The bright and cheery Charleston Lounge aboard Aegean Odyssey has a surprisingly affordable drinks menu
A new premium cruise line, Voyages to Antiquity, launched earlier this year, with an enrichment-intensive mission to take guests to places in the world where great civilizations once flourished. Voyages to Antiquity is the brainchild of Gerry Herrod, founder of Orient Lines.
With a focus on destinations, this line caters to clients who wish to stroll through ancient Pompeii, visit classic Greek Temples in southern Italy and Sicily, and delve into the archaeology of the Mediterranean region, be it in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East. In 2011, the line will also sail in the Black Sea. Itineraries are designed with help from such noted historians as author Lord John Julius Norwich.
Inclusive cruise fares cover shore excursions; cabin and restaurant staff gratuities; wine, beer and soft drinks at dinner; and roundtrip transfers. Air add-ons are free-to-$199 per person. Agent commission is 10 percent and up to 15 percent based on volume. Commissions typically range from about $700-$2,200 per cabin.
Travel Agent sailed onboard Aegean Odyssey for five nights during an August 9 voyage from Rome. We understand “destination” is really the focus for this line, and not the ship as a destination. That said, both are important to today’s premium-minded clients.
Built in 1973, the 11,563-grt Aegean Odyssey previously sailed for Epirotiki, Golden Sun Cruises and Renaissance Cruises. In a major dry-dock renovation last spring for Voyages to Antiquity, all public areas and staterooms were redecorated, updated and in some cases, three cabins reconfigured to form two larger ones.
The capacity was reduced from 570 to 350 guests. The movie theater was removed and dining areas were overhauled. Public spaces now appear fresh, with new decor and carpeting, and are surprisingly spacious. The lobby has a large purser’s desk, and on either side seating areas with red leather couches and ship model cases.
The Library is nicely sized and guests sign out books on the ancient world, food and wine, and classical subjects.
The Ambassador Lounge is the place for lectures, tour briefings and the Captain’s Cocktail Party. The Observation Lounge occupies the highest point on the ship and boasts expansive views through many narrow vertical windows. The Charleston Lounge is bright, cheery and a great spot for libations; drink prices are reasonable by cruise ship standards with house wine available at only $3.50 per glass. Here, we were pleased to hear the dulcet tones of the Café Concerto Strings.
For drinks outdoors, head for the Lido Lounge, overlooking the fresh-water pool. Ringed by blue umbrellas and lounge chairs, the pool is filled each morning depending on sea conditions, and drained every night.
A small spa offers a plethora of treatments; ladies may have their hair or nails done in a separate salon. Yoga sessions are held on the top deck. An onboard boutique sells elegant jewelry, artifact reproductions, clothing and designer handbags.
The Internet Café allows guests to surf the net for $6 an hour, $18 for four hours, or $28 for 12 hours. There is no onboard Wi-Fi. An onboard medical center is staffed during select hours with a physician and nurse.
The line sends guests a suggested reading list with their cruise documents. Onboard lectures are the prime entertainment; the lecturers include noted experts in history, archaeology and food/wine.
This isn’t a cruise for those seeking a disco, casino, kids’ club or activities like rock climbing and skating. The ship has none of those.
On our cruise, Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge and author of "Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town," lectured both pre- and post-excursion for those going ashore. Other lectures on our cruise included “The Normans in Sicily” by Sir Tom Richardson, and “Flavours of the Mediterranean: a Gastronomic History.”
Fielding a casual country club atmosphere, the Marco Polo is the main restaurant and has open seating for lunch and dinner; it offers Continental cuisine as well as regional food and wine. One night we dined on roast suckling pig, roast top sirloin au jus, linguine al pesto, and our favorite, the local seafood and lobster ragout. Dinner includes complimentary wine. Service was prompt and friendly.
Terrace Café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with indoor and outdoor seating and has a grill, buffet and a wine/aperitif bar. While the onboard daily program may erroneously show no food options on the ship between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (a communications issue the line is working to correct), the café is now open during that time for hors d’ouevres.
