith found 2 more boxes of Turkish candy for gifts, and only spent $55.00! With seat assignments in hand and baggage checked, we proceeded to the gate. As we still had 3 hours to kill, we stopped in a nearby cafe to wait. Meredith said, "Just for ha-ha's, how much did the candy cost?" We discussed the candy incident while drinking a draft beer and house wine. We noted that the drinks were comparable to the candy. And there was no way I was going to pay another $12.00 for a draft beer. So on to the gate to wait. It hadn't opened yet, but a small bar proved that this beer was only $8.00. A bargain! The gate finally opened, and we had to enter another security gauntlet - belts off but shoes ok. Onwards to the plane and off to Frankfurt. Lufthansa is a great airline! NO charge for German bottled beer! Frankfurt; We arrived at terminal A and maneuvered a long confusing walk to keep site of the arrows marked E. The gate waiting area had its own bar. so the wait wasn't as bad with beer and pretzels close at hand. By this time I was too tired to care what I was charged. But it was only 4.80 euro per beer. At long last we boarded and lifted off. The woman in front of me immediately reclined her seat to its full extent. I tried to do so also, but a small child behind me kicked constantly, so I sat up, placing my face 10 inches from the TV screen in front of me. Head phones were not passed out at take-off, so I killed time watching a film with Chinese subtitles and making up my own dialogue. When the ear phones finally arrived, they proved useful to block out the screams of numerous small children. I watched movie after movie, drinking free beer and praying for a UFO event where everyone but Meredith and I were removed from the plane for probing. But soon enough we were in Boston! Off the plane! Through customs! Waiting for the shuttle service to the car! Loaded the car! Off we go! I had brought my GPS on the cruise just for fun, and it was able to track the ship and identify various islands, although it was unable to give us a street list on the various islands. For kicks in Istanbul, I asked it to calculate the directions home and it sort of expired. After arriving in Boston and connecting it in the car, it was very vague about directions. It calculated time backwards, estimated it would take 10 hours to get to Springfield, (a 2 hour trip), and kept trying to direct us back to the airport. Happily, it has Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
            This review of our second-ever cruise is unbelievably lengthy (no surprise to the readers of my review of our first-ever cruise last fall!), so it is organized by labeled topics so that readers can scroll down to the ... Read More
            This review of our second-ever cruise is unbelievably lengthy (no surprise to the readers of my review of our first-ever cruise last fall!), so it is organized by labeled topics so that readers can scroll down to the information, if any, in which they have an interest.                          Personal Background and Travel Interests:  Husband Gerry and I both are 58, and began taking annual fall vacations to Europe after our younger child started college.  We both are business attorneys (I now am retired, G. remains working full-time), and both are very interested in history and art.  G. is a military history enthusiast, with less interest in natural beauty destinations, and he absolutely abhors shopping, which he believes wastes precious touring time.  I am a new docent at the Cincinnati Art Museum, so I am eager to visit any art-related sights on our trips.  We usually take a fall vacation to Europe (to avoid both the heat and the crowds), and trips until last September were all land trips: Spain; England/Belgium/The Netherlands; Italy; and Normandy/Loire Valley/Paris.  All of these trips were done independently, by train and bus, using the wonderful Rick Steves' practical and comprehensive guidebooks for sightseeing advice.  (We rented a car for the Normandy/Loire Valley part of our 2007 trip.)  We enjoy staying at small hotels and B&B's in preference to large or chains, and usually rely on the tripadvisor.com website for lodging recommendations when we travel, both in the US and abroad, and it has steered us well.                Last September, we took our first-ever cruise, Oceania Istanbul to Athens, in order to visit Istanbul and some Greek islands, a dream of Gerry's for the last several years, without worrying about ferry schedules and lugging suitcases.  The cruise more than met our expectations: we were happy with the comfort of the beds, the food and the excellent service.  We were so taken with our four days pre-cruise in Istanbul that I have remained a daily participant in the Istanbul forum of tripadvisor.                         Why Our Second Cruise and Why We Chose Oceania:  I began planning a land trip to Italy for October 2009 to visit areas we had never visited, particularly the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre.  However, on January 6, I received an email from Oceania setting forth $2,000 price reductions on certain Mediterranean cruises for this summer and fall.  I immediately excluded all those in July and August simply because I cannot take high temperatures and humidity.  Of those left, I spotted the Athens to Rome itinerary, which included two days on the Amalfi Coast, an opportunity to see Delos/Mykonos, missed last September due to high seas, and a day in Malta, which I knew could be the hook to get my military-history-oriented husband to sign up.  He checked them out that night, called our long-time travel agent, and were booked the next day in the same cabin we had in September and on the same ship, Nautica.                 Airlines and Flights:  Cincinnati is a Delta hub, which means we have the most expensive airfare in the US, and 95% of the flights are on Delta.  But I called Delta that same day we booked this cruise, and, just an example of how bad our economy was, I easily got skymile tickets for a departure on June 3 and return on June 22, less than five months in advance.  Normally, you have to call promptly 11 months in advance and be very flexible, but this year, no problem at all.  I refuse to fly through JFK (numerous lost luggage and cancelled flight stories), so we flew on Continental to Newark, then overnight on Continental to Athens and back on Delta (really Northwest), Rome to Atlanta and Atlanta to Cincinnati.                             Well, we had a rough start to our journey: some yoyo (actually a former neighbor of ours) stuffed two large carry-on bags into one small overhead luggage bin on our small regional jet, which bin would then neither open nor fully close.  