Oceania Nautica – Dawn of Civilisation Cruise

Nautica's amended itineraryMy wife and I joined Oceania’s cruise ship Nautica at Istanbul for a 21 night cruise entitled ‘Dawn of Civilisation’ with an itinerary that would take us across the Eastern Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal, into the Red Sea and eventually circumnavigate the Arabian Peninsular to Dubai.

The original itinerary scheduled overnight stops at Haifa, Ashdod, Safaga, Aqaba and Dubai with single day visits to Kusadasi, Salalah and Muscat.

Unfortunately, tension between Israel and Gaza meant that first Ashdod, and then the Haifa visit, were cancelled the day we sailed from Istanbul leaving Oceania Cruises, much to their credit, to quickly substitute alternative port visits to Piraeus and the islands of Mykonos, Rhodes and Limassol, Cyprus.

Though slightly disappointed at the cancellation we accepted these things do happen and we were able to cancel our privately arranged tours to Jerusalem and Gallilee.

On a brighter note we now had two visits that we had not made before – Mykonos and Limassol, Cyprus.

The  Nautica is a  684 passenger smaller style cruise ship which Oceania boasts has a definite ambiance of a private ‘Country Club’: casual yet elegant;  intimate and well refined. With 400 crew of a truly cosmopolitan mixture, this gives a very healthy passenger/staff ratio.  Oceania utilises this  factor, along with a brochure  boast of the finest food at sea, with their banner headline ‘Your World, Your Way’.
We flew from Heathrow, England to Istanbul by British airways scheduled flight and, once through Turkish immigration, were immediately aware of the Oceania staff waiting to assist us.
The transfer arrangements from Istanbul Airport to the ship were exceptionally good: always a good start. Check-in at the Istanbul Cruise Terminal was also efficient and we were soon experiencing the convivial ambiance and the uncompromising quality that exudes both a sense of elegance and comfort.
Our booked accommodation was a  Penthouse Suite on 8 Deck, (Suite #8018) the highest deck level accommodation on the ship…
       Taking into consideration the overall size of the ship,  the Penthouse Suites turned out to be remarkably spacious. All suites come with full Butler service in addition to a number of other ‘perks’: complimentary laptop, Bvlgari toiletries, DVD player, free unlimited access to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, priority reservations for speciality restaurant dining and full ‘speciality restaurant’ menu in-suite dining to name a few.
Suites feature a Prestige Tranquility Bed which we found to be the most comfortable we have experienced at sea. The marble and granite clad en-suite bathroom also featured a full sized bath…
Complimentary soft drinks and bottled water were replenished daily in the suite mini bar. Evening canapés were selected from a canape menu on a daily basis and delivered by the butler.
    As is usually the custom on quality cruise ships,  bottle of champagne and canapes awaited our arrival in the stateroom.
Around the ship
Central to the deck side activities is the Pool Area on Deck #10…
…where again, the high quality of the fixtures and fitting are clearly visible…
Indeed, on what other cruise ship would one expect to witness so many vacant sun beds at 10.20 in the morning?…
 And for those who may find the sun a little too much there was this exceptionally comfortable shaded  ‘Patio’ area…

or the rather exclusive, but limited, Cabanas one deck higher…

No matter what a passenger’s deck requirement, Oceania cruises certainly had the level of choice absolutely right on Nautica.

Dining – The Finest Cuisine at Sea

Boldly claiming to serve “the finest cuisine at sea”,  as Oceania cruises do, might seem to be an overstatement so no review would be complete without a clear showing of what is on offer. Food, of course, is invariably a personal choice and are often influenced by one’s surroundings. As has already been shown, the ambiance on the Oceania Nautica is in place, the rest is in the interpretation.

Nautica has a main restaurant, The Grand Dining Room, and two speciality restaurants, Polo Grill and Toscana. In addition there is also the Terrace Café and Waves Grill. Regardless of which restaurant guests select, there are no additional dining charges. A reservation system does exist for the speciality restaurants with a sliding scale of advance reservation numbers according to grade of accommodation. In practice daily reservations do become available but are not guaranteed.

Nautica’s Main Restaurant – The Grand Dining Room – is a study in stateliness.

