351 Oceania Nautica Cruise Reviews

Personal Background and Travel Interests: Husband Gerry and I both are 57, 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 ... Read More
Personal Background and Travel Interests: Husband Gerry and I both are 57, 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 in the past few years were all land trips: Spain, England/Belgium/The Netherlands, Italy, and, last year, 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 last year's trip.) We enjoy staying at small hotels and B&B's in preference to large or chains, and usually rely on the tripadvisor.com website for lodging recommendations when we travel, both in the US and abroad, and it has steered us well. Why Our First Cruise and Why We Chose Oceania: When G. indicated he wanted to visit Istanbul and some Greek islands, he decided we needed to cruise because he simply did not want to lug suitcases on and off ferryboats and worry about their changing schedules. We looked at Windstar, but after a seasickness experience I had last summer with my sister while on a ferry going from Copenhagen to Oslo, I looked around on the tripadvisor website and read about the 684-passenger Oceania ships. We thought the size was terrific, and heard the food was good and beds comfy. When their 2009 catalog arrived at our home in mid-May, G. was impressed with their itinerary for a Greek island cruise, checked weather reports for the fall months, decided on a September cruise and then contacted our long-time travel agent, who also had no familiarity with Oceania. Well, we were lucky to get a cabin at all in late May for a September cruise, but after a week, our lowest waiting listed cabin category became available, and we signed up. 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. Well, after a terrible experience last summer with Delta at JFK while going to and from Stockholm with my sister (delayed flights, cancelled flights, overnight at the airport on the way back, lost luggage both ways, etc.), I will do almost anything to avoid flying overseas through JFK (or any of the three NYC airports for that matter), so we ended up booking at a savings of several hundred dollars each over the Oceania flights, with USAir through Philadelphia both ways. In all fairness, I should point out that some of that considerable airfare savings came because we switched plans in Frankfurt on the way to Istanbul rather than flying directly from the US although the flight back from Athens went directly to Philadelphia. I was pleasantly surprised by our USAir experience both to Istanbul and back from Athens. The seats were more comfortable than on Delta (more padding), the food was edible, and all of our flights (five in all) were on-time. Vacation Itinerary: Oceania's 12- Day Aegean Adventures voyage: Istanbul, Kusadasi (Ephesus), Rhodes, Delos/Mykonos, Santorini, Katakolon (Olympia), Corfu/Sarande, Dubrovnik, Athens, with two sea days at beginning and end, plus an overnight on the ship at the embarkation and debarkation ports of Istanbul and Athens. Due to rough seas, we were unable to tender at Delos and Mykonos, and instead diverted to Milos, an island further south, which we were told Nautica had never before visited. We spent three extra nights at a hotel before boarding in Istanbul and two extra nights at a hotel after disembarking in Athens. Because I had perused Rick Steves' Istanbul, I knew I wanted at least four days there pre-cruise, and we decided to have three days for Athens, with the first day while still aboard available for a daytrip from Piraeus port to either Mycenae/Epidauros or Aegina if we felt so inclined, not knowing how tired we would be after the end of such a port-intensive cruise. (We ended up spending most of that day at the National Archaeological Museum.) Cruise Ship Nautica: Bearing in mind that we have no previous cruise ship experience with which to compare our time on Nautica, I absolutely loved almost everything about this ship and I highly recommend this cruise line. Our Cabin: As I mentioned above, we booked so late that we were lucky to get a cabin at all, and we cleared the waiting list for the lowest cabin type we would accept, obstructed view Ocean View Stateroom, Category E, a "guarantee" of this type of room, but not a particular cabin. (Neither G. nor I could imagine 12 days in an inside stateroom, so we would not accept one of those). I was very concerned about possible seasickness issues, so I was very happy to see that all of the OV's were in the middle of the ship on a middle deck, the best place for someone like me, but was a bit concerned about how much obstruction of any natural light there would be. G. couldn't care less; on such a port-intensive cruise, he would only be sleeping and changing clothes in the cabin. I was more dubious. Well, a couple of weeks before we left home, we found out that we were assigned Cabin 6033, which we found out courtesy of these boards had very little obstruction because a small zodiac boat was hung there, not a large tender or lifeboat. Well, the zodiac was hanging below eyelevel, so only the one stanchion from which it hung provided obstruction, which was minimal. And the picture window is huge, so there's plenty of light. Even with my bringing two suitcases, instead of our normal one each on all our previous trips, there was room for everything to be put away (suitcases fit under the beds), so I was happy. With such a small cabin, I did not want to accumulate any mess; I was able to stow away all purchases in the cabinets above or below the TV. Our friendly cabin attendant was on only her second cruise, and she and her assistant kept us well-supplied. The beds are indeed very comfortable, and, as chosen recently by CruiseCritic.com editors, the food is fantastic. Embarkation and Disembarkation: We boarded around 3:30 PM on a Friday, our third full day in Istanbul, having spent three nights at the Sirkeci Konak in the Old Town near the Gulhane tram stop. I have posted a full review of this marvelous hotel on the tripadvisor website. There was absolutely no one else boarding at that time, and our suitcases got to our cabin before we did. We disembarked about 15 minutes before the required 9 AM in Piraeus, immediately after our last breakfast and good-byes to some of the breakfast servers we had gotten to know. Our suitcases were immediately available and easily found at the cruise terminal. We took a taxi from there to our centrally located, but very basic, hotel, the Attalos, for two more nights in Athens, a review of which I also have posted on the tripadvisor website. Food: As recommended by others on these boards, after boarding around 3:30 PM, I went down to the Grand Dining Room and booked our two specialty restaurant meals. I decided to do both the first week in case we wanted to return to either, and indeed we returned to the steak restaurant the second week because I had one of the best prime rib dinners and my husband one of the best porterhouse steaks, comparable in his opinion to NYC's Peter Luger's, where we had dined in May. (Oddly enough, the second week the same ordered porterhouse was not at all of the same quality, a bit of a disappointment after the amazing meal the first time. Wonder why? Do they run out of the best cuts?) We chose not to go back to the Italian restaurant because although the food was good, we did not care for the dEcor, and somehow just felt more crowded in there. With the food so incredible 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 was twice, once when the doneness of the beef order was wrong: a medium order came out medium well, so we had it replaced, and once when the duck was overcooked, so I switched to a different entrEe after the captain said all the duck was well cooked. The service was impeccable, and 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 this summer's Oceania food thread was spot on: my favorite foods included chocolate croissants, fresh blueberries and raspberries, the recommended decadent lamb chops for breakfast in the Grand Dining Room (where I ate on our two at sea days), blueberry pancakes, crab cakes, any beef dish we ever tried, all the pates, a large variety of creative appetizers, cheesecake, all uniformly fine dining. We drink a lot of iced tea, and even that was good and tasted fresh brewed at meals. 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. In view of the ports on this cruise (all Greece and Turkey), we felt no reason to buy any local wines to bring on board and drink at dinner for the $20 corkage fee. I am sure that we would have acted differently if we had cruised to any French, Italian or Spanish ports. One of the aspects of the dining I most enjoyed was that I was able to eat every 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. I liked that you were always provided with real silverware and cloth napkins and placements, no matter how casually you dined. We found the service to be uniformly top notch in the Grand Dining Room, with no issues whatsoever in having different staff serving us different nights because there was no assigned seating. We never waited more than a minute to be seated, even though we often arrived at 7:30 PM prime time. We also enjoyed meeting others at dinner due to the proximity of tables for two, yet also being able to have our own conversations at any time desired. Our first night at the Polo Grill, the specialty steak restaurant, was the only night the servers had any problems, perhaps because there were six of us dining together, and several people were making very specific and unusual requests. One of the big pluses to me of the Oceania line was the friendliness of the well-trained staff, as well as the diversity of national and ethnic origin of the staff. In less than two short weeks, relationships were developed and enjoyed. Shipboard Daytime Activities: I cannot really say much about the daytime activities on board, because we did not participate in any except for the lectures Kate Garnons Williams, a classics expert, and your image of a crusty dry-humored British academic. She gave three 50-minute illustrated lectures during the cruise, one each on Ephesus, Olympia, and Athens on the morning before we arrived at each of those ports (and available to be watched later on TV, as G. did after sleeping in one morning). They were very informative and helped in my appreciation of those destinations. I also went to a cooking class on our last sea day with the chief chef and a pastry chef, who showed how they made (and provided photocopies of) recipes for several items we might actually make at home. (No odd ingredients.) G. had his blackberry with him, so we did not utilize the ship's email services. I had a wonderful Turkish bath and aromatherapy massage at my hotel in Istanbul so we did not use the spa services either, except to fill up our water bottles conveniently before disembarking at most ports. Pool Deck. On the first sea day, the weather was glorious, and we spent the entire day on loungers on the pool deck, reading or meeting people, or taking a dip. On the second sea day, we spent the cooler morning reading in the comfortable leather chairs with ottomans in the library, and then the afternoon on loungers on the pool deck. We did find 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. Entertainment: We enjoyed the string quartet which played before dinner (and at tea, which I attended once to check it out), and if we were done with dinner early enough we joined the trivia game hosted by a charming young man, who was very amusing. We always attended the evening one-hour show, but several nights I had trouble staying awake because our port days were so active! The entertainment was indeed a bit of a weak spot, six good shows in our opinion: a local folk dance group and belly dancer Princess Zahara our first night just before sail-away; a good Gypsy-type classically-trained Polish violinist two nights, a very funny US comedian two nights, and the top performer, a musical theater performer from London's West End. There also were two decent but not memorable female singers, both from Australia, and a female singer who works on the ship in another job, who was pretty awful with a very outdated song selection. The last night at sea, we had a variety show with some of the most talented (and least talented) of the performers, with a couple of the crew as well, and then a march in of perhaps a hundred or so of the crew in their work uniforms, clapping and singing. (Is this always done the last night?) 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 outrageously 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. Top Management on Board: That last night at sea party is when we were told that Joe Watters, one of the co-founders of Oceania (with Frank Del Rio), was on our cruise because he was invited to join the rest on stage. One mystery solved: when I was exploring the ship on the afternoon we boarded, I kept running into the General Manager who was giving a tour to a blonde woman, whom I figured was his spouse. Well, she is Mrs. Joe Watters. We ended up having breakfast outdoors the last morning in Piraeus at the table right next to theirs, they were doing the breakfast buffet just like us common folk, and they neither were demanding nor receiving any special service. I took the opportunity to meet him and convey our delight in our first cruise experience, particularly the friendly and helpful attitude of the crew. Fellow passengers: Our fellow cruisers were a diverse bunch with a common love of travel, with a few cruisers in their 40's, a good number in their 50's, but most 65 and older. Most were American, from all over the US, but a substantial number were from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, with a sprinkling of Germans. People were friendly, smart, having fun, open, and very active. About 80 were traveling together as a Notre Dame alumni group. Ports of Call. Istanbul. Absolutely the highlight of the trip; four days there was not enough. You can easily sightsee on your own with a guidebook because most sites are within a very short distance from each other. The people are friendly, all the museums have English labels, the food is fresh and healthy, the city is clean and safe, and getting around by the modern tram is effortless. Our first day we toured Topkapi Palace, including the Harem, ate lunch at the cafe on Sultan's Point there with the marvelous sea views, and then toured the Aya Sofia. We ate dinner at Albura in the middle of the tourist area, then strolled back to the hotel through the Blue Mosque/Hippodrome area where everyone was out celebrating Ramadan. A wonderful festival feeling, with many families, music, snacks, booths selling sweet candies, calligraphers etching names on plates in a minute, etc. The second day we visited the Blue Mosque, Mosaic Museum near the Arasta Bazaar (the only remains of the great Byzantine Palace which once stood over much of this area, and the only time I have ever seen non-religious mosaics), stopping for a coffee with a rug merchant at the bazaar who was in business with a friend of mine, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern, then late lunch at the nearby famous (and excellent) Sultanhamet Koftacisi (the specialty is ground lamb on kebabs, and I normally do not enjoy chopped meat!). We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Archeological Museum, first viewing the incredible Alexander Sarcophagus, perhaps the best piece of ancient sculpture still surviving. We returned to our hotel for my pre-arranged Turkish bath and aromatherapy massage. After recovering from one of the most decadent experiences of my life, we took the tram to the New District, got on the funicular to Taksim Square and strolled down the pedestrian-only Istikil Caddesi to Sofyali 9, a traditional Turkish restaurant recommended by our hotel, where we dined again al fresco with the locals. It was noticeable that groups of men dining together outnumbered women or couples at the local restaurants off Istikil. We then strolled down the steep hill past the Galata Tower to catch the tram back to the Old Town. It was quite late by then, but we never felt any safety issues in this marvelous city. Day 3 we took a taxi out to the Chora Church for the magnificent mosaics, then toured a portion of the Old City walls, before taxiing back to the Grand Bazaar for my too-short allotted one shopping hour (lovely pashminas), then back to our hotel to retrieve our bags and board Nautica. Our last day in Istanbul, we visited the Dolmabahce Palace, then took a 90-minute Turyol boat ride (only 6 YTL) up the Bosphorus to the second bridge and back, sharing the pleasant ride with many families out for a relaxing Saturday afternoon. Afterwards, we walked across the plaza to the Spice Bazaar, where we purchased some local snacks, and then took the tram back to the ship. Kusadasi/Ephesus. We arranged through Ekol Travel for a six-hour guided tour with no shopping to Ancient Ephesus, including the Terrace Houses (an absolute must but not available to large tour groups), St. John's Basilica and the Archaeological Museum in nearby Selcuk. We also stopped briefly at the Temple of Artemis and the Isabey Mosque. Our guide Ali was excellent and I can provide his contact info to any who want it. After the tour, G. returned to the ship, and I perused the excellent tourist shopping in Kusadasi, purchasing a pair of gold earrings and a large pottery plate with a hand-painted pattern similar to one I loved at the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul. Rhodes. We toured the Old Town, first visiting the lovely synagogue and its museum, then strolling over to the Temple of Venus, up the Street of the Knights to the Grand Masters House, and over to the Archaeology Museum. We originally planned to go the beach in the afternoon, but we took a bit longer in the Old Town than anticipated, so opted to return to the ship and relax because it was very warm that day. Unless you plan to visit Lindos, again there is no reason to hire a guide because the ship docks right by Old Town Rhodes. Delos/Mykonos. As mentioned above, the sea was too rough to tender, so instead we cruised south to Milos, the first time Nautica had been there. I was sorry to miss Delos, but because we had planned to just go to the beach at Mykonos, we stuck with our original plan and went to a lovely sand beach on Milos (by local bus), and enjoyed the views and the water. Beach umbrellas and chaises were free, and we sat next to a group of touring young adults from several European and South American countries whose common language was English! Santorini. We took the cable car up to Thira (a 40-minute wait because many ships were in port), visited the small, old archaeology museum right by the cable car entrance, and then toured the absolutely fabulous new museum built to house the Akrotiri artifacts. This is a do not miss; the wall paintings alone are worth the trip. We had planned to rent an ATV to explore, but G. felt very unstable on one, so we simply rented a car from Europcar on the main driving street (40 Euros for the day), which even had automatics available (I cannot drive a stick shift). We drove directly to the lovely Oia, explored, ate lunch with an amazing view over the caldera, and then completed our driving circuit down the non-caldera side. I purchased some lovely linen items in Thira, and we took the cable car back down around 5 PM, with no wait at all. Katakolon/Olympia. We did not dock until the afternoon, so we did not have enough time to use the train service to Olympia. I had prearranged a car rental (because I needed an automatic) from Katakolo Rent-a-Car right across the street from the dock for 45 Euros and we took the easy 30-minute drive to Olympia (it took almost 40 when I drove there because I foolishly obeyed the speed limit, but wised up and drove like the locals on the return trip) where we spent a lot of time at another excellent Archaeological Museum, which includes the Hermes of Praxiteles, then strolled the ruins (which are extensive, but very "ruined"). Having just heard the lecture about Olympia that morning on ship, and then visited the museum, it was a lot easier to appreciate this site. Corfu/ Sarande. Because we only had ½ day in Corfu, we spent it entirely in the Old Town, taking a taxi to one end, enjoying the winding lanes and then visiting the grassy Esplanade, the Old Fortress, which has superb views, St. Spirodon Church and the small synagogue, which was unexpectedly open for visits. The ship then moved on to Sarande, Albania, where many did not bother taking the tenders to town. However, I decided to make lemonade out of lemons (I had wanted an entire day to explore the lovely island of Corfu), and had arranged for a private tour of the Butrint World Heritage site, which only is a 30-minute ride from Sarande. We used a guide recommended on these boards, Luis Seiti, and we spent several happy hours with him climbing around Butrint, which was inhabited over many historical periods, and talking about life and politics in Albania over the past 50 years. We returned to the ship after a brief stop in Sarande to view the synagogue mosaics there. Dubrovnik. Two days before our visit, the ship's daily newsletter announced that we were tendering into the new port, rather than directly into the Old Town, and that taxis would be scarce. Well, we were anchored so far away that only a US naval cruiser was further out. Our location really reduced our time in town on a day when I knew many ships were in port. The sky was overcast, the seas were rough, the tender ride was at least 15 minutes (it was the only stop where we had to wait to leave the ship), and the local bus another 10 minutes into the Old Town, but wow, Dubrovnik is lovely. First thing, I forced G. against his strenuous objections to walk the walls with me. (He claimed after climbing up the stairs at the Pile Gate that I was going to make him have a heart attack!) I told him that if we left, I would start shopping, and that we could stroll at his pace. Well, we had the most marvelous two hours up there; every few steps another gorgeous view. We finally descended at the Ploce Gate to the main square, had some lunch, visited the small synagogue and museum, purchased some silver earrings in the unique intricate globe shape only available there, and worked our way back to the bus stop in our first rain of the trip. Athens. Our first day in Athens, while still onboard from another night, we took the bus around the port area to the excellent metro, which goes into downtown Athens in about 30 minutes, to visit the National Archaeological Museum, only a few blocks from the Victoria metro stop. (You cannot buy a ticket for the bus on the bus, so we had to find a magazine stand vendor who still had tickets because the one right by the port was sold out.) We spent five hours there! The Mycenae artifacts, gold galore, with amazing workmanship, filled several rooms in the center, Akrotiri wall paintings upstairs, nice small lunch area downstairs, the largest Cycladic figure ever found (five feet tall!), etc. OK, you get the idea. The next day, after an eye-opening taxi ride to our hotel (yikes, graffiti and trash everywhere, definitely more like NYC than Istanbul!), we were off to walk the paths of the ancients (saving the Acropolis itself for our last day when we could get an early start). First down to the Agora, its museum, across and up to the Temple of Hephaistos, then Hadrian's Library, Plaka stroll, Temple of Olympian Zeus (gargantuan), Changing of the Guard at the tomb at Syntagma Square, hotel again, and stroll up pedestrian street to a relaxing dinner at Filistron up on the roof with lovely Acropolis views. Our last day, we took the metro to Acropoli stop so we could take the easiest route up the Acropolis, ascending up the southern slope rather than the northern (mostly ramps; much fewer steps; a good decision). We also visited the New (and controversial) Acropolis Museum, where I enjoyed the modern bathroom and great water fountains, but regretted that the Greek government had closed the old museum, but was not planning to open the new one, except for a view from 50 yards away of two carytids, until sometime in mid-2009. We stopped for lunch at Psarra taverna, in a lovely part of the Plaka, purchased some souvenirs, and returned to the Attalos, where G. napped while I enjoyed watching the sunset and lights slowly come up over the northern slope of the Acropolis from the excellent hotel rooftop bar. We dined nearby in close-by Psyrri. We certainly made the right decision in choosing Oceania for our first cruise, and I heartily recommend this lovely ship, itinerary and cruise line. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