One hour was spent trying to remove the luggage, and finally the entire bin was disassembled.  I wonder how many passengers missed their connections because this guy and his wife planned to spend three weeks in Eastern Europe with three carry-on bags but simply would not check any luggage.               The overnight flight to Athens was less than 2/3 full, so G. moved and I had two seats on which to try to spread out and doze.  This flight was on-time and not crowded, what more can you ask for? Of course, when we had our own movie screens with the choice of dozens of films to wile away the hours back from Rome, I enjoyed watching three Oscar-nominated films, which truly made the time go faster.  This Rome to Atlanta flight was packed, not a surprise because our Delta flight vanished in April and we were moved to a Northwest flight.  Fortunately, after our rough start in Cincinnati, the other three flights all were on-time.               Vacation Itinerary:  Oceania's 12- Day Enchanted Escapade voyage: Athens, Delos/Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, sea day, Malta, Taormina, Sorrento, Amalfi, Livorno, Monte Carlo, Portofino, Rome; only one sea day and no overnights in port, so a jam-packed itinerary.  Because we had spent three days in Athens just last September, we booked only one extra night before boarding, planning to visit two museums we had missed, but decided on five extra nights in Rome after disembarking to get in some of the sightseeing we had planned on when this vacation was still an Italy land trip.                Cruise Ship Nautica:  Bearing in mind that we have no cruise ship experience on any other line, and that we traveled on the same ship that we were on last September, I absolutely loved almost everything about this ship and I highly recommend this cruise line.                  Our Cabin:   We booked the same cabin we ended up in after clearing our guaranty last fall, Cabin 6033, obstructed view, but really just obstructed by a large davit from which a small zodiac hangs below the large picture window level, so plenty of light.   About a week before our departure, our travel agent received an upgrade offer for us which she admittedly mishandled (a long story), and the following day she had managed to arrange for an upgrade at a good price to a B veranda, Cabin 6073.  Of course, now I am spoiled by the veranda, and it will be difficult to return to smaller quarters.               Even with my bringing two suitcases, instead of our normal one each on all our previous land trips, there was room for everything to be put away (suitcases fit under the beds), so I was a very happy camper.  I did not want to accumulate any mess, and I wanted to keep the small couch for lounging. I was able to stow away all purchases in the cabinets above or below the TV.  Our friendly cabin attendant was on her first cruise, and she and her assistant kept us well-supplied.  (She adored my spouse because when we arrived, apparently the bathroom had not been cleaned, and, without telling me, he whisked me away to lunch, had a discreet word with her, rather than complaining to her supervisors, and I never would even have known about it except upon seeing her later our first night on board, she was so effusive and grateful to him, that I ended up finding out the story.)  The beds are indeed very comfortable, and, as chosen by Cruisecritic editors, the food is fantastic.               Embarkation and Disembarkation:  We boarded just before 3 PM on a Friday, our second full day in Athens, having spent one night at the Athens Cypria, about a five-minute walk from Syntagma Square.  The taxi ride from central Athens to the cruise ship cost 20 Euros and took about 20 to 25 minutes. I have posted a review of this very reasonably-priced and well-located hotel on the tripadvisor website.  There were just a few people boarding at that time, and our suitcases were at our cabin when we returned from our late lunch at the Terrace Cafe buffet, which stays open until 4 PM on embarkation day.  We disembarked about 15 minutes before the required 9 AM in Civitavecchia after our last leisurely breakfast.  Our suitcases were immediately available and easily found at the cruise terminal.  We shared a van from there to our centrally located hotel near the Campo di'Fiori, Hotel Smeraldo, for five more nights in Rome, a review of which I also have posted on the tripadvisor website.                The van, Bob's Limousines, www.romelimousines.com, was an excellent price for the lengthy drive into central Rome, but Bob refused to drop us at our hotel, saying that the van was too large to navigate on the tiny streets near the Campo, but that is an absolute falsehood.  I had stayed at the same hotel three years previously, and many large delivery vehicles travel there daily.  So we were forced to schlep our three rolling suitcases plus carry-on bags several blocks from the Largo Argentina tram stop.  Bob wanted to drop us even further away because he truly had not bothered checking out the precise location of our hotel.  I was pretty steamed about this, but our four travel companions, all met on cruisecritic, simply were the loveliest people imaginable (and had also uncomplainingly survived a lousy private day tour with us that I had arranged), so outspoken me actually kept her mouth shut for once.                       Food:  As recommended, after boarding and having lunch, we went down to the Grand Dining Room and booked our two specialty restaurant meals.  I once again decided to do both the first week in case we wanted to return to either, and indeed we returned to both the second week. However, with the food so good in the Grand Dining Room, they truly never repeated the menu items in 12 nights, and the dEcor there so spacious and attractive, we were happy to dine there.                All in all, the only food issues either of us had simply was that the more people with whom you shared a table, the more time it took to both get served and eat.  So if you prefer to eat at 7:30 PM, as we did, but you want to play 9 PM trivia with staffer Ian, you need to dine alone!  And if you dine with six others, you will be very lucky to catch the 9:45 PM show.  Ultimately, we decided that the company, almost all fellow cruise critic members met on our fabulous roll call, was far superior to the entertainment, and we just went with the flow.  I absolutely loved being able to eat dinner whenever I wanted based on the day's activities, with no schedule or required dressing up.                  All the advice from last summer's Oceania food thread was spot on:  my favorite foods included chocolate croissants, fresh blueberries and raspberries, crab cakes, any beef dish we ever tried, all the pates, a large variety of creative appetizers, cheesecake, all uniformly fine dining.  