ISTANBUL - GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE M. V. NAUTICA MAY 17 - 29 2006 Introduction My name is Phil H and my wife is Edith G. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 18th cruise. Our prior sailings have been on Carnivals Elation to the Mexican Riviera; on the now defunct Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle to the Caribbean for 11 days; a 7 day cruise, also in the Caribbean on Celebritys Galaxy; followed by a marvelous cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Mercury, another Celebrity vessel. We then did our Alaskan cruise on Sun Princess, followed by a third 7 day Caribbean trip aboard Norwegian Sun and a trans-canal on Celebritys Infinity. We then sailed on Millennium for a Mediterranean cruise in May 2003, followed by a Baltic cruise tour on Regal Princess later that year. We then went to Hawaii for the first time on Infinity in November 2003 and did our first HAL on Veendam in the Caribbean the next spring. In March 2004 we took Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome, and returned to the Caribbean in October on Zaandam. In November 2004 we went back to the Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed our first Oceania experience on Insignia for a very different Amazon River cruise in March 2005, followed by a short repositioning cruise up the west coast from San Diego to Vancouver in May that year. on our only Royal Caribbean ship to date, Radiance of the Seas. In November we spoiled ourselves on Crystal Serenity for eleven days on a Caribbean trip. All except the first two cruises have been reviewed on cruisereviews.com. Why This Cruise? In a word - Istanbul. We had attempted to book a similar cruise in 2002 or 2003 on Crystal, only to have our travel agent call them and find out that they had just cancelled Istanbul. Edith has always wanted to see this city, so when this cruise came up with the right timing, we jumped at it. The Itinerary Oceanias itinerary called for an overnight in Istanbul at the start and another in Athens at the end. In between we would have one sea day, then Kusadasi (Ephesus), Rhodes, Delos and Mykonos (one day), Santorini, Katakolon (Olympia), Corfu, Dubrovnik, a second sea day and then Athens. Review Format; What is Covered and What is Not Although this is a cruise review, Istanbul was obviously not only a part of the cruise because of Oceanias scheduling, but of interest to many of our fellow passengers and perhaps the gentle reader also. For this reason I will not discuss our Istanbul experience in any great length as part of the review. For the rest, I can only cover what we did; and there are always aspects of any cruise that do not and did not command our attention. We do not gamble, or take part in Karaoke, trivia games and the like. Our poolside experience was limited, and we did not, as usual, use any of the cruise line tours, but did our own shore expeditions and planning. Pre-Planning any Cruise This paragraph is Cruising 101, and experienced cruisers can skip it. But since I hear from newbies to cruising, I will include a few remarks. If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2006 Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and Sterns Guide to Cruise Vacations 2006; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes & Noble. New editions come out each year. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships layouts and cabin locations. Cabin locations can be important, and early booking also gives you a wider choice. On some ships the design is such that verandas on upper decks look down onto portions of the verandas below; which might concern some people. Some of these problems are not obvious from the deck plans but are mentioned in the books cited above. You also might want to avoid a stateroom directly off the elevator/stair wells, as this area tends to be noisy . We usually try for a stateroom between two elevator/stair wells (and not near the laundry). In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. Small lines (like Crystal) with few ships are an exception. The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of specials and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or a specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options. Planning This Cruise This was one of the more intensely planned cruises we have ever done; due largely to the somewhat exotic character of a number of our stops. We planned to arrive in Istanbul on Monday, May 15th, stay two nights in a local hotel, board Nautica the 17th before a sailing that departed at 11:00 at night on the 18th. This gave us three and one-half days in Istanbul. To do this we purchased an air deviation from Oceania (which included airfare in its pricing). Locating a good tour guide was a consideration, and we succeeded through information from prior cruisers on the Cruise Critic website boards. This also gave us a guide to Ephesus at our Kusadasi landing. We wanted a tour of Rhodes which took us to Lindos, a city with a local Acropolis of some renown. But we also wanted a guided tour of the old Rhodes medieval city. This took some doing on the internet. Delos is a small place and we did not need a guided tour, and we did not plan on doing much in Mykonos. We knew we wanted to see the original Olympic Games site in Olympia, which is near our Katalokon stop, and were concerned about taxis to and from. We planned to rent a car on Corfu, walk around the old City of Dubrovnik and rent a car to drive to Delphi in Greece after landing at Piraeus. We do not like large tour buses with hordes of passengers, so we were looking for an individual guide. Most of them use small vans which work out well carrying six to eight passengers; an ideal sized group. I spent a lot of time on the net finding people to join us. This was not easy since everyone had slightly different days or times of arrival in Istanbul, and plans once there; but on the whole things worked out well. It takes considerable patience making sure that everyone knows the itinerary, price, pick-up locations and times, etc. It helps to remember that in most of the world dates are written as; eg. 17 May 2006; and that times use the 24 hour clock. I will describe each tour as it occurs during the cruise. Shipboard Accommodation Planning Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to standard cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature verandah cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled suites; some of which, like Celebritys sky suites are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a verandah, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better at sea experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they dont spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. For a week we certainly did not need a suite. Kissed by the Upgrade Fairy We booked a concierge veranda cabin on Deck 7. About a month or so prior to sailing, we received an invoice with the final billing from Oceania. There were a few items of note. We were charged $46.00 each for Turkish Visas. Since we had found out on the web that you can pay $20.00 for a visa at the airport, we had our Travel Agent request that this be removed. We also noted two charges for transfers, one from the Istanbul airport to the ship and one from the ship to the airport in Athens. Since we were arriving on May 15 we obviously did not need the first transfer, and requested that to be removed also. But we did note that our stateroom had been changed to Penthouse Suite No. 8019, with no additional charge. There are two explanations for this that occurred to me. The first is the most intriguing. I wrote a review of our Insignia Amazon cruise which was largely very favorable. During the period before this cruise I had received information about our flights that I thought was incorrect. On Oceanias website I found the name Christina del Rio with Coordinator of Marketing job title. I sent her an E-mail with my question, and mentioned that she might enjoy my Insignia review. The reply I received was from someone else in public relations. But as I suspected, Christina is related to (I believe the daughter of) Frank Del Rio, one of the co-founders of Oceania. Maybe that Insignia review got me an upgrade. The other explanation is more mundane. Cruise lines dont like to turn down customers. If there was a request for a concierge suite on Deck 7 that could not be filled because they were all booked, and there was an opening in the Penthouse Suite category, the cruise line would bump someone up rather than lose a sale. They might well upgrade on the basis of either the earliest booking or a combination of early booking and prior customer status. And I met both of these criteria. So matter what the reason was, we enjoyed the upgrade. Clothes Planning Cruise lines may offer suggestions, and advice can be found in the books mentioned above. The season; the itinerary, the length of the cruise and the cruise line life style will be the major determining factors. I saw more black ties on Crystal than on any other line; with Celebrity and Holland America next in order of formality. Even with formal nights, there is a much more casual air permeating Carnival, Royal Caribbean and even Princess. However, Oceania has no formal evenings and the dress code is either Country Club Casual or Informal. Its ships do have self service laundries as do every cruise line we have traveled on with the notable exception of Celebrity . We were not certain of the weather in Istanbul where we were spending four days; and it turned out to be more chilly that we would have guessed. I did bring my Travel Smith basic blue blazer; several casual khakis, a couple of better slacks; a number of good long sleeve shirts, one dress oxford shirt and one tie. I also brought several pairs of walking shorts for land based trips since I expected the Greek Islands to be warm, and they were. Edith has her packing down to a science, leaning heavily to soft fabrics that do not require ironing, and using interchangeable blouses and skirts. She felt she could have used a warmer sweater in Istanbul; but she is more cold sensitive than most. We had no trouble with the now enforced weight limits. We do make out careful and complete packing lists before we leave, starting them several weeks early so we do not have last minute panics. Getting to the Ship and Back Home The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean and Mexican Riviera cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use open jaw flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise (Phoenix to LA to San Diego!); because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to the embarkation port of Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safetys sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. This is particularly true for us when we fly east to embark from a Florida port since the time zone difference virtually requires either a red-eye flight or an overnight stay. Oceania normally includes air fare in its pricing. They do add air taxes which on overseas flights can mount up. However, since they often have somewhat exotic routes, it often is better to use their air routing rather that try your own. It would have been three times as long to get to Manaus, for example, on our Amazon trip on Insignia in March 2005, by commercial air than it was to use Oceanias chartered flights from Miami. Since we were arriving in Istanbul three days prior to the actual departure, we did have to pay $50.00 per person air deviation fee. Trip Insurance Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However, your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you dont have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to your travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind. Having said all that, it probably does not apply with as much force for Alaska and Hawaii cruises, since you are in the United States and both Medicare and your own health insurance will be available. If you are a dedicated shopper, you can go to www.insuremytrip.com and come up with a wide range of comparisons, as well as choices of coverage. Just for an example, we opted for trip cancellation of $2000.00 and trip interruption of $3000.00 per person; travel delay of $1,000 pp (max 150.00 pp per day), baggage delay - $200-$400; baggage and personal effects loss or damage - $1,000-$2,000 (how much is your camera worth) rental car collision waiver damage - $25,000; medical or dental expense - $50,000.00; air flight accident - $100,000-$200,000; emergency medical evacuation - $250,000 and Identity Theft Insurance - $20,000. The cost for both of us was a total of $276.00. For traveling to the Middle East for 15 days, this seemed reasonable. Off to Istanbul This is a fairly long flight, involving changing planes at Dulles and again in Frankfurt. We started on Sunday morning and arrived in Istanbul at about 1:00 P.M. on Monday afternoon. Our tour guide had agreed to pick us up since he would be at the airport shortly before, and it was nice to have a very reliable source of transportation to our hotel. Istanbul is a very large city with the population estimated at about 9 million. It is divided into three areas. The Sultanahmet District marks the southernmost section, below the inlet off the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. This is the old city, containing the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. North of the Golden Horn is a ;larger, newer section containing the high rise commercial area and most of the larger hotels. It stretches along the Bosphorus nearly all the way to the Black Sea. Then, across the Bosphorus is the Asiatic portion of the city. Overall Istanbul is a fascinating city. What marks it particularly is the open feel provided by the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, as well as the hills. Traffic can be difficult, particularly in the old city; but again you can walk from Topkapi Palace to the Hagia Sophia to the Blue Mosque, and visit the cisterns under the city, all in the same neighborhood. We were very pleased with our three and a half days in Istanbul before we left. Our guide was Nejat Incedogan, and his e-mail is; nincedogan@yahoo.com. He is rather popular, so anyone wishing to use him should line him up well in advance. A typical full day tour runs from $75.00 to $90.00 per person. I spent a good deal of time on the net lining up people to tour with us. This was done through the boards at www.cruisecritic.com; which seems to be the largest of the sites available to prospective cruisers. There are many excellent guide books on this city, and anyone spending a few days there would do well to consult them. The Turkish Lira is now about $0.75, and there are many ATMs available. Credit cards are accepted in most places, although oddly, our hotel wanted cash and I had to walk down to the end of the block to find an ATM and bring back Lira. Since the two night stay was less than $150.00, I was happy to do so. Our guide also wanted to be paid in cash, but did not accept any money until we left him in Ephesus after our tour there. While Turkey is a Muslim country, and you will be awakened by the morning call to prayer broadcast over loudspeakers attached to the many mosques; it is a secular state with fundamental Muslim practices out of tune with most people and the prevailing culture. Ever since Kemal Ataturk virtually created modern Turkey in 1923, this country has been western oriented, and now is most anxious to join the European Union. American are welcomed in a very friendly way. There were problems a few years ago with the Kurds in Eastern Turkey which caused some cruise lines to cancel tours, but this has subsided. Ataturk died at 9:05 A.M., November 10, 1938, and at that time on that day ever since the country has paused for a moment of silence and remembrance. His photograph is displayed in virtually every public place. We had arrived in Istanbul on Monday, May 15, and stayed in our hotel, the Hotel Hali, for two nights. On the 17th we had our guide take us to the pier where we boarded Nautica.  