Having read numerous reviews regarding Voyages to Antiquity (VTA) and their ship, Aegean Odyssey, I was puzzled by the diverse reviews. Some appeared to love it, whilst others hated it. My conclusion, after a cruise in May and talking with some fellow travellers, is that many have only been on this ship and learnt to love the quirks and forgive the shortcomings, as they have nothing with which to compare. Others have cruised before on other lines and thus have a base for comparison.
We recently travelled on the Aegean Odyssey, from Seville to Rome, departing May 13.
We booked Cabin 805, a Junior Suite with a balcony (category below the Owners suite).
The cabin came at a price, but was the best cabin that we have ever had on any cruise ship with only a few minor complaints.
We have previously cruised on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara and Princess, on a range of ships sizes from 130kt to 30kt. At 12kt, this was the smallest (and oldest) ship on which we have sailed.
There were quite a few positives with regard the Odyssey, which we really loved, but sadly far outweighed by the negatives, to the point that we would not consider cruising on this ship again (unless we had a guarantee that the negatives had all been addressed).
I would like to note that apart from taking up specific issues with the Excursions Manager (which was a total waste of my time), I also completed the passenger survey form that was delivered to our cabin on the last night. I offered to expand on my negative comments, hoping to offer constructive criticism, before I posted anything on Cruise Critic. But after 6 weeks passing from cruise completion, and having heard nothing, I can only conclude the VTA either does not take the survey forms seriously, or doesn’t really bother to read them. Incidentally, this was the similar response that I received on board from the Tour Manager, when I tried to suggest some changes to the way in which some tours had been organised.
Now for some details
The Ship 3/5
Yes, the ship is old and a former car ferry, but is well maintained. I was particularly impressed how well it handled a few rough days, much better than I had anticipated for such a small ship. Not exactly a pretty ship, very small pool area, but easy to get around.
We booked this cruise because of the interesting itinerary around Spain and Italy, included tours and some of the positive reviews. Most of the ports were interesting, perhaps too much emphasis on churches, but overall good.
Having booked a superior grade cabin, we loved it. Few issues apart from a ridiculously small TV, balcony door that leaked and air conditioning for which there was no individual adjustment in each cabin. But cabin was very spacious, well appointed, and probably the quietest cabin on any ship. The balcony was tiny and almost unusable.
Public Rooms 4/5
A small ship which allows light from both sides into public rooms, and thus creates a lovely atmosphere. Could always find a seat in all lounges. The nicest room was the Observation Lounge on the top deck, but rarely ever used and such a waste. Overall, lounges were modern and no complaints.
Unfortunately, this is an area for improvement. Serving sizes were often quite small in the main restaurant (not necessarily bad), but after having fish and steak on a few occasions, I gave up on these dishes. The fish dishes were always overcooked. Steaks were always requested rare, hoping to at least get medium rare, but alas, they were always served medium/well, overcooked for my liking. Some of the dishes in the main restaurant were excellent, others okay, but generally not up to the standard of other cruise lines.
The other buffet restaurant also receives mixed reviews. Some dishes excellent, others ordinary to bad. Lunch-times often saw a themed lunch, eg Indonesian, Indian etc and we tended to like this variety, and food was generally good and interesting.
Again, mixed reviews depending on the staff involved and the restaurant. One annoying feature of the buffet restaurant is that the doors which open onto the really lovely outdoor terrace area, are not automatic, heavy and dangerous if you had to carry a tray full of food through them. This was recognised as a real safety issue and their solution is to have wait staff carry your tray for you to all points of the restaurant, both inside and out. This sounds a great idea, but is labour intensive which often detracts from the service – clearing tables, filling up water glasses, offering drinks etc. A far better solution would be to install automatic doors, as on almost all other ships and even with an old ship, it must surely not be too difficult. This would free up quite a few wait staff to greatly improve the patchy service. On one day early in the cruise, we sat in a section of the indoor restaurant where service was poor. To his credit, one of the wait staff with initiative, from another area, observed our plight and suggested we sit in his section, which we did for rest of the cruise. He was excellent, looked after us and provided great service and we rewarded him with an extra tip at the end of the cruise (even though tipping was an inclusion).