This cruise was picked by our folks to celebrate their 60th plus wedding anniversary. They have cruised over 25 times and they wanted to show us (3 "kids" & spouses) the old world. The Eastern Med in October is right at the ... Read More
This cruise was picked by our folks to celebrate their 60th plus wedding anniversary. They have cruised over 25 times and they wanted to show us (3 "kids" & spouses) the old world. The Eastern Med in October is right at the end of the season (for tourists in this region) and the weather isn't blazing. Oceania handled the air arrangements as we all came from various parts of the US. We flew out of Seattle on Lufthansa to Frankfurt & on to Venice. After a pause at a quick and painless Italian Security check point right at the boat, we boarded and were directed to our stateroom. My Brother & wife had been on a sister ship to the Nautica and had warned us about the size of the stateroom & bathroom. We weren't shocked by the very small shower in the dinky bathroom. Everything else was roomy enough for two and we had a nice veranda. Having read previous reviews on Cruise Critic, we were in awe of the interior furnishings we found as we strolled thru the boat within the first hour being on board. We were greeted by friendly staff at every turn. We ran into the head Chef taking a break for coffee on the fantail of the Terrace Cafe. He was nice enough to give us some advice on how to get around in Venice, "take the water taxis to get anywhere!" We did and it worked out great! No formal nights meant that packing was a bit easier than with other boats. But we, as a family, did a tropical night where we all wore Hawaiian prints shirts or flowered dresses! I'm not sure that the other guests figured it all out. The food on the Nautica was superb! Whether you eat in the Grand Dinning Room, the Polo Grill, the Toscana, or Tapas on the Terrance, the Staff caters to your every whim. Tapas Staff member Bailey's "bon Appetites" at each meal was warm felt & honest. The crew wants the guests to feel special and we did! We had stops each day in places like Rovinj, Croatia; Ancona, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Greece; Sarande, Albania; Crete, Satorini, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Delos & Mykonos, Greece; and finally, Athens! All the stops were great with the exception of Albania; we could have skipped this very tired land. Enough said. Kotor, Montenegro, should not be missed. There's an old enclosed city with a fortress overlooking the entire area. The climb up to the top of the fortress is said to be 1500 steps above the old city. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's more like 2500 hard climbing steps to get to the top! But worth every step! After playing tourist all day, it always felt great to return to the Nautica and it's smiling crew! The worlds best lemonade is available 24/7 & finding a comfortable place to rest up before dinner is always easy to find. These small boats of Oceania are great for adults! But really only for adults as there are no kids programs of any sort on this boat. Leave the little ones home and experience the luxury of being pampered by the best boat on the seas today, Nautica! Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
We arrived in Istanbul four days early to enjoy the city with local friends. The city is lovely, the people are wonderful and we had a great time. It was hard to break away to board ship - for about the first 15 minutes. That's how ... Read More
We arrived in Istanbul four days early to enjoy the city with local friends. The city is lovely, the people are wonderful and we had a great time. It was hard to break away to board ship - for about the first 15 minutes. That's how long it took for us to get aboard and to our stateroom, a concierge level room with veranda. Our greeting was by our room steward, who had worried about us because we hadn't spent the first night on board (the ship was in Istanbul 2 days). What a lovely personal touch. We met our cruising friends on board and we all promptly made our reservations for specialty restaurants and set about enjoying the ship. Nautica is small enough a couple hours was enough to familiarize ourselves with the ship, and we had no problems finding our way around, even the first evening. People were friendly, the ship was lovely and spotlessly maintained and we were duly impressed. Sailing out of Istanbul with the city lights glimmering was amazing! We awoke in the morning to sunshine, beautiful skies, and a new port to explore. This was our experience for the next 12 days. Almost heaven! We visited a total of eleven ports on our trip. All were fascinating and fun. We only took a ship's tour to Rome, and that was just a bus ride in, free time, and a ride back, because of the length of time it took to get to Rome from the port. Our only observation about the cruise was we wish we had an extra day or two at sea because we had a great time on board, and it allowed us to recharge our batteries and rest our aching feet! I highly recommend Nautica to adult cruisers. The ship is great, the crew is extremely friendly, helpful and professional. Oceania has the best selection of ports I've seen, and many are smaller ports not accessible to large ships. The food is always good, sometimes terrific. Fellow cruisers are mostly American. I'd hoped to meet more passengers from other countries, but our fellow passengers were also friendly, courteous and interesting. This isn't a ship for children since there is nothing geared for children or teenagers, but that's a plus for us. It's quieter that way. We enjoyed our Nautica cruise so much we have booked a cruise on the maiden voyage of Oceania's Marina in January, 2011. I expect great things from Oceania, and I have no question my expectations will be exceeded. Thanks, Nautica. Oh, and I always wondered how the gentleman celebrating his 85th birthday on the Nautica, and travelling along on the next leg of the cruise as well, felt about the pirate encounter. Anyone know? Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Our background: We are a Danish couple in the mid-late 50s, and this cruise was our first cruise ever. For that reason, I obviously cannot compare the cruise to any previous cruises, but I can compare it to our expectations, and after ... Read More
Our background: We are a Danish couple in the mid-late 50s, and this cruise was our first cruise ever. For that reason, I obviously cannot compare the cruise to any previous cruises, but I can compare it to our expectations, and after all, I guess that's what really counts. Our travel plan: We arrived in Singapore 3 days early, to get over the jetlag, and also because we love Singapore, and wanted a few days in this great city. Flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines turned out to be a great idea. Wonderful service and great food on board made time fly (sorry!) on the long flight. On Dec 20th we boarded Nautica, and for 18 days it was our "home". More about the cruise itself later. Arriving in Sydney on Jan 7th, we stayed here for another 3 days, before we started the long journey back to Denmark. However, we had chosen to split the journey into two parts, so on Jan 10th we flew to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and stayed here for 3 days, and then finally on Jan 13th we took a Lufthansa flight back to Europe. The itinerary: Singapore: Stayed on Raffles hotel. It is expensive, but you should try it - it is worth every cent! Singapore itself: Great city, lots of shopping, eating and entertainment. Semarang, 1st stop on the cruise: Three words can describe this place: Poor, dirty, boring. Drop this stop in future cruises - the city has absolutely nothing to offer. There is a huge temple - Borobodur - a couple of hours' drive from the city. According to people who went there, it was sort of OK. Good advice to anybody who is unlucky enough to get to Semarang: Make sure you book a decent air-conditioned taxi - do no (and I repeat: do not!) enter one of the old vans that offer a drive - they are dirty, uncomfortable, and hot. Bali, Christmas Eve+Day: A lot better. Nice beaches, but beware of the "local business people". If you accept to buy a small souvenir, they will immediately target you as a rich stupid tourist that will buy anything. It was good fun to celebrate Christmas a place like this. Though Bali is part of Indonesia, it does not follow Muslim laws: Alcohol is available everywhere, and clothing and attitude is more relaxed than in other places of Indonesia. Komodo: This island was unfortunately skipped, as a previous storm had disrupted the harbour. As compensation we got another 3 hours on Bali. Considering the situation this was OK. Darwin, Cairns and Townsville: Nice towns, although very hot. We did not join any of the tours, as we wanted time to have a stroll through the town centres and just enjoy the atmosphere. One idea for Oceania: It turned out, that the arrival of Nautica in all 3 towns came as a surprise for the town and the local public travel companies. This meant that local busses were only organized in last minute, or not at all. I fully appreciate that Oceania wants to sell their own tours, but for us who just want to go to the town centre, it would be highly appreciated, if local transportation companies were made aware that ~700 people were arriving in the harbour and needed transportation. It would only have taken a phone call to the local transport authorities a few days in advance (I am sure that their phone numbers can be found on the Internet) to make them know that there was an urgent need for transportation (and business to do!) Thursday Island: Between Darwin and Cairns we visited this small and very nice island. Although a bit primitive, it was good fun to do a little shopping (and having a beer on the northern most pub in Australia). Hamilton and Whittsunday Islands. Again some very nice small islands with lots of atmosphere! We went on an Oceania tour here (the only one we did!). The tour took us to Whiteheaven Beach. The tour as such was OK, but very expensive: USD 169 per person, when booked through Oceania! The tour was actually operated by a local company, and open to anybody. Booking through the local company directly cost AUS$ 103 (approx USD 70) per person. So Oceania charged us further USD 99 per person purely for booking fee and having a member of staff to point you the 50 meters from the pier where the Nautica tender anchored, to the pier where the local boat was waiting!!! Further we did not find the quality of the tour (food, seating etc) to be up to Oceania standard. I know that we cannot really blame Oceania for this, as it was operated by another company. However, if Oceania wants to make such a huge profit on a tour, we would expect something better, and we certainly did expect something more for the USD 99 pp. that went straight into Oceania's pockets. We promised ourselves that we would not book any more excursions through Oceania, unless they are fully operated by Oceania. Brisbane: Lovely city. I wish we had more time here! Oceania, how about this: If you decide to drop Semarang, then we can spend an extra day in Brisbane. I think that everyone would like the idea. The days at sea: Of the 18 days in total, 8 days were at sea. These were days that I had feared before the cruise: I am really not the person who can lie at the pool all day - doing nothing. The first 1 or two days were a bit frustrating, but then I learned the trick: Just RELAX! As soon as I had understood this wonderful idea, the sea days became very pleasant, indeed! And it turned out, that there actually was lots to do: Wine tastings, Martini mixing courses, Food shows by the chefs, quiet times in the library, and of course: Food, food, food! I have never seen so much food in my life. And not only in huge quantities, but very high quality as well. The choice in the evening restaurants was excellent, and I will never forget the porterhouse steaks in the Polo Grill. We were in a penthouse suite, so we were guaranteed 2 visits in each of the two specialty restaurants, but in fact we went to the Polo Grill 7 times! Just be a little flexible, and there will be no problems. Of course it also helped that the cruise was quite long, I guess than on shorter cruises it may be more difficult to get extra reservations. Sydney: Disembarkation went just as smooth as the embarkation did. We had booked 3 nights at the Shangri-la hotel, not through Oceania but on the Internet. That worked well, and we saved a couple 100's $. Oceania offered a "Disembarkation package" that literally was a taxi from the terminal to the hotel. Such a package cost US$99 per person. We did not take this offer: Outside the terminal there were lots of taxis for hire, so we entered one and he took us to the hotel for AU$15 (approx US$11). Saved: US$187. In Denmark we have a word for that, and that is "robbery". What can I say about Sydney? We have been here a couple of times before, and to me it is one of the most wonderful cities in the world. There is so much to see and to do that we really had to do some hard prioritizations for our 3 days. Ho Chi Minh City: This was our first visit to Vietnam, and we really enjoyed it. We stayed at Caravelle hotel in the city centre, and the hotel was very good. Overall HCMC was a great place, and we hope to be back some other time! Conclusion: The ship was absolutely fantastic, very nice and very well kept. The stateroom was good, clean and comfortable. Bathroom was a bit on the small side, but very well organized so there was enough space. There were lots of shelves to put your own things. Everything on Nautica was as one would expect it to be on a 5-star hotel: The reception area, the destination service desk, shops etc lived up to our expectations. The laundry room was working very well, and if you plan to do your laundry at off-peak times (i.e. feeding times, happy hour and high-tea), you will usually find an empty machine. The entertainment was good: In particular we enjoyed the magical shows by Des and Cherry King, but also the other entertainers were excellent. Wife says that the pool could have been bigger, so that you would actually be able to have a swim, but then again: It was never crowded. The open seating principle in the restaurants is working fine. We never waited for more than a couple of minutes for a table. Further, it is excellent that we always have a choice: Dine alone, or join a table with other passengers. We did about 50-50 between these options, and enjoyed every evening. The food was better than expectations (and they were high!), the fellow passengers were great, and especially for first-time cruisers as we were, we got a lot of good advice, and met people we certainly want to see another time. But the one thing that really made the difference was the crew! Helpful, kind, always smiling, they did small miracles. I never heard a "No" on the entire cruise! Our cruise director, Dottie Kulasa, did a fantastic job. She was present whenever needed, and still she had time to do her small daily TV-presentations, and a lot of other stuff. We are convinced that in fact there were 2 "Dotties" on board, because one person could never have done so much! Also special thanks to Zvoni in Martinis for creating the wonderful drinks, and to Panarat and Yevgeny for their outstanding service. So, was the cruise good? The answer to that can only be YES! Will we do a cruise another time? WE CANNOT WAIT!!! Will we use Oceania? DEFINITELY! Read Less
Sail Date December 2008
This was our fourth cruise and first with Oceania. We did not use the cruise lines air arrangements and took their credit instead so as to have more flexibility. This enabled us to arrive in Auckland two days before the cruise to adjust ... Read More
This was our fourth cruise and first with Oceania. We did not use the cruise lines air arrangements and took their credit instead so as to have more flexibility. This enabled us to arrive in Auckland two days before the cruise to adjust to the time change. We stayed at the Westin Harbor Quay and liked its location. The day of the cruise we were able to walk to the wharf after breakfast to ensure that the Nautica was there. Check-in on the ship was fast and professional. The ship is immaculate with pristine public areas that show no sign of wear. Our cabin was ready after lunch and our luggage was nearby in the hallway (first time in last three cruises!). The cabin while small was clean and showed no signs of wear and tear. There was adequate storage space for clothing. The balcony for us was a must-have. The cabin attendant was excellent and responsive. We used the ship's laundry service several times and our clothing always came back perfect. There is a self-service laundry, and make sure you don't book a cabin nearby. We like the open dining experience and preferred larger tables to meet the very congenial passengers (mostly Americans with many Canadians and some British). The food was very, very good on the ship. Unlike other cruise ships it was well-spiced and nicely presented. Service in the main dining-room was excellent. The bread, deserts and pastries stand out as being special. The ship has an excellent policy when it comes to wine. You may buy a bottle and the wine steward will keep it for you and bring it out with diner every evening. We were visited by the maitre-d and the chef several times to ask how we enjoyed the meal. We took room service breakfast the days we toured and it was prompt and reliable. Entertainment while lacking huge production numbers was good. The singers were excellent and we particularly enjoyed the vaudeville style British magician and his wife. The library is well-stocked and larger than the casino! There were also hundreds of dvds available. TV coverage was okay, but geared towards Americans. The cruise director Dottie and her assistant Margaret (great dance lessons) were pleasant and accommodating. Sailing the Tasman Sea was cloudy, damp and at times rough. I enjoyed going up to the Horizon Lounge on Deck 10, having coffee and a croissant and watching the waves. This lounge was also a great place to view Milford Sound. Even at sea in decent weather the pool deck never seemed crowded and we were always able to get lounge chairs. We met some of our fellow cruisers on the Nautica roll-call. This enabled us to form a group of 8 passengers; several of whom were energetic and kind enough to make all the tour arrangements on the cruise. We used private contractors at all the ports that we found thru Cruise Critic(easy to do in friendly, safe, and English speaking New Zealand and Australia) for less than half the price of the ship's tours. We usually traveled in a small bus or van on a tour that was specifically modified for our requests, often combining the best of several of the ship's tours. Because we were a friendly, small group little time was ever wasted that often is a problem with a large group. Many of the ship-run tours were canceled due to lack of interest. Negatives: The internet system was totally inadequate (bandwidth problem) and it took forever to download your email. The ship also lacked "hot spots" and you had to be near the computer room to use your wireless connection. Half-way into the cruise our AT&T Blackberry telephone stopped working on the ship. No one was helpful and the reception desk denied that their system supports AT&T. Departing the ship in Sydney was easy, and done at our convenience (but by 9AM). We stayed at the Marriott Circular Quay. We strongly recommend that you stay at either of the Marriott, Hyatt, or Four Seasons in Sydney that are near the Harbor. This central location enables you to visit the Opera House (we were able to buy tickets for "Madame Butterfly" after our tour), the Rocks, the Botanical Gardens, the Harbor Bridge (avoid the bridge climb in the late afternoon as the wind is very strong; we took the FREE bridge walk to North Sydney and back) or to catch the state run bus to the beaches(the beach walk south of Bondi is impressive). We were in Sydney only four days; this was not enough. This is a well-run happy ship with a happy crew resulting in happy passengers. Simply put, this was the best cruise we have ever been on. Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
