Sail Date: August 2012
Hubby and I decided to do this at the last minute to celebrate my birthday. We had been looking at various cruise lines who included St. Petersburg in the itinerary for months, thinking of doing it next spring, when we found this trip on ... Read More
Hubby and I decided to do this at the last minute to celebrate my birthday. We had been looking at various cruise lines who included St. Petersburg in the itinerary for months, thinking of doing it next spring, when we found this trip on the internet on Oceania. They are the only ones we found that gave us a full two nights and (almost) three full days in St. Petersburg. We only booked this 10 days prior to sailing date, so did not have time to get visas and knew we would only be able to take ship excurions without one. We had some misgivings but decided to just go for it. Oceania did not disappoint us!! Their excursions turned out to include things we could never have scheduled on our own. The first morning, we visited Peter the Great Palace in Peterhof, which was pretty much a standard tour with thousands of other people filing through the palace at the same time (but still incredible). We returned to the ship, had lunch, took a nap, then went on our evening tour. This one, title "Grand Imperial Evening with the Tsars", was an excursion to Catherine's Palace in Pushkin. We were totally stunned to find out that somehow the Palace was opened afterhours just for our group, which turned out to be about two busloads (probably 60 people)!! After walking through the carriage house (which was also incredible) our little group was greeted at the Palace entrance by about a 10-piece brass band, and as we walked through all the gorgeous rooms, they had a flutist in one room, and a musician playing a vintage keyboard (maybe a clavichord?) wearing vintage costume in another room. After touring all the rooms, we were seated in a grand ballroom, where we were served champagne while a string orchestra played, then two people dressed as the tsar and tsarina entered, and the orchestra played while two more costumed dancers danced for us. We did indeed feel like royalty! After this we walked a short distance to a restaurant on the grounds and were served a Russian dinner while costumed musicians played Russian folk music while we clapped along with the music and shared a vodka toast. We returned to the ship around midnight totally awed by the incredible evening we had experienced. The next morning we took an excursion named "Highlights of St. Petersburg, which was enjoyable. That evening we had booked an excursion named "Musical Evening at the Hermitage" and were delighted to find that the Hermitage had been reopened just for our ship excursion group (about 75 people), so we again had a virtually private tour without the crowds. At the end, we were again treated to champagne then escorted into the beautiful The Majolica Room filled with more priceless artwork where we were seated and the State Orchestra of St. Petersburg performed a full concert for us. We returned to the ship around midnight again still in disbelief that we had been able to visit both Catherine's Palace and the Hermmitage without the crowds. Everyone we talked to later on the ship that visited these places during the day experienced the same huge crowds we experienced at Peter the Great Palace. Thank you, Oceania--I don't know how you pulled it off, but the two nighttime excursions we had in St. Petersburg were sosmething we could never have experienced any other way, and were worth the price of the entire cruise!! On the third day we slept in then took an afternoon excursion named "St. Isaac's Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral & Spilled Blood Cathedral" which was also very good. This was our second cruise on Oceania and were already impressed by the high levels of service, courtesy, and friendliness of all the staff. We were particularly impressed by our waiters at the bar in the Horizon and in Tapas on the Terrace, the friendly guy who was always at the customer service desk, and the excursion staff. We like the port-intensive itineraries offered by Oceania and the smaller size ships that can go into places usually only seen from riverboats. We previously sailed on the Insignia and were delighted to find the Nautica had an identical layout. We loved all the teak wood furniture and decks. We alternated most of our time onboard the ship between Tapas on the Terrace for the great views from the back of the ship and Horizons to enjoy the panoramic views from the front of the ship. I am so happy that we were lucky enough to book this cruise at the last minute and don't think we could have possibly seen more if we had planned our excurions and books months ahead of time!!!! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2011
We have sailed with ten cruise lines, and find Oceania to be the best for our needs and lifestyle. Our first experience was in 2010 on Insignia, Nautica's sister ship, from Buenos Aires to Barcelona. Our experience was superb. Crew ... Read More
We have sailed with ten cruise lines, and find Oceania to be the best for our needs and lifestyle. Our first experience was in 2010 on Insignia, Nautica's sister ship, from Buenos Aires to Barcelona. Our experience was superb. Crew service, including our butler, was excellent. Food is Oceania's strong suite. Every meal, in every dining room pleases the palate. Wine lists are a cut above the average cruise lines, a 35 day cruise, regardless of ports, ship, or cruise line can become monotonous. Oceania offered more than 20 ports on this itinerary, most of which were pleasant experiences. Nautica's food service staff goes out of their way to learn guest's preferences for drink, restaurant accommodations, and breakfast delivery times. We have booked an upcoming cruise in December on Riviera, in a concierge suite. We very much look forward to being pampered and well fed by Oceania and their superior staff. You can not go wrong with Oceania....... very classy, no formal nights, just elegant casual relaxing evenings aboard. Bon Voyage! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2011
My husband and I purchased this cruise in July, 2011 while Myanmar was listed on the itinerary, along with Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and the remaining ports of call. All 3 of the aforementioned ports were deleted, and replaced with ... Read More
My husband and I purchased this cruise in July, 2011 while Myanmar was listed on the itinerary, along with Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and the remaining ports of call. All 3 of the aforementioned ports were deleted, and replaced with Mangalore, Cochin, and Trincomalee. All three of the latter were poor substitutes. BUT, it WAS Oceania, so we knew, having cruised on Insignia, that we were in for a pampered 35 days on the seas. We had previously inhabited a penthouse suite on Insignia, so the Concierge level suite was a bit small, but we made it work. Our first night at happy hour we had the pleasure of meeting Sasa from Croatia, and Philmar from Philippines, at the Martini Bar; both were delightful. When we encountered them a week later, each remembered our names and what we liked to drink. Impressive. We enjoyed our excursion in Cape Town atop Table Mountain, even though the wind and cold were at times unbearable. In Durban, we experienced an amazing game reserve, getting up close and personal with giraffes, rhinos, hippos, ostrich, zebras, wildebeast, etc. Madagascar was an uneventful stop, as was French Comoros. We enjoyed Mauritious well enough. In Seychelles we thoroughly enjoyed snorkeling at Coco Island, and found the Maldives to be attractive and picturesque. Enter Mangalore. Here is where things begin to go south. The excursions offered by Oceania proved similar to one another, in that all involved temples, churches, and shopping (par for the coarse on cruise ships), but the sheer poverty at every turn was saddening and a bit uncomfortable, what with trash everywhere, and the plight of the underclass so underscored by the itineraries of the expensive excursions. Sri Lanka, while much cleaner, appeared like an extension of India, and we were glad to get to Kuala Lumpur, Phuket (where we rode elephants), and Penang. We agree that 35 days was, for us, much too long on one ship, on one trip, with one group of 650 passengers. We met very interesting people, both on and off the ship, but each of us was more than ready to disembark to head for home when we reached Singapore. Having used Oceania's air itinerary, we flew for 34 hours to get to Cape Town and 49 hours to return home from Singapore. We will never again allow Oceania to book our air travel. Overall, Oceania is #1 for food qualilty and service, and crew. It is apparent they hire personalities, not just people. The friendliness and knowledge of the crew is Oceania's strong suit. We plan to sail on Marina later this year, and hope to try Riviera as well. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2011
This was our first cruise with Oceania and shortly after we boarded one of the staff commented that it was pretty brave to choose an unknown cruise line on which to pass the next 65 days. We choose our cruises based on the ports of call ... Read More
This was our first cruise with Oceania and shortly after we boarded one of the staff commented that it was pretty brave to choose an unknown cruise line on which to pass the next 65 days. We choose our cruises based on the ports of call first and then the size of ship. Of course one always has a preference to a known cruise company but our agent was certain we would enjoy what Oceania had to offer on board. Oceania did play around with the itinerary just before final payment was due and we had booked a back to back, so when Myanmar was slashed for "whatever" reason I did do a hmmmm but made the final payment and thought oh well, hopefully they don't slash any more ports. First Kenya, Tanzania and then Myanmar, basic reasons we did choose this cruise. They truly didn't "think about" the ports they put in place of those slashed, so corporate office get someone outside that little office to think about what to replace Myanmar with - not Trincomalee Sri Lanka! Anyhow on to the Nautica and I must say from the get-go the staff was excellent. Possibly one of the best bunch of crew we have had the privilege to sail with. Friendly, helpful always going out of their way to make sure our day was just that much better. From the Captain down each person was a pleasure to interact with. I have not come across a General Manager that was more human, helpful and thoughtful than Dominique a gem of a gentleman. If from here I continued to mention names of people that impressed me it would fill the page. The food fantastic! Imagine every day fresh berries (at least 2 varieties) and fresh tropical fruits like mangos and papayas alongside.. never missing a day. The Grand Dining room was just that, a slow, relaxed dining atmosphere. The 2 speciality restaurants and the management fantastic. The alfresco evening dinners in the Terrace were also a delight. Perhaps the best were the baguettes and French pastries, took me back to small bakeries in rural France, fresh out of the oven. The afternoon tea with the Florentines took me back to my younger days in Europe - thanks for the