Cruise Review: Oceania Nautica

The third ship to be added to the Oceania Cruises fleet, Nautica continues the line’s concept of luxury cruising at value-for-money prices. Its special moments that set Nautica apart.

Oceania Nautica, Oceania Cruises, Oceania Cruises

Oceania Nautica will be sailing from Dubai on November 22nd, bound for Cape Town, South Africa, on a 30-night Indian Ocean Voyage, calling at some of the most exotic and out-of-the-way ports and islands in the world. Cruise Arabia takes a look at Nautica and what it’s like to sail on her as she makes her way to the Gulf.

Oceania Nautica was the last ship to join Oceania Cruises’ fleet before the line ordered their first new-build, the Oceania Mariner, launched in 2011. Nautica, joined Oceania in 2005 as the R Five and received a comprehensive refurbishment in 2010, which shows as you explore her public rooms. Nautica is consistently rated as exceeding the expectations of those who sail on her, probably because a cruise on Nautica comes with what we like to call unexpected ‘special moments’ – service that goes above and beyond when you least expect it.

This largely due to the way in which Oceania have positioned themselves in the international cruise market. Oceania Cruises is what the industry calls a ‘premium’ cruise line, offering standards of service and amenities that often meet, and even exceed, those of luxury lines, such as Regent Seven Seas, Seabourne, Silversea and others. For instance, a 12-day cruise with Oceania in September of 2011 from Athens to Istanbul started at US $4,499 per person sharing, while a cruise with Silversea, a leading luxury line, started at US $5,998 for a 10-day cruise in the same month from Venice to Istanbul.

Oceania Nautica in Greek Isles, Oceania Cruises

Nautica in the Greek Isles

There is, of course, a noticeable difference between a cruise on a luxury cruise line and a premium line. The suites aboard Nautica are smaller, many services are not complimentary and, a major factor for many people, drinks are not included in the cruise fare. But, if the opinions of fellow passengers are anything to go by, Oceania more than makes up for this with special attention to detail and exemplary service, as well as a truly superb ship.

Nautica has four basic stateroom categories, with differentiations within each category. The Deluxe Ocean View (C1), a middle-of-the-road-type stateroom among Nautica’s offerings, was found to be very well-appointed and decorated with extremely good taste. Although only 165 square feet, this stateroom offered a signature Prestige Tranquility Bed, which reflects Oceania’s attention to sleeping comfort, as only the suites onboard can truly be classed as ‘staterooms’ – the compact nature of the bathroom testifying to this. A separate sitting area and breakfast table are provided however, with a large picture window next to the bed, as well as a writing desk and stationary and wireless internet access. The room was tidied twice daily and all items on the room service menu were complimentary, although the Wireless internet comes with a fee.

Deluxe outside cabin, Oceania Nautica

Deluxe Ocean View stateroom

The room was indicative of the rest of the ship. Nautica is a truly beautiful ship inside and out. Her public rooms are indeed the last word in taste, evoking old-school elegance and subtlety, with none of the gaucheness that is sometimes displayed on the high seas through over-the-top entertainment architecture. Ordered for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises in the late 1990s, Nautica originally sailed as the R Five and John McNeece was appointed as her principal interior designer. He was given a brief to create interiors styled on an elegant British country club, with classic luxury predominating throughout. This he achieved with remarkable success.

Although the interior decor is lovely, the layout itself of Deck 5 could do with a rethink to our minds, as the Grand Dining Room, the ship’s main restaurant, is way aft behind the Grand Bar, which, as the name suggests, is the primary location for pre-dinner drinks. But, because this bar is extremely small, tucked away to starboard, it fills up very quickly and finding a space could be a problem, although we had the option of going way forward to The Lounge for drinks, or to Horizons Bar, also forward, but on Deck 10. Another problem with Deck 5 is the boutiques shopping area, which sometimes seemed a little cut off from the rest of the ship’s public spaces and could do with having another bar integrated into the shopping area to prevent it feeling like ‘dead space’.

Oceania Cruises have embraced the concept of unstructured cruising, so the lifestyle onboard is not constrained by formal nights and what-not and we appreciated the freedom of being able to wear what one likes to dinner (within reason, of course). Nautica has four dining rooms, the Grand Dining Room, Waves (casual poolside grill) and the specialty Polo Grill and Toscana restaurants. Although space limitations prevent us being able to detail every restaurant’s unique attributes and specialties, it should be noted that only guests staying in the ship’s suites are able to eat at the high-end Polo Grill and Toscana more than once, while all other guests get just one booking.