The appetizers and desserts outshine the entrees a bit, which seem to be geared to more conservative palates. We drink a lot of iced tea, and even that was good and tasted fresh brewed at meals.  To nitpick, the cappuccino (free!) was not very good, particularly suffering in comparison to those I drank at breakfast daily in Rome, and the coffee also suffered in comparison to the mixed strong coffee and hot milk I drank in Rome.  We found the wine list to be priced comparable to any good restaurant, with a good price and quality range, and any bottle not finished was stored with our room number for another meal.                One of the aspects of the dining I most enjoyed was that I was able to eat  breakfast and lunch on board out of doors because the buffet breakfast and lunch place, the Terrace Cafe, has outdoor seating, comfy wooden chairs with cushions and large umbrellas for shade. I really liked that servers placed the food on your plates at the breakfast and lunch buffets; it seemed very hygienic.  The grill on the pool deck was very convenient for a very casual lunch, and I enjoyed several grilled pastrami Reuben sandwich lunches there (although not for the health-conscious!).  I liked that you were always provided with real silverware and cloth napkins and placemats, no matter how casually you dined.                We found the service to be uniformly top notch in the Grand Dining Room (with one minor exception), with no issues in having different staff serving us different nights because there was no assigned seating.  We never waited more than a minute or two to be seated, even though we often arrived at 7:30 PM prime time.  This trip we seldom dined alone because we developed several friendships from our roll call, and it was a real pleasure to exchange shore experiences with those with whom we had corresponded in the months prior to the cruise.  Even if you dine at a table for two, the close proximity of the other tables for two allows you the choice of meeting fellow cruisers or having your own conversations at any time desired.  One of the big pluses to me of the Oceania line is the friendliness of the well-trained staff, as well as the diversity of national and ethnic origin of the staff.                Our two meals each at the Polo Grill (wonderful beef) and Toscana (superb pasta and veal chop) were uniformly excellent, and, because one of our Polo meals was a pre-arranged birthday celebration for a fellow roll caller celebrating his 50th birthday, we literally closed the place that evening!  I had no problem arranging for one return visit to each by requesting a reservation the same morning at the desk at the Terrace Cafe.  I found that being flexible on my times and willingness to share with others resulted in spaces being found.                      Shipboard Daytime Activities:  Once again, I cannot really say much about the daytime activities on board, because we participated in very few.  We attended one lecture by Dr. Tom Stauffer on Malta.  He gave three 50-minute illustrated lectures during the cruise, one each on Greece, Malta, and Italy, but we only attended the one given on our one sea day, the day before our Malta visit.  I thought that it was very informative; G. had read a lot about Malta already, but he thought the lecturer did a good job.                I also went to a cooking demonstration the morning of our sea day with the chief chef and another chef, who showed how they made (and provided photocopies of) recipes for several items we might actually make at home (no odd ingredients) and then samples of those dishes were provided to all.  G. had his blackberry with him, so we did not utilize the ship's email services.                We played the afternoon trivia game that sea day as well (at 4:45 PM), at the urging of one of our roll call friends (G. is great at trivia) but several of the players on our own team were so intense and focused on winning, that I said never again, I want to enjoy my trivia games.  We stayed with the evening trivia with Ian or pianist Jerry in the Martinis lounge, where the focus was on having fun.  We accumulated enough "O" points from these trivia games to get the Oceania mouse pad for each of us, a wonderful reminder of our trip every time I sit down at my computer.  The leftover points are put away with my extra Euros for our next O cruise.                                          Pool Deck.  On our sea day, the weather was glorious, and we spent most of the day on loungers on the pool deck, reading, gossiping with fellow roll call members, or taking a dip.  We also often swam late in the afternoon after returning from our sightseeing. We again found throughout the cruise that many people went off to other activities yet insisted on leaving their things for hours on the coveted shaded lounge chairs, guarded by their spouses or friends who were not so active, which was somewhat annoying.  I do not understand why so many did this, but there was enough coming and going that I never had to wait too long for a lounger in the shade.  However, one needed to wait a lot longer to get two together, and we simply sat separately until people started disbursing to prepare for dinner and then we rejoined each other.                Entertainment:  We enjoyed the string quartet which played before dinner (we never made it to tea to hear them play), and if we were done with dinner early enough we joined the trivia game hosted by Ian, a charming young man, who was very amusing.  We often attended the evening one-hour show, but several nights were spent dining late with our lovely roll call members, and we knew we generally were not sacrificing any memorable entertainment to stay with our friends in the GDR.  The entertainment was indeed a weak spot, the best being a classical guitar player, followed by an admittedly silly, but amusing, magician, and a pleasant classical violinist.  On our last cruise, we had a really top performer, a musical theater performer from London's West End flown in for a few days, but there was nothing like him on this trip.  The night we were sailing past Stromboli, an active volcano just north of the Straits of Messina, all were invited to the top deck as we sailed by late in the evening, and a passenger, who knew his astronomy, took out his laser pointer and showed us some constellations, a lovely end to our day.               Destination Services.  We did not take any of the ship's excursions because we prefer to tour independently and not be bused around on the schedule of the slowest of 35 people.  