Embarkation and the First Day Aboard The ship had actually docked on the 16th, with its passengers spending one night on board. We were not allowed to embark until 1:00 P.M. but as suite holders we had priority and walked on board exactly at 1:00, about two minutes after arrival at the pier. The check in process was as easy as we had ever experienced. We did not even have to provide a credit card, but were told we could go any time to Guest relations and have it swiped. We were escorted to our suite, always a nice touch provided by Oceania, Crystal and Celebrity. A Penthouse Suite on these ships is really an oversized cabin on the order of the Sky Suite on Celebrity vessels. Our cabin had a three cushion couch, a small dark wood table with two covered arm chairs. There was attractive wall lighting and a full mirror on the wall opposite the couch. Next to the couch was the desk unit of dark wood. It was good sized, about 8 feet long with three drawers on one side and three shelves on the other. There was a swivel magnifying cosmetic mirror on the wall next to this desk unit. The bed was opposite the desk. There were two night stands on either side of the bed and a dark paneled wall next to the left side night stand. At the end of this wall was a shelf area containing the TV (with DVD player), which could be pulled out and swiveled to provide viewing from the bed. This shelf area also has a safe and small refrigerator with a mini-bar supply of hard and soft drinks. The closets are to your left as you come into the cabin and were quite reasonably sized with extra shelves and a large number of good quality wooden hangers. Behind the couch near the veranda entrance was a door leading into the stateroom next door. It was locked of course. The veranda itself was wide, but not deep, with a teak deck, two lounge chairs and a small table. The outside railing was clear glass with a teak rail at the top. The dividers between verandas were small, not being much more than about six feet in height, open at the bottom and with a small gap next to the side of the cabin. Overall there was not much privacy on these verandas. The entire wall leading to the veranda was glass with the usual sliding door; but this gave a lot of light and was quite pleasant. The bathroom contained a tub shower and a single sink set in some form of faux marble. The floor was tile and the walls made of some sort of beige colored textured composition material which was clearly waterproof since it extended into the shower. area. As usual on board ship, the well designed shelving provided more than enough space for all our toiletries. The walls of the cabin were of some high quality textured linen like material with dark wood crown molding and the same molding at the room corners. The ceiling was interesting, being formed of panels about 15 inches wide with recessed niches about one inch wide and one each deep in between. There were several nice prints above the bed and couch. The ceiling lights operated off a main switch next to the door into the cabin. Also, immediately to the right of the door was a small wall mirror with an attached shelf. The carpet was a blue and beige leaf pattern with the blue matching the blue of the couch and seat coverings. Terry bathrobes, slippers, throws, a very large umbrella, shoe horn and clothes brush were provided. While we were looking the room over, and before our luggage arrived, we met Bogden, our Romanian butler, and he was a very pleasant and personable young man. We met some friends from our earlier Istanbul tours for a light lunch in the Terrace Cafe, overlooking the Bosphorus; a very pleasant experience. By the time we returned from lunch our luggage had been delivered. After unpacking we went to the Reception Desk to activate our shipboard card with our credit card. We then went to the Library, which has always garnered much praise for its ambience and comfortable furniture. We returned to our cabin for a briefing by Bodgen of the features of the Penthouse Class. They consist of: extra hangers on request; complimentary hors doeuvres daily, complimentary pressing of two items, full meal room service, and having our butler make for us any reservations we wanted at the specialty restaurants. We took advantage of this last to reserve two meals at Toscana and the Polo Grill. We had arranged to meet one of our fellow tour couples for dinner, which was excellent; but a little slow. We had to skip dessert to get to the evening entertainment on time. All shows are held in the Nautica Lounge, which has cocktail lounge type seating, small tables with upholstered arm chairs or upholstered bench seat, all surrounding a dance floor used for the actual shows. The stage area is only large enough for the dance or show back-up band. Since the room does not hold many more than 350 people, timely attendance is a must. This first show was provided by local entertainers. The first half was not very exciting, but then the main feature, a belly dancer, came on and she was quite spectacular. Nautica In my review of our Insignia cruise down the Amazon in March 2005 I described that sister ship to Nautica. Nautica has had some upgrades, and they appeared in the form of beautiful Rosenthal china (hotel grade, but Versace design nonetheless) in the dining room and upgraded cabin furniture. But the ships were and are very elegant; with a most convenient layout and extremely comfortable. They hold only about 680 passengers and I believe this trip was full. They are mid-sized vessels of 30,000t tons displacement, with a length of 593 feet and a beam of 83 feet. The passenger space runs from Deck 3, with a few window cabins and tender access, to Deck 10, with an open Sun Deck 11 forward. Nautica has added 8 cabanas on the forward portion of this deck. They are basically canvas affairs, with a canvas roof and dividers between cabanas. A day bed for two is provided along with fruit skewers in the morning, ice cream in the afternoon, along with afternoon tea, ice towel wraps, a complimentary 10 minute chair massage; and discounts at the spa. All this is offered for $50.00 a day on port days and $100.00 per day on sea days; with a full cruise package available. We did not see many people taking advantage of this cabana service. The ship has two stair/elevator wells. Deck 4 has picture window cabins and medical center forward. Midships is occupied by the reception desk, excursion desk and two seating areas with a concierge desk, plus a grand staircase to Deck 5. This next deck has the Insignia Lounge with a dance floor and small stage for the orchestra forward. Proceeding aft you go through a small casino with 32 slot machines, one roulette wheel; two $5.00 minimum and two $10.00 minimum blackjack tables. Aft of this on one side is the photo shop and gallery and on the other the Martini Lounge with a piano. Proceeding to the stern you pass two boutique stores on either side before coming to an open Upper Hall with cocktail tables and side chairs. Then, down the starboard side you enter the Grand Bar which leads into the Grand Dining Room; the principal dining venue. Deck 6 is almost all verandah cabins except for two large suites forward and two aft. Deck 7 is the same. Deck 8 has the verandah suites, which basically are staterooms about 40% larger than the regular verandah cabins, or about the same size as Celebrity Sky Suites. Deck 8 forward is occupied by the bridge and officers quarters, and it also has two large suites aft. There are about 20 interior cabins on Decks 7 and 8 and 18 window cabins overlooking the lifeboats on Deck 6. Deck 9 has the spa and gym forward, the pool and teak pool deck with two Jacuzzis amidships and the Terrace Cafe buffet with its aft outside terrace completing this deck. It also has a card room and Cyber Space, the computer training and internet center. Deck 10 consists of the Horizon Lounge forward, a rubberized fitness track around both sides leading to the aft section which houses the library and the two specialty restaurants, Toscana and the Polo Grill. The Sun Deck on Deck 11 has a golf net and shuffleboard in addition to open deck space and the cabanas forward as mentioned. The self service laundry is opposite Stateroom 7076 and has 4 washers and 4 dryers. They are token operated with automatic detergent dispensers, There are also two ironing boards with irons. I visited it at 2:00 P.M. on the first sea day and only one washer and dryer were in operation. The walls in the public areas are normally dark brown, with matte brass lighting fixtures, well upholstered furniture and nicely patterned carpeting. The Toscana Grill has cream walls with Doric half columns and prints of Roman scenes. The Polo Grill has medium dark brown walls with photos of Hollywood stars from Charlie Chaplin to Paul Newman. The walls in the passenger area are a soft cream and have framed prints. The cabin doors are royal blue with brass hardware on the outside also. The carpeting is patterned. The stairwells have soft brass railings with glass side panels containing a black outline floral design. The art in the stair wells is from the art auction supply, and some pieces were changed en route. The library is very large for a ship of this size, stretching across almost the entire width of the ship, with a number of comfortable sofas and chairs, and a false fireplace completing the illusion of a country house library. It is by far the nicest library we have ever seen. The selection of books was quite good for a small ship with fewer than 700 passengers. The library check out system is strictly on ones honor. As someone explained, the design calls for entertainment forward and food aft. The result was a ship that was the most user friendly we have ever encountered. We could get anywhere from our cabin very quickly, and used the stairs almost exclusively throughout the entire trip. I do not like to abuse the word elegant; but that truly epitomizes Nautica. It is a delight to the eye, convenient as a ship can be, and as pleasant a venue for 12 days as can be imagined. Passenger Services We found the office personnel at the Reception Desk uniformly friendly and helpful. The ship provides the normal news sheet; Oceania Currents and we found that it was delivered to our cabin relatively early each evening, usually between dinner and the entertainment. We also received a four to eight page daily satellite U.S.A. Times with world and general USA news, including sports. Before each port day we also received a Destination Services Port Information Sheet. This was primarily designed to promote tours, but actually had a lot of very useful general information. The one exception was that little information was provided on how to get to the Old City of Dubrovnik if you were not on a tour, and a number of people felt that those of us who like to do things on our own were treated poorly at that stop. The ships TV had BBC and European CNN, both of which had a few glitches from time to time. The TV also showed maps with the ships location, port information talks, a replay of lectures and a number of movies and old TV shows. For the suites with DVRs as part of their TV sets, there is a DVD library with 500+ titles available from Passenger Services. Ocean Currents was quite informative, and listed the movies each day in addition to some good information on the stops we were making. Except for the lifeboat drill announcement the limited public address announcements were not broadcast into the cabins. E-mail is available at $2.00 per session, which also means you are charged $2.00 for each incoming E-mail message. Cruise long packages are available. There are two E-mail computer stations in the Library in addition to the Cyber Space Room which was often crowded with very popular computer classes. The Horizon Lounge has two binoculars fixed on stanchions, one forward starboard and one forward portside. There are also two telescope spyglasses on each side aft. Food The Grand Dining Room is an attractive venue, although in the center section it can become noisy; interfering somewhat with conversation. As noted before, the tableware was of excellent quality, appearing to give Crystal a run for its money, which is really saying something. The service was generally excellent and we never had to wait more than a few moments for people ahead of us to be seated. The service was very good, although at times a little rushed. While we normally do not like free style dining, preferring traditional seating with the same table companions and same wait staff; we had no complaints on Insignia and none here. We always requested shared seating, and met a number of people that way. We always enjoyed the Terrace Grill buffet for breakfast, and for the limited number of lunches on board. We went to Tapas on the Terrace one night and that was quite nice, although it did not truly have tapas as served in Barcelona. The selection offered at lunch was usually wide ranging and had some imagination including a Mexican lunch. This was rather mild for these Arizonans accustomed to a more authentic fare; but it was good nonetheless. The appearance of the Terrace Grill is extremely pleasant, with a cheerful