3 Istanbul to Europe - Western Mediterranean Oceania Nautica Cruise Reviews

Istanbul to Civitavecchia (Rome) August 4th 2009 on board ms Nautica Without doubt Oceania Cruises is certainly among the "better" companies in the cruise sector. I read here several reviews, mostly positive but also ... Read More
Istanbul to Civitavecchia (Rome) August 4th 2009 on board ms Nautica Without doubt Oceania Cruises is certainly among the "better" companies in the cruise sector. I read here several reviews, mostly positive but also several pointing less or even negative point, and I believe that both are right! Lets try to put this somewhat together: Let's start with the positive points: - With only 680 passengers for this size of ship and 400 crew members, these ships are absolutely in a good midsize and they have an exceptional ratio of passenger / crew of 1.71 to 1. - The vessels are clean, well maintained, even when you are looking for garbage, dirty floors etc... you will have difficulties to pin them down! - Their major asset is of course the high quality cuisine. The Grand Dining room can accommodate serious quantity of guests and there is enough well trained staff. You have free seating and plenty of choice in the daily menu. The food is excellent, very presented: simply delicious. Jacques Pepin who is giving a certain imprint of the high French cuisine has adapted also at a certain point to some American tastes. We had French Chief Pâtissier on board and the desserts and pastry were really a top. The image of Jacques Pepin is somewhat overdone perhaps, when you find on the menu every under his ... a New York Sirloin Steak! Also the Toscana and the Polo Grill much smaller are worth a visit. They are "unofficially" restrained in practise to the higher-level staterooms. But at least once a trip you can make a reservation in each. To get a second one is more as complicated! Cuisine is indeed more sophisticated and excellent. However I had the feeling that the staff was less trained and certainly fewer in number as in the Grand Dining room. Terrace Cafe combined with Tapas on the Terrace is a self - service restaurant having an opportunity to have your meal outside (if space is available of course). We used it mostly for breakfast ; At night they offer basically the same dishes as in the Grand Dining room but with some extra of different items. The Waves grill is "basic" for a small snack at noon. - There are several bars but only the spacious Horizons at the front and Martinis offer a "happy hour" between 5pm and 6pm. - The staterooms are nice and well maintained ... unless you are in the top layer, you do not have a fridge in your room. The bathroom is rather small of size. - Very useful for passengers who are arranging shore visits themselves is the fact that at arrival in the different ports, a local person from the tourist offices is at board to give useful information and maps. Also the daily information on your television screen about the next ports are quite interesting. - Excellent pre-voyage documents in a personalised booklet. Never seen such!! - Check in at the terminal is well done and even if you are earlier, you can get your stateroom if available. - The cruise ports and stops mostly good. Arrival and sailing hours are reasonably good. In our specific cruise there was only one worthless port: Olbia. Even the local church was not a pixel worth for a photo! What I do not understand is that even last year people found it bad. Simply changing this port with Bonifacio in Corsica (70 km) would be wonderful! These are strong point, however there are a few shadows: - Oceania seems to be building up rather hierarchic and bureaucratic when something is not within the book of the "company policy". Argument used each time the staff cannot scope with your question. It goes from even small items where some are close to a "comedy caper" up to more complicated such as the use of Fitness by adolescent teens from 15 - 18 even accompanied by their parent. As rather irritant and later comedy caper, not very "bad as such" I give you the "water problem". When checking is at the room there 2 complimentary bottles of still water. I simply ask to have sprinkling water in stead of it as we prefer this. Last year on board of Windstar, it took perhaps 15 minutes and the bottle was changed for a bottle of Perrier. You cannot believe it, but the same on Oceania took 3 to 4 days! I had the visit in my stateroom of 2 managers, before the 4th day there were 2 bottles of Perrier with a personal note of the General Manager!! I still question myself if authorisation has been asked in Miami! On the other hand in each restaurant they spoil still water with hundred litre a day when you see the number of full glasses that people do not drink. We had the difficulty to ... refuse the water! But if you want sprinkling they will charge you! - If the ship is at anchor you needs the tender. Another person pointed the same problem. You have to go to the 5th floor, taking a coloured ticket , in theory wait in the lounge to be conducted as "cattle" down the stairs to the 3rd floor! Again on Windstar you simply go and take the first available place! Even Dottie was standing on the 4th floor to stop people (mostly non Americans, a little less disciplined)! - A major item is the rates and prices charged on board. Even when the USD is less as the EUR, they are simply high and even outrageous: a. excursions are simply outrageous expensive! We arrange them ourselves but when you that even a the less expensive tour in small places are charged between 80 and 100 usd and some other simply at usd 109 or 139 per person. In many cases you arrange it for 10 pct of the rates if not less! b. Wines and drinks are expensive. The "cheapest" red wine is a Rioja at USD 29 plus 18 pct service