Aegean Odyssey Entertainment
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.
Aegean Odyssey Public Rooms
Most gathering spaces, from the eight tub chairs in the library to the 350 seats in the Ambassador Lounge, are on the Promenade Deck (Deck 4). The exception is the Observation Lounge on the top deck, with tables for card players and sofas where readers and those seeking Wi-Fi gather.
At the aft end of the Promenade Deck, the small boutique has jewelry and perfumes, plain and logo clothing at what we thought were reasonable prices, drug-store sundries and perhaps 120 book titles, overwhelmingly fiction. There are also several books related to the region.
If you want reference works, stroll across the hall to the library, open 24 hours. Borrowing is on the honor system: sign yourself out, noting the title you're taking. The library is stocked with dozens upon dozens of nonfiction works -- histories of the civilizations to be visited (including maritime histories, works on medieval history and the Crusades, and two sets of the six-volume "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"), atlases, and language and travel guides. Titles are skewed toward the ship's European itineraries, but we expect that the collection will become more balanced as the ship spends more time in Asia. There is a smattering of recent fiction, heavy on the mysteries.
A chess board is inset in the sole table in the Library; games to borrow include Monopoly, Scrabble and Backgammon.
The ship's Internet room consists of six terminals. Prices are remarkably cheap for a cruise ship: $3.50 for 30 minutes, $6 for 60 minutes, $18 for four hours and $28 for 12 hours. There is now also Wi-Fi, priced at the same rates, available in the reception area and in the Observation Lounge. On a previous European cruise (pre-Wi-Fi), passengers reported that Internet service on the ship's computers was very reliable. On an Asian cruise, we found both the Wi-Fi and wired Internet service to be frustrating and mercurial. Staff were not always available to check into problems, and service was sometimes unavailable for hours at a time.
There is no atrium. The ship-width lobby on either side of the reception/purser's desk has seating, though there is no bar service.
Aegean Odyssey Spa & Fitness
Aegean Odyssey has one small outdoor pool and one hot tub, both on the Lido Deck. There are more than four dozen wooden chaise lounges with pads on this deck and on the much-smaller Observation Deck, which has two nicely cushioned rattan love seats, each facing two oversized, cushioned chairs by the bar.
There are also quite small open deck areas aft on the Bridge and Belvedere Decks, which are cabin decks. There are also chaises there, providing sunning or relaxing areas a short walk from the staterooms on those two decks. The Belvedere Deck open area is the only location onboard where smoking is allowed.
In late 2012, the spa was relocated from the Lido Deck to Columbus Deck (replacing 10 inside cabins and making room for 18 additional outside cabins on Lido). A cramped spa reception area is also home to several treadmills and elliptical machines. Wall-mounted flat-screens are hooked into the ship's TV system. Yoga mats and thicker exercise mats can be found in one corner, but there is barely enough floor space for a single person to work out. Spa treatment rooms are compact and minimalist. There are steam and sauna rooms, as well. With its lack of windows, the entire space feels rather claustrophobic.
The salon is located on Belvedere Deck. The outsourced spa operation includes a spa manager, a personal trainer/fitness instructor and a salon operator. The spa offers a fairly standard range of massages, facials, and nail and hair treatments. We opted for an Indian head massage and found the treatment to be pleasant and competently delivered. One challenge is making a booking since the spa manager is often away from reception performing treatments. We
ended up leaving a note with our booking request and received a confirmation call within an hour or so.
Morning and afternoon fitness classes are held either outside on the Lido Deck or in the Ambassador Lounge, depending on weather. The free classes include yoga, stretching and Pilates. There were usually 10 to 15 attendees, and we found the instructor to be knowledgeable and fun.