Fine Travel Consultant Kylie Bryers joined Oceania Cruises on a voyage through Asia earlier this year. In this article Kylie reflects on her time onboard and what motivates us to travel.
Why we travel...
We all travel for different reasons. The travel industry will label your trip at some point during the booking process - VFR (visiting friends and relatives), cruising, FIT (free itinerary), business etc but this really doesn’t encompass the end experience. While VFR indicates you travelled to see family, it doesn’t tell us you changed flights three times to get to Colorado to hold your daughter's hand through the delivery of your first grandchild, or endured a 26 hour last minute rush trip to Manchester to visit a sickly father who you "hope like hell" will be able to hang on till you get there. Or even a reunion in South Africa with family arriving from all over the world after a 20+ year diaspora and the safari experience they enjoyed together in their old homeland. All have the same label of VFR but all are completely unique experiences.
My travel label... Time Traveller
My travel industry label this time would be “cruising” but this doesn’t tell you that I’m actually a Time Traveller. I love nothing more than to be transported to a different time in an unexpected place and my first Oceania Cruises cruise delivered.
Personally I like to choose my cruises by itinerary but talking with fellow cruise passengers over the years has shown me that people cruise for many different reasons and more than the blanket “cruising” label could possibly convey. I’ve met people that stick with the same cruise line trip after trip and generally aren’t bothered about the itinerary as some never even leave the ship at all. Others will pick a particular ship for its features (rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, waterslide, New York’s Central Park floating in the middle of the ocean if you please) who also aren’t overly interested in their itineraries, while three other massive liners brimming with passengers all dock around them releasing 10,000 people into a small Caribbean port all at once. Some pick a cruise purely on price point (my mother), and yet others will have a general idea – Alaska for example and then it’s a question of finding the right ship/package for them.
Oceania Cruises was my pick this time, attracted by the Tokyo to Singapore 18 night itinerary via Taiwan, South Korea, and Vietnam. Oceania Cruises have many great and varied itineraries and I’ve had my eye on them for a number of years. They do some amazing Africa and South/Central America itineraries as well as Europe/Alaska etc.
The Finest Cuisine at Sea
Known for having "the Finest Cuisine at Sea", they certainly didn’t disappoint with varied menus every day chock-a-block with multiple options. For those of you thinking “meh, it’s still cruise food” I hear you, but it’s definitely not! This was my fourth cruise in the last 10 months and on a previous cruise while sitting on the back deck with my partner eating pizza for lunch he said “there is something missing from this” and without even thinking about it, I replied: “It’s love. There is no love in the food.” And I was stand by that - cruise food can be perfunctory which is why when you land somewhere like Latvia, a small restaurant serving a simple traditional beef and potato dish tastes like heaven.
No such issues with Oceania Cruises’ food and indeed the only time we ate on land (other than ice creams etc) was Japan and that was only because I had a land based friend with me that day – otherwise we timed everything to get onboard to eat as it was so delicious – no easy feat when you’ve been to Vietnam twice before and know how delicious the food is but still choose to eat on the ship instead. That is true testament to how delicious the food on an Oceania Cruise actually was. And yes, we both put on 4kgs each but it was worth it.
Life onboard an Oceania Cruises Voyage
There are 7 ocean liners of various sizes in the Oceania Cruises fleet – from 1250 passengers down to 600. We had one of the smaller ships – Nautica - which meant we could get right into Ho Chi Minh via the river – something denied to the bigger ships that have to dock at the seaport some 130 kilometres away.
Other than their exotic itineraries and “the Finest Cuisine at Sea”, Oceania Cruises is known for its service, and their frequent overnight port stops meaning you usually don’t feel rushed and you can pop back to the ship, have a meal/shower etc, then go out again. The cruise we were on had under 500 passengers and 400 staff – 100 of which were chefs and/or involved in food prep. There were cooking demonstrations, a string quartet played nightly, bridge lessons, baggo tournaments with staff, cocktail happy hours and shows/performances every night, as well as the generous deck area for sunbathing by the pool or sipping on cold drink from the milkshake bar.
The deck area was never crowded and I actually swam in the pool because I had it to myself! The overall cruise feel was relaxed despite the formal look of the ship and there were also two specialty restaurants on board that you get to book a couple of times to try their meals (the bigger ships have more specialty restaurants).