It operates on a single sitting  with open seating dining for all meals and the Maitre d’ somehow manages to meet individual passenger’s requirements for table sizes  though at the busier times this may require a short wait to be seated.

The ‘Grand Bar’ at the entrance to The Grand Dining Room is ideally situated for a pre-dinner aperitif or a seating area for those waiting their table size preference …

The Grand Dining Room menu, for all meals, is probably the most comprehensive that I have seen as far as choices of dishes go. As is common at this level of dining the descriptions are well embellished, almost over-the-top,  but that is the name of the game. The quality of the food on offer is good. Most dishes are obviously prepared with considerable thought and a generally  high standard.  Portions are a good size. Additional items are always available on request.

Where the Grand Dining Room falls short is in its service. The service certainly is friendly, sometimes too friendly, but it is not commensurate with the image of fine dining. It is often a little rushed and consecutive  courses were often observed plated at the waiter station while the current course on the table barely completed.

Wine service was about average for this size of dining room and we noted an irritating rotation of wine waiters/waitresses, not only between sections of tables but also between restaurants. Over three weeks we probably would have nominated just two wine waiters who could have been classed as Sommelier standard. Having said that the wine list contained an outstanding selection of good wines with prices on a par with most premium cruise lines. There is however an 18% service charge levied on board Oceania’s ships.

Waves Grill…

A very popular  al fresco grill bar and home of the famous Reubens Sandwich

Nautica has two speciality restaurants, the Polo Grill

…the embodiment of a classic steakhouse with  time honoured favourites , most notably the beef dishes with prime USDA  dry-aged imported beef.  Seafood dishes are also available. Indeed, a combination of meat and seafood features as the restaurants signature dish, Pancetta wrapped Veal fillet with Bay Lobster Tail Oscar Style…

and Toscana

Tuscan in name, style and cuisine this speciality restaurant exemplifies the essence of Tuscany and celebrates Italy’s culinary passion.  And my favourite dish in Toscana? After Four visits it just had to be, yes, Veal again, the La Costate di Vittelo a Modo Tuo

Two particular items in Toscana caught my eye, each  perfectly illustrating the level to which Oceania take their dining. Firstly the Olive Oil Trolley with a selection of no less than 12 Olive Oils…

and a whole Parmigiano-Reggiano

 …now that is what I call style.

The Terrace Café

Informal and carefree, the Terrace Café is infused with natural sunlight during the day and  inviting whether you dine indoors or al fresco. Breakfast and lunches follow traditional fare while in the evening the cuisine takes on a ‘local’ flair. Though generally ‘buffet’ style the staffing levels are such that all beverages are served and some courses are by waiter service.

…and the display for a ‘seafood’ themed lunch…

…and the transformation for a casual ‘al fresco’ dinner…

No mention of fine food and cuisine would be complete without a reference to Teatime. With a classical string quartet  softly playing ship’s guests are drawn to the celebratory daily event in Horizons Lounge. Staff glide around this airey lounge with four-tiered carts filled with a wide variety of traditional tea delights, exquisite desserts and a wide selection of worldwide artisanal teas.

…and if that is not enough, how about dipping those strawberries or marshmallow in the

Chocolate Fountain ….

And so back to the wonderful ambiance around the ship:  rich colours, natural warmth and luxurious comfort, typified not just by the Library…

…but the Reception Area…

The artwork at every turn…

…and right down to the Concierge’s Desk…

…each and every area elegantly dovetailing  into one refinement and intimacy.

Entertainment

Oceania brings the country club lifestyle to sea, with an onboard atmosphere  that is elegant but relaxed, and never formal or stuffy. Oceania passengers  are typically well-traveled and are looking for personalized service, world-class  cuisine and an in-depth, destination-focused experience.

With the destination focussed itineraries that Oceania excel in entertainment does not come at the top of priorities. The Nautica had limited facilities and the grand theatre production shows found on larger cruise ships are not an option – and neither would they actually be appreciated. The Nautica Singers,  a group of four entertainers were the backbone of the entertainment department and they were not confined to evening performances.  Over the three week cruise they gave several good shows.  A variety of visiting cabaret artists also gave entertaining shows, the most memorable of these being the particularly good vocalist Paul Emmanuel and the outstanding La Musica, the  contemporary and classical music duo of Adam Press and Lisa Pearson.