charge!!!. On Windstar you found several at usd 21 / 23 plus 15 pct. c. Another overcharge is the Internet connection. It is not the rate as such, which is the problem but the incredible low very low extremely low speed! To get in my web mail it takes normally even abroad at an internet cafe not even a minute! On board it took more than 8 minutes (yes 8!) to only get in... and then you did not read even the first message! At the rate of the first volume package it cost already usd 6.40! To get into your web mail! Same applies to all sites! Before you printed your boarding pass of your airline, be sure that you will have paid between 15 and 20 usd! - Television is mainly destined for American public. On my remark on the mid voyage questionnaire, I mentioned that with satellite they could easily add a few other language chains such a French, Italian and Spanish ones. Received a phone call from Dottie in person that 85 pct are US, so it is not necessary to put other language chains. If they want to attract to the European market in such a way ?? - Disembarkation is quite different. Suitcases have to be put already at night outside the room. Convenient if you know that items you use in the morning such as shaving cream and other liquids are prohibited ... in your hand luggage on the plane. Nice to see in the terminal people kneeling on the ground opening their suitcases to transfer all the forbidden items! Class!!! Also breakfast before 08AM otherwise nothing! Conclusion: Overall the cruise was excellent and Oceania is certainly a good cruise line. The negative remarks should not be a "showstopper", except perhaps the extra charges that are expensive. The problem is that the small things mentioned are irritating and there is really no reason to be so narrow minded with "company policy" . Perhaps I compare too much with Windstar (180° different) much more flexible. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Nautica Black Sea Serenade Review July 2009   We joined Nautica in Istanbul having organised our own flights from London and a private transfer from the airport with Istanbul Airport Shuttle (22 euros). It was our second Oceania ... Read More
Nautica Black Sea Serenade Review July 2009   We joined Nautica in Istanbul having organised our own flights from London and a private transfer from the airport with Istanbul Airport Shuttle (22 euros). It was our second Oceania cruise out of about 25 in total, and as expected was thoroughly enjoyable. The food and service were as good as we had experienced on Insignia last year. Rather than adding to all the existing good reviews of Oceania ships I intend to focus on the Black Sea ports.   I always try to do a lot of research before a cruise as we prefer to explore on our own than on organised tours and this is especially important for us in recent years as my husband uses a wheelchair for any distance more than a couple of hundred yards. Some of the ports on this itinerary were quite difficult to research as there was very little information available. I hope the following may be of help to future visitors.   Istanbul, Turkey   Our third visit to one of my favourite cities and we had the luxury of starting the cruise with an overnight stay. We had visited the main attractions before and, being a Sunday, the Grand Bazaar was closed so we decided to start with a look around the new part of the city. Leaving the port we turned right and walked along to the tram stop, bought "jetons" (1.5 Turkish Lira each = 60p = $1US) and took the tram one stop to Kabatas. This is the end of the tram line and from there we used the  underground funicular (well signposted, disabled access lifts and uses the same "jetons") to take us up to Taksim Square. There was a large military parade in progress, something like remembrance day it seemed, with hundreds of soldiers, military bands etc, but once they left the square was quite deserted.   From there we walked along the main street of Istaki Kadesi (follow the old trams to find the right street). Most of the shops were open and there were a few street vendors too. Our plan had been to take the "Tunel" funicular back down but we seemed to miss it at the other end of the main street (there was a Metro station which I think was probably the place) but we kept walking down, found the Galata Tower, and continued along a steep downhill street which brought us out by the Karakoy tram stop at the Galata Bridge. From there we took a tram up to Sultanhamet, the central part of the old city. The Blue Mosque, Cistern & Hagar Sophia are all easy to find within this area as is the Grand Bazaar.   However, this time we wanted to visit Topkapi Palace, as we had neer previouslly been there. From the map it looked as though we had to walk down the hill to get in, but in fact from that entrance we had to push back up a steep hill to get in (entrance 20 Turkish Lira = 8 GBP = $12US each). The palace is huge, they have tried hard to give wheelchair access wherever possible but of course by the nature of an old building some parts were difficult. but we enjoyed a couple of hours wandering around and looking at several exhibitions (did not visit the Harem which would have been 15 lira extra). On leaving we found an exit which led to a gate just behind Hagar Sophia - a much easier route for anyone else who wants to visit ! Just follow the road with Hagar Sophia on your immediate left and you will arrive by the Topkapi wall.   We then walked down the hill to the Spice Bazaar at the bottom of the hill near the Galata Bridge, which was open and very busy even though it was Sunday, and some internet sites had said that it would be closed.   