Emperors & Empires Cruise on the Oceania Nautica
3/10/15 to 3/26/15
Due to the length of the review, it is in seven parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in Beijing
Page 2 - Pre-Cruise continued; Embarkation and Ship
Page 3 - Ship Continued; Ports of Call: Tianjin, China; Dalian, China
Page 4 - Ports of Call: Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai, China
Page 5 - Ports of Call: Shanghai, China continued; Ishigaki, Japan; Okinawa, Japan; Kyoto (Kobe), Japan
Page 6 - Ports of Call: Osaka (Kobe), Japan; Nagoya, Japan
Page 7 - Ports of Call: Tokyo, Japan
Ship - Continued
We normally book a veranda cabin, since we enjoy lounging on the veranda and being able to see what is happening outside. With the cold weather and the Oceania pricing, it just didn’t make sense for us to book anything other than an inside cabin. The inside, ocean view and standard veranda cabins all have about 165 square feet of cabin space. To upgrade from an inside to a veranda cabin would have cost us $2,000 pp more. With the weather in early March normally cold, a veranda had no appeal to us. With the cabin size being the same, I just couldn’t justify it for this cruise. When I saw that the price for the cruise had come down about $500 pp three months before the cruise, I contacted my TA. I couldn’t get a price reduction; but was offered an upgrade to an ocean view cabin with a porthole and I would receive a $200 OBC per person. That sounded like a winner to me.
We had cabin # 3029, which was mid-ship and very close to the elevators. The cabin was nicely appointed and was in great shape. The room arrangement was perfect for Carol to be able to park her TravelScoot near the door to go in and out easily.
Oceania has the most comfortable beds we have had on a cruise. That coupled with the high quality linens made for a very good night’s sleep. We slept very well and long.
For some reason, the glass table in the room is larger than it needs to be and takes up a lot of room. Perhaps it is larger so it can be used for room service meals; but the table did get in the way in the small cabin, even though Carol had it pushed over against the couch. Fortunately the scooter could sit under it.
This was the first time that we had been in an oceanview cabin with a porthole. We really enjoyed the extra storage space that it provided between the main cabin and porthole. We found it interesting that there was a mechanism to seal the porthole, I presume in rough seas. With our cabin being on deck three, the water was not that far from the porthole.
There were two separate closets, which easily held all our hanging clothes. One of the closets had a short hanging area that was suitable for blouses. It had drawers below it.
Below the flat screen TV was a safe and refrigerator. Unlike on the Regatta, the TV worked very well. Their TV system does need to be upgraded to make other services available, like current bill status, on demand movies, online reservations, etc.
When I was on the Regatta, I made the note to bring European plug converters, since there are two European plugs; but only one US plug available on the desk. The second US plug is taken up by a night light. By having the converter, we were able to use the two European plugs or just plug the night light into the European plug to make the other US plug available for use. With my using my iPhone for an alarm clock, we probably could have just taken out the night light, since my phone was bright enough.
The bathroom is unusually small. Because of that, there is little counter or cabinet space; but it was adequate. Due to the small size of the bathroom, I couldn’t get a good photo of the small shower. It was wide enough but not very deep. I am a pretty big guy, so I had to stand sideways in the shower, which worked fine. We did comment on the mid cruise survey that the bath towels were very rough. The design with high ridges was not a good choice. They looked really good, but the ridge design made them rough. Perhaps our towels were just new and hadn’t been broken in; but even after housekeeping discussed the issue with us and tried to get us softer towels, they still felt the same. It was a minor issue indeed; but we did want to make Oceania aware that it could be a problem for those with sensitive skin.
We had an awesome Cabin Attendant named Nikolay from Bulgaria. He was such a nice person and couldn’t do enough for us. Every time we saw him in the hallway, he would talk with us and ask if there was anything he could get or do for us. He went over and above in our opinion.
Dining (Link to Menus)
I have included copies of the menus for all of the dining rooms along with photos of some of the food items at the Menus link just above and at the top of each page of the review.
Grand Dining Room –
Oceania is known for their food. Each day there was a nice selection of food items that should satisfy most people. Every night the menu also offered one selection each from the Red Ginger and Jacques specialty restaurants on the newer and larger O Class ships. The food items, quality and presentation were outstanding. There were items that we weren’t crazy about; but that was more about seasoning or the recipe than the food quality itself. Everyone has different tastes. We thoroughly enjoyed the breads in all of the restaurant venues. The bakers did too good of a job, so we ate more bread than we should have.