On one of the few nights when we chose to eat in the buffet restaurant, the service was again poor. Drinks at dinner were included in the fare, and on sitting down, I asked for a quick beer to quench my thirst (as we had just returned from a tour) and requested a wine to follow. The wine came, but not the beer, so I went up to the bar and requested my beer. I was told that there was table service only, apologies given and the beer was delivered to my table. When I requested a second glass of wine, same problem, it never arrived. So again, back to the bar, same apology, same result. I have never had to do this once, let alone twice on any other cruise ship.
We noted that a new Maitre d’ (Peter) joined the ship after about 4 days and some discipline was then observed and things improved quite a bit, with education and training of some of the wait staff. He did an excellent job and lead by example, and we cannot compliment him too highly and told him so.
Being a small cruise ship, we did not expect grand productions as we have experienced on larger cruise ships. But we were not prepared for the lack of variety in the entertainment. We don’t get bored easily and normally find enough to entertain ourselves on sea days, but thankfully on this cruise, we had few sea days (more on that later!). We thought that a fair comparison may have been to compare with the previously smallest ships on which we had sailed (Azamara Journey and Quest), both with roughly twice the number of passengers. But Azamara was light years ahead, with a 5 piece show band, and 4 singers/dancers, guest entertainers, many more activities during the day. The Odyssey had an extremely talented cruise director (Richard) and he was the sole entertainer each night in the main lounge, supported by a classical duo and trio, playing at other times in lounges. All a bit too repetitive. Without Richard (who carried out more of an entertainer’s role, rather than one of a cruise director) and his talent, this ship would be even more lacking in entertainment. But the standard just does not compare at all with the offerings from Azamara, with just double the number of passengers. The highlight during the sea days was the quiz, again hosted by Richard, but lasting just 15-20 minutes.
VTA advertises as a strength, its on-board lecture program. This consisted of 2 lecturers, one on art and one on archaeology. The art lecturer was very dry and thus I only attended one of his sessions, whereas the archeology/history lecturer was excellent, passionate and always interesting and I really enjoyed all of his presentations. But I must say that neither was overworked during their 2 week on-board stints
As covered above, there was little to do on sea days, little more to add.
This is the most disappointing aspect of the cruise, touted as a strength for VTA, with its included tours, but which were often very poorly organised. The Tour Manager was seriously lacking in personal skills, personality and organisational skills and was backed up by some friendly but inexperienced support staff. My issues, as well as those experienced by many other passengers on this cruise, are too numerous to detail. The inability to often manage an orderly disembarkation for tours was very annoying. As Junior Suite passengers, we were supposed to have priority disembarkation for tours, but the tour manager could not adequately organise this. With other cruise ships, passengers are requested to sit in a specific lounge in groups, and such groups are called one by one to disembark. Not the case on the Odyssey, where passengers tended to mass outside of the lounges and not follow any firm instructions to allow any form of orderly disembarkation. Instead of calling small groups to fill buses one by one, they would call large groups at once, often filling 6 or more buses at the one time, hence unnecessarily delaying departures. When I complained to the Tour Manager, she became quite defensive and said that she cannot control the behaviour of passengers, or she would get complaints from them. It seemed that my complaint did not count. She also advised that she had been doing it this way for 10 years, which I pointed out did not necessarily make it correct. I advised her that her system could not and would not work on larger cruise ships, but alas, this all fell on deaf ears.
We actually missed the port of Cartegena totally, due to some “internal ticketing issue” (as we were advised) with organisation of one of the optional tours in the previous port and were told that this tour was regarded as a highlight of the cruise, and that a “private, after hours” tour had been arranged. This meant a late departure and thus to make up for this delay, we had to miss the next port.
In my passenger survey, as previously mentioned, I requested a more detailed explanation of why we had to miss a port, but no reply received to date.
The ship had been tied up in Greece for approx. 5 months from Nov 2016, until April 2017, and it is understood that many of the crew were new and perhaps inexperienced, so perhaps this contributed to the lack of organisation and detail. The ship was in good shape.
Overall, the cruise and itinerary had great potential but sadly did not live up to expectations, and not even close to Azamara in value for money, service and food quality.
We have now been advised that after one cruise, we have joined the “Odyssey Club”, which entitles us to a range of freebies on our next cruise, such as free internet etc, but it would take a lot more than a few throw-ins to ever entice us onto this ship again.
Cabin 4/5 Having booked a superior grade cabin, we loved it. Few issues apart from a ridiculously small TV, balcony door that leaked and air conditioning for which there was no individual adjustment in each cabin. But cabin was very spacious, well appointed, and probably the quietest cabin on any ship. The balcony was tiny and almost unusable.