A small thing that made a big difference was a free laundry stocked with 7 washing machines and 7 dryers – an absolute bonus to be able to clean your clothes after a 43 degree sweaty shopping day on land. I also have to add this is the cleanest cruise ship I’ve ever been on and to my knowledge, no one got Covid - compared to a previous cruise where at least 15% of the ship came down with Covid (including myself). Would I book another Oceania Cruise's voyage – yes, in a heartbeat, the food and the itineraries would definitely get me back on board.
Staterooms and common areas
The modern staterooms, and sleek but compact bathrooms, are well laid out. There was more storage space than any other ship I’ve been on and includes an in-room complimentary mini bar.
The Nautica’s public areas were very grand and the main dining room reminded me of the Titanic with liberal use of dark wood interiors, massive central chandelier, plush curtains, crisp white linens, waiters in starched jackets, and tables decked out in sparkling glassware and Versace plates. The library was one of the highlights with many comfy sofas and walls and walls of shelved books. The heated pool and two spa pools were never crowded and if you wanted to go up to the top deck and have a game of mini-putt golf, shuffle board or baggo (cornhole), you’d likely get the deck to yourself (unless there was a ship tournament on).
On the not so positive side, I do have to mention that the staterooms on Nautica were small relative to the other ships I’ve been on to date. They didn’t feel cramped but they certainly didn’t feel roomy either. I talked to others on the ship about their staterooms as well as the cleaners and tried to see if reception would take me on a tour of other room grades. It seems unless you go for a Penthouse or Owners Suite, the staterooms all had the same layout and the same small bathrooms (and I wasn’t the only person onboard to referring to them as an “airplane bathroom”).
Overall the staterooms were lovely, well laid out and super clean. Everything on board was just sparkling. Most of the clientele on the ship were from the USA and the men are naturally quite tall but as almost everyone I spoke with had been on Oceania before they knew what to expect with the rooms and the size didn’t stop them booking again and again.
As a travel agent and frequent traveller to Asia, the organised shore excursions probably weren't targeted at me with the bulk offered on this cruise being to temples and shrines (Asia). I checked with their help centre prior to the cruise if they would have shuttles from the port into town and was told no, but I’m happy to report that every stop had shuttles into the towns so we did our own thing on shore.
The little things
Another thing I really liked about Oceania Cruises was the attention to detail. Every night we would get a little brochure about the port visit the next day, what time you had to be back on board etc, all standard stuff, but they would also have information in the local language like Korean or Japanese that you could hand to the taxi driver so they could easily find or contact the ship. I haven’t encountered this before and took a photo of it for the following day just in case. The chocolate they left on your pillow at turndown was excellent quality and there was free water everywhere. I’ve been on ships where you’re not allowed to fill your water bottle but Nautica had filling stations available to everyone and plenty of water was left in your room and constantly topped up.
Another example of the little touches was my experience with the bed. I didn’t find it to be particularly comfortable due to a twist in the mattress (luxurious memory foam mattress that “remembers” everyone sitting on it, so over time twists that way heaving you and your dreams toward the cabin door all night). I had a bad back before I even left NZ so the crew had their work cut out trying to make the bed as firm and flat as possible. To their credit they checked on me every day till they had it right and the solution was a big piece of board on top of the mattress, or what I referred to as “sleeping on the gangplank”. My back fixed itself overnight once that was in place and I’m very grateful to the staff for seeing it through to the end.
Getting back to why we travel...
So back to my “cruising” travel label. This can’t begin to encompass my experience of meeting a friend I spent a year at a Tokyo high school with who randomly happened to be in Japan at the same time, and spending the day together in Osaka eating ramen and reliving our shared teenage memories as though 33 years, three kids and the tragic death of a spouse hadn’t yet passed between us. Or sailing down the twisting Saigon River while the ship horn blares constant warnings of our mammoth presence to the bustling river traffic in torrential rain that had rendered us invisible.
Apart from the modern ship under my feet, it could have been a different time in history and I was gently transported from my everyday life into other worlds and other era’s like the time traveller that I am. My travel label may have been “cruising” but it’s just the beginning of the story. Travel has a way of giving you so much more than just your label and I’m very grateful for this wonderful experience of Oceania Cruises and the exotic Asian experiences it encompassed.