The main focus of onboard entertainment is on lectures by visiting scholars, held in the Ambassador Lounge. This ship-width lecture hall has a gently sloping floor -- a bit too gentle, though -- so those sitting at the banquettes and swiveling chairs on its six levels have somewhat obstructed sight lines toward the projector screen and movable podium. There are numerous un-curtained windows on both port and starboard walls -- a problem on the rare occasion when sunlight shines on the screen during a presentation.
Aegean Odyssey sails each itinerary with scholars of that region's history, including professors from Cambridge and Oxford, former ambassadors, authors, journalists, military men and even experts in regional food and cooking. Often accompanying themselves with slides (and sometimes video), these specialists speak for 45 to 60 minutes, either after dinner or in the morning before the shore excursions, and occasionally after the tours. At-sea days typically feature lectures, both morning and afternoon. On our 12-night Asian itinerary, four lecturers were aboard, each giving three talks. We found three of the lecturers to be interesting, engaging speakers -- while the forth, though obviously knowledgeable, threatened to put us to sleep with his deadly presentation style and lack of visuals.
Beyond lectures, several tables in the Observation Deck lounge are set up for bridge players, with playing times announced in the daily bulletin. In addition, two bridge hosts from a British organization called "Mr. Bridge" were aboard; they organized games and showed instructional videos.
Aside from that, Voyages to Antiquity presumes its educated and curious passengers can entertain themselves, either in conversation or with books -- and there were always readers scattered around public areas. European and Middle Eastern ports of call are relatively close together, and sailing is done at night, so even a 16-night itinerary might feature just a single day at sea. Asian itineraries feature more sea days, which tend to be filled with lectures or the occasional regional cooking demonstration from the executive chef.
There is no theater or show room on Aegean Odyssey. For musical entertainment, the Charleston Lounge on the Promenade Deck is the only place where you can count on regular bar hours and live music -- either the three-piece string combo, most often performing familiar classical works and music for slow dancing, or a pianist playing Broadway and movie tunes, as well as pop classics. Musicians regroup in different ways for light rock and acoustic performances. The Charleston has a small bandstand and dance floor, banquettes, tub chairs, tables to hold drinks, snacks and twice-daily hors d'oeuvres. The color scheme in this room is bright pink, gray and beige.
On some nights, one of the musicians will offer a solo performance, or a group of them will put on a program of themed music, such as "Concert in Italy" or "Tribute to Duke Ellington," in the larger Ambassador Lounge. Also, on occasion, a local musical soloist or group is brought onboard for an evening performance.
Beyond the Charleston, the bars onboard are the Lido Deck bar (open during the day), the bar serving Tapas on the Terrace (open during mealtimes only) and a small bar in the Observation Lounge, a seating area that occupies the small, enclosed space that constitutes the uppermost deck.
Shore excursions are the raison d'etre for Voyages to Antiquity, and the cruise line does quite well by that objective. Except for a handful of special tours (some involving air flights), all are included in the price of the voyage. For instance, on a 14-night Rome-to-Venice itinerary, the ship makes 11 port calls and offers 21 excursions. On a 12-night roundtrip cruise from Singapore, it offered eight included shore excursion opportunities in six ports, plus two supplemental excursions. The line is so gung-ho about educating its passengers that it actually mails passengers a suggested reading list with their cruise documents, offering to sell and ship a package of books relevant to the itinerary. Some of these books are also available in the ship's boutique.
On a sample European cruise, the only two tours for which there was a charge were a guided tour of the fabulously ornate, centuries-old Palermo mansion, the Palazzo Gangi (a $55 donation, for its continuing restoration) and a half-day tour of the 16th-century Ghetto Nuovo and the Rialto neighborhoods of Venice ($75). Asian itineraries offer more far-flung options, including long day-trips with flights to Bagan and Mandalay (former capitals of the empire) in Burma ($495 each).
Occasionally, because of the difficulty involved in, say, navigating a couple of miles over cobblestone streets, walking steep hills, snorkeling or other physical activities, the ship offers concurrent trips of varying levels of physical demand or time.
Passengers are encouraged to choose tours in advance, but reservations can usually be made the day before. Passengers booked in Balcony Class cabins receive priority debarkation for the tours.
Each cabin is equipped with a Quietvox radio receiver, earphone and charger for each passenger. Passengers are requested to bring these on shore excursions and to charge them (by inserting the device into a holder) when they return to their cabins. The lightweight individual receivers hang from a neck cord and enable each group's guide to speak without shouting; they also enable you to rove a bit or study something you're interested in while listening to the guide. However, we sometimes had problems with the system tuning into another guide's frequency, which is typically solved by turning the receiver off and then on again.
Without exception, the local guides on a European sailing were knowledgeable, their English was easy to understand, and they kept their own participants in a relatively tight grouping. Guides on an Asian itinerary were all top-notch, too, with the exception of one truculent guide in Malacca, who shouted into the Quietvox, resulting in distortion which, combined with his accent, made him nearly possible to understand. He was duly noted and reprimanded by shorex staff, who are omnipresent, helping to make sure tours are on track and that no one gets lost.
On a European itinerary in Italy, tenders were used frequently; on an Asian itinerary, between Singapore and Rangoon, Burma, tenders were used only once. However, on Asian sailings, some attractions can require an overland trip of an hour or more from the port. Aegean Odyssey does have an advantage due to its smaller size, letting it enter ports that larger ships can't. For example, it can sail up the Chao Prya River to Bangkok, while big ships are forced to use the Laem Chabang port up to a three-hour drive away.
Short shore excursion briefings (about 15 to 20 minutes long) take place either the day or morning before a tour. These mostly cover shorex logistics. Since it's assumed that most passengers will take advantage of the included tours, little time is spent on a general briefing about destinations. However, we would have appreciated that, including a few basic words in the local language. Shorex staff do provide printouts of maps for each destination, noting the ship's berthing location.