memories! There was a "situation" with the doctor, hired by Oceania, and eventually it could not be overlooked those in charge of the ship, brought it under control in a gentlemanly way as quick as they possibly could. It did mar the Dubai to Cape Town leg and gave for some worrisome times, I did even call Oceania's head office in Miami to lodge a personal complaint, which I never did hear anything from, another sweep under the corporate carpet. Before we sailed I had read 3 important/interesting things about Oceania. First, there are no activities for any child or even teen so don't expect to see many, if any, children on board. Second, Oceania is a port intensive cruise line so don't expect too much from the nightly entertainment, truly some of the entertainment sent by corporate office was questionable. Third expect the best beds in the cruise industry. True, true and true! The little touches of no charge on specialty coffees and non-alcoholic drinks and the free speciality restaurants were a nice touch. My only complaint was the lack of port talks. Yes we did get a verbal reading of what each port was like and what there was to see. But it was a "report" not a port talk. Nobody mentioned about the local dishes to try in different countries, or what to expect if we didn't take one of the very, very over priced tours. There are some people like my husband and myself, due to medical reasons, we cannot commit to the tours and then had to research or talk to others in order to glean something about the ports of call (remembering the speed and cost of the Internet we couldn't even search for ideas of what to do) Fortunately again the multi-country staff came to the rescue and gave us some ideas of what to expect. Other cruise lines I have sailed sell their ship tours but still give the independent traveler a lot of information and encouragement to enjoy the strange new countries they are about to see and experience. Many a passenger on this cruise had no idea of the poverty or the difficulties the countries were up against as that wasn't in the "manual". Perhaps some of the passengers would have appreciated things they saw more with a real port talk. On arrival in a port it was often heard, there is nothing to see here so guess we will go into port for a look-see. Even the names of the ports and important sights were so badly mispronounced it was hard to imagine what was being said. With the international crew on board one could have just asked around for correct pronunciations (that is what we did) to educate the passengers properly. With a little more enthusiasm during the port talks the guests would have been humming with delight for all the countries we were privileged visited. Will I cruise with Oceania again, hmm not sure. That is to say it is only the corporate office that is not getting my vote. Pricing of the cruise itself was very high. Pricing of the tours unreal. Spa prices hit the roof and the doctor prices (company quoted) were astronomical. I am writing this in comparison to the many other cruises we have taken. If I base it on my time spent on Nautica with the excellent staff - yes I'd sail with them again! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2011
This was a Christmas and New Year cruise for us getting away from wet and weary England. With over 20 different ports of call -many at islands and other locations not regular cruise ship stops - this was fairly special and we have came ... Read More
This was a Christmas and New Year cruise for us getting away from wet and weary England. With over 20 different ports of call -many at islands and other locations not regular cruise ship stops - this was fairly special and we have came home with many wonderful memories. Service, food and general attention were well up to Oceania's normal high standard. However we feel that Nautica is beginning to gently show her age and facilities like the gym are falling behind modern ships. Nautica attracts well travelled, interesting fellow passengers - always courteous and well mannered. A spirit of great harmony was evident throughout this long cruise and we enjoyed excellent companionship throughout I have no time to list and describe the 22 ports of call.Cape Town is brilliant and well worth visiting for a few days in advance of a cruise starting there The Seychelles are stunningly beautiful islands and everywhere else on this cruise is,well, different! On the negative side, entertainment was poor.We don't ask much - just a good professional singer or instrumentalist every evening. We had some + local dancers on 2 occasions but this was inadequate. Other efforts were just cheap and evidence of miserably cut back budgets. The itinerary for this voyage endured a number of late changes with some poor substitutes in India and Sri Lanka for Burma. There was no apology from Oceania in Miami whose approach to criticism or challenge from passengers seems to be to ignore letters that they would find difficult to answer. This was a widespread feeling on board and is beginning to alienate previously loyal supporters. Oceania would do well to take note Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2011
Booked with Oceania after our already paid cruise on a different line dropped all Middle East ports(Arab spring concerns). This itinerary was similar to our original booking but 2 days longer with more ports. We like booking way in ... Read More
Booked with Oceania after our already paid cruise on a different line dropped all Middle East ports(Arab spring concerns). This itinerary was similar to our original booking but 2 days longer with more ports. We like booking way in advance, so a new search with only a few months to travel date was not what we wanted. The fact we had already purchased airfare, further complicated matters. One day I received an e-mail from our TA about a sale on Oceania. The time frame was right and required only one additional flight(much cheaper than making changes to our existing ones). We are 3 adults and were able to obtain an inside cabin that would accommodate us. The sq ft. was the smallest we had ever been in, but surprisingly the layout was great and had workable room to move about. Room stewards friendly, efficient and responsive. From the moment we checked in, the service was outstanding. No long lines for embarking, obtaining and returning passports, disembarking, pursers desk etc. We always found available deck chairs, seats during the shows, tables for lunch and breakfast. What a great relaxing atmosphere! The ship was not glitzy but comfortable. Great library. Pool was small but acceptable. Casino also small, but sufficient considering only 650 passengers on board. Specialty restaurants were very nice with lovely china,crystal,and real silverware,and the food was good(not phenomenal). The quality and abundance of fresh fruits and ice cream was outstanding(best raspberries!) and served stylishly (no plastic forks, spoons, glasses anywhere). The wait staff kept asking if we liked the food, how they could better serve us, and overall pampered us to no end. Texas burgers and Cuban sandwiches were awesome. When returning from an overnight tour the red carpet was out and room stewards greeted us at the gangway with "Welcome Home"! Ship excursions were pricey so we connected with fellow cruise critic members for nice private tours. Love kids but glad there weren't any on-board. The gym was very nice and the most utilized ever. There was a never-ending supply of FREE cold bottled water in the room and upon exiting and entering the ship. Everything was immaculate and staff super attentive. Country club casual dress code is great, and though we enjoy dressing up, lugging all the extra clothes on long overseas trips is a hassle. This was by far the most relaxing ship experience we've ever had. Oceania's rates are higher than mid range lines (Xbrity, Holland etc.)so we'll keep looking for their special sales as we would love to cruise with them again. Thanks Oceania, have more sales! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2011
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
Having returned last month from a 12-day Oceania Mediterranean cruise aboard the ship Nautica, I can attest to the fact that this cruise line is extraordinary. The cruise was entitled Greek Isles Odyssey, which sailed from Athens to ... Read More
Having returned last month from a 12-day Oceania Mediterranean cruise aboard the ship Nautica, I can attest to the fact that this cruise line is extraordinary. The cruise was entitled Greek Isles Odyssey, which sailed from Athens to Istanbul and visited Nauplion, Zakynthos, Corfu, Katakolon, Monemvasia, Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Delos, Mykonos, and Kusadasi along the way. Overall, this trip was nothing short of spectacular. Oceania strikes the right balance of luxury without stuffiness that allows guests to feel unbelievably pampered but in a friendly, relaxing and elegant atmosphere. This welcoming attitude must be a part of Oceania corporate culture as it was evident from every single member of the crew and staff, from Captain Jahn Rye right on down. Oceania clearly has a wealth of experience in catering to the many and varied needs of their customers. The entire on-board experience works like a well-oiled machine and nothing is left to chance. From the seamless embarkation procedure to the comprehensive safety drill to the incredibly efficient tendering process, its evident that they have ALL the bugs worked out! In addition, we booked our flights and pre- and post-cruise hotels via Oceania and everything went incredibly smoothly. The airport-to-hotel and hotel-to-ship transfers were effortless and the hotels spectacular. Since this review is long, Ive categorized it by topics of potential interest Choosing a Stateroom: Our stateroom, although a modest size, was beautifully appointed and impeccably clean with all the amenities a traveller could wish for. If at all possible, it is well worth choosing a stateroom with a balcony as the beautiful views while entering and leaving port made for some memorable moments. Although we did not experience seasickness, others who had staterooms at the bow or the stern did, during a few days of moderately high seas. Some travellers told us that a stateroom mid-ship is your best bet if youre prone to motion sickness along with ginger lozenges, wristbands, scopolamine patches and Gravol. Pre- and Post-Cruise Hotels: As mentioned, we booked our flights, hotels and all transfers through Oceania and the entire process was flawless. In Athens, we stayed at the beautiful, very upscale Hotel Grande Bretagne, which has a wonderful central location and outstanding amenities. Be sure to visit the glorious Rooftop Garden Restaurant at least once during your stay. A word of caution though, this hotel is located directly across from the Parliament buildings where many of the current political demonstrations are focused. Immediately following the cruise, we stayed at the equally lovely Ceylan Intercontinental Istanbul. This hotel is exquisite although it is located in the new section of the city, about a 20-minute cab ride away from the old section of the city where the markets and primary tourist sites are located. This isnt necessarily a problem but it advisable to a) ask the hotel Concierge what the going rate would be for your