Voyages to Antiquity Preview

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

A new destination-oriented cruise line with a purpose emerges with an incredible value proposition.

I often hear the following as a reason not to try a cruise, "I don't want to be stuck on a ship - I prefer to go one place and become immersed in my destination." I have refuted that reasoning many different ways over the years, but now I only need to say one thing - you haven't heard of the new cruise line "Voyages to Antiquity" -- yet.

Voyages to Antiquity is a brand new cruise line started by Gerry Herrod, the same visionary who started and managed Orient Lines for fifteen years. For those who do not know, Orient Lines was one of the first cruise lines to focus on port-intensive, themed itineraries for travelers; meaning the ship docked in a new and exciting port of call almost daily and offered extensive shore excursion guided by experts in the region. The line went everywhere from Norway to New Zealand, rarely repeating an itinerary.

Voyages to Antiquity has the same goal, but the focus is obviously even finer. The idea is to immerse the guests in the cultures of ancient Mediterranean destinations through expert local guides. Back onboard highly qualified lecturers will review while the cruise staff sees to your dinner and sleeping arrangements, enabling you see the world with a minimum of logistic challenges.

Just like Orient Lines' ship, the Marco Polo, Voyages to Antiquity's vessel in an older ship but refurbished to an excellent condition. The ship is a secondary concern - they purpose of the cruise is to see the world in a fantastically convenient manner. You only need to unpack once and you can cover thousands of miles - waking up in a new destination every morning.

With Voyages to Antiquity the goal is to bring you the Mediterranean Sea in a way no one else does. The approach is much more like a European river cruise than a cruise ship. There is very little entertainment onboard - no showroom or casino, and all of the shore tours are included with the cruise.

River cruises draw not only from cruisers, but also from people who enjoy land tours or independent travel. Gerry has basically moved the river cruise concept to the Mediterranean Sea.

Why the Mediterranean? Gerry was deeply inspired by the book "The Middle Sea" by Lord John Julius Norwich. Lord Norwich actually gives an introduction to the cruise line on the Voyages to Antiquity Web site:

"The Mediterranean Sea nurtured three of the most dazzling civilizations of antiquity, and saw the birth or blossoming of three of our greatest religions; in consequence, the lands surrounding it are richer in painting, sculpture and historic monuments than any comparable area on earth."

Egypt, Greece and Rome were the three vastly successful ancient civilizations of antiquity in the "Middle Sea." Each thrived with completely different philosophies, religions and styles of governing. The area also spawned Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each having a profound effect on the area at different times in history.

This is the focus of Voyages to Antiquity. Not the entire sea at once, but a series of never repeating 16-day voyages, some focusing on the Aegean Sea, some on Italy and Sicily, some on the Greek Isles and Asia Minor, or Turkey as we know it today. Some of the cruises explore Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Two itineraries focus on the mysterious nations of North Africa; Libya and Tunisia. But on all the cruises the focus is the same; antiquity. This is for fans of world history; people like me who need to know where the alphabet came from, who wonder about the other age of enlightenment on earth separated from our own by a dozen centuries of Dark Ages.

Onboard a Voyages to Antiquity Cruise

The first thing Gerry Herrod needed for his new cruise line was a ship. The one he found is now named the Aegean Odyssey. The vessel was used briefly by Renaissance Cruises as it transitioned from its smaller 100-passenger vessels to its fleet of 700-passenger R-ships.

The Aegean Odyssey is completely refurbished, after gutting several smaller staterooms to make room for larger suites. The ship's passenger capacity was reduced from 550 to 370, although they expect to average about 350 passengers per cruise. The upgrade includes 16 cabins of different categories built especially for singles that will be sold with no singles supplement charge. There are 14 different stateroom categories on the ship. All of the finishings, furniture, mattresses and d├ęcor are brand new. Each stateroom also has a completely new bathroom.

You can get a continental breakfast delivered to your stateroom every morning and room service all day until midnight. You are welcomed in the informal Terrace Café with indoor/outdoor dining for breakfast and lunch. If desired, the more formal Marco Polo dining room is open for lunch and dinner. The dining room dress code is light casual, a jacket requested for dinner. All of the meals include your wine.

There isn't much in the way of entertainment - the Ambassador Lounge is set up for casual cabaret-style music at night, but it mainly serves as the venue for the impressive array of onboard expert lecturers. There will be three to six experts onboard each cruise, available day and night and even on tours to answer questions and prepare special presentations on the areas you are visiting.

The list of these impressive experts can be seen on the Voyages to Antiquity Web site - there 44 of them already scheduled for just the first six months of cruising. Almost all of them are professors or museum curators, or both.

An Amazing Cruise Value

As if the concept of this cruise line is not enough of an attraction - the value proposition is very impressive.

As stated, the shore tours, which are scheduled every day the ship is in port, are all included in the price of the cruise. But that is not all; even your airfare is included in the cruise fare, plus all of your beverages and your gratuities.

Starting as low as $3495 for 16 days of cruising including food, wine with dinner, shore tours, gratuities and airfare is an incredibly good deal. Long story short, not only are these cruises incredibly well planned and focused - they are also incredible bargains.

As an example of what I mean, one of the best cruises I have ever taken was aboard the ultra luxurious Silversea cruises to Egypt and Petra, Jordan. That cruise started in Alexandria where we saw the Pyramids and the Sphinx, but it continued through the Suez Canal to Safaga on the Red Sea where we boarded minivans that drove us to the Nile Valley (about a two hour drive). There we saw the cradle of Egyptian civilization at Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. We then backtracked and visited the ancient Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan, and St Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, believed to be the site of the Moses' burning bush and home to the oldest library in the world since the Roman's sacked ancient Alexandria.

That portion of our Silversea Cruise was priced at close to $16,000 per person for seven days. Voyages of Antiquity offers the same route we took as just a small portion of a 16-day itinerary that adds Amman Jordan for the Dead Sea and Mount Nebo. You have four days in Cairo/Alexandria, three days in Safaga, two days for Petra and three days in Amman Jordan. When you are in Luxor, Amman and Petra overnight you are placed in hotels, also included in the cruise fare along with all meals. Talk about immersion in a destination.

But the cruise starts at $3795 with airfare. I was excited by the promise of this cruise line even before I saw the price. But after I saw how affordable it is, I was absolutely floored they can even make such an offer. Now, that price is for a smaller 140 sq, ft stateroom. The larger (215 sq. ft.) suites are a few thousand dollars more, but they are currently running a special with $1000 off per couple and a free upgrade.

My recommendation is that you book this cruise line early - the big publicity push is going to start next month and each of these cruises is limited to 370 passengers. My guess is that once this cruise line catches on the prices will go higher. There is no reason why they shouldn't. I will be on the Aegean Odyssey for a seven day sailing, part of a longer cruise, from June 1st through June 6th. Expect me to be sending regular updates from the ship to CruiseMates and a complete update as soon as I return.

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