Oceania Nautica Grand Dining Room, Oceania Cruises

Grand Dining Room

The Grand Dining Room’s offerings, however, were good to excellent and Waves was a wonderful location in which to eat because of the al fresco atmosphere, which was particularly pleasant in the Mediterranean in September. Although not one of the ship’s main dining rooms, the Terrace Café, aft on Deck 9 is also a great place to have lunch with a reasonable buffet, although the tapas offerings in the evening were a slight disappointment, but were one of the ship’s few weak points.

Breakfast was always a joy aboard Nautica. Early risers will find breakfast at the Terrace Café, with the ship’s wake streaming out over the ocean, particularly enjoyable, although later in the morning this buffet area can become crowded, which is largely due to its prime real estate and quality breakfast offerings from freshly baked pastries and fresh fruit, such as bowls of blueberries and raspberries, to ready-made eggs, bacon and toast…plus far more, which can’t be fitted in here. The Grand Dining Room is a great option for those who awake later in the day as it is always half-empty in the mornings when it’s English elegance in warm pastels set the tone for the relaxing day ahead.

A nice touch by Oceania is the publishing of the Grand Dining Room’s lunch and dinner menus in the daily newsletter ‘Currents’, which gave us plenty of time to decide what to order if we were thinking of dining in currents on that particular day. Another special touch by Oceania is High Tea, which was served at 4pm in Horizons against the musical backdrop of the ship’s string quartet, which set the tone of the afternoon and gave the daily event a sense of occasion.

These special moments are complemented by the service aboard Nautica, which we found to be universally consummate with all we had come to expect from the promotional material released by Oceania. Some officers at times appear distant, but everyone from the restaurants, lounges and bars to the stewards delivered service with a genuine smile and a desire to please that was not fawning or subservient. A delicate balance indeed, which Oceania has nailed.

On most days, around mid-morning we enjoyed the complimentary coffee in Horizons Bar, which doubles as an observation lounge in daylight hours, located, as it is, way forward on Deck 10 with a great view over the bow. The expansive library , one deck down, is a great place to spend the afternoon and read up on upcoming destinations. Here, we find another of Nautica’s few weaknesses, there is not enough reference material on upcoming ports and this was also reflected in the entertainment offerings onboard, which were varied and insightful, but could have done with a few regionally-targeted lectures and talks.

Oceania Nautica Staircase, Oceania Cruises

Grand Staircase

Our 12-day cruise included 12 port calls, with double days in Istanbul. Destination-intensive cruise itineraries are a hallmark of Oceania Cruises and there is a continuation of this theme in the cruise line’s excursions programs, although the diversity at times felt a little overwhelming. On this 12-day Greek Isles Odyssey there were no less than 96 separate excursions offered! With ten to 15 different offerings in some ports. Potential passengers should not that on this particular cruise, most short excursions necessarily involved extensive walking and standing time, making it impractical for less mobile guests.

Oceania Cruises simplify things somewhat by also selling two excursions packages, the Discovery Collection and the Adventure Collection, which are targeted at first time cruisers and seasoned voyagers respectively and were sold for US $759 and US $899 per person with one pre-chosen excursion in eight of the 12 ports visited, which worked out to savings of around US $141 to US $151. By and large they were well organized and insightful, while some passengers said that other times they seemed not to be worth the price. Of course, a short excursion with any cruise line usually includes experiences that can be arranged individually for a much lower price, but one pays for the convenience and this is a major plus-point.

Any sense of dissatisfaction, however, quickly evaporated upon returning to the ship. Boarding from the passenger gangway, which leads directly into the warm and inviting elegance of the Reception Hall, we were welcomed back onboard like old friends, but it didn’t feel false. Indeed, the crew’s friendliness toward guests is beyond anything one might experience on any other cruise line and is a distinguishing feature of Oceania. If you ask a member of the cruise staff a question (that to them may seem obvious), such as what time is High Tea, they won’t tell you to look in the daily program, they’ll answer your question for you. If there is a problem with your food in one of the dining rooms, it will be fixed and more often than not, the chef will come out to find out how the problem might be avoided next time.

Little touches like these, which don’t cost much and therefore aren’t added to your cruise fare, are what make Oceania, a premium cruise line, feel like a luxury one.