We also felt that Oceania's tour pricing was high.  However, at every port, Oceania had a local tourist person on board for the first few hours after arrival, and that person provided excellent maps, which I always obtained and were very useful (I am a happy map enthusiast, the more detailed the better!), and also sightseeing advice and directions to local transportation for those who needed it .  We used photocopies of materials from Fodor's and Frommer's guidebooks, plus the excellent advice provided by you on these boards, and we knew what we wanted to do in each port.                   Fellow passengers:  Unlike our September cruise, where we were at the younger end of the age spectrum, this cruise had many families (one with over 20 members), and there were several young children, many teenagers and young adults, and then couples in their 40's and on up to the expected over 60 demographic.  Most were American, from all over the US, but a substantial number were from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.  People were friendly, smart, having fun, open, and very active.                 Ports of Call.             Athens.  Having spent three days in Athens last September, we chose to fly in just a day early and stay near the very central Syntagma Square in order to visit two museums which we had missed on our last visit.  I have been active on the Athens forum of tripadvisor for almost a year, so I knew precisely where I wanted to stay, eat and visit.  Unfortunately, the anticipated March opening of the New Acropolis Museum had become a June 20 opening, so we missed it again.  After hotel check-in, we went to the famous Ariston Bakery nearby and purchased three hot pies for lunch.  We dined al fresco at the cool curtain wall fountain on Syntagma Square, sharing a fine eggplant and zucchini pie, a better spinach pie, and an absolutely sublime mushroom pie.             Now refreshed and fortified, we walked over to the Benaki Museum for a fascinating three-hour exploration, returning in the late afternoon for drinks on the pedestrian street of our hotel before our 7 PM dinner reservation at Tzitzikas & Mermigas. We shared the ten-vegetable house salad (wonderful), some eggplant salad (my addiction) and chicken masticha, which was fantastic. A stroll down Mitropoleos and back up Ermou, enjoying the active night scene, and then off to bed for the jet-lagged.             The next morning, after stopping at the Masticha Shop for a look around and the purchase of a 20-gram tin for cooking usage, we visited the incredible Museum of Cycladic Art, where I drooled over most of the first-floor exhibits, enjoyed mingling with the parent chaperones on a grade-school visit from Piraeus, and then drank in the Classical Greek life gallery and videos. A short distance up the street, G. got to take a quick look at the artillery around the War Museum, and then we grabbed the metro to Monastiraki to check out the completed square, which was under construction during our September visit. We really enjoyed the underground archaeological displays at the metro stop there, plus the gorgeous new square. We then checked out those at the Syntagma metro before retrieving our luggage and taking a taxi to Piraeus to board Nautica.             Athens is very easy to tour on your own because, unlike Paris or London, the main tourist sites all are within a very small, easily walkable area.  Yes, the graffiti is rampant, but it is a vibrant city full of great museums, a good metro and bus system, and many pedestrianized streets in the historic core.                   Delos/Mykonos.  Unlike last September, the sea was like a sheet of glass, so we easily tendered into Delos for a lovely two-hour stroll on our own (using information copied from some guidebooks to tour at our own pace) through gorgeous wildflowers and evocative ruins.  What a lovely and peaceful place. There even was a breeze from the north to help me with the lack of shade on the island.                After lunch on board and the short sail to Mykonos, enjoyed on our veranda, we tendered into Mykonos.  We had planned to go to the beach, but a dearth of taxis led us instead to simply wander through Little Venice up to the windmills and do a little shopping before tendering back to swim on the ship.  A pretty town, but Delos was the both the point and highlight of our day.                   .              Rhodes.  We had visited last September, and chose once again to tour the lovely Old Town, first visiting the lovely synagogue and its museum (which now had an intern from the mainland to provide information to summer visitors), then strolling around the shopping areas while G. explored some of the back streets, and finally to the Grand Masters House, where I wanted to re-visit the magnificent mosaics looted from elsewhere by Mussolini. There were great breezes through the large open windows, so we took our time.  After strolling down the Street of the Knights, we opted to return to the ship and relax on the pool deck in preparation for our ambitious day in Santorini.  Unless you plan to visit Lindos, again there is no reason to hire a guide because the ship docks right by Old Town Rhodes.                Santorini.  We took the cable car up to Thira  (no wait at all because only a few small ships were in port until mid-afternoon) and picked up our rental car from Tony's, reserved in advance because I only can drive an automatic (40 Euros for the day plus 8? Euros for gas).  We drove directly to the lovely Oia to arrive before the cruise ship tours, found it absolutely empty of tourists, explored all the way down to the church and up to the point, shopped very leisurely, focusing on art pieces, ate lunch with an amazing view over the caldera, picked up a large replica of an Akrotiri wall painting, and finally set off for the southern part of the island, including the black beaches of Perissa, and historic Megalochori, where I almost ran out of room to navigate the narrow lanes.  After returning the car, I purchased some lovely linen items in Thira, where I also had purchased last year, and we took the cable car back down at 5 PM,  with no wait at all.               Santorini also is easy to do on your own with a rental car because there is very little traffic once you leave the main town of Thira, clogged with shoppers, and the island is small, with free and easy parking everywhere.               Malta.  We got up at 7 AM to enjoy the sail into one of the most magnificent harbors in the world (and my screensaver for the months before our cruise).  