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AEGEAN ODYSSEY To Antiquity, Part Three

Posted on Sunday, October 16, 2011 by

It is a pleasure to re-post this final installment (with enlarged images) of a triple Sea Treks aboard Voyages To Antiquity’s AEGEAN ODYSSEY that was originally written last year as the recently renovated vessel made her way from Stromboli to the shores of Sicily. All of the start up issues mentioned herein have since been addressed and the ship is receiving excellent reviews from a growing legion of loyal passengers.

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Originally posted Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Stromboli simmering.

Although the AEGEAN ODYSSEY’s guest volcanologist Michael Higgins was hosting a “sail-by” talk at 5:15 AM on deck, I was a bit too brittle to do more than crawl out to our verandah and watch as we approached Stromboli. Off our port bow, the 3,000 foot volcano’s steep, blackened flanks gradually emerged from the turning sky. A pink nebula of clouds surrounding the mountain eventually parted, revealing intermittent mushroom-shaped plumes of ash in a display that has been going on for the past 20,000 years.

Voyages To Antiquity website

Review and Photos by Paul Motter of CruiseMates.com

Symmetrical sunrise.

As we navigated its outer edge, Stromboli’s silhouette evolved from knob-topped to almost perfectly symmetrical. After an hour, the spectacle was behind us and I retreated back into the cabin for an attempt at sleep. The ship continued on her course of the ancients, through the Aeolian Islands and eastward along Sicily’s northern shore.

Our typical morning routine consisted of calling room service repeatedly (never an answer), then the front desk (where one of the sweet and helpful but over-worked receptionists would take our order for coffee). Puzzlingly, the ship’s management had vetoed what every other cruise line and hotel have found useful from time immemorial — an order form to hang on one’s door the night prior. Since breakfast ended at 8:30 and there was no 24 hour coffee or tea service, let alone snacks, this was the only way to obtain caffeine or nourishment until lunch began at noon.

Perhaps to avert the prior day’s tendering issues, the AEGEAN ODYSSEY arrived in Cefalu earlier than planned. With the queue in the Terrace Cafe extending the full length of the room and since we were not fans of the cuisine in the Marco Polo Dining Room, we quickly decided to take an early tender (still no padding on the overhead beams) ashore for lunch before joining the walking tour of Cefalu. It was a wise choice, for we found a friendly and inexpensive cafe to enjoy some bruschetta, pizza and cappuccini.

Cefalu cathedral.

Prior to this trip, I had never heard of Cefalu. Named for the rocky headland (“kefalos” is ancient Greek for “head”) that towers over it, Cefalu has been occupied by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans and Arabs since around 400 BC. In 1861, it became part of the Kingdom of Italy and today, the 13,000 resident town is one of Sicily’s prized tourist destinations. Its most prominent attraction is the King Roger II Cathedral, which was begun by the Normans in 1131 and most recently restored after near destruction in World War Two.

Cefalu beach.

In the late afternoon, the sun breached a rather gloomy sky, casting an entirely new light on the colorful town. The beaches looked particularly inviting with their clean, white sand and turquoise surf.

Cefalu shoreline.

We took a tender back to the ship well before her scheduled departure for Palermo at 6:00 PM.

Cloudy wake.

Dinner on the terrace was highlighted by the salmon-colored cloud formation off our stern. At twilight, we were entering Palermo and berthing alongside its Stazione Marittima.

There was a lecture on Atlantis at 8:45, a pianist in the Observation Lounge at 9:45 and the string trio in the Charleston Lounge at the same time. I decided to do some writing with the hopes of finding a cafe with wifi in the morning to make my first blog post.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

At 7:40 AM, a constant flow of announcements began, mustering passengers for their tours. Sleeping in was out of the question. We had to laugh at the irony of it all — the “no announcements” policy that wreaked havoc with tendering the day prior had obviously been rescinded. But since the ship was berthed, announcements weren’t necessary, especially not in the cabins.

Porto Palermo.

I’ve gotta admit that Palermo did not exactly wow me on my one prior visit aboard board MSC’s MONTEREY three summers ago. I found it gritty, bleakly industrial and not exactly tourist-friendly. In some ways, that can be a welcome relief from the commercial crush of tourists in places like Rome and Venice but at least in the latter places, there are truly magnificent sights to behold.

Refleccione Marittima.