planned cab trip; and b) use a cab that is endorsed by the hotel; and c) negotiate the cab fare with the driver before you set off. Most of these suggestions are just common sense though, no matter where in the world you are. Dining Aboard the Nautica: On other cruises that we have taken (NOT Oceania!) the emphasis was on eating morning, noon, and night but it was all about quantity, not quality. Aboard the Nautica however, the meals were exquisite. Each one was truly a fine-dining experience with a remarkable array of menu choices. For dinner, reservations can be made at either of two specialty restaurants Toscana or the Polo Grill. Depending on your stateroom level you are automatically entitled to a certain number of reservations. Nevertheless, we learned that if you go directly to the restaurants, additional reservations can sometimes be procured depending on availability that evening. DO NOT be disappointed, however, if you end up dining frequently at the Grand Dining Room! The meals there were equally fabulous with the same wonderful menu choices and an attention to detail that is beyond compare. Truly, it amazed us that such a high level of quality could be consistently maintained when preparing food for a large number of people. The policy of no assigned seating for meals encourages interaction amongst fellow travellers although you always have the option of dining privately. While on the topic of dining, it should be mentioned that the breakfast and lunch buffets, the casual Tapas on the Terrace restaurant, poolside grill, ice-cream bar and sumptuous afternoon tea all live up to the same high standards as the main dining restaurants. Shore Excursions: During the 12-day cruise we booked three shore excursions through Oceania and arranged three independent shore excursions prior to leaving home. Although the Oceania excursions were very nicely done and were relatively small groups, we still felt like sheep being rapidly herded from one site to the next. In one particular instance (Kusadasi), the tour ended with a Turkish carpet-making demonstration which was, in fact, a high-pressure sales tactic. Oceania excursion participants were virtually held hostage in a sales situation that was both uncomfortable and infuriating. Despite this glitch, in some cases, such as visiting downtown Istanbul, the organized Oceania tours may be desirable because there is a great deal to see and one needs to be able to find the highlights quickly and efficiently. For other destinations, such as on the island of Santorini, it is essential to be able to take your time and focus on the things that are important to you. Even though the Oceania buses were immaculate and the tour-guides friendly and knowledgeable, on subsequent trips we will likely make our own arrangements and eschew the organized excursions. Even though it is inherently riskier, it is also significantly less expensive (especially if you share the trip with others) and offers you unlimited flexibility. We had excellent success with private tour operators that we found on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic, namely: George Letsios Taxi Katakolon; Jackie Boots-Gklavas Nefis Travel on Zakynthos; and Dimitris Nikolaidis OceanWave Tours on Santorini. Onboard Entertainment: To present a balanced perspective on the cruise overall, I would have to say that the weakest link of the trip was some of the onboard entertainment particularly the Enrichment Lectures. One presentation on the geologic features above and below the Mediterranean Sea was completely unsatisfactory and Im a science geek. The PowerPoint presentation was disorganized and antiquated and call me crazy but people *might not* want to sit through a talk about giant rogue waves and tsunamis whilst at sea! As for the rest of the entertainment, it ranged from very, very good (the on-board Entertainment Team and an excellent singer/impressionist) to disturbing (a brilliant concert pianist attempting to do a comedy routine that wasnt the least bit funny). However, it is reasonable to assume that people do not go cruising for Broadway-calibre productions and as such, the evening musical numbers seemed to be very well received. The very talented Marek Orchestra in the Horizons Lounge (and elsewhere onboard) offered a great finale to each day and, even though the late evening activities were often not well attended, the band continued to play until about midnight every evening. Certainly this was not a cruise for serious party-goers but for the vast majority of the primarily over-50 crowd, the entertainment and bar/lounge/casino options seemed to be absolutely fine. Additional onboard pastimes, organized by the Entertainment staff, included team trivia, Scattergories, bridge, shuffleboard, table tennis, golf driving and putting, magic shows, meet & greets, and many other fun, light-hearted activities. We all enjoyed the variety that was offered and no one was ever bored or dissatisfied. Be sure to check out the lovely Nautica library as well. Shipboard Staff: There are not enough superlatives to describe the amazing staff that makes cruising aboard the Nautica so special. The housekeeping personnel and the servers who work in the restaurants and bars are truly remarkable. They manage to uphold standards of excellence that are unparalleled while maintaining a cheerful attitude despite the very, very, VERY long hours that they work. The tipping policy of Oceania is that each guest is charged a set fee of approximately $12. per day, which is automatically added to the final bill at the end of the cruise. Apparently, a guest can decline to participate in this system although I truly cannot imagine anyone begrudging these hard-working individuals this small recognition. Fortunately, additional tipping is permitted at your discretion. We are absolutely THRILLED by the prospect of cruising with Oceania again in the future. When it comes to high standards, beautiful surroundings, well-chosen itineraries, and value for the money, in our opinion it is unsurpassed. Helpful Tips: - A stateroom mid-ship seems to be your best bet if youre prone to motion sickness. - Book your dinner reservations online on the Oceania site well before your embarkation date. - Once aboard, visit the specialty restaurants in the morning to see if additional reservations are available. - Most men preferred to wear sports jackets to dinner (without a tie). Most women chose to wear nice, day-length dresses with a light sweater or wrap, since it can be chilly and windy walking on deck afterwards. - If you decide that a full bottle of wine over dinner is too much, ask the staff to hold the remaining wine for you in a wine locker, ready to be enjoyed at your next lunch or dinner. - Arrange your own tours before you leave home or book organized Oceania tours, depending on your comfort level with the destination but avoid the carpet demonstrations! - When the Oceania brochures advise wearing sensible shoes to sites such as the Parthenon/Acropolis, pay attention. The walkways and steps of ancient marble are SOOOO slippery, even when dry, that sticky rock-climbing shoes would be a good idea. - If you choose to book additional vacation days at the beginning and/or end of your cruise, be aware that you will be expected to transfer to the ship quite early on the day of embarkation (11 am pickup at our hotel to transfer to the ship). Had we known this, we would have booked several extra days, not just one at each end. Remember, this is only one person's opinion (actually two, since my husband agrees with everything I say).... That's it folks. Bon Voyage!!! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2011
This was our first Oceania cruise and we were looking forward to comparing it to the other cruise lines we have used, from Silverseas to NCL. It was excellent and a very good value for the money. Food, especially in the specialty ... Read More
This was our first Oceania cruise and we were looking forward to comparing it to the other cruise lines we have used, from Silverseas to NCL. It was excellent and a very good value for the money. Food, especially in the specialty restaurants, was excellent. Good variety and well prepared. As will smaller ships, the nightly shows are not Broadway extravaganzas but they were very good. We thought we would miss the formal nights but we didn't. This 12 day cruise had no sea days. It was a different island every day and when we returned to the ship we were glad we didn't have to dress formally for dinner. We will be on Oceania again. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
Even though I have been on 50+ cruises, this was my first cruise on Oceania. On most levels, they met or exceeded my expectations. The ship was beautifully maintained. The staff was engaging and friendly. Food was very good, often ... Read More
Even though I have been on 50+ cruises, this was my first cruise on Oceania. On most levels, they met or exceeded my expectations. The ship was beautifully maintained. The staff was engaging and friendly. Food was very good, often excellent. Afternoon tea was beautiful. Specialty restaurants were outstanding. I was booked in a penthouse suite, 8035, and found it spacious and well appointed. Bedding was comfortable. Balcony area was adequate with two relaxing chairs, two ottomans and a small cocktail table. Bathroom space is smaller than Seabourn, but larger than SeaDream. Bulgari amenities, Q-Tips, cotton pads etc were provided. Erik, the butler, provided great service without being intrusive. Even cashmere "throws" were provided in the stateroom in case you needed a cozy wrap. Champagne was iced down upon arrival and complimentary soda and H20 was refreshed throughout the cruise. The gym/spa was large for a "small" ship. It had all of the usual equipement...treadmills, bikes, elipticals, free weights and Precor stations. Classes (spin, yoga etc) were offered, often requiring and extra charge of $11.00 per class. The locker room was nice...razors, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, combs and body lotion were provided gratis. The steam-room in the men's locker room was large and rarely used. All in all, you could get in a great workout. Embarkation/disembarkation was simple with NO wait time. The only time I encountered any lines were on tender days but even then wait time was brief. Shore excursions were well organized, but overpriced. Better to go on your own. Drinks could also be on the pricier side, but happy hour was offered daily from 5pm-6pm. One important note is that Oceania deals with a bank located in Ireland. This means ALL purchases charged to your credit card may incur a foreign transaction fee. If you contact Oceania, they will refund this charge, though it is easier to use a fee free card (ie:Capital One). It was a very enjoyable cruise and I wouldn't hesitate to book with Oceania in the future. I did miss the marina on Seabourn/SeaDream. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2011
I just completed Oceania's Asian Wonders cruise on Nautica January 15-30, 2011. I am an Oceania groupie and love the ambiance, excellent service, exceptional food, and the type of clientele attracted to Oceania. I have cruised on all ... Read More
