Savour the world on a luxurious liner

“It feels like coming home,” said a well-groomed, mature blonde, biting into a pistachio macaroon and taking a sip of champagne. “The service, to me, is impeccable.”

We were seated on the tenth floor of the Nautica cruise ship, in the aptly named Horizons room, as we gazed  at a view spanning Cape Town’s biggest skyscraper of them all, Table Mountain,  the working harbour, and updated Silo District buildings.

Through a circuitous route ‒‒and despite never having slipped out of port on a cruise liner ‒ I was in a party of about 30 former passengers of Oceania Cruises. With more than 50% of the Line’s passengers being repeat customers, on-ship briefings are clearly an opportunity to update fans on the latest offers. The couple at my table was clearly besotted about the Nautica, having been loyal supporters of the Line since they first embarked on a cruise – in the penthouse suite, no less ‒ after an arduous and lengthy work stint in Ghana some nine years ago.

The Nautica would shortly depart for Singapore, popping in at ports such as Port Louis, La Digue, Colombo and Phuket during this 30 night Indian Ocean odyssey. With passenger health and safety paramount, and our crew on high alert for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, a nurse had already checked that our body temperatures were normal, and we’d brandished our passports to prove that we hadn’t visited China in the past 30 days.

Riet Goetschalckx, the charming sales director, explained: “We are quite a young company with 16 years in the industry and only six ships in the line. From the start we wanted to be very close to our people (passengers) and to show them the world.”

A key component of this strategy has been targeting smaller ports that are accessible to more compact – yet highly luxurious and refined ‒ vessels. Guests are also beguiled by superb cuisine, elegant and luxurious surroundings, specialist itineraries to exciting destinations, and small, excusive excursions. I could certainly sign on for a trip to accompany the ship’s chefs to La Boqueria market off La Rambla in Barcelona, then learn how to prepare the perfect paella.

When I first ascended the gangplank, the initial vista of marble, crystal, carpets and a Hollywood entrance style stairway, encircled with elaborate wrought iron, made me consider the ship to be a rather old school grande dame. Refurbishment is scheduled for June, however, when the staircase will be removed and the décor enhanced to a new level of “elegance, grace and timeless style”.

As we viewed the intimate restaurants, well-stocked library and sun-soaked pool, I decided I could easily get to enjoy this lifestyle. The ambience favours relaxation, serenity and considered choices. You could, for example, select Italian food at the Toscana restaurant and dine off custom-designed Versace china, or opt for a classic steak at the Polo Grill. The Grand Dining Room is a tribute to five star dining, which has nonetheless moved with the times by incorporating plant-based menus. These complement the existing vegetarian selection and spa focus on wellness. Other Oceania ships – Marina and Riviera – feature arguably the only cold-pressed raw juice and smoothie bars at sea, although in Horizons I was happy to see folded linen and elegant china laid out for the daily four o’clock high tea.

This particular Nautica cruise was sold out, and on each trip there is a client service specialist on board to share ideas for booking your next journey. As Riet pointed out, when you get older nothing is more important than memories. I’d be quite happy to lay down a recollection of the Dom Perignon Experience, for example. This has been created in partnership with the culinary team at this iconic champagne estate, to offer a a pairing of six delectable foodie courses with various Dom Perignon expressions and vintages.

For those ready to throw off the bowlines and push the boat out, however, the top choice has to be a 180 day, round the world trip departing on 6 January 2022. It covers six continents and 44 countries. Bookings opened on 15 January, and two-thirds of the places were snapped up at once. The cost is around €50,000/person. Given our ailing rand, I was intrigued to hear that a South African couple has booked for this. But as Rolls-Royce co-founder Henry Royce said, “the quality will remain long after the price is forgotten”.

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Photographs Judy Bryant.