Time for my opinions on cruising aboard the Seabourn Odyssey:
First, I want you to know that I just spent almost 2 hours composing an excellent post about cruising and, by accident, I hit the dreaded "discard" button. I thought I was discarding a photo I had added, but, NO, I discarded the whole post—grrrr!
Some history about me, Cruise Critic in Chief: (while I find this interesting, feel free to skip to the bottom line—just, don't tell me!)I took my first cruise in 1958. My parents ambitiously sought to have us 3 kids (17, 15, and 10—I'm the youngest of 3) experience a vacation at sea. My memory of those 16 days was of a magical time: life aboard ship was fit for royalty, food was delicious, varied and plentiful; midnight buffets were de rigueur; people still used steamer trunks; shore excursions were intimate and led by locals who were passionate about their island; shopping reaped some valuable bargains; and exceptional service, on ship and ashore, were givens. Perhaps my memory was that of an impressionable child, yet it was also a description of cruising back in the '50's. There are many things I don't miss about those days: the ballroom dancing (actually, now it would be fun to learn some of those dances!), the many formal occasions, the prosaic march of waiters carrying flaming Baked Alaska desserts, having to leave from New York to get to the Caribbean and endure the Bermuda Triangle, and the postage stamp-sized staterooms, a lucky few of which had tiny portholes.
The '70's marked the decade of the Love Boat, both on TV and at sea. Service began to slip until the second to last night aboard ship. That was when you'd witness the fawning of the waiters, stewards and stewardesses, the bartenders, maitre d's, stowaways (just wanted to see if you're really reading this) jockeying for a healthy tip. The final night was like watching a ridiculous charade—passengers handing out tips in specially designated envelopes to crew members who acted "surprised" and "delighted".
Fast forward to the 90's and the cruise industry seeking to expand its market, as seen in the addition of: private verandahs (yes, I truly love them), rock climbing walls, basketball courts, ice skating rinks, soaring multi-story foyers, gourmet menus and occasionally the food matched the description, spending time with favorite cartoon characters or a multi-jointed Cirque du Soleil performer, ships big enough to hold you and thousands of your closest friends, the commercialization of almost all Caribbean ports (and ditto for many ports around the world), and shore excursions that became generic recitations by bored guides to throngs of people, some of whom left their manners at home.
The beginning of this century has seen the launch of several floating vessels that more resemble huge cities at sea—if a city looks like a humongous scaled rectangle (the scales, upon examination are verandahs). Mid-sized ships are now considered small and small ships are yachts, yada, yada, yada. Cruising seems to have morphed into an undefined era. Cruising of the 1950's is well, so 1950's…it just doesn't work anymore…the regimen, the formality. It lacked imagination in the 70's and the 90's were defined by the new physical layouts. The 2000's so far has been dominated by the family cruise vacation, a new niche of value deluxe (think Azamara and Oceania) and a return to timeless style and excellence in service (Seabourn and Regent, for example). There are a select number of cruises that focus on off-the-beaten path destinations and/or nature and animals (Lindblad Expeditions is my personal fave). And, if you don't want to buy your own yacht but want to live at sea, you can buy a condo on Residensea!
I've discovered on this cruise that I prefer the off-the-beaten path, exotic destinations, or nature/discovery cruises. While this cruise is very enjoyable, there is a sameness to the ports and I'm now convinced I prefer to look at animals or unusual landscapes than centuries old, historic buildings. I've also learned that I detest crowds. I loved Ephesus—hated the crowd. Today, in Dubrovnik, swarms of people crowded into Grad, the old, walled city. I liked the old city, the parts I could see, and have heard that the time to visit dubrovnik is in October. However, a friend who just returned from a Med cruise loved Dubrovnik. Maybe there were fewer cruise ships that day?
The bottom line (why is it called the bottom line—an accounting thing, I guess):
Seabourn is as nice and comfortable as it gets! As we approach the end of our two weeks aboard ship, I definitely want to sail on Seabourn again. However…(I just can't leave a comment alone, can I?): I'd pick a different itinerary. While we've traveled the globe and even want to travel into Space, we've never done the Greek Islands and Turkey. I'm glad we've "done it" and I wish we had cruised this part of the world 15 or 20 years ago—fewer ships, fewer crowds, and less commercialization! I expected a more romantic, intimate experience. Maybe I need to discard all those memories of the photos my parents took of their visit to this area in the 1960's! Layout of the ship is terrific and roomy, staff good and sometimes great, food is good, but would I eat there if it was a restaurant at home? Not so sure…
My favorite ports:
Istanbul: fun, exotic and yet modern. If you shop in China, the prices at the Grand Bazaar are not a bargain. Definitely take the Bosphorus cruise. Stay in the old city center area to avoid having to fight traffic when sightseeing.
Kusadasi/Ephesus: Splurge on a private tour here. While the shore excursion guides are adequate, the private guides can get you to Ephesus before the crowds (even if you're skimming this post, you must have sensed I HATE crowds!). Fascinating history and a definite "must experience".
Rhodes: Here it was all about the wonderful guide we had, Anthony, on the Virtuoso Voyager Club Shore Excursion. In all my years of traveling, Anthony ranks among the top 4 guides ever! (Other wows were Cape Town, Florence, and China). He was so good I didn't mind that the lunch we had was only mediocre at best (he didn't pick the place!).
Corfu: Enjoyed the Esplanade and old city. Quaint (except for the McDonalds and Starbucks), picturesque and the architecture was refreshingly different from the previous stops. Unlike the meal in Rhodes, we had an absolutely delightful lunch in the countryside (another Virtuoso Voyager Club event, of course!). I'd like to spend more time in Corfu.
Kotor: If you are on a cruise, be sure to awaken very early to enjoy the breathtaking scenery as the ship glides through the fjord into port. Lots of beautiful beaches and a list of well known movie and rock stars have enjoyed them. Go soon because Kotor is in full "tourist" attracting mode and will soon be one of those, "Oh NO! It's too crowded!" places.
Mykonos: I know, I know-touristy to the max, BUT still charming meandering narrow streets and worth at least a stroll to the windmills outside of town.
Patmos: Stayed aboard ship but some of our clients enjoyed the beaches in Patmos. Thus, a thumbs up.
Been there, liked it but:
Athens: We did not tour Athens, having experienced the main sights a few years ago. If you haven't done Athens (and nobody reported any rioting as shown on our CNN International TV), the Acropolis is worth seeing (again, go early!). After sundown, consider having a cocktail or dining at the Rooftop Restaurant at the Grande Bretagne for a lovely view of the Acropolis at night.
Katakolon: Because we arrived in the afternoon, we had to forego a visit to Olympia, home to the Olympic flame and ruins of the original Olympic Games. We were hosting a Virtuoso Voyager Club Cocktail Party and we didn't want to be late to our own party. We heard people enjoyed the shore excursion.
Not a bell ringer:
Santorini: avoid Fira unless you just want to enjoy the cable car ride up and back. Sunsets are supposed to be incredible in Oia, but I smell CROWDS! Last year we heard about the breathtaking sunsets in Broome, Western Australia and I was underwhelmed there, too.
Lesbos: Sometimes I think cruise ships stop at some ports just to stop
Super duper bottom line: Seabourn Odyssey YES Itinerary: It depends. Great itinerary for what it is, but you can take the girl out of Africa, but you can't take Africa off her mind.
Posted via email from Travelingking