Christopher and I were joined by CruiseMates’ Paul Motter on our morning quest for a cafe and cappuccini. Other than the usual Tirrenia, Grimaldi and SNAV ferries, there were no other cruise ships in port as we headed from Stazione Marittima into town.

Patroness of Palermo.

At the main entrance to the port, a bronze statue of a maiden serves as a beacon to visitors. Too bad she was not the hostess at a nearby cafe where we settled in to check our e-mail. Two hours, four cappuccini, two pastries and a juice later, our brazen signorina began flailing her arms and shouting that we spent too much time and did not buy enough. Mind you, the place was largely empty  — we were not taking seats or wifi waves away from other potential customers. Thankfully, my blog entry had just been posted before we were shown the door.

Pizza Margherita at La Posada, Sorrento.

We crossed the street to the much friendlier La Posada and enjoyed a delicious pizza margherita (the best one of the trip so far) and some spaghetti neapolitana, returning to the terminal for the  afternoon tour to Cathedral Monreale and a hosted visit to Palazzo Gangi.

Palermo from Cathedrale Monreale.

Cathedrale Monreale overlooks Palermo from a 900 foot vantage on the slopes of Mount Caputo. It was such a lovely day, we chose to wander the town instead of queueing up to go inside the 1172-built church.

Fountain at Cathedrale Monreale, Palermo.

As our fellow voyagers were poring over mosaics and Benedictine cloisters, we were savoring gelati deliciosi with a view of the fountain in the Cathedral’s courtyard.

Harlequino Palermo.

The next part of the tour was one of the week’s highlights. For a very reasonable $55 per person, Voyages To Antiquity offers a visit to the Palazzo Gangi, a 15th century palace that is open to a limited number of visitors for tours led by none other than Princess Carine Vanni Mantegna. We were instructed to stow our cameras once we ascended the landing where the statuesque princess awaited. She led us through a series of increasingly ornate salons until reaching the grand ballroom where Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film, “Il Gatopardo” was filmed. Her silver, bow-topped shoes, delicate perfume and elegant elucidation were mesmerizing. After pastries and wine, our tour of the gold leaf, velvet, Murano glass and fresco-festooned wonderland ended just as it had begun, with a smiling princess at the top of the landing.

Palermo Pericolo.

Back on board, there was a farewell dinner with the press group on the terrace. Afterwards, we decided to head into Palermo for a walk. Alas, the port gates were closed and the only access was via the ferry terminal entrance a half mile or so away. With AEGEAN ODYSSEY staying overnight, it is curious that arrangements were not made to either keep the gate open or to provide some sort of shuttle service to the other entrance.

On our return to the ship, we were greeted by a pack of mongrel dogs. Something was not quite right about their demeanor, so we chose not to engage them.  A  fellow passenger was followed by one that I later learned had bitten his hand.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Facing the ODYSSEY.

At 8:30, a shuttle took us to Palermo Airport for the first of a series of flights home.

In theory, Voyages To Antiquity is my kind of cruise line. The ship is a charmer, the passengers a nice mix of well-heeled Brits and Americans and the itineraries (aside, perhaps, from that three night stay in Palermo) interesting and unique. But after five nights on board, it was unfortunately clear that the product was not living up to expectations. In addition to the safety issues, food, enrichment and entertainment were subpar or just adequate at best. I could not in good faith recommend this line to anyone until these things are sorted out.

My heart goes out to the crew (ie, the girls at reception, people like Andrew from the shore excursion staff, the girls in the spa and many of the bar and wait staff) who tried so hard to compensate for the obvious shortcomings. They are the ones that had to face unhappy passengers while the management was either not accessible or oblivious.

Hopefully, these are all just teething issues and things will improve quickly.  I’ll be watching with great interest and will be keeping my fingers crossed. I want this venture to succeed.

October 16, 2011 Update:   All of the start up issues mentioned herein have since been addressed and the ship is receiving excellent reviews from a growing legion of loyal passengers.  MaritimeMatters will be rejoining the ship again in the near future for a follow up report.

Special thanks: Martin Cox, Johanna Jainchill, Heather Krasnow, Christopher Kyte, Paul Motter, Mitch Schlessinger

End

24 Responses to AEGEAN ODYSSEY To Antiquity, Part Three

  1. Tom Nicolai-Vargas

    June 14, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Peter:

    Thanks for the review… Makes me less jealous. Perhaps I will just stick to the mass market cruises I have become addicted to (and can sort of actually afford). No breakfast after 8:30 sounds really stupid.. I can only imagine some loopy food and beverage manager thought that the personal interaction of calling for coffee would be far better than an impersonal card one fills out. To be fair I have waited hours for room service on a new ship during a storm when many must have been calling (I actually ordered via flat screen T.V.). But I have never had “breakfast card” order be more than 15 mins late. The ship does look cool and I am sure they will get some of the kinks worked out.
    You would think they could have schmoozed the press better. Makes a regular customer very wary.