light green and yellow theme. The seating is at armchairs with wood arms, and striped upholstered seats and backs. The tables are cultured marble and set with place mats, cloth napkins, glasses, cutlery and good quality china. At night, when set up for Tapas, the chinaware is in a brightly decorated pattern. There is a pizzeria on one side which doubles as an omelet station for breakfast on one side and another similar station on the other. The walls are decorated with murals and the windows have drapes which can be used to reduce the bright sunlight. We ate twice at the Toscana Room and once at the Polo Grill. The meals in the Toscana Dining Room can contain up to seven courses! Hot Appetizer, cold appetizer (antipasto), soup, salad, pasta, entrEe and dessert. Even limiting this somewhat results in too heavy and too long a meal. On our one experience with the Polo Grill my filet was done exactly as ordered, and on the whole this was a better experience. The service in both specialty restaurants was excellent and less rushed than in the main dining room. We ordered room service for one breakfast, and it was delivered promptly by our butler and was good, although without the selection offered at the buffet. The actual room service breakfast menu is very limited, but Bogden told us we could write in what we wished as suite guests, so we did so, but still felt we had fewer options than when we could graze the buffet lines. The meals in the main dining room were all created by the French Chef, Jacques Pepin. The dinner menus always offered the same three signature items, beef, chicken and fish. The normal menu is typical of most cruise ships with a selection from three soups, four appetizers and five entrees, always including at least one fish dish and one pasta dish. The dessert menus are presented later and normally have six or so items. In addition dessert drinks are available. Coffee, cappuccino, espresso and tea were available without additional charge. One vegetarian dish is also available, and Edith normally chose this. She had one bad experience at one meal with a highly salted entree and a very oily salad; but otherwise the meals were quite excellent. There is no way that a central dining room serving several hundred people in a relatively short space of time can match a gourmet restaurant on land; but we certainly looked forward to dinner and were not disappointed. {I should note one exception to the foregoing - the lobster meal I had at the Silk Road on Crystal Serenity was one of the finest meals I have ever enjoyed anywhere.] We would rate Oceania as generally equal to Celebrity, with a slightly better buffet; and far better than any other cruise line. I should not end this topic without mentioning the daily tea in the Horizon Lounge. This is a very attractive room, and the Paradise String Quartet played every afternoon for tea. The tea itself was quite substantial with sandwiches, cakes, tarts as well as smaller pastries in addition to either tea or coffee. Some of these were carried around on trays, some on a wheeled cart which had problems getting up one step to a portion of the Lounge, and others were available at a table in the back of the lounge where you could simply go and fill up your own plate. This was something we took advantage of almost every day since we often returned from shore trips in time to indulge ourselves. Only Crystal offers a comparable daily servings such as this. Princess, Celebrity and Holland America all have teas once or twice depending on the cruise length, and they tend to be more formal; but we really prefer Oceanias teatime. Sea Days We only had two sea days on this cruise. The first was as we sailed out the Dardanelles, past the Gallipoli Monument into the Aegean Sea. A one page, quite detailed information sheet described the area, its history and the story of the Battle of Gallipoli and the role of Kemal Ataturk. The lifeboat drill was held on this first sea day at 10:45 A.M., and went smoothly. There was an Enrichment Lecture at 9:30, but we had gotten up too late for that. A digital camera hints program was held in the Cyber Space Room but was so crowded I could not participate. Aside from that there was an Art Auction, the usual health and fitness seminars selling spa services, bridge and a line dance class. Pretty much the same routine occupied the second sea day towards the end of the cruise between Dubrovnik and our debarkation port of Athens. Altogether the sea day offerings were pretty minimal. We had a better effort made on Insignias Amazon cruise, but perhaps the nature of that cruise and its larger number of sea days allowed for a more extensive program. Entertainment As usual, this portion of the cruise had its ups and downs. As on Insignia, we greatly enjoyed the string quartet, this time composed of two young men and two young women from the Ukraine. Their offerings were more inclined to show tunes and light classical, rather than a fairly good inclusion of straight classical music provided on Insignia, but it made for delightful, relaxed and elegant listening all the same. The evening Nautica Lounge entertainment was varied. There was a violinist who was not bad musically, but whose English was pretty awful, making his announcements about his selections virtually unintelligible. He did two shows. There was a pianist who did not live up to the extremely fulsome presentation provided by the Cruise Director. We heard that the comic impressionist was pretty poor from people who had been on the prior cruise, so we skipped him both times he appeared. The Show Time entertainment was provide by four young singers who were working together for the first time. This showed up in a little stiffness in their initial show, but they had relaxed with a few more rehearsals and were pleasant if not spectacular. By far the best performers only appeared for one full show, and this was a British couple, Paula King and Barnaby Pout. They both had good solid stage voices and knew how to deliver a song. The final offering was a show by the Cruise Director, Leslie Jon. We did not see it and were told we had not missed much. There was also a regular pianist in the Martini Lounge, but he did not seem to be playing much and we never heard him, even walking past that lounge. This was in contrast to his counterpart on Insignia who seemed to play a good deal and often had an audience. The Cruise Director was highly visible and approachable. He would listen to your issues and respond as well as he could. He did not attempt to be a comedian too often, and this was good. While his introductions and follow-up remarks concerning the entertainers were full of the normal semi-hysterical fulminations, we have all gotten used to that and ignore it. Itinerary and Ports of Call As we noted in the beginning of this review, Istanbul was the attraction for this cruise. If one had a full week, one could see a lot in this city, but the three and one-half days we had there were very enjoyable. Kusadasi and Ephesus After our sea day sail through the Dardanelles and into the Aegean Sea we arrived in Kusadasi for what was really day four of the cruise (the first two being spent in Istanbul). There we were met by our guide Nejat, who actually lives in Izmir, only about 40 miles away from Kusadasi; and driven through the fairly modern port city into the country side towards Ephesus. This is an archeological site of great significance dating as far back as 1500-1000 B.C. The harbor, which was the reason for its existence, started filling with silt shortly after the Christian era began and the city was abandoned by 550 A.D. On a hill nearby there is a small stone house set in a quiet hillside cypress and pine grove which was purportedly the home of Mary, where she was brought by the Apostle John after the Crucifixion. The evidence of this is not conclusive, but circumstantial. If true, John found a lovely place for her. It was quite crowded with tourists even though we got an early start. We then visited a ceramic factory; a small place where they were making bowls, cups etc. by hand. One of our group bought a large bowl and had it shipped home. We had lunch at a local restaurant and then went to Ephesus proper. The ruins are fairly extensive and contain marvelous examples of various stages in Greco-Roman-Persian architecture. There is a well preserved amphitheater which holds probably 20,000 people and was actually used for concerts in recent years until the crowds caused too much wear and tear. Edith and I climbed virtually to the top. There was a group of Japanese tourists at the bottom. Four of the ladies got up and went out onto the arena floor to sing. We could clearly hear their small Japanese voices in the top row. This was very impressive. All in all this was a pretty great tour for a full day at $80.00 per person (not including lunch). At the conclusion we paid Nejat for all four days and actually received a discount. Here we arranged our own tour through a local tourist agency, Sarantis Travel, reached through website: www.pytheas-travel.gr . There was a little confusion over credit card information but it all worked out. We were met a little late by our driver in a Passat. She spoke rudimentary English. We traveled with a couple we had contacted on the net. We stopped briefly at a small, but pretty beach along the southern coast. We then arrived in Lindos, about 40 miles from Rhodes City. This had been the original port city but, like Ephesus, lost its ability to dock ships through silt filling the harbor. The principal, and very striking feature of the town was its Acropolis - a smaller but well preserved version on the one in Athens. It took some serious climbing to reach the top, but the views were marvelous. We went back through the town and had an excellent gelato at a small shop for a very reasonable price. The town itself has no real hotels, only a number of homes converted into pensions. We then drove over to the north side of the island. There were only a few farms in between and the countryside surrounding Lindos reminded us of the Big Rez the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona - very dry with brown hills. As we got over the mountains running down the center of the island the land greened up a little. We drove back to Rhodes City through this northern section, and past the airport and a lot of tourist hotels as we got closer to town. We then were dropped off near the old walled medieval city and met our tour guide; a very bright young lady who spoke not only very fine English, but Spanish, Italian, French and Turkish. She pointed out that Rhodes is a forty minute ferry ride to Turkey, but a sixteen hour ride to Athens. She led us around the old city pointing out and describing the buildings built by the Knights of St. John [officially named: The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta]: when they controlled the island from 1309 to 1522. They were forced out by the Ottomans and found their way to Malta where they reestablished their order, controlling that island until Napoleon took it over. While mostly French, the order had English, German, Spanish and Italian members, and each country had its own headquarters building. The city was restored by the Italians when they occupied the island from about 1912 to the end of WWII, when it was returned to Greek control. Rhodes is an altogether fascinating island, and the medieval old city a marvelous place. We returned to the ship in the late afternoon. Dinner was very good but little rushed and the waiters forgot to serve coffee with dessert. But the sommelier also forgot to bill us for Ediths wine. Shh! Dont tell Oceania about the wine! Delos and Mykonos Delos is a very small island. It was considered a holy sanctuary and no one was permitted to be born or to die there. Now, no one lives there or stays overnight. The ruins are extensive and some are quite attractive. It is reached by tender. We were there on a Monday when no regular tours were offered and with no ferries arriving from other islands, so special arrangements were made for Nautica. Edith and I had not signed up for a tour so we wandered away and started to climb Mt. Kithnos to get an overall view. We were chased away by a rude tour guide who told us we had to remain with the regular tour; at that point nowhere near us. We did some looking around on our own however; although this was an aggravating experience. There is not much point in staying on Delos for more than a few hours, so we sailed to Mykonos at noon, arriving about and hour and a half later. This is a small but busy town, with a pretty semi-circular harbor and gleaming white buildings. There were four other cruise ships with us, all tendering in. These were Grand Princess, Regent Seven Seas Navigator, and the Louis Cruise Lines ships Perla and Sea Diamond. We enjoyed ourselves walking behind the stores in the residential neighborhoods. We rode back to the ship with our Cruise Director. The ship did not sail until 11:00 P.M., but we doubt if any of our fellow passengers were able to enjoy Mykonos fabled party-party night life since all had to be back on board by 10:30 and the evening does not begin on the islands until that time. Santorini As you can see from the Google Earth satellite photo below; Santorini is a unique island. It actually is the crater [caldera] of a volcano which exploded around 1500 B.C. We had been there before and followed the same routine. I went up the cable car and Edith, who does not like heights, rode up on a donkey. We missed connections and wandered around for a while looking for each other. I found an ATM and then went to the bus station where she showed up. We took the bus to Oia at the north end of the island for 1.10 Euros, up from the 0.85 we paid in 2003. The bus was newer and larger though, and very crowded as before The return bus trip involved much maneuvering by the crowds waiting to get on it as it backed and turned several times before opening its doors. Edith got on through the back door and saved me a seat. We returned to Thira by going down the hill from Oia and proceeding along the flat area occupying the eastern portion of the island. We had not seen this part of the island before and there was a fair amount of agriculture, especially grape arbors for Santorinis own wine. Thira is about 40% of the way south down the island, approximately opposite the southern tip of the small island occupying the northwest quadrant of the caldera. We bought some rather expensive wine at 18 Euros, in town and returned to the ship, walking down the hill from Thira to where the tenders picked us up. The tenders this time were not ships boats, but