Thursday 15 August 2013
We had been given an official boarding time of 1pm but thought it wouldn't hurt to arrive early and we didn't mind waiting in the terminal if necessary.
When we arrived at the terminal, very few other people were arriving and we walked straight in to check-in. Nice touches included the blue carpet at the entrance with Nautica and Oceania Cruises on and a table with complimentary orange juice and iced water. After check-in - passports were kept - and the usual credit card swipe, we were given our cruise cards (World Cards in Oceania speak) and a letter to say boarding would begin at 1pm and cabins would be ready at 3pm. As we went through security and I headed for the embarkation lounge, we were called and invited to board the ship. The ship's card machine was set up on the Promenade deck and crew were stationed at various points to direct us straight to the Terrace Restaurant (buffet). As we crossed the main pool deck I was impressed by rows of sun loungers, steamer chairs and twin steamer chairs, all with thick cushions and white towelling covers.
We found a table on the open deck at the stern of the Terrace Cafe and then went to choose food. In the buffet all food is served to you at all times. Plates were also given to you from behind the counters and cutlery was on the tables, which were laid properly as at dinner. I chose a delicious vegetable lasagne followed by a strawberry concoction. I don't know what it was called but was heavenly - my first introduction to the renowned Oceania food. It was also very nice to be able to order any soft drink or sparkling water - it is all included on Nautica. My plates were carried to the table by a waiter. After lunch we wandered down to Reception to pick up the daily programme and then found a sunbed each and lazed until 2.30 when an announcement told us the cabins were ready.
We had a standard twin outside stateroom on Deck 3 with a porthole. Unfortunately the bed was made up as a double though! A quick call to reception soon got it sorted with no fuss or bother. The mattresses are pocket sprung, and covered two inches of memory foam. The bedding is 1,000-thread-count Egyptian cotton linen and a down comforter. They were certainly the most comfortable I have had on a cruise ship.
Cabin amenities include bath robes, slippers, soft drinks and small bottles of water in the fridge, two large bottles of water on a tray with glasses and bottle opener, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body lotion, hand soap, bath soap (for the shower), shower cap, cotton wool, cotton buds, umbrella, shoe horn, shoe shine cloth, two hairdryers - one fixed in the bathroom and a hand held one, plug-in nightlight, TV and DVD player (DVD's available free from reception, catalogue in cabin). Best of all, the bedside lights had an ordinary lamp and an additional reading light on a flexible stalk, which could be switched independently so as not to disturb your cabin mate. Storage is not wonderful - one large double wardrobe, and one half robe with half hanging and four drawers. One side of the dressing table/desk is a cupboard with four more small drawers and the other side a cupboard with one shelf. Under the flatscreen TV is a corner cupboard with shelf and safe. We had a sofa, very comfy padded headboard and huge mirrors. Attention to detail was such that as you pushed the toilet lid down, it closed itself quietly - like soft-closing kitchen drawers!
Having unpacked, we set off to explore the ship. As another R ship like P&O's Adonia, we were familiar with the layout and much seemed to be identical even down to the tartan carpet in Horizons (Crows Nest on Adonia). However, there was a huge casino (for the size of ship) and the buffet is very different indeed - more of that later.
Muster drill was at 5.15. We assembled in Muster Station A, were checked off a list at the door and were assigned Lifeboat No.1. We were asked to wear our lifejackets and after the usual announcements were led, in boat groups, to our lifeboat so we knew exactly where we had to be in the event of an emergency.
British are in the minority at around 10% but this just made a refreshing change and everyone was friendly. By then it was 7pm and time to go change for dinner (Nautica has no formal nights, but I wanted to freshen up). We headed for the Grand Dining Room and joined the short queue. When we got to the Maitre D' he asked if we would like to go to the Polo Grill as there was spare capacity there while we would have to wait for the MDR. All other dining venues are free/included but you are normally only allowed to book once per cruise so we had no problem heading up to Deck 10. I chose beetroot and Goats cheese starter, Caesar Salad, Jumbo Shrimp Scampi and New York Cheesecake with caramelised top! Dessert was accompanied by home-made jellies and coffee. Dinner ended about 10.30 and the ship died - we thought many were probably jet-lagged but this was normal throughout the cruise. As it was so port-heavy, most people rose early. Often we were in port until 8pm so it was natural we were all tired by 10.30.
