|Shore trips to remote sites such as this amphitheater in Aphrodisias, Turkey, are key selling points of a Voyages to Antiquity cruise.|
Last year, Travel Agent sailed on Voyages to Antiquity’s (us.voyagestoantiquity.com) 378-passenger Aegean Odyssey a few months after its launch. Early start-up hiccups had been essentially fixed. Guests liked the line’s strong focus on archaeological and historical sites. In July, we sailed again on the line from Athens (Piraeus) to Istanbul. Here’s our second take:
Branding and Focus: Voyages to Antiquity sails only in the Mediterranean and Black Sea and to ports from which guests can visit ancient sites. Its robust onboard lecture program dovetails closely with the itineraries. While Aegean Odyssey is a comfortable small ship, it’s essentially the means to the line’s off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Clientele: On our cruise, we met well-educated, worldly clients. They appreciated the small-ship cruising experience, along with the absence of crowds and an easy way to reach remote locales tied to antiquity. Most were 55 and older, but there also were younger folks. Regardless of age, though, almost everyone was fit; that’s important as the ancient sites require walking or climbing stairs to reach. Tenders are also used in small ports.
Hotel Management: After a bit of a rocky start early last year, the line brought in Matthew Swire as hotel manager—a good move. He turned things around and is back this year. Swire will be on board with your clients through all 2011 sailings. The hotel operation hums along nicely and cabin service by the Filipino crew is efficient and friendly.
Accommodations: Travel agents have a range of accommodations to sell, including inside cabins, outside cabins with windows, balcony staterooms and suites with balconies. One agent onboard said she would book any of these except the “obstructed view” cabins, which she felt lacked any view whatsoever. We stayed in the same deluxe balcony stateroom as last year, #742. It was comfortable and spacious, and was spruced up with new pastel pillows and a runner across the bottom of the bed. The stateroom includes a small upholstered settee, one upholstered chair, a small table and an armoire with good storage, as well as a small wall-mounted flat-screen TV and a mini-refrigerator stocked with sodas.
Decked out in sumptuous linens and pillows, the bed afforded comfortable sleep. We appreciated the sizable closet storage, a small safe and the stateroom’s soothing colors. Tell clients to bring a European adaptor and a converter, if needed. The bathroom had one sink, a lower shelf for storing items, a toilet and a large shower with a half pane of glass instead of a shower curtain. Water pressure was good.
Could be improved? We’d like to see a small desk/makeup station added onto the armoire in the main part of this deluxe cabin. An in-stateroom coffee maker also would be nice. Accommodations lack individual climate controls, so guests must call the front desk for adjustments in the ceiling vents.
Dining: Cuisine is quite good for a small-ship line. The main Marco Polo restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, but is closed for lunch on port days, when guests are ashore on full-day excursions. The casual Terrace Café is open all days for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has both inside and outside seating. I particularly liked its specialty alfresco offerings. We sampled tasty Turkish cuisine one day, ice cream sundae makings another. Waiters also arrive tableside with fresh bruschetta and savory pizza slices, served piping hot.
Among menu choices are fresh fruits, vegetables, creative salads, soup, freshly baked breads, myriad desserts and a range of entrees, including fresh fish, ham, veal, beef, chicken, pork and vegetarian fare. Red and white winesare free with dinner; the Greek wine was excellent. A full bar and wine menu comes with an additional charge.
Early and late riser’s continental breakfast is set up under the covered area of the pool deck. Limited room service is available.
Public Areas and Onboard Activities: The attractive lobby has ship models, couches and chairs on either side of the purser’s counter. A hair salon is steps away, as is a six-terminal Internet Café with two chairs at every terminal. Advise clients to maximize their minutes by showing up at odd times, such as late at night, during dinner, or early morning, when the connection is the fastest. While Aegean Odyssey’s Internet package is only $28 for 600 minutes, it has no Wi-Fi.
The main gathering spot is the Charleston Lounge. Live daily performances might include a solo singer/piano player or a three-piece band. Guests take to the dance floor nightly. The Ambassador Lounge is used for lectures and port talks while the top-deck Observation Lounge with its panoramic windows is the place for bridge play. Guests may shop in a boutique for jewelry, gifts, clothing and sundries. Other activities include morning yoga, Pilates or an afternoon tea dance.
The most popular spot onboard, besides the pool area, is the library with a multitude of books, views, comfortable seating and popular board games.
Onboard Lectures: Voyages to Antiquity fields excellent, in-depth lectures by historians, archaeologists and university professors. Authors John Julius Norwich and Mary Beard are back this summer along with other experts. Thomas Mannack lectured on our cruise about “Delos: The Birthplace and Sanctuary of Apollo,” “Aphrodisias and Ephesus: Roman Cities in the East” and “Samos: Sanctuary of Hera.”
Some lectures are both thought-provoking and quirky, including one by Eric Sidebottom about “2,000 Years of Discord, Disease and Death.” Given the timing of lectures in the evening, it would be nice to have them videotaped and replayed on the stateroom TV system so all guests could enjoy them later at their leisure.
Shore Trips: Most shore trips are included in the highly inclusive cruise fare, as are gratuities and other perks. A few optional excursions have an added fee. Excursions take guests to historical cities and remote ancient sites, and the guides are impressive in their knowledge and commentary. Guests on tour use a Quietvox system with earplugs to tune into the guide’s commentary.
The highlight of our cruise was a 10-hour shore trip in Turkey from Kusadasi to Aphrodisias, an ancient Roman city. Our weeklong cruise also included half-day guided sightseeing excursions at Samos, Delos and Nauplia, Greece; Chania and Knossos on Crete; Troy, Gallipoli and Ephesus in Turkey; and a post-cruise tour of Istanbul. During a free half day ashore on Mykonos, guests shopped and, at sunset, had a Greek dinner.
For those who love ancient sites, this line truly delivers the destination; the ship provides a nice ride. In our assessment, this small-ship product holds up well in its second year of operation.
|Deluxe balcony staterooms are among the range of accommodations onboard the Aegean Odyssey.|