Destinations in 12-day Greek Isles Odyssey

1 Athens – Departed 10pm

The birthplace of Western civilization itself, Nautica sailed from Athens at 10pm at night, which gave guests most of the day to explore this iconic and ancient city. No visit to Athens is complete without a tour of the Acropolis, the place at which the ancient tribes of Athens were unified into a single city state through a process called synoikismos. The city’s classical ruins are, of course, its most famous feature. Of particular interest was the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion and the ancient city of Corinth, which lends its name to the Corinth Channel – marvel of modern engineering.

The birthplace of Western civilization, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world

2 Nauplion – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm

The one-time capital of Greece until being usurped by Athens in 1834, Nauplion has the feel of an aged aristocrat with its neoclassical architecture and ruins that reveal the fascinating history of this pre-classical settlement. The Acronauplia, or Inner Castle, dates back thousands of years and was expanded over the years by theByzantines, Franks, Venetians, and Ottomans as the city changed hands, being sold and conquered through history. In many ways the city is as intriguing and diverse as Athens, but without any of the frantic pace that blights any national capital. Nauplion is wonderfully relaxed. A favourite experience was a climb to the top of the Venetian fortress of Palamidi where a spectacular view of the city can be taken in.

More relaxed than Athens, Nauplion is as architecturally fascinating

3 Zakynthos – Arrived 8am – Departed 5pm

Named after the island on which it was founded (the third largest in the Ionian Sea), Zakynthos is fairly modern so its buildings are not as fascinating as Athens or Nauplion, but this town’s major draw card is the coastline on which it is located. The town curves around a scenic bay and its beaches are not to be missed, especially the ones where Caretta-caretta sea turtles can be found nesting, although in September, it was just after nesting season. The Explorer Collection excursion package included a Highlights of Zakynthos tour, which was around 4 hours and 15 minutes and included several interesting stops and photo opportunities, including the 14th-Century-built Church of St. Mavra, located in the village of Maherado and Greek Mezedes and a traditional folkloric show at Kampi after a scenic walk (US $105 if purchased individually).

The beaches and coastline of this island are its major draw-factor

4 Corfu – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm

The second largest of the islands in the Ionian Sea, dating back as far as 1300 BC, Corfu’s history is a long and torturous litany of conquest, conquer, occupation, liberation and ultimately, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The island and its towns wear their history on their sleeves, with ancient forts, castles, palaces, temples and administrative buildings telling the story of the island. The island ultimately became a playground for the royalty and aristocracy of Europe following the enlightenment and the US $125-per-person Wonderful Palaces of Corfu tour included the Achilleion Palace, built for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria and purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany after she was assassinated. The 1828-built Mon Repo Palace was the home of the second British Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, Sir Frederic Adam and was donated to the Greek royal family who regularly stayed at the palace until King Constantine was sent into exile in 1974.

The Achilleion Palace was built for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, but she was assassinated shortly after it was completed

5 Katakolon – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm

A quaint little seaside town, one wouldn’t think this was the birthplace of the Olympic Games way back in 776 BC. The actual games were first held in Olympia to the east and the Ancient Olympia tour includes a short drive through the Greek country side to the foot of Kronion hill where the expansive Temple of Zeus and numerous temples and altars still stand. Walking the hallowed grounds is truly a once in a lifetime experience while additional tours of the Leonidaion, a former guesthouse, and Pheidias’ workshop, where he created his revered statue of Zeus are memorable backdrops.

The ancient village of Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic games, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece

6 Monemvasia – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm

The site of a medieval fortress, this little town is built entirely on a plateau that forms part of a peninsula off the east coast of the Peloponnese. The plateau is about 300 metres wide and 1 kilometre long and is jam-packed with medieval streets and narrow alleyways, making it a wonderful site for walking tours. Known as the ‘Gibraltar of the East’, Monemvasia’s uninhabited Upper Town is home to an ancient castle, a monastery dating back to 1150 and Byzantine (Roman) churches, while the heavily fortified Lower Town contains the Muslim mosque, which houses the city’s archaeological collection. For the intrepid, perched high on a Peloponnesian hill there is Mystras, the last Byzantine stronghold against the invading Ottomans.

