I opted for a ship with a difference recently, as I spent 4-nights aboard Voyages to Antiquity’s (VTA) award-winning small-ship Aegean Odyssey. Sailing on part of her British Isles voyage, I joined the ship in sunny Falmouth and sailed to Dorset and Jersey before arriving at the port of Tilbury for disembarkation.
Aegean Odyssey had been in port overnight when I joined and guests were ashore on various included tours, so I had the ship to myself (almost) for the entire day, which was ideal for exploring and taking photos. I left my luggage in my cabin – a small solo outside on deck 7 – and off I went to see what treats this fabulous little ship had to offer. It was the shortest ship tour in history, after just 20-minutes I’d seen almost everything onboard and I was sat comfortably in the Charleston Lounge with a drink and a book I’d picked up from the library. I felt relaxed and content. I liked it here, I knew we were going to get along just fine.
I took part in the general knowledge quiz on my first day aboard. I played on my own and got a whopping 4 correct answers out of 20. It was a poor attempt, but it was good fun and it gave me a chance to see the friendships that had been formed between guests. It was also during the quiz that I fell in love with Richard, the Cruise Director. He clearly had a huge passion for his role and just as much enthusiasm for the guests. He was genuine, charming and a lot of fun – it’s not very often I feel so strongly about a cruise director, but he has left a lasting impression!
The Voyages to Antiquity experience is somewhat different to that of anything else at sea. Firstly, there are no stuffy evening dress codes, which means everything instantly feels more relaxed. There are no pushy onboard photographers trying to sell you thousands of pictures and there are no hard sales for tours, as they are included in the cost of the cruise fare in almost every port that the ship visits. Everything just felt unhurried and less staged. Guests acknowledged one another and the crew seemed to be one big happy family. It was unique and I liked it.
I couldn’t fault the food onboard and there were enough options at breakfast, lunch and dinner to keep everyone happy. I particularly enjoyed the Indian buffet that was offered at lunchtime in the Terrace Café on the last sea day. There were onion bhajis, onion pilau rice, butter chicken, seafood curry, tarka dhal and pork vindaloo. I went for the butter chicken with rice and the equivalent of my body weight in poppadums and mango chutney. It really was incredibly good and I made a point of letting the Executive Chef know how much I’d enjoyed it. Aegean Odyssey offers the choice of two dining venues: the Marco Polo Restaurant on Deck 3 and the more casual Terrace Café. I preferred the Terrace Café because it led out onto the open deck and I enjoyed eating al-fresco some days – there’s nothing quite like the sound of the ocean as you enjoy a good meal aboard a fine ship.
My favourite place to “hang-out” was the Charleston Lounge. I liked the atmosphere in there, the bright colours and the crew. It was one of the first places I’d visited when I embarked on my short tour and I was instantly made to feel at home, that feeling of acceptance stuck with me and it became my haunt of choice in the evening. I also met some great passengers in there. A lot of them were travelling solo and they’d become friends since being onboard, they also kindly accepted me into their circle and I was humbled by that. I did get a friendly telling off from one lovely lady, however, as I missed the quiz on the final day. She’d invited me to join her team, but I hadn’t realised the quiz was in the morning and NOT the afternoon. Ironically, they won! Would you believe it? I could have had bragging rights for the rest of the day!
Although the Charleston Lounge was my favourite and it was often very busy, it isn’t the only option onboard for evening enjoyment. The Ambassador Lounge is the ships main entertainment venue, hosting lectures in the day and a variety of musical performances during the evening and there is also the Observation Lounge, which seemed the perfect choice for quiet pre-and/or-post dinner drinks. During my time onboard, I met 2 of Voyages to Antiquity’s regular guest lecturers: Professor Brian Williams, Emeritus Professor of Geology at the University of Aberdeen, and Dr. Sandy Primrose MBE. Both very interesting gentlemen. Expert guest lecturers join every cruise and they are selected based on their knowledge of the region the ship is visiting.
There is one swimming pool onboard and it is surrounded by teak decking and comfortable loungers. It’s a lovely little space. I could see myself lapping up the sun there during a Cuba and Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise. It never felt busy and I suppose that’s because of Aegean Odyssey’s size. She carries on average 350 passengers, so there’s always that element of space and the camaraderie that too comes with small-ship cruising. Other areas and facilities include a spa and salon, small gym, shop and a very impressive library. I wasn’t on the ship long enough to read an entire book, which was a shame, but I did make a point of having a good look. It’s not a huge library, but the consideration given to the selection was instantly noticeable. I found books on Islam, Cuba’s history, a Maggie Smith biography and a section that was bursting with destination guides. There was something for everyone.
If you want to explore the rich history and fascinating culture of the places you visit, then Voyages to Antiquity is the ideal choice. After all, it’s what they do! VTA guests want to experience and learn as much as they can about each destination and then return “home” to a ship that is charming, relaxing and comfortable – and that is exactly what they get. It is also great value for money. As I said, tours are included in almost every port – reducing the need to worry about that as an additional cost – and you can embark on these expertly crafted tours in the knowledge that you’re going to be getting the best possible experience (and a free bottle of water). Gratuities are also included in the fare price.
Aegean Odyssey had me in her grasp from the moment I set eyes on her in Falmouth. Those sleek and dominating lines allow her to float tall in every port she visits. She’s not covered in painted sea creatures and she doesn’t have any celebrity chef endorsements, she’s simply a cruise ship keeping the tradition of cruising alive and she’s doing it very well. I had only just begun to see her real charm when it was time to leave, four days simply wasn’t long enough. Next time, if there is a next time, I’d like to stay for at least one week. OK. Let’s make that two!
A BIG thank you to Leia, Janette, Raoul, Richard, Sonja, Stelios, Grace, Angel, Michelle and the crew in the Charleston Lounge and Terrace Cafe.