Trip: Istanbul to Venice
Date: 24 September 2012
Previously: I've sailed with P&O, RCCI, Thomson -- a total of about 6 cruises.
Booking: I chose VtoA for the itinerary, hoping to enjoy the small ship experience. I am a solo traveller, so was attracted to their willingness to welcome solos. Initially I was too late for the first batch of solo bookings, but after exchanging emails with the sales office, got a deal that I was happy with.
There are some things that are not available on a VtoA cruise: there is no casino, no zipwire, no kids club and there are no photographers.
Aegean Oddysey is small -- you can get to any part of it in only a couple of minutes. She is clean and smart.
Some of the public areas have a sort of 70's decor, but nothing looks that old. My cabin (inside) is of good size and is fresh and comfortable.
The deck areas seem to be noisier than some ships that I've been on. But maybe that's because the ship is smaller, and so it's harder to escape the machinery.
The Terrace at the back of the ship is a superb place to eat.
The sundecks are never crowded, and I haven't seen any sunbed hogging.
There are many places to read a book, drink tea, etc, which are both nice and available.
Ship's staff are friendly -- the Cruise Coordinator chats to everyone all day, the ShoreEx staff never stop smiling, the waiting staff are eager. The captain often dines on the Terrace Restaurant and sometimes goes on the tours.
Tours in Istanbul (before the cruise really started) were average -- but the tours while cruising have been well above average, with knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides.
The Whispernet that I had in Istanbul didn't work too well... breaking up quite often. But once on ship, each passenger gets their own Quietvox for the whole trip. These boxes are pretty good, giving good guide-tourist communication over a reasonable area. So it's easy to slip away from the group but still keep in contact.
Fellow travelers are mostly aged over 60. They seem to be intelligent, discerning folk. I was concerned that I'd be surrounded by history PHDs, but most people seem to know a little and want to learn a bit more. Sure, there are some people on board who are avidly building on their knowledge, but most are just looking for something more than being taken to a shop that the guide knows.
There's a lot about the cruise experience which is nice. At the start of each tour, I am given a bottle of chilled water. On each shore excursion trip we have a guide, but we are also escorted by a member of the shore excursion team... and the ShoreEx team chat on radios to ensure that things are coordinated. Significantly this means that even though some 300 of us are visiting the same places in different groups, the visits are staggered. When I return to the ship, there isn't a hand-gel machine, there's a stack of chilled moist face cloths. In the shade, by the pool, there is an endless supply of tea and coffee. The barman at the Lido Bar keeps wine glasses in the fridge, so that white wine is not served too hot. There are waiters to take my drink order... but they don't disturb me every five minutes. Overall, I feel like I am a guest, not a customer.
The food is superb. I pass by glorious salads. The roast dinners are beautifully cooked -- one night there was a leg of pork which had been roasting all day, and was succulent and tasty. One night there was duck which was full of flavour. There was turkey, chicken and suckling pig.
I only got to try a couple of the Tapas dishes -- which were excellent. I learned to walk around and look to see what food was available from various sources before deciding, I was never disappointed.
During dinner on the terrace, the waitress Aida walks among the tables, refilling glasses with wine. She has a constant smile.
On the tours, I am in the Brown Group. For several days we have the same guide -- one of the 16.2% of men in Greece called George. George doesn't travel on the ship -- instead, he is chasing us around Greece -- always one step ahead of us. He is the perfect tour guide -- on the bus he drips out the odd bit of information, usually accompanied with a related joke. In the museums and churches he keeps up a constant flow of information, - but it's not just dates and names. George knows what we've seen and where we are going... so he paints a bigger picture, putting everything together.
For most of the trip, the only sign of 'smuts' were a few marks on the white seat covers on the Terrace Cafe. But, leaving Dubrovnik, the funnel spewed out a lot of hot particles, some of which landed on the aft sundeck. So -- if you're out there and ash starts to land around you, it might be smart to relocate.
Voyages to Antiquity have delivered the holiday that they said they'd deliver -- excellent quality, with a focus upon history rather than an obsession with it. It worked for me.