provided by a tender service, which could have learned a lot about customer service from Oceania. The crew was pretty obnoxious, pulling away from the dock when half full, and then returning after backing around the dock area for a few minutes to no apparent purpose. We noted that mules were still going up the hill at 5:54, shortly before we sailed, perhaps because twoother cruise ships, Regents Seven Seas Navigator and Ibis, unknown cruise line, were still anchored in the caldera. Katakolon and Olympia Katakolon is a small port serving primarily as a sea gateway to Olympia, the site of the original Olympic games. We docked at 11:00 and arranged a round trip taxi ride for four of us for a total of 90 Euros; pretty much the going rate. The charge for a very nice museum combined with the Olympic grounds adjoining the museum was 9.00 Euros. One should allow about 45-60 minutes for the museum, which was designed to let in natural light, making non-flash photography possible. A relatively complete tour of the stadium grounds will take a little more than an hour, so 3 hours would enable you to see everything and take detailed notes. It started to get crowded in the museum, but the grounds were easy to see, although as we left there were many buses from Costa Victoria (which had not been there when we docked) arriving. Be advised to wear a good sun hat as it is quite warm. Our driver picked us up at the museum entrance on time as promised and we returned to Nautica, about a 20 minute ride, by 2:30. We had a snack at the Waves Grill outside the Terrace Grill, and went back into town to buy Edith a bottle of Greek wine at a less expensive price than the Santorini wine, to use on the ship; since she was saving the good wine for home. Corfu We docked at 8:00 and looked for our car rental people. They never showed up, but there was a rental agency in the pier building, so we picked up a small, cute red Nissan Micra. It has air conditioning, a stick shift and four doors, with no trunk, its size being very handy on Corfus narrow, winding roads. We drove to the north shore over some hills. The coast was beautiful, but the water too cold and the air too windy for swimming. We had lunch at a seaside cafe in a town called Roda, surrounded by Brits on vacation. We were provided with two substantial Greek crepes, quite good; wine for Edith and tea for me; all for 12 Euros; a fine meal. We then drove over to the Adriatic side and up to the striking Castle San Angelo, several hundred feet above the water and with a view back across the island. Corfu is very hilly, green and attractive, with much new condo type construction for European visitors. We returned in time for tea, having spent 10 Euros for 9 liters of gas or about $5.40 US per gallon. However, this was enough for the whole trip. When we returned to Corfu City, or Kerkyra as it is spelled in the Roman alphabet (road signs fortunately used this alphabet as well as the unintelligible Greek alphabet); there were two ships in the harbor. Our instructions on returning the rental car were to leave it in a parking space at the dock, be certain not to lock the door, and to put the keys under the floor mat. I suppose there is not much future in stealing a car on a fairly small Greek island. By getting to Corfu (as well as Katakolon) early our Captain had secured preferential docking rights. One of these ships in Corfu was Golden Princess, which carries from 2600 to 3100 passengers. The other was a ship called Blue Dream operated by Pullmantur Cruise Lines. At tea I chatted with Paula King, the British singer and she told me that this ship was actually our sister ship, originally Renaissance 5 , and bought out of bankruptcy by Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise line, along with Renaissance 6, now called Blue Star . When I looked at it through my binoculars I could see the furnishings on deck seemed to be plain white plastic on the Terrace Lounge area. There did not appear to be any penthouse suites on Deck 8, and overall it probably was nowhere close to Oceanias three former Renaissance vessels, Nautica, Insignia and Regatta. The Pullmantur website has a photo of Blue Star and Regatta side by side in Dubrovnik; the Spanish ship painted dark blue and Regatta gleaming white. Paula was delightful to chat with, showing a wide range of knowledge about cruise ships and obviously very much enjoying working at sea. She and her partner, who is also her fiancE, had mentioned during their show about residing in a small town in the south of England and when I asked her which town, she said, as I knew she would, that it was Eastbourne. I told her we had spent a week at a time share there, and she was as delighted with this, as we were with her town. Dubrovnik Once again we arrived early, and with no other cruise ship in sight, which meant we were able to dock. The Pullmantur site had showed Blue Dream docked there, with Golden Princess barely squeezing in behind it and another cruise ship in the harbor. We had been able to dock when we were last there on Millennium in 2003 but recent postings on some boards have noted that Celebritys ships were scheduled to tender on their arrival in Dubrovnik. As we noted above, we were left pretty much on our own to find our way to the Old Town, which was not easy since there was little information provided at the pier. We walked into town a little way to change Euros into Kuna and caught a city bus to the Old City. This time we did not walk the wall, but covered a lot of this charming little city. It was quite crowded with tourists who obviously arrived by land. We noted that the prices for pastries and coffee had gone up quite a bit since our prior visit three years ago, but still were reasonable by European standards. We returned to the ship by 3:00 and lazed around a little. I went into the pool, which was cool but nice, and was easily able to find a comfortable deck chair for a short while before tea. Altogether a very relaxed day once we were able to work out the bus system. Second Sea Day We had room service for breakfast, but as noted, the selection is limited compared to the Terrance Buffet. The lunch theme was Italian, and good as always. For lack of any other entertainment we went to the art auction, and enjoyed a very active auctioneer who sold quite a lot. We went to an Oceania Club meeting of prior Oceania cruisers. We were told there were 140 on the ship, which seemed to be at its capacity of 675. The meeting was about future cruises, but only had limited information about the rest of 2006. When I tried to inquire about 2007, I was advised to try the website, which is free at Cyber Space, but the site contained very little about 2007. It now is available through November 2007. Piraeus and Delphi Here again we had arranged for a rental car, which was a little late showing up. We drove our rental agent partly out of Piraeus and dropped him off within sight of the main freeway to Delphi. We had been to the Acropolis and to Poseidons temple in Sounion on our 2003 cruise. The trip was relatively easy. We traveled on a main freeway, mostly through flat countryside with much agriculture, until we approached the mountains and could see Mount Parnassus with snow still near the top. We then left the highway and started climbing on a country road into the hills eventually arriving at Delphi. It was fairly well crowded with visitors, although none from any cruise ships since we were the only ship in the harbor and there were no ships tours of Delphi. We had anticipated that there would only be one temple building housing the Oracle and were surprised at the extent of the town and the number of buildings as well as a substantial arena. The main temple used by the Oracle still had several large pillars intact. We marveled at how they could have gotten all the pillars and building blocks up the side of what is a very steep and high hill. The site overlooks a long and very pretty valley and is certainly a striking location for what was basically an area of worship. There is an extensive and excellent museum and, as at Olympia, you can get a single ticket for both museum and ruins for 9.00 Euros. Greece has an amazing array of ruins from its Golden Age, from the Parthenon on the Acropolis Hill in Athens to Poseidons Temple at Sounion, to Delos, the Acropolis in Lindos on Rhodes to Olympia and Delphi. They are all amazingly beautiful in their individual styles and locations, and worth the effort to get there in all cases. After we left, we stopped at a small town about ten miles away called Arachova for lunch. The restaurant we chose was occupied entirely by local residents, although the waitress found a menu written in somewhat imaginative English. The food was substantial and tasty, if not exactly gourmet, and the atmosphere very pleasant. The trip back was without incident, although we had to buy a calling card to contact our rental car agent so he could come and pick it up at the pier. This also involved a considerable wait since all the telephones were occupied by crew members making lengthy calls home. Back on board we packed and went to dinner, retiring immediately thereafter due to our extremely early rising the following day. Debarkation Oceania had booked us on a 6:00 A.M. Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt to start the return trip home. This meant getting up at 2:30 for a quick breakfast and then boarding the bus at 3:30 or thereabouts. Fortunately it was easy to locate our bags and they were loaded on the buses for us. An Oceania representative accompanied us on the bus. Driving through Piraeus at this time of day was fast, but we could imagine the problems once the rush hour started. We then got on a freeway, but the total trip was well over half an hour. The airport had only light crowds and we boarded without difficulty. We had a wait of almost five hours in Frankfurt and a weather delay of three hours on the runway at OHare in Chicago, arriving in Phoenix at 11:30 after being up more than 24 hours. This was not a fun day, even though the actual debarkation from the ship was smooth and easy. We did hear that those who opted to spend time in Athens may have had a problem because a taxi strike was scheduled to start at 5:00A.M. the day we left. Overall Impression We wanted to see and enjoy Istanbul, and we certainly did. We looked forward to a comfortable cruise and our upgraded Penthouse Suite provided that. We looked forward to Oceanias overall elegance, great food and charming surroundings, and Nautica lived up to our hopes. We expected good company, and scored well again. We hoped we would enjoy the stops we had made before and the ones which were new to us, and our expectations were met. We loved Rhodes, and were surprised by how much we enjoyed it. Ephesus is very impressive, and Marys home a bonus we did not anticipate. Delos and Mykonos were enjoyable, although warm. Corfu is a delightful and laid back place. Olympia is quite interesting. Santorini and Dubrovnik had been visited before and were enjoyed again; but if we return we will opt for a different day on shore. Delphi was strikingly beautiful, and somewhat of a surprise in its extent and the beauty of its hillside site. We would recommend this cruise without hesitation. We found Nautica extremely convenient and handy for getting in and out of the various ports, aside from being a beautiful little ship with excellent service and food. Anyone considering this area for cruising should plan on at least three if not four days in Istanbul and two or three in Athens at the other end (vice versa if you go the reverse way). While we commented on Oceanias weakness in the entertainment arena, especially on sea days; sometimes on a cruise like this with a great number of port days it is nice to have a sea day with little to do but relax. Our fellow passengers were delightful. We think that on cruises with fewer people, there is more passenger interaction, and everyone is pleased to recognize and speak to others that we have shared time with in various venues. Of course the fact that we knew several couples from our Istanbul tours helped also. Oceania still tends to nickel and dime a little; with an 18% service charge on a $10.00 yoga lesson coming to mind. We thought the excursion pricing was high, but Europe does charge more than the Caribbean for example with its highly competitive tourist business. We also feel that they should not have put us on a 6:00 A.M. plane out of Athens. We know there were flight options, and one couple who complained a lot, got a later flight. But these were all pretty minor matters given the overall joy of this cruise, the ship, the crew and the itinerary. Oceanias solitary substantial weakness is the fact that it only has three ships, thus limiting its itineraries. We are going to have to do some serious looking to find one in the future that we have not already done; but when we do, we will be happy to sign up with this cruise line again. Bon Voyage

Nautica - Eastern Mediterranean

Nautica Cruise Review by Phil H

Trip Details
ISTANBUL - GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE M. V. NAUTICA MAY 17 - 29 2006
Introduction
My name is Phil H and my wife is Edith G. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 18th cruise. Our prior sailings have been on Carnivals Elation to the Mexican Riviera; on the now defunct Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle to the Caribbean for 11 days; a 7 day cruise, also in the Caribbean on Celebritys Galaxy; followed by a marvelous cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Mercury, another Celebrity vessel. We then did our Alaskan cruise on Sun Princess, followed by a third 7 day Caribbean trip aboard Norwegian Sun and a trans-canal on Celebritys Infinity. We then sailed on Millennium for a Mediterranean cruise in May 2003, followed by a Baltic cruise tour on Regal Princess later that year. We then went to Hawaii for the first time on Infinity in November 2003 and did our first HAL on Veendam in the Caribbean the next spring. In March 2004 we took Galaxy from Baltimore to Rome, and returned to the Caribbean in October on Zaandam. In November 2004 we went back to the Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed our first Oceania experience on Insignia for a very different Amazon River cruise in March 2005, followed by a short repositioning cruise up the west coast from San Diego to Vancouver in May that year. on our only Royal Caribbean ship to date, Radiance of the Seas. In November we spoiled ourselves on Crystal Serenity for eleven days on a Caribbean trip. All except the first two cruises have been reviewed on cruisereviews.com.