I just completed Oceania's Asian Wonders cruise on Nautica January 15-30, 2011. I am an Oceania groupie and love the ambiance, excellent service, exceptional food, and the type of clientele attracted to Oceania. I have cruised on all three small ships over a period of 6 years. I chose Asian Wonders because I specifically wanted this itinerary, and was not disappointed. Be aware that going to Hanoi is a long 3 ½ hour drive from the port each way making a long day and a long drive. Destination Services offered an overnight in Hanoi -- a better time management option. Otherwise proximity from port to city was not excessive. When shipboard changes occurred in the past it was usually a positive change and often not noticed by guests. However, I was disappointed to experience the change in management of Oceania@Sea. I immediately expressed my feelings to the concierge about this. It seems Oceania has contracted out the services, thus no service is offered, except use of the PC's. For returning guests, this is a big change. No longer is it possible to download photos and cut CD's, or provide computer classes. For most of the older generation, it was very confusing to use the PC's, as there were 2 logins; one for Oceania cruise mail and the other for internet. Emails were $3.95 per each incoming and outgoing, but internet time was exorbitant per minute. You had to login to internet just to use Microsoft Word to create your messages, so you ended up creating online. Thus no way to economize the costs. To reply to emails, you had to login to internet. Even the folks with personal PC's had problems in their rooms, and had to consult with the lone (that's right - only one) person for the whole ship. This happened often when they were composing emails and they lost all their content and had to start over. To sum it up, it wasn't pretty and the contractor wasn't especially nice. (I reported this also, and thereafter, I tried harder and he was nicer.) A suggested change for Oceania: Get rid of smoking in Horizons! It is a blight on the beauty of this gorgeous room and impossible to rid the smoke smell. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2010
We began the cruise by sailing out of Istanbul, Turkey, at night surrounded by lights of all colors on buildings and bridges and the overwhelming sounds of prayers from minarets nearby and up into the hills. We ended the cruise by sailing ... Read More
We began the cruise by sailing out of Istanbul, Turkey, at night surrounded by lights of all colors on buildings and bridges and the overwhelming sounds of prayers from minarets nearby and up into the hills. We ended the cruise by sailing into one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town, South Africa. In between we visited small villages to large cities in emerging nations to established nations, and through our experienced tour guides or our inexperienced- but- so- excited tour guides we learned about the people, transportation, foods, and religions of so many very different cultures. Generally the seas were smooth, two rainy days, warm to humid, hot weather. We prefer a ship the size of Nautica. The staff is into service, captain so congenial and cruise staff very talented. The cruise director, Dottie, was great, and there was talented entertainment including a comedian, fantastic pianist and the group,The Olympic Duo. Margaret was the best dance instructor and entertainer. Super cooking demos and samples. Special guest speakers were very good. We think Nautica has the best library at sea with extremely comfortable couches and chairs, computer access and abundant book collections. Our cabin was fine with plenty of storage space, good TV and was supplied with slippers and comfy robes and wonderful bedding. The food consisted of daily delicious, fresh baked goods, light salads, fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, wonderful cheeses and freshly cooked poultry and meats. There were free sodas and bottled water -especially needed when touring in Africa. Enjoyed all the restaurants but preferred eating on the outside deck, Terrace Cafe. Depending on the port, local representative(s) came onto the ship to provide maps, tour info, stamps and mail service, postcards, and/or currency exchange. This was in addition to info provided by the ship's tour experts. In Africa musical groups and dancers in costumes performed on the piers and often many local products were available for purchase. Mostly we took ship's tours for reasons including health issues and that we were in areas of the world we didn't know. Not inexpensive, but all were good or excellent except one and Nautica satisfied our serious complaint. Other times we took free shuttle buses that the ship had running into towns.Complaints: Too few deck chairs on the "promenade deck" deck 5. We were very disappointed in that the special guest speakers did not talk about Africa although this was the focus of the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2010
We've sailed Oceania before and think they provide an excellent experience. Even so, a thirty day cruise was a log time and a lot of money, so we debated about it. The itinerary convinced us, with fifteen ports, most places we'd ... Read More
We've sailed Oceania before and think they provide an excellent experience. Even so, a thirty day cruise was a log time and a lot of money, so we debated about it. The itinerary convinced us, with fifteen ports, most places we'd never been that are difficult to get to any other way, sailing the West Coast of Africa. There were twelve sea days - interspersed nicely with the ports, to make for a very relaxing cruise, mostly through tropical waters. Midway through the cruise, I got to my 100th country. The Nautica is a beautiful ship - we discovered on a Renaissance cruise over a decade ago. The public rooms are nicely decorated, the cabins are reasonably roomy and easy to live in. Oceania beds are among the most comfortable we've experienced. Oceania is outstanding for service - friendly, helpful crew that always great you, even as you pass in the hallway. The crew was from 44 countries, making my custom of saying thank you in the right language a challenge, but one always met with a smile of appreciation. Food onboard was a highlight of the trip - the Grand Dining Room serves a four course lunch and a six course dinner with a variety of options that changes daily. Passengers are seated when they arrive, at a table for two or a bigger table for groups or those who want to share (a great way to meet new people). The Terrace Cafe offers cafeteria style (with someone to carry your plate and someone to spoon on the cottage cheese), convenient for breakfast and open three meals a day, with plenty of outdoor seating. The two specialty restaurants were there for dinners grander than the six course Grand Dining Room, with specialty olive oils and balsamic vinegar, larger portions and even more elaborate service. They required reservations, but we had no problem making them before departure and during the cruise. The breads are baked three times daily, special requests are honored easily, and wine follows you to the next meal if you don't finish the bottle. Several items were memorable from the dover sole at Toscany to the cold fruit soups that appeared regularly to the oversized roast beef at the Polo Grill. The entertainment staff were welcoming and friendly. Good enrichment speakers regularly provided at-sea day talks (unfortunately not on West Africa), the comedians were great, services were held every Friday night and all through Chanukah for the Jews on board - even latkes. The reception staff was helpful in solving problems. The disappointment was in destination services, where they couldn't tell us the location of the Modern Art Museum in Istanbul (it was a quarter mile away on the dock), were totally useless for travelers not booking on an excursion, and almost as useless for those investing in the badly planned and badly operated excursions (forced non-stop march through the market in Tunis). I actually tried the gym, a radical move for me. I preferred the library, but I signed up for three hours of trainer who helped me learn how to use all those exercise machines. She was delightful, but didn't overcome decades of inactivity. The West African ports were not ready for prime time - we were pioneering in stops in The Gambia, Togo and Benin. They did not have the tourist infrastructure to deal with 684 tourists arriving at once, staying eight hours, and leaving - things like money changing, taxis, even maps and materials. The people were delightful, happy to see us, ready to sell everything (good price - special for you). Their crafts and fabrics were wonderful, and we brought home many great memories and souvenirs. Dakar and Takoradi, Ghana were better organized, but still difficult. The tour of Goree Island and it's slave transit facilities was moving. The other stops, Crete, Malta, Tunis, Valencia, Casablanca, Canary Islands, Namibia and Cape Town are far better equipped to deal with tourists, and the four wheel drive through the Namibian desert was fabulous. We were not bothered by the thirty day cruise, although I'm not sure I could have taken the back-to-back cruise to Singapore that went for another forty days, as several of the people on the ship did. I was disappointed that it was over. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2010
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: August 2010
We sailed on 10 day Rome to Barcelona cruise that departed on August 5th. The Nautica is a lovely ship that carries just under 700 passengers so the atmosphere was intimate and country club casual just as they had promised. Men did not ... Read More
We sailed on 10 day Rome to Barcelona cruise that departed on August 5th. The Nautica is a lovely ship that carries just under 700 passengers so the atmosphere was intimate and country club casual just as they had promised. Men did not need to wear jackets to dinner. We had a cabin with balcony which was very nice. Being able to sit outside is a real plus. The food is generally very good on the ship. The two specialty restaurants that require reservations are quite good. The Dover sole at Toscana is really good. Having a concierge level room allows you to dine at these restaurants 4 times during the voyage. Tapas on the Terrace, another restaurant, open breakfast,lunch and dinner is not great. Sitting outside is nice, but the cafeteria like food is unfortunate on a ship of this caliber. Tapas on the Terrace needs a complete overhaul and needs to offer better food (better quality). The Wave Grill by the pool is also in need of higher quality meat for the burgers and more salads. While dessert is available during the lunch hour, only ice cream is available after lunch. Being able to get a cookie with to enjoy with a latte or a fresh piece of fruit would be nice. Afternoon tea should be available by the pool so that those of us in a swimsuit could also enjoy it. I never did make it to the Horizons cafe for afternoon tea because we were always at the pool around 4p.m. It took me a few days to realize that you can order practically anything to your room. That is, you don't have to stick to what's on the menu. I enjoyed a fresh bowl of mixed berries on more than one occasion. The staff on the Nautica are very friendly, helpful and professional. Dinner service can be a little slow, but being on vacation you don't really mind the wait. Getting on and off the ship is very we(i.e., Marseille) a shuttle into town would have helpful. You can't get a taxi at the port and the walk into town to the bus or train station took just under an hour in the scorching heat. One area for improvement for Oceania is the quality of information provided to passengers about the ports. You get the feeling that they really want you to take one of their tours. Asking for information at the Destination desk is a waste of time as the staff don't have a clue about the ports or the surrounding towns, etc. The evening edition of the Currents provides little useful information for people going ashore (no map, no suggestions how to get to the center of town, no listings of suggested lunch spots, shopping areas, etc.). Evening entertainment is ok. The comedian was enjoyable and the music provided at different venues was also pretty good. This is a cruise that creates a very relaxing atmosphere where you can enjoy great ports, a nice pool area and deck, good food and opportunity to meet some very nice people. We enjoyed every port with the exception of Sete France and Cinque Terre. We thought the cruise was good value for the money and we would sail with Oceania again. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2010
