The cheerful dining room is decorated with red carpeting and upholstery, along with a native floral print at the windows. Tables for six are on either side of a central buffet area, and each side offers one table for two.
Breakfast is bountiful with a cold and hot buffet, as well as made-to-order eggs or omelets. The cold items included cereals, a variety of fresh fruit, cheeses, cold cuts and on some days, smoked salmon. There was always a nice assortment of breads, rolls, croissants, bagels and pastries. Early risers found coffee and pastries set out starting at 6 a.m.
The hot table offered scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon and sausage, and a daily specialty such as pancakes or French toast. Crepes with a fruit topping were my favorite. The friendly Filipino staff provided exceptional service. Coffee refills arrived without our ever having to ask, and after the first day, a waiter who remembered that we liked ice water with the meal found us wherever we were seated to supply it.
Lunchtime was my favorite meal, with abundant choices that were different every day. On one day with a Greek accent, the cold buffet offered octopus, spicy beef, and Greek salads, while the hot table served souvlaki and meatballs. For variety, there was also a grilled tuna sandwich and pasta sauteed with spinach and tomatoes. Dessert was Greek honey cake and marinated apple slices, along with the two ice creams available every day with a variety of toppings.
An American luncheon featured grilled steaks, chicken skewers, spare ribs, hamburgers and fish burgers, along with three kinds of potatoes, grilled tomatoes and corn on the cob. An Italian menu offered tomato mozzarella salad, steak on focaccio bread, chicken piccata and mushroom risotto. The seafood buffet was exceptional -- a spread of smoked salmon, shrimp, crab meat, calamari, sea bass fillets, and a pasta and seafood dish.
Each day, the waiters came around bearing trays with hot and cold soups -- tasty selections that included spinach soup, corn chowder and onion soup, as well as chilled soups such as strawberry and yogurt, pina colada with diced pineapple, and gazpacho.
There is one dinner sitting, usually at 7 p.m., with open seating. This was a four-course affair (five for the captain's dinners) starting with appetizers such as Parma ham with melon, phylo pastry stuffed with feta cheese, ham and leek, or a classic Caesar salad with anchovies. The second course was a delicious soup of the day, anything from minestrone to cream of artichoke. There was always a choice of meat or fish entrees and a vegetarian option (for instance, crepes filled with spinach and ricotta, vegetable burritos or Greek style vegetable kebabs). Complimentary local red or white wine flowed generously, with glasses refilled promptly.
The dinners were pleasant enough, but there were occasional disappointments when sauces were over-seasoned or fish undercooked. Solicitous waiters were quick to offer options, however, and many of the choices were excellent, such as the classic Greek moussaka and a grilled lamb platter. No fault could be found with the prime rib for the Captain's welcome dinner, and the final gala ended with the usual darkened room and a parade of waiters bearing flaming baked Alaska.
Two of the most enjoyable meals were a lunch and a dinner served on the top deck, with the chef in top hat presiding over steaks, chicken and shrimp on the grill.
Desserts were treats like creme brulee, dark chocolate cake, Grand Marnier souffle or apple strudel. An ice cream dish was always an option, as was a cheese platter, and if you were being virtuous and requested a fruit plate, the waiter was back quickly with a lovely selection.
A traditional feature of Grand Circle and OAT trips is a dinner in a local home, and this was a treat. Passengers are divided into small groups so as not to overwhelm a host. Our group of eight visited a young family living in a modest 200-year-old stone home in the hills above Dubrovnik. This enterprising family made the most of what was available nearby, making their own cheese, wine, brandy and olive oil -- all of which we were invited to sample. We also saw the space where they smoke their own meat. This dinner, the most memorable of our trip, was a simple home-cooked meal of grilled chicken, potatoes and salad, served at a picnic table where we could savor views of the surrounding hills.
Grand Circle Athena Ship Stats
- Crew: 21
- Launched: 2007
- Decks: 4
- Passengers: 50
- Registry: Malta