Why This Cruise?
In a word - Istanbul. We had attempted to book a similar cruise in 2002 or 2003 on Crystal, only to have our travel agent call them and find out that they had just cancelled Istanbul. Edith has always wanted to see this city, so when this cruise came up with the right timing, we jumped at it.
The Itinerary
Oceanias itinerary called for an overnight in Istanbul at the start and another in Athens at the end. In between we would have one sea day, then Kusadasi (Ephesus), Rhodes, Delos and Mykonos (one day), Santorini, Katakolon (Olympia), Corfu, Dubrovnik, a second sea day and then Athens.
Review Format; What is Covered and What is Not
Although this is a cruise review, Istanbul was obviously not only a part of the cruise because of Oceanias scheduling, but of interest to many of our fellow passengers and perhaps the gentle reader also. For this reason I will not discuss our Istanbul experience in any great length as part of the review.
For the rest, I can only cover what we did; and there are always aspects of any cruise that do not and did not command our attention. We do not gamble, or take part in Karaoke, trivia games and the like. Our poolside experience was limited, and we did not, as usual, use any of the cruise line tours, but did our own shore expeditions and planning.
Pre-Planning any Cruise
This paragraph is Cruising 101, and experienced cruisers can skip it. But since I hear from newbies to cruising, I will include a few remarks. If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2006 Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and Sterns Guide to Cruise Vacations 2006; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes & Noble. New editions come out each year. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships layouts and cabin locations. Cabin locations can be important, and early booking also gives you a wider choice. On some ships the design is such that verandas on upper decks look down onto portions of the verandas below; which might concern some people. Some of these problems are not obvious from the deck plans but are mentioned in the books cited above. You also might want to avoid a stateroom directly off the elevator/stair wells, as this area tends to be noisy . We usually try for a stateroom between two elevator/stair wells (and not near the laundry). In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. Small lines (like Crystal) with few ships are an exception. The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of specials and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or a specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options.
Planning This Cruise
This was one of the more intensely planned cruises we have ever done; due largely to the somewhat exotic character of a number of our stops. We planned to arrive in Istanbul on Monday, May 15th, stay two nights in a local hotel, board Nautica the 17th before a sailing that departed at 11:00 at night on the 18th. This gave us three and one-half days in Istanbul. To do this we purchased an air deviation from Oceania (which included airfare in its pricing). Locating a good tour guide was a consideration, and we succeeded through information from prior cruisers on the Cruise Critic website boards. This also gave us a guide to Ephesus at our Kusadasi landing. We wanted a tour of Rhodes which took us to Lindos, a city with a local Acropolis of some renown. But we also wanted a guided tour of the old Rhodes medieval city. This took some doing on the internet. Delos is a small place and we did not need a guided tour, and we did not plan on doing much in Mykonos. We knew we wanted to see the original Olympic Games site in Olympia, which is near our Katalokon stop, and were concerned about taxis to and from. We planned to rent a car on Corfu, walk around the old City of Dubrovnik and rent a car to drive to Delphi in Greece after landing at Piraeus.
We do not like large tour buses with hordes of passengers, so we were looking for an individual guide. Most of them use small vans which work out well carrying six to eight passengers; an ideal sized group. I spent a lot of time on the net finding people to join us. This was not easy since everyone had slightly different days or times of arrival in Istanbul, and plans once there; but on the whole things worked out well. It takes considerable patience making sure that everyone knows the itinerary, price, pick-up locations and times, etc. It helps to remember that in most of the world dates are written as; eg. 17 May 2006; and that times use the 24 hour clock. I will describe each tour as it occurs during the cruise.
Shipboard Accommodation Planning
Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to standard cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature verandah cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled suites; some of which, like Celebritys sky suites are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a verandah, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better at sea experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they dont spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. For a week we certainly did not need a suite.
Kissed by the Upgrade Fairy
We booked a concierge veranda cabin on Deck 7. About a month or so prior to sailing, we received an invoice with the final billing from Oceania. There were a few items of note. We were charged $46.00 each for Turkish Visas. Since we had found out on the web that you can pay $20.00 for a visa at the airport, we had our Travel Agent request that this be removed. We also noted two charges for transfers, one from the Istanbul airport to the ship and one from the ship to the airport in Athens. Since we were arriving on May 15 we obviously did not need the first transfer, and requested that to be removed also.
But we did note that our stateroom had been changed to Penthouse Suite No. 8019, with no additional charge.
There are two explanations for this that occurred to me. The first is the most intriguing. I wrote a review of our Insignia Amazon cruise which was largely very favorable. During the period before this cruise I had received information about our flights that I thought was incorrect. On Oceanias website I found the name Christina del Rio with Coordinator of Marketing job title. I sent her an E-mail with my question, and mentioned that she might enjoy my Insignia review. The reply I received was from someone else in public relations. But as I suspected, Christina is related to (I believe the daughter of) Frank Del Rio, one of the co-founders of Oceania. Maybe that Insignia review got me an upgrade.
The other explanation is more mundane. Cruise lines dont like to turn down customers. If there was a request for a concierge suite on Deck 7 that could not be filled because they were all booked, and there was an opening in the Penthouse Suite category, the cruise line would bump someone up rather than lose a sale. They might well upgrade on the basis of either the earliest booking or a combination of early booking and prior customer status. And I met both of these criteria. So matter what the reason was, we enjoyed the upgrade.
Clothes Planning
Cruise lines may offer suggestions, and advice can be found in the books mentioned above. The season; the itinerary, the length of the cruise and the cruise line life style will be the major determining factors. I saw more black ties on Crystal than on any other line; with Celebrity and Holland America next in order of formality. Even with formal nights, there is a much more casual air permeating Carnival, Royal Caribbean and even Princess. However, Oceania has no formal evenings and the dress code is either Country Club Casual or Informal. Its ships do have self service laundries as do every cruise line we have traveled on with the notable exception of Celebrity . We were not certain of the weather in Istanbul where we were spending four days; and it turned out to be more chilly that we would have guessed. I did bring my Travel Smith basic blue blazer; several casual khakis, a couple of better slacks; a number of good long sleeve shirts, one dress oxford shirt and one tie. I also brought several pairs of walking shorts for land based trips since I expected the Greek Islands to be warm, and they were.
Edith has her packing down to a science, leaning heavily to soft fabrics that do not require ironing, and using interchangeable blouses and skirts. She felt she could have used a warmer sweater in Istanbul; but she is more cold sensitive than most. We had no trouble with the now enforced weight limits. We do make out careful and complete packing lists before we leave, starting them several weeks early so we do not have last minute panics.
Getting to the Ship and Back Home
The next consideration is planning the route to and from the ports of embarkation and debarkation, which very well may not be the same city. All cruise lines offer to purchase air fare to and from the cruises for you. If they do so, they will normally include the transportation between the airport and the pier both ways. You can purchase your own air tickets, of course, and you may be able to buy transfers to and from the pier separately. If you are going round trip from the same city for departure and return; a common event for Caribbean and Mexican Riviera cruises, you can probably do better buying your own air tickets, especially if you are good at internet shopping. Your travel agent may be willing to help if you have bought the cruise from him or her, even though their commissions these days on air travel are virtually non-existent. If you are required to use open jaw flights; i.e. leaving from different cities for embarkation and debarkation, it is a little more complex to get any savings compared to the cruise lines, who can save money by block booking on major airlines. [For a good example of pre-cruise flight planning, read the review of our Celebrity Mercury cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires in January 2002 on this website.] However you may end up with weird routings as we did on our Infinity Hawaii cruise (Phoenix to LA to San Diego!); because we felt we should use Celebrity in order to insure the right connections to the embarkation port of Ensenada. You can vary the departure dates, but the cruise line might charge extra for this service. Celebrity waives any deviation charges for cruisers who are members of its Captains Club. If you can do so, always provide extra time, and for safetys sake, an extra day in planning your air connection to the departure city. This is particularly true for us when we fly east to embark from a Florida port since the time zone difference virtually requires either a red-eye flight or an overnight stay.
Oceania normally includes air fare in its pricing. They do add air taxes which on overseas flights can mount up. However, since they often have somewhat exotic routes, it often is better to use their air routing rather that try your own. It would have been three times as long to get to Manaus, for example, on our Amazon trip on Insignia in March 2005, by commercial air than it was to use Oceanias chartered flights from Miami. Since we were arriving in Istanbul three days prior to the actual departure, we did have to pay $50.00 per person air deviation fee.
Trip Insurance
Finally, there is the issue of trip insurance. We recommend it, but suggest that you buy from one of the independent insurers rather than the cruise line. The basic reason is that insurance you buy from the cruise line only covers you for services supplied by them. If you fly independently, take off on shore excursions that you book yourself, or extend the trip before or after on your own, the cruise line insurance will not cover you. However, your own carrier will cover all events within the dates you specify. We have found a firm known as CSA to be responsive and reasonable. Incidentally, you do not have to insure for all the costs; but you can pick a figure you would settle for to cover the travel portion. In other words, you dont have to add the flight cost to the cruise cost because you would probably not lose both. The main point is that with any coverage you get theft insurance, baggage loss, baggage delay and health coverage. You can even get pre-existing health condition coverage if you buy a higher priced policy as soon as you book the cruise. Talk to your travel agent about various policies that are available since they are commissionable also. It is worth it for peace of mind. Having said all that, it probably does not apply with as much force for Alaska and Hawaii cruises, since you are in the United States and both Medicare and your own health insurance will be available.
If you are a dedicated shopper, you can go to www.insuremytrip.com and come up with a wide range of comparisons, as well as choices of coverage. Just for an example, we opted for trip cancellation of $2000.00 and trip interruption of $3000.00 per person; travel delay of $1,000 pp (max 150.00 pp per day), baggage delay - $200-$400; baggage and personal effects loss or damage - $1,000-$2,000 (how much is your camera worth) rental car collision waiver damage - $25,000; medical or dental expense - $50,000.00; air flight accident - $100,000-$200,000; emergency medical evacuation - $250,000 and Identity Theft Insurance - $20,000. The cost for both of us was a total of $276.00. For traveling to the Middle East for 15 days, this seemed reasonable.
Off to Istanbul
This is a fairly long flight, involving changing planes at Dulles and again in Frankfurt. We started on Sunday morning and arrived in Istanbul at about 1:00 P.M. on Monday afternoon. Our tour guide had agreed to pick us up since he would be at the airport shortly before, and it was nice to have a very reliable source of transportation to our hotel. Istanbul is a very large city with the population estimated at about 9 million. It is divided into three areas. The Sultanahmet District marks the southernmost section, below the inlet off the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn. This is the old city, containing the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. North of the Golden Horn is a ;larger, newer section containing the high rise commercial area and most of the larger hotels. It stretches along the Bosphorus nearly all the way to the Black Sea. Then, across the Bosphorus is the Asiatic portion of the city. Overall Istanbul is a fascinating city. What marks it particularly is the open feel provided by the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, as well as the hills. Traffic can be difficult, particularly in the old city; but again you can walk from Topkapi Palace to the Hagia Sophia to the Blue Mosque, and visit the cisterns under the city, all in the same neighborhood. We were very pleased with our three and a half days in Istanbul before we left. Our guide was Nejat Incedogan, and his e-mail is; nincedogan@yahoo.com. He is rather popular, so anyone wishing to use him should line him up well in advance. A typical full day tour runs from $75.00 to $90.00 per person. I spent a good deal of time on the net lining up people to tour with us. This was done through the boards at www.cruisecritic.com; which seems to be the largest of the sites available to prospective cruisers.