One area we felt they were lacking is in the desserts. Neither Carol nor I are crazy about dark chocolate, which most people love. We much prefer milk chocolate. The chocolate desserts were normally dark chocolate, so we weren’t interested in them. Some of the others sounded strange, so we usually ended up with ice cream or sorbets most nights. Not that that’s a bad thing, because the ice cream and sorbet was simply delicious.
Throughout the ship, the sour cream didn’t taste or look like normal sour cream. The texture was liquid and it didn’t have much taste. Since we didn’t use it much on this cruise, it wasn’t a big issue. But we did hear comments about it as well as the cream cheese that was very soft and was actually more like what sour cream texture should be like.
The service was very good most nights; but we did have slower service between some courses than we expected on occasion. We were particularly fond of one of the Maître D’s, Mercy, from the Philippines. We were so surprised that she remembered our last name by the third day of the cruise without looking up our cabin number. No matter where she saw us on the ship, she always called us by name, and she always spoke. She must have one heck of a memory for faces because she did this for everyone I saw come her way. Mercy is a genuine asset to Oceania.
One day there was a brunch between 10:00 AM and 1:30 PM. It was quite a nice affair with lots of tasty food and eye candy too.
Polo Grill –
This is our favorite restaurant on the Nautica. With it being our third Oceania cruise, we are now very familiar with the menu and we like what they have. The cuts of meat are more substantial than in the main dining room and we enjoy the quiet atmosphere. The service also seemed to be faster, possibly because they take reservations and needed to move us out for the next table of diners. We were lucky to be able to eat there three times this cruise.
We also thoroughly enjoy dining at Toscana. We ate there twice on this cruise. Since their menu is more extensive than that of Polo Grill, we are still trying to find out what everything is on the menu. We tried out some different menu items on this cruise.
Terrace Café –
Since it was a small buffet, the selection wasn’t as diverse as on larger ships; but it was quite adequate for breakfast and lunch. The food quality, as in all the restaurants, was quite good. They had different themes for some days at lunch, such as Mexican or Asian. The sticky buns at breakfast are very sinful and unfortunately quite habit forming. The only complaint we had was that the coffee was terrible. I could drink it; but Carol had to add lots of water and milk to it. She would normally just go to Baristas to get some coffee she could enjoy. Even the lattes at the Terrace were too strong.
Waves Grill –
From looking at the menus in the menus section of the review, you can see that there is little resemblance to what is offered on the mass market cruise lines. I was only able to eat there a couple of times; but it was good both times. The disadvantage of a port intensive cruise is that we ate lunch on shore most days, so we missed eating at Waves. Since we had wonderful Chinese and Japanese lunches, we were much happier with them; but it would have been nice to have a few more sea days. Of course it would have been nice just to have a longer cruise to enjoy the ship even more.
This was the second time that we had Dottie Kulasa as our Cruise Director. She is a pleasant person that is involved with everything involving entertainment. She is always around the ship trying to help the passengers to have a good time, whether on board or even handing out water while leaving for excursions. As with all Cruise Directors, she was the master of ceremonies for each of the evening shows. After her announcements, she always stops and says “a joke”. Then she tells a joke to the audience. It is a nice way to end her announcements, but I have never heard her tell a joke I haven’t already heard. Since she does get a lot of laughs from the audience, I must be in the minority. She is quite popular with Oceania cruisers.
One thing that I really like about Oceania is that the shows are normally scheduled for 9:30 PM. With the open seating dinner starting at 6:30 PM, it gives everyone adequate time to eat without worrying about missing a show.
My main disappointment was with the Valdi Solga Band. Most of the musicians in it were pretty good; but the band leader, who the band was named for, just hurt their whole sound. He played the trombone and was very loud and off key much of the time. It was quite a shame, since he really couldn’t fire himself for performance issues. The trumpet player wasn’t much better. When they were playing accompaniment to a singer, they were entirely too loud and overpowered the performer. Even a great singer like Rachel Russell sounded better with only the piano in the background and not competing with the full band.
