Occupation:Retired City Attorney
Number of Cruises: 18
Cruise Line: Oceania
Sailing Date: May 17th, 2006
Nautical Cruise Review
Istanbul - Greek Islands
My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 18th cruise. Our prior sailings have been on Carnival’s Elation to the Mexican Riviera; on the now defunct Commodore Line’s Enchanted Isle to the Caribbean for 11 days; a 7 day cruise, also in the Caribbean on Celebrity’s Galaxy; followed by a marvelous cruise from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Mercury, another Celebrity vessel. We then did our Alaskan cruise on Sun Princess, followed by a third 7 day Caribbean trip aboard Norwegian Sun and a trans-canal on Celebrity’s Infinity.
We then sailed on Millennium for a
Mediterranean cruise in May 2003, followed by a Baltic cruise tour on
Regal Princess later that year. We then went to Hawaii for the first
time on Infinity in November 2003 and did our first HAL on Veendam in
the Caribbean the next spring. In March 2004 we took Galaxy from
Baltimore to Rome, and returned to the Caribbean in October on Zaandam.
In November 2004 we went back to the Mexican Riviera on Diamond
Princess. We enjoyed our first Oceania experience on Insignia for a very
different Amazon River cruise in March 2005, followed by a short
“repositioning” cruise up the west coast from San Diego to Vancouver in
May that year. on our only Royal Caribbean ship to date, Radiance of the
Seas. In November we spoiled ourselves on Crystal Serenity for eleven
days on a Caribbean trip. All except the first two cruises have been
reviewed on cruisereviews.com.
Why This Cruise?
In a word - Istanbul. We had attempted to book a similar cruise in 2002 or 2003 on Crystal, only to have our travel agent call them and find out that they had just cancelled Istanbul. Edith has always wanted to see this city, so when this cruise came up with the right timing, we jumped at it.
Oceania’s itinerary called for an overnight in Istanbul at the start and another in Athens at the end. In between we would have one sea day, then Kusadasi (Ephesus), Rhodes, Delos and Mykonos (one day), Santorini, Katakolon (Olympia), Corfu, Dubrovnik, a second sea day and then Athens.
Review Format; What is Covered and What is Not
Although this is a cruise review, Istanbul was obviously not only a part of the cruise because of Oceania’s scheduling, but of interest to many of our fellow passengers and perhaps the gentle reader also. For this reason I will not discuss our Istanbul experience in any great length as part of the review.
For the rest, I can only cover what we did; and there are always aspects of any cruise that do not and did not command our attention. We do not gamble, or take part in karaoke, trivia games and the like. Our poolside experience was limited, and we did not, as usual, use any of the cruise line tours, but did our own shore expeditions and planning.
Pre-Planning any Cruise
This paragraph is “Cruising 101”, and experienced cruisers can skip it. But since I hear from “newbies” to cruising, I will include a few remarks. If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2006” Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the “Unofficial Guide to Cruises; 8th Edition”; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and “Stern‘s Guide to Cruise Vacations 2006“; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find (or order) these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes & Noble. New editions come out each year. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines’ websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships’ layouts and cabin locations. Cabin locations can be important, and early booking also gives you a wider choice. On some ships the design is such that verandas on upper decks look down onto portions of the verandas below; which might concern some people. Some of these problems are not obvious from the deck plans but are mentioned in the books cited above. You also might want to avoid a stateroom directly off the elevator/stair wells, as this area tends to be noisy . We usually try for a stateroom between two elevator/stair wells (and not near the laundry). In many cases you can order brochures directly from the cruise lines, but these brochures for the major lines cover separate specific destination areas, and not the entire cruise line repertory in one brochure. Small lines (like Crystal) with few ships are an exception. The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and t!
here are a variety of “specials” and package deals available through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information. Some people make the itinerary the prime factor, some the cruise line or a specific ship, and others are controlled by time constraints and the availability of cruises within their budget range. Like many people, we consider the itinerary first, and then look at the cruise line and date options.
Planning This Cruise
This was one of the more intensely planned cruises we have ever done; due largely to the somewhat exotic character of a number of our stops. We planned to arrive in Istanbul on Monday, May 15th, stay two nights in a local hotel, board Nautica the 17th before a sailing that departed at 11:00 at night on the 18th. This gave us three and one-half days in Istanbul. To do this we purchased an air deviation from Oceania (which included airfare in its pricing). Locating a good tour guide was a consideration, and we succeeded through information from prior cruisers on the Cruisecritic website boards. This also gave us a guide to Ephesus at our Kusadasi landing. We wanted a tour of Rhodes which took us to Lindos, a city with a local Acropolis of some renown. But we also wanted a guided tour of the old Rhodes medieval city. This took some doing on the internet. Delos is a small place and we did not need a guided tour, and we did not plan on doing much in Mykonos. We knew we wanted to see the original Olympic Games site in Olympia, which is near our Katalokon stop, and were concerned about taxis to and from. We planned to rent a car on Corfu, walk around the old City of Dubrovnik and rent a car to drive to Delphi in Greece after landing at Piraeus.