From here it would be walkable back to the ship but we opted for the tram again, as we find them so convenient and easy to use in Istanbul. Getting on at the Emminunou stop almost outside the Spice Bazaar involves quite a lot of steps down to an underpass and, surprisingly, there is no disabled access lift at this stop. Fortunately husband can manage the steps and I can carry the wheelchair ! We got off at the Tophane stop, to the old city side of the port and waked back - there is very little difference between the  distances of the 2 tram stops to the port - just a few minutes walk either way.   Nessebur/Nessebar, Bulgaria   The old town  is on an island linked to the mainland by a causeway and we tendered into a harbour close to the old city. I had been nervous about the accessibility here due to the hills and cobbled streets and Oeania's daily newsletter "strongly discourages the use of wheelchairs in this port". We decided to try with the backup plan of going to the beach if it was impossible to see the town. The cruise terminal itself was very hard work, numerous steps up and down into the customs building etc and from there we were immediately greeted with a huge flight of stone steps up to the town. However, there were some shops along a flat road to our left and passing those we arrived at the bus terminal, from where there was a nice gently sloping smooth tarmac slope up to the main square of the town. I would recommend this route for anyone other than the most active.   The old town of Nessebur/bar (the spellings seem to be interchangeable) is lovely, full of wooden houses and pretty little churches made from small bricks (in various states of repair). These days it is really a giant bazaar of several streets and squares (only about a quarter o f it cobbled, the rest is easily accessible for wheelchairs)  and the tourists flock in from the nearby beach resorts for a day of shopping. By lunchtime there were.hundreds of people waiting for buses back to Sunny Beach (fare 1 lei, I was told) and there was also a little train that cost 3 lei. We had bought a few Bulgarian Lei from home (1  lei = 50p) but there were plenty of ATMs in town. There we also a lot of money changing shops, although one shopkeeper told us not to use them as they sometimes give out fake money.   We debated a trip to Sunny Beach but the weather was not wonderful, it was cloudy and cooler than expected, so instead we walked across the causeway to have a look at new Nessebur. There are some hotels there and a few shops but nothing much. Further along the coast we could see some large hotels on a nice-looking beach but we did not walk that far, returning instead to the old town to use up our last few lei.   Constanta, Romania   The cruise terminal here is modern and bright but located in the middle of a large commercial port. There is a shuttle bus to Ovida square in the old town of Constanta about a mile or so away for $20 (yes $20 US for a maximum 3 mile round trip on  bus  - a rare black mark for Oceania!) but it was not a hard walk, even though it was hotter today. To begin with there is a long, flat, straight road to the port gate, which must be close to a mile. On the left just before the gate was a large bank with an ATM where we drew some Romanian Levs as we had been unable to buy any before leaving UK. We got 100 levs which was just over 20 GBP (so 1 lev = 20p = 30c US) but in fact the minimum withdrawal of 50 lev would have been plenty.   Once out of the port the casino building (no longer operating but an attraction of the city) is on your right and there is a short hill which leads up to some Roman ruins (less than impressive but work a quick look) just in front of the cathedral. The cathedral was quite nice - the entrance is on the left coming from the port, and continuing up that same street for a few minutes brings you to Ovida square. This square (actually more like a triangle) is home to a large archeological museum, which we did not visit but it looked very busy. Next to the museum is a smaller glass building housing the Roman mosaiacs (entrance 5 lev) and this was worth seeing, we thought. Beware of the toilet attendant on the square - she refused our offfer of a euros each but nearly frogmarched us to the museum cash desk to get change for her 1 lev fee !!!   There seemed little else of interest in the old city - as generally reported it is quite grotty and most of the buildings are in a serious state of disrepair. I had read on the internet about a double decker city tour bus aand had asked the local tourist representative about this when she came aboard Nautica that morning. I do like the availability of a local representative most port days on Oceania but on this particular trip found several of them to be quite negative and unhelpful. The Romanian lady first denied the existence of a tourist bus but when I persisted and showed her the internet pages I had printed out she 'remembered' and marked on a map where we could get it - on the corner of Tomo Boulevard and Ferdinand St (on some old maps still called Republikki). So we walked up Tomo Boulevard from the old sqaure towards the new part of the city, which was slightly nicer but nothing special. We found the bus stop then walked a couple of blocks beyond to the pedestrian shopping street (Stefan St) (found a free wifi connection outside Western Union which was useful) but soon returned to catch the bus.   The 'City Tour' bus is in fact a shuttle service to the nearby beach resort of Mamaia, but the advantage is that it runs right up the beach strip to serve the hotels whereas the local bus to Mamaia seemed to terminate at the very beginning. We got off the bus (fare3 lev - very reasonable) at the central stop of the beach strip by the casino and this seemed to be the main part of a typical beach resort - shops, fairground rides, cafes, bars and a cablecar stretching for miles along a nice sandy beach..   