Pianist Sebastiano Brusco was quite an accomplished performer. Unfortunately it had been a busy touring day and everything he was playing at the beginning of the show was very slow. It made me sleepy, so I didn’t stay for the whole performance.
Singer Monique Dehaney, who is from Jamaica, has performed in Tokyo for the last eight years. She was a pretty good singer and had an upbeat performance.
Singer Ethan Foster was one of the production show cast that put on his own show. He did an outstanding job.
Comedian Tom Drake has the tag line “Attitude with a Tie”. He is married to Cruise Director Dottie and apparently is always on cruises when she is the CD. Some people love him; but he just doesn’t appeal to me at all. I don’t find his kind of humor or his presentation that funny. Most of his material is rather old that I have heard many other comedians tell; and they told it better. On this cruise he did two evening shows and an afternoon show.
Comedy magician Harry Maurer was fantastic. His subtle humor was quite funny and some of his magic tricks were truly unbelievable. Having been on many cruises and seen many magicians, I do get tired of seeing some of the same tricks; but not with Harry. He had some phenomenal tricks I had never seen and can’t imagine how they were done. He did one full evening show and split another evening show with singer Rachel Russell.
Opera singer Rachel Russell had an outstanding voice. She sang many types of music from opera, Broadway, cabaret and popular songs. She was a big hit with the audience. We were so glad that she was able to do a second partial show later in the cruise.
Pianist Naki Ataman did quite a show called Around the World with Naki Ataman. He played nonstop for almost an hour. The movie screen would show a video from a country and Naki would play parts of several songs from that country. In all he played music from 19 countries. It was an amazing display of talent and endurance. The audience loved it. I had originally just planned to go into the show to take some photos of him for the review; but once it started I couldn’t leave. It was a most captivating performance.
The Tokyo Koto Ensemble performed the evening we were in port in Tokyo. It was a folkloric show using ancient instruments. The sounds were very pleasant; but I couldn’t stay for the whole presentation since I wanted to get back to the room to help Carol with weighing the luggage and making final adjustments to it.
Production Shows –
We were very fortunate to have four outstanding singers on this cruise. It made the shows so enjoyable and something to look forward to. Many people don’t even go to the shows, since they don’t expect them to be that good or they just aren’t interested in them. On this cruise they really missed an opportunity to enjoy some great entertainment.
American Pie – This show features popular music and dance from different parts of America. Each song was about a particular state or city.
Postcards – This show featured music and dance from different countries around the world. In between the songs they would show some videos of the countries.
Showstoppers – This was our favorite show with musical numbers from Broadway and movies. The cast really outdid themselves. At the end of the show, Oceania had their usual farewell messages along with bringing most of the staff up to the stage. As corny as this type of presentation sounds, on Oceania the mood of the crew really seems sincere that they enjoy being with each other; as well as the passengers. It leaves us with a soft spot in our heart for Oceania.
Each evening we would receive the daily information letter called Oceania Currents. It contained all the information that would be needed to plan for the day, including the list of all activities. It is nice to have the Currents printed in color unlike most cruise lines we have been on. It makes it more enjoyable to read and is another example of the little extras that are included with Oceania.
Enrichment Lectures – For this cruise we were very fortunate to have two very knowledgeable and interesting lecturers. Both of these lecturers had their sessions well attended. They were both very informative as well as entertaining.
Dr. John Freedman is described as an independent scholar and world traveler. He was an outstanding speaker that kept everyone’s interest. One thing that he did that I really appreciated was that he provided his email address to request reference material from his lectures. It saved me a lot of writing, since he did have some interesting books and movies about the ports we were visiting that I would like to go back and look into.
The subjects of his lectures were:
The Iconography of Buddhism
A Tale of Two Koreas
Shanghai: The Birth, Death & Re-Birth of China’s Great International City
Okinawa: A Land Between
Seven Wonders of the World: Past and Present
History of Japan: Gods, Emperors and Shoguns
Dr. Michael Boll is an expert in international relations and world history. He also had extensive experience in government. He had many insights into the political situations around the world. Having been involved with the government allowed him access to places and events that most people would not be able to experience.