My wife & I had been looking for a cruise to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and the journey of Oceania's Nautica from Hong Kong to Athens immediately captured our fancy. It included so many of the destinations we had dreamed of ... Read More
My wife & I had been looking for a cruise to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and the journey of Oceania's Nautica from Hong Kong to Athens immediately captured our fancy. It included so many of the destinations we had dreamed of visiting but thought we could never afford. Among the places we had wanted to visit during our lives were Petra, Cairo & the Pyramids, the Upper Nile Valley and the Temples of Karnak and Luxor, Viet Nam, Mumbai, Ko Samoi,& the Suez Canal Singapore. In addition,we were able to leave the ship for three days to take an independent trip to the incredible temples of Ankor Wat in Cambodia. There was also a diversionary side trip to the Taj Mahal, but we opted out because would miss Mumbai. As a special treat, our Captain took us through the cauldron of the Santorini volcano at sunset on the way home. This ship & captain was the same one who outran pirates in 2009, and we had 2 extremely interesting enlightenment sessions about pirates and the full description of the failed attempt last year. The enrichment sessions were extraordinary, and plentiful. On every day at sea, there were 2 or 3 interesting sessions, with well known speakers like CBS Olympic, NBA, Masters Golf, NFL announcer Vern Lunquist; Harry Chittick who thoroughly entertained us with stories history,culture, hollywood scandals, and a brilliant 5 hour narration through the Suez Canal. The President of the American Universery in Kabul, Afganistan enlightened us with insight about Islam, the struggles in Afganistan, and his perspective on international affairs. It was a credit to their presentation quality that you frequently had to arrive in the theatre well ahead of lecture time to get a seat. The biggest surprises: The beauty, architecture, parks, and modernity of the cities of Singapore and Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. They both rival the greatest cities in the world. Immaculately clean, prosperous, and ready to challenge the best of the west. Second surprise: Going to the pyramids and realizing that they are only a 10 minute or so walk from the millions who live in Cairo, with a dozen or more 5 star hotels just across the street. The highlight destinations were the extraordinary ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Well worth the hour walk each way. An extraordinary sight, lost to the world for many centuries, and just re-discovered less than 100 years ago. Also, the great temples of Ankor Wat in Cambodia. There were more than 40 of themin addition to the main temple, which is a World Heritage Site. I would like to compliment the staff on Nautica for their thorough and complete assistance to us in making this side trip, even though we made our own arrangements in Siem Reap. They were also very acommodating in assisting us for a private side trip to Luxor, even though they had a much more expensive trip to Luxor, sponsored by the ship. As to Nautica, it is one of the fabulous, smallish former Reniassance ships, with all the charm and sophistication of those vessels, but all the amenities of the big ships. Dress was smart casual - No tuxedos needed, and with the heat in this part of the world, that we great with us. Just the right size at 678 passengers. We had the best cruise director (Dottie)of any cruise we have been on, and the entire staff (from 47 nations) was extra special but unintrusive. Food was SPECTACULAR! 5 dining venues: Polo Steak House, Sabatini's Italian, Tapas of the Terrace, Main Dining Room, buffet. In addition there was an extraordinary lunch cafe (with free fruit smoothies & milk shakes, kobe cheeseburgers, Phily cheese sandwiches, and great salads) and of course, room service. The quality, presentation, and service was comparable or better to any top rated restaurant in America. The best I have ever had! No set meal times. You often needed to make advance reservations at Sabatinis and Polo,but all restaurants accepted walk ups. Entertainment was limited, but very high quality. There was regional talent and cultural experiences. A great full band, and three other entertainer groups. Managed by the finest staff of any ship I have sailed. Our cabin steward collected dark chocolates for me daily when she found I was a chocoholic, and even lent me her personal wash basin and filled it with ice when I sprained my ankle. We met some amazing and very interesting people on the cruise, and have made some lifetime friends (whom we have already visited with). The group was generally in their 50's 60's, and 70's, but very hip (Loads of IPods, IPhones, Blackberries, laptops, and Kindles around) and most loved the casual atmosphere. Plus, they and amazing stories to tell and experiences to share. I guess you get the idea that I really liked this Cruise Line and their staff. Before you think that this is a paid commercial, let me tell you about a few things I found fault with: 1. The ship doctor had the bedside manners of Mussolini or Howard Cosell, and overcharged me grossly. 2. The Port of Mangalore, India was the sorry-est port I have ever experienced in 30 years of cruising. No one on the ship could tell me why we stopped there (Ask them in Miami, they told me, they tell us where to go, and we take it from there). 3. The guest laundry was small and pathetic. It was so bad that the ship comedian had as the evening entertainment a play called "Episodes in the Laundry" featuring guests experiences there. 4. The "Crafts Ladies" who ran the daily craft program were pretty pathetic. I don't think they will get another gig. I had better crafts from a high school girl at the public playground. This was a real deal! We paid $7,899 each for the cruise, but that included airfare from Washington to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and return from Athens on Air France, all gratuties, and $500 each room credit. There are 4 rooms on decks 7 & 8 near the front which are the same size as balcony suites, but the area where the balcony would be is enclosed with a big round window. The result is the largest cabin on the ship (plus 80SF) except suites at a regular outside cabin rate. (My cabin # was 7007)   Read Less
Sail Date: February 2010
Review of Oceania's Coral Seas and Asian Jewels ITINERARY This cruise itinerary proved to be very interesting and diverse, visiting ports in Australia and then jumping up to Indonesia, and then to Thailand. This was our 4th Oceania ... Read More
Review of Oceania's Coral Seas and Asian Jewels ITINERARY This cruise itinerary proved to be very interesting and diverse, visiting ports in Australia and then jumping up to Indonesia, and then to Thailand. This was our 4th Oceania cruise, and the food was excellent as is the norm for Oceania. However, this cruise seemed to be a cut above the other 3 in the food area. I wonder how this multi-national staff can be so professionally trained in serving food and tending to the needs of the cruisers. There are no lines to enter restaurants, you eat when you want, and sit with whom you wish. The maitre d' will ask if you wish to dine alone or share with others. Sharing is a great way to meet other cruisers. CRUISE DIRECTOR We had the pleasure of having Dottie Kulasa as our cruise director. This amazing woman is everywhere and so attentive to the needs of the cruisers. I was so pleasantly surprised when I boarded the ship to be invited to a Superbowl party, which had just begun in the Nautica Lounge. Dottie had arranged a buffet football lunch served by the wonderful wait staff. This was so important to me, as I am from New Orleans and feared that I'd miss seeing the Saints win their first Superbowl. Of course, Dottie learned quickly that I was from New Orleans as she is so observant. We also had Ian for Assistant Cruise Director. He was the best we've ever had also. Each evening at 8:45 Ian hosted a different game in Martinis. After a week, everyone couldn't wait to see what game he'd present that evening! He was so entertaining. ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment on Oceania is usually not great as it's a small ship. But this cruise was the exception. Frances Bordley of the Entertainment staff has a fabulous voice and a great personality to go with it! Lucy is a beautiful, tiny young girl with a powerful mature voice. I wish she could have sung more for us. Frances arranged with Dottie to put on a second show. Dottie searched the schedule and found a time slot from 6 - 6:30 for her show. I applaud Dottie's flexibility! The extra show was very entertaining and well attended. As a plus to having Dottie, we also got her husband, Tom Drake, who is a very entertaining comedian. In addition to the entertainment staff, entertainers were brought on from Australia to perform. We were also treated to a Thai Dance performance with beautiful costumes. On previous cruises it was not a big deal to miss a show, but no one wanted to miss these shows! CONCIERGE SERVICES I had also arranged with fellow Cruise Critics to meet in Martinis Lounge so we could all get to know each other. The Concierge, Bruno, was very helpful in arranging a special party for our group. We grouped together for dinner, shore excursions and other events onboard. We arranged private shore excursions together, which combined all of the Oceania excursions in one and for 1/4th of the price of one Oceania excursion. DESTINATION SERVICES This Oceania cruise would have been perfect except for the poorly executed Oceania shore excursions and the misinformation given by the Destination Services Manager. We really didn't know what to expect at each port until we got to it. In Komodo, we were FORCED to take Oceania's excursions. DS claimed we were unable to disembark the ship unless we were on one of Oceania's tours. They said this was a requirement by the Komodo National Park. This is something we will never know the truth about. We did notice, however, that the