We had actually planned and put a deposit on a Celebrity itinerary that went to many of the same destinations BUT started and ended in Rome. Then the Oceania brochure arrived in the mail and I found the itinerary that I really wanted! ... Read More
We had actually planned and put a deposit on a Celebrity itinerary that went to many of the same destinations BUT started and ended in Rome. Then the Oceania brochure arrived in the mail and I found the itinerary that I really wanted! Athens to Istanbul. Didn't have to deal with Citavecchia, alot more time / ports in the Greek Isles and ending in Istanbul so we could add a few days to see all the sights there at a leisurely pace. But the price! We had a balcony booked on the Celebrity ship, we booked a porthole cabin on the lowest deck on Nautica and it was costing more. We reserved our cabin in July 2008, by the time final payment was due the economy had sunk, the Nautica had a fair amount of empty cabins and for $300 more per person we upgraded to a balcony. I did love my balcony but this trip was the most expensive vacation I have ever taken - was it worth it?We did our own air and transfers. It was nice that the ship had an overnight in Athens at the start of the trip so we did not have to fly in early "just in case". We took the bus from the airport to Pireaus (easy do) but others posters had said you could walk to the ship - it would have been warm (and this was only May) and a fair hike. We took a short but worth it 12E taxi from where the bus let us off.Our cabin was very nice - we knew not to expect super-luxury size wise and it was very comfortable with room for all our stuff. Robes were provided and the TV had a very good assortment of current films plus the usual port talks and various channels from around the world. Also there were free DVD's you could check out - the assortment of movies and DVD's were a nice perk from any other ship we have been on.The ship was beautiful and very tastefully decorated with reproductions of famous pictures (lots of Impressionsits) and some lovely glass pieces in the Horizons bar. The size of the ship and the decor were IMO much nicer than the mammoth super ships used by so many other lines. Nautica is elegant not glitzy. Three things lured me onto the Nautica - itinerary, ship size and food. Unfortunately I think my expections were a bit too high for the food - by the time I boarded the ship I was expecting the best 12 dinners of my life (and I'm used to eating pretty good food between my own cooking and Atlanta restaurants). I think because of that, I ended up being a wee bit disappointed. I was also frustrated with the specialty restaurants. Our cabin entitled us to one reservation in Polo and Toscano but on the CC boards some posters mentioned it was not difficult to get extra nights if you were flexible. That proved not to be so for us and the frustrating thing was the ship was not full and the nights we dined in both Polo and Toscano, they were not full. But every morning I would ask if we could get a sitting in either of the speciality resturants and was refused with the comment "We want to accommodate all our guests" huh? But I may be being a bit nit-picky now. The other frustration was unlike other cruise lines where you can ask the wait staff to point to the best choices on the menu and request a different choice if you are unhappy with the first one, that did not happen on Oceania. Someone said the staff is told not to give recommendations because "every choice is delicious" - well not quite. Especially disappointing was the lobster in Polo - tough and chewy. But now that I have expressed my grievences, I will give praise where it is due. Most of the food in the GDR was good to very good. The beef was always high quality and cooked to order. I love lamb and had that several times, always tastey. Some of the desserts were wonderful - the chocolate tear comes to mind (but that chocolate lasagna that gets raves on the boards, we thought was bogus!). In the specialty restaurants there was a fresh fish choice that was excellent. There were some wonderful pasta choices (and a few mediocre ones too). We always ate at the buffet for lunch and dinner - we especially liked the freah tossed salads of the day and the delicious cheeses. The format of no assigned time or table works well on a European cruise and we enjoyed meeting new people each evening at dinner. But sometimes if you opted to be seated at a larger table, you ended up waiting for it to fill up - one night it was about 20 minutes and a bit frustrating. Overall the food was very good, certainly the best cruise cuisine I have had - but probably the best food on the trip was the Greek food when we ate off the ship.Well you can tell by now I am a foodie - I don't have nearly as many comments on other aspects of the trip. The ship went to Crete, Dubrovnik, Olympia, Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, (we had to skip Delos bcause of high waves), Rhodes, Kusadasi, and ended in Istanbul. At every port there was a local travel agent with helpful maps, money and transportation tips - Oceania gets an A+ for this feature. We did all ports on our own so I have no comments on the excursions offered by the ship. We thoroughly enjoyed the ports - felt we got a nice exposure  to many of the different islands and the port stops were long enough to do a fair amount of exploring. It was nice to be on a small ship - no waiting for tenders but unfortunately at several of the ports "we were not alone" as the cruise directior liked to say. So some days we joined a heavy tourist swarm. But it was a great itinerary. Istanbul at the end was a mix. It was quite crowded and it took us a bit to get used to the interaction with the locals. Numerous rug solicitaions. We stayed at the Pierre Loti Hotel - excellent location and price. By the time we left, we were feeling more comfotable. I must add tho that we did not feel unsafe - I got alot of "you're going to Turkey - be careful". We used the trams and buses to get around and I was less wary of being pick-pocketed there than in many of the other big EU cities. The locals are very friendly but they often have an agenda - a polite refusal usually ended any solicitation.Entertainment - not for me (I read) but my daughter (30 year old) really liked the magician. She also used the gym and the  spa and would give them good marks. Service - EXCELLENT - sometimes almost too attentive, but that's just me. Fellow passengers, yes, mostly 50 and beyond, very well traveled, many Oceania fans. Most of the people we met were very pleasant and made nice dinner companions.So was it worth it? Would I sail Oceania again? - definately yes if the price was less. The itineraries, the ship size and decor,  the flexibilty of dining times and no formal nights, the local travel agents on board, the friendly staff - all very attractive and unique qualities of this line. But it was pricey - I can do a 2 week land trip (not a tour) for thousands less so it may be that this wonderful trip will have been  a "once in a lifetime" experience. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Our cruise began May 10, 2009, in Istanbul, Turkey, went to Mitilini, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Delos, Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, Strait of Messina, Amalfi/Positano, Taormina, Kotor, Dubrovnik, Venice. We recommend the ship to any adults who want ... Read More
Our cruise began May 10, 2009, in Istanbul, Turkey, went to Mitilini, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Delos, Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, Strait of Messina, Amalfi/Positano, Taormina, Kotor, Dubrovnik, Venice. We recommend the ship to any adults who want good food, good company, and good experiences ashore.We spent a day in Istanbul  before  embarking Nautica. We had a private tour to the wonderful sites Topakapi Palace, Church of St. Sophia, Blue Mosque and Covered Bazaar. Enjoyed it very much. We had our arrangements through Transbalkan Tours (www.transbalkan.com) which we used them for Ephesus as well during the cruise. We overnighted in a boutique hotel located in the old city. Next day we took a cab to Nautica. Boarding process was simple and friendly. We were in our stateroom within 15 minutes of leaving the taxi and at the welcoming lunch buffet 10 minutes later. Most of the luggage arrived promptly. The final piece was delayed a couple hours.Overall, the ship was beautiful, very well decorated, traditional but not old-fashioned, and superbly maintained. You could hardly find a scuff mark anywhere. The ship carries only 680 passengers, which puts it on the small side these days. We, and everyone we talked to, liked the size, which was big enough but not too big. While cruising, the ship was stable. The swimming pool was small but adequate, with two whirlpools, and the deck area was adequate. There were a variety of places to sit in the sun or lean on the railing. There was a nice library, a good-sized fitness area, a small casino, and two shops. A string quartet frequently played, as did a pianist. The stage entertainment was typical of cruise ships. There were few children on our trip, and there should have been none.Nautica doesn't encourage children, and these kind of trips aren't suited for them. Food was usually very good, sometimes excellent, and a few times even superb. It would occasionally fall into the "okay" category. The elegant Grand Dining Room operates during specified periods as announced each day in the ship newsletter. You are not assigned a table or an eating time.There are no formal nights. You dress "country club casual." No tie or jacket is required for men. Some jackets but only a few ties were in evidence. You decide whether to eat with others or not. Service was good. The buffet, at the stern of the ship, has superb views and is called the Terrace Caf? for breakfast and lunch and Tapas for dinner. On three consecutive evenings, we sat at one of the outdoor tables at the buffet and watched the sun set over the Black Sea, an experience to treasure. Menu selection was varied, and presentation was excellent in both restaurants. Oceania advertises that "legendary chief" Jacques Pepin created some of the dishes on the menu. That seemed overrated to us. Near the pool was a grill, operating from about noon to 4 p.m., where you could get good hamburgers and hotdogs, a few other sandwiches, ice cream, and go through a salad buffet. There are two alternative restaurants, Toscana, featuring Italian, and the Polo Grill, featuring beef. You make reservations, but do not pay extra at them. While fine, they are over-hyped. The dining room and buffet were just as good. The Nautica does not scrimp on food. Prime rib was on the menu several nights, a roast sucking pig was served one day, and shrimp prepared in various ways was available almost every day.We met the captain once at a ship's party. Otherwise, he was not much in evidence. Tours of the bridge, kitchen and engine room were not advertised. A concierge is available during the day. When our room keys acted up, he quickly had the problem fixed. The staff comes from many countries, and most had good command of English and were very friendly.Shore excursions were as with many ships, terribly overpriced. Details about them, necessary to decide which ones to select, were hard to come by before we boarded. Calls to the 800 Oceania number were answered by dour, unhelpful individuals. For some of the port of calls we decided to pre-book private shore excursions through local tour operators before boarding to Nautica. We were very happy with the tours provided through them. Saw more and Saved a lot.Local Tour Operators we used:Santorini: www.santorinidaytours.comKusadasi:  www.transbalkan.comAthens: www.athenstaxi.netIn talking to many of our fellow passengers, we heard nearly-unanimous praise for the Nautica. A surprising number of them had been on Oceania two or three times before, although the company has existed only a few years. One woman, apparently a chronic complainer, said maintenance of her stateroom was lacking, crew were impolite, and food was not "phenomenal." It was difficult to believe her first two claims. As for the food, meals were always enjoyable and delicious; for "phenomenal," you go to gourmet restaurants. Several passengers got on board without their luggage. I suspect that was the fault of airlines. I would strongly advise against arriving in Europe on the same day your cruise ship departs - WAY too much opportunity for trouble. Service in the Nautica buffet was at times a little slow. The staff should also enforce the dress code. We had a few louts who came to the buffet in sleeve-less t-shirts and baggy shorts, and one who talked loudly on a cell phone. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
            This review of our second-ever cruise is unbelievably lengthy (no surprise to the readers of my review of our first-ever cruise last fall!), so it is organized by labeled topics so that readers can scroll down to the ... Read More
            This review of our second-ever cruise is unbelievably lengthy (no surprise to the readers of my review of our first-ever cruise last fall!), so it is organized by labeled topics so that readers can scroll down to the information, if any, in which they have an interest.                          Personal Background and Travel Interests:  Husband Gerry and I both are 58, and began taking annual fall vacations to Europe after our younger child started college.  We both are business attorneys (I now am retired, G. remains working full-time), and both are very interested in history and art.  G. is a military history enthusiast, with less interest in natural beauty destinations, and he absolutely abhors shopping, which he believes wastes precious touring time.  I am a new docent at the Cincinnati Art Museum, so I am eager to visit any art-related sights on our trips.  We usually take a fall vacation to Europe (to avoid both the heat and the crowds), and trips until last September were all land trips: Spain; England/Belgium/The Netherlands; Italy; and Normandy/Loire Valley/Paris.  All of these trips were done independently, by train and bus, using the wonderful Rick Steves' practical and comprehensive guidebooks for sightseeing advice.  (We rented a car for the Normandy/Loire Valley part of our 2007 trip.)  We enjoy staying at small hotels and B&B's in preference to large or chains, and usually rely on the tripadvisor.com website for lodging recommendations when we travel, both in the US and abroad, and it has steered us well.                Last September, we took our first-ever cruise, Oceania Istanbul to Athens, in order to visit Istanbul and some Greek islands, a dream of Gerry's for the last several years, without worrying about ferry schedules and lugging suitcases.  The cruise more than met our expectations: we were happy with the comfort of the beds, the food and the excellent service.  We were so taken with our four days pre-cruise in Istanbul that I have remained a daily participant in the Istanbul forum of tripadvisor.                         Why Our Second Cruise and Why We Chose Oceania:  I began planning a land trip to Italy for October 2009 to visit areas we had never visited, particularly the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre.  However, on January 6, I received an email from Oceania setting forth $2,000 price reductions on certain Mediterranean cruises for this summer and fall.  I immediately excluded all those in July and August simply because I cannot take high temperatures and humidity.  Of those left, I spotted the Athens to Rome itinerary, which included two days on the Amalfi Coast, an opportunity to see Delos/Mykonos, missed last September due to high seas, and a day in Malta, which I knew could be the hook to get my military-history-oriented husband to sign up.  He checked them out that night, called our long-time travel agent, and were booked the next day in the same cabin we had in September and on the same ship, Nautica.                 Airlines and Flights:  Cincinnati is a Delta hub, which means we have the most expensive airfare in the US, and 95% of the flights are on Delta.  But I called Delta that same day we booked this cruise, and, just an example of how bad our economy was, I easily got skymile tickets for a departure on June 3 and return on June 22, less than five months in advance.  Normally, you have to call promptly 11 months in advance and be very flexible, but this year, no problem at all.  I refuse to fly through JFK (numerous lost luggage and cancelled flight stories), so we flew on Continental to Newark, then overnight on Continental to Athens and back on Delta (really Northwest), Rome to Atlanta and Atlanta to Cincinnati.                             Well, we had a rough start to our journey: some yoyo (actually a former neighbor of ours) stuffed two large carry-on bags into one small overhead luggage bin on our small regional jet, which bin would then neither open nor fully close.  One hour was spent trying to remove the luggage, and finally the entire bin was disassembled.  I wonder how many passengers missed their connections because this guy and his wife planned to spend three weeks in Eastern Europe with three carry-on bags but simply would not check any luggage.               The overnight flight to Athens was less than 2/3 full, so G. moved and I had two seats on which to try to spread out and doze.  This flight was on-time and not crowded, what more can you ask for? Of course, when we had our own movie screens with the choice of dozens of films to wile away the hours back from Rome, I enjoyed watching three Oscar-nominated films, which truly made the time go faster.  This Rome to Atlanta flight was packed, not a surprise because our Delta flight vanished in April and we were moved to a Northwest flight.  Fortunately, after our rough start in Cincinnati, the other three flights all were on-time.               Vacation Itinerary:  Oceania's 12- Day Enchanted Escapade voyage: Athens, Delos/Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, sea day, Malta, Taormina, Sorrento, Amalfi, Livorno, Monte Carlo, Portofino, Rome; only one sea day and no overnights in port, so a jam-packed itinerary.  Because we had spent three days in Athens just last September, we booked only one extra night before boarding, planning to visit two museums we had missed, but decided on five extra nights in Rome after disembarking to get in some of the sightseeing we had planned on when this vacation was still an Italy land trip.                Cruise Ship Nautica:  Bearing in mind that we have no cruise ship experience on any other line, and that we traveled on the same ship that we were on last September, I absolutely loved almost everything about this ship and I highly recommend this cruise line.                  Our Cabin:   We booked the same cabin we ended up in after clearing our guaranty last fall, Cabin 6033, obstructed view, but really just obstructed by a large davit from which a small zodiac hangs below the large picture window level, so plenty of light.   About a week before our departure, our travel agent received an upgrade offer for us which she admittedly mishandled (a long story), and the following day she had managed to arrange for an upgrade at a good price to a B veranda, Cabin 6073.  Of course, now I am spoiled by the veranda, and it will be difficult to return to smaller quarters.               Even with my bringing two suitcases, instead of our normal one each on all our previous land trips, there was room for everything to be put away (suitcases fit under the beds), so I was a very happy camper.  I did not want to accumulate any mess, and I wanted to keep the small couch for lounging. I was able to stow away all purchases in the cabinets above or below the TV.  Our friendly cabin attendant was on her first cruise, and she and her assistant kept us well-supplied.  (She adored my spouse because when we arrived, apparently the bathroom had not been cleaned, and, without telling me, he whisked me away to lunch, had a discreet word with her, rather than complaining to her supervisors, and I never would even have known about it except upon seeing her later our first night on board, she was so effusive and grateful to him, that I ended up finding out the story.)  The beds are indeed very comfortable, and, as chosen by Cruisecritic editors, the food is fantastic.               Embarkation and Disembarkation:  We boarded just before 3 PM on a Friday, our second full day in Athens, having spent one night at the Athens Cypria, about a five-minute walk from Syntagma Square.  The taxi ride from central Athens to the cruise ship cost 20 Euros and took about 20 to 25 minutes. I have posted a review of this very reasonably-priced and well-located hotel on the tripadvisor website.  There were just a few people boarding at that time, and our suitcases were at our cabin when we returned from our late lunch at the Terrace Cafe buffet, which stays open until 4 PM on embarkation day.  We disembarked about 15 minutes before the required 9 AM in Civitavecchia after our last leisurely breakfast.  Our suitcases were immediately available and easily found at the cruise terminal.  We shared a van from there to our centrally located hotel near the Campo di'Fiori, Hotel Smeraldo, for five more nights in Rome, a review of which I also have posted on the tripadvisor website.                The van, Bob's Limousines, www.romelimousines.com, was an excellent price for the lengthy drive into central Rome, but Bob refused to drop us at our hotel, saying that the van was too large to navigate on the tiny streets near the Campo, but that is an absolute falsehood.  I had stayed at the same hotel three years previously, and many large delivery vehicles travel there daily.  So we were forced to schlep our three rolling suitcases plus carry-on bags several blocks from the Largo Argentina tram stop.  Bob wanted to drop us even further away because he truly had not bothered checking out the precise location of our hotel.  I was pretty steamed about this, but our four travel companions, all met on cruisecritic, simply were the loveliest people imaginable (and had also uncomplainingly survived a lousy private day tour with us that I had arranged), so outspoken me actually kept her mouth shut for once.                       