We just returned from our 28th cruise, on the Oceania Nautica, and my wife says it is her best ever.
We flew to Barcelona a day early to enjoy the city, staying on the Ramblas in Hotel Royal. $159 plus tax and we had a room overlooking the Ramblas on the 4th floor. No noise. And it is a short ride to the pier.
We stayed in a category B2 balcony cabin, number 6077. The next cabin forward was a B1, and more expensive. All the balconies in categories B2, B1 and A1, 2 and 3 (concierge) are the same size. Only the suites on Deck 8 are larger. Balconies are very private. The cabin is typical of balcony cabins, but had no refrigerator. The shower is very small.
Dining Service is exceptional, with 400 staff for 684 guests; they really appear to enjoy their work and provide exceptional service. Dining is open seating in the Dining Room, and at Tapas on the Terrace (the high-end, buffet-style dining); and by reservation in the two specialty restaurants, Toscano and Polo. There is no service charge for the specialty restaurants. There are plenty of tables for two, and only twice did we have a short (five minute) wait for a table, in the Dining Room. Dinner menus seemed to have a lot of steak and beef, but there was an ample choice of fish, which included sea bass, grilled tuna, corvina, swordfish, salmon, and a wok seafood dish of shrimp, scallops and salmon. Desserts were excellent, including creme brulee in the dining room and specialty restaurants. Tables for two are arranged close enough to others to talk, but far enough to be "separate".
Entertainment The single pool was never crowded and there are plenty of loungers, including double seating lounges, all with cushions and terrycloth covers. The casino is small but adequate. We had not expected much entertainment, but during the 10 days we had three shows by a staff of four singers. We also had a terrific illusionist and two musical/singing performances by a husband-and-wife team...the husband is the orchestra director. There is also a pianist in the piano bar nightly. Dancing was available nightly in a variety of locations, usually the Horizon Lounge on Deck 10 forward where a sextet from the orchestra played until 11 or 12 at night.
There are no live "port talks," just a repeating short TV talk by the cruise director, and there was no port map with the daily newsletter. We didn't learn until until the fourth port thatt for a few hours each port morning, someone near the purser's desk distributed local maps and provided directions and port information. These passengers are, for the most part, 55+ and well traveled. We heard no "griping" on the entire cruise!
Dress While the cruise was advertised as "country club casual," and the brochures showed men in jackets, in fact there were very few jackets and no ties, although women did wear nice dresses in the evening, including some cocktail dresses. The day wear was the same as on any other ship.
Internet service is VERY slow but they do have wireless hotspots all over the ship. The Internet lab had about 24 work stations, and there were two more in the library for use if computer classes were in session.
The ship had good TV options, with CCN, Fox News, BBC, and a number of movie channels. There were no lines on board, for anything, even tenders (except for embarkation check-in, which was done onboard in a lounge). There was absolutely no pushing of tropical drinks and no onboard photographers, at all. Fine!
In Barcelona they allowed me to go back on the pier, purchase wine, sangria, and gin and bring it back to my cabin.
Our itinerary was termed "Art Reigns Supreme," and the ports reflected that. Sailing from Barcelona, we visited Marseilles, Monte Carlo, Civatavecchia/Rome, Livorno/Florence/Pisa, Amalfi, Taormina (Sicily), Valetta (Malta), one day at sea, and an overnight in Athens before debarking. As a smaller ship, we often got choice berths, with the larger ships staying farther from the port.
Sightseeing I think I have now seen all the churches and museums I could stand for a while, but the art was superb, including Gaudi in Barcelona, the Vatican Museum, the Accademia in Florence, St John's in Valetta, and of course the Acropolis, Agora, and Plaka in Athens. Without doing a travelogue, I will add that I did use Bob's Limos and Tours (http://romelimousines.com) in Civitavecchia and Livorno, and we were very pleased with experience - especially with the driver in Livorno/Florence/Pisa, who even took us via the Tuscan countryside at our request. In Athens we used George Taxi and Limo (www.greecetravel.com/taxi), where George's son Dennis picked us up in a limo instead of taxi, as his father, the taxi driver, was on vacation in the islands. He took the time to help me find the house I lived in there from 1972-75, and at our request took us to a local (non-tourist) restaurant for lunch, where we enjoyed salata horiatiki with a giant slab of feta and kalamata olives, tzetziki, moussaka, lamb fricasse, and swordfish kabobs.
The "free air" included was on Lufthansa from Washington Dulles to Barcelona via Frankfurt, and Air France from Athens via Paris to Dulles. Lufthansa was superb, and both offered multiple meals, complimentary wine and cordials. All our baggage made it, leaving a day early, but some passengers whose flights were through London never got their luggage until we arrived in Athens, due to the security scares in London. On the way back, at our connection in Paris, they researched all carry-ons and body-searched every passenger. Having watched the news on Fox and CNN, we had no problem with this, but it meant we didn't try to bring back bottles of olive oil or liquor as we had planned.
Oceania is a bit pricier than the premium lines (HAL, Princess, Celebrity), but the service and ambiance is wonderful.