There are many excellent guide books on this city, and anyone spending a few days there would do well to consult them. The Turkish Lira is now about $0.75, and there are many ATMs available. Credit cards are accepted in most places, although oddly, our hotel wanted cash and I had to walk down to the end of the block to find an ATM and bring back Lira. Since the two night stay was less than $150.00, I was happy to do so. Our guide also wanted to be paid in cash, but did not accept any money until we left him in Ephesus after our tour there.
While Turkey is a Muslim country, and you will be awakened by the morning call to prayer broadcast over loudspeakers attached to the many mosques; it is a secular state with fundamental Muslim practices out of tune with most people and the prevailing culture. Ever since Kemal Ataturk virtually created modern Turkey in 1923, this country has been western oriented, and now is most anxious to join the European Union. American are welcomed in a very friendly way. There were problems a few years ago with the Kurds in Eastern Turkey which caused some cruise lines to cancel tours, but this has subsided. Ataturk died at 9:05 A.M., November 10, 1938, and at that time on that day ever since the country has paused for a moment of silence and remembrance. His photograph is displayed in virtually every public place.
We had arrived in Istanbul on Monday, May 15, and stayed in our hotel, the Hotel Hali, for two nights. On the 17th we had our guide take us to the pier where we boarded Nautica. 
Embarkation and the First Day Aboard
The ship had actually docked on the 16th, with its passengers spending one night on board. We were not allowed to embark until 1:00 P.M. but as suite holders we had priority and walked on board exactly at 1:00, about two minutes after arrival at the pier. The check in process was as easy as we had ever experienced. We did not even have to provide a credit card, but were told we could go any time to Guest relations and have it swiped. We were escorted to our suite, always a nice touch provided by Oceania, Crystal and Celebrity.
A Penthouse Suite on these ships is really an oversized cabin on the order of the Sky Suite on Celebrity vessels. Our cabin had a three cushion couch, a small dark wood table with two covered arm chairs. There was attractive wall lighting and a full mirror on the wall opposite the couch. Next to the couch was the desk unit of dark wood. It was good sized, about 8 feet long with three drawers on one side and three shelves on the other. There was a swivel magnifying cosmetic mirror on the wall next to this desk unit. The bed was opposite the desk. There were two night stands on either side of the bed and a dark paneled wall next to the left side night stand. At the end of this wall was a shelf area containing the TV (with DVD player), which could be pulled out and swiveled to provide viewing from the bed. This shelf area also has a safe and small refrigerator with a mini-bar supply of hard and soft drinks. The closets are to your left as you come into the cabin and were quite reasonably sized with extra shelves and a large number of good quality wooden hangers. Behind the couch near the veranda entrance was a door leading into the stateroom next door. It was locked of course. The veranda itself was wide, but not deep, with a teak deck, two lounge chairs and a small table. The outside railing was clear glass with a teak rail at the top. The dividers between verandas were small, not being much more than about six feet in height, open at the bottom and with a small gap next to the side of the cabin. Overall there was not much privacy on these verandas.
The entire wall leading to the veranda was glass with the usual sliding door; but this gave a lot of light and was quite pleasant.
The bathroom contained a tub shower and a single sink set in some form of faux marble. The floor was tile and the walls made of some sort of beige colored textured composition material which was clearly waterproof since it extended into the shower. area. As usual on board ship, the well designed shelving provided more than enough space for all our toiletries.
The walls of the cabin were of some high quality textured linen like material with dark wood crown molding and the same molding at the room corners. The ceiling was interesting, being formed of panels about 15 inches wide with recessed niches about one inch wide and one each deep in between. There were several nice prints above the bed and couch. The ceiling lights operated off a main switch next to the door into the cabin. Also, immediately to the right of the door was a small wall mirror with an attached shelf. The carpet was a blue and beige leaf pattern with the blue matching the blue of the couch and seat coverings. Terry bathrobes, slippers, throws, a very large umbrella, shoe horn and clothes brush were provided.
While we were looking the room over, and before our luggage arrived, we met Bogden, our Romanian butler, and he was a very pleasant and personable young man.
We met some friends from our earlier Istanbul tours for a light lunch in the Terrace Cafe, overlooking the Bosphorus; a very pleasant experience. By the time we returned from lunch our luggage had been delivered. After unpacking we went to the Reception Desk to activate our shipboard card with our credit card. We then went to the Library, which has always garnered much praise for its ambience and comfortable furniture.
We returned to our cabin for a briefing by Bodgen of the features of the Penthouse Class. They consist of: extra hangers on request; complimentary hors doeuvres daily, complimentary pressing of two items, full meal room service, and having our butler make for us any reservations we wanted at the specialty restaurants. We took advantage of this last to reserve two meals at Toscana and the Polo Grill.
We had arranged to meet one of our fellow tour couples for dinner, which was excellent; but a little slow. We had to skip dessert to get to the evening entertainment on time. All shows are held in the Nautica Lounge, which has cocktail lounge type seating, small tables with upholstered arm chairs or upholstered bench seat, all surrounding a dance floor used for the actual shows. The stage area is only large enough for the dance or show back-up band. Since the room does not hold many more than 350 people, timely attendance is a must. This first show was provided by local entertainers. The first half was not very exciting, but then the main feature, a belly dancer, came on and she was quite spectacular.
Nautica
In my review of our Insignia cruise down the Amazon in March 2005 I described that sister ship to Nautica. Nautica has had some upgrades, and they appeared in the form of beautiful Rosenthal china (hotel grade, but Versace design nonetheless) in the dining room and upgraded cabin furniture. But the ships were and are very elegant; with a most convenient layout and extremely comfortable. They hold only about 680 passengers and I believe this trip was full. They are mid-sized vessels of 30,000t tons displacement, with a length of 593 feet and a beam of 83 feet. The passenger space runs from Deck 3, with a few window cabins and tender access, to Deck 10, with an open Sun Deck 11 forward. Nautica has added 8 cabanas on the forward portion of this deck. They are basically canvas affairs, with a canvas roof and dividers between cabanas. A day bed for two is provided along with fruit skewers in the morning, ice cream in the afternoon, along with afternoon tea, ice towel wraps, a complimentary 10 minute chair massage; and discounts at the spa. All this is offered for $50.00 a day on port days and $100.00 per day on sea days; with a full cruise package available. We did not see many people taking advantage of this cabana service. The ship has two stair/elevator wells. Deck 4 has picture window cabins and medical center forward. Midships is occupied by the reception desk, excursion desk and two seating areas with a concierge desk, plus a grand staircase to Deck 5. This next deck has the Insignia Lounge with a dance floor and small stage for the orchestra forward. Proceeding aft you go through a small casino with 32 slot machines, one roulette wheel; two $5.00 minimum and two $10.00 minimum blackjack tables. Aft of this on one side is the photo shop and gallery and on the other the Martini Lounge with a piano. Proceeding to the stern you pass two boutique stores on either side before coming to an open Upper Hall with cocktail tables and side chairs. Then, down the starboard side you enter the Grand Bar which leads into the Grand Dining Room; the principal dining venue. Deck 6 is almost all verandah cabins except for two large suites forward and two aft. Deck 7 is the same. Deck 8 has the verandah suites, which basically are staterooms about 40% larger than the regular verandah cabins, or about the same size as Celebrity Sky Suites. Deck 8 forward is occupied by the bridge and officers quarters, and it also has two large suites aft. There are about 20 interior cabins on Decks 7 and 8 and 18 window cabins overlooking the lifeboats on Deck 6. Deck 9 has the spa and gym forward, the pool and teak pool deck with two Jacuzzis amidships and the Terrace Cafe buffet with its aft outside terrace completing this deck. It also has a card room and Cyber Space, the computer training and internet center. Deck 10 consists of the Horizon Lounge forward, a rubberized fitness track around both sides leading to the aft section which houses the library and the two specialty restaurants, Toscana and the Polo Grill. The Sun Deck on Deck 11 has a golf net and shuffleboard in addition to open deck space and the cabanas forward as mentioned. The self service laundry is opposite Stateroom 7076 and has 4 washers and 4 dryers. They are token operated with automatic detergent dispensers, There are also two ironing boards with irons. I visited it at 2:00 P.M. on the first sea day and only one washer and dryer were in operation.
The walls in the public areas are normally dark brown, with matte brass lighting fixtures, well upholstered furniture and nicely patterned carpeting. The Toscana Grill has cream walls with Doric half columns and prints of Roman scenes. The Polo Grill has medium dark brown walls with photos of Hollywood stars from Charlie Chaplin to Paul Newman. The walls in the passenger area are a soft cream and have framed prints. The cabin doors are royal blue with brass hardware on the outside also. The carpeting is patterned. The stairwells have soft brass railings with glass side panels containing a black outline floral design. The art in the stair wells is from the art auction supply, and some pieces were changed en route. The library is very large for a ship of this size, stretching across almost the entire width of the ship, with a number of comfortable sofas and chairs, and a false fireplace completing the illusion of a country house library. It is by far the nicest library we have ever seen. The selection of books was quite good for a small ship with fewer than 700 passengers. The library check out system is strictly on ones honor. As someone explained, the design calls for entertainment forward and food aft. The result was a ship that was the most user friendly we have ever encountered. We could get anywhere from our cabin very quickly, and used the stairs almost exclusively throughout the entire trip. I do not like to abuse the word elegant; but that truly epitomizes Nautica. It is a delight to the eye, convenient as a ship can be, and as pleasant a venue for 12 days as can be imagined.
Passenger Services
We found the office personnel at the Reception Desk uniformly friendly and helpful. The ship provides the normal news sheet; Oceania Currents and we found that it was delivered to our cabin relatively early each evening, usually between dinner and the entertainment. We also received a four to eight page daily satellite U.S.A. Times with world and general USA news, including sports. Before each port day we also received a Destination Services Port Information Sheet. This was primarily designed to promote tours, but actually had a lot of very useful general information. The one exception was that little information was provided on how to get to the Old City of Dubrovnik if you were not on a tour, and a number of people felt that those of us who like to do things on our own were treated poorly at that stop. The ships TV had BBC and European CNN, both of which had a few glitches from time to time. The TV also showed maps with the ships location, port information talks, a replay of lectures and a number of movies and old TV shows. For the suites with DVRs as part of their TV sets, there is a DVD library with 500+ titles available from Passenger Services.
Ocean Currents was quite informative, and listed the movies each day in addition to some good information on the stops we were making.
Except for the lifeboat drill announcement the limited public address announcements were not broadcast into the cabins. E-mail is available at $2.00 per session, which also means you are charged $2.00 for each incoming E-mail message. Cruise long packages are available. There are two E-mail computer stations in the Library in addition to the Cyber Space Room which was often crowded with very popular computer classes.
The Horizon Lounge has two binoculars fixed on stanchions, one forward starboard and one forward portside. There are also two telescope spyglasses on each side aft.