    Tom in Long Beach

  2. Mage Bailey

    June 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to so carefully write of this cruise. Yes, the safety issues would have waved a flag in my face too. Yes, that sounds like our sort of thing too, but the obvious lapses show a grand idea but very poor execution shorting both the passengers and staff. Welcome home…I hope it is semi cool, and I hope you have a few days before your next flight out of here..

  3. Lesley Nicholls

    June 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I did the May 18-June 1 voyage from Athens to Citivecchia. I went economy; a cabln on Columbus Deck. It was small, but comfortable and the steward kept in immaculately clean.

    The lack of food, coffee etc. after 8.30 am was not a problem for those of us who were regular passengers as we were ashore for most of the day. Many of us chose to eat ashore when the opportunity arose – after all we were visiting countries with two of the world’s great cuisines! The wait staff were uniformally, polite, friendly and couldn’t do enough for us. However it should be noted that the Manager or the owner of the company supplying the catering and staff were aboard during our cruise sorting out various kinks and I wonder if that had an impact on the quality of the service based on other reviews I have read.

    It would have been nice to have coffee and tea on tab at all times and I often longed for a beer after a shore excursion – but being hot and sweaty I needed a shower more.

    If there was one complaint about the excursions it was that there were too many Greek temples on this particular cruise – I think 10 in all. I have a background in archaeology and even I was saying – enough! I would like to have seen more of the remains of the towns that surrounded the temples as we did at Segesta and Paestrum. The staff accompanying the tours, particularly Drew and ?? (the other young man) were helpful. However on a couple of days when there were a lot of different excursions, there was not enough staff from the ship to accompany each group. This is a safety issue as they were in the ones with first aid training and carried the first aid kit.

    The tenders are old and difficult to get into, particularly in rough sea (the Med can have quite a swell at any time). The crew were very good at helping those of us who are less agile (about 80% of the passengers on this cruise) but there are a couple of steep steps down into the tender and then you have to manouver your way around over strutts and beams to get a seat to balance the boat. On one of the tenders there was a wooden step placed over the gunwale and the second step down which made getting on and off a lot easier – why isn’t it on both. Better yet, spend the money and get two new tenders. This is a safety issue.
    The lifeboat drill was terrible. I have never cruised before, but there was no way in which this could be considered adequate preparation for an emergency.

    The literature supplied in the cabin re the ship, safety procedures etc. was minimal and not very helpful

    The food was good in the Terrace Cafe but I imagine with a full compliment of passengers the queues would be endless. There is not enough room in the buffet line to go around someone who is waiting for, for example, a pasta to be especially prepared or an omlet or even someone trying to decide what to have. I enjoyed some excellent meals in the Marco Polo Room and we had great service from our waiter, Emile. The pasta dishes were notable, especially the gnocchi

    I think that the cruise was about four days too long, It could easily have been terminated in Naples (especially as the sea was to rough to tender at Capri and we ended up in Naples anyway). The Amalfi stop was a waste of time, we were late and those taking optional excursions got short shrift. We would have been better served by spending a whole day at Paestrum (we had half a day) and seen more of the site and been able to spend more time in the interesting museum. I am glad to hear that they are considering doing shorter cruises next year.

    My feeling was that the refit was not yet finished due to the financial problems and strikes in Greece. The economy cabins are very stark though the beds are comfortable. The furniture (a bedside cabinet) looks as if it had been there since its original incarnation as a ferry

    The sound system in the Ambassador Lounge, used for the lectures, is not very good and the copper strip ceiling rattles when the ship is moving. Also the layout is not very well thought out – latecomers either take seats by the door and cannot see the speaker/screen or have to squeeze behind the screen or through the maze of fixed settees, tables and chairs. As there is no entertainment except for the lectures and occasional (good) concerts by the trio the set up could be totally rearranged to be accommodate the lectures

    One final point – the outside Terrace is a lovely place to eat but it is continually bombarded by soot from the funnel. As the boat mostly travels at night, you will find the tables and chairs covered by a fine dust in the morning. We quickly learned to put a serviette on the chair before sitting down! Also the pool sometimes got covered if the wind was blowing the smoke in that direction. This is something that needs to be addressed because on occasion, when eating while sailing, soot did fall in the food and drinks – ugh!