Food:  As recommended, after boarding and having lunch, we went down to the Grand Dining Room and booked our two specialty restaurant meals.  I once again decided to do both the first week in case we wanted to return to either, and indeed we returned to both the second week. However, with the food so good in the Grand Dining Room, they truly never repeated the menu items in 12 nights, and the dEcor there so spacious and attractive, we were happy to dine there.                All in all, the only food issues either of us had simply was that the more people with whom you shared a table, the more time it took to both get served and eat.  So if you prefer to eat at 7:30 PM, as we did, but you want to play 9 PM trivia with staffer Ian, you need to dine alone!  And if you dine with six others, you will be very lucky to catch the 9:45 PM show.  Ultimately, we decided that the company, almost all fellow cruise critic members met on our fabulous roll call, was far superior to the entertainment, and we just went with the flow.  I absolutely loved being able to eat dinner whenever I wanted based on the day's activities, with no schedule or required dressing up.                  All the advice from last summer's Oceania food thread was spot on:  my favorite foods included chocolate croissants, fresh blueberries and raspberries, crab cakes, any beef dish we ever tried, all the pates, a large variety of creative appetizers, cheesecake, all uniformly fine dining.  The appetizers and desserts outshine the entrees a bit, which seem to be geared to more conservative palates. We drink a lot of iced tea, and even that was good and tasted fresh brewed at meals.  To nitpick, the cappuccino (free!) was not very good, particularly suffering in comparison to those I drank at breakfast daily in Rome, and the coffee also suffered in comparison to the mixed strong coffee and hot milk I drank in Rome.  We found the wine list to be priced comparable to any good restaurant, with a good price and quality range, and any bottle not finished was stored with our room number for another meal.                One of the aspects of the dining I most enjoyed was that I was able to eat  breakfast and lunch on board out of doors because the buffet breakfast and lunch place, the Terrace Cafe, has outdoor seating, comfy wooden chairs with cushions and large umbrellas for shade. I really liked that servers placed the food on your plates at the breakfast and lunch buffets; it seemed very hygienic.  The grill on the pool deck was very convenient for a very casual lunch, and I enjoyed several grilled pastrami Reuben sandwich lunches there (although not for the health-conscious!).  I liked that you were always provided with real silverware and cloth napkins and placemats, no matter how casually you dined.                We found the service to be uniformly top notch in the Grand Dining Room (with one minor exception), with no issues in having different staff serving us different nights because there was no assigned seating.  We never waited more than a minute or two to be seated, even though we often arrived at 7:30 PM prime time.  This trip we seldom dined alone because we developed several friendships from our roll call, and it was a real pleasure to exchange shore experiences with those with whom we had corresponded in the months prior to the cruise.  Even if you dine at a table for two, the close proximity of the other tables for two allows you the choice of meeting fellow cruisers or having your own conversations at any time desired.  One of the big pluses to me of the Oceania line is the friendliness of the well-trained staff, as well as the diversity of national and ethnic origin of the staff.                Our two meals each at the Polo Grill (wonderful beef) and Toscana (superb pasta and veal chop) were uniformly excellent, and, because one of our Polo meals was a pre-arranged birthday celebration for a fellow roll caller celebrating his 50th birthday, we literally closed the place that evening!  I had no problem arranging for one return visit to each by requesting a reservation the same morning at the desk at the Terrace Cafe.  I found that being flexible on my times and willingness to share with others resulted in spaces being found.                      Shipboard Daytime Activities:  Once again, I cannot really say much about the daytime activities on board, because we participated in very few.  We attended one lecture by Dr. Tom Stauffer on Malta.  He gave three 50-minute illustrated lectures during the cruise, one each on Greece, Malta, and Italy, but we only attended the one given on our one sea day, the day before our Malta visit.  I thought that it was very informative; G. had read a lot about Malta already, but he thought the lecturer did a good job.                I also went to a cooking demonstration the morning of our sea day with the chief chef and another chef, who showed how they made (and provided photocopies of) recipes for several items we might actually make at home (no odd ingredients) and then samples of those dishes were provided to all.  G. had his blackberry with him, so we did not utilize the ship's email services.                We played the afternoon trivia game that sea day as well (at 4:45 PM), at the urging of one of our roll call friends (G. is great at trivia) but several of the players on our own team were so intense and focused on winning, that I said never again, I want to enjoy my trivia games.  We stayed with the evening trivia with Ian or pianist Jerry in the Martinis lounge, where the focus was on having fun.  We accumulated enough "O" points from these trivia games to get the Oceania mouse pad for each of us, a wonderful reminder of our trip every time I sit down at my computer.  The leftover points are put away with my extra Euros for our next O cruise.                                          Pool Deck.  On our sea day, the weather was glorious, and we spent most of the day on loungers on the pool deck, reading, gossiping with fellow roll call members, or taking a dip.  We also often swam late in the afternoon after returning from our sightseeing. We again found throughout the cruise that many people went off to other activities yet insisted on leaving their things for hours on the coveted shaded lounge chairs, guarded by their spouses or friends who were not so active, which was somewhat annoying.  I do not understand why so many did this, but there was enough coming and going that I never had to wait too long for a lounger in the shade.  However, one needed to wait a lot longer to get two together, and we simply sat separately until people started disbursing to prepare for dinner and then we rejoined each other.                Entertainment:  We enjoyed the string quartet which played before dinner (we never made it to tea to hear them play), and if we were done with dinner early enough we joined the trivia game hosted by Ian, a charming young man, who was very amusing.  We often attended the evening one-hour show, but several nights were spent dining late with our lovely roll call members, and we knew we generally were not sacrificing any memorable entertainment to stay with our friends in the GDR.  The entertainment was indeed a weak spot, the best being a classical guitar player, followed by an admittedly silly, but amusing, magician, and a pleasant classical violinist.  On our last cruise, we had a really top performer, a musical theater performer from London's West End flown in for a few days, but there was nothing like him on this trip.  The night we were sailing past Stromboli, an active volcano just north of the Straits of Messina, all were invited to the top deck as we sailed by late in the evening, and a passenger, who knew his astronomy, took out his laser pointer and showed us some constellations, a lovely end to our day.               Destination Services.  We did not take any of the ship's excursions because we prefer to tour independently and not be bused around on the schedule of the slowest of 35 people.  We also felt that Oceania's tour pricing was high.  However, at every port, Oceania had a local tourist person on board for the first few hours after arrival, and that person provided excellent maps, which I always obtained and were very useful (I am a happy map enthusiast, the more detailed the better!), and also sightseeing advice and directions to local transportation for those who needed it .  We used photocopies of materials from Fodor's and Frommer's guidebooks, plus the excellent advice provided by you on these boards, and we knew what we wanted to do in each port.                   Fellow passengers:  Unlike our September cruise, where we were at the younger end of the age spectrum, this cruise had many families (one with over 20 members), and there were several young children, many teenagers and young adults, and then couples in their 40's and on up to the expected over 60 demographic.  Most were American, from all over the US, but a substantial number were from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia.  People were friendly, smart, having fun, open, and very active.                 Ports of Call.             Athens.  Having spent three days in Athens last September, we chose to fly in just a day early and stay near the very central Syntagma Square in order to visit two museums which we had missed on our last visit.  I have been active on the Athens forum of tripadvisor for almost a year, so I knew precisely where I wanted to stay, eat and visit.  Unfortunately, the anticipated March opening of the New Acropolis Museum had become a June 20 opening, so we missed it again.  After hotel check-in, we went to the famous Ariston Bakery nearby and purchased three hot pies for lunch.  We dined al fresco at the cool curtain wall fountain on Syntagma Square, sharing a fine eggplant and zucchini pie, a better spinach pie, and an absolutely sublime mushroom pie.             Now refreshed and fortified, we walked over to the Benaki Museum for a fascinating three-hour exploration, returning in the late afternoon for drinks on the pedestrian street of our hotel before our 7 PM dinner reservation at Tzitzikas & Mermigas. We shared the ten-vegetable house salad (wonderful), some eggplant salad (my addiction) and chicken masticha, which was fantastic. A stroll down Mitropoleos and back up Ermou, enjoying the active night scene, and then off to bed for the jet-lagged.             The next morning, after stopping at the Masticha Shop for a look around and the purchase of a 20-gram tin for cooking usage, we visited the incredible Museum of Cycladic Art, where I drooled over most of the first-floor exhibits, enjoyed mingling with the parent chaperones on a grade-school visit from Piraeus, and then drank in the Classical Greek life gallery and videos. A short distance up the street, G. got to take a quick look at the artillery around the War Museum, and then we grabbed the metro to Monastiraki to check out the completed square, which was under construction during our September visit. We really enjoyed the underground archaeological displays at the metro stop there, plus the gorgeous new square. We then checked out those at the Syntagma metro before retrieving our luggage and taking a taxi to Piraeus to board Nautica.             Athens is very easy to tour on your own because, unlike Paris or London, the main tourist sites all are within a very small, easily walkable area.  Yes, the graffiti is rampant, but it is a vibrant city full of great museums, a good metro and bus system, and many pedestrianized streets in the historic core.                   Delos/Mykonos.  Unlike last September, the sea was like a sheet of glass, so we easily tendered into Delos for a lovely two-hour stroll on our own (using information copied from some guidebooks to tour at our own pace) through gorgeous wildflowers and evocative ruins.  What a lovely and peaceful place. There even was a breeze from the north to help me with the lack of shade on the island.                After lunch on board and the short sail to Mykonos, enjoyed on our veranda, we tendered into Mykonos.  We had planned to go to the beach, but a dearth of taxis led us instead to simply wander through Little Venice up to the windmills and do a little shopping before tendering back to swim on the ship.  A pretty town, but Delos was the both the point and highlight of our day.                   .              Rhodes.  We had visited last September, and chose once again to tour the lovely Old Town, first visiting the lovely synagogue and its museum (which now had an intern from the mainland to provide information to summer visitors), then strolling around the shopping areas while G. explored some of the back streets, and finally to the Grand Masters House, where I wanted to re-visit the magnificent mosaics looted from elsewhere by Mussolini. There were great breezes through the large open windows, so we took our time.  After strolling down the Street of the Knights, we opted to return to the ship and relax on the pool deck in preparation for our ambitious day in Santorini.  Unless you plan to visit Lindos, again there is no reason to hire a guide because the ship docks right by Old Town Rhodes.                Santorini.  We took the cable car up to Thira  (no wait at all because only a few small ships were in port until mid-afternoon) and picked up our rental car from Tony's, reserved in advance because I only can drive an automatic (40 Euros for the day plus 8? Euros for gas).  We drove directly to the lovely Oia to arrive before the cruise ship tours, found it absolutely empty of tourists, explored all the way down to the church and up to the point, shopped very leisurely, focusing on art pieces, ate lunch with an amazing view over the caldera, picked up a large replica of an Akrotiri wall painting, and finally set off for the southern part of the island, including the black beaches of Perissa, and historic Megalochori, where I almost ran out of room to navigate the narrow lanes.  After returning the car, I purchased some lovely linen items in Thira, where I also had purchased last year, and we took the cable car back down at 5 PM,  with no wait at all.               Santorini also is easy to do on your own with a rental car because there is very little traffic once you leave the main town of Thira, clogged with shoppers, and the island is small, with free and easy parking everywhere.               Malta.  We got up at 7 AM to enjoy the sail into one of the most magnificent harbors in the world (and my screensaver for the months before our cruise).  Our first stop (after walking up the car tunnel to the free elevator which lets you off right at the bus hub outside the walls of old Valletta) was the Co-Cathedral of St. John, where we stayed much longer than expected because the audio tour included with your admission is great, plus the dEcor is amazing, plus the Caravaggio is beautifully displayed.  We then visited the Archaeological Museum before taking a taxi (we just missed the bus) for the 10-minute ride to the Hypogeum for our scheduled 2 PM one-hour visit.  In my opinion, this is a do-not-miss in Malta, a 5,000-year-old underground necropolis, with admission limited to 10 pre-booked visitors per hour, and like nothing you ever have seen.  We then walked about  five minutes to the Tarxien Temples, which I found a bit underwhelming (it was very hot), then caught a bus back to Valletta for more strolling, a bit of shopping (for Mdina glass), a visit to the Upper Barracca Gardens, with its incredible harbor views.  We then walked down the hill back to the ship.               Taormina.  After such a busy day in Malta, it was great to have a leisurely day in Taormina, with no museums to visit.  We shared a taxi from the port town of Giardini Naxos to the main square of Taormina (six Euros each), visited the Odeon ruins, then strolled up to the Greco-Roman theatre, which has wonderful views from all sides, and then strolled down to the public gardens first planted by an exiled ex-mistress of Edward VII.  G. ate his first gelato of the trip, I ate the requisite famed cannoli of Taormina, we finished our stroll down to the plaza at the west end of town, and we once again shared a taxi with some fellow Nautica cruisers whom we encountered back to the port.               Sorrento.  We caught the free Oceania-supplied shuttle bus (a welcome first in our cruising history with Oceania) up the hill to the main Plaza Tasso, walked over to the train station (about an eight- minute walk), picked up a train schedule and caught the next Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii.  After you buy your ticket, be sure to pick up the excellent "Brief Guide to Pompeii" booklet at the information window to your left (about 80 pages of descriptive information cued by number to the map you got with your ticket). You will not get it automatically, but must ask for it.  As huge archaeology/history fans, Pompeii was one of the highlights of our trip, and we staggered out again after almost five hours when G. literally started tripping over the stones from fatigue.  There is shade there and we were fortunate to have a breeze the day we visited, but there are no bathrooms except at the entrances/exits.  That is insane!               Upon our return to Sorrento, we had a very late lunch at Da Franco (the best pizza place in Sorrento), just a couple of minutes down the main street from the train station, shopped a bit, and then paid an outrageous price for a taxi back down to the harbor.  (The free shuttle bus put on by Oceania stopped running at 4:30 PM.)               Amalfi.                   Originally we planned to go on our own this day because it was my birthday, but Nautica was sailing at 3 PM, so we rethought and ended up joining four of our lovely roll call members for an Amalfi Drive with Marcello, owner of seesorrento.  (J., thanks again for including us.)  The friendly and knowledgeable Marcello picked us up at the dock in his comfortable clean Mercedes van at 8 AM (our earliest departure day!) and drove us first to Positano, then back through Amalfi to Maiori, then up the hills to Tremonte, down to Ravello,  We then stopped for an unbelievable lunch in Pontone, wonderful cuisine with great views.  We met up there with eight other roll call friends, who were touring with an associate of Marcello's, and scarfed down plates of at least 10 different appetizers, followed by three pastas and three desserts, all served family style with unlimited red and white wine plus several varieties of limoncello, all for at a very, very reasonable price.  Champagne and a birthday cake for me came out with the desserts (again, thanks J.), and I never, never had such a birthday in my life.  We returned to Amalfi around 2 PM and spent a few minutes exploring and shopping in the lovely main square.               Livorno.               Because we had spent almost a week in Florence and Siena just a few years ago, we decided to use this day to visit the Cinque Terre, knowing it would be very crowded on a Sunday.  After a lot of research, and contact with six tour companies, I organized a private tour with the well-respected romeinlimo, which described a good itinerary on its website to visit the four towns I wanted to see there, and I enlisted four others from our roll call to join us.  It is a 90-minute drive each way, and I had my Rick Steves' guidebook and the boat schedule with me.  The 20-minute Path of Love from Riomaggiore from Manarola was mobbed with tour groups from the enormous new Renaissance ship, Independence of the Seas, and the boat ride from Manorola to Vernazza also was crowded.  Fortunately, once we left the dock area in Vernazza, we recovered our equilibrium, and spent several lovely, relaxing hours touring this most charming town and dining at a modest trattoria where we sat with several hikers (older than us), who had just finished the very demanding hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, the reportedly most difficult part of the hiking path among the five CT towns.  Our tour mates dined at the more up-scale Belfort above the harbor.  We met up for the boat ride to Monterosso, where we were picked up and driven back to Livorno.                         Monte Carlo.               Two couples traveling together from Cleveland had engaged Sylvie di Cristo for a private tour of the Cote d'Azur, having toured with her previously, and then posted on the roll call for others to join them.  I jumped at the opportunity because I had read so many wonderful things about her, and she more than lived up to my expectations.  This lady is amazing, maneuvering a large van through very small, traffic-filled areas while continuously educating us with such a breadth of knowledge that I simply was blown away.  She also made adjustments in the schedule throughout the day to accommodate some last-minute requests, and it all worked out fantastically.  She provided not only my favorite tour of the trip, but my favorite private tour ever, a full day of beauty and wonder.  What a pro!               We began by touring Monaco itself, following the exact path of the recently-completed Grand Prix F1 race, then over to the Lower Corniche to Nice, where we stopped to visit the Chagall Museum, the one place I had requested, then we drove over to St. Paul de Vence, where we had lunch outside the old city walls at the cafe next to the boules court, where several old and young men were playing.  After some time enjoying the views and beautiful shops and art galleries there, we stopped at lovely, non-touristy Haut Cagnes, where many artists painted (copies of the pictures are placed in front of the actual places painted), then took a highway back to Monaco so that those who wanted to visit the Cathedral where Princess Grace is buried could do so. We visited there and the Palace where Prince Albert lives before returning to the docked ship.               Portofino.               We spent a leisurely day here before disembarkation in Rome, hiking first towards the lighthouse, stopping at the Chiesa San Giorgio, then touring the empty Castello Brown, with its breathtaking postcard views of the harbor, before strolling down the zigzag path through its extensive gardens which cover the hillside all the way back to the pier.  A bit of shopping and pack to the ship for packing.                         Rome.               Five days of pure bliss: great art, museums, and food.  We had visited the Vatican Museums/St. Peter's and Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum just a couple of years ago, so we did not return.  The highlight of our visit was the do-not-miss for art lovers Borghese Gallery (Bernini and Caravaggio), which was the best two hours we spent in Rome.  We purchased our Roma Pass there, which provides free and discounted museum admissions, and three days of free public transportation.   We also enjoyed the Ara Pacis, the National Museum of Rome, San Clemente Church (with its three levels: 2nd c. Mithraic cult; 4th century Christian; 19th c.), Jewish Ghetto area, including the Museum and Synagogue, the Pantheon, Trastavere, including the Villa Farnesina, the Gallery Doria Pamphily, a private palazzo with fabulous art and public rooms, and too many churches with great art to list.  The culinary highlight was our meal at Piperno in the Jewish Ghetto, a top 10 Rome restaurant.  Our last night in Rome was Midsummer's Night Eve, and our stroll from the Campo di'Fiori to the Pantheon to Giolotti's for our last gelato, then over to the Trevi Fountain and back were magical.                               We certainly made the right decision in choosing Oceania for our second cruise, and I heartily recommend this lovely ship, itinerary and cruise line.  This cruise was even better than our first due to the wonderful itinerary and, more importantly, the fantastic people we met through our roll call with whom shared this lovely experience. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