Our first stop (after walking up the car tunnel to the free elevator which lets you off right at the bus hub outside the walls of old Valletta) was the Co-Cathedral of St. John, where we stayed much longer than expected because the audio tour included with your admission is great, plus the dEcor is amazing, plus the Caravaggio is beautifully displayed.  We then visited the Archaeological Museum before taking a taxi (we just missed the bus) for the 10-minute ride to the Hypogeum for our scheduled 2 PM one-hour visit.  In my opinion, this is a do-not-miss in Malta, a 5,000-year-old underground necropolis, with admission limited to 10 pre-booked visitors per hour, and like nothing you ever have seen.  We then walked about  five minutes to the Tarxien Temples, which I found a bit underwhelming (it was very hot), then caught a bus back to Valletta for more strolling, a bit of shopping (for Mdina glass), a visit to the Upper Barracca Gardens, with its incredible harbor views.  We then walked down the hill back to the ship.               Taormina.  After such a busy day in Malta, it was great to have a leisurely day in Taormina, with no museums to visit.  We shared a taxi from the port town of Giardini Naxos to the main square of Taormina (six Euros each), visited the Odeon ruins, then strolled up to the Greco-Roman theatre, which has wonderful views from all sides, and then strolled down to the public gardens first planted by an exiled ex-mistress of Edward VII.  G. ate his first gelato of the trip, I ate the requisite famed cannoli of Taormina, we finished our stroll down to the plaza at the west end of town, and we once again shared a taxi with some fellow Nautica cruisers whom we encountered back to the port.               Sorrento.  We caught the free Oceania-supplied shuttle bus (a welcome first in our cruising history with Oceania) up the hill to the main Plaza Tasso, walked over to the train station (about an eight- minute walk), picked up a train schedule and caught the next Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii.  After you buy your ticket, be sure to pick up the excellent "Brief Guide to Pompeii" booklet at the information window to your left (about 80 pages of descriptive information cued by number to the map you got with your ticket). You will not get it automatically, but must ask for it.  As huge archaeology/history fans, Pompeii was one of the highlights of our trip, and we staggered out again after almost five hours when G. literally started tripping over the stones from fatigue.  There is shade there and we were fortunate to have a breeze the day we visited, but there are no bathrooms except at the entrances/exits.  That is insane!               Upon our return to Sorrento, we had a very late lunch at Da Franco (the best pizza place in Sorrento), just a couple of minutes down the main street from the train station, shopped a bit, and then paid an outrageous price for a taxi back down to the harbor.  (The free shuttle bus put on by Oceania stopped running at 4:30 PM.)               Amalfi.                   Originally we planned to go on our own this day because it was my birthday, but Nautica was sailing at 3 PM, so we rethought and ended up joining four of our lovely roll call members for an Amalfi Drive with Marcello, owner of seesorrento.  (J., thanks again for including us.)  The friendly and knowledgeable Marcello picked us up at the dock in his comfortable clean Mercedes van at 8 AM (our earliest departure day!) and drove us first to Positano, then back through Amalfi to Maiori, then up the hills to Tremonte, down to Ravello,  We then stopped for an unbelievable lunch in Pontone, wonderful cuisine with great views.  We met up there with eight other roll call friends, who were touring with an associate of Marcello's, and scarfed down plates of at least 10 different appetizers, followed by three pastas and three desserts, all served family style with unlimited red and white wine plus several varieties of limoncello, all for at a very, very reasonable price.  Champagne and a birthday cake for me came out with the desserts (again, thanks J.), and I never, never had such a birthday in my life.  We returned to Amalfi around 2 PM and spent a few minutes exploring and shopping in the lovely main square.               Livorno.               Because we had spent almost a week in Florence and Siena just a few years ago, we decided to use this day to visit the Cinque Terre, knowing it would be very crowded on a Sunday.  After a lot of research, and contact with six tour companies, I organized a private tour with the well-respected romeinlimo, which described a good itinerary on its website to visit the four towns I wanted to see there, and I enlisted four others from our roll call to join us.  It is a 90-minute drive each way, and I had my Rick Steves' guidebook and the boat schedule with me.  The 20-minute Path of Love from Riomaggiore from Manarola was mobbed with tour groups from the enormous new Renaissance ship, Independence of the Seas, and the boat ride from Manorola to Vernazza also was crowded.  Fortunately, once we left the dock area in Vernazza, we recovered our equilibrium, and spent several lovely, relaxing hours touring this most charming town and dining at a modest trattoria where we sat with several hikers (older than us), who had just finished the very demanding hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, the reportedly most difficult part of the hiking path among the five CT towns.  Our tour mates dined at the more up-scale Belfort above the harbor.  We met up for the boat ride to Monterosso, where we were picked up and driven back to Livorno.                         Monte Carlo.               Two couples traveling together from Cleveland had engaged Sylvie di Cristo for a private tour of the Cote d'Azur, having toured with her previously, and then posted on the roll call for others to join them.  I jumped at the opportunity because I had read so many wonderful things about her, and she more than lived up to my expectations.  This lady is amazing, maneuvering a large van through very small, traffic-filled areas while continuously educating us with such a breadth of knowledge that I simply was blown away.  She also made adjustments in the schedule throughout the day to accommodate some last-minute requests, and it all worked out fantastically.  She provided not only my favorite tour of the trip, but my favorite private tour ever, a full day of beauty and wonder.  What a pro!               We began by touring Monaco itself, following the exact path of the recently-completed Grand Prix F1 race, then over to the Lower Corniche to Nice, where we stopped to visit the Chagall Museum, the one place I had requested, then we drove over to St. Paul de Vence, where we had lunch outside the old city walls at the cafe next to the boules court, where several old and young men were playing.  