I enjoyed a swim in the sea at last, although it was not as warm as expected, and we sat in one of th beach front bars for a while (about 5-7 Levs for a beer or soft drink) before catching the bus back to the station. Tired by then, and still having 30 Levs to spare, we decided to get a taxi back to the port rather than try to work out the local bus. We told the driver to stop when his meter got to 30 Levs and in fact that took us just to the port gate (but I don't think he went the most direct route !). In any event taxis are  not allowed into the port so we had to walk the last mile back along the straight road. So for anyone unable or unwilling to do that walk both ways the only options here are a tour or the $20 shuttle -  and to be honest there is very little within easy walking distance of the shuttle drop off, so a tour might be preferable if you are not up for the walk. Constanta is certainly not my favourite port, but I must say we had a nice day, especially on the beach at Mamaia.   Odessa, Ukraine   As expected, Odessa was a beautiful city full of amazing buildings, the opera house being the best of the lot. The cruise port is widely reported as being "right at the bottom of the Potemkin steps" which is it but there is quite a walk out of the terminal and across a long bridge over several railway lines then down some stairs (or sloping road, as we did) to the bottom of the famous steps. Fortunately there is a free funicular that runs just to the left of it and saves climbing 200 steps. At the top you find yourself in Primorsky Boulevard, a nice park  along the top of the cliff. Turning left leads to the City Hall and several museums, from where the Opera House comes into sight. Nearby we found a Bank of Piraeus which had an ATM with English instructions and withdrew some local currency (12 hryvnia = 1 GBP  so 1 hryvnia = 8p = 12c US). This was another currecny that seemed to go a long way - in all 3 Ukrainian ports a soft drink or beer  or ice cream was about 5/6 hryvnia from a stall or about double that in a cafe, public toilets cost 1 or 1.5 (and the attendants always seemed to have change).   After looking around the outside of the fantastic opera house we wandered down a road to the side of the large Mozart hotel and came to a park which turned out to be the city garden. Now, I am not usually a bad map-reader but I never did get my bearings in Odessa. The layout of the streets did not seem to correspond with either the map I had printed from the internet or the ones given out by the tourist information lady - but it did not seem to matter much as we found lovely things to look at just by wandering around.   Leaving the city gardens at the other end we turned left and soon arrived at an impressive building called the Vorontsov Monument - not sure what it was but it was surrounded by another nice park and a reasonable sized art & crafts market.   Continuing down the same street eventually lead to the Cathedral - it was further thn it looked on the map and when we got there only the crypt was open, but it was nice enough.   We made our way back to the funicular by a slightly different route (found free wifi near McDonalds in one of the main streets) and again enjoyed our day. Do be aware that maps are of little use here unless you have one with the street names printed with the cyrilic alphabet as well as English, as only the cyrilic ones are used on street signs and hardly anyone seemed to speak English.     Sevastopol, Ukraine   Sevastopol was another nice city and the map here seemed far easier to follow. From the port there is a road leading the short distance up to a square from where we walked along a very nice seafront park to the main  sqaure of the town, Lazarev Square (according to the map - again the street names were unrecognisable). Turning right at the roundabout (just past McDonalds) brought us into the central market. Later we followed the main street heading towards the famous Panorama Museum, visiting one of the catherdrals on the way. Unfortunately the Panorama is on top of a hill far too steep for us to climb with the wheelchair, but people who had visited al seemed impressed.   We walked back towards the ship along the seafront (Lenin) street which looked more direct but was not a very interesting walk, I think the other route was much nicer and did not seem much further. The tourist information lady had said 45 minutes to walk from the ship to the Panorama and I think that would be about right, it must be about a mile and a half to the bottom of the hill. There were horses there to take people up to the museum (husband declined this !!).   Apart from the Panorama there are monuments all over the city, mostly military I think, but it made it an interesting city to explore, nicer than I had expected,   Sochi, Russia   Russia can only be visited independently if you hold a Russian visa, which are difficult and expensive to obtain, which is a shame as Sochi looked like a nice resort town and we docked right on the promenade between 2 busy pebble beaches. However, one of our Cruise Critic group was kind enough to put together a tour with Sochi Holidays (www.sochi-holi.ru). It cost $70 US each for 10 of us for 5 hours with a driver and excellent English-speaking guide. We visited an Orthadox church, walked along the lovely seafront park then drove up Akhun Mount, 600 metres above sea level, to climb the observation tower for amazing views of the surrounding city, sea and mountains. From there we drove to Stalin's Dacha (holiday villa) which was interesting, visited a glorious old Spa Hotel from the Soviet era, sadly somewhat decayed now, and enjoyed a sightseeing drive around the city before returning to the ship at 2pm. This was considerably cheaper than the ship's tours and we saw much more. Also, all of the ship's tours stated that they were unsuitable for passengers with wheelchairs or walking difficulties, whereas our driver and guide really put themselves out to help - the only thing Paul could not do was the tower climb, everywhere else was fine. It was a very interesting day and highly recommended for anyone visiting Sochi.   