The main entertainment was  all performed in The Nautica Lounge, a comfortable venue easily described as a ‘show lounge…

…which additionally included a number of evenings for Ballroom and Latin dance when the 12 piece Nautica Orchestra provided the music.

The sophisticated ambiance of Oceania Cruises dictates that enrichment weighs equally within the ship’s entertainment programme.  One  particular guest lecturer of note  was Stephen Harby,  an eminent architectural historian who gave most appropriate talks geared to the ship’s scheduled visits and the ancient architecture to be found at places such as Petra.

A cocktail pianist entertained in The Martini bar each evening as did  the Quadrivium String Quartet give evening  recitals in the Upper Hall.  The Fiesta Dance Band provided music for just that in Horizons.

Everything that one would expect at this level happened. Cold hand towels were regularly distributed around the pool deck, complimentary iced water was provided at the gangway for those going ashore and at every port a representative from the local Tourist Information Office embarked early to answer questions and distribute local maps.

Before I move on to the itinerary I would like to mention one novel experience. A notice appeared on the Daily Programme regarding  an onboard  ‘Wine  Bazaar’ for a set number of hours one sea day morning. It was effectively an ‘end of bin’ sale and I found it both interesting and financially beneficial…

So what about our itinerary…

As previously stated we joined the ship in Istanbul. We had been in Istanbul for an overnight stay onboard P&O’s Azura  just 2 months previous but this city is full of surprises and so on our second day, prior to sailing, we headed for a visit to the Galata Tower, some 30 minute walk from the ship’s berth….

I’m sure this will be covered in a later edition on Istanbul as a port visit but, in the meantime, I hope this link will show readers about this amazing site…

 http://www.galatatower.net/english/tarih.htm

Our next port of call was Kusadasi  where we opted to spend the day with some very good friends and  enjoy an excellent Turkish  evening meal  ashore before taking the opportunity to witness a late evening sail away…

Unfortunately, tension between Israel and Gaza meant that first Ashdod, and then the Haifa visit, were cancelled the day we sailed from Istanbul leaving Oceania Cruises, much to their credit, to quickly substitute alternative port visits to Piraeus and the islands of Mykonos, Rhodes and Limassol, Cyprus.

The Parthenon, Athens

Mykonos

Rhodes

and Limassol

where we were again hosted by some very good friends who are resident in Cyprus and who took us to

Nicosia and the Green Line

before we sailed south for our transit through The Suez Canal.

We had an early start for our transit southwards through the Suez Canal and though the early morning mist precluded better photography there were plenty of interesting sights and life to see along the canal bank.

As breakfast was about to be served we passed under The Suez Canal Bridge,  also known as the Shohada 25 January Bridge or even the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge at El Qantara. The bridge links the continents of Africa and Eurasia. 

There are many military memorials along the Suez Canal, a telling legacy of its troubled past. None is more impressive than that which commemorates

the Battle of Ismailia which took place between the Egyptian and Israeli armies during the latter stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur War…

Ismalia is 3 kilometres from the half way point of the Suez Canal

Not long before sunset we reached the southern terminus of Port Tawfiq at the City of Suez, our transit complete…

The following day we arrived at the port of Safaga. This was scheduled to be an overnight stop/ 2 day visit. Safaga is generally the port stop for cruise ships whose passengers wish to visit Luxor. My wife and I had arranged a private tour to take us to Luxor which again will be the subject of a separate port visit review.

While on our tour of  Luxor we visited the Colossi of Memnon

Our second day in Safaga was spent relaxing on the beach of a local hotel. Oceania provided a complimentary shuttle bus to a beach that had a number of hotels

who were only too pleased to rent out their sun beds for the day.

We transited the Red Sea overnight and arrived the following day in the port of Aqaba. This fascinating port and city is a favourite cruise ship docking port due to its access to Petra and Wadi Rum. It was the latter that we were going to head for on our first day – having visited Petra only a few years earlier. Again we had both researched and booked a full day at Wadi Rum through the internet.