crew was able to tender back and forth as they pleased. Our CC group learned that the entrance fee to the park was $15. The tender brought you directly to the entrance of the park. DS didn't need to do anything but set the group up with a guide. For this pleasure they charged $99 for the tour. We were horrified to realize that the poor guides were not even tipped from this amount. We didn't learn this until after our return. Some of us had not brought money ashore with us to tip the guides. The only other O shore excursion we participated in was to the Great Barrier Reef. I was unable to obtain correct information from Oceania's phone agents as to what happens at this stop. The only info we had was that the ship would anchor off of Hamilton Island at 8am. As it turned out, the ship stopped at 6:30 and disembarked the tour to the GBR onto a catamaran in rough water. The rough ride on the catamaran to the GBR was about 1 hr. long. Many people were nauseated by the time we got to the snorkeling platform. As it was an overcast day with rough water, the coral was not very vivid, and perhaps this is not the best place to stop to see the GBR. The cat ride back to the ship was appx. 1 ½ hrs. (again a nauseating ride) because the ship then moved to its scheduled 8:00am anchor position off Hamilton Island. I think DS should have canceled this tour due to poor weather. I made several calls to Oceania's agents to learn port info. The told me we'd get a document with this info. When we got the document, it didn't give the docking address as I had requested. Other questions asked were also answered incorrectly. DS needs to communicate with the agents better. PRIVATE SHORE EXCURSIONS With the assistance of Cruise Critic, I was able to put together groups interested in doing certain private excursions. We searched CC and the net for interesting tours. Most of these were excellent. I highly recommend Borobudur Sunrise Tours. We had a police escort for 2 vehicles and 18 people total. We got to Borobudur in 1 hr. 35 minutes! So we had plenty of time to explore. Then the guide drove us (with our police escort) us to a delightful place for our included lunch. We had the whole place to ourselves and were served dish after dish of delicious Indonesian food. Cost of tour - $85 pp incl. lunch, admissions, and water on the bus. The cost of the police escort was $250 US so we split this 18 ways. Another notable tour was Polos Tourist Services in Bali. This tour cost about $40 US for a car and we had 2 cars with 6 people each. Nengah Polos would take us anywhere we wanted to go but his website gave suggestions. We left it up to him to show us the best. We had lunch (our cost) in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the active volcano and Lake Batur. We also arranged a tour in Koh Samui with Tours Koh Samui This tour was okay, but totally misrepresented. We thought we'd be doing a private tour with just our group, but then we realized that this company had booked other tours from our ship and put us all together in one big group. Other info about the places we'd go were totally misrepresented. For instance, we were told we could swim in the waterfalls. And we were told we'd see 2 beaches where we could also swim. The waterfalls were a trickle and the guide we had said no one is allowed to swim on their tours. I protested and showed the email I had gotten from her company, so she took us to a beach to swim, but it was dirty and not the pretty beaches we were promised. We were also promised an English speaking driver/guide. None of the drivers spoke English. One of our CC members arranged 2 tours, one in Cairns, which was great. You can go directly to the Skyrail website and make these arrangements on your own. A bus brought us to the Skyrail which went to Kuranda (where we were able to visit a Koala park and see kangaroos and koalas. I got a pic. holding a koala for $15A. Entrance to this park was $19A. Then we had lunch and took the train back near where the ship docked. The cost for the skyrail (including bus ride to the skyrail) and train was $92.50A. Other cruisers were able to make this arrangement w/o having a prior rsv. The other tour was in Darwin. This was arranged through Goanna Eco Tours These people didn't show up to pick us up! Poor management. But our member called them and they showed up an hour late. This shortened our time at the park because we had to be back to the ship. This tour was disappointing. Some of our fellow cruisers took an O excursion to the crocodile park and reported that it was great (but way overpriced). Overall,this cruise had a great itinerary, great food and entertainment, and fell short only on shore excursions, which (with a little work) you can arrange on your own. I would recommend Oceania for your future cruises. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2010
Neither my wife nor I have ever tendered a review but we just completed our second cruise with Oceania, both with Owner's Suite accommodations and felt that we now had a sound footing for doing so. Our first cruise with Oceania was ... Read More
Neither my wife nor I have ever tendered a review but we just completed our second cruise with Oceania, both with Owner's Suite accommodations and felt that we now had a sound footing for doing so. Our first cruise with Oceania was while cruising on Insignia around South America; the latest with Nautica on the Sydney to Auckland run. Oceania is a stellar line and Insignia and Nautica are fine ships -- but given Oceania's advertising and market niche, one would expect no less. The things that are uniformly superb are the suite and verranda; butler service and pampering; the fitness center (given that these are small ships); the staff; and the embarkation and debarkation as well as at-sea organization. While we have already booked another Oceania cruise for the Baltic this summer on Regatta -- again in the Owner's Suite, we think it appropriate to point out defects that we have noticed on the 2 cruises. (Since Insignia, Nautica and Regatta are carbon copies of each other we expect that we will encounter the same defects on Regatta). First -- the internet access and service on Oceania is nothing short of abysmal. It is agonizingly slow, unreliable and very expensive. It can not continue this way without expecting to lose the loyalty of its customers. Internet access is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity, especially given that Oceania is looking to attract the 40-50 year old market who continue to work through vacations and not simply the retired. It is also surprising that there is nothing in any of the reviews that address this glaring defect. Unless Oceania gets its act together, we will not sail again on this line. Second- the speciality dining rooms are very noisy. Each of the Oceania vessels has 2 speciality dining rooms requiring reservations for a supposedly unique dining experience. However, each is very noisy, making holding conversations difficult and not overhearing all those around you virtually impossible. Better sound proofing would increase the dining experience. Third - the food in the grand dining room and specialty restaurants while good is not what I would consider great. In fact, we noticed no appreciable difference in quality or dining experience between the grand dining room and the specialty restaurants. There were some meals in each where the main course simply was either overcooked or what was not the highest grade meat. Fourth - while the on-board entertainment was consistent with what one would expect (small ships are not the place for entertainment extravaganzas), the enrichment lectures were hit and miss -- listening to some of the lectures on both ships was at times actually painful. Fifth -- some of the on-shore excursions could have been better organized in the sense that when 5 bus loads of passengers descend upon a destination, it makes each person feel like part of a high school outing-- it is simply too large a crowd. Whether it be wine tasting or a visit to a site, it seems that, with a little organization and planning, this feeing of being herded could have been avoided. For instance, buses could arrive ad seriatim rather than en masse, thus making the visit much more intimate and enjoyable for each person. (Since almost all of the excursions were only approx. 4 hrs in length, time constraints are no limitation). Again, Oceania is supposed to offer unique experiences. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2009
We had booked this cruise almost a year ago but upgraded from Concierge to Penthouse when the opportunity came a few months before embarkation. The experience was generally seamless until we returned to Sydney airport and joined the ... Read More
We had booked this cruise almost a year ago but upgraded from Concierge to Penthouse when the opportunity came a few months before embarkation. The experience was generally seamless until we returned to Sydney airport and joined the queues. Embarkation- Singapore cruise centre was chaotic as a few ships were in port at the same time. Nautica staff guided us individually from kerbside to immigration-otherwise we would still be roaming the terminal.Check in was reasonably quick and lunch was provided while cabins were finished. Cabins- Ours was comfortable and roomy with a decent size verandah,everything worked,and it was spotless. Service - Our butler introduced himself as we arrived at the cabin. He was invaluable with on board organisation and room service. There were two cabin stewards and the cabin was cleaned twice per day.Always spotless. Dining - food was fine and the portions served in the Grand dining room and the specialty dining rooms seemed to be designed to encourage the tasting of multiple courses rather than simply stuffing the belly. Dining room staff were always on hand and were helpful and polite. Entertainment - low key and enjoyable. The cruise director showed remarkable restraint with her broadcasts. (Broadcasts did not penetrate into the cabins except for safety notifications). Ports - generally were of little interest to us but the procedure for going ashore by gangway or by tender was well organised. We experienced few holdups. Most of the ports visited are not on the pop-up menus in the "Port Review "section. In Semarang and Bali we opted for private transport and experienced the heat,congestion ,dirt and mendicants. In Darwin, TI and Townsville the towns were basically closed down for the New Year holidays. Hamilton Island was perfect except it seemed everyone else from the other towns had arrived there for their holidays. Overall, we were looking to be pampered and pampered we were. After 40 years of travelling, living more in hotels than home,I have never seen service better than this. Cleanliness and maintenance seemed to be almost obsessive. I do not see the need to sail on another line, this one will do (although I might just splurge on a Vista suite for the next one) Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
PRE-CRUISE : We were most impressed with the professional, personalised brochure that arrived prior to joining. It contains full descriptions of all the excursions available, final itinerary times, and lots of information about the cruise ... Read More