Friday 16 August - At sea
This was one of our two sea days. We had breakfast in the Terrace Cafe - the plates carried to my seat by waiters who also served coffee and fresh orange juice (with bits). The range of fresh fruit alone was amazing - every day three different type of melon, papaya, mango, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. It was lovely and warm outside in the sun, overlooking the wake. I went to the Destination desk to book a tour (the only official ship's tour I took) and pick up quiz sheets. After a browse around the library (open 24/7 - just take what you want within reason as there are other guests to consider, and return before end of cruise) I sat on deck in sun and did a puzzle. We had lunch on deck at Waves Grill - burgers, paninis, sandwiches and wonderful icecreams, smoothies and milkshakes. After lunch I was dozing in the cabin but was woken by an announcement from the captain. He said some of us may have noticed our change of course due west as we needed a helicopter evacuation for crew member with head injury. We stood and the watched the whole operation from the pool deck where we were allowed to stand. After lowering a paramedic etc the RAF Sea King flew alongside the ship and the pilot and winchman waved to us all. He circled a few times and then came back in to collect everything and everyone. We then had our first Oceania afternoon tea in Horizons - this was better than Cunard IMO - string quartet, sandwiches brought round on tray, three-tier cake trolley and a stunning all-round view to boot. Hot water arrived in a teapot, with another waiter holding a wooden box containing a huge selection of different teas from which to choose! By then it was time to go to cabin to get ready for the captain's welcome party. This was the only time the deck officers mixed with passengers. Drinks were free-flowing. We had dinner in the GDR and I still feel this was the best meal of my life so far - starter of caviar on blinis, the miso-glazed sea bass and a cappuccino dessert served in a chocolate cup. Went to see the Show before bed. There were five entertainment staff on board. The Cruise Director, Nolan Dean, was from the UK and probably the best CD I have had- always around the ship chatting etc. As on CMV, it was the CD who made all passenger announcements about going ashore etc. All five of the team not only ran sports tournaments, quizzes, needlepoint classes etc, but were also the show troupe, both singing and dancing in the shows. Nolan also did two one-man comedy and singing shows. Additionally we had Rick Thomas -an Illusionist. The cruise was a Music Festival at Sea to celebrate Oceania's 10 year anniversary and on board were the Fjord Cadenza Ensemble - a wonderful classical group. There was also the on-board show band, a cocktail pianist in Martinis and a string quartet who played at teatime and in the Atrium at cocktails.
Saturday 16 August - Edinburgh
I woke very early and got dressed to go up on deck to see my first ever glimpse of the Forth Bridge as we sailed under it into Rosyth. After breakfast (outside on the terrace) we prepared for a day in Edinburgh. The Tattoo was still on, as was the Fringe Festival. There was a free shuttle bus to Inverkeithing Station so we waited on the dockside and chatted with others in order to get the first bus and ashore quickly. At the station, we bought a £5.50 return ticket from the machine and crossed over the line to the far platform almost as soon as the train arrived. It took about 25 minutes into Waverley Station. Unfortunately it was drizzly so we found a taxi to take us up to the Castle where we started our day. The queue was not too bad so after buying our tickets we headed up to the Castle. The road slowly got windier and quite rough as we climbed up into the Castle Keep and joined the short queue to see the Scottish Crown Jewels. There was lots to see and worth the entrance money overall, but the jewels were probably not worth it if it meant a long wait. After working our way down again, we walked down the Royal Mile, filled with souvenir shops, mostly selling kilts, whisky and items with Scottie dogs on. We had a sandwich and a drink in the Festival Hub Cafe. Lots of Fringe entertainment happening on Market Street, and Cannon Gate etc. Went into St Giles Cathedral where a lovely concert was in progress - piano and saxophone. We got back to Waverley Station about 2.15 and then took ages to find out which platform we were supposed to be on. First told 11 (wrong), then 17 (wrong), then finally 2 so managed the 2.27 train to Aberdeen via Inverkeithing. We had a short wait for the shuttle bus but the sun was now out and quite hot! On our return to the ship I quickly changed before we went up for the wonderful afternoon tea again (I cannot make a habit of this - too much food!). Sailaway was very delayed presumably by the fierce gusting wind. A tug arrived and attached first at the bow, then moved to the stern. It took ages to slowly move the stern out and edge away from the berth before retracing our route under the two bridges. As Nautica sailed under each bridge the captain sounded the horn three times. Then it was time to go back down for a shower and to change for dinner.