Food
The Grand Dining Room is an attractive venue, although in the center section it can become noisy; interfering somewhat with conversation. As noted before, the tableware was of excellent quality, appearing to give Crystal a run for its money, which is really saying something. The service was generally excellent and we never had to wait more than a few moments for people ahead of us to be seated. The service was very good, although at times a little rushed. While we normally do not like free style dining, preferring traditional seating with the same table companions and same wait staff; we had no complaints on Insignia and none here. We always requested shared seating, and met a number of people that way. We always enjoyed the Terrace Grill buffet for breakfast, and for the limited number of lunches on board. We went to Tapas on the Terrace one night and that was quite nice, although it did not truly have tapas as served in Barcelona. The selection offered at lunch was usually wide ranging and had some imagination including a Mexican lunch. This was rather mild for these Arizonans accustomed to a more authentic fare; but it was good nonetheless. The appearance of the Terrace Grill is extremely pleasant, with a cheerful light green and yellow theme. The seating is at armchairs with wood arms, and striped upholstered seats and backs. The tables are cultured marble and set with place mats, cloth napkins, glasses, cutlery and good quality china. At night, when set up for Tapas, the chinaware is in a brightly decorated pattern. There is a pizzeria on one side which doubles as an omelet station for breakfast on one side and another similar station on the other. The walls are decorated with murals and the windows have drapes which can be used to reduce the bright sunlight. We ate twice at the Toscana Room and once at the Polo Grill. The meals in the Toscana Dining Room can contain up to seven courses! Hot Appetizer, cold appetizer (antipasto), soup, salad, pasta, entrEe and dessert. Even limiting this somewhat results in too heavy and too long a meal. On our one experience with the Polo Grill my filet was done exactly as ordered, and on the whole this was a better experience. The service in both specialty restaurants was excellent and less rushed than in the main dining room. We ordered room service for one breakfast, and it was delivered promptly by our butler and was good, although without the selection offered at the buffet. The actual room service breakfast menu is very limited, but Bogden told us we could write in what we wished as suite guests, so we did so, but still felt we had fewer options than when we could graze the buffet lines.
The meals in the main dining room were all created by the French Chef, Jacques Pepin. The dinner menus always offered the same three signature items, beef, chicken and fish. The normal menu is typical of most cruise ships with a selection from three soups, four appetizers and five entrees, always including at least one fish dish and one pasta dish. The dessert menus are presented later and normally have six or so items. In addition dessert drinks are available. Coffee, cappuccino, espresso and tea were available without additional charge. One vegetarian dish is also available, and Edith normally chose this. She had one bad experience at one meal with a highly salted entree and a very oily salad; but otherwise the meals were quite excellent. There is no way that a central dining room serving several hundred people in a relatively short space of time can match a gourmet restaurant on land; but we certainly looked forward to dinner and were not disappointed. {I should note one exception to the foregoing - the lobster meal I had at the Silk Road on Crystal Serenity was one of the finest meals I have ever enjoyed anywhere.] We would rate Oceania as generally equal to Celebrity, with a slightly better buffet; and far better than any other cruise line.
I should not end this topic without mentioning the daily tea in the Horizon Lounge. This is a very attractive room, and the Paradise String Quartet played every afternoon for tea. The tea itself was quite substantial with sandwiches, cakes, tarts as well as smaller pastries in addition to either tea or coffee. Some of these were carried around on trays, some on a wheeled cart which had problems getting up one step to a portion of the Lounge, and others were available at a table in the back of the lounge where you could simply go and fill up your own plate. This was something we took advantage of almost every day since we often returned from shore trips in time to indulge ourselves. Only Crystal offers a comparable daily servings such as this. Princess, Celebrity and Holland America all have teas once or twice depending on the cruise length, and they tend to be more formal; but we really prefer Oceanias teatime.
Sea Days
We only had two sea days on this cruise. The first was as we sailed out the Dardanelles, past the Gallipoli Monument into the Aegean Sea. A one page, quite detailed information sheet described the area, its history and the story of the Battle of Gallipoli and the role of Kemal Ataturk. The lifeboat drill was held on this first sea day at 10:45 A.M., and went smoothly. There was an Enrichment Lecture at 9:30, but we had gotten up too late for that. A digital camera hints program was held in the Cyber Space Room but was so crowded I could not participate. Aside from that there was an Art Auction, the usual health and fitness seminars selling spa services, bridge and a line dance class. Pretty much the same routine occupied the second sea day towards the end of the cruise between Dubrovnik and our debarkation port of Athens. Altogether the sea day offerings were pretty minimal. We had a better effort made on Insignias Amazon cruise, but perhaps the nature of that cruise and its larger number of sea days allowed for a more extensive program.
Entertainment
As usual, this portion of the cruise had its ups and downs. As on Insignia, we greatly enjoyed the string quartet, this time composed of two young men and two young women from the Ukraine. Their offerings were more inclined to show tunes and light classical, rather than a fairly good inclusion of straight classical music provided on Insignia, but it made for delightful, relaxed and elegant listening all the same. The evening Nautica Lounge entertainment was varied. There was a violinist who was not bad musically, but whose English was pretty awful, making his announcements about his selections virtually unintelligible. He did two shows. There was a pianist who did not live up to the extremely fulsome presentation provided by the Cruise Director. We heard that the comic impressionist was pretty poor from people who had been on the prior cruise, so we skipped him both times he appeared. The Show Time entertainment was provide by four young singers who were working together for the first time. This showed up in a little stiffness in their initial show, but they had relaxed with a few more rehearsals and were pleasant if not spectacular. By far the best performers only appeared for one full show, and this was a British couple, Paula King and Barnaby Pout. They both had good solid stage voices and knew how to deliver a song. The final offering was a show by the Cruise Director, Leslie Jon. We did not see it and were told we had not missed much. There was also a regular pianist in the Martini Lounge, but he did not seem to be playing much and we never heard him, even walking past that lounge. This was in contrast to his counterpart on Insignia who seemed to play a good deal and often had an audience.
The Cruise Director was highly visible and approachable. He would listen to your issues and respond as well as he could. He did not attempt to be a comedian too often, and this was good. While his introductions and follow-up remarks concerning the entertainers were full of the normal semi-hysterical fulminations, we have all gotten used to that and ignore it.
Itinerary and Ports of Call
As we noted in the beginning of this review, Istanbul was the attraction for this cruise. If one had a full week, one could see a lot in this city, but the three and one-half days we had there were very enjoyable.
Kusadasi and Ephesus
After our sea day sail through the Dardanelles and into the Aegean Sea we arrived in Kusadasi for what was really day four of the cruise (the first two being spent in Istanbul). There we were met by our guide Nejat, who actually lives in Izmir, only about 40 miles away from Kusadasi; and driven through the fairly modern port city into the country side towards Ephesus. This is an archeological site of great significance dating as far back as 1500-1000 B.C. The harbor, which was the reason for its existence, started filling with silt shortly after the Christian era began and the city was abandoned by 550 A.D. On a hill nearby there is a small stone house set in a quiet hillside cypress and pine grove which was purportedly the home of Mary, where she was brought by the Apostle John after the Crucifixion. The evidence of this is not conclusive, but circumstantial. If true, John found a lovely place for her. It was quite crowded with tourists even though we got an early start. We then visited a ceramic factory; a small place where they were making bowls, cups etc. by hand. One of our group bought a large bowl and had it shipped home. We had lunch at a local restaurant and then went to Ephesus proper. The ruins are fairly extensive and contain marvelous examples of various stages in Greco-Roman-Persian architecture. There is a well preserved amphitheater which holds probably 20,000 people and was actually used for concerts in recent years until the crowds caused too much wear and tear. Edith and I climbed virtually to the top. There was a group of Japanese tourists at the bottom. Four of the ladies got up and went out onto the arena floor to sing. We could clearly hear their small Japanese voices in the top row. This was very impressive. All in all this was a pretty great tour for a full day at $80.00 per person (not including lunch). At the conclusion we paid Nejat for all four days and actually received a discount.
Here we arranged our own tour through a local tourist agency, Sarantis Travel, reached through website: www.pytheas-travel.gr . There was a little confusion over credit card information but it all worked out. We were met a little late by our driver in a Passat. She spoke rudimentary English. We traveled with a couple we had contacted on the net. We stopped briefly at a small, but pretty beach along the southern coast. We then arrived in Lindos, about 40 miles from Rhodes City. This had been the original port city but, like Ephesus, lost its ability to dock ships through silt filling the harbor. The principal, and very striking feature of the town was its Acropolis - a smaller but well preserved version on the one in Athens. It took some serious climbing to reach the top, but the views were marvelous. We went back through the town and had an excellent gelato at a small shop for a very reasonable price. The town itself has no real hotels, only a number of homes converted into pensions. We then drove over to the north side of the island. There were only a few farms in between and the countryside surrounding Lindos reminded us of the Big Rez the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona - very dry with brown hills. As we got over the mountains running down the center of the island the land greened up a little. We drove back to Rhodes City through this northern section, and past the airport and a lot of tourist hotels as we got closer to town. We then were dropped off near the old walled medieval city and met our tour guide; a very bright young lady who spoke not only very fine English, but Spanish, Italian, French and Turkish. She pointed out that Rhodes is a forty minute ferry ride to Turkey, but a sixteen hour ride to Athens. She led us around the old city pointing out and describing the buildings built by the Knights of St. John [officially named: The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta]: when they controlled the island from 1309 to 1522. They were forced out by the Ottomans and found their way to Malta where they reestablished their order, controlling that island until Napoleon took it over. While mostly French, the order had English, German, Spanish and Italian members, and each country had its own headquarters building. The city was restored by the Italians when they occupied the island from about 1912 to the end of WWII, when it was returned to Greek control. Rhodes is an altogether fascinating island, and the medieval old city a marvelous place.
We returned to the ship in the late afternoon. Dinner was very good but little rushed and the waiters forgot to serve coffee with dessert. But the sommelier also forgot to bill us for Ediths wine. Shh! Dont tell Oceania about the wine!
Delos and Mykonos
Delos is a very small island. It was considered a holy sanctuary and no one was permitted to be born or to die there. Now, no one lives there or stays overnight. The ruins are extensive and some are quite attractive. It is reached by tender. We were there on a Monday when no regular tours were offered and with no ferries arriving from other islands, so special arrangements were made for Nautica. Edith and I had not signed up for a tour so we wandered away and started to climb Mt. Kithnos to get an overall view. We were chased away by a rude tour guide who told us we had to remain with the regular tour; at that point nowhere near us. We did some looking around on our own however; although this was an aggravating experience.
There is not much point in staying on Delos for more than a few hours, so we sailed to Mykonos at noon, arriving about and hour and a half later. This is a small but busy town, with a pretty semi-circular harbor and gleaming white buildings. There were four other cruise ships with us, all tendering in. These were Grand Princess, Regent Seven Seas Navigator, and the Louis Cruise Lines ships Perla and Sea Diamond. We enjoyed ourselves walking behind the stores in the residential neighborhoods. We rode back to the ship with our Cruise Director. The ship did not sail until 11:00 P.M., but we doubt if any of our fellow passengers were able to enjoy Mykonos fabled party-party night life since all had to be back on board by 10:30 and the evening does not begin on the islands until that time.
