Passengers may visit Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. // © 2015 iStock
Feature image (above): In the Greek port of Gythion, cruisers explore the Diros Cave. // © 2015 iStock
I’ve sailed on many large ships (and even a few gigantic ones), and while the opportunity to visit a variety of different places without having to pack and unpack is definitely appealing, traveling with so many people led me to believe that cruising wasn’t for me.
However, after sailing on Voyages to Antiquity’s 378-passenger Aegean Odyssey, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’m a fan of cruising after all — I just prefer a smaller ship.
Jos Dewing, managing director for Voyages to Antiquity, describes the small-ship experience as destination-led, excursion-led and lecture-led. Pre- and post-cruise hotel stays extend the immersive cultural experience beyond the length of the cruise itself.
For clients who aren’t interested in cruising for the sake of it but rather for the destinations involved, Voyages to Antiquity is perfect, according to Maureen Wilkinson, president of Acorn Travel in River Forest, Ill. She believes the strong knowledge and quality of the guides and lecturers are also a big selling point.
Expert local guides lead shore excursions to historical and cultural sights, and there is an extensive onboard library and a lecture and reading list program that support the full itinerary and complement each port.
“Lecturers are selected for their ability to bring the cultural and historical significance of the ports to life, which appeals to clients who are looking to do something more and something new,” said Jose Iniguez, director of sales for Voyages to Antiquity.
One such experience on my sailing was in the Greek port of Gythion, where I had the opportunity to visit the Diros Cave and navigate the remarkable underground maze of caverns in a small boat. At some points, the stalactites were so close to the water that we had to lie down in the boat to get past them. Another memorable experience was seeing the tiny fifth-century Mausoleum of Galla Placida in Ravenna, Italy, covered from floor to ceiling with intricate blue and gold mosaics. I felt humbled to be surrounded by such majestic work.
Iniguez notes that the all-inclusive nature of the company’s product makes it cost-effective in comparison to similar land packages from other operators.
Fares include pre- and post-cruise hotels, excursions, gratuities, wine and beer at lunch and dinner, transfers, fees and taxes. In addition, air is always included for all Grand Voyages, and through December, air is also included for all sailings in the Mediterranean.
Anne Esborn, owner of Moonbeam Cruises in Tucson, Ariz., believes Voyages to Antiquity is an ideal bridge between ocean and river cruising for clients who want to see more exotic ocean ports as well as the traditional ones.
Aegean Odyssey’s accommodations range from 130 to 550 square feet and include balconies. There are 26 dedicated single cabins. Agents should check each cabin’s specifications before booking, since, even within each category, there can be differences in storage space, bathroom configuration and whether or not there is a refrigerator. In addition, there are very limited wheelchair accessible cabins available, and some of the tours require a lot of walking on uneven terrain, so caution is needed when booking clients with physical limitations.
Cruise packages are commissionable on a scale ranging from 10 to 15 percent, and the company’s Luminary Program creates additional opportunities for increased commission and booking bonuses.
“Participating in the Luminary Program gave me great insight into what the tours would cover and therefore which ones to steer my clients to,” Esborn said, adding that the additional commission certificates are another great incentive to participate.