Sunday 17th August - Invergordon,
We were not arriving until 12 noon so had a leisurely breakfast and then went to the Stitch & Chat. Oceania provide free needlepoint kits to make small items such as a spectacle case or bag. If you complete one during the cruise you can choose another. By 10.30 we thought it time to grab a bite to eat as Nigel, our private tour guide ( www.shorexcursions.co.uk) wanted us to be off the ship as soon as possible. Four of us were first off and we waited a short time for two more and then set off in Nigel's silver VW people-carrier towards Dunrobin Castle. Once there (amid a vintage car rally), Nigel spoke with Alistair, Lord Strathnaver, who directed us round the back into the private grounds. We walked through a tiny gate into the area where falcons and hawks were kept, guarded at the entrance by a beautiful, huge owl sitting on a flower pot! we wandered through the stunning grounds for around 40 mins before meeting everyone back at the falconry area. Alan, the falconer, then gave a public demonstration using three birds. An hour later we went up to the main castle and toured through some of its many rooms.
At 3.45 we set off back towards the ship, driving along Loch Fleet in the hope of seeing seals (all on the opposite bank). We did see an osprey nest, swans, cormorants etc and then stopped at Millionaire's Viewpoint. Back in Invergordon we were driven past a number of murals and then back to Nautica, via a gift shop of course. Can thoroughly recommend the tour however, which was tailored to our time available.
We were on board just in time to watch a show of Scottish song and dance put on by locals in the Nautica Lounge. At 7.30 we also had a marching pipe band on the quayside to send us on our way towards Lerwick. By now it was 8pm so we decided to eat dinner in the Terrace Cafe. I have always said I would not eat dinner in the buffet restaurants but on Nautica is was more akin to a proper dining room, serving the same dishes in fact.
Monday 19th August - Lerwick
Got the 9am free shuttle from the container dock (Holmsgarth) into Lerwick. Just after breakfast there was a torrential rain shower so it was not looking good, but after that it cleared dramatically and the sun came out making a nice day in the end. It was interesting to watch the crew of the oilrig supply ship berthed behind us go up onto their helipad to take photos of Nautica! As we went into the Tourist Information Centre we saw an advert for a boat trip - this was a cruise ship special (2 hours instead of their normal 3), so we booked. There were just six of us, plus skipper Alan and his wife Robbie - a marine biologist, who live on the boat throughout the summer. We first sailed round the harbour looking at the buildings (and a female seal who popped her head to look at us!), then set off through the main channel. Saw terns, common and grey seals, an Arctic Skua, cormorants, shags, eider drakes, guillemots, ravens and lots of gannets fishing. Later the boat was anchored over a wreck and they sent down an ROV and set up a TV screen so we could see what was under the boat. Robbie explained things in detail. Finally after 2 fascinating hours, we were dropped off at the pier and set off walking.