The subjects of his lectures were:
China: The Challenge and the Threat
South Korea, The North Asian Tiger
President Putin & the Challenge of Present Day Russia
Japan’s Journey from Isolation to Engagement
Cooking Demonstrations – We normally enjoy cooking demonstrations; but on this cruise we just loved them. The Head Chef Jörg Becker from Germany was a real character. He was knowledgeable, clever and quite funny. We ran into him at almost every meal no matter where we ate. He was constantly checking to make sure the food was prepared and being served correctly. There were three separate demonstrations. There were originally only supposed to be two; but due to a scheduling issue, a third one was done that included Dottie cooking some of her mom’s pierogi recipe alongside Jörg cooking a couple of his favorites.
A benefit of going to the demonstrations is that you get to taste what is being cooked. During the demonstrations, Jörg is able to make his own recipes with the spices that he would like to use rather than the Oceania prescribed recipes. They were really good. Unfortunately, his recipes would be too spicy for some on an Oceania cruise, so they could never be used for ship meals. I would love to have him actually prepare a meal based on his own recipes, using his preferred level of spices. I am sure the tastes would be outstanding.
Gala Tea – On our last sea day a Gala Tea was set up in the Nautica Lounge at 4:00 PM. It was supposed to be a great photo opp, so I went down to check it out. I didn’t eat any of the delicious looking food, since we didn’t want to spoil our dinner and it was late in the cruise and I had already packed away so many more calories than I should have. It was very nicely done. The carved foods and decorations made of food were spectacular.
Jörg was of course there watching over everything. I was also finally able to take a photo of one of our favorite waitresses, Hnin from Myanmar.
Martini Tasting - It's always fun to go to a martini tasting, since it gives me a chance to try out types of martinis I would not normally try. Plus it also gives me a chance to get acquainted with the bartenders who I will be seeing each evening.
Ports of Call
Beijing (Tianjin) China -
After enjoying our four days in Beijing, other than for the bad pollution early in the visit, we were looking forward to seeing more of China. We had been quite surprised that Beijing was much more modern than we expected and that the people seemed to be quite happy and enjoying life. We were expecting China to be more like North Vietnam that we visited in 2010.
We would be touring the town of Tianjin with China Highlights (www.chinahighlights.com). This tour was arranged by Margery and Gale, a couple on our roll call from California. They would also be joining us on most of our other tours along with Cherie and Doug.
Our tour guide for the day was Phillip. He did quite a nice job of showing us the main tourist sites and we were quite pleased with him.
Since the van didn’t have a large storage area in the back, I would have to fold up the TravelScoot so that we could fit it in there with Doug’s wheelchair. By the end of the trip, I had gotten very good at collapsing and expanding the scooter in a matter of minutes. It really was a wonderful device that made it possible for Carol to be able to share these walking intensive tours. Like most of the vans used on the tours, there was no sound system. Unless the guide has a very loud voice, it just isn’t possible for everyone to hear what they are saying unless they have a sound system.
The town of Tianjin is 44 miles from the port. We were told in the daily bulletin, The Current, that it would cost $100 each way to get there by taxi. The tour would be a much better deal for our group. As we drove toward town, we were amazed to see so many modern tall apartment buildings both finished and under construction. Later in the cruise during the enrichment lectures, they showed a picture of China’s national bird, the construction crane. It was funny, but they were literally everywhere we went. They also didn’t seem to be doing any work on most of the buildings. We also saw quite a few new apartment buildings that looked totally empty.
I really got a kick out of some of the road signs. We didn’t need to be able to read Chinese to understand them.
When we got into town, we passed by a very ornate statue of a horse and carriage. I had never seen a statue that had upholstered seats like that one did.
Tianjin was quite a modern city with nice buildings and statues.
Our first stop was in an area referred to as the Five Great Avenues. It contains buildings of different architectural styles other than Asian. It is also an upscale area that is quite pleasant to just walk around which we did. Since the high temperature for the day was going to be 50 degrees, we didn’t want to walk around outside too much. The sun did make it feel warmer though.
Our next stop, the New Year’s Picture Museum, was not on the original itinerary; but we really enjoyed it. The paintings are mostly posted in cities around the New Year’s holiday as decorations. The museum itself is a very nice building and does an excellent job of displaying the very colorful paintings and other decorations.
While there we got our first exposure to the Asian style toilets. Our tour guides in all ports were aware of where we could find western style facilities, so I took this opportunity to take a photo to make everyone aware of why it was so important to know where western style toilets are available.
