I was a little hesitant to book this cruise since there had been no Cruise Critic reviews on the ship since November 2010 and they weren't all that positive. However, since Sicily is one of my favorite places in all of the world (and I have seen a good part of it!) and the ship spent almost a week in Sicily in the various ports, I decided to throw caution to the wind and book it anyway. Am I glad that I did!!
I flew into Athens and spent my pre-cruise night at an inexpensive hotel in Piraeus. The only good thing that I can say about the hotel that I booked was that it offered a free shuttle service to the port. Hotel check-out time was 12 noon so I got to the cruise ship pier about 1215PM. The information that I had gotten from Voyages to Antiquity said that embarkation did not begin until 2PM and boy, were they spot on. Most cruise lines say embarkation begins at a certain time but they always let people on early. Not this ship! At exactly 2PM they opened the check-in desks and there was no line so I was checked-in and on the ship in about 5 minutes. I was handed a red rose (for which there was a bud vase in my cabin), escorted to my obstructed view cabin by a smiling Filipino steward and my luggage arrived shortly after that. I headed down to the Terrace Cafe for a buffet lunch and then explored the ship.
The Aegean Odyssey is a very small (11,563 tons) "boutique style" 40-year old ship. If the ship is full it holds 350 people. There were only about 200 passengers on our sailing so there were never any lines and the service was top drawer. It has 6 passenger decks and 2 dining venues - the main dining room called the Marco Polo Restaurant, down in the bowels of the ship on the lowest passenger desk as is the norm with many older ships, and the Terrace Cafe, a delightful buffet restaurant on the Promenade Deck where I took most of my meals. Breakfast is always a buffet served at the Terrace Cafe. Generally one can have lunch and dinner served in the Marco Polo Restaurant or at the buffet at the Terrace Cafe. There were a few times when the Marco Polo was closed for lunch and a buffet lunch was the only option. There is no room service. There are no set dinner times at the Marco Polo and there never seemed to be a wait for a table when one wanted to eat dinner there.
The food was excellent. Very fresh and well made with, for such a small ship, plenty of options. Fresh food (such as tangerines, swordfish and yellow fin tuna) was brought on at Palermo and they never seemed to run out of anything. The service in the Marco Polo was generally pretty good and it was absolutely excellent in the Terrace Cafe. Your tray was always carried from the buffet to your table of choice and you could eat inside or outside. The servers and stewards in the Terrace Cafe were SO fun and friendly and learned many of the passengers' names within a couple of days. There was always a chef cooking something on the indoor grill (such as bacon, fish, hamburgers, hot dogs or steak) and a separate table with tasty desserts. The Aegean Odyssey has the most amazing ice cream. It tasted like it was just made on the ship but it actually comes from Italy and they have 14 rotating flavors. There was plenty of salads and fresh sliced, cut up and whole fruit. You won't go hungry!
English tea time was daily at 4PM and VERY well attended.
The ship is all non-smoking except for an outside area on Deck 5 aft.
On our sailing the passenger mix was about half Americans, a lot of British and some Australians and other English-speaking nationalities. Everybody was very congenial and friendly. Some of the passengers had sailed on Aegean Odyssey previously and said the food and service had improved since last season. I would guess that the average age was 65.
My cabin was very comfortable (except for the horrible foam rubber pillows). Plenty of hangers and a good size bureau, as well as more drawers and a nice-size safe in the closet. My cabin steward was excellent and took wonderful care of me. I had 2 windows with life boats in front of both of them. Not a problem. At least I could see if it was sunny or not outside! I had one of the 16 single cabins with a bed big enough for me (somewhere between a normal single and double bed mattress). The Standard and Premium cabins all seem to have 2 tiny twin beds (smaller than normal size twin beds) that do not go together. There were some large people on the ship and I don't know how they were able to sleep in those small beds without falling out! Some of the Deluxe cabins have very nice queen beds. The Standard and Premium cabins have no-name toiletries and the Deluxe cabins have Moulton Brown toiletries. Being an old ship, the air conditioning in the cabins is rather unusual and tempremental. There is no thermostat on the wall. There is a dial on the vent on the cabin ceiling that you turn to supposedly open or close the damper to change the room temperature. Well, sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn't. The air conditioning vent could also be very noisy. I was told by a couple who were in a cabin on the top passenger deck (Lido Deck) who sailed on the ship last year that the air conditioning did not work hardly at all and the staff brought them a fan to try to cool the room down. My cabin shower was small but larger than some other ships (such as the old Renaissance Cruise Line ships that now sail for Azamara, Princess and Oceania). The Deluxe cabins have larger showers or tub/shower combos. There was an occasional lack of really hot water when many people were showering at the same time but I did not find that to be a problem.
Entertainment on the Aegean Odyssey was very limited. There was a fantastic piano player (Stacy) and a classical trio (the Cafe Concerto trio) that alternated musical sets in one of the lounges. There were lectures most days or evenings from the historians/lecturers onboard and one game of "Name that Tune". There was no trivia, dance classes, art auctions or any of the usual shipboard activities. We were so busy with the shore excursions on this port-intensive itinerary cruise that there really wasn't too much time for any activities anyway. There was a well stocked library onboard and I read a number of books. With this older passenger group I think that most people went to bed quite early. I know I did!
The shore excursions were mostly included and amazing!!!! I never walked so much in my life nor saw so many temple ruins or cathedrals. Thank goodness the weather was in the 70s most of the trip! If it was any hotter it could have been a problem (at least for me) since much of what we saw was outside with little or no shade and few places to sit down. The passengers were all divided into colored groups (red, yellow, green, blue, orange and purple) and these were the groups that we toured with the entire time. The colors were also rotated so that each color group got to go on a tour first at least once. The big tour buses were all very comfortable and air conditioned and held maybe 30 or so people. We had a shore excursions staff member with us on almost all of the tours and those kids were wonderful. Knowledgeable, friendly, personable, fit and helpful. They kept track of the group and would help the slower members of the tour group (the people with canes or walking difficulties of which there seemed to be quiet a few) keep up. They also carried a huge tote bag with filled with first aid kit, bottles of water, extra Quietvoxes (the amazing listening devices that allowed us to hear our guide even when we were wandering off taking photos or whatnot) and who knows what else in their magic tote bags.I was very fortunate that all of my tour guides were excellent. I heard a couple of comments from other passengers who were in different tour groups that their guides in Palermo were not the best, but that was very unusual. Just about everybody seemed to be very happy with all of their tour guides. There was a LOT of walking on all of the tours. Truthfully I don't know how some of the passengers did it. Much walking on cobblestones and other uneven surfaces, stairs (oh, MANY stairs!) and hills. I never walked so much in my life! But I was very proud of myself (I am not in the best physical shape and would be the first to admit it!) that I was able to do all of the tours and keep up. Be warned - you will get A LOT of exercise on this cruise!! We had to tender in 4 of the smaller ports which held things up a bit, but with only 200 passengers tendering generally was quick and efficient.
In closing, this was one of the best cruises I have ever taken. It was certainly a completely different experience than most cruise lines offer.
The ports of call, shore excursions, passengers, crew, staff and food were excelllent and I would definitely recommend it to anybody who is interested in the history and culture of the classical world. Certainly the price is higher than many other cruises, but the value received (including selected shore excursions, in-depth lecture program, nice small ship with no lines, wine with dinner, gratuities and bottled water) makes it well worth the money. I am looking forward to my next cruise on the Aegean Odyssey. Hope to see you there!