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The exciting news spread fast — Akrotiri, on Greece’s Santorini island, had just reopened after a seven-year closure. Thought by some to be the fabled lost city of Atlantis, it was buried by ash 3,700 years ago when a massive volcanic eruption blew a hole in the middle of the island, creating its sickle shape. We were about to be the first cruise ship passengers to visit the archaeological site since its reopening.
Instead of the planned half-day excursion, Aegean Odyssey passengers would be treated to a fully guided day ashore, with a tour of Akrotiri and lunch. We would see Akrotiri’s excavated houses once decorated with beautiful frescoes, terra-cotta storage jars and the ancient but sophisticated indoor plumbing system beneath its streets (Europe’s first “flush toilets”).
Akrotiri is just one of the highlights when cruising with Voyages to Antiquity. The Aegean Odyssey launched in May 2010 after an extensive refurbishment of the 1970’s ship, which saw its passenger occupancy reduced to 378 from 570 in order to make the cabins larger. Mediterranean itineraries of 14 to 16 days focus on the history, culture and archaeology of the area’s classical civilizations.
We were particularly impressed with the shore excursion program. A daily tour is included for all guests and some afternoon tours are offered as well (for extra charges). In some ports, additional exclusive events are included too. For cruises visiting Venice, there’s a private evening visit to St. Mark’s Basilica. In Athens, passengers enjoy an evening at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Onboard, guest lecturers tend to be Ivy League professors, archaeologists and authors.
The ship is comfortable and spacious, with a serene neutral decor. Staterooms have twin or queen beds with feather pillows, European-style duvets and flat-screen televisions. Configurations range from standard 130-square-foot cabins to larger deluxe staterooms and 275-square-foot balcony staterooms and suites. Balcony-class accommodations offer Molton and Brown amenities, bathtubs and welcome champagne. There are also 24 single cabins.
On the attractive pool deck, cushioned couches and outdoor loungers invite napping or reading. A well-stocked reference library is also popular, and the Observation Lounge has Wi-Fi at $28 for 12 hours. A small oceanview gym features ellipticals, treadmills and stationary bikes as well as saunas, an outdoor hot tub and two spa rooms for massage.
The aft al fresco dining area for the buffet restaurant is so appealing with its teak furniture and live plants that we preferred to eat there each night, rather than in the more formal restaurant. There was always a local specialty such as Greek lamb chops or Croatian meatballs in spicy tomato sauce served with complimentary wine.
Voyages to Antiquity attracts mature, intellectually curious cruisers (the average age was 67 on our Venice to Istanbul cruise). Clients able to walk around uneven archaeological sites and museums without elevators will get the most from their cruise.
Rates start at $4,150 and include tips, house wines with dinner, shore excursions, pre- or post-cruise deluxe hotel stays (for most itineraries) and economy flights for Mediterranean sailings. New 16- to 22-day winter cruise tours to India and the Far East will begin in November.