Having only experienced mid sized cruise ships before, this was an entirely different experience that we initially had mixed feelings about. However having just done Sicily is the Key to Everything on VTA's Aegean Odyssey, we were surprised just how much we really enjoyed the feel of being on a much smaller ship. We found the ship positively charming, yes she's an old girl, no getting away from that and at times a little noisy, but she's been tastefully refurbished and the staff are absolutely fantastic.
We started off with 2 nights pre-cruise stay at the Atheneum Intercontinental in Athens,loverly modern room, hotel is a bit out from City Centre, but having done the main sites in the included excursion we were more than happy to flop out by the hotel pool and just enjoy the sun. The age group on this cruise was predominantly retirees, although there was the occasional younger person (am including ourselves in that even though we are sixties children). The representatives acting for the cruise line in Athens were perhaps a bit too how shall I put it? "mothering" for our tastes, but I suppose they have got rather accustomed to behaving like that, although younger passengers may find this rather irritating. The thing I really noticed about Athens was how much graffiti there was, the greeks like scrawling on anything and everything apparently. The transfer and embarkation in Piraeus was very swift and we were soon in our cabin. We had asked for a Double bedded cabin and the G grade cabins were supposed to have convertible beds, however the one were were allocated didn't and as the twin beds were fixed, we had to change cabin. The ship wasn't full so we were able to secure a balcony cabin instead. Size wise the extra space in this type of cabin was comparable with the standard balcony cabins you get on RCI, although the balcony was more spacious and better appointed on this ship and was a great place to watch from as the ship sailed through Malta's Grand Harbour. Welcoming touches were my favourite Molten Brown toiletries, a chilled bottle of Champagne and a mini bar full of complimentary soft drink cans. The wallhung LCD tv was very tiny but we adjusted to it's smallness.
We loved eating breakfast and lunch al fresco out on deck in the Terrace Restaurant and there was always a good choice. For dinner we always ate in the Marco Polo Restaurant purely as we enjoy being waited on for this meal and the chance to share a table with other passengers. What a welcome surprise that was too,not sure what we were expecting but we met some extremely interesting people and some real characteurs, it was genuinely a pleasure to cruise with. The food was enjoyable,they even had Brussel Sprouts in August! Entertainment wise this was very, very low key,the trio were very accomplished musicians and were very well received everytime they played. Not too keen on the duo, the vocals weren't too good. A Michael Bubble CD went down far better. Can't say too much about the evening lectures, we did the first one then snook off to the bar instead on other evenings, but we were told afterwards that people did drop off in them. There really is a lot of walking on these itineries, so if you are less able in getting around, it's not perhaps best suited for you and you might be better on a bigger ship that offers more "scenic driven" excursions and less tendering. This was quite an experience when the sea swell got a bit choppy.
One of my favourite ports was Taormina, loved the Greek Theatre and its views of Etna. The lemon ice cream here is to die for, do try some. Great also for shopping, would have liked 2 days here, to have had the time to go further up Etna by cable car/4x4 as we didn't feel the optional excursion we took went sufficiently high enough for us. Mycenae and it's ancient beehive tombs was interesting, Nauplia good for buying cheap italian leather shoes. Syracuse has a great market to walk round, only on in the morning so skip the morning excursion if you want to do this. The excursion tour guides were good, very knowledgeable and easy to understand. Red group are always the first group on excursions, the other 5 groups take it in turns to go with them. Also was surprised that contary to what I had antisipated,I actually prefered Sicily over Greece and will definately revisit Taormina one day.
We found the staff exceptional,always smiling and so willing to help you. Special mentions to Sidi our cabin boy,Edgar and Victoria in the bar, Vanessa and Lesley on reception and Matthew the Hotel Manager onboard. Would we cruise with VTA again? Most definately, the new Indian and Asian intineries for 2012 soun very promising.