In the evening, Tapas on the Terrace replicates a Mediterranean bistro. This was our favorite onboard experience. The lovely outdoor setup consists of teakwood tables and chairs with white canvas seats, round blue placemats, and attentive service by waiters with water, soft drinks, wine and coffee; guests serve themselves from the inside buffet.
The pool aboard Aegean Odyssey is filled with seawater every morning and drained at night
Guests also enjoy afternoon tea, room service for Continental breakfast only, and late-night snacks in two bars.
Aegean Odyssey has Suites, Junior Suites and staterooms, with and without balconies. On the upper decks, space previously occupied by three cabins has been converted into two larger ones. The vessel has 82 new staterooms of categories G and above.
Reconfigured staterooms start at 215 square feet—42 have balconies pushing them to 275 square feet. Junior Suites are 300 square feet, while Owner’s Suites are 500 square feet. The rest of the ship retains original cabin configurations of 130 to 140 square feet.
We stayed in Cabin 742, one of the deluxe Concierge Class balcony staterooms on the upper deck. Our accommodations were more spacious than premium cabins of comparable quality on many other ships. This stateroom had a settee, a stuffed chair, large low-level armoire with shelving and a mini-refrigerator. The large bed could be split into two twins, and there were two nightstands. Draperies were of a high-quality brocade-like fabric with a matching backboard effect above the bed. A small flat-screen TV was mounted on the wall.
The comfortable bed had crisp white linens and a duvet; the cabin steward will add a sheet if you ask. Storage space included a long closet to hang clothes, medium-length closet for shorter garments with drawers beneath, and a third closet with drawers and a safe. The living area armoire also had shelves as did the nightstands.
The bathroom was nice and had a large walk-in shower; other units have large combination tub/showers. Our balcony had a teak deck and two classy deck chairs of wood and canvas, as well as a small table.
The perks with our Concierge Class stateroom included personal concierge service, a bottle of champagne upon arrival, mini-refrigerator with complimentary water and soft drinks, Moulton Brown bathroom amenities and priority tender service for tours.
We toured other cabin categories while onboard, including the Owner’s Suite, inside cabins and outside cabins of different categories, and discovered that overall, the cabins are quite spacious. The line also has a number of single cabins. All staterooms have 220-volt European-style electrical outlets, so tell clients to bring a converter and adaptor. The line has a limited number to loan out.
This is the jewel of the Voyages to Antiquity product. Most shore excursions are included in the cruise fare although some optional tours are also available for purchase. Given the ship’s ability to enter smaller ports, guests have access to experiences that aren’t available on some of the bigger lines.
The best prospects are well-traveled, mature clients who are 55 and older and yearn for in-depth historical experiences. The cruise is an English-speaking, international product; guests are from North America, Australia, the UK and South Africa. Most guests were older but hearty; We observed an elderly man with a cane walking like a trooper on uneven ground in Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Despite two nice wheelchair-accessible cabins, the ship isn’t recommended for most clients using wheelchairs due to the use of tenders to go ashore and “raised floor lips” that require guests to step up and over in many public spaces.
Could Be Improved
Most start-up operations have some hiccups and this line is no exception. A problem with air conditioning occurred on a voyage just before ours, but we faced no such issues. One big concern that needs to be addressed is of the raised lips mentioned previously; it’s an accident waiting to happen for young and old alike.
Accent pillows and lower bed-tapestry runners could complete the decor in the upper level cabins; it sounds trivial but is the one thing missing from the interior design of those upper end cabins. They say they’re working on it.
I truly think this line is on the right track, despite the start-up issues. I was impressed with the proactive approach of Matthew Swire, the new hotel director, who joined the line the week before our cruise. The desire of the crew—including my excellent cabin steward—to serve guests well and with a smile also impressed me. There is no doubt the itineraries and enrichment lectures appeal to those who love archaeology and exploring ancient civilizations. One guest told me, “I expected Orient Lines but Voyages to Antiquity is actually more an exploration-style cruise. Once I realized that, I changed my mindset and I’m enjoying it.”