Others have posted comments about this Nautica cruise, which sailed on 27 June from Barcelona, and I am not in total agreement with these comments, however everyone has their own views. My husband and I dined one night with one of the ... Read More
Others have posted comments about this Nautica cruise, which sailed on 27 June from Barcelona, and I am not in total agreement with these comments, however everyone has their own views. My husband and I dined one night with one of the other reviewers. Nautica was well-maintained and all the staff were very helpful and friendly. When you asked how they were, the reply 'excellent' did get a bit wearing, though. The staff and the ship are definitely the line's biggest assets. We found the dining room dinners unimaginative and only "so-so". Other cruise lines, including Princess will generally accommodate realistic "off-menu" orders, provided sufficient notice is given. My husband asked the dining room Manager one evening, for a repeat the following night of a main course of that evening's menu. The answer, ratified by the ship's Maitre'd, was that this was not possible due to "health and safety reasons". This is a nonsense as other cruise lines can do it and was clearly an excuse. Oceania's strap line is "let us exceed your expectations" - sorry Oceania, you fell at the first hurdle here. We were very disappointed with Toscana. If you don't eat veal, there is very little other choice, as so many dishes have veal in some form or another. I do not eat veal on principle because of the way the animals are kept in mainland Europe. In an half-empty restaurant, service was indifferent, with a wrong main course order one night. The lobster was tough and overcooked, then swamped in a chilli pasta mess. We heard of several other passengers cancelling their reservation in Toscana, after being disappointed on the first visit. Much better was the lobster in the Polo Grill, where we ate four times, Michael, the manager, being very accommodating. The food here was the best on the ship, especially the lamb rack. Dinner in the Terrace was also only so-so, with so many of the dishes being lukewarm. The dish of the day, cooked in the wok, was typically bland for the American palette; we have previously been told Americans dislike garlic and spice in their food. After the Cairo visit had laid low about half the ship, who went down with Pharoah's Revenge, all the dining venues were quiet. Even so, the ship was far from full, with only 610 passengers. The only swimming pool is sea water, which is changed regularly. This is far more hygienic than fresh water pools on other ships because we saw hardly anybody shower their sweat and sun cream off before getting into the pool, a really disgusting habit. Would you like to swim around in other peoples sweat residue? Another plus is that Oceania cover the sunloungers with white towelling which is changed daily. Other cruise lines take note about the hygiene benefits of this. My husband got ringworm off a sunlounger that must not have been clean. We partook of virtually no entertainment, so won't comment. What was annoying, though, was the repetitive announcements by cruise director, Dotty, whose booming voice echoed round the ship like a foghorn. The issue which really wound us up (and many others), surprisingly not commented on by any other contributors who were fellow passengers, was the Great Oceania Visa Rip-Off. I'm going to make a separate posting about this to warn future passengers. In short, Oceania charged us $49 for an Egyptian visa we didn't need, and which the Egyptian immigration staff we spoke to onboard said cost nothing. (I speak a little Arabic) This was just a money-making scheme by Oceania. We were also unhappy at the onboard price hikes since June 2008. Bar bills now attract 18% 'gratuity', whilst stewards' gratuities have also gone up around 20%, but I bet the staff haven't seen such a pay rise. Drinks prices were a deterrent too. A bottle of average Californian red cost $42 + 18%! Another "cutback" was the lack of "Britain Today", the daily page of news from the UK, with the excuse that there were not enough Brits on board to justify printing, there were 40 - it had been supplied last June when we had half that number. It was only due to the persistence of one of the passengers, that it was provided half way through the cruise. Another slight annoyance was the introduction of a flow impeder on the sink taps, apparently only a week before we boarded. If this was done, as someone suggested, to save water - why was it also not added to the shower? The only way to fill the sink without waiting for ten minutes was to use the shower head. The shore excursions are also inadequate and over priced, and the shore excursion department need to be brought into the 21st century. Their presentation on the ports to be visited are amateur and consist of slides of dubious vintage. They need to take a leaf out of Princess Cruises and show videos of all the ports. The daily programme for disembarkation day said that passengers had to be off the ship by 9.00 am at the insistence of Turkish immigration - utter rubbish!!! We disembarked at 09.45 and we were by no means the last and there was no sign of immigration questioning why we had not previously disembarked. This is clearly a ruse by Oceania to clear the ship, so don't get conned next time if it happens to you!! Despite getting everybody off the ship so early, they still cant make cabins available before 1.00 pm, or 3 pm (depending on cabin grade), unlike Princess where you can embark straight to your cabin from 12.00 noon or even earlier and with a passenger complement of at least triple. . Overall, the cruise was not as good as that on Nautica in June 2008. The service and the cleanliness of the ship were again excellent, however the food was not and the visa rip-off soured the atmosphere. We had cruised on Silversea in February. In the present climate, Oceania is poor value for money when set against the all-inclusive Silversea experience. I've decided there are two categories of cruise ship - those that play bingo and those that don't. Oceania play bingo, Silversea don't. One of our fellow passengers has complained about the Big O prizes or lack of, which I totally agree with, particularly as it is pushed daily. The comment made by the Cruise Director about what items were finally available for points redemption, was that their deliveries had not arrived!! What a weak excuse. By contrast Silversea took a very liberal view when our accumulated points were insufficient for the item we wanted -we got it anyway! - Bingo versus no Bingo! All cruise lines are making economies or trying to squeeze extra onboard revenue, when you're already hooked. Oceania's efforts show up badly and tarnish, what was supposed to be a quasi-luxury brand. Nautica's penny pinching and revenue generation ruining what had been a lovely experience. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
I will try to be as complete, candid and unbiased as possible.  I will not tell you everything is perfect or that everything is terrible. All cruises have good points and bad points. Hopefully, the good far outweighs the bad.Pre-cruise, ... Read More
I will try to be as complete, candid and unbiased as possible.  I will not tell you everything is perfect or that everything is terrible. All cruises have good points and bad points. Hopefully, the good far outweighs the bad.Pre-cruise, Barcelona: We arrived after a relatively simple two flight legsLAX to Heathrow, Heathrow to Barcelona around 7:45 pm and took the VERY EASY "Aerobus" from the airport to Placa Catalunyasteps from our hotel, the Hotel Continental. A taxi could not have been much simpler or easier and the cost was minimal.The Hotel Continental is both incredible AND disappointing. The incredible: The location. There could not be a better location in all of Barcelona. We had a Las Ramblas View Balcony Room on the "Third Floor" literally looking straight down on all of the action on Las Ramblas. Right out the front door was a choice of restaurants, shops, bars and more. It was NOT noisy when the doors were shut and the drapes drawn. There were electric shades, operated by a switch near the door, which closed the room off from the outside light. The disappointing: My wife hated the bedthought the mattress was too hard. The room was rather small and the reports were correct about the "plastic furniture". I was fine with it.  It's not like we had to live there for more than three nights and, to me, the location was unbeatable. To my wife, she would have preferred a more upscale five-star hotel with a big soft bed.There was free internet and a public computer down in the main lobby area. The 24 hour buffet was well stocked including free 24 hour beer and wine.  Of course, it wasn't exactly Napa Valley Cabernet they were servingbut free is free.Embarkation: We checked out of the hotel around 11 am and took a taxi right to the ship. Embarkation was well run and easy and we were on the ship in minutes enjoying a nice lunch at the buffet. First, of course, we stopped by Polo and made our reservations for our nights in Polo and Toscana.The Nautica: This was our second cruise on the Nautica. We were on it in 2006, just after Oceania acquired it and refurbished it. Three years later I can tell you the ship is in great conditionlooks brand new. Hard to believe it is a 10 year old ship. There is not a single instance where I noticed any material wear. Our cabin (#7051midship deck 7, category A1 Concierge level) was exactly as I remembered from last timespacious, well appointed.  King sized bed, small love seat type sofa, desk, small table, balcony with two deck chairs. Public areas are limited, but appropriate for this size shipnever felt crowded, always able to find a seat in any venueincluding deck chairs on at-sea days and reasonably located seating for the shows even when arriving barely on time.Dining: This cruise confirmed for me that this is one of the really strong points for Oceania. The food was consistently excellent, menus were varied and offered many choices. Service was good (We'll get to the few issues later on). We generally ate in the Main Dining Room for all meals except our two nights in Polo and two in Toscana and the two occasions we had room service breakfasts delivered to our cabin. Toscana, in particular, was excellent. Some of our friends found Polo a little disappointingmostly in the quality of the steak.  Of course, I ordered lobster both nights so I wouldn't know.Entertainment: As much as Dining is a strong point, entertainment is Oceania's weak link. Of course, if entertainment doesn't matter much to you, it is no big deal. As there is never more than one show per night (at 9:45) and there could not be more than half the ship there, obviously, over half the passengers really didn't care. There were basically only three "headline" performers on the ship: Comedian Tom Drake, Guitarist Vincenzo Martinelli and Magician Harry Maurer. Being a small ship, I actually had the opportunity to meet, socialize with and have drinks with both Tom and Vincenzo as well as Piano Bar pianist and part-time headliner Jerry Blaineand these are all great guys and wonderful performers. Tom is quite funnyand a perfect match for a cruise shiprelates well to the audience and really seems to love this job. Vincenzo is an amazing guitarist. We have had the opportunity twice now to enjoy Jerry's work and he almost seems like family. So, when I question Oceania's entertainment, it really isn't an aspersion aimed at these guys. They are all quite good. What Oceania lacks is in quantity and variety. On a 14 night cruise, with only three individual headliners to draw from, you end up overexposing all of them. as good as Vincenzo is, hearing flamenco and classical guitar for four shows gets to be a bit much. Some nights, there was no real main showthe time slot was replaced with "Movie Night".  Three nights, the show was staged as a singing show spotlighting one of the female assistant cruise directors, Joanne and Lucy and one night by Jerry moving his act to the "big room". If one is accustomed to the entertainment one finds on the big ship cruise lines, this line-up can be quite disappointing. That said, we still enjoyed the showsthough we always felt a little let down to find only "movie night" on the program.Activities, night life and at-sea days: More noticeable to us than the entertainment deficiencies is the relative lack of activitiesas much a result of ship size and passenger demographic as it is any fault of Oceania's. With a small ship, you simply have limited venues and limited staff. And a majority of passengers seemed to be in bed by 9, so even where activities were scheduled, they were sparsely attended. I am a night person and, I guess, relatively young compared to the overall ship demographics. At night, after the aforementioned show, there was typically only one activity on the agendathe "disco". On a typical night, there were more crew members than passengers in the disco.  I guess that's one reason I found myself socializing with as much of the crew and entertainers as I did. There was Karaoke only two nights and very few volunteer performers.  I actually found myself singing four times (CCR's "Lodi" and "Looking Out My Back Door", the Beatles' "Back in the USSR" and the Boxtops' "the Letter") and those who know me well know well that I can't carry a tune.  Of course, that's what usually makes Karaoke fun.  But, on the Nautica, there was hardly anyone there to enjoy it.  Again, the passengers' fault, not Oceania's. What was Oceania's fault was the dreadful selection of Karaoke choices.  I wanted to do the Kinks' "Lola"and it was on the list, but wouldn't work.  Past that, NOTHING by Jimmy Buffett (and this is supposed to be a cruise ship??).  They had a few Rod Stewart tunes, but NO "Maggie May"!!!Trivia: Okay, for me, this is a BIG item. I love triviaand never miss a session on an at-sea day or when returning from port on time. We had a team comprised of members of our CruiseCritic.com Roll Call and won virtually every trivia session, even trouncing the competition, including a team made up of Cruise Director Dottie and the Crew the one day she turned the quiz over to one of our members to host (thus taking a valuable member off of our team). All lots of fun. But, here is the "downer": All cruise long, they were hyping the "Collect 'Big O' points".  On other cruise lines, there is "instant gratification" for winning a trivia sessiona key chain, a t-shirt, a water wallet, a hat, a luggage tag, a ball point pen or some other meaningless logo trinket.  I do have a drawer at home filled with these itemssouvenirs of a sort from many wonderful cruises.  Most sort of worthless, but occasionally a really nice prize like a t-shirt or a tote bag. Now, last time on Nautica, we had this "points" thing and, at the end of the cruise, they put out a table with a variety of items. We were sort of expecting the same this time.  I figured I'd walk away with maybe a hat and a t-shirt or something of the sort based on how many Big O points I had collected. Imagine our surprise at the end of the cruise when the ONLY items offered in exchange for all those Big O points (in my case, over a hundred) were Oceania Mouse Pads or plastic screwdriver/penlight combos.  Who even uses a mouse pad nowadays?Here's the thing, Oceania: DROP THE "BIG O" POINT THING.  It only infuriates people. If you are not going to give out some sort of meaningful prize, don't tell people to collect "points" for 14 nights. Other cruise lines give out better "prizes" for winning a single trivia game or other activity.  You look really cheap giving a mouse pad to someone who's won every activity for 14 nights. Rather than do what you are doing, it would be better to tell everyone in advance that the activities are for the fun of it only and no prizes will be awarded.  For me, I'd likely play anyway.  I enjoy the "sport" of trivia and other contests and no reward is necessary to gain my participation.  The "Big O" points would be fun if they meant somethingbut, in this case, it was more insulting than anything. So, don't publish "Big O Points" multiple times in each day's "Currents" and stop announcing it on the ship.The funniest part was the night AFTER they had the Big O point redemption, they had the "Game Show" titled "Brain of the Nautica"sort of a 15 person trivia challenge where contestants were knocked out of the running after missing their third random question.  I won.  My prize??? Three more "Big O points"!!!The ports: Actually, the biggest attraction on this cruise was the itinerary. The ports were sensational.  Of course, some better than others.  If I were to tweak this itinerary, I'd actually do it by removing two portsCrete and Cyprusand trading them for more time in Egypt and Israel. In Crete, we visited the Palace at Knossos on a ship's shore excursionand, though an interesting archaeological site, it pales compared to what one finds in Egypt and Israel. My assumption is that by cutting out Crete, you could get into Alexandria sooner than noon, maybe even the night or afternoon before, allowing passengers to do a more complete two days in Cairo and Giza if they so wanted. Cyprus was pleasant, but really little worth seeing compared to the other ports. It would be great to replace it with a second day in Ashdod. Jerusalem was easily a full day's worth of touring and it would have been nice to also visit Masada and the Dead Seabut, not enough timeand we wouldn't have wanted to have given up our day in Northern Israel out of Haifa eitherwe hired a private guide and went to the incredible archaeological sites at Megiddo and Caesaria.We also really enjoyed Tunisia and Malta and Ephesus is always enchanting. This was our first opportunity to visit the Terrace Houses and I highly recommend them.   Ports:Barcelona: We have been here several times, so we didn't really need to see anything but we did tour some of our favorite placespretty much on our own. We visited the Picasso Museum, took the interior tour of the Sagrada Familia, then took the rear elevator up and walked down [Note: For those visiting the Sagrada Familia, there are two elevators. 2.5 euro per person. The one near the front usually has a line with waits up to half an hour or more. The one in the back typically has no line. The front elevator allows for a ride both up and down, the one in the rear, for some odd reason, up onlybut the walk down is pretty cool with great photo ops along the way.], Park Guellwhere we went inside Gaudi's house.  We also took in a tapas dinner and Flamenco show at Tablao de Carmen in El Poble Espanyol on Montjuic-pretty good dinner and show.Tunisia: Arranged for a tour for sixwith fellow CruiseCritic Roll Call membersthrough Chris Sheridan at TouringMalta.com http://www.tourinmed.com/index.htm. Excellent tourcovered several sites including Ancient Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and the Medina.Malta: Same thing as for Tunesiaa private tour for six arranged with Chris Sheridan. We went to Valletta, Mdina, Hagar Qim and Marasxlokk. Hagar Qim was really incredible.  Sort of a several thousand year old Maltese Stonehenge. Best guide of the tripChristine Muscat kristinmuscat@hotmail.com She is the President of the Maltese Tour Guide Unionan Anthropologist by education.  Excellent.Crete: We took an Oceania Shorex to the Palace at Knossosnot our favoriteokay archaeological site.  But it's a short day in Crete and not much else to see there.Alexandria: We took the Oceania Shorex entitled "Roman Influence on Alexandria". It hits the basic three ancient sites really left in this townPompey's Pillar, the Catacombs and the Roman Theater. Another short day as we arrived only at noon. some from the cruise chose to do an overnight in Cairo, but we figured the first days was sort of a waste anyway as we wouldn't have much time to see Cairo that day.  The Shorex was fine.Port Said: We joined a group of six for the private van tour booked through Oceania. Went to Sakkara, Memphis and the Pyramid/Sphinx.  Yes, it is a long drive back and forth.  But the tour was pretty goodbetter than doing it with 30-40 people in a big bus. When you add the entrance fees and cost of lunch, it doesn't really come out to any more $ than the shorex.  Lunch was at Felfelavery good.Ashdod: We booked a private tour with Joel Berman of jtours.com. Very knowledgable. Retired Israeli army officer born in South Africa. Went to Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) in the morning, then a pretty exhausting tour of Jerusalem the rest of the day.Haifa: Joel met us again at the ship in Haifa and took us on a full day tour to Megiddo, Ein Shemer Kibbutz and Caesaria.  Megiddo and Caesaria are two incredible archaeological sites.  