A full account of our day and evening at Wadi Rum can be found in the port review section of this blog…

https://solentrichardscruiseblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/one-way-to-do-aqaba-wadi-rum-edition/

The second day we spent exploring Aqaba itself. Easily done in half a day really though there are a number of places worth a visit, some excellent restaurants and the opportunity to view four countries at once – Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. Not too many mosques have featured in my photographs so here is the Al Sharif Al Hussein Mosque in Aqaba…

We now had four full days at sea cruising  south through the Red Sea, passing through the Bab el Mandeb Strait and into the Gulf of Aden.  Prior to passing through the Strait the ship carried out anti-piracy drills and a number of precautions were implemented in the event we did come under the scrutiny of pirates in this area.

Very pleased to say we were incident free and we continued our passage to our next port of call Salalah in Oman.

The problem with Salalah is that the port is actually quite remote from the actual town, some 20 minute taxi ride. The local taxi drivers operate a cartel and this was one port where a complimentary shuttle bus was not allowed. We joined together with some other passengers and hired a taxi into Salalah taking in the magnificent Clock Tower (above) and the Tomb of Nabi Umram, the father of the Virgin Mary…

There actually is quite a bit to see in Salalah, including The Frankincense Museum, popular with ship’s excursions but easily doable by oneself.

Our penultimate port on this 21 night cruise was the Omani capital,  Muscat…

The city lies along the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea and is in close proximity of the strategic Straits of Hormuz. Low-lying white buildings typify most of Muscat’s urban landscape, while the port district of Muttrah, with its corniche and harbour, form the north-eastern periphery of the city. Old Muscat is within easy walking distance and a must for its scenery and a glimpse of the Palace of the ruler of Oman, Sultan  Qaboos bin Said.

Overnight we passed through the Straits of Hormuz and as the morning mist lifted we sailed into  our final port of call, Dubai for yet another overnight stop. Oceania Cruises again laid on complimentary shuttle buses for those who wished to explore Dubai by themselves…

*****

 

 

The following day we were transferred to Dubai Airport for our flight home to the United Kingdom.

Summary

This was our first cruise with Oceania Cruises, a cruise line we were very keen to try: the choice of ship was itinerary driven.  Oceania has four ships and Nautica  is one of the smaller two. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the excitement of trying a new product and three weeks is certainly a fair period for a trial.

Oceania certainly have an up market product and their promotional literature certainly reflects this fact.  Attention to detail in every department became very obvious and a striking sense of comfort. The luxurious yet relaxed country club ambiance throughout the ship will certainly appeal to many, as will the smoke-free environment throughout virtually the entire ship.

These are ‘comfortable’ ships where those little ‘extras’ of service are the ‘norm’. We found dining in the non speciality venues  certainly on a higher level than one normally experiences outside say The Grills on Cunard. Indeed, we registered the first ever occasion where we actually took dinner in a ‘buffet’ style restaurant. The speciality restaurants reach a further level of fine dining and their are certainly some excellent touches of refinement that make the gourmet experience all that more enjoyable. Passengers are recommended to maximise the number of these experiences.

The ‘open-seating’ dining arrangement in the Grand  Dining Room was not, however, to our taste. It will obviously suit many but, unless one’s preference is for a table for two,  the constantly changing  mixture of fellow table companions on larger tables can be a little draining: conversation never really advancing beyond the first night experience each and every night. That is not to say that those we dined with were not interesting. There was an amazing eclectic mixture of passengers and  we certainly enjoyed the company of all we met.

Entertainment, as previously stated, was limited. This was not a large ship and I don’t believe passengers choosing this style and size of cruise ship seek or expect  anything different.

Oceania Nautica provided for us an excellent cruise in an excellent environment. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and thought  it excellent value for money.

Would we sail with Oceania again?

Absolutely, I’m sure we will. However, considering the size and port intensive nature,  we do have other preferences as well.

2 responses to “Oceania Nautica – Dawn of Civilisation Cruise

  1. Pingback: One way to do Aqaba – Wadi Rum edition | Solent Richard's Cruise Blog·

  2. Pingback: Cruising Mates | Solent Richard's Cruise Blog·

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