Back on board, we went to the Trivia Quiz and joined with another team - all Americans so we were warmly welcomed for our UK knowledge! We came joint second so I got my first 2 Big O points! These are built up throughout the cruise and exchanged on the last day for various gifts - bookmarks, hats, t-shorts etc! We went back down to the cabin to wash and change for the dinner we had booked in the Polo Grill. We were not late going to bed as clocks went forward an hour that night.
Tuesday 20th August - Alesund
We arrived early and I rushed up on deck to watch us berth. I don't think I've ever seen a ship docked so fast - we appeared to race up towards the berth and then dead slow, a sideways thrust and we were there. I have to say the berthing and departures were all very sleek, swift and timely throughout the cruise. We never saw a queue to get off the ship - it was all efficient and quick. Our plan was to take the HoHo Bus - 200 NK - to the Sunnmore Museum. We did the full round trip first - the views from the high mountain viewpoint at Aksla were fabulous - then went round again as far as the Museum. Here were lots of turf-roofed old Norwegian country houses of various periods, boat houses etc. in a lovely woodland setting with streams. We had coffee and apple cake and then went back to wait for the HoHo bus. As we went back up to Aksla again I saw that while we were gone, Adventure of the Seas had arrived! We got off in town and wandered the shops. Back on board, we got up to Horizons just in time for afternoon tea. At 8.05, during dinner, we felt the engines power up and saw Nautica edging out from the quayside and swinging 180 degrees to sail back down the fjord.
Wednesday 21st August - Geiranger
I set the alarm for 5.45 am to watch the sail into Geiranger but we were already well into the Fjord by then. I made it up on deck just in time to see us sail past the Seven Sisters Falls and about 20 mins later we were there. The tendering operation was like any other - as independents we had to get tender tickets and wait in the Nautica Lounge, but we were called to board almost immediately. I got the Sightseeing bus to Flydal, and the two famous view points, wandered around, bought souvenirs, and then tendered back to ship. I had a quick lunch at Waves Grill as I wanted to watch our sail back down the fjord to pick up the overland tour passengers at Hellesylt. I wondered why one tender remained afloat as we hauled up our anchor but it soon became clear. Captain Ressa was going to give every passenger an amazing view of the Seven Sisters and the Suitors falls. With the tender acting as a range-finder for the ship, the captain did a slow 360 turn in the fjord. In the middle of the turn, we paused to one side to allow Artania and the Hurtigruten steamer Nordlys, to sail past us then continued to turn another 180 degrees before sailing to Hellesylt to pick up our tour people. Unfortunately it was very wet but standing on deck staring up at the huge mountains, with the wonderful music of Grieg coming through the speakers on deck - total magic.
Thursday 22nd August - at sea.
Our second and last sea day and it was lovely to finally get a lie in. It was warm enough to take advantage of the sun deck. As it became chilly, I asked for and was brought a thick woollen blanket by the pool boy and tucked in on the soft sun beds. A deck stewardess brought a cappuccino to complete the pampered feeling. We had lunch in Terrace Cafe before changing and going up to play shuffleboard. Since only six of us were playing anyway I won another Big O point for coming third! It was a lazy afternoon. Went to the Trivia quiz at 4.30 and our team won, then got dressed for dinner early as we wanted to go to the final recital by the Fjord Cadenza Ensemble. It was wonderful listening to the music of Grieg while remembering our sail through the fjords yesterday. Tomorrow the Platters are joining Nautica. We were then at a bit of a loose end as we had booked Toscana but not until 8.30 so we sat in the Library and watched us sail between the Inner and Outer Hebrides, before joining our table of six for a fabulous Italian meal - huge selection of breads, an olive oil menu etc. By the time we completed our meal it was 11pm so bed.
Friday 23rd August - Belfast.
We had a leisurely morning since Nautica wasn't due to berth until noon. Had breakfast and then went to needlepoint and chat. By then we were well in sight of Belfast docks so went up on deck. We had a good sight of the new Titanic Museum and the Harland & Wolff Gantries as well as an old WWI battleship. The day before I had filled in the mid-cruise comment sheet and as we went back to the cabin this morning, a knock at the door revealed the Asst. Housekeeping Manager regarding my comment that the cabin needed hooks for wet coats! Impressive!