PRE-CRUISE : We were most impressed with the professional, personalised brochure that arrived prior to joining. It contains full descriptions of all the excursions available, final itinerary times, and lots of information about the cruise line and what to expect on the ship. Concierge class provided priority embarkation, and the process was quick in Istanbul. We were not allowed access to our stateroom straight away, but upon boarding we had a nice lunch and were soon informed that our stateroom was ready for occupancy. Entering our stateroom we were greeted with a chilled bottle of champagne. We read most of the Cruisecritic reviews about Nautica, Oceania and some of the ports of call, and found the website to be the most comprehensive around. The roll-call for our particular cruise was very informative, and Grace did a fine job of encouraging everyone, and counting down the days to embarkation. OCEANIA POLICIES : We loved the 'country club casual' dress code! The website and brochures make it appear more formal than it actually is. Everyone is dressed nicely most of the time, but no dickie-bows or ball-gowns in sight. Open seating was another plus for us. On previous cruises, with other cruise lines, we have felt a bit restricted with having the same seating time every night, whereas Oceania allow you more freedom to turn up whenever you like and join another table or have a table for two (although these were a little bit harder to come by on our particular cruise). There is plenty of encouragement to book the specialty restaurants online before joining the vessel, or on the first day when you join, but in reality they were quite open to us turning up on the night and asking for a seat. Often at breakfast or lunch there would be staff approaching the tables in the cafe offering bookings for that night. As non-smokers we enjoyed the restrictive policy which prevents smoking other than an area on the pool deck and one in Horizons. It was great not to have wafts of smoke intrude on our balcony, and we quickly learnt not to use the door on the pool deck smoking side to avoid walking through a cloud of smoke. FELLOW GUESTS : It was very noticeable for us how the ship is more intimate than the larger ones, as we met lots of new people, and often saw them around the ship. This is enhanced by free seating encouraging meeting new people, or joining new friends for dinner. The best recommendation for Oceania came when a senior staff member told us that of 530 guests, some 510 were repeats on Oceania! The assistant cruise director called us the "junior cruisers" as the guests were mostly of retirement age and much older. This is mostly a reflection of the length of the cruise as working people can't often take six weeks off. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting people with such extensive cruising and travelling experiences to share. Oceania don't really cater for children and we were very happy to have none at all on our cruise. This was again probably due to the length of the voyage, as there were a lot of children arriving for the Christmas cruise. SHIP'S OFFICERS and STAFF : The Captain (Croatian) and many other officers were often seen walking around the ship and all were very approachable. The second Captain (Italian) was more likely to be seen in the smoking area, and was not much of a conversationalist. On disembarkation when he was standing at the gangway, a fellow passenger was heard to call him a 'cold fish'... On one of the first nights of the cruise there was a Captain's Cocktail Party, to which all were invited. We were pleasantly surprised to find it was very popular, and even more so that the bar staff were circulating with plenty of trays of FREE cocktails, wine and champagne - always our favourite type of drink! We had a lot of fun with the friendly restaurant and bar staff who represented some 40 different nations. STATEROOMS: We chose a fairly central cabin on deck seven, so it was only ever a couple of flights of stairs and a short walk to anywhere on the ship. The elevators never seemed to be too crowded. The room is a bit cosy for two people, but with a balcony it worked fine for us. Our issue is with the lack of shelves and storage, especially on a 40-night cruise. There really should be some form of bookshelves available at least. The balcony has lovely teak decking and comfortable chairs, however the table is ridiculously small! Room service out on the terrace was not really possible. The bathrooms are typically small but well designed on Nautica with a few shelves and a good cupboard. There are lovely toiletries, in decent sized bottles, which were replaced regularly. The air-conditioning was not particularly effective, with some nights feeling a little warm in the stateroom, despite turning the dial to the coldest setting. The temperature in the room was not helped by the poor seal around the sliding glass door, which made for a rather loud whistling noise, and allowed plenty of moisture inside. Once in the tropics we were 'treated' to our own indoor rain shower from the condensation dripping from the air-conditioning vent! The nightlight in the bathroom is a great idea. It provides enough light that you don't need to turn on the main one during the night. Other cruise lines provided a pair of binoculars in the concierge staterooms which were much appreciated, but these were not available on Oceania. Cashmere blankets and towelling robes are available in the concierge class stateroom. The stateroom attendants in concierge class were very attentive, cleaning our stateroom as soon as we vacated. The eight towels were replaced morning and evening, and a turn down service provided a chocolate on each pillow. A couple of tips that some people might not be aware of: - Most "walls" on a ship are metallic, so it is useful to bring an assortment of magnets to pin up schedules and reservations throughout the voyage. - Suction hooks are great to stick to the mirror to hang up dressing gowns or sarongs. - Travel shops can provide an elastic washing line with suction cups on each end. Great when you do some hand-washing, or even use the main laundry as you can stick the lines to the mirrors and windows and let your clothes dry naturally (and avoid the queue for the laundry). - Most ship's water is perfectly drinkable, if not better than the bottled stuff that Oceania regularly encourage you to pay for. Fill your bottles from the tap in your bathroom, add some ice and away you go! Oceania should really provide some free bottles, especially to those that pay for excursions. INTERNET and COMPUTERS :(here is the 'ugly') Internet speed, or a lack of it, is a major issue that Oceania badly needs to sort out. Prior to starting our cruise we had read (internet) reviews that it was slow but we were not prepared for it to be almost unusable. Many people on board had hoped to keep blogs up to date and send emails and photographs to friends and family, but after sometimes waiting 20 minutes for the homepage of Yahoo to even appear, this quickly becomes frustrating and tiresome. We wrote a letter of complaint a few days after arriving which we handed to the concierge. We were called to the computer room and asked if there was anything they could do to improve the service - of course we requested free minutes (which were not offered) but really the whole system needs to be overhauled. The staff thanked us for making a formal complaint, and we would recommend that others apply such pressure until things improve. The joining information gives you details of the email address that they assign to you for use during the cruise. We thought that this might be a free intranet situation, but again Oceania are being greedy and actually have the cheek to charge you two dollars per email for every recipient!!! There are classes for such things as Photoshop, but they are at the extortionate price of US$25! And charging US$20 to provide a CD (no, not a DVD) and copy your photos onto it is 'daylight robbery'! RESTAURANTS: The Grand Dining room provided excellent meals every time we were there. The menu was different every day, and there were favourite selections and light options always available. The Grand Dining room serves dinner to 9:30pm, but we were always able to sit much later with dessert and coffee service continuing. The others shut down around you at 9pm. The Polo Grill steakhouse was a little disappointing, if only because the Grand Dining Room provided decent cuts of meat and other similar menu items. We had an issue a few times with less attentive service in Polo. We found the Toscana restaurant was excellent every time, with an extensive menu of wonderful Italian food, and the staff doing a great job of hamming it up as Italians. The Terrace Cafe buffet was not particularly extensive, but there were different dishes available each day which made up for that (other cruise line buffets have been a bit repetitive). Iced water would be poured even as you sat down, and then a staff member would quickly offer to carry your plate to your table, after you selected from the ever-changing display. Tapas on the Terrace in the evenings was a nice, more casual alternative to the dining rooms (still a buffet), and on occasion there would be a themed meal. Waves grill had spectacular gourmet burgers, hot dogs and paninis, and a lovely salad bar. Like the others, your iced water was always filled, your plate carried to the table, and orders taken for things like the milkshakes and smoothies. The ice-cream selection was different every day. We used room service for breakfast on days with early starts which was always good. The orders were always delivered on time. Once again it is worth taking concierge class as this allows for more than a continental breakfast. ALCOHOL: We like a drink so this was an important issue for us. We took advantage of the lack of restriction on bringing our own supplies for the stateroom. We spent plenty in the bars but also enjoy a quiet drink in the stateroom or on our private balcony, for which we definitely needed more than the common allowance of two bottles of wine! We were a bit disappointed that the bars did not stock any local beers, even from Istanbul. We enjoy trying foreign beers when we travel, but Budweiser, Grolsch, Becks and Corona don't really count. Kingfisher was obtained in India but not available in all the bars. In many ports there was a duty free shop in the terminal, usually with very good prices for alcohol... SHORE EXCURSIONS : We did a few Oceania shore excursions and although the prices are a little steep, the companies used each time were very good and it was value for money for those not keen on doing it themselves. There was a local representative on the ship in each port, armed with maps and information for those who wanted to explore on their own. On occasion these were not too helpful - in Port Said the guy was sending people to the national museum that had been closed for three years! We did think that Oceania should make a little more effort to let people know about such things as Hop-on-Hop-off buses that are available in more and more cities nowadays. The staff was at the gangway every time offering water for sale - once again, this should be complimentary when you have already paid for an expensive excursion! We did a few private excursions for half the Oceania price and they always provided complimentary water. POOL DECK : We were regulars in the spa pools next to the