    I took this cruise because it gave me a chance to visit a lot of sites I have wanted to see for some years. Also I liked the idea of a smaller ship – I like to know I am on a boat, not a hotel that happens to float Would I take another Voyages to Antiquity? That would depend on the itinerary and on whether they are able to sort out the kinks. At this point, I would say no I would not. Nor would I consider another cruise.

  4. Alex Borlotti

    June 18, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Voyages to Antiquity would not get my business again.

  5. PETER V. DALE

    June 18, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Your three part reports are well written, squire, and cover the Good, the Bad and the indeed Ugly ! We are both nearly 80 and I find the safety aspects rather troublesome. Unless you receive satisfactory assurances from the owner that these and most of other negatives you raise will be addressed fully soon, we shall have to make other arrangements for our November 1st sailing arounf the Med from Athens in Concierge Class.

    Can you recommend any viable alternatives ? Many thanks

  6. Peter Knego

    June 18, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks to those who have posted thus far. I am told by a VTA representative that these issues are all being remedied, although it is puzzling that a company with Gerry Herrod’s involvement had not already been prepared to avert the shortcomings before starting up. A cruise hostess and hotel manager joined the ship on June 15, so on board activities and organization should be improved. And someone will be there to listen to and address complaints or issues that were not dealt with on my voyage. A 24 hour coffee/tea station has been implemented and room service will be improved, along with food in the Marco Polo and Terrace dining venues. Lips on the stairtowers will be addressed (I was not told how). Gym equipment will be moved so there is no contact with fire sprinklers and the tenders are being completely upgraded. I regret that it looks like I cannot return anytime soon to verify all of this firsthand but look forward to reports from my colleagues and readers. I would like to believe that this line will be on track sooner than later. Other companies offering similar enrichment-style programs include the former Herrod managed Voyages of Discovery (you can find my post on a recent Black Sea and Aegean cruise in these pages) and Swan Hellenic.

  7. PETER V. DALE

    June 18, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I am delghted with your latest news update Peter. All is well on the mend.

  8. David Walker

    June 19, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Peter, I lived in Naples Italy for two years and reading about your travels brings back some great memories. I really LOVED the food there and got to travel every weekend to all the places you are visiting now. Spent a LOT of weekends in Capri, Pompeii, Herculeanum, Rome, Sorrento, the Amalfi coast, and Ischia, as well as longer holidays to Venice, Pisa, Florence, San Gimignano, and every wonderful place in between. Definitely the best two years of my life!

  9. bullshead

    June 19, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Having just come back from the June 1st cruise, my recommendation to anyone considering a V2A cruise (except possibly as an alternative to backpacking) is to book with Oceania Cruises instead (and No, I don’t work for them, I’ve just had four very enjoyable cruises with them over the past couple of years. Check out my feedback at http://www.cruisingtalk.com/other-cruise-lines/25910-voyages-antiquity-new-cruise-line-25.html
    “But it sounded so wonderful on paper…”

  10. bullshead

    June 25, 2010 at 2:48 am

    I’ve now completed a much more detailed warts-and-all review of my 1 June 2010 cruise with Voyages to Antiquity on Aegean Odyssey. To read it go to trencherman.org and click the black (bottom LH) tab.

  11. Ontariotrekker

    June 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

    I was on the June 1st cruise too. As a solo cruiser who was far more interested in the ports not the ship, I found that the VtoA tour was fine. I’m glad to see that the company has taken the safety issues and food problems to heart and are working on them.. yes, most of this stuff should have been ready to go from the first cruise. I found myself asking more than once how did they manage to get their safety ticket??

    I just view the ship as a mobile hotel – unpack once, reasonable food, good staff and enough things to keep me busy when not visiting the sites or the towns. I have simple tastes and at the price and with the needed improvements for safety, I’ll travel with VtoA again.

  12. Joanne

    August 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks to all posters! I am on the last cruise of the V2A season in November and will definitely post my experience. Cheers.

  13. Ivaking

    August 4, 2010 at 6:50 am

    From good sources I am told that they are constantly dodging authorities in view of the poor outstanding safety issues. The funnel soot situation is not good, the smells in the ship from time to time are unpleasant, as is the strongly outdated system of strongly chlorinating the water supply. Thje air con is regularly going wrong and the crew are not really a happy bunch. Not good in view of the prices being charged.