We berthed about 20 mins early so were ready and off the ship to meet Paddy as we had booked one of his Black Cab Tours of Belfast and the Giants Causeway. We had a short chat about what we wanted to see (happy to skip the Bushmills Distillery in favour of Dunluce Castle) and then set off into Belfast City. Our driver explained that, as a Catholic, there were areas he could not go. I was quite shocked as to how divided the city still was. The Protestant areas were adorned with flags, bunting and even the kerbstones were painted red, white and blue! A huge wall still divided the city into two. I asked why it was so high and was told to stop missiles!
We drove along the Crumlin and Shankhill Roads where huge political murals had been painted onto houses, commemorating events various events. In one area the back gardens of the houses were all encased in wire to protect the inhabitants - horrendous. At checkpoints in the wall were heavy gates, closed at dusk in a kind of curfew. There were even Protestant and Catholic taxis, which could not travel in each other's areas! If you want to travel from one side of Belfast to another you have to change cabs! I had no idea it was still so segregated in the city. After this depressing start, we set off into the Antrim countryside - very English looking - up to a viewpoint to see the Carrick a Rede rope bridge. Unfortunately the weather had turned drizzly but we still had great views. Then to a little beach to see what is the smallest church in Ireland -St Gobbans. It is licensed for weddings - as long as you don't want more than 5 people! Next to it is a small cottage with portholes and steamer chairs that were spares intended for Titanic and her sisters. Next we drove to my highlight - the Giant's Causeway. After an hour there we went to Dunluce Castle. We just managed a few pictures before the rain set in in earnest and we repaired to the tea shop opposite for warm home-made scones, cream, jam and raspberries with tea. By then it was time to return to the docks. We made it back at 7pm so after a quick wash and change - to Martini's for a drink and their delicious nibbles - crisps, nuts etc. we decided on The Terrace Cafe for a light dinner (after the tea!).
Saturday 24th August - Dublin
I am not sure now if I have described breakfast properly. Having chosen a table, waiters bring coffee, juices, water etc. They also often carry your plate for you. The choices are large - lots of fresh fruit, a range of hot food - sausages, pancakes, scrambled eggs etc., cereals with hot, cold, whole or skim milk. Smoked salmon, cheeses and pastries to die for. You can have any coffee you like - latte, cappuccino etc.
As we were doing our own thing in Dublin we didn't get up too early. I was up first so went up on deck to see where we were and was surprised to see we were berthed at the mouth of the Liffey, right beside the o2 arena. The ship couldn't get any closer if they tried. This was my second time in Dublin this year, but as the first was very wet we had only done the DUKW tour then. We caught the free shuttle bus into Kildare Street and had a stroll past the gift shops etc, to the statue of Molly Malone and the Tourist Information Centre, through Temple Bar and over the Ha'penny Bridge before catching the Hoho bus in Connell Street doing one complete circuit before getting off at Trinity College to see inside the buildings. I decided the queues were too long to see the Book of Kells so we then had a homemade soup and a Guinness in a nearby pub before picking up the HoHo bus again to Dublin Castle. After a quick walk around we got the Yellow Route HoHo back to the centre, a look around again and then the shuttle back to Nautica. Back on the ship, three Guarda officers were watching everyone come back on board. Went to Trivia before changing for cocktails in Horizons - there were choices of three different cocktails of the day each night at $5 (plus 18% gratuity). Otherwise cocktails were priced from $10, other drinks from around $8 although there was a Happy Hour between 5 and 6pm - buy one, get one free. All were accompanied by a little stand holding three different types of nibbles, plus canapes. We headed down to the Grand Dining Room for dinner where we were taken to table for 8 by the window.