All cruise lines like to encourage the belief that any guests not on one of their own tours needs a visa to be able to get off the ship, but I can confirm that (as in St Petersburg when we toured with Red Oktober a few years ago) there was absolutely no problem or query- our tour leader had given our names to the immigration officers in advance and we simply walked through with everyone else and were met by our guide outside immigration, where we paid cash for the tour on the day.   Yalta, Ukraine   Yalta is a beautiful resort city located in a bay surrounded by huge mountains, a really stunning view. Even though it was a hot, sunny day the mist never quite cleared from the mountain tops. Again the port is right in the centre of town and there is a nice promenade with many cafes, stalls and designed outlet shops (but not particularly cheap from what I saw).   The tourist info lady gave out good maps on board and was informative about public transport - bus 5 or 11 goes from next to the cathedral to Livadia Palace (of Yalta Conference fame) and there is a ferry from the jetty about half way along the seafront that goes to the pretty Swallows Nest Castle. We decided against Livadia as it was very hot and we didn't fancy getting on a crowded bus. There were also taxis offering tours for $20 per hour to both of these main sights. We investigated the ferry but there were no English timetables and the Swallows Nest ticket booth wasw closed when we walked past fairly early. We intended to go back later but time went on as we explored the city, visited the Alexander Nevsky cathedral (the nicest on this trip) and the huge market area near the port (shown as a 'shopping area' on the map - follow the pedestrian street behind the Kodak centre) so we did not get around to it, and with anearly sailaway of 4pm we found plenty to do in Yalta itself. There are several grey pebble beaches but they were completely packed with people enjoying the weather - there was hardly room to stand on the beach, let alone lay down a towel, but the whole place had a nice family fun atmosphere. (Free wifi outside a large hotel at the far end of the beach, near a small tourist craft market) And as we left port we could see the Swallows Nest castle in the distance.   The following day was at sea but an interesting one as we sailed through the Bosphorus, passing Istanbul in the morning and the Dardanelles in the afternoon, passing quite close to the Galipoli monument early evening. the cruise director gave commentary at the points of interest.   Kusadasi, Turkey   Since our last visit about 8 years ago the cruise port has developed enormously and in fact the whole town has cleaned up a lot to the extent that the bazaar is now more like a shopping mall. But it is still a nice place to visit and wander around the shops within a few steps of the port.   When we tired of shopping we went to the city beach a short walk to the left from the port. It was nice to have a swim and cool off,  but the water was not very clear or, probably, very clean. But it is handy and you can rent a sunbed & umbrella for 5 lira if you want to stay longer. Maybe another time I would get on one of the many minibuses that pass the port every few minutes going to Ladies Beach a couple of miles away.   Santorini, Greece   We broke the habit of a lifetime and stayed on the ship - Paul hates heights and would not go up the cablecar, on our last visit I had taken the cablecar up and walked down.   Athens, Greece   We had to vacate our cabin by 8am and leave the ship by 9am, breakfast was available until 8.30am so it was not too early a start. Our flight home was not until 7pm and from internet research had found that we were able to leave our cases at the Student and Traveller's Inn in the Plaka District for 2 euros per bag for the day.   It was our 4th time in Athens and in the past we had been rather unlucky, delayed by general strikes and overcharged by argumentative taxi drivers, and my impressions of the city have never been that good. But I must say that this time everything worked smoothly, the taxi driver had quoted 20-25 euros for the journey and although I could not persuade him to switch on his meter he asked for 25 at the end which was fine by us.   We duly left our bags in the luggage room at the Students Inn and paid our 4 euros. No receipts were issued for either our money or cases, receptionist assured me he would recognise me and it was not necessary. We had already made sure that my jewellery, laptop etc were in our day bag and nothing of major value in the cases, but there was no problem, they were there safely waiting for me when we went back later in the day.   Having focussed on the Acropolis on previous visits we decided to do something different this time, walked first through the (wonderfully wheelchair accessible) Plaka to the flea market at Monastiraki then from there to Syntagma Square, mainly to check out the airport bus departure point but while there we saw the changing of the guard at the Parliament building. Later we walked through the lovely  National Gardens, where is was much cooler than in the city, to visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus (2 euros each to go in but nearly as visible from the road really) and Hadrian's Arch. From there we wandered back through the Plaka to collect our suitcases then returned to Syntagma Square to catch the 4pm airport bus (X95 - runs every 15-20 minutes, costs 3.20 euros each).   Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