We do not like large tour buses with hordes of passengers, so we were looking for an individual guide. Most of them use small vans which work out well carrying six to eight passengers; an ideal sized group. I spent a lot of time on the net finding people to join us. This was not easy since everyone had slightly different days or times of arrival in Istanbul, and plans once there; but on the whole things worked out well. It takes considerable patience making sure that everyone knows the itinerary, price, pick-up locations and times, etc. It helps to remember that in most of the world dates are written as; eg. 17 May 2006; and that times use the 24 hour clock. I will describe each tour as it occurs during the cruise.
Shipboard Accommodation Planning
Once you have decided on the cruise line and itinerary, the next decision concerns the actual accommodations to be selected. The range here is again very large, from suites of more than 3000 square feet (how big is your house?) to “standard” cabins of about 180 square feet. Obviously the difference is price. These days the newer ships feature “verandah” cabins which make up almost half the cabins available. Then there are a variety of staterooms labeled “suites”; some of which, like Celebrity’s “sky suites” are little more than larger cabins with added amenities and features such as butler service, access to spa facilities at a reduced rate, etc. Many people, like us, enjoy the outside access of a verandah, where you can sit on a small deck all your own and enjoy the sound and smell of the ocean for a better “at sea” experience. Others, including a travel agent I know, book the lowest cost inside cabin on the theory that they don’t spend much time there, and they can enjoy the rest of the ship to the same extent as the people in the largest suite. Traditionally the higher decks are more costly for identical cabins. Very often the costlier suites are on the upper decks; the Millennium class ships of Celebrity being an exception with all its expensive suites being located on deck 6. Most cabins have only showers, and only very expensive suites have double sinks. Unless you bring an excessive amount of luggage, you will find that cabins, even the smallest, hold a large amount of clothing, toiletries, etc. Ships’ architects have long mastered the art of squeezing the maximum amount of storage space out of every square foot of cabin area. Hotel architects could learn a lot by observing how ships utilize space. What about your bags? In most cases they will fit under the bed, but the ship will store them elsewhere if necessary. For a week we certainly did not need a suite.
Kissed by the Upgrade Fairy
We booked a concierge veranda cabin on Deck 7. About a month or so prior to sailing, we received an “invoice” with the final billing from Oceania. There were a few items of note. We were charged $46.00 each for Turkish Visas. Since we had found out on the web that you can pay $20.00 for a visa at the airport, we had our Travel Agent request that this be removed. We also noted two charges for transfers, one from the Istanbul airport to the ship and one from the ship to the airport in Athens. Since we were arriving on May 15 we obviously did not need the first transfer, and requested that to be removed also.
But we did note that our stateroom had been changed to Penthouse Suite No. 8019,
with no additional charge.
There are two explanations for this that occurred to me. The first is the most intriguing. I wrote a review of our Insignia Amazon cruise which was largely very favorable. During the period before this cruise I had received information about our flights that I thought was incorrect. On Oceania’s website I found the name “Christina del Rio” with Coordinator of Marketing job title. I sent her an E-mail with my question, and mentioned that she might enjoy my Insignia review. The reply I received was from someone else in public relations. But as I suspected, Christina is related to (I believe the daughter of) Frank Del Rio, one of the co-founders of Oceania. Maybe that Insignia review got me an upgrade.
The other explanation is more mundane. Cruise lines don’t like to turn down customers. If there was a request for a concierge suite on Deck 7 that could not be filled because they were all booked, and there was an opening in the Penthouse Suite category, the cruise line would bump someone up rather than lose a sale. They might well upgrade on the basis of either the earliest booking or a combination of early booking and prior customer status. And I met both of these criteria. So matter what the reason was, we enjoyed the upgrade.
Cruise lines may offer suggestions, and advice can be found in the books mentioned above. The season; the itinerary, the length of the cruise and the cruise line life style will be the major determining factors. I saw more black ties on Crystal than on any other line; with Celebrity and Holland America next in order of formality. Even with formal nights, there is a much more casual air permeating Carnival, Royal Caribbean and even Princess. However, Oceania has no formal evenings and the “dress code” is either “Country Club Casual” or “Informal”. Its ships do have self service laundries as do every cruise line we have traveled on with the notable exception of Celebrity.