Santorini
As you can see from the Google Earth satellite photo below; Santorini is a unique island. It actually is the crater [caldera] of a volcano which exploded around 1500 B.C. We had been there before and followed the same routine. I went up the cable car and Edith, who does not like heights, rode up on a donkey. We missed connections and wandered around for a while looking for each other. I found an ATM and then went to the bus station where she showed up. We took the bus to Oia at the north end of the island for 1.10 Euros, up from the 0.85 we paid in 2003. The bus was newer and larger though, and very crowded as before The return bus trip involved much maneuvering by the crowds waiting to get on it as it backed and turned several times before opening its doors. Edith got on through the back door and saved me a seat. We returned to Thira by going down the hill from Oia and proceeding along the flat area occupying the eastern portion of the island. We had not seen this part of the island before and there was a fair amount of agriculture, especially grape arbors for Santorinis own wine. Thira is about 40% of the way south down the island, approximately opposite the southern tip of the small island occupying the northwest quadrant of the caldera. We bought some rather expensive wine at 18 Euros, in town and returned to the ship, walking down the hill from Thira to where the tenders picked us up. The tenders this time were not ships boats, but provided by a tender service, which could have learned a lot about customer service from Oceania. The crew was pretty obnoxious, pulling away from the dock when half full, and then returning after backing around the dock area for a few minutes to no apparent purpose.
We noted that mules were still going up the hill at 5:54, shortly before we sailed, perhaps because twoother cruise ships, Regents Seven Seas Navigator and Ibis, unknown cruise line, were still anchored in the caldera.
Katakolon and Olympia
Katakolon is a small port serving primarily as a sea gateway to Olympia, the site of the original Olympic games. We docked at 11:00 and arranged a round trip taxi ride for four of us for a total of 90 Euros; pretty much the going rate. The charge for a very nice museum combined with the Olympic grounds adjoining the museum was 9.00 Euros. One should allow about 45-60 minutes for the museum, which was designed to let in natural light, making non-flash photography possible. A relatively complete tour of the stadium grounds will take a little more than an hour, so 3 hours would enable you to see everything and take detailed notes. It started to get crowded in the museum, but the grounds were easy to see, although as we left there were many buses from Costa Victoria (which had not been there when we docked) arriving. Be advised to wear a good sun hat as it is quite warm.
Our driver picked us up at the museum entrance on time as promised and we returned to Nautica, about a 20 minute ride, by 2:30. We had a snack at the Waves Grill outside the Terrace Grill, and went back into town to buy Edith a bottle of Greek wine at a less expensive price than the Santorini wine, to use on the ship; since she was saving the good wine for home.
Corfu
We docked at 8:00 and looked for our car rental people. They never showed up, but there was a rental agency in the pier building, so we picked up a small, cute red Nissan Micra. It has air conditioning, a stick shift and four doors, with no trunk, its size being very handy on Corfus narrow, winding roads. We drove to the north shore over some hills. The coast was beautiful, but the water too cold and the air too windy for swimming. We had lunch at a seaside cafe in a town called Roda, surrounded by Brits on vacation. We were provided with two substantial Greek crepes, quite good; wine for Edith and tea for me; all for 12 Euros; a fine meal. We then drove over to the Adriatic side and up to the striking Castle San Angelo, several hundred feet above the water and with a view back across the island. Corfu is very hilly, green and attractive, with much new condo type construction for European visitors. We returned in time for tea, having spent 10 Euros for 9 liters of gas or about $5.40 US per gallon. However, this was enough for the whole trip. When we returned to Corfu City, or Kerkyra as it is spelled in the Roman alphabet (road signs fortunately used this alphabet as well as the unintelligible Greek alphabet); there were two ships in the harbor. Our instructions on returning the rental car were to leave it in a parking space at the dock, be certain not to lock the door, and to put the keys under the floor mat. I suppose there is not much future in stealing a car on a fairly small Greek island.
By getting to Corfu (as well as Katakolon) early our Captain had secured preferential docking rights. One of these ships in Corfu was Golden Princess, which carries from 2600 to 3100 passengers. The other was a ship called Blue Dream operated by Pullmantur Cruise Lines. At tea I chatted with Paula King, the British singer and she told me that this ship was actually our sister ship, originally Renaissance 5 , and bought out of bankruptcy by Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise line, along with Renaissance 6, now called Blue Star . When I looked at it through my binoculars I could see the furnishings on deck seemed to be plain white plastic on the Terrace Lounge area. There did not appear to be any penthouse suites on Deck 8, and overall it probably was nowhere close to Oceanias three former Renaissance vessels, Nautica, Insignia and Regatta. The Pullmantur website has a photo of Blue Star and Regatta side by side in Dubrovnik; the Spanish ship painted dark blue and Regatta gleaming white.
Paula was delightful to chat with, showing a wide range of knowledge about cruise ships and obviously very much enjoying working at sea. She and her partner, who is also her fiancE, had mentioned during their show about residing in a small town in the south of England and when I asked her which town, she said, as I knew she would, that it was Eastbourne. I told her we had spent a week at a time share there, and she was as delighted with this, as we were with her town.
Dubrovnik
Once again we arrived early, and with no other cruise ship in sight, which meant we were able to dock. The Pullmantur site had showed Blue Dream docked there, with Golden Princess barely squeezing in behind it and another cruise ship in the harbor. We had been able to dock when we were last there on Millennium in 2003 but recent postings on some boards have noted that Celebritys ships were scheduled to tender on their arrival in Dubrovnik.
As we noted above, we were left pretty much on our own to find our way to the Old Town, which was not easy since there was little information provided at the pier. We walked into town a little way to change Euros into Kuna and caught a city bus to the Old City. This time we did not walk the wall, but covered a lot of this charming little city. It was quite crowded with tourists who obviously arrived by land. We noted that the prices for pastries and coffee had gone up quite a bit since our prior visit three years ago, but still were reasonable by European standards. We returned to the ship by 3:00 and lazed around a little. I went into the pool, which was cool but nice, and was easily able to find a comfortable deck chair for a short while before tea. Altogether a very relaxed day once we were able to work out the bus system.
Second Sea Day
We had room service for breakfast, but as noted, the selection is limited compared to the Terrance Buffet. The lunch theme was Italian, and good as always. For lack of any other entertainment we went to the art auction, and enjoyed a very active auctioneer who sold quite a lot. We went to an Oceania Club meeting of prior Oceania cruisers. We were told there were 140 on the ship, which seemed to be at its capacity of 675. The meeting was about future cruises, but only had limited information about the rest of 2006. When I tried to inquire about 2007, I was advised to try the website, which is free at Cyber Space, but the site contained very little about 2007. It now is available through November 2007.
Piraeus and Delphi
Here again we had arranged for a rental car, which was a little late showing up. We drove our rental agent partly out of Piraeus and dropped him off within sight of the main freeway to Delphi. We had been to the Acropolis and to Poseidons temple in Sounion on our 2003 cruise. The trip was relatively easy. We traveled on a main freeway, mostly through flat countryside with much agriculture, until we approached the mountains and could see Mount Parnassus with snow still near the top. We then left the highway and started climbing on a country road into the hills eventually arriving at Delphi. It was fairly well crowded with visitors, although none from any cruise ships since we were the only ship in the harbor and there were no ships tours of Delphi. We had anticipated that there would only be one temple building housing the Oracle and were surprised at the extent of the town and the number of buildings as well as a substantial arena. The main temple used by the Oracle still had several large pillars intact. We marveled at how they could have gotten all the pillars and building blocks up the side of what is a very steep and high hill. The site overlooks a long and very pretty valley and is certainly a striking location for what was basically an area of worship. There is an extensive and excellent museum and, as at Olympia, you can get a single ticket for both museum and ruins for 9.00 Euros. Greece has an amazing array of ruins from its Golden Age, from the Parthenon on the Acropolis Hill in Athens to Poseidons Temple at Sounion, to Delos, the Acropolis in Lindos on Rhodes to Olympia and Delphi. They are all amazingly beautiful in their individual styles and locations, and worth the effort to get there in all cases.
After we left, we stopped at a small town about ten miles away called Arachova for lunch. The restaurant we chose was occupied entirely by local residents, although the waitress found a menu written in somewhat imaginative English. The food was substantial and tasty, if not exactly gourmet, and the atmosphere very pleasant. The trip back was without incident, although we had to buy a calling card to contact our rental car agent so he could come and pick it up at the pier. This also involved a considerable wait since all the telephones were occupied by crew members making lengthy calls home. Back on board we packed and went to dinner, retiring immediately thereafter due to our extremely early rising the following day.
Debarkation
Oceania had booked us on a 6:00 A.M. Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt to start the return trip home. This meant getting up at 2:30 for a quick breakfast and then boarding the bus at 3:30 or thereabouts. Fortunately it was easy to locate our bags and they were loaded on the buses for us. An Oceania representative accompanied us on the bus. Driving through Piraeus at this time of day was fast, but we could imagine the problems once the rush hour started. We then got on a freeway, but the total trip was well over half an hour. The airport had only light crowds and we boarded without difficulty. We had a wait of almost five hours in Frankfurt and a weather delay of three hours on the runway at OHare in Chicago, arriving in Phoenix at 11:30 after being up more than 24 hours. This was not a fun day, even though the actual debarkation from the ship was smooth and easy. We did hear that those who opted to spend time in Athens may have had a problem because a taxi strike was scheduled to start at 5:00A.M. the day we left.
Overall Impression
We wanted to see and enjoy Istanbul, and we certainly did. We looked forward to a comfortable cruise and our upgraded Penthouse Suite provided that. We looked forward to Oceanias overall elegance, great food and charming surroundings, and Nautica lived up to our hopes. We expected good company, and scored well again. We hoped we would enjoy the stops we had made before and the ones which were new to us, and our expectations were met. We loved Rhodes, and were surprised by how much we enjoyed it. Ephesus is very impressive, and Marys home a bonus we did not anticipate. Delos and Mykonos were enjoyable, although warm. Corfu is a delightful and laid back place. Olympia is quite interesting. Santorini and Dubrovnik had been visited before and were enjoyed again; but if we return we will opt for a different day on shore. Delphi was strikingly beautiful, and somewhat of a surprise in its extent and the beauty of its hillside site.
We would recommend this cruise without hesitation. We found Nautica extremely convenient and handy for getting in and out of the various ports, aside from being a beautiful little ship with excellent service and food. Anyone considering this area for cruising should plan on at least three if not four days in Istanbul and two or three in Athens at the other end (vice versa if you go the reverse way). While we commented on Oceanias weakness in the entertainment arena, especially on sea days; sometimes on a cruise like this with a great number of port days it is nice to have a sea day with little to do but relax.
Our fellow passengers were delightful. We think that on cruises with fewer people, there is more passenger interaction, and everyone is pleased to recognize and speak to others that we have shared time with in various venues. Of course the fact that we knew several couples from our Istanbul tours helped also.
Oceania still tends to nickel and dime a little; with an 18% service charge on a $10.00 yoga lesson coming to mind. We thought the excursion pricing was high, but Europe does charge more than the Caribbean for example with its highly competitive tourist business. We also feel that they should not have put us on a 6:00 A.M. plane out of Athens. We know there were flight options, and one couple who complained a lot, got a later flight.
But these were all pretty minor matters given the overall joy of this cruise, the ship, the crew and the itinerary. Oceanias solitary substantial weakness is the fact that it only has three ships, thus limiting its itineraries. We are going to have to do some serious looking to find one in the future that we have not already done; but when we do, we will be happy to sign up with this cruise line again.
Bon Voyage
Phil H’s Full Rating Summary
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