The Byzantine’s Rock of Gibraltar, this fascinating fortified medieval town is where an empire made its last stand

7 Aghios Nikolaos (Crete) – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm
A coastal town on the Greek island of Crete, Aghios Nikolaos dates back to the Bronze Age and contained a number of gems. One could tour fascinating ancient Minoan and Byzantine villages, as well as a monastery and the Palace of Knossos on the other side of the island, reconstituted by Arthur Evans – once the heart of the Bronze Age Minoan Civilization. The city of Aghios Nikolaos also sits partially on the ruins of Lato pros Kamara, another ancient Bronze Age city.
 
The Palace of Knossos is the archeological gem of this stop and is resplendent, having recently been reconstituted by Arthur Evans

8 Rhodes – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm

One of the most famous ancient cities in the world, Rhodes as it is known today was built in 408 BC and was one of the major city states of ancient Greece. It is fairly easy for one to conduct a private walking tour of the old fortified city and see the major sites, such as the impressive ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes and the truly memorable Grand Master’s Palace, or Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, a fortress from the 14th century marking just one period in this island’s rich history. For those less interested in history, the north side of the island is a haven of tourist hot spots, while the south contains some of the best beaches in the region.

The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is one of the island’s most famous landmarks

9 Santorini – Arrived 8am – Departed 6pm

A famous tourist destination, this island is best known for its white-washed village of Oia and Fira atop steep cliffs overlooking the island’s lagoon. These are great photo opportunities, with stunning views of the Aegean Sea. The island is also home to some of the best beaches in the world. The Santorini Highlights tour started with a scenic boat ride, landing at Athinios and tours of a monastery and a winery, as well as the Museum of Prehistoric Thira, following which great photo opportunities are provided with a cable car ride down to the pier. The three hour tour was priced at US $145 per person and necessarily involved much walking, sometimes up steep gradients so the cruise line warns against those with limited ability taking this tour – other excursions making greater use of an air-conditioned minibus are also offered.

The cliff top towns on Santorini island have some of the most spectacular views one will ever see
10 Delos – Arrived 8am – Departed 11am

Nautica stopped for a half day at Delos, one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece due to its fabled reputation as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis in Greek mythology. Touring this uninhabited islands remains is a wonderfully surreal experience with grand statues and pillars, one integral parts of impressive temples, standing lonely and seemingly out-of-place.

The row of lions guarding the ancient temple on Delos makes for an impressive and surreal sight
11 Mykonos – Arrived 1pm – Departed 11pm

The afternoon and much of the evening was spent on the island of Mykonos, a favourite playground of the rich and famous since the 1950s when tourism transformed this island from a sleepy fishing and ship building village into a hotspot for visitors. It’s white-washed streets and seaside character make this quaint little town on the island of the same name a lovely place to end the day, especially while sipping a beverage in one of the many waterfront tavernas.

There are waterfront tavernas, or bars, aplenty in Mykonos

12 Ephesus – Arrived 8am – Departed 3pm

One of the major tourist attractions in Turkey, Ephesus was an ancient Greek city and later became the second largest city in the Roman Empire behind Rome itself. The ruins here give visitors an intimate view of a city that once contained some of the major wonders of the ancient world. The Antique Ephesus tour (US $95 per head) took guests on a stroll through the magnificent Roman ruins of this once great city with stops at the Odeon theatre, the beautifully restored Celsus Library, the public baths and the Grand Theatre, where St. Paul once preached to as many as 24,000 people. The tour ended in Kusadasi where there were shopping opportunities for those interested in buying antique jewellery and handmade carpets.

The ancient city of Ephesus was once the Roman Empire’s grandest settlement after the capital, Rome, and remnants of its history astound to this day

13 Istanbul – Arrived 12pm

Oceania Nautica ended her Greek Isles Odyssey Cruise in the largest city in Turkey, a city that famously straddles two continents and is unlike any other. This sprawling metropolis, home to some 13.2 million people is the third largest city in Europe after London and Moscow and preserves a history stretching way back into the ancient word. Istanbul is renowned as growing up on the foundations of the grandest city in Europe during the Middle Ages, the iconic Constantinople, which was the last capital of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Due to its size and significance, Ocean Cruises dedicated two days to this amazing economic and cultural hub and offered no less than 17 distinct excursions into the city, all focusing on different aspects of the city. One could spend weeks here and only scratch the surface…in fact, we wish we had!

Oceania Nautica at a Glance:

Launched:                                         1998

Refurbished (most recent):            2010

GRT:                                                   30,277

Length:                                              593’ 6’’ (180.9m)

Beam:                                                83’ 4’’ (25.4m)

Capacity (double occupancy):       684

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