After some time enjoying the views and beautiful shops and art galleries there, we stopped at lovely, non-touristy Haut Cagnes, where many artists painted (copies of the pictures are placed in front of the actual places painted), then took a highway back to Monaco so that those who wanted to visit the Cathedral where Princess Grace is buried could do so. We visited there and the Palace where Prince Albert lives before returning to the docked ship.               Portofino.               We spent a leisurely day here before disembarkation in Rome, hiking first towards the lighthouse, stopping at the Chiesa San Giorgio, then touring the empty Castello Brown, with its breathtaking postcard views of the harbor, before strolling down the zigzag path through its extensive gardens which cover the hillside all the way back to the pier.  A bit of shopping and pack to the ship for packing.                         Rome.               Five days of pure bliss: great art, museums, and food.  We had visited the Vatican Museums/St. Peter's and Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum just a couple of years ago, so we did not return.  The highlight of our visit was the do-not-miss for art lovers Borghese Gallery (Bernini and Caravaggio), which was the best two hours we spent in Rome.  We purchased our Roma Pass there, which provides free and discounted museum admissions, and three days of free public transportation.   We also enjoyed the Ara Pacis, the National Museum of Rome, San Clemente Church (with its three levels: 2nd c. Mithraic cult; 4th century Christian; 19th c.), Jewish Ghetto area, including the Museum and Synagogue, the Pantheon, Trastavere, including the Villa Farnesina, the Gallery Doria Pamphily, a private palazzo with fabulous art and public rooms, and too many churches with great art to list.  The culinary highlight was our meal at Piperno in the Jewish Ghetto, a top 10 Rome restaurant.  Our last night in Rome was Midsummer's Night Eve, and our stroll from the Campo di'Fiori to the Pantheon to Giolotti's for our last gelato, then over to the Trevi Fountain and back were magical.                               We certainly made the right decision in choosing Oceania for our second cruise, and I heartily recommend this lovely ship, itinerary and cruise line.  This cruise was even better than our first due to the wonderful itinerary and, more importantly, the fantastic people we met through our roll call with whom shared this lovely experience. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
We had actually planned and put a deposit on a Celebrity itinerary that went to many of the same destinations BUT started and ended in Rome. Then the Oceania brochure arrived in the mail and I found the itinerary that I really wanted! ... Read More
We had actually planned and put a deposit on a Celebrity itinerary that went to many of the same destinations BUT started and ended in Rome. Then the Oceania brochure arrived in the mail and I found the itinerary that I really wanted! Athens to Istanbul. Didn't have to deal with Citavecchia, alot more time / ports in the Greek Isles and ending in Istanbul so we could add a few days to see all the sights there at a leisurely pace. But the price! We had a balcony booked on the Celebrity ship, we booked a porthole cabin on the lowest deck on Nautica and it was costing more. We reserved our cabin in July 2008, by the time final payment was due the economy had sunk, the Nautica had a fair amount of empty cabins and for $300 more per person we upgraded to a balcony. I did love my balcony but this trip was the most expensive vacation I have ever taken - was it worth it?We did our own air and transfers. It was nice that the ship had an overnight in Athens at the start of the trip so we did not have to fly in early "just in case". We took the bus from the airport to Pireaus (easy do) but others posters had said you could walk to the ship - it would have been warm (and this was only May) and a fair hike. We took a short but worth it 12E taxi from where the bus let us off.Our cabin was very nice - we knew not to expect super-luxury size wise and it was very comfortable with room for all our stuff. Robes were provided and the TV had a very good assortment of current films plus the usual port talks and various channels from around the world. Also there were free DVD's you could check out - the assortment of movies and DVD's were a nice perk from any other ship we have been on.The ship was beautiful and very tastefully decorated with reproductions of famous pictures (lots of Impressionsits) and some lovely glass pieces in the Horizons bar. The size of the ship and the decor were IMO much nicer than the mammoth super ships used by so many other lines. Nautica is elegant not glitzy. Three things lured me onto the Nautica - itinerary, ship size and food. Unfortunately I think my expections were a bit too high for the food - by the time I boarded the ship I was expecting the best 12 dinners of my life (and I'm used to eating pretty good food between my own cooking and Atlanta restaurants). I think because of that, I ended up being a wee bit disappointed. I was also frustrated with the specialty restaurants. Our cabin entitled us to one reservation in Polo and Toscano but on the CC boards some posters mentioned it was not difficult to get extra nights if you were flexible. That proved not to be so for us and the frustrating thing was the ship was not full and the nights we dined in both Polo and Toscano, they were not full. But every morning I would ask if we could get a sitting in either of the speciality resturants and was refused with the comment "We want to accommodate all our guests" huh? But I may be being a bit nit-picky now. The other frustration was unlike other cruise lines where you can ask the wait staff to point to the best choices on the menu and request a different choice if you are unhappy with the first one, that did not happen on Oceania. Someone said the staff is told not to give recommendations because "every choice is delicious" - well not quite. Especially disappointing was the lobster in Polo - tough and chewy. But now that I have expressed my grievences, I will give praise where it is due. Most of the food in the GDR was good to very good. The beef was always high quality and cooked to order. I love lamb and had that several times, always tastey. Some of the desserts were wonderful - the chocolate tear comes to mind (but that chocolate lasagna that gets raves on the boards, we thought was bogus!). In the specialty restaurants there was a fresh fish choice that was excellent. There were some wonderful pasta choices (and a few mediocre ones