After enjoying the museum, it was lunch time. Phillip took us to a nice restaurant where we would have our first real Chinese food. Across the street from the restaurant on another building was a statue of a goat. I didn't realize the relevance of the goat at that time; but would find out the next day.
Phillip had to help us with the menu, since it was in Chinese; but it did have photos of the various dishes. But had we not asked we wouldn’t have realized what was actually in the dishes. He asked if any of the eight of us were allergic to any foods and if we had any food preferences. After discussing various dishes he placed the order for us. Each dish came out as it was prepared and was served family style. Each dish was quite tasty and enjoyable. I don’t remember what everything was; but it was all good.
Carol and I tried eating with chopsticks at first; but it just wasn’t working out, so we ordered forks. Carol had brought forks and knives with us on the cruise; but she had left them in the cabin. We wanted to learn how to use the chopsticks, and by the end of the cruise, we were doing much better with them, and I didn’t need a fork by the day we flew home from Tokyo.
The tea came with all kinds of ingredients floating on the top. At the end of the meal, it made for quite a pretty table decoration.
One thing that we found quite unusual throughout China during meals was that they were very stingy with paper goods. They didn’t seem to have napkins. When we would ask, we would normally receive one very small tissue per person. At this restaurant, each place setting had a packet with a wet wipe. When we received our bill, they charged us for each one of the packets. Since we hadn’t asked for them, we were not pleased about that. Phillip got them to take that charge off our bills, since they hadn’t told us about it.
After the wonderful lunch we headed for the Food Street. When I had seen Food Street on the itinerary, I assumed that it would be a narrow street in the old part of town. Nope! This looked more like a nice shopping mall with lots of shops with freshly cooked and packaged products.
It seemed like the wrong time to go to where there was food, since we had just eaten; but it probably worked out well since we didn’t need to stuff ourselves there. Phillip had told us about a couple of items to try. One of them was twisted bread. It is shown in the photo. I didn’t get any, because I preferred to find some that were prepackaged. I was being careful about eating street food at that time.
Our next stop was the Asian Cultural Street. It was quite a fascinating and colorful experience.
There were lots of shops and street food. It was quite enjoyable to walk by and view so many interesting shops, statues and just fun things to look at.
One local wanted his friend to take a photo of himself with Carol. I was starting to get jealous. Everyone wanted to be in a photo with her instead of me. I don’t blame them.
Most of the people we had seen while touring seemed to be enjoying life. We hadn’t seen anyone begging, until this fellow came around. Throughout China we didn’t see many beggars, at least not in the tourist areas, which surprised and pleased me.
Phillip pointed out a couple of enamel statues in front of a shop. Apparently it is the artist’s shop and she is very well recognized in China. They were quite lovely.
While walking through the area, there were just so many things to look at. I could have spent a lot of time there; but we still had another stop to go. On the way out of the area, we stopped at a shop where I was able to purchase some pre-packaged twisted bread. It was quite good.
As we headed to our next stop, we passed by a large Ferris wheel that was constructed over a bridge. It was the 394 foot tall Tianjin Eye. It is apparently the only Ferris wheel in the world that is part of a bridge.
Our last stop of the day was the Dabei Buddhist Monastery. It was a monastery at one time but is now a temple. The first building was rather small, but it had some lovely statuary including the traditional two lions.
We got a big kick out of the small Buddha statues telling visitors to whisper.
There were other small Buddha statues around the site. They were just too cute.
Behind the first building was a larger building with a very nice statue with elephants and a golden ornament on top. I hadn’t seen any elephant statues anywhere we had been in China; and I believe we only saw one other one the rest of the cruise.
Inside the main building was a gorgeous Buddha statue.
The courtyard contained some interesting statues and a Pavilion containing two statues.
On the way back to the ship, several of us asked if the driver could stop where we could take a photo of the large arch over the road that said “China (Tianjin) Pilot Free Trade Zone”. This is the area where the port is located. We hadn’t been able to take decent photos of it from the van when we arrived the previous day.
Before the cruise, I hadn’t expected much from the port of Tianjin; but Phillip showed us that there is a lot to see and do there. It is a nice modern town with more than enough tourist activities.
