Aegean Odyssey from Athens
Voyages to Antiquity is a relatively new cruise line, (the first cruise departed on May 4th, 2010) and was founded by cruise-veteran Gerry Herrod. Currently there is one ship in the fleet, the Aegean Odyssey. Mr Herrod has previously set up and successfully ran Ocean Cruise Lines and Orient Lines, so knows a thing or two about small ship, destination focussed itineraries. The ship carries just 378 guests in 198 staterooms and is 11,563 GRT.
Each itinerary has been meticulously planned to provide the very best in cultural travel, including an extensive roster of expert lecturers, supported by a team of classical history graduates. Dedicated lecture topics bring to life the history, archaeology, art and cultures of the classic civilisations of the Mediterranean, Aegean, Adriatic, Black and Red Seas.
The cruise fare offers great value for money - all this is included :-
- Scheduled economy class flights, usually on British Airways
- Pre-cruise hotel stays
- Shore excursions as detailed in each itinerary
- Selected wine with dinner
- On-board gratuities for cabin and restaurant staff
- As well as all meals, accommodation and lectures onboard
As we arrived at the ship, docked in the bustling port of Piraeus, I was very impressed with the upkeep of the vessel. This ship started life some 40-years ago as the ferry Narcis, and has since been converted into a cruise ship and sailed for Epirotiki and Renaissance Cruises in the past. Its obvious Gerry Herrod has spent a lot of money and care and attention in refurbishing her into a quality vessel. Looking up at the gleaming white hull I was amazed that there was not one streak of rust or dirt on her - shame cant be said for many of today's modern cruise ships.
There are a lot of cabin grades onboard this small ship, however every one of the 14 grades has been totally refurbished, actually that should read 're-built'. From the inside cabins right up to Owners suites, Mr Herrods attention to detail is prevalent throughout. The beds were super comfy, 4 pillows on each, decorated with citrus-coloured cushions and plush duvet. We had a Grade C on deck 7 (743), and there was a bottle of champagne waiting for us when we arrived. This cabin was as aft as you could get on that deck, and even though I was concerned about engine noise there was none. There was a slight vibration and rumble as the ship entered and left port but other than that it was a very comfortable cabin and we slept very well. The bathroom had a spacious walk in, glass panelled shower with great water pressure, sink and toilet of course, Molten Brown amenities, and hair drier. Our cabin also had a balcony, with space for 2 chairs and a table. Two air-conditioning vents kept the cabin nice and cool, and although a tad noisy when open full, it did not disturb us. Remember this is an older ship so you have to forgive her quirks!
Some of our group had cabins on other decks and did report some noise - I suggest you check with your travel agent before confirming your room number.
The inside cabins utilised a good array of mirrors to create space and light and were finished to the same high standard as the top grades. Bathrooms in these grades had a shower curtain and different bathroom amenities.
Outside cabins were again finished to a high standard and some had bathrooms with bath tubs in with shower above. Outside cabins on the lower deck feature portholes, which add a traditional nautical touch. Every cabin was spotlessly clean - the stewards did an excellent job in keeping them spic-and-span. All cabins have flat screen TV, safe, hair dryer, with bath and/or shower.
Walking around the public areas of the Aegean Odyssey, again I was impressed with the cleanliness of the ship - seriously spotless!
Most of the public rooms are on Promenade Deck, starting aft with the Terrace Café. This is a great indoors/outdoors area, set up for breakfast, lunch and dinner - perfect for dining al-fresco. This is a buffet area, well designed and thought out, with good passenger flow. Once you have selected your food, a smiling waiter will take your tray and accompany you to your seat, which is a nice touch. Seating was comfy and outside on the terrace the furniture was teak with director-style chairs. My only very slight criticism is that on the table in the covered area you were supplied with cloth napkins, but outside they were paper - I found that a bit odd and would have preferred the cloth ones outside too. Service here was excellent, with plenty of waiters and bus boys around to keep you topped up with tea/coffee/juice. At breakfast they come round with a basket of toasted bread (saves queueing up at the toaster) and in the evening they circulate with freshly baked pizza. This was a nice touch and I've not seen it before on other ships and worked very well. They were very prompt in clearing away empty plates and topping up water and in the evening, wine.
Moving forward you go past the library which is stocked by Oxford-based bookseller Blackwell. As well as an extensive range of books covering the art, history and culture of the classical civilisations of the Mediterranean, the library also includes modern and classic fiction, reference books and travel guides. In addition, Blackwell's world-famous Classics Department has helped to design reading lists for all Voyages to Antiquity's itineraries.
The Gift Shop, operated by Bristol-based Harding Brothers, offers a good selection of logo wear, fine jewellery, handbags, perfumes and sundry items.
Moving forward you arrive at the Charleston Lounge, one of two lounges onboard the Aegean Odyssey. The lounge is used as a nice relaxing area, and is decorated in pinks and grey, with plenty of seating. There is a piano situated next to a small dance floor and a bar at the other end. In the evening the ships pianist plays the usual array of Cole Porter classics and songs from the shows. One evening the ships trio of classical musicians entertained us too. Both acts were of excellent quality and our fellow guests really enjoyed them both.
All the way forward on this deck in the Ambassador Lounge. This area onboard Aegean Odyssey is used for the Captains Cocktail party as well as the lectures, and features comfy seating, dance floor, area for the band and a retractable projection screen for the lecture programme.
Up on Observation Deck is the appropriately named Observation Lounge, used for private functions, small gatherings or just to sit and relax with a book and watch the world sail by.
