My husband and i traveled with a friend and her sister on the May 7 2011 cruise to Greece and turkey. We had cruised once previously to Alaska on a large Princess ship. Although we enjoyed Alaska, we were not fans of the huge glitzy cruise ship with the lines and waiting. I discovered Voyages to Antiquity searching the internet and noted there were some uneven evaluations. But the concept of the small cruise ship fascinated us and, although our professions are in mechanical engineering and nursing, my husband and I are both amateur historians.
May is a fabulous time to cruise the Mediterranean! It was warm yet not hot and the wild flowers were in bloom. It was not yet peak season, although the shore excursion sites were already busy.
Our cruise started with two nights in a hotel in Athens. There are two hotels used. We booked an inexpensive inside room on the ship and were placed in the less expensive hotel-I believe the name was the "Intercontinental Hotel." Persons More
booked in the suites on board ship stay at a more expensive hotel. We were pleasantly surprised by how nice the hotel was. We had a large room with a king sized bed and a sitting area with a sofa and chair. It was very clean and had a fabulous morning breakfast buffet included. Voyages to Antiquity staffed a desk in the lobby for 12 hours a day where very pleasant staff offered maps and advice on how to plan for meals and excursions on our own. They sent us to a delightful and inexpensive taverna just a short walk from the hotel. (The hotel meals were very expensive.) Included was a tour to the Acropolis and the forum. Try to visit some of the smaller museums in Athens on your own-they were fabulous.
Boarding the ship was efficient and well organized-like all of our experiences with this cruise line! We had booked a less expensive inside cabin which we were thoroughly satisfied with. The beds cannot be pushed together to form one large bed and they are smaller than a twin. But they were comfortable. There was air conditioning in the ceiling which I ran because I am hot all the time. It worked well but it was May and not that hot out anyway. The bathroom was adequately sized and clean. The pleasant cabin steward was always available and made sure we had everything we needed. Laudry service was available and a bit expensive. For example a shirt was $3 and slacks $4 each. We had brought soap and did undies and t shirts in the bathroom sink.
The food was great-fresh and well prepared. Much better than what we had on our Princess ship. The Marco Polo dining room was more formal and required a jacket for men (although I noted the dress code became less formal as the cruise went on.) We had most meals in the Terrace buffet which had inside and outdoor seating and was informal. Most meals had three main choices to choose from. there was lots of well prepared and fresh fish. Every meal also had a pasta dish and delicious pizzas. There were piles of fruit and salads. All of us were very pleased with the food. Wine and beer are included (free) at dinner. My husband's only suggestion was that they should increase their choice of beers-all they had was Becks, Corona and Bud Light. (Be sure and try the Mythos beer in Greece!)
Shore excursions were spectacular! Voyages to Antiquity contracts with excursion providers in each port. When the call was made to depart for the days excursions, the buses would be lined up and waiting for us. Each group had a tour leader/guide. In general they were good except I had difficulty understanding many of the Greek guides because of their accents and the fact they tend to talk fast The ship gives you an audiovox system to hear the guides with and it was helpful but not perfect.
Our particular tour visited fascinating and beautiful destinations. Monemvasia in Greece was beautiful as was our optional trip to the medieval Byzantine town of Mystas. The island of Delos was fascinating with the May flowers blooming amidst the Greek and Roman ruins of the city. The medieval town area in Rhodes was great also. In Turkey we visited Ephesus and Aprodisias. walking the streets of a these Greek/Roman cities was an unforgettable experience. And to our surprise we loved Istanbul! We are not usually "city people" but this was a fascinating and truly exotic place.
We thought this trip was an excellent value. When you first look at the price it seems high-but when you factor in the comfort of small ship cruising, the excellent service, the organization (no lines!), outstanding food and the fact that almost all the shore excursions were included in the price, and the high quality pre-cruise hotel you realize it really is a great value.
There are a few things I would like to see improved. As mentioned, my husband thought the beer selection was fair at best. Also, many excursions were too short-we would be brought to a fascinating place and would be back on the bus in 2-3 hours. I would rather have spent more time in every place we visited. But the cruise line seems to book 1/2 day shore excursions and bus travel time eats into what is available. Also, there is no time to shop. Please note I am NOT a big shopper-but everyone needs to pick up T shirts foe the kids etc. There was very little time allowed. We would be hurried past vendors to get to the buses while I would have loved 20 minutes to peruse their wares. We asked to be brought to the famous Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The bus dropped us off and we were told 30 minutes! Hardly time to experience what it is like. One other issue we noted is that the service in the Terrace Grill buffet dining area could be uneven. Sometimes you would be approached quickly and offered beer or wine and others times you would not be noticed very quickly. Some times they would bring around pizza slices to offer and other days they never reached you. The wait staff was pleasant but service was just a bit uneven.
One thing to keep in mind is that this cruise line attracts an older clientele. My husband and I are in our late 50s. I would guess the average age is between 65 and 70. There were a few young couples and a smattering of teens and 20 somethings that were cruising in a family group. But this is an older and sedate crowd. If you like to spend evenings reading, listening to 45 minute lectures on history presented by college professors, chatting with new friends, listening to a string trio playing in the lounge or a pianist crooning out the top sounds of the 1950s and show tunes etc, you will love this ship. If you want to drink hard and party at the disco-this cruise line is not for you! But, we absolutely loved our cruise. We have already ordered the 2012 brochure and are picking out a cruise for next year. I think that is the best indicator of how much we enjoyed this cruise! Less