Dalian, China -
For Dalian, we were once again using our Beijing tour company, Beijing Discovery Tours (www.beijingdiscoverytours.com). We were picked up at 8:00 AM. It was supposed to be cold with a high of 42 F., but I was just happy that we were going to have another lovely sunny day. Our tour guide for the day was Yvonne. She did a very good job and was a real pleasure to be with for the day, plus she had a speaker system in the van which allowed everyone to hear what she said.
I was surprised when she told us that Dalian had 6,000,000 people living there. That is a big city that I had never heard of before booking the cruise. I was most impressed that it was such a nice looking and clean city.
Our first stop was at Xinghai Square. It covers 272 acres and is the largest city square in the world. It is massive and quite an attractive place. The centerpiece is a 66 foot Huabaio or Chinese ceremonial column.
From the square, we could see a large stadium; as well as the Xinghai Bay Cross-Sea Bridge, which was still under construction. It is 3.3 miles long and almost complete.
There were also several large signs with three gold goats on them. We asked Yvonne what it was for. She said that it was part of the New Year celebrations, since this was the year of the goat. Now I understood why there was also a goat decoration in Tianjin.
Once again I was surprised at all of the large modern buildings all around the square. Dalian is a very nice city. My impression of China was changing so much from before the trip.
Being out in the middle of the square was getting rather cold, since the breeze off the ocean was coming in, so we didn’t stay for a long time. As we left we passed by several large white statues surrounding the park with various sports activities. This was a really nice square.
Not far from the square, Phillip pointed out a very large castle looking building. It was the high end Castle Luxury Hotel.
We were driving along the ocean heading to our next stop. It was a very nice area with lots of trees, high end homes and a great view of the ocean. We pulled over to a scenic viewing area where we could look back at the city of Dalian. Unfortunately the smog was too thick to be able to see it clearly. The islands and natural area did look nice though after seeing so much of the city.
Our destination was Tiger Beach Square. The highlight of the square is the largest granite sculpture in China and the largest animal sculpture in the world, six running tigers. We had to get our photos with the tigers.
We also went to the back side where the sun was shining on them to get more photos.
There are some other photo opps in and near the square; but I enjoyed seeing the mermaid most.
Our next destination was to the Russian Folklore Cultural Street. The Dalian area was under the control of Russia from 1898 through 1905. During that time they developed the area. This section of town has retained its identity.
At the end of the street was a dry fountain. The whole area looked rather rundown. It was interesting to see, but not a great place to stay for long.
The various shops carried souvenirs and items from Russia. They also had various grocery items.
But I did get a photo of a precious little girl with heart shaped ear muffs.
It was lunch time and we asked Yvonne to find a place with Chinese food. She had originally thought that we wanted western food, since that is what we asked for in Beijing with the tour company; but after having the wonderful Chinese food in Tianjin, we wanted more. She picked out a nice restaurant that looked very Chinese inside and out. The waitress was embarrassed when I asked if I could take her photo.
They had lots of menu items; and once again we needed help from our guide, even with the menu items having English titles. Yvonne helped us pick out a few. Once again we had Tsing Tao beer, like we had in every restaurant we had been to. The food was served family style as it was prepared. This time Carol had remembered to bring our knives and forks with us. She also borrowed a wash cloth from the ship to use as a napkin. The food was good; but the items we had in Tianjin were better.
The restaurant also sold seafood and other interesting food items we would never see at our local grocery store. The beetle larvae was particularly unappetizing.
After lunch, Yvonne took us to a local street market. It was quite different from the food market we had been to earlier. There were lots of different food items available. The chicken feet didn’t appeal to me at all.
I did like the way that they cut the pineapples. There is actually a particular tool that they use to achieve the effect. Quite different, but it made them look appetizing.
I did like the flowers that a fellow was selling off his bike; but my favorite sight was a little white puppy that was hanging around one of the booths.
When we finished our tour of the local market, we headed back to the ship. We could have seen some other sights; but it was cold and everyone was tired. So we gave up for the day.
The port area was just an old small building, so it wasn’t even worth trying to get photos of it. When we first arrived in the morning, I had hoped to be able to get photos of the unusual looking stadium and the Dalian skyline; but it was too smoggy or foggy. But when we were sailing away we got an excellent view.
Click Button to Continue to Page 4 of the Review
© 2015 ThePreismans.com • All Rights Reserved