On the Lido Deck there are the larger suites and the pool area. The pool was actually very deep and used a fair bit on our short trip. This is surrounded by sunbathing area - with nice teak loungers topped with comfortable cushions and plenty of towels too. Parasols provide nice areas of shade.
Aft of the pool is the spa area and small gym.
Down on Belvedere Deck there is the spacious reception area, and on Marco Polo deck is the Marco Polo restaurant, open for lunch and dinner.
Breakfast on Aegean Odyssey was served in the Terrace Café and is a buffet style. Plenty of seating inside or outside, and the food choice and quality was good - fresh fruits, cold meats and cheeses, cereals, yoghurt's, or cooked breakfast - sausage, eggs (scrambled or poached) potatoes, waffles, bacon, beans - all the usual.
Lunch was served again in the Terrace Café or in the Marco Polo restaurant and consisted of good selection of salads, a soup-of-the-day, burgers, hot dogs and fries, and a number of other hot dishes and vegetables.
Evening meals could be taken in the Marco Polo or again in the Terrace Café. Choice was good, food was hot and of course the complimentary wine was provided in both locations. The cheese board offered a good selection of local and international cheeses and crackers.
Overall the food choice and quality onboard Aegean Odyssey was very good - no complaints here or from any of our party - and all served by the ever smiling waiters and busboys. The meals are not "fine-dining" but then the ship does not promote itself as such, however the food was very good and delicious. Plenty of opportunity to eat healthily or to really indulge!
Service and Crew
The service on onboard the Aegean Odyssey was actually very, very good. Attentive waiters at meal times, friendly cabin stewards, charming bar staff and bar waiters all combine to create a very welcoming, friendly atmosphere. The shore ex staff were all lovely and very knowledgeable (they are all graduates with degrees in Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology or similar subjects) so you know you can pick their brains about any aspect of the excursions or the destinations. All the staff were very engaging and genuinely friendly and willing to have a chat.
You can have the best ship in the world but if you do not get the right sort of staff and crew onboard then it really pulls down the whole cruise experience and can make-or-break a guests voyage - the staff onboard Aegean Odyssey were top-notch and a credit to the cruise line and to Mr Herrod.
Onboard Aegean Odyssey all your shore excursions are included in the cost and consist of a morning tour and often an afternoon tour too. They also offer additional excursions that you can purchase. This arrangement gives you the flexibility of taking an organised trip and then allows you time to do your own exploring of the port or town.
On the tours the ship utilises the QuietVox system. This is basically a receiver that you wear around your neck with an attached ear piece and then the tour guide wears a transmitter. This is such a great system as it allows everyone in the tour group to hear, plus you can wander off and explore whilst still listening to the guide.
When you embark the Aegean Odyssey you are assigned a colour group for the tours, and you remain in this group throughout the cruise. Tour groups were small, about 20 guests in each, and as you always travel with the same guests, allows you to built up new friendships whilst on the excursion.
Our tours included a trip to the ruins of Mycenae and optional tour to Epidaurus at Nafplion. In Taormina we tendered into Giardini Naxos and were transferred by coach to Taormina and enjoyed a walking tour of the town and plenty of time at the famous theatre. There was an optional tour to Mount Etna, however it did not operate due to bad weather.
The included lectures onboard Aegean Odyssey are excellent and covered a variety of subjects pertaining to the areas you are travelling in. Whilst onboard we enjoyed topics such as "The Athenian Acropolis and Ancient Religious Practice" and "Thera, Etna and Vesuvius" both by James Higginbottom, and "The Antikythera Mechanism" by Monica Jackson.
Other celebrated lecturers include
- John Julius Norwich - renowned historian and author of "The Middle Sea"
- Mary Beard - Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge
- Michael Vickers - Professor of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Before embarking I worried that the lectures would be too high-brow and inaccessible but this was not the case at all - all were thoroughly interesting and very entertaining.
During the day, shorts, tees, tops and polo shirts are acceptable. In the evening, dresses, short sleeved shirts, smart trousers, polo shirts, are all fine. Even at the Captains Cocktail party there was a variety of dress code - some gentlemen dressed up in a suit or a blazer with shirt and tie, others wore just an open necked shirt and trousers, some had on a short sleeved shirt, other just polo shirts. Some of the ladies dressed up, others not so much - it didn't really matter and all was perfectly acceptable. No jeans though.
Aegean Odyssey is a lovely little ship with a very friendly, almost cosy atmosphere. There are no announcements (apart to disembark the tours), no organised activities, no bingo, no rock climbing, no massive shopping malls, no kids, no cheesy game-shows, no sequin-and-feather shows - I think you get the picture. Rather it is a quality experience, where the art of conversation and opportunity to meet like-minded people is the order of the day, plenty of opportunity to relax, to read, to study your next port of call, to meet new friends from all over the world.
On our sea day, our fellow guests relaxed around the pool, some were sunbathing, others took in the lectures, some made notes about the destinations and enjoyed the lectures and port briefings.
The other guests onboard Aegean Odyssey were from English-speaking countries, namely the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia.
This ship is SPOTLESS - seriously impressed with the levels of cleanliness onboard - it looks brand new.
I had a great time onboard Aegean Odyssey. This small cruise ship would appeal to couples and singles who appreciate smaller destinations, good company, enrichment and enlightenment. Whilst we were on our short cruise we did not see any other large cruise ships - we did however see Royal Clipper, SeaDream and Silver Wind - all small ships. Our fellow guests' ranged in age from 50's up to 80's. Every area of the ship has been refurbished and she looks great - really clean. Ideal for people who appreciate art, archaeology, ancient cultures, mythology, architecture, classical music, smaller ports of call, culture, looking for a relaxing holiday in good company, with comfortable accommodation.