An Historical Voyage First of all, let me begin by telling you that I select my cruises on the basis of itinerary, so I have no loyalty to any one company. Thus, my review will be objective. I have taken more than 30 cruises and this is ... Read More
An Historical Voyage First of all, let me begin by telling you that I select my cruises on the basis of itinerary, so I have no loyalty to any one company. Thus, my review will be objective. I have taken more than 30 cruises and this is my second on the 'Nautica'. The appeal of this particular cruise was the ports of call, as 6 would be new to me. I booked my own flights, on line, and managed to obtain a better deal than the agents were quoting. The ordered taxi was waiting at Istanbul airport, and I would like to say that I was whisked away to the port, but we crawled along in the rush hour traffic, with the consequence that I didn't embark until 6.30 pm. Fortunately, we had an overnight in Istanbul, otherwise I would have flown in the day before. Registration was handled efficiently and I was on board quickly, but my late arrival meant I had missed the 'Singles Get Together', and I never did find the rest of the solo passengers. This was my third visit to Istanbul, so I had 'done' the mosques and Topkapi Palace and all the other 'must dos'. So, the following day, I decided to take the funicular to Taksim Square and walk back down Iskilal Cadessi, but many of the shops remained closed, as it was Sunday. I went to the top of the Galata Tower again, as I never tire of the view of this wonderful city. Folkloric dancers came on to the ship in the evening, and gave a live performance. I went to a CC meeting at 10 and met my fellow Cruise Critics and together we all watched the ship sail away, under the illuminated Bosphorus Bridge. The Ship The Oceania ships all flow well, and are easy to negotiate. Most of the evening activities are all on Deck 5 and, sooner or later, everyone passes through the piano (martini) bar, and usually stays to hear the pianist, Jerry Blaine, or join in one of his music quizzes. It's a very tastefully decorated ship and the library is one of the best afloat; certainly the only one I've come across that operates an honour system. Happy Hour is held there every afternoon, between 5 and 6 when drinks are sold at '2 for 1'. I think this should be changed to half-price, if they're going to have it at all, as it requires two people to order the same drink, at the same time; not ideal if you're travelling alone and fancy an occasional libation. There's a well-appointed fitness centre and (overpriced) spa. Pilates and Yoga are charged at $11 (+ 18% service charge) which probably why I saw only one person in the Pilates Class I looked in on. There are ample sun beds - some doubles - and private cabanas for hire, for those who want complete privacy. The standard cabins are fairly compact, but well-appointed. I would like to see the addition of a mirror on the inside of the bathroom door, or cabinet, so that one can see the back of one's head prior to stepping into the lift for a further inspection. I did attend a party in an Owner's Suite and it was spacious, and very luxurious. One thing I love about Oceania is their restricted smoking policy; I wish Crystal would adopt it. Food There are multifarious locations for piling on the calories. Apart from Room Service, breakfast is served every morning in the 'Grand' Dining Room (their word, not mine). I intended to try it, but couldn't tear myself away from the Terrace Cafe, with it's huge choice of fresh fruits and berries plus freshly squeezed orange juice. The coffee was a bit hit and miss, depending on the timing and location, so I preferred to make my own pot of tea each morning. The teabags stocked included Twinings English Breakfast - my favourite. Sometimes my teapot turned into a tug-of-war, as the attentive crew are horrified to see passengers lifting a finger. I tried lunch in the 'Grand' Dining Room once, but it was speedier and more convenient to eat on deck at Terrace Cafe or Waves Grill, both of which carried a good selection of ice creams. Highlight of the day was afternoon tea. The string quartet played while you chose from a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones and miniature pastries and tartlets. There was also some fruit being flambEed in alcohol each day. Dinner in the 'Grand' Dining Room was a fairly slow affair and if I particularly wanted to make an activity at 9 I had to be sure to get in early. It is nice, though, to have a drink with some new acquaintances and then toddle along to dinner with them, without the convention of a set time and table. I ate once in the two alternative restaurants, "Toscana" and "Polo Grill" and was disappointed on both occasions. I remember raving about the food on my last Nautica cruise but, since then, they have had a change of chef, and not for the better. There also seems to be a lack of communication between the wait staff and the kitchen, although all requests are written down. Some of the food was still terrific, (the carpaccio in Toscana, for instance) but I had tough calves' liver, duck and ostrich, which I can only think had been overcooked. Some of the vegetables were overcooked as well, in spite of being requested ' al dente'. And the creme brulee had only a passing acquaintance with the blow torch. Entertainment and Activities Oceania is not known for entertainment and, quite frankly, most of the people I spoke to were happy to do without the cheesy production shows. The Cruise Director, Dottie Kulasa, worked very hard, but would be well advised to dress in a more relaxed way. Her corporate trouser suits in stiff fabrics made it look as if she was about the attend a board meeting, and put a barrier between