too). We always ate at the buffet for lunch and dinner - we especially liked the freah tossed salads of the day and the delicious cheeses. The format of no assigned time or table works well on a European cruise and we enjoyed meeting new people each evening at dinner. But sometimes if you opted to be seated at a larger table, you ended up waiting for it to fill up - one night it was about 20 minutes and a bit frustrating. Overall the food was very good, certainly the best cruise cuisine I have had - but probably the best food on the trip was the Greek food when we ate off the ship.Well you can tell by now I am a foodie - I don't have nearly as many comments on other aspects of the trip. The ship went to Crete, Dubrovnik, Olympia, Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, (we had to skip Delos bcause of high waves), Rhodes, Kusadasi, and ended in Istanbul. At every port there was a local travel agent with helpful maps, money and transportation tips - Oceania gets an A+ for this feature. We did all ports on our own so I have no comments on the excursions offered by the ship. We thoroughly enjoyed the ports - felt we got a nice exposure  to many of the different islands and the port stops were long enough to do a fair amount of exploring. It was nice to be on a small ship - no waiting for tenders but unfortunately at several of the ports "we were not alone" as the cruise directior liked to say. So some days we joined a heavy tourist swarm. But it was a great itinerary. Istanbul at the end was a mix. It was quite crowded and it took us a bit to get used to the interaction with the locals. Numerous rug solicitaions. We stayed at the Pierre Loti Hotel - excellent location and price. By the time we left, we were feeling more comfotable. I must add tho that we did not feel unsafe - I got alot of "you're going to Turkey - be careful". We used the trams and buses to get around and I was less wary of being pick-pocketed there than in many of the other big EU cities. The locals are very friendly but they often have an agenda - a polite refusal usually ended any solicitation.Entertainment - not for me (I read) but my daughter (30 year old) really liked the magician. She also used the gym and the  spa and would give them good marks. Service - EXCELLENT - sometimes almost too attentive, but that's just me. Fellow passengers, yes, mostly 50 and beyond, very well traveled, many Oceania fans. Most of the people we met were very pleasant and made nice dinner companions.So was it worth it? Would I sail Oceania again? - definately yes if the price was less. The itineraries, the ship size and decor,  the flexibilty of dining times and no formal nights, the local travel agents on board, the friendly staff - all very attractive and unique qualities of this line. But it was pricey - I can do a 2 week land trip (not a tour) for thousands less so it may be that this wonderful trip will have been  a "once in a lifetime" experience. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
This was our first time cruising on an "upscale" trip. We boarded the ship at Athens. The baggage transfer was smooth and efficient. The check in process took all of about 10 minutes. Having been on 3 day "cattle ... Read More
This was our first time cruising on an "upscale" trip. We boarded the ship at Athens. The baggage transfer was smooth and efficient. The check in process took all of about 10 minutes. Having been on 3 day "cattle car" cruises where the check in procedure took over an hour or more, this was a pleasant surprise. We checked in early so our cabins were not ready, however, the ship offered a buffet lunch (which I think is standard) until our cabin was available. We took the time to make reservations for Nautica's 2 reservations only restaurants, and to tour the ship. Nautica carries a little under 700 passengers, and as the cruise progressed, we were able to make quite a few acquaintances. The passenger mix was predominantly American, with a nice number of Australian and New Zealanders. The age was primarily 45/50 up, with very few children, which made the pool deck quite enjoyable. Poolside service was great, with deck chairs available with terry cloth covers and ample bath towels. There were enough deck chairs pool side to handle the busiest period. The food was excellent throughout the cruise. The quantity, presentation and service was very good. Several things impressed me about Oceania. 3 days into the cruise a preliminary "How we doing" questionnaire was circulated. The concierge personally followed up on my comments and we received a bottle of champagne for our efforts. The deck chairs on the Terrace restaurant were teak. We were not constantly "badgered" over the loudspeaker by the Cruise Director regarding the daily activities, which were clearly identified in the ship's daily newspaper. The wait staff remembered "little things" regarding our preferences. The crew were happy, in fact several commented on how the Oceania made it a priority to treat the crew well. Oceania had a philosophy that a happy crew made for a successful voyage....and it showed. There was constant followup. We put some misinformation down on our debarkation questionnaire, and it was caught and corrected. The cruise and the service by Oceania exceeded our expectations, and we will cruise with them in the future. Read Less
Sail Date August 2006
NAUTICA -- Travelers may not know about a relatively new line called Oceania Cruises, but they should learn. We took The Black Sea Interlude on the Nautica, one of three Oceania ships. The experience was delightful. Our cruise began ... Read More
NAUTICA -- Travelers may not know about a relatively new line called Oceania Cruises, but they should learn. We took The Black Sea Interlude on the Nautica, one of three Oceania ships. The experience was delightful. Our cruise began July 2, 2006, in Piraeus, the port for Athens, went to Santorini, Kusadasi, Yalta, Sochi, Sevastopol, Odessa, Constanta, Nessebur and ended in Istanbul. We recommend the ship to any adults who want good food, good company, and good experiences ashore. We spent several days in Athens first, at the Athenaeum InterContinental. Oceania had a welcome desk there before cruise departure, but you could seldom find the Oceania person and when we finally did, she was unhelpful and gave us inaccurate information. The InterContinental put us in a taxi to the cruise terminal, where we went through a perfunctory and useless security check. From there, Nautica took over and the boarding process was simple and friendly. We were in our stateroom within 15 minutes of leaving the taxi and at the welcoming lunch buffet 10 minutes later. Most of the luggage arrived promptly. The