Sunday 25th August - Cork
Woke up early as this was the one day I was taking a tour. I was ready just in time to watch us sail past Cobh and over the river to Ringaskiddy where Nautica was to berth. This was because Balmoral was supposed to be berthing in Cobh but in the event she arrived just as we left and we passed in the channel - Nautica blowing her whistle but no reply from Balmoral - which looked rather down at heel and a bit rusty.
After breakfast I went to the Nautica Lounge for 8.45 and exchanged my tour ticket to Kinsale for a tour bus pass No.4. Tours on Nautica are rather like tendering operations in that respect. We were soon called and filed down to deck 4 and out to the waiting coaches. It was not long before we were on our way with guide Mary and driver Pat. We drove through rolling countryside not unlike Britain to Fort Charles overlooking Kinsale Harbour, and from where you could see the Old Head of Kinsale where Lusitania sank. Then to Kinsale itself where we went into a hotel for scones and tea before having 2 free hours to explore. It is a pretty town of coloured houses and narrow lanes. It was Sunday but most were open as the town was hosting the International Disabled Sailors Championships. As I sat by the harbour a seal popped its head up to see what was available to eat. We took a different route back, alongside the Bandon River where we had a brief stop for photos. We got back to the ship at 1.30 and I dashed up to Waves for a veggie burger before Shuffleboard - three more Big O points for winning! Nautica was put through a hard swing to starboard to clear the pier and then it was back downriver past Cobh again. We sailed very close to the town and hoards of people lined the waterfront to watch and wave at us and a fair was in full swing in the small seafront park. In the distance by the lighthouse, Balmoral was just arriving and we passed very close to each other.
It is the big finale tonight, entertainment wise so headed up for cocktails in before dinner. I chose caviar on potato, chicken consomme and lobster tail followed by pistachio tartlet topped with orange and grapefruit segments. We finished at 9pm and went to get seats in the Nautica Lounge to watch The Platters. Their show was followed by the whole crew filing into the lounge so they could all be thanked - from Captain to cabin steward, and on the way out of the lounge they all lined the corridors.
Monday 26th August - Portland
Our last day! Since we were not arriving until 10am at Portland we had a leisurely breakfast and were able to watch us dock. Once we were ready we set off in the free shuttle to Weymouth. It is many years since I was last here and the town was, to all intents and purposes, new to me. Back on board I had a quick lunch outdoors in the Terrace Grill before going up to play shuffleboard. The weather was beautiful so it was a sun lounger in the sun for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for the Trivia Quiz where our team - The Bruins (UCLA) came joint first - again. So, I ended up with 20 Big O points - enough to redeem for a T shirt with 5 over!
Back in the cabin I finished packing and changed for dinner. We had a cocktail each in Martinis before going out onto the promenade deck to watch the Weymouth Brass Band and some soldiers fire a three gun salute for us.
Tuesday 27th August - Southampton
Around the middle of the cruise we had been asked to complete a disembarkation form with onward travel arrangements and asking what time we wished to disembark - any time between 7am and 9am. We chose 8.30 then, but as independents it turned out we could disembark whenever we wished. The whole operation was very civilised and easy. Those travelling on airport transfers were directed to specific lounges so there was no-one hanging around the gangway as on most ships. After a nice breakfast out on the stern deck we collected our hand luggage and just disembarked.
All in all, an interesting and enjoyable cruise - although I can't say relaxing! I am not a fan really of these very port-intensive cruises but Americans don't like sea days! The service and food, with a few exceptions, was excellent. Waves Grill became very busy especially if a tour had just returned and a burger could take 25 mins to come. For some odd reason, both we both felt we had just had a really long cruise, even though it was only 12 nights. Usually the time flies past when you are having fun, and we did have fun. My friend's theory is that, in some ports we arrived between 10am - noon so the morning was like a sea day, and then we had our port day from noon until 8pm - effectively two days for every one!
Would we go again - like a shot, given the right itinerary and a similar bargain price. I think we would both like to try their two larger ships - Marina and Riviera, with 1100 pax, purely as there are more on-board activities like cooking and painting classes.