her and the passengers. Coincidentally, she was married to the resident comedian, Tom Drake, which no doubt saved on cabins. Tom appeared twice and, after the first appearance he admitted he was told to slow down his delivery, as the British audience couldn't follow his fast New Jersey patter. Consequently, he was better received on the second occasion. There was one appearance from a magician, Harry Maurer, who, while entertaining, did nothing original. Best of the bunch was Vincenzo Martinelli, a virtuoso of the Spanish/Classical guitar, who also appeared twice. His music was over-amplified, but I think this was a deliberate ploy to keep the soporific audience awake after dinner. Game shows were run by Dottie's sidekick, Ian, (Shane Ritchie on speed), and his deputy Dan. Lucy-Jo and Joanne completed this quartet. They played a silly version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" one evening, where clues were offered to artificially get the contestants to $1 million. This meant that there were only two participants and no suspense. When I've played it in the past, a wrong answer meant that the contestant was out of the game. Dottie was in charge of trivia each afternoon, with some fierce competition. My own team (which comprised eminent lawyers and doctors) erupted into a victory dance, on being told we were the overall winners. The "O" points collected for our efforts are a total waste of time - they might as well tell us it's for fun, not prizes. The minimum required is 30 points for a mouse mat. Who wants a mouse mat these days? They should invest in decent prizes, or abandon it altogether. Ports Nessebur, Bulgaria: This is a tender port. Do not bother with a tour here, as you can walk it quite easily yourself. There are an amazing number of churches and remains from the Hellenistic period. It's also interesting to see the wooden houses in the Eastern Rumelian style typical of the Bulgarian coast in the 19th century. It's very close to the resort town of Sunny Beach and you can take a boat or bus in fairly cheaply. Unfortunately, this resort has influenced Nessebur and the overall impression is of a small town full of little shops and stalls, all selling the same tat. Constanta, Rumania: I had pre-booked a private tour with other CC members with Modes. Our guide, Anneliese, was waiting promptly at 9, as arranged. We walked to the Peter and Pavel Cathedral, then the casino, along the esplanade. We then drove to Ovid Square, the centre of town. We were surprised to meet other passengers there who had come via the Oceania shuttle bus, and had been charged $20 for the privilege. We were escorted into the Archaeological Museum. Anneliese had words with the curator and told us the fee for photography and video would be waived. There were many interesting exhibits here which had been discovered during excavations. We went next door, to a public building which contains the remains of one of the longest mosaic pavements in the world.  Again, we were allowed to photograph. We drove out of the City to the beach resorts of Eforie and Neptun and had a wander around there, laughing at the menu translations - "crap" meat for crabmeat, for instance. We stopped at the Murfatlar Cellar for wine tasting with nibbles, and we were all so impressed that several bottles were purchased (and consumed). We had lunch there (and more wine) at the Crama Neptun, sitting at a long table on the shaded terrace. We drove back to Constanza, arriving at the ship around 3.30. Odessa, Ukraine: Here again, I had pre-arranged a private "Jewish Heritage" tour with ten other CC members with Intourist. Our lovely young guide, Natasha, was waiting and we drove the five minutes to the top of the Potemkin Steps. We strolled down Primorsky Boulevard, admiring the architecture, to the Opera House, where we reboarded the bus and drove to Shomrei Shabbat synagogue. There was a video conference taking place downstairs, so we were ushered up to the gallery, where a young man explained the history of the synagogue. We were fortunate to have Natasha, who conducted a simultaneous translation. We went on to the Holocaust memorial and then to the Jewish Museum (which was not part of the ship's tour.) We were scheduled to lunch at a kosher restaurant but we asked Natasha to take us to a typical Ukranian restaurant, which she did. We were entertained there by typical Ukranian folk singers and joined in the dancing. Fortunately, Natasha was able to provide translations of the menu, as we were concerned at eating 'Crazy Sheep' or 'Rabbit on the Lawn'. After lunch we walked through the park and shopping area, before returning to the ship at 4. Sevastapol, Ukraine: Another private tour with Intourist. Our guide, Eugenia, was every bit as good as Natasha, articulate and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city. We drove to the park and watched a naval exercise taking place in the harbour, then viewed the theatre, one of the few remaining original buildings. From there, we drove to Chersonesus to see the excavations of the ancient city and St. Vladimir Cathedral. We then drove to Balaclava, where we visited the Panarama museum at Malakhov Hill. It's a huge 360 degree re-creaction of the defence of Sevastopol, merging painting and models which draws one into the action. We had lunch on the terrace of the Balaclava restaurant, overlooking the harbour, full of luxury Russian-owned yachts. After lunch we visited a secret underground submarine depot, created by the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, carved out of a mountain and concealed behind huge camouflaged bomb-proof steel doors. Built in 1956 it now accommodates a Cold War museum filled with naval exhibits. It was amazing to discover this had been used until 1991. As we drove back to Sevastopol