Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch
The Name of the Cruise Game: Voyages to Antiquity
March 5, 2015 -- Kos? Antalya? Fethiye? Canakkale?

Even if you're a cruise veteran, it's possible that you haven't heard of this quartet of Greek and Turkish ports or that you've bypassed them on a traditional cruise itinerary. But these ports and many others are featured on the routes traversed by a unique cruise line with a single ship.

The Aegean Odyssey is operated by the aptly named Voyages to Antiquity mainly on Mediterranean and Pacific sea lanes. The focus of each itinerary is the destination with plenty of onboard lectures on the cultural and historical background of the places visited on daily shore excursions.

Although hardly a household name, Voyages to Antiquity once again proves my long-held theory that cruising provides the ideal environment for business travelers seeking relaxation, invigorating sea air and, just maybe, the excitement of dropping in on exotic ports. Cruising is also the perfect laid-back environment for business meetings, board meetings and incentive travel.

In the specific case of the Aegean Odyssey, advantages for the stressed-out business traveler abound. The ship's maximum capacity is 378 passengers, fewer customers than on an Airbus A380 flight. The atmosphere is luxurious, but casual. There's a spa, a swimming pool and low-key evening entertainment, but no casino. There's both indoor and outdoor dining and no assigned seating at mealtimes. Prices are reasonable, too.

Aboard the Aegean Odyssey as she left Piraeus, the port for Athens, on a journey last year were my peripatetic urologist, Dr. Michael Brodherson, his wife and another New York couple with whom they often travel. They were embarking on a 17-day Mediterranean adventure that would end in Istanbul. The globe-trotting foursome also cruised in this part of the world in 2013 on the Aegean Odyssey.

The Brodherson party was impressed by just about everything, but especially by the al fresco dining on the Aegean Odyssey. "We had considered another ship, but it didn't have any outdoor dining," Brodhershon noted. The group ate three meals a day, every day, with the exception of one meal, outdoors. "The option to enjoy that great daytime sun and the romantic nighttime moon was just too much to ignore."

Served buffet style, "there was always a grill and you could get a basic like a burger or French Fries or grilled vegetables as well as specialty cuisine, such as Indian or Italian. And there were some very nice deserts." Beer and wine came gratis with onboard meals, which included a late-afternoon tea service.

Brodherson also cited the ship's itinerary, not only for its cultural diversity, but also the fact that there were no full days at sea. In other words, there was a port of call every day. "This gave us the option of going ashore daily to sightsee, shop or sample local cuisine," Brodherson noted, "or to stay aboard the ship to simply relax and sunbathe."

Flexibility with the itinerary also proved crucial when bad weather kept the ship from docking at the Greek island of Kos as scheduled. On virtually a moment's notice, the captain diverted to Rhodes, flipping the dates between the two ports.

"That ability to change so quickly impressed me," Brodherson said.

One of the highlights of this cruise was the daily lectures, which Brodherson dubbed "enriching and entertaining." He was particularly taken with the two highly qualified and engaging lecturers, each of whom gave talks on alternate days. The lectures were supplemented by daily briefings on stops on the itinerary. "They were always worth attending," he said.

The shore excursions also drew high praise--"both the number and content were very generous"--from Brodherson. Most were included in the total price. Those that were not were about $40 to $65 a person.

Among the most memorable for the Brodherson party? The delayed trip to Kos, the birthplace of Hippocrates, considered the father of Western medicine, and Hygeia, the goddess of good health. "Kos is beautiful with lush foliage that makes it greener than most Greek islands," observed Brodherson.

The ancient Greek city of Pergamon, with the ruins of the Upper and Lower Acropolis, was another favorite. (Pergamon was one of the last Greek strongholds in Asia Minor before the Romans came.) Brodherson was also favorably impressed by Rhodes, which he had visited before. "Sensational," he said enthusiastically. "The climate, the history, the beaches ... are all terrific."

The Brodhersons' accommodations, an outside cabin on the C deck, also got high marks. "It was fabulous. Very spacious, with a sizable terrace that we used a lot." (Cabins on the Aegean Odyssey range in size from a very cozy 130 square feet to 550-square-foot Owners' Suites with balconies.)

Sailing along with the Brodherson party were about 300 fellow passengers. "It never felt crowded," he explained. About 20 percent of the passengers were from the United States plus a large number of British and Australian seafarers. The non-partying, learning-oriented cruisers ranged in age from their 40s to their 90s. And Brodherson had only kind words for the staff that included Indonesian and Philippine nationals as well as some from Russia and Serbia.

"We're seriously thinking about another cruise on the Aegean Odyssey, a Pacific journey in the spring of 2016," Brodherson added. "I was very intrigued by one that starts in Singapore and ends in Delhi."

Based in Oxford, England, Voyages to Antiquity is the 2010 creation of serial entrepreneur Gerry Herrod, active for decades in the U.S. market as the founder of several major cruise lines. He now lives in Switzerland.

Formerly the Aegean I, the Aegean Odyssey was built in the 1970s and has undergone several renovations, most recently in 2010. The ship offers a well-stocked library; an outdoor pool; a barber shop and beauty parlor; and a spa. The ship also has WiFi. Although Brodherson noted the Internet access is fairly priced--he paid about $28 during the cruise--it was not always available throughout the vessel.

With a variety of discounts and credits, Brodherson and his wife paid around $6,900 each for the cruise. That included onboard meals with beer and wine; several shore excursions; two nights at the Grande Bretagne hotel in Athens and two nights in Istanbul at the Ritz-Carlton. Breakfast was included at both hotels. Brodherson felt it was "well-priced and fair and even more value than [his 2013 cruise] given the additional number of days."

The Brodhersons booked directly with Voyages to Antiquity (877-398-1460). They arranged for and paid for their own flights--business class on Delta Air Lines--using Cook Travel of New York. (JoeSentMe members receive a discount on many airfares from Cook Travel when they identify themselves as members and call 800-435-8776.)

This column is Copyright 2015 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Martin B. Deutsch. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.