I had very high expectations of my week long cruise on board Aegean Odyssey, Voyages to Antiquity's small ship. From the moment I embarked in Rome, I'm very pleased to say my expectations were surpassed in every way. I've always had a love of history, so was looking forward to a week of visiting ancient sites in the company of expert guides. I was certainly not disappointed in this, as every day, a new experience awaited. The first morning, we woke up to the view of Sorrento - a beautiful cliff-top town in the Bay of Naples. We spent the day at Pompeii and Herculaneum, which came alive with our knowledgeable guide - Quietvox headsets and small groups meant this really felt like a personal tour.
I wasn't sure how the excursions could live up to this first day, but with our arrival in Sicily, every tour was a fascinating experience. A blend of medieval and ancient sites gave a great background to the places visited, highlights amongst which were the unfinished (but nonetheless impressive) temple at Segesta and the simply breath-taking Greek (and later, Roman) theatre at Taormina. I was worried before I went that I might find this cruise a bit dry and academic, but I was very pleasantly surprised - especially by the lectures from visiting experts. To see 300 people in a lecture theatre roaring with laughter whilst hearing about history, art and culture is a rare event, but it happened on this cruise - several times! Voyages to Antiquity really are experts in choosing lecturers to entertain as well as educate.
Likewise, I had wondered if the other guests on the cruise may be highbrow and stand-offish, but I needn't have worried. A great mix of English, Americans, Australians and Canadians were keen to meet new people and I met a lot of extremely pleasant, down to earth people who simply wanted a cruise that would enlighten as well as provide relaxation. Excellent low single supplements meant there were a number of single passengers on board, all keen to mingle. Free time in ports gave opportunities for exploration and I spent a leisurely day in stunning Capri and an afternoon in the bustling city of Palermo with my new friends - I can recommend the ice cream!
As the excursions are all included (apart from a few optional extras), you really feel like you're getting value for money and making the most of the fascinating places visited. The quality of tours is astounding, and the attention to detail is superb. We arrived in Taormina to find a rough sea that made tendering to shore impossible, but within minutes, we were informed we were heading to Messina instead. A morning briefing not only reassured guests that the scheduled tours would take place as planned, but the literature about Messina was ready and waiting. Contingency plans that work as effectively as this give you a great confidence in cruising with Voyages to Antiquity.
However, being a cruise, this wasn't all about the destinations. Voyages to Antiquity quite rightly put a lot of emphasis on the unique places they visit, but a special mention (or two!) must go to the ship and crew on board. From the moment I arrived, the crew were friendly and happy to help - everyone knew my name and my choice of wine after the first day! You always got the feeling that there were enough crew on board for them to be able to give the sort of personal service that the luxury companies dream about.
Public areas on board are simply furnished and inviting - being a smaller ship, you feel at home instantly. With a large sundeck and pool area and two lounges, there was always somewhere quiet to read a good book (the library is very well-stocked!) or enjoy the scenery. The two dining options are excellent; the Marco Polo restaurant providing superb cuisine in a more formal atmosphere, whilst the Terrace Cafe provided a wide variety of superb food in a more relaxed environment. Personally, I loved sitting in the open air on the terrace with a great choice of salads, tapas, pizzas and fresh fish and meat. Of course, wine is included with dinner so you really can enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere without worrying about your bank balance.
If you're worried that small ship equals small cabins, then you need not be concerned on Aegean Odyssey. Stylishly furnished and spacious cabins provide plenty of storage space, very comfortable beds, and bathrooms befitting a far more expensive ship. My Category D cabin had a wonderful balcony, large seating area and full size bath - you wouldn't find that on a larger ship unless you paid a lot for a top suite!
I enjoyed my cruise on board Aegean Odyssey so much that I was sad to leave. If you're looking for a cruise with authenticity, a cruise with enlightenment but no pomposity, a cruise on a beautifully maintained small ship, a cruise to superb, thoughtfully programmed destinations with the best staff I've experienced - Voyages to Antiquity is the cruise line for you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!