Though I love many different sized ships, my favorite sea going ships are those that carry about 600-passengers. This provides enough people to keep it interesting – you won’t see the same faces at each meal – yet crowds don’t exist, waiting isn’t on offer and service is far more personalized. It also means there are more restaurants, bars, and activities, and more spacious spas and fitness centers than on smaller ships. Another great aspect of this size vessel is that its smaller size allows for access entry into ports its larger sisters cannot maneuver. As a result, guests can often simply walk off the ship and head into town or join their excursions pier side.
In 2015 I sailed on Oceania’s 684-passenger Nautica with 400 well-trained crew from 50 countries on a fantastic 20-day voyage from Bangkok to Beijing. It was so enjoyable I knew I would return. Between September 2021 and April 2022, Nautica underwent a full refurbishment. Taking the ship down to the studs and sparing no expense, Oceania spent nearly $100 million updating the Nautilus. To see the results firsthand of this grand endeavor on this upper premium cruise, last month I sailed on Nautica’s 10-day voyage from Trieste, Italy to Barcelona, Spain, with port stops in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Italy and France.
Money Well Spent
It became abundantly clear that every cent of the refurbishment was very well spent. Though I had vague muscle memory of where everything was located on Nautica, she carries herself now as a brand-new ship. The new public spaces have an open-floor design. The lobby and reception hall are connected to the upper hall by a lovely Grand Staircase featuring a large crystal chandelier with hand-painted glass.
On stateroom decks, blue and gray/beige patterned carpets mimic the Mediterranean. Meanwhile French toile-like grey patterned fabrics line the hallway walls for a streamlined natural effect. The spacious Grand Dining Room’s massive, teardrop chandelier is utterly breathtaking, and with the elegant, gold-trimmed China, a floral Le Jardin de Versace by Rosenthal, the space feels very chic, in no small part also due to sumptuous new leather seating, but never feels at all stuffy.
The redesigned and refurbished staterooms have smart HDTVs with interactive infotainment systems containing movies-on-demand and strong internet. The work area has USB ports, and there is a plethora of outlets bedside. There is also a minibar, sleek closets, plenty of cabinets, drawers and niches so everything has a place. Bathrooms boasting Bulgari amenities have also been fully remodelled with adequate storage space and new tile, counters, fixtures, vanities, and glass shower enclosures.
The large swimming pool area with two Jacuzzis has incredibly comfortable azure blue loungers and deck furnishings with nautical-themed designs.
One of my favorite spots onboard was Aquamar Spa + Vitality Center with its comprehensive selection of top-notch services in a relaxing, Zen-like setting with muted marbles and sleek furnishings. I had such a talented masseuse on day two of the trip that I returned twice more during my voyage trying different treatments.
The large outdoor Thalassotherapy pool and deck located at the bow abutting the Spa provided a giddy sense of suspended animation. Mesmerizing floor-to-ceiling windows and light, airy feel and designer details, including imprinted recessed ceiling inserts at The Salon and Barber Shop with its full complement of hair and nail services for both men and women made it my go to happy place. The best part: Pricing for the Spa and Salon were on par with that of urban settings, and better yet, had daily discounted specials.
Food Reigns Supreme
Oceania is known for ‘The Finest Cuisine at Sea’ and Nautica doesn’t disappoint. Nautica’s five restaurants, includes the Terrace Cafe, with an excellent selection of fresh items, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The Terrace Café also has themed dining such as “Chef’s Market Dinner” where Executive Chef Simon Hockley sends team members out to local markets for specialty items. Fortunately for guests on my voyage, the two Market Dinners took place in Amalfi and Rome, resulting in delectable charcuterie, Cioppino and cannoli, among other culinary delights. Like Marlon Brando as Don Corleone made clear, “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
For alfresco dining near the pool, Waves Grill was a perennial favorite. This had as much to do with its extensive menu – boasting a salad bar, smoothies, healthy power bowls and excellent grilled items, including one of the best grilled Ahi sandwiches with wasabi mayo I can recall – as its gelato stand with daily flavor changes.
In the elegant Grand Dining Room, guests can choose from food and wine pairing dinners, Global Cuisine, Aquamar Vitality Cuisine with exquisite plant-based, creative gourmet menu items deliciously satisfying even for the carnivores among us, a selection of appetizers and entrees that change daily, in addition to Jacques Pépin’s signature salmon, steak, and chicken dishes. Coupled with impeccable service in a gorgeous atmosphere, that these many wonderful choices can happen in one restaurant is quite the culinary feat.
At Toscana, a minimalist, white backdropped, uber-chic restaurant, is a complete delight from start to finish. With an extensive wine list, over a dozen gourmet olive oils and balsamics – brought on a cart like fine cognacs to complement warm breads and grilled garlic – I would’ve been in bliss with just that. However, I would’ve been remiss had I missed the stuffed artichokes hearts, house-made pastas, Dover sole and of course, the tantalizing Tiramisu.
Polo Grill is Oceania’s signature steakhouse. It’s club-like atmosphere, with deep leather chairs was the perfect ambience for enjoying traditional Caesar salads and a wide variety of steaks cooked to perfection. For those seeking to curb their carnivorous leanings, Maine lobster tails, jumbo shrimp Scampi, swordfish and tuna will delight. If, like me, you simply can’t decide when it comes to dessert, the Polo Quintet provides five desserts to sample.
Of the 10 stops Nautica made on this voyage, happily six were docked for easy access. Another great aspect of Oceania is their extensive shore excursion list including ‘Oceania Exclusives’ that ensure only a handful of guests partake allowing for more intimate experiences. In Sicily our guide and driver took just four guests in a Mercedes Sprinter to view the breathtaking sites of the eastern coast, perused Taormina’s Old Town by foot with its delicate mélange of Italian, Byzantine and Levantine architecture, followed by an afternoon at Mt. Etna, imposing at 10,810 feet high with its 93-mile circumference. While Etna means “it burns,” it should mean “it erupts,” as it does on average yearly continuing to add to its massive height. While we mere mortals come and go, Etna continues to tower over us, remaining for the ages while making her presence constantly known.
After stops in quaint Korcula, Croatia and alluring Kotor, Montenegro, Nautica also made two interesting new stops in Greece. The first was Igoumenitsa, near the Albanian border, also home to Parga, a sweet, summer seaside town with candy-colored cliffside, vertical homes, and waterfront restaurants. The second was Argostoli. Its nearby Costa Costa Beach was one of the most idyllic sandy beaches and perfect water I’ve experienced anywhere in Greece. Stopping also in Almafi, Italy, an excursion took us on a mesmerizing 30-minute boat ride to Positano, one of those places that no matter how many times one visits, it stuns. Churches, monasteries, and homes impossibly built into the vertical landscape are surrounded by terraced vineyards, rock formations and stone-constructed watchtowers. Small, narrow winding streets sell supple, handmade Italian leather sandals, pottery, and of course, some of the finest ice cream on planet earth.
Back in 2015 sailing on Oceania’s Nautica was great. Today it’s also designer chic, while maintaining the excellent service for which it is known and serving some of the finest food at sea. And if Oceania Cruise designers are looking for a new space to remodel, have l got a space for you. Happy sailing! Oceaniacruises.com
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at [email protected]. The vendor hosted the writer however content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.