The mid-size 550-passenger MV Aegean Odyssey's exterior is pleasingly sleek, white with a navy stripe with Neptune's trident in gold as her symbol. Completely rebuilt in Piraeus Greece she once plied the Aegean as a ferry before being reinvented in 2010 as a tonic for those fascinated with the art, archeology and culture of classical civilizations. What she proves to be with her personal service and just right size is an antidote to the large ship experience with their endless queues, cafeteria type noshing, noisy children and forced onboard activities.
The brain and chairman behind this exciting venture is, not surprisingly, Gerry Herrod well-loved by independent travelers for his adventurous seafaring spirit embodied in the Marco Polo, the ship that pioneered explorations in Antarctica and the Ocean Pearl, which exclusively plied the exotic Far East. He consistently brings to cruisers a valuable and novel travel experience.
Registered in Valetta Malta (after some red tape with the previous Greek registration) the reinvented Aegean Odyssey sailed from Piraeus for its inaugural cruise THE LIGHT OF GREECE on May 4, 2010.
Summer voyages will see the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic. Beginning this autumn she sails to North Africa the Red Sea and in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ports of call chosen by Herrod and vetted by Lord Norwich are a fascination as are some of the included tours.
This review is written from my experience on the SICILY IS THE KEY TO EVERYTHING itinerary, the second in a series of voyages aptly titled VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY.
Although my husband and myself are rank novices where ancient history is concerned we admire the concept and fascination that it holds and here is where the Aegean Odyssey stands tall. The Aegean Odyssey takes 'firsts' in this hallowed department with her line up of lectures by renowned archeologists, writers and professors such as the celebrated Lord John Julius Norwich. Norwich is author of the fascinating tome The Middle Sea about the Eastern and Central Mediterranean.
Her library should be the envy of all ships including the luxury vessels that have more space. The Aegean Odyssey's library faultlessly imparts a compelling sense of place, an integral ingredient to the enjoyment of foreign travel. There are archaeology, history and art books galore with a raft of titles (travelogue and fiction) set in the ports of call. This includes modern detective fiction (Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbane among others) for those in a lighter frame of mind. Hard to find fiction such as the scandalous South Island by Norman Douglas first published in 1917 with an introduction by Jan Morris winks from the shelves. So do travelogues from famous names throughout the century such as Jan Morris, Norman Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Charles Dickens. All in all the collection of books will thrill all whose eyes rove her shelves.
But is a cultural cruise enough to make a memorable and stress relieving holiday? To let you know, I have been a travel writer for thirty years but took this cruise as a paying passenger as I wanted to sample the cruise as a guest. I was lured by that peripatetic occupation as a child of ten when my family sailed the Med on the MS Europa. There, swinging my feet and losing one shoe overboard, I filled my leisure time in a deck chair while chronicling my experiences in my school notebook. Since then I have professionally penned stories for books, magazines and the Internet. So, for one as spoiled for travel as I am: the answer is an emphatic No. Just culture is not quite enough. My mandate: Sleep well, eat well, be comfortable and bring home memories of experiences as unlike home as possible.
The choosing of a cruise (for me) encompasses the following: A small to mid size ship with outstanding and unusual ports of call paired with onboard creature comforts. Our cruise complies. The spacious stateroom with balcony (we chose to pay the price) is quiet. We sleep like babies in our gentle sea cradle (two stabilizers) on quality Linea Strom mattress with high thread count bed linen. A bath tub in our stateroom (only with some balcony staterooms) is a definite plus.
Dining and lounge chairs in public rooms with good back support ensure leisurely meals and pre and postprandial drinks. The two comfortable bars with live music are well stocked with premium liquors. To cap all this, the cuisine is excellent and like the books in that wonderful library suits the ports of call. At meals there is fresh produce and often meat and fish purveyed locally by the fussy for quality hotel manager and chef.
The decks boast a decent sized outdoor pool, Jacuzzi, shady areas with comfortable loungers for quiet time and an outdoor dining area. The Aegean Odyssey has lovely wooden decking making it an aesthetically pleasing whole. Did I forget personal service? MS Aegean Odyssey doesn't. Concession Cruise Solutions provides all staff except for officers. Unusual though this may seem everything and everyman and woman is up to the mark including an Italian Master Chef whose cuisine beats five star Regent(except specialty restaurants) hands down. Italian hotel manager Maurie's deft hand runs the show. Reception takes care of guests' bidding with a smile. Her colorful brochure boasts a semi-inclusive cruise with tips, tours and wine with dinner. All good things.
Regarding the total cruise experience (if you ask my opinion), I'd change the one seating dinner hour from an old persons' 6 to 8 pm to a more sophisticated 7 to 9 pm. I would have breakfast served until 10 am rather than rush to be seated with food by an early bird 8:30. I would insist on more than one choice of the inclusive red or white wine at dinner.
As is any new product there are some new ship type glitches and these problems will be overcome. Tomorrow we disembark in lovely and classical Rome. And, as the old adage says "Rome wasn't built in a day."