final piece was delayed a couple hours. We found the stateroom, 4049, well located--about 35 steps from the reception desk, central stairway, and elevators. The room was beautiful, in perfect condition, quiet, about average size for a cruise ship, with dark woods, a large window, a comfortable queen-size bed, a small desk and padded stool, small love-seat and a coffee table, and a functional TV that showed movies. Storage space was more than adequate, and suitcases fit under the bed. We had no balcony, and never felt we needed one. The bathroom was on the small side, with adequate storage space but a tiny shower. The hot water was always hot, but the shower is probably the worst feature of the Nautica. An attendant cleaned the room twice daily, did a perfect job, and was seldom seen. Overall, the ship was beautiful, very well decorated, traditional but not old-fashioned, and superbly maintained. You could hardly find a scuff mark anywhere. The ship carries only 680 passengers, which puts it on the small side these days. We, and everyone we talked to, liked the size, which was big enough but not too big. While cruising, the ship was stable. The swimming pool was small but adequate, with two whirlpools, and the deck area was adequate. There were a variety of places to sit in the sun or lean on the railing. There was a nice library, a good-sized fitness area, a small casino, and two shops. A string quartet frequently played, as did a pianist. The stage entertainment was typical of cruise ships. There were few children on our trip, and there should have been none. Nautica doesnt encourage children, and these kind of trips arent suited for them. Food was usually very good, sometimes excellent, and a few times even superb. It would occasionally fall into the okay category. The elegant Grand Dining Room operates during specified periods as announced each day in the ship newsletter. You are not assigned a table or an eating time. There are no formal nights. You dress country club casual. No tie or jacket is required for men. Some jackets but only a few ties were in evidence. You decide whether to eat with others or not. Service was good. The buffet, at the stern of the ship, has superb views and is called the Terrace Cafe for breakfast and lunch and Tapas for dinner. On three consecutive evenings, we sat at one of the outdoor tables at the buffet and watched the sun set over the Black Sea, an experience to treasure. Menu selection was varied, and presentation was excellent in both restaurants. Oceania advertises that legendary chief Jacques Pepin created some of the dishes on the menu. That seemed overrated to us. Near the pool was a grill, operating from about noon to 4 p.m., where you could get good hamburgers and hot dogs, a few other sandwiches, ice cream, and go through a salad buffet. There are two alternative restaurants, Toscana, featuring Italian, and the Polo Grill, featuring beef. You make reservations, but do not pay extra at them. While fine, they are over-hyped. The dining room and buffet were just as good. The Nautica does not scrimp on food. Prime rib was on the menu several nights, a roast sucking pig was served one day, and shrimp prepared in various ways was available almost every day. We met the captain once at a ships party. Otherwise, he was not much in evidence. Tours of the bridge, kitchen and engine room were not advertised. A concierge is available during the day. When our room keys acted up, he quickly had the problem fixed. The staff comes from many countries, and most had good command of English and were very friendly. Shore excursions were adequate, but, as with many ships, terribly overpriced. Details about them, necessary to decide which ones to select, were hard to come by before we boarded. Calls to the 800 Oceania number were answered by dour, unhelpful individuals. Information from excursion leaders on the ship was much better. Guide service ashore was generally good, as was the quality of English spoken. Shuttles to bring you closer to a town center were offered in two ports, and were quite helpful. An official from the local tourist bureau was usually on the ship the morning of a docking. In talking to many of our fellow passengers, we heard nearly-unanimous praise for the Nautica. A surprising number of them had been on Oceania two or three times before, although the company has existed only a few years. One woman, apparently a chronic complainer, said maintenance of her stateroom was lacking, crew were impolite, and food was not phenomenal. It was difficult to believe her first two claims. As for the food, meals were always enjoyable and delicious; for phenomenal, you go to gourmet restaurants. Several passengers got on board without their luggage. I suspect that was the fault of airlines. I would strongly advise against arriving in Europe on the same day your cruise ship departstoo much opportunity for trouble. Service in the Nautica buffet was at times a little slow. The staff should also enforce the dress code. We had a few louts who came to the buffet in sleeve-less T-shirts and baggy shorts, and one who talked loudly on a cell phone. A few words about our ports. Athens and Istanbul are utterly fascinating. You can easily spend five days in each city. Santorini was crowded but interesting. Kusadasi is a Turkish/European resort, and is close to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, which everyone should see. Yalta was wonderful. We toured the conference hall where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met to discuss the end of WWII. Sochi is a prime Russian vacation area, very interesting, and we got to tour Stalins Dacha and stand by his desk. Sevastopol and Odessa in the Ukraine are interesting cities where you can just walk around and the soak up the atmosphere. Outside of Sevastopol, we toured the battlefield where The Charge of the Light Brigade took place, with a guide who was clearly enthused about her subject matter. We spent a day in Constanta, Romania, and another day in Nessebur, Bulgaria. Some passengers pooh-poohed those two stops, saying they offered little. Untrue. They offered a real slice of Romanian and Bulgarian life, a highly beneficial experience. Bottom line on Oceania and the Nauticaget their pamphlets and consider their cruises. Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
Nautica Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 3.9
Dining 5.0 4.3
Entertainment 3.0 3.3
Public Rooms 5.0 4.4
Fitness Recreation 5.0 3.8
Family 2.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.0
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 4.0 4.5
Value For Money 5.0 3.5
Rates 5.0 3.9

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