This was a pretty good choice of tours IMHO.Cyprus: We did another shorex to Paphos and Kourion. Paphos is pretty dull. Not really much there but some old mosaic floors. More of the same at Kourion.Kusadasi: We did a private tour for four of Ephesus including the Terrace Houses through Ekol Travel. Really good tour with a guide who stayed with us throughout. Terrace Houses should not be missed.Istanbul: We did a full day tour for four to the Cisterns, Spice Market and other sites along with another couple with Nejat Incedogan. [Note: Nejat does have some physical limitations, so if you want a fast paced tour, he may not be your guy.]. All four of us had been to Istanbul before, so this was really just to see some of the unusual sites we hadn't seen. Went to the Orient House at night for the Dinner/Showalways intriguing.Another day, we did a tour of the Dolambache Palace and visited the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaarthen vegged out the rest of the timewe were there four nights total including the overnight on the ship.  On the day of the overnight, we just hung out onboardnever left the shippretty quiet though. Post-cruise: By the end of the cruise, we were really exhausted.  So many full days of touringin hot weatherlots of walking and steps and dust and dirt. We were ready to just relax and wind down. Last time on Nautica, we stayed pre-cruise at the modern 5-star Conrad, so, this time, we wanted something completely different. We checked into the small 17-room Sari Konak. Room was very small, but nice. I walked out onto our balcony and realized we had the most incredible, completely unobstructed close-up view of the Blue Mosque. we stayed three additional nights post cruise and toured the Dolambache Palace, the Cisterns, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar and other sites at a very leisurely pacea really nice wind-down from the cruise.  Ate at the Orient House for the Dinner show one night, ate a lunch at the "Pudding Shop"as we had done three years ago (I like the place).  Otherwise, ate in small restaurants in the Sultanhamet.  One night, we ate with some of our cruisemates at the "Family Restaurant"Great misprint on their business cards says "She does the cook" (sic)!!Assorted comments re dining:1) Whenever we asked to sit with other people (We're sort of "social" and like to meet and talk to people), the Maitre d' would tell us it was "slow" and they'd seat us at a table for twoeven when it clearly wasn't "slow".  This was a big deal to my wife and at one point she suggested it might keep her from wanting to go back to Oceania in the future.2) They never ask if you might want some Iced Tea and even when you ask for it, it tends to take a LONG time to get it, then they rarely refill it.  I drink LOTS of Iced Tea and this one is a big deal with me.3) I am "Type 2" Diabetic and should not be eating sugar. So, I go out of my way to order "SUGAR FREE" jam for my toast and "SUGAR FREE" syrup for my pancakes. Somehow, Oceania doesn't quite catch onto the idea.  Yes, they stock and deliver the sugar free jams and syrup.  BUT, they deliver the pancakes with heaps of POWDERED SUGAR on them.  You'd think if someone had ordered "sugar free" pancake syrup that maybe they wouldn't want the sugar loaded right onto the pancake??? One time, my wife made it a point to specifically tell the waiter that the pancakes should NOT come with sugarliterally, pulling him aside and going on about it for 3 or 4 minutes.  You guessed it, they were delivered with sugar anyway.Crew: I used to think that Oceania's top assets were 1) Food, 2) Itinerariesbut, from this cruise, I am thinking maybe the best asset they have is the people.  We really had a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with a number of the crew membersspecifically Joanne, Lucy, Terese and Ian from the Cruise Director's staff, entertainers Tom, Vincenzo and Jerry, as I had mentioned before, Rocky from the jewelry shop and others and found them ALL to be genuine, friendly, good peoplemore fun and sociable than some of the passengers.  For 14 nights, I felt like part of the familyand that is a tribute to nothing but these individuals.  Tom (who, as we all learned, is married to Dottie, the Cruise Director), is much more than an entertainerhe is a "true believer"Oceania should put him to work selling the cruises.   And Oceania should consider themselves lucky to have Jerrythe guy puts in first class job night in and night out. Ian and the girls really go out of there way to get to know the passengersat least the ones who take part in games and activities.  After two weeks I feel like I've known these kids for years.  If there is one thing that will bring me back to Oceania, it's these guys (okay, and maybe the food and itineraries).Sickness: Though I never got sick on this cruise, we kept hearing from a lot of our fellow passengers that something was going around. There seemed to be a much higher incidence of this on this cruise than any other I've been on. We had tourmates who had to miss multiple ports. I can't really blame Oceania. I know that when so many people are confined to a limited area and there is a lot of personal interaction that, if someone catches something, it tends to spread.  And, I am not a medical doctor, so I really know little about the causes of this particular epidemic. I do know that Oceania had a number of disinfectant hand cleaner dispensers around the ship, though I didn't see enough people using them. I don't know what more Oceania could have done, so I will leave that to others to comment on.Overall: Despite my nitpicks (Don't get the wrong ideaI am not bringing up those negatives to put down the cruise line or the experienceonly to be thorough and honest), the cruise was and overall very positive experience. Oceania is a heck of a good product. There are some things that can be improved upon (as with everything) and there are some things that are merely beyond their reasonable control.  But, for the most part, it's pretty goodWell run, clean, high quality, luxurious, elegant. The ship is extremely pleasant, uncrowded, nicely and tastefully decorated and well-maintained.  The food is excellent, the itinerary sensational. We really enjoyed our 14 nights onboard and really hated to see them come to an end. We will very likely be back, especially with these tempting itineraries. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
By the time I added the cruise cost and my final bill, I could have cruised the luxury lines for very little extra.  I would have had a suite almost twice the size and and forgotten how to sign my name.  Not to mention having to order ... Read More
By the time I added the cruise cost and my final bill, I could have cruised the luxury lines for very little extra.  I would have had a suite almost twice the size and and forgotten how to sign my name.  Not to mention having to order doubles to taste the booze.On the plus side, the staff was very attentive (though only one or two staff took the time to learn our names in two weeks, remember our desires (like real creamas we sat at the same tables with the same wait staff).  Destination staff was really lacking in attentiveness, responsiveness to problems with tours and general demeanor.Polo and Toscana were saviors as the dining room was at best hit or miss.  HAL and Princess do a better job at mass dining with no special orders allowed:  not even shrimp cocktail when not on the menue.Itineraries seem to be the saving grace for Oceania.   They are unique compared to others and the ship size for the money (though not cheap by any means) allows docking at smaller ports.Sea Dream II docked along side in Kusadasi.  A breath of fresh air.  I took some friends for a tour (having sailed SD many times, I knew the Captain, Christophe, Frank, and others).  Christophe took us on the tour and while in the spa treated us to a 10 minute massage.  I honkered down at the Top of the Yacht for at least one complimentary champagne (it was noon somewhere).  We almost jumped ship as there were a few cabins available and they were on their day 2 of 9.  Alas, the dog would not have appreciated us.  SD II....now we are talking small and wonderful!!Having done a few two week and longer curises, this was the first that I could not wait to get home.  Enough was enough.OH!!  We received a gift early in our cruise on our bed one evening:  a small tube of sanitizer....was that a clue or what.  No other notification from the ship but several cruisers had to have IV's due to dehydration.  I think the greatest profit center on our cruise was the doctors office!!OH!! The internet computer program on Oceania "sucks".  At amost a $1.00 per minute and slow as mollasses.  Silversea is only 40 cents a minute and twice as fast.  Oh, Well there is a Starbucks at almost every port with free WiFi.And to my predecessor's comment about the magician, Harry Maurer and the "lovely" Carol Ann, they were delightful and entertaining.  Besides, I wanted to see the 3 ring trick and the rope trick again and again.  The certainly outshined the social hostess singing (good voice lousy program).Speaking of quality, the cruise director Dotti, was always entertaining except for her growner joke about the 3 legged dog...(I gave that to her and she used it !!!) and her husband Tom, the comedian, were spectacular.  OK!  That should be enough flavor for one cruise and one review.ASHDOD AND HAIFA Israel is one of the most interesting countries I have sailed to. A full day walking tour of Jerusalem didn't even scratch the surface. When you go a local guide on a personal tour is an absolute necessity. Haifa is the gateway to the Golan Heights. GO GO GO! We actually left the ship in Ashdod overnighted at the Crown Plaza in Haifa and rejoined the next night. The local color in Haifa and the added touring time was well worth the cost of the hotel. Alexandria and Port Said in Egypt were overkill. They both are about 3 hours from Cairo and the National Museum (a must) and Giza to see the pyramids (once is enough and once is necessary). Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
We traveled on Oceania in its inaugural year and it was fabulous.  In many ways, it is still a notch above other lines but it also is less than what it was.  The food is decidedly less varied, with cheaper selections.  There are no ... Read More
We traveled on Oceania in its inaugural year and it was fabulous.  In many ways, it is still a notch above other lines but it also is less than what it was.  The food is decidedly less varied, with cheaper selections.  There are no fresh pancakes or waffles in the morning and precooked items could break windows.  Lunch was fine but the dining room dinners were boring and somewhat repetitive with little shell fish on the menu.  Polo restaurant has slipped.  The lobster bisque was horrible and the ship does not know how to make real Caesar salad.  The ports of call were handled well but the ship provides no free water like Azamara does.  It also has no comfort station upon return with cold drinks nor cold hand towels. Too many ports are only half day.  The hotel they used in Egypt made hundreds of people sick from the food and the line at the doctors was unreal as our cabin was right across the hall from the doctor.  Entertainment was lacking.  The magician did the same tricks he did inaugural year and they should fire him.  The comedian was fine as was the quartet.  There are also not enough chairs at the pool and they do not enforce the policy of not holding deck chairs for hours at a time and then not returning.  The ship is clean, the crew is exceptional and service is polite and prompt.  But the line is trading on it past and needs to fine tune.  Bean counters have gotten to it.  They had no flowers nor wine for past repeat cruisers, no ship board credit until cruising five times and with what they charge should be giving kids free soda, instead of 2.50 a can plus 18% gratuity.  They are penny pinching and it is distinctly unclassy. 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 (www.sochi-holi.ru). It cost $70 US each for 10 of us for 5 hours with a driver and excellent English-speaking guide. We visited an Orthadox church, walked along the lovely seafront park then drove up Akhun Mount, 600 metres above sea level, to climb the observation tower for amazing views of the surrounding city, sea and mountains. From there we drove to Stalin's Dacha (holiday villa) which was interesting, visited a glorious old Spa Hotel from the Soviet era, sadly somewhat decayed now, and enjoyed a sightseeing drive around the city before returning to the ship at 2pm. This was considerably cheaper than the ship's tours and we saw much more. Also, all of the ship's tours stated that they were unsuitable for passengers with wheelchairs or walking difficulties, whereas our driver and guide really put themselves out to help - the only thing Paul could not do was the tower climb, everywhere else was fine. It was a very interesting day and highly recommended for anyone visiting Sochi.   All cruise lines like to encourage the belief that any guests not on one of their own tours needs a visa to be able to get off the ship, but I can confirm that (as in St Petersburg when we toured with Red Oktober a few years ago) there was absolutely no problem or query- our tour leader had given our names to the immigration officers in advance and we simply walked through with everyone else and were met by our guide outside immigration, where we paid cash for the tour on the day.   Yalta, Ukraine   Yalta is a beautiful resort city located in a bay surrounded by huge mountains, a really stunning view. Even though it was a hot, sunny day the mist never quite cleared from the mountain tops. Again the port is right in the centre of town and there is a nice promenade with many cafes, stalls and designed outlet shops (but not particularly cheap from what I saw).   The tourist info lady gave out good maps on board and was informative about public transport - bus 5 or 11 goes from next to the cathedral to Livadia Palace (of Yalta Conference fame) and there is a ferry from the jetty about half way along the seafront that goes to the pretty Swallows Nest Castle. We decided against Livadia as it was very hot and we didn't fancy getting on a crowded bus. There were also taxis offering tours for $20 per hour to both of these main sights. We investigated the ferry but there were no English timetables and the Swallows Nest ticket booth wasw closed when we walked past fairly early. We intended to go back later but time went on as we explored the city, visited the Alexander Nevsky cathedral (the nicest on this trip) and the huge market area near the port (shown as a 'shopping area' on the map - follow the pedestrian street behind the Kodak centre) so we did not get around to it, and with anearly sailaway of 4pm we found plenty to do in Yalta itself. There are several grey pebble beaches but they were completely packed with people enjoying the weather - there was hardly room to stand on the beach, let alone lay down a towel, but the whole place had a nice family fun atmosphere. (Free wifi outside a large hotel at the far end of the beach, near a small tourist craft market) And as we left port we could see the Swallows Nest castle in the distance.   The following day was at sea but an interesting one as we sailed through the Bosphorus, passing Istanbul in the morning and the Dardanelles in the afternoon, passing quite close to the Galipoli monument early evening. the cruise director gave commentary at the points of interest.   Kusadasi, Turkey   Since our last visit about 8 years ago the cruise port has developed enormously and in fact the whole town has cleaned up a lot to the extent that the bazaar is now more like a shopping mall. But it is still a nice place to visit and wander around the shops within a few steps of the port.   When we tired of shopping we went to the city beach a short walk to the left from the port. It was nice to have a swim and cool off,  but the water was not very clear or, probably, very clean. But it is handy and you can rent a sunbed & umbrella for 5 lira if you want to stay longer. Maybe another time I would get on one of the many minibuses that pass the port every few minutes going to Ladies Beach a couple of miles away.   Santorini, Greece   We broke the habit of a lifetime and stayed on the ship - Paul hates heights and would not go up the cablecar, on our last visit I had taken the cablecar up and walked down.   Athens, Greece   We had to vacate our cabin by 8am and leave the ship by 9am, breakfast was available until 8.30am so it was not too early a start. Our flight home was not until 7pm and from internet research had found that we were able to leave our cases at the Student and Traveller's Inn in the Plaka District for 2 euros per bag for the day.   It was our 4th time in Athens and in the past we had been rather unlucky, delayed by general strikes and overcharged by argumentative taxi drivers, and my impressions of the city have never been that good. But I must say that this time everything worked smoothly, the taxi driver had quoted 20-25 euros for the journey and although I could not persuade him to switch on his meter he asked for 25 at the end which was fine by us.   We duly left our bags in the luggage room at the Students Inn and paid our 4 euros. No receipts were issued for either our money or cases, receptionist assured me he would recognise me and it was not necessary. We had already made sure that my jewellery, laptop etc were in our day bag and nothing of major value in the cases, but there was no problem, they were there safely waiting for me when we went back later in the day.   Having focussed on the Acropolis on previous visits we decided to do something different this time, walked first through the (wonderfully wheelchair accessible) Plaka to the flea market at Monastiraki then from there to Syntagma Square, mainly to check out the airport bus departure point but while there we saw the changing of the guard at the Parliament building. Later we walked through the lovely  National Gardens, where is was much cooler than in the city, to visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus (2 euros each to go in but nearly as visible from the road really) and Hadrian's Arch. From there we wandered back through the Plaka to collect our suitcases then returned to Syntagma Square to catch the 4pm airport bus (X95 - runs every 15-20 minutes, costs 3.20 euros each).   Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
An Historical Voyage First of all, let me begin by telling you that I select my cruises on the basis of itinerary, so I have no loyalty to any one company. Thus, my review will be objective. I have taken more than 30 cruises and this is ... Read More
An Historical Voyage First of all, let me begin by telling you that I select my cruises on the basis of itinerary, so I have no loyalty to any one company. Thus, my review will be objective. I have taken more than 30 cruises and this is my second on the 'Nautica'. The appeal of this particular cruise was the ports of call, as 6 would be new to me. I booked my own flights, on line, and managed to obtain a better deal than the agents were quoting. The ordered taxi was waiting at Istanbul airport, and I would like to say that I was whisked away to the port, but we crawled along in the rush hour traffic, with the consequence that I didn't embark until 6.30 pm. Fortunately, we had an overnight in Istanbul, otherwise I would have flown in the day before. Registration was handled efficiently and I was on board quickly, but my late arrival meant I had missed the 'Singles Get Together', and I never did find the rest of the solo passengers. This was my third visit to Istanbul, so I had 'done' the mosques and Topkapi Palace and all the other 'must dos'. So, the following day, I decided to take the funicular to Taksim Square and walk back down Iskilal Cadessi, but many of the shops remained closed, as it was Sunday. I went to the top of the Galata Tower again, as I never tire of the view of this wonderful city. Folkloric dancers came on to the ship in the evening, and gave a live performance. I went to a CC meeting at 10 and met my fellow Cruise Critics and together we all watched the ship sail away, under the illuminated Bosphorus Bridge. The Ship The Oceania ships all flow well, and are easy to negotiate. Most of the evening activities are all on Deck 5 and, sooner or later, everyone passes through the piano (martini) bar, and usually stays to hear the pianist, Jerry Blaine, or join in one of his music quizzes. It's a very tastefully decorated ship and the library is one of the best afloat; certainly the only one I've come across that operates an honour system. Happy Hour is held there every afternoon, between 5 and 6 when drinks are sold at '2 for 1'. I think this should be changed to half-price, if they're going to have it at all, as it requires two people to order the same drink, at the same time; not ideal if you're travelling alone and fancy an occasional libation. There's a well-appointed fitness centre and (overpriced) spa. Pilates and Yoga are charged at $11 (+ 18% service charge) which probably why I saw only one person in the Pilates Class I looked in on. There are ample sun beds - some doubles - and private cabanas for hire, for those who want complete privacy. The standard cabins are fairly compact, but well-appointed. I would like to see the addition of a mirror on the inside of the bathroom door, or cabinet, so that one can see the back of one's head prior to stepping into the lift for a further inspection. I did attend a party in an Owner's Suite and it was spacious, and very luxurious. One thing I love about Oceania is their restricted smoking policy; I wish Crystal would adopt it. Food There are multifarious locations for piling on the calories. Apart from Room Service, breakfast is served every morning in the 'Grand' Dining Room (their word, not mine). I intended to try it, but couldn't tear myself away from the Terrace Cafe, with it's huge choice of fresh fruits and berries plus freshly squeezed orange juice. The coffee was a bit hit and miss, depending on the timing and location, so I preferred to make my own pot of tea each morning. The teabags stocked included Twinings English Breakfast - my favourite. Sometimes my teapot turned into a tug-of-war, as the attentive crew are horrified to see passengers lifting a finger. I