My husband and I are world travelers and have cruised many times on both ocean going ships and river boats. We love both equally, but for different reasons. When this most exciting itinerary came up with the potential for unique learning ... Read More
My husband and I are world travelers and have cruised many times on both ocean going ships and river boats. We love both equally, but for different reasons. When this most exciting itinerary came up with the potential for unique learning experiences and adventures in exotic places, it beckoned to us and we booked the trip a full year in advance (a first for us), and were looking forward to it.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS: Our arrival in Dubai was an unmitigated disaster. If we hadn’t seen fellow airline passengers who we knew to be on our ship, we would never have found the local agent who was herding the group together for the bus ride to our hotel. But we weren’t going to same hotel as the other guests. Not sure why, but when we inquired if we would be picked up in the morning for the pre-arranged tour to Abu Dhabi and the Grand Mosque, reason enough to travel half way around the world, we were assured that we would be. No one on the hotel’s reception staff knew anything about Oceania; we were on our own. Arriving in the lobby first thing in the morning, we saw an Oceania reception desk being set up but the lady didn’t know anything about the tour we thought we were booked on. She told us we had a private tour scheduled for the afternoon, but we were on our own for the morning. Private tour sounds nice; a luxury car with driver and tour guide just for the two of us. So far, so good. We discussed with the guide what we’d like to see, at which point he took us on his own idea of a tour. And while some of it was interesting, he insisted that his driver go faster so we could arrive at a special shopping area to look at rugs before the shop closes. I had no interest in this, but we were his captives. We politely succumbed to the presentation of very expensive decorative rugs with gold embroidery on black velvet, but afterwards the guide chewed the clock at the end of the day so he wouldn’t have to take us anywhere else. We arrived back at our hotel in time for dinner, but without having had a true experience of Dubai.
The next morning we were taken by car to the ship tied up at the pier. Another car took our luggage. Imagine the cars getting lost in the parking lot with the ship clearly visible? They did. Not a good omen on the second day of a 30 day trip.
ABOUT THE SHIP: the Nautica was recently refurbished and was spit and polish impeccable. Throughout the trip the crew kept it immaculately. Kudos to them. The main dining room wait staff and stateroom staff were personable and efficient. Service was excellent everywhere on the ship. And the food was the best we’ve ever had in a ship’s main dining room. Jacques Pepin created the menu and I can’t say enough good things about it. Food was always freshly prepared, imaginative, and excellent. It’s only because of my restraint at the dessert course (and the fact that I always took the stairs instead of the elevator) that I came home without having gained any weight. The opportunity was certainly there.
The ship’s décor was, in my opinion, designed to create the illusion of elegance; but it was as though Downton Abbey style furnishings were purchased at Bombay Company, and was enhanced with brocade drapes and faux Oriental carpets. Even the “bookcase” in the entry to the dining room had trompe l’oeil dishes in it. It was all about illusion.
And this became the theme of my experience of the ship; the illusion of luxury and of the administrative staff being helpful. They weren’t. When we complained about missing the Grand Mosque on the first day, the tour desk staff, while polite, told us there was nothing that could be done about it, but they would try to do something for us since the ship would be in Abu Dhabi the next day. But we were scheduled to visit a camel market in Ai Anin, a 6 hours (!!!) round trip drive.” Sorry,” they said, “We can’t help you since there’s no switching tours in the last minute. But we’ll try.” Huh? They succeeded in creating a sense of something being done to mollify us, but with no results. So frustrating. We learned to expect this throughout the trip.
THE TOURS: we sat on a bus for the entire day going to Ai Anin to spend 10 minutes at a camel market and another 10 minutes watching a man climb a date tree. Really? We never saw the Grand Mosque, and most likely never will.
I could go on and on about other missed opportunities, about really inferior tour guides, about bumpy jitney (not bus) rides on muddy, pitted roads. But the icing on this particular cake was when the owner of a destination restaurant in the outback of Mozambique told us that he receives only $40 per person that has to cover his expenses for the preparation of lunch, the wait and kitchen staff, three musicians and 6 dancers to entertain us, and we paid $169 per person for this. The tour guide on the jitney said not one word during the 3 hour round trip ride from and back to the ship. Good thing I did my homework about the region before we left home, otherwise I wouldn’t have a clue about what I was seeing.
THE OTHER GUESTS: When we travel we enjoy socializing with our fellow passengers, and many of our dearest friends are people we met and toured with around the world. It’s one of the great benefits of travel. But, sadly, it didn’t happen for us on this trip. In my opinion, the other guests, while lovely people, were what I termed “Destination Charm Collectors,” now able check this place and that off their bucket list.
IN CONCLUSION: When I reflect back on this trip and review the many photos that I took, I feel fortunate to have been able to see parts the world so foreign to me, but regret that I felt so “bubble wrapped” that my experiences of these places was quite limited. Yes, I was in Zanzibar, but I spent three hours on a spice plantation in 95 degree heat, and never saw the city at all except from the pier. And, considering how big the world is and how many places there still are to see, and truly experience, I doubt that I’ll get back to this part of the world any time soon. And if I do, it certainly won’t be with Oceania. Read Less