I read "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and we all felt we had learned more about the Crimean and Second World Wars. When we learned that Eugenia lived in Yalta, we begged her to try and arrange to be our guide there. The next day was, thankfully, a sea day. Sochi, Russia: This was the only port at which I booked a ship's tour - and lived to regret it. It was entitled "Sochi Highlights and Stalin's Dacha", but the highlights were few and far between. Although one needs a visa to visit Russia, any reputable tour guide will arrange this for you. We had 34 passengers on our bus and I counted at least 17 buses. We stopped at the Winter Theatre and strolled through a park. We then drove to the Matseta Springs and saw the sulphur springs, but the toilet stop took longer than the viewing. We then drove on the Stalin's Dacha which was, in fact, quite interesting, but very crowded. Returned to the ship at 2 pm, for a late lunch, after a disappointing morning. Yalta, Ukraine: We left the ship at 8.30 for a pre-arranged full-day tour and were delighted to see that Eugenia was once again our guide. She had asked the agency to switch her assignments as she had so enjoyed our company in Sevastapol. First stop was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, then on to the Livadia Palace. It was built in 1911 as a summer residence for Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra and their children but, sadly, they were only able to visit on four occasions before they were assassinated. However, it is full of photographs and drawings from their time there. In February 1945 it was used as the site of the Yalta Conference, attended by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. Roosevelt was, by then, a sick man, and was allowed to stay at the palace. From there we drove to the Vorontsov Palace, where Churchill stayed during the conference. This is a beautiful palace, built in the English style, with wood panelling. The gardens, extending down to the sea, are breathtaking. We continued on to the Swallow's Nest, a spectacular neo-Gothic castle perched high on a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. We stopped at a restaurant there, "Elena", where lunch on the terrace presented a perfect photo opportunity. We arrived back at the port at 3 and paid for all our tours at the office there. The next day was spent cruising the Bosphorus in the morning and the Dardanelles in the afternoon. The Cruise Director, Dottie, provided a live commentary as we passed sites, such as the Anzac memorial at Gallipolli. Kusadasi, Turkey: I had visited Ephesus before, so was happy to join others on a private tour from Sisan Tours to two villages in the hills. Our first stop was to Kirazli, where we visited the mosque and private houses, about 150 years old. The village children were attending Koran school and we were allowed to enter and became part of a lesson. The children were delighted to practice their limited English and ask questions about our respective countries. We, in turn, were able to have the opportunity to learn more about their village life, through our interpreter. We stopped for tea/coffee at a typical "Men only" cafe, then drove on to a Locomotive Museum. This was more interesting than I had expected, as it was a train graveyard for all the original 100 year old locomotives  (Stephenson and others) all set out in beautifully landscaped gardens. 'Health and Safety' hadn't reached here yet, and we were able to clamber all over these amazing engines, like kids. We continued to Sirince Village, visiting the orthodox church, before enjoying a meze-style lunch, being cooked, while we waited, over an open fire. We also sampled the local yogurt-based drink Ayran, which is an acquired taste. After lunch we browsed in the local market and sampled the local fruit wines. While we drove back to the ship, our lovely young guide serenaded us with Turkish folk songs. Santorini, Greece: This was a tender port and, unfortunately, there were four ships anchored that day. Who arranges these things? The wait for the cable car took 45 minutes, so I abandoned my plans to take a bus to Oia. The last tender left at 3.30 so I thought it safer to stay in Fira but the attractive little town was packed solid. I met others from the ship and, together, we walked to the next village, Firastefani, which was very pretty and afforded many photo opportunities. The queue for the cable car on our return was just as bad, so we decided to walk down. This was not easy, as one had to concentrate on avoiding the 'presents' the donkeys had left us, as well as the donkeys themselves, while staying upright. The aroma wasn't Chanel, either. We bought some souvenirs and returned to the ship. The next day we docked in Piraeus. I have visited Athens before, so decided to share a minivan to the airport, immediately upon disembarkation. There were 9 of us and it worked out at only $18 per person. We were the last to leave the ship at 9 am, so it was quick and easy to locate our suitcases. Unfortunately, the British Airways desks were not opening until 11 am, so there was a lot of hanging around. By then, of course, we were all one big jolly family, so it didn't matter too much. Summary: This was a fascinating itinerary and I would recommend anyone who is interested in European history to try it. Everyone has their favourite lines, and I don't think it would make much difference with whom you chose to travel. I, personally, prefer the small ships as I find them more conducive to forming friendships. Obviously, if you're travelling with a partner or friends, this is less of an issue. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
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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