tried lunch in the 'Grand' Dining Room once, but it was speedier and more convenient to eat on deck at Terrace Cafe or Waves Grill, both of which carried a good selection of ice creams. Highlight of the day was afternoon tea. The string quartet played while you chose from a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones and miniature pastries and tartlets. There was also some fruit being flambEed in alcohol each day. Dinner in the 'Grand' Dining Room was a fairly slow affair and if I particularly wanted to make an activity at 9 I had to be sure to get in early. It is nice, though, to have a drink with some new acquaintances and then toddle along to dinner with them, without the convention of a set time and table. I ate once in the two alternative restaurants, "Toscana" and "Polo Grill" and was disappointed on both occasions. I remember raving about the food on my last Nautica cruise but, since then, they have had a change of chef, and not for the better. There also seems to be a lack of communication between the wait staff and the kitchen, although all requests are written down. Some of the food was still terrific, (the carpaccio in Toscana, for instance) but I had tough calves' liver, duck and ostrich, which I can only think had been overcooked. Some of the vegetables were overcooked as well, in spite of being requested ' al dente'. And the creme brulee had only a passing acquaintance with the blow torch. Entertainment and Activities Oceania is not known for entertainment and, quite frankly, most of the people I spoke to were happy to do without the cheesy production shows. The Cruise Director, Dottie Kulasa, worked very hard, but would be well advised to dress in a more relaxed way. Her corporate trouser suits in stiff fabrics made it look as if she was about the attend a board meeting, and put a barrier between her and the passengers. Coincidentally, she was married to the resident comedian, Tom Drake, which no doubt saved on cabins. Tom appeared twice and, after the first appearance he admitted he was told to slow down his delivery, as the British audience couldn't follow his fast New Jersey patter. Consequently, he was better received on the second occasion. There was one appearance from a magician, Harry Maurer, who, while entertaining, did nothing original. Best of the bunch was Vincenzo Martinelli, a virtuoso of the Spanish/Classical guitar, who also appeared twice. His music was over-amplified, but I think this was a deliberate ploy to keep the soporific audience awake after dinner. Game shows were run by Dottie's sidekick, Ian, (Shane Ritchie on speed), and his deputy Dan. Lucy-Jo and Joanne completed this quartet. They played a silly version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" one evening, where clues were offered to artificially get the contestants to $1 million. This meant that there were only two participants and no suspense. When I've played it in the past, a wrong answer meant that the contestant was out of the game. Dottie was in charge of trivia each afternoon, with some fierce competition. My own team (which comprised eminent lawyers and doctors) erupted into a victory dance, on being told we were the overall winners. The "O" points collected for our efforts are a total waste of time - they might as well tell us it's for fun, not prizes. The minimum required is 30 points for a mouse mat. Who wants a mouse mat these days? They should invest in decent prizes, or abandon it altogether. Ports Nessebur, Bulgaria: This is a tender port. Do not bother with a tour here, as you can walk it quite easily yourself. There are an amazing number of churches and remains from the Hellenistic period. It's also interesting to see the wooden houses in the Eastern Rumelian style typical of the Bulgarian coast in the 19th century. It's very close to the resort town of Sunny Beach and you can take a boat or bus in fairly cheaply. Unfortunately, this resort has influenced Nessebur and the overall impression is of a small town full of little shops and stalls, all selling the same tat. Constanta, Rumania: I had pre-booked a private tour with other CC members with Modes. Our guide, Anneliese, was waiting promptly at 9, as arranged. We walked to the Peter and Pavel Cathedral, then the casino, along the esplanade. We then drove to Ovid Square, the centre of town. We were surprised to meet other passengers there who had come via the Oceania shuttle bus, and had been charged $20 for the privilege. We were escorted into the Archaeological Museum. Anneliese had words with the curator and told us the fee for photography and video would be waived. There were many interesting exhibits here which had been discovered during excavations. We went next door, to a public building which contains the remains of one of the longest mosaic pavements in the world.  Again, we were allowed to photograph. We drove out of the City to the beach resorts of Eforie and Neptun and had a wander around there, laughing at the menu translations - "crap" meat for crabmeat, for instance. We stopped at the Murfatlar Cellar for wine tasting with nibbles, and we were all so impressed that several bottles were purchased (and consumed). We had lunch there (and more wine) at the Crama Neptun, sitting at a long table on the shaded terrace. We drove back to Constanza, arriving at the ship around 3.30. Odessa, Ukraine: Here again, I had pre-arranged a private "Jewish Heritage" tour with ten other CC members with Intourist. Our lovely young guide, Natasha, was waiting and we drove the five minutes to the top of the Potemkin Steps. We strolled down Primorsky Boulevard, admiring the architecture, to the Opera House, where we reboarded the bus and drove to Shomrei Shabbat synagogue. There was a video conference taking place downstairs, so we were ushered up to the gallery, where a young man explained the history of the synagogue. We were fortunate to have Natasha, who conducted a simultaneous translation. We went on to the Holocaust memorial and then to the Jewish Museum (which was not part of the ship's tour.) We were scheduled to lunch at a kosher restaurant but we asked Natasha to take us to a typical Ukranian restaurant, which she did. We were entertained there by typical Ukranian folk singers and joined in the dancing. Fortunately, Natasha was able to provide translations of the menu, as we were concerned at eating 'Crazy Sheep' or 'Rabbit on the Lawn'. After lunch we walked through the park and shopping area, before returning to the ship at 4. Sevastapol, Ukraine: Another private tour with Intourist. Our guide, Eugenia, was every bit as good as Natasha, articulate and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city. We drove to the park and watched a naval exercise taking place in the harbour, then viewed the theatre, one of the few remaining original buildings. From there, we drove to Chersonesus to see the excavations of the ancient city and St. Vladimir Cathedral. We then drove to Balaclava, where we visited the Panarama museum at Malakhov Hill. It's a huge 360 degree re-creaction of the defence of Sevastopol, merging painting and models which draws one into the action. We had lunch on the terrace of the Balaclava restaurant, overlooking the harbour, full of luxury Russian-owned yachts. After lunch we visited a secret underground submarine depot, created by the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, carved out of a mountain and concealed behind huge camouflaged bomb-proof steel doors. Built in 1956 it now accommodates a Cold War museum filled with naval exhibits. It was amazing to discover this had been used until 1991. As we drove back to Sevastopol I read "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and we all felt we had learned more about the Crimean and Second World Wars. When we learned that Eugenia lived in Yalta, we begged her to try and arrange to be our guide there. The next day was, thankfully, a sea day. Sochi, Russia: This was the only port at which I booked a ship's tour - and lived to regret it. It was entitled "Sochi Highlights and Stalin's Dacha", but the highlights were few and far between. Although one needs a visa to visit Russia, any reputable tour guide will arrange this for you. We had 34 passengers on our bus and I counted at least 17 buses. We stopped at the Winter Theatre and strolled through a park. We then drove to the Matseta Springs and saw the sulphur springs, but the toilet stop took longer than the viewing. We then drove on the Stalin's Dacha which was, in fact, quite interesting, but very crowded. Returned to the ship at 2 pm, for a late lunch, after a disappointing morning. Yalta, Ukraine: We left the ship at 8.30 for a pre-arranged full-day tour and were delighted to see that Eugenia was once again our guide. She had asked the agency to switch her assignments as she had so enjoyed our company in Sevastapol. First stop was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, then on to the Livadia Palace. It was built in 1911 as a summer residence for Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra and their children but, sadly, they were only able to visit on four occasions before they were assassinated. However, it is full of photographs and drawings from their time there. In February 1945 it was used as the site of the Yalta Conference, attended by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. Roosevelt was, by then, a sick man, and was allowed to stay at the palace. From there we drove to the Vorontsov Palace, where Churchill stayed during the conference. This is a beautiful palace, built in the English style, with wood panelling. The gardens, extending down to the sea, are breathtaking. We continued on to the Swallow's Nest, a spectacular neo-Gothic castle perched high on a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. We stopped at a restaurant there, "Elena", where lunch on the terrace presented a perfect photo opportunity. We arrived back at the port at 3 and paid for all our tours at the office there. The next day was spent cruising the Bosphorus in the morning and the Dardanelles in the afternoon. The Cruise Director, Dottie, provided a live commentary as we passed sites, such as the Anzac memorial at Gallipolli. Kusadasi, Turkey: I had visited Ephesus before, so was happy to join others on a private tour from Sisan Tours to two villages in the hills. Our first stop was to Kirazli, where we visited the mosque and private houses, about 150 years old. The village children were attending Koran school and we were allowed to enter and became part of a lesson. The children were delighted to practice their limited English and ask questions about our respective countries. We, in turn, were able to have the opportunity to learn more about their village life, through our interpreter. We stopped for tea/coffee at a typical "Men only" cafe, then drove on to a Locomotive Museum. This was more interesting than I had expected, as it was a train graveyard for all the original 100 year old locomotives  (Stephenson and others) all set out in beautifully landscaped gardens. 'Health and Safety' hadn't reached here yet, and we were able to clamber all over these amazing engines, like kids. We continued to Sirince Village, visiting the orthodox church, before enjoying a meze-style lunch, being cooked, while we waited, over an open fire. We also sampled the local yogurt-based drink Ayran, which is an acquired taste. After lunch we browsed in the local market and sampled the local fruit wines. While we drove back to the ship, our lovely young guide serenaded us with Turkish folk songs. Santorini, Greece: This was a tender port and, unfortunately, there were four ships anchored that day. Who arranges these things? The wait for the cable car took 45 minutes, so I abandoned my plans to take a bus to Oia. The last tender left at 3.30 so I thought it safer to stay in Fira but the attractive little town was packed solid. I met others from the ship and, together, we walked to the next village, Firastefani, which was very pretty and afforded many photo opportunities. The queue for the cable car on our return was just as bad, so we decided to walk down. This was not easy, as one had to concentrate on avoiding the 'presents' the donkeys had left us, as well as the donkeys themselves, while staying upright. The aroma wasn't Chanel, either. We bought some souvenirs and returned to the ship. The next day we docked in Piraeus. I have visited Athens before, so decided to share a minivan to the airport, immediately upon disembarkation. There were 9 of us and it worked out at only $18 per person. We were the last to leave the ship at 9 am, so it was quick and easy to locate our suitcases. Unfortunately, the British Airways desks were not opening until 11 am, so there was a lot of hanging around. By then, of course, we were all one big jolly family, so it didn't matter too much. Summary: This was a fascinating itinerary and I would recommend anyone who is interested in European history to try it. Everyone has their favourite lines, and I don't think it would make much difference with whom you chose to travel. I, personally, prefer the small ships as I find them more conducive to forming friendships. Obviously, if you're travelling with a partner or friends, this is less of an issue. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
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 July 2009
Istanbul to Civitavecchia (Rome) August 4th 2009 on board ms Nautica Without doubt Oceania Cruises is certainly among the "better" companies in the cruise sector. I read here several reviews, mostly positive but also ... Read More
Istanbul to Civitavecchia (Rome) August 4th 2009 on board ms Nautica Without doubt Oceania Cruises is certainly among the "better" companies in the cruise sector. I read here several reviews, mostly positive but also several pointing less or even negative point, and I believe that both are right! Lets try to put this somewhat together: Let's start with the positive points: - With only 680 passengers for this size of ship and 400 crew members, these ships are absolutely in a good midsize and they have an exceptional ratio of passenger / crew of 1.71 to 1. - The vessels are clean, well maintained, even when you are looking for garbage, dirty floors etc... you will have difficulties to pin them down! - Their major asset is of course the high quality cuisine. The Grand Dining room can accommodate serious quantity of guests and there is enough well trained staff. You have free seating and plenty of choice in the daily menu. The food is excellent, very presented: simply delicious. Jacques Pepin who is giving a certain imprint of the high French cuisine has adapted also at a certain point to some American tastes. We had French Chief Pâtissier on board and the desserts and pastry were really a top. The image of Jacques Pepin is somewhat overdone perhaps, when you find on the menu every under his ... a New York Sirloin Steak! Also the Toscana and the Polo Grill much smaller are worth a visit. They are "unofficially" restrained in practise to the higher-level staterooms. But at least once a trip you can make a reservation in each. To get a second one is more as complicated! Cuisine is indeed more sophisticated and excellent. However I had the feeling that the staff was less trained and certainly fewer in number as in the Grand Dining room. Terrace Cafe combined with Tapas on the Terrace is a self - service restaurant having an opportunity to have your meal outside (if space is available of course). We used it mostly for breakfast ; At night they offer basically the same dishes as in the Grand Dining room but with some extra of different items. The Waves grill is "basic" for a small snack at noon. - There are several bars but only the spacious Horizons at the front and Martinis offer a "happy hour" between 5pm and 6pm. - The staterooms are nice and well maintained ... unless you are in the top layer, you do not have a fridge in your room. The bathroom is rather small of size. - Very useful for passengers who are arranging shore visits themselves is the fact that at arrival in the different ports, a local person from the tourist offices is at board to give useful information and maps. Also the daily information on your television screen about the next ports are quite interesting. - Excellent pre-voyage documents in a personalised booklet. Never seen such!! - Check in at the terminal is well done and even if you are earlier, you can get your stateroom if available. - The cruise ports and stops mostly good. Arrival and sailing hours are reasonably good. In our specific cruise there was only one worthless port: Olbia. Even the local church was not a pixel worth for a photo! What I do not understand is that even last year people found it bad. Simply changing this port with Bonifacio in Corsica (70 km) would be wonderful! These are strong point, however there are a few shadows: - Oceania seems to be building up rather hierarchic and bureaucratic when something is not within the book of the "company policy". Argument used each time the staff cannot scope with your question. It goes from even small items where some are close to a "comedy caper" up to more complicated such as the use of Fitness by adolescent teens from 15 - 18 even accompanied by their parent. As rather irritant and later comedy caper, not very "bad as such" I give you the "water problem". When checking is at the room there 2 complimentary bottles of still water. I simply ask to have sprinkling water in stead of it as we prefer this. Last year on board of Windstar, it took perhaps 15 minutes and the bottle was changed for a bottle of Perrier. You cannot believe it, but the same on Oceania took 3 to 4 days! I had the visit in my stateroom of 2 managers, before the 4th day there were 2 bottles of Perrier with a personal note of the General Manager!! I still question myself if authorisation has been asked in Miami! On the other hand in each restaurant they spoil still water with hundred litre a day when you see the number of full glasses that people do not drink. We had the difficulty to ... refuse the water! But if you want sprinkling they will charge you! - If the ship is at anchor you needs the tender. Another person pointed the same problem. You have to go to the 5th floor, taking a coloured ticket , in theory wait in the lounge to be conducted as "cattle" down the stairs to the 3rd floor! Again on Windstar you simply go and take the first available place! Even Dottie was standing on the 4th floor to stop people (mostly non Americans, a little less disciplined)! - A major item is the rates and prices charged on board. Even when the USD is less as the EUR, they are simply high and even outrageous: a. excursions are simply outrageous expensive! We arrange them ourselves but when you that even a the less expensive tour in small places are charged between 80 and 100 usd and some other simply at usd 109 or 139 per person. In many cases you arrange it for 10 pct of the rates if not less! b. Wines and drinks are expensive. The "cheapest" red wine is a Rioja at USD 29 plus 18 pct service charge!!!. On Windstar you found several at usd 21 / 23 plus 15 pct. c. Another overcharge is the Internet connection. It is not the rate as such, which is the problem but the incredible low very low extremely low speed! To get in my web mail it takes normally even abroad at an internet cafe not even a minute! On board it took more than 8 minutes (yes 8!) to only get in... and then you did not read even the first message! At the rate of the first volume package it cost already usd 6.40! To get into your web mail! Same applies to all sites! Before you printed your boarding pass of your airline, be sure that you will have paid between 15 and 20 usd! - Television is mainly destined for American public. On my remark on the mid voyage questionnaire, I mentioned that with satellite they could easily add a few other language chains such a French, Italian and Spanish ones. Received a phone call from Dottie in person that 85 pct are US, so it is not necessary to put other language chains. If they want to attract to the European market in such a way ?? - Disembarkation is quite different. Suitcases have to be put already at night outside the room. Convenient if you know that items you use in the morning such as shaving cream and other liquids are prohibited ... in your hand luggage on the plane. Nice to see in the terminal people kneeling on the ground opening their suitcases to transfer all the forbidden items! Class!!! Also breakfast before 08AM otherwise nothing! Conclusion: Overall the cruise was excellent and Oceania is certainly a good cruise line. The negative remarks should not be a "showstopper", except perhaps the extra charges that are expensive. The problem is that the small things mentioned are irritating and there is really no reason to be so narrow minded with "company policy" . Perhaps I compare too much with Windstar (180° different) much more flexible. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Blissfully Sliding on Garlic Infused Greece into Turkey Nautica: Athens to Istanbul, October 29 - November 10, 2009. We are not first time cruisers -- we are veterans of over 350 days aboard cruise ships including extended ... Read More