swimming pool, with the bar staff making sure we stayed 'lubricated'. The spa is fresh water, while the swimming pool is salty. The pool was rather cool at first, but it quickly warmed up as the ship headed south. My swimming costume faded badly within a week due to the chemicals in the pools (mainly the spa pool), so don't bring your favourite one. There were signs in the pool area warning of this so they are to be heeded! In the early days of the cruise the deck staff provided lovely warm blankets to those who settled onto a deck lounger next to the pool. We usually were able to find a lounger in an acceptable position. There are lovely double loungers with extra cushions, and towels are always laid out on all of the loungers and quickly replaced as necessary. SERVICES : Oceania automatically add 18% service charge / gratuity on everything (bar bills, spa services etc.), which we strongly disagree with. Gratuities should be at the discretion of the guest, allowing you to reward those that provide better service. On the flip side we did discover that the junior bar staff are not actually paid a salary, instead relying on the gratuity for drinks they "sell". At least they are rotated around all the bar positions, so they have the opportunity to work in the more lucrative bars, rather than be stuck in a quieter one. All seems a bit unfair to us though, as we would rather reward the staff that provide better service. Like most cruise lines, various exotic spa treatments are offered at equally exotic prices. A neck-back-shoulders massage was $120 for 50 minutes, then the obscene 18% gratuity is automatically added, and on one occasion the staff had the cheek to encourage a tip - claiming that the 18% is a "surcharge". The boutique kept updating their stock with different logo items and souvenirs from the various ports, and there were often displays of jewelry, perfumes and clothing Initially we liked that there was no over-exuberant photographer insisting you pose next to a life size dolphin or other costume every time you went off the ship. In saying that, at the end of the voyage we were watching a television montage of shots taken throughout the trip that we thought might have been nice to purchase on CD. ENTERTAINMENT : We only attended a few of the performances, but reports of the music and dancing on offer were generally positive. There was a constant offering of organized activities where you could earn 'O-Points' that could be used to purchase logo items from the shop on board. Some people seemed to take this far too seriously, but plenty enjoyed the quizzes, games and competitions. We were pleased to see a BBC news channel on TV as well as the usual American selection. Unfortunately in India the selection was dramatically reduced to only Fox news, and this was not rectified over the last couple of weeks of the cruise. We would have thought this was just a case of retuning the satellite. Lots of people spent time in their stateroom watching the wide selection of movies available. Those that watched regularly thought that the selection should have been rotated a little more often. The destinations channel was very informative and prompted us to book a couple of additional excursions. The daily newsletter is only USA Today, although we did see a Canadian version delivered. The library has a most comprehensive range of interesting books, from magazines and novels through to non-fiction and reference materials. The radio channel had some decent rock music available, a change from the more classical or older music played in the public areas around the ship. Enrichment lectures were strangely lacking for such an extensive itinerary with so many historical sites to visit. We would like to have seen more available, at least on the television if not live talks. The Captain gave a very entertaining and informative talk about pirates, and the Nautica experience of last year. Every sea-day morning in Horizons was coffee-chat and needle-point, where small kits were available free of charge (yes, Oceania do give something out for free!), and a regular group turned up with knitting and other crafts. VISAS AND IMMIGRATION : We thought the information from Oceania before the cruise was lacking about which countries actually require you to have a visa in advance. After some research we only bought a visa for India in advance, and had no problem getting visas on arrival in Istanbul. Once on board, the staff was very efficient with handling passports and getting them distributed in the ports that required them. We didn't enjoy getting up at 06:30 for a face-to-face meeting with Israeli authorities, but again the staff made it as quick as possible, and arranged plenty of officers to ensure the process was quick. We had read on the internet that Jordan could be problematic but we didn't even have to get our passports. The paperwork for India arrived in the stateroom only requiring some signatures. Ditto for immigration paperwork required for Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. OVERALL IMPRESSION : We are already booked for the 35 night trip from Capetown to Singapore in 2010... Read Less
Sail Date: October 2009
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: July 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 ( 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
Our family cruised on the Nautica Ocenia in 2009 July, from Istanbul to Athens. We were excited to cruise on the Oceania line, as we had never been on this cruising line before. From Australia were are very laid back people so with our ... Read More
Our family cruised on the Nautica Ocenia in 2009 July, from Istanbul to Athens. We were excited to cruise on the Oceania line, as we had never been on this cruising line before. From Australia were are very laid back people so with our extensive cruising experience behind us we can fairly critique our experience on board. Food was amazing. It was bar far the best dining we have had ever on board. It was exquisite, everywhere! The Buffet, The Grand Dining Room, Toscana and the SteakHouse. Service was incredible; the staff when out of their way to service to ensure the best possible service: pulling out chairs, taking your plate to your seat after buffet service, new cutlery immediately, polite, friendly. It was the best service we ever received on any cruise, by the then 67 nationalities on board. Even the Captain and his staff were exceptional and went out of their way to accommodate us. The buffet themes were very good and food AMAZING! Rooms were smaller than we expected them to be, finding ourselves cramped and crowded in the bedroom and especially the bathroom. The shower size was small however the freshly stocked shampoos and body washes were great (their size was good). Towels instantly restocked. Beds made everyday, new sheets every second day. Fridges restocked instantly. Balcony always cleaned. TV and in-room entertainment was wonderful, lots of programs, movies and an in cabin DVD for you. Interconnecting rooms were wonderful (that was our room arrangement due to the limited four person suite accommodation) however expected larger sized stateroom space. Entertainment was average. The performers, band, magician, comedian... were all average (if sometimes below) however the staff were fantastic. The assistant cruise director Ian was the funniest bloke on board and a true gentleman, as well as other crew Lucy Jo and Dan. Meanwhile, Cruise Director Dottie was never spotted anywhere except Captains cocktails or her morning show. Activities were great as well. One exception to the entertainment was Vincenzo, the classical guitarist, who was amazing and very talented. His two shows were brilliant. Spa/Salon/Fitness centre were all fantastic and service and staff were again friendly and polite. Shop staff wonderful and always happy/friendly. Samuel, was in charge of the shops on board, and he was extraordinary. Everything was expensive: treatments, drinks, tours (I'll get to that)... Ports of Call were beautiful ports but most tours were expensive and disappointment. Nessebur (bulgaria) we did a village tour which seemed like a scam. For all that money the poor was very poor. Odessa was a beautiful port where we didn't do any tours. Sevastopol itself was very disappointing however the tour to Khersonushus was great. Yalta tour to Livadia palace was fantastic.... Sochi was awful, horrible, the worst port we have ever been to EVER. The tour was a MAJOR ripoff, overpriced. The spas were disgusting, smelt, rude people. The attractions could barely be called that and the best part of the whole experience was the air conditioned bus. Fortunately we saw Stalin's Dacha (villa) in between the over priced chaos. Turkey and Greece were amazing and worthwhile, despite Santorini being very busy (that comes with the time of year). There were not photographers on board, which is agreed to be a saving financially but our family enjoys such a memoir. Fellow cruising passengers were unlike our previous cruise experience. All passengers were American, with a few Canadians and us the Aussies onboard. Americans were very particular and fussy travellers, complaining with everything and making their arrogance and ignorance known TO EVERYONE on board. It doesn't get much better than Nautica. Though there are always exceptions to rules and some Americans were pleasant company, majority were rude, fussy and arrogant. On tours they were only concerned with the US and the Baltic relationships, asking them if they heard of Obama, knew of CNN and watched American television shows. For us and the Canadians it was annoying to witness, and we felt the Americans needed to know that the entire world (especially the developing countries in the Baltic such as Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine) don't revolve around them. Also, I can understand if people want to wear shorts and everyday shirts out to evening dining, but turning up to captains cocktails in shorts, polo as a collar(t-shirt), boots/thongs is an insult to the staff, the ship and the captain. Seeing fellow passengers in this attire on the most formal (and only formal) night on the cruise is really horrbile. THat was embarrasing on the fellow passengers behalf. The best part of the entire cruise was the second last night when there was the farewell show (which is better the 2nd last night as people are packing and giving farewells to staff the last night). Every act performed and then the string quartet performed TIME TO SAY GOODBYE. A DVd of our cruise experience was played and then the whole crew (all 600 of then) came to the stage and sang with us an Irish Blessing. We danced with them in the showroom till the wee hours of the morning. Never before have we experienced something so emotional and touching as that. Overall, this cruise was our best cruising experience and everyone from the waiting staff, to disembarkation people, to the salon staff, the tender staff, the captain and his crew and the everyone in between were extra ordinary, and it was our best cruise ever. five star!!!!! ultimate holiday and a voyage to remember! Read Less
Sail Date: July 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: June 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 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,, 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