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Voyages to AntiquityMarch 29, 2010 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
New premium cruise line Voyages to Antiquity, which begins operating May 4, promises memorable odysseys to the past
Voyages to Antiquity itineraries have port calls in Greece, where passengers can explore such historic sites as the Acropolis
If your clients, 55 or older, have a passion for ancient Rome, classical Greece, the Byzantine Empire or other past Mediterranean civilizations, check out a new premium cruise line, Voyages to Antiquity, which begins operating May 4. Created for in-depth exploration of the Mediterranean, this premium line should appeal to well-educated consumers for whom ancient sites are the ultimate vacation draw.
Targeting an upmarket clientele, Voyages to Antiquity will likely attract the same type of clients previously drawn to destination-focused cruises of the former Orient Lines. The new line’s itineraries encompass the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic seas with port calls in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Sicily, Albania and Croatia. Others focus on North Africa and the Holy Land. New for 2011, the line will add Black Sea itineraries.
Two weeks in length for 2010, the itineraries were designed by the cruise line’s staff in conjunction with such renowned historians as author Lord John Julius Norwich. On a Voyages to Antiquity vacation, clients might stroll through ancient Carthage in Tunisia, visit well-preserved Greek Temples or explore remote Roman ruins at Palmyra, Syria, or Baalbek, Lebanon.
“All indications are that consumers are willing to travel again, but often with a caveat—that the experience must be a life-enhancer for them,” says Jack Mannix, president and CEO, Ensemble Travel Network, which recently tapped the line as a preferred supplier. “So instead of just reading about the Roman masters, they want to get up close and personal with the ruins and villages where history was made. The small-ship experience with Voyages to Antiquity will allow that.”
Interestingly, Voyages to Antiquity is new, yet in some ways, familiar. With offices in Fort Lauderdale and Oxford, England, the new line was founded by cruise industry veteran Gerry Herrod, who also founded Orient Lines and several other lines. Former Orient Lines staffers now working for Voyages to Antiquity include Mitchell Schlesinger, director of sales and marketing, and Andrea Corman, director of guest services.
Agents may also recall the line’s ship, Aegean Odyssey, formerly the Aegean 1 operated by Renaissance Cruises. However, this ship emerges in April from an Athens dry dock as a sizably refurbished and reconfigured vessel. Capacity will be reduced from 570 to 380 guests for a more intimate, small-ship experience.
Accommodations: The new configuration on Aegean Odyssey will include suites, junior suites and staterooms with and without balconies. On the upper decks, space previously occupied by three cabins will now be occupied by only two larger ones. In fact, the ship will have 82 new staterooms of categories G and above.
All reconfigured staterooms start at 215 square feet; 42 will have balconies for a total of 275 square feet. Junior Suites are 300 square feet, while Owner’s Suites have 500 square feet of space. The rest of the ship will retain its original configuration of 130- to 140-square-foot cabins. Daily fares equate to $250 to $550 per person double, depending on the accommodations selected.
Standard cabin features in all accommodations include a window rather than a porthole, flat-screen TV, safe, hair dryer and luxury bedding. For G categories or above, Concierge Class services and perks will include a welcome bottle of champagne, refrigerated minibar, complimentary bottled water, robe, slippers, boutique bathroom amenities, DVD selection, priority sightseeing boarding and personal concierge service.
One sales plus for agents is the ship’s complement of 16 single cabins. In addition, as an inaugural year promotion, when single cabins are sold out, the line will allow solo travelers to occupy a double at no extra charge. While some capacity controls apply, the line says the policy will help fill the ship’s staterooms—thus exposing as many travelers as possible to the product during its first year. “Having no single supplement is an offer resonating strongly with traditional older single travelers,” says Schlesinger.
Regardless of category, “everything on the ship is being completely redecorated,” says Schlesinger. That includes refurbishment of all accommodations and public areas. “There are extensive enhancements to the spa area and outside dining venues.”
Onboard and Ashore: All dining venues have open seating. Offering Continental cuisine with regional food and wine on every itinerary, the Marco Polo restaurant serves lunch and dinner. It has full waiter service and casual, country-club elegance, although a jacket is suggested for gentlemen at dinner.
Terrace Café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with indoor and outdoor seating and has a grill, buffet and a wine/aperitif bar. In the evening, Tapas on the Terrace replicates a Mediterranean bistro. Guests also enjoy afternoon tea and room service, as well as late-night snacks in two bars.
A robust onboard lecture program boasts renowned historians, archaeological experts and food and wine aficionados. Among them are William Allan, a McConnell Laing Fellow in Greek and Latin languages and literature of University College, Oxford; Carla M. Antonaccio, professor of archaeology and chair in the department of classical studies at Duke University, Durham, NC; and Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, to name a few.
This ship has no formal night, disco or casino. For fun onboard, guests might peruse a well-stocked library, take a pool dip, e-mail friends from the Internet café, work out in the gym, listen to music, experience a top-deck yoga class or luxuriate in the spa.
While Aegean Odyssey is a mid-sized ship, it’s small enough to easily navigate around the scenic islands of the Adriatic and Mediterranean and transit Greece’s Corinth Canal. “We wanted to find a ship that was small enough to hug coastlines, to get guests up close to the destination even when sailing, and to call at little ports even medium-sized ships can’t get to,” says Schlesinger. Most shore excursions are included in the fare.
Clientele and Commission: “Voyages to Antiquity will be more premium than Orient Lines was, and it’s definitely a much more small-ship experience,” says Schlesinger. Good prospects are sophisticated, well-traveled mature clients who are 55 and older and love in-depth historical experiences.
Initial marketing has targeted niche archaeological, natural history and Ivy League-type publications. Agents may consider pitching it to former tour clients and educational, museum and alumni groups.
Beyond the included shore trips, cruise fares also include gratuities for cabin and restaurant staff; wine, beer and soft drinks at dinner; roundtrip transfers; and air taxes if air-ticketing is done by the line. Air is either free or not in excess of $199 from more than 70 North American gateways when booked through the line.
Base agent commission is 10 percent and commissions typically range from $700 to $2,200 per cabin. Commission may rise up to 15 percent with volume.
Promote value and inclusiveness when selling, says Schlesinger, who estimates the guest’s out-of-pocket expense savings at up to $2,500. Passengers are primarily from the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. “The objective is for about 75 percent of the guests [to originate] from North America,” says Schlesinger.
By March 1, Voyages to Antiquity was 50 percent booked for 2010. “The highlights of the Voyages to Antiquity product are the accomplished lecturers and speakers onboard,” says Mannix. “That level of expertise, coupled with some amazing itineraries, is what will set this boutique supplier apart.”
Forty-two of the 82 staterooms aboard Aegean Odyssey have balconies