Blissfully Sliding on Garlic Infused Greece into Turkey Nautica: Athens to Istanbul, October 29 - November 10, 2009. We are not first time cruisers -- we are veterans of over 350 days aboard cruise ships including extended cruises of 30-65 days. This was our first cruise on Oceania having been attracted by a stunning itinerary (Athens, Crete, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon, Santorini, Delos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Istanbul) packed efficiently into 12 nights. Nautica is a perfect sized ship from which to absorb these incredible ports. At a maximum capacity of 684 our passenger complement never overwhelmed our ports and we were often the only ship in port for half or all of our port time. Perfect. We have memories of exploring the extensive ruins at Delos as exclusive tourists peeking into the heretofore lost mysteries of our ancient past, and a quiet afternoon enjoying the scenic, gustatory and shopping delights of Santorini after the much larger Costa Fortuna had already left to steam on to her next port. Nautica is well maintained, exceptionally clean, and staffed with a core group of wonderful folks who continually went out of their way to make us feel like this ship was our elegant home. We enjoyed a level of service that has become difficult to provide on today's larger behemoths. We had originally booked a basic, outside cabin for this trip -- later we purchased a very reasonable upsell offered by Oceania. As Concierge Class cruisers we were allowed early embarkation -- there were no lines --there were but a few quick stops for details and a virtual walk on board the Nautica which was docked at Pireus in Athens. We enjoyed a quiet, excellent lunch at the Terrace Cafe on deck 9, our cabins were ready a full two or three hours before the cabins on the rest of the ship, our luggage was delivered to our cabin immediately, and we were able to negotiate the one self service laundry on board and complete three loads of wash (we had arrived in Athens several days earlier) before the throng of passengers from the lower deck staterooms began to flood this small facility. The dining experience at the Terrace Cafe was excellent. Our food was always served by Oceania Crew who cheerfully loaded our plates with exactly what we requested. There were no trays, but the size of the food venue was not large so getting seconds or additional courses in general did not involve long lines or, often, any lines at all so the process was quick and efficient. Crew members were usually there to carry our plates and help us find a table. The tables were set with clean linen place mats as well as glassware, napkin and silverware set ups. Beverages were not self service -- they were cheerfully provided by crew who attended to refills as soon as they became necessary. Emptied plates were cleared with similar precision. Surprise discovery -- orange juice (which certainly tasted fresh squeezed) was complimentary and available at all times in all dining and bar venues. As soon as a glass was emptied a refill was offered. Tea was served with a ceramic tea pot full of really hot water -- the capacity of the pot offers the tea drinker three or more cups of tea. The hot water never had a lingering coffee grounds taste as happens when carafes are shared between coffee and tea service. And a large selection of teas were available -- I was able to enjoy my favorite Jasmine Green Tea throughout my voyage. The ship is petite. The cabins are petite. They are well appointed with all the amenities that we could have desired, including robes, slippers, 150 ml bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower gel, shower scrub, and body refresher, soaps, sewing kit, lap robes, umbrella, tote bag, hair dryer, ice, glasses, mini-bar fridge... Extra bottles of bathroom amenities as well as bars of soap were always stored below the sink in our very tiny bathroom. Actually bathroom is a misnomer as there was only a shower sized for an average to small person to stand up but not necessarily turn around -- the room itself had a scant sized space in which only one person could expect to stand -- but there was adequate storage space for bathroom and toiletry needs and there were always twice as many clean towels available for us as we might need. Every time the room was cleaned towels were replaced. No signs about saving the environment and keeping towels. Though this policy may be a blow to the environment having clean towels twice a day (like having the crew serve all food on the buffet) probably helps to limit on board illness. The cabin itself was as well appointed as the bathroom, and also as petite. There was a small love seat, barely large enough to seat two, a small table, a desk, and the bed(s). In order to accommodate a fridge it was clear that the desk was extended about six to eight inches post construction -- an unfortunate 6-8 inches as with our beds in the twin position passage around the beds to the sitting area and verandah was a real knee knocker. Between closet, desk and bed side table storage we had no difficulty completely stowing all that we had brought with us for our journey. The verandah though petite had two comfortable chairs and a small table. Another surprise was what happened when we ordered room service. An alternate, larger table top appeared from behind the couch, it was placed on our cabin table and covered with a table cloth, and the breakfast was elegantly set out for us by the room service steward. We felt very honored to be passengers this cruise on the Nautica with Captain Jurica Brajcic who was the Nautica Captain who outran the Somali pirates a couple of years ago. One evening's entertainment was a talk by our captain on the details of Nautica's encounter. It was standing room only by the time we arrived at the Nautica Lounge for the talk so we enjoyed it later on video on our cabin TV. The ship offers the usual on board shops and casino which operate when at sea - and the entertainment staff offer daily bingo, trivia and other activities, as well as movies and live entertainment each evening. There were the strings that played in the Upper Hall and a real human musician dance band that played for dancing and enjoyment each day. There were also guest entertainers as well as musical reviews in the evenings. There is an onboard Canyon Ranch Spa offering all of the expected spa and beauty services. I have to admit that we took advantage of very few of these amenities since we experienced a very port intensive cruise -- only one full day at sea out of twelve days on board. The ship also has a gym area (petite as is the whole vessel) offering a petite array of free weights and machines and a small, open air "hamster track" for those desiring to walk or run. I truly missed the wrap around promenade decks found on ships like Holland America as the decks that wrap the whole ship are much larger than the confined tracks on Oceania, and they are also sheltered from the sun and much of the elements. On the upside you are allowed to run on the "hamster track" which is not allowed on a classic promenade deck. We enjoyed most of our evening meals in the Grand Dining Room which is open seating. It, too, is petite with very little space between tables and some tables that are located well back in corners -- blocked in by walls or railings that feel claustrophobic. Food is always subjective. We found most of the food just fine (we ate very well), a few items that were really special, and a very few items like the crispy risotto that I was served not really acceptable. The desserts were, unfortunately for my hips, excellent. And, according to our oenophile traveling companions the wine selection on board was also excellent. There was only one evening when we had to wait for a table in the Grand Dining Room -- on that evening we were offered the chance to go upstairs to the alternative Italian dining room Toscana which we cheerfully accepted. As for service in the dining room -- when it worked (which was about 60% of the time) it was excellent. The crew operated like a well oiled, very attentive machine providing service that was in finely tuned concert with our needs and desires. But then there was the other 30-40% of the time when things just didn't go as they should -- such as extensive waits between courses or to have that water glass refilled or to get the sommelier over to the table ... We find ourselves wondering if something happened along the way as our dining room service was impeccable during the first half of the cruise and it seemed to deteriorate somewhat as the cruise wound down. Our experience at the Toscana Restaurant was, in our opinion, over the top. The menu included the ability to order multiple courses (appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, entree, etc.) and the food was rich and done well -- with lots of garlic, and lots of over the top rituals ... for instance after our elegant bread basket was delivered a cart was wheeled up with an "olive oil" menu that contained no fewer than 20 olive oils and oil infusions from which to choose to fill our Rosenthal olive oil cups. Though we enjoyed the meal and the service was great it was a bit too much for us and we did not repeat this dining venue. We also supped one evening at the Polo Grill (steaks and seafood), another alternative dining room. Our experience there was excellent. We enjoyed superb steaks, salads, appetizers and sides and a high standard of service. It is interesting to note that on this cruise it was almost always possible to obtain a reservation at Toscana, but it was very difficult to get space at the Polo Grill -- the night we dined there the four in our party shared our table with another couple. We also enjoyed a few tasty hot dog lunches at the Waves Grill on the pool deck. They serve hot sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers as well as ice cream and milk shakes. And they are open until 4 pm so on those port days when lunch in port was not possible and when we could not get back before the buffet closed at 2 pm, this dining venue was essential. The ports on this cruise were absolutely fantastic. We cannot comment on Oceania's excursions as we usually did our own thing in port. We did our homework before the cruise and either walked ourselves to do our touring or we hired a taxi that we found ourselves after reaching the port. There were four of us in our party and we found that in most ports the cost of the taxis were very reasonable to share between four adults and the advantage to us was a personalized tour that went only where we wished to go. We had no trouble finding transportation anywhere. In most ports the going rate for a taxi was about 40 euros an hour however it was possible to bargain. For our ports in Turkey our travel agent at home had arranged for private tours to Ephesus and two days of private touring in Istanbul. Our guide in Istanbul was absolutely the best that we have experienced anywhere making our time there truly magical. Highlights of our experiences in port include walking all the way down the donkey trail on Santorini (not for the faint of heart), realizing that those orange-brown bits of stuff that were all over in the grass at Delos were actually large pottery fragments, the terrace houses at Ephesus, the Acropolis in Athens, and just about everything that we did in Istanbul. Nautica has a nice library with an excellent selection of books and resource materials -- especially so for a ship of her size. The ambiance aboard Nautica is reminiscent of a classy gentleman's club. She really looks great but if you look close, there are truly cheesy elements in her decor. I understand this this ship was one of eight originally built for the old Renaissance Cruises -- those that are not with Oceania currently sail under the Azamara or Princess logos. We cruised the Azamara Journey a few years ago and it is a dead ringer for Nautica -- down to the identical (and rather bizarre) paintings on the walls and ceilings, and the identical pieces of "art" around the ship. I am just as puzzled as to why the cherub in one of Nautica's dining room ceiling murals has his arm up the robes of the oddly one legged woman as I was on the Azamara Journey three years ago. I am similarly just as offended by the chubby, naked female statue which seems to have a coat hook rather than a head in Nautica's reception area as I was at the identical statue found in the Journey's reception area three years ago. The "plates" and other artwork that appear to be stored behind glass cupboard doors in the Grand Bar are, upon close examination, merely faux painted representations that sit behind glass on a shallow two inch faux shelf. This is certainly not the caliber of the art collections that we have experienced on lines like Holland America but, I admit, that the net effect works. Would I cruise Oceania again? Yes, without a doubt if another outstanding itinerary presented itself. We choose our cruises for itinerary first, cruise line second. And we did have an absolutely wonderful cruise. We very much enjoy extended cruises of 30 or more days. Would I be willing to do that (or possibly an ocean crossing) on Oceania? The answer here is a resounding No. So many of her amenities are packed into such a petite space on board this ship that for a period of time longer than, say, 15 port intensive days, or during several consecutive days at sea, I believe that we would get uncomfortably claustrophobic. DH and I who cheerfully completed 65 days aboard Holland America's Amsterdam a year ago but feel that we could not get along for that length of time in one of Oceania's petite cabins. Unfortunately, the purchase of larger digs would be prohibitively expensive for us on this cruise line. Other related difficulties to extended cruising aboard Oceania's current ships include the lack of a real, sheltered, classic promenade deck. The ability to take long walks without getting dizzy or sunburned while on a long cruise, or one with several consecutive sea days, is essential. We also feel that to meet the needs of extended cruisers Oceania needs to offer more laundry venues. At present, even on our 12 day cruise, the very clean and well maintained single self service laundry venue was always crowded and often tension ran high when trying to find an available dryer. The alternative is to send your clothes out for laundry or dry cleaning services which we also did. These services were good but rather pricey, charging by the piece. And, last -- we feel we need to mention what became our pet peeve on this trip. Our port side deck seven cabin was located not far from the aft stairs and three decks down from the Italian Toscana restaurant kitchen. Every day from mid afternoon through early evening we were infused with garlic odors that wafted down the stairs and filled our cabin. No question that we were well protected from vampires throughout this voyage but we did find the odors unpleasant and they did penetrate our clothing so that we brought home garlic infused garments. We have never experienced this type of proliferation of cooking odors on other vessels so we are left with lingering questions as to why they occurred on Nautica and what, if anything, Oceania could do to correct this situation. Even though garlic infused we have to give Oceania and this cruise five stars for providing a tremendous cruise experience for us and our travels through Greece and Turkey. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
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 November 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 December 2009
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
Sail Date January 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 http://www.bali-day-trip.com/ 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 www.tourskohsamui.com. 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 www.skyrail.com.au 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 outback-crocodile-adventures.com 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
Sail Date February 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 March 2010
My husband and I just returned from a 10 night cruise aboard Oceania's Nautica in the Mediterranean. We went on the cruise to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We had been to about half of the ports previously, but neither of us ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from a 10 night cruise aboard Oceania's Nautica in the Mediterranean. We went on the cruise to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We had been to about half of the ports previously, but neither of us had been to Greece or Spain before. First, the pluses. The size of the ship was perfect for us, not too big or too small. The staff, with the exception of the "destination services" staff were wonderful. We dined in all of the restaurants and they were all fabulous. Our favorite was Toscana. Our stateroom was very nice. It was well laid out with ample storage. The bed was extremely comfortable. The outlets in the room accommodated standard plugs from the US, so we did not need to use converters or adapters. We loved the itinerary and the idea that we woke up each morning in a new place. We had three issues that prospective passengers should be aware of regarding the Internet, the excursions and the pre- and post-cruise arrangements. The Internet was important for us because my husband had to keep in touch with his office while we were gone. Using your cell phone is very expensive, especially when they add on maritime charges, so we thought that emails would be better. The Internet is very expensive and does not work well. We bought a package, so the cost was only 70 cents a minute. Unfortunately, many minutes were wasted trying to get to websites. The staff member in charge was very nice and credited us with some minutes to compensate, but it is still a ripoff based on what you get. You should look very carefully at the excursions. Most of them don't involve any real activities. Most of them involve you sitting on a bus with an occasional stop for a photo opportunity. They were very hit and miss. Some were fabulous and others a complete ripoff. We brought this up to the staff and they acted like they could care less. One of the biggest complaints we had was in Turkey. We paid $99 per person for a tour of Kusadasi. At the end of ALL of the excursions in Turkey was a "rug demonstration". The rug demonstration only took about five minutes, then they began to use high pressure sales tactics, similar to those you would get during a time share sales pitch, to try to sell you a rug. Mind you, the rugs were EXPENSIVE! They probably had some that were less, but most of them ranged in price from $10,000 to $40,000! I couldn't believe that we paid money to go on the excursion only to be lead to the rug merchants. My hunch is that Oceania gets a kickback on any rugs sold to their passengers. The last issue was with regards to the pre and post cruise hotel arrangements. Oceania charges WAY more than the hotel charges. Save your money and make your own arrangements. We made our reservations for the cruise and pre and post packages a year in advance. They only use two hotels in each city that we planned to stay in. We researched them before deciding. Long story short, when we arrived at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, where we had pre-paid $2798 for three nights at club level, they did not have our reservation. The other four parties from our ship also had no reservations. The hotel was fully booked and we were taken elsewhere. This was after sitting for more than four hours waiting for the hotel and Oceania to try to sort it out. They told us the hotel they were taking us to was an equivalent five star hotel, though it is not one that they ordinarily use, but it wasn't. It paled in comparison. It wasn't near the beach, it didn't have a swimming pool and the lobby had not been updated since the hotel was built in 1919. I checked the rates through Expedia for the dates we were there. The junior suite we were in went for $426 per night. The club level room at Hotel Arts was $606 per night. We paid about $933 per night. The last comment I will make is regarding air arrangements. Oceania uses Delta for most of their passengers. Delta was horrible. They cancelled a flight when we were leaving Barcelona on a Tuesday morning. The flight we had the following day left three hours late because the crew was "stuck in traffic", therefore we and about 200 other passengers missed our connecting flights in Atlanta. We didn't get home until Thursday afternoon. Make your own arrangements and don't use Delta. Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
This was our 15th cruise and our first time on Oceania. We felt we were ready to get away from the "bigger is better" cruise ships and lines and we were generally pleased with the Oceania experience. The Nautica is a well ... Read More
This was our 15th cruise and our first time on Oceania. We felt we were ready to get away from the "bigger is better" cruise ships and lines and we were generally pleased with the Oceania experience. The Nautica is a well maintained ship that was recently dry docked for refurbishment.All new teak wood throughout the exterior spaces with new chairs as well. The only area of the ship that looked "dowdy" was the buffet area. Loved the Tapas on the Terrace area at rear of ship for eating outdoors. Pros: a great itinerary with access to smaller ports, such as Portofino & Amalfi, due to the smaller ship size. With less than 700 passengers, ship never felt crowded, very few children (all well behaved), better quality of food and service. Nice group of travelers, mostly couples. Cons: Destination Services (tours) overpriced and poor quality. We went for almost $1500 in tours and not one was decent,let alone exceptional. Destinations Service staff on board ship gave us a $30 refund per person when we complained that the description of a tour in Montenegro did not in any way resemble the actual tour itself. We are currently demanding a full refund of $298 & haven't received a response to our letter of complaint to Oceania in Miami. No shuttle bus was provided in the ports to get us into the towns. This is something that Oceania needs to work on. The specialty restaurant Toscana was a major disappointment. We are from the NY area and are inundated with decent Italian restaurants and this wasn't even in the "decent" category. Nothing on the menu was overly exciting...what is everyone raving about? Polo Grill, on the other hand, was fabulous and we ate there twice. The food and service in the main dining room was also very good. Used the laundry room iron to touch up a few items and it was always crowded with lines waiting to get in when it opened at 8am. Much too small. Limited entertainment, the comedian was good but not much else to remember. We were generally pleased with the overall experience, but when we did the math, the trip cost us approximately $1,200 per day, which was much more pricey than a similar itinerary on Holland America's newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam. We're still trying to decide if it was worth the difference. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
Nautica Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 3.9
Dining 5.0 4.3
Entertainment 3.0 3.3
Public Rooms 5.0 4.4
Fitness Recreation 5.0 3.8
Family 2.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.0
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 4.0 4.5
Value For Money 5.0 3.5
Rates 5.0 3.9

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