  14. Peter Knego

    August 4, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Ivaking, we are waiting for an update from several people we know who will be on the next cruise. From what I am able to find out there, it seems the negative reports are finally dying down. Let’s hope so. But more information will be available, either way.

  15. PETER V. DALE

    August 5, 2010 at 10:24 am

    As the list of deficiencies and problems highlighted by the adverse feedback grew steadily, we have been obliged to ”delete our November cruise to Carthage’,. Our deposit has been refunded in a timely manner.

  16. PETER V. DALE

    September 13, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I am glad to note that Voyages to Antiquity appear to have addressed most of their ”teething probems”, real or perceived, but do not regret our decision to make alterntive arrangements.

  17. David

    November 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    I’ve been drooling over V2A for many months and was just at the point of making a booking when I found this excellent website. My main concern is cabin noise. I live in Australia and want to get the best value from a long and boring flight so intend to book a back-to-back and the thought of a month in a noisy cabin (probably an inside or the cheapest outside) is not pleasing.
    I note that work should be done on the ship during the break – I hope that the problems mentioned above will have been fixed.

  18. Dannie

    August 8, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Hi,

    Has anyone been on this ship since mid 2011 and can you comment on whether all these problems have been sorted. ie. cabin noise, soot and diesel spraying out the boat, breakfast finishing at 8.30am. We are looking at spending 19 nights on the boat and don’t want to go if these issues are not sorted. It appears that the bad reviews are dying off but we want to be sure.

    Can anyone update us?

  19. Jono

    August 8, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Peter Knego, can you advise if you spoke with your friends who travelled on V2A and what the feedback was?

  20. PR

    October 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Web and blog sites are scathing after VoA has cancelled three PRIME August 2012 cruises, virtually without notice and with compensation for the massive inconvenience (especially by my Aussie colleagues)

    So, all the “good work” you have done for VoA is right down the proverbial drain.

    Too bad! Your narrative, ports of call etc. made it a “must do” which has now become a “must DON’T”

  21. Gordon TURNER

    November 7, 2011 at 8:13 am

    My apologies for the belatedness of this post. I was aboard Aegean Odyssey for 12 days in early June 2011, Civitavecchia to Venice. The problems that Peter encountered on the shakedown cruise seem to have been solved, at least from my own experience. For instance, I saw no protruding edges on outer stairways and I saw no evidence of smuts emerging from the funnel and descending on the open decks. Cuisine was very good, and so was service both in the dining locations and in the cabin. One benefit from the reduction in the ship’s previous passenger capacity (570 to about 370) is that tables in the dining room on Marco Polo Deck are fairly widely spaced and there are quite a number of tables for two. We were due to tender at three ports but the captain decided the evening before that we would dock at two (Trapani, Messina) because of the inclement weather forecasts for the following day. We tendered at Bonifacio, Corsica, because of the harbour’s limited dimensions. The ship’s tenders were entirely suitable for the task. The cruise was destination driven and the shore excursions (most of them included in the fare) were better than some I have experienced with other cruise lines. Guides were knowledgeable, pleasant and professional. However, a few were inclined to talk to excess. Maybe they are paid by the word. We had two lecturers on board, both of whom spoke authoritatively on their specialties. One, however, had the unfortunate tendency to add “right?” at the end of every fifth or six sentence. Maybe that’s the result of lecturing at university to students that are in their late teens or early twenties. Unfortunate speech patterns could be infectious. As a general comment, I enjoyed my cruise more than I had anticipated. And, yes, I would readily cruise in Aegean Odyssey again.

  22. Lilian

    October 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I have booked a cruise From Bali to Bangkok for Jan. 2013.

    I’m looking forward to it but would like to know whether the
    initial problems with the Aegean Odyssey have been rectified.

    Can anyone who has travelled in 2012 reply ? Thank you.

  23. Peter Knego

    October 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Hi Lilian,

    From all accounts, I hear the cute little AEGEAN ODYSSEY is doing well and her start-up issues have been addressed. I believe some extra cabins have been added since that report was published. Hope you have a great time and look forward to hearing about your trip.

    –Peter

  24. Lilian Schacter

    October 10, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Dear Peter,

    Thank you so much for your re-assurance. I will post my trip experience when I return.

    Lilian

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