01 of 09
Life doesn't come much better than cruising a beautiful area of the world like the Adriatic Sea between Greece and Italy. One of the few things that does make it better is to be on a luxury ship like the Seabourn Odyssey.
I enjoyed a marvelous seven-night cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey between Venice and Athens. The itinerary included charming ports in Italy, Croatia, and Greece, including:
- Venice (embarkation)
- Sibenik, Croatia
- Bari, Italy
- Fiscardo, Cephalonia, Greece
- Katakolon (Olympia), Greece
- Gythion, Greece
- Mykonos, Greece
- Piraeus (Athens), Greece (disembarkation)
Many of these ports are small towns that represent quintessential Greece and are often only accessible to small and mid-sized ships, since the towns' piers or tourism infrastructure cannot support large ones.
Our cruise began in one of the most memorable places on earth--Venice. My friend Juanda and I had both visited Venice before, but we arrived a day early to spend a little time in this special place. We stayed at a... Marriott Courtyard (Find a hotel at the Courtyard Venice Airport using Trip Advisor) about five minutes from the airport, arriving there at noon. We stowed our luggage in the room, bought a 24-hour bus/water taxi (vaporetto) pass (18 euros) at the hotel, and were waiting for the bus by 12:40. Five minutes later, bus #5 took us to the bus station in Venice at Piazza Roma, and we were on the vaporetto for Murano before 1:30.
After eating lunch at an outdoor cafe, we browsed the numerous Murano glass shops. The strenuous shopping made us hungry so we were forced to have our first gelato of the trip. (When in Italy, one should always be on the one-gelato-per-day plan.) Anyone who hasn't been to Murano will enjoy taking the vaporetto across the lagoon to visit.
When we finished our fun browsing in Murano, we took water taxi #42 back to the train station to change to water taxi #2 to go to St. Mark's Square (San Marco), arriving there about 5:30 - just in time to enjoy some wine and the dueling musicians. Every bar seems to have its own musical combo, and it cost 5+ euros per person to sit and listen. Add in an overpriced glass of wine, and before you know it, you've spent 15 euros for the ambiance and the view. It's still a better value than the Bellinis at Harry's Bar since you can't beat the St. Mark's location.
After lingering over our drinks for a while, we wandered the narrow pedestrian streets, ending up at La Fenice Opera House. They were having a concert and we debated about attending, but decided to pass since we might have slept through it.
We took the water taxi back to the bus station around 7:00 pm. The sun was setting, and Juanda and I were lucky enough to get seats out front - just as good as in a gondola. It was absolutely marvelous, and the full moon made us wish we were with our husbands. It was very romantic!
We had dinner and then took bus #5 back to the hotel, arriving by 9 pm and pleased we had stayed up all day.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
First Day on the Seabourn Odyssey and Sibenik Croatia
We ate a late breakfast at the hotel and met up with our driver to go to the ship at noon. Boarding the Seabourn Odyssey was swift and smooth. While we were waiting to board, drinks and snacks were served.
Our cabin was on the starboard side, so we went up to the top deck to watch the Venice sailaway. Seeing the city slide by while on a ship is certainly a memorable experience.
We enjoyed open seating dinner with six others. As expected, the food was delicious. They had a choice of 2 appetizers, 2 soups, and 2 salads, along with 4 main courses (fresh salmon, steak, lamb, and vegetarian) and 3 desserts. In addition, you can always get traditional favorites like grilled salmon, chicken, steak, and Caesar salad. One of our tablemates was on a gluten-free diet, and the kitchen gladly accommodated him. I had grilled vegetables, a spinach salad, salmon, and a yummy pastry dessert (which also came with lemon sorbet). Juanda had lobster ravioli, salmon, and frozen yogurt (an always-available... dessert).
We got up early the next morning to watch the captain navigate the narrow passageway into the harbor at Sibenik, including an opening between two rocky islands that we made with only a few feet to spare. Since the weather was perfect, we enjoyed room service breakfast on the balcony. The ship arrived in Sibenik about noon, and we ate lunch before taking the tender ashore. The Odyssey has a large outdoor seating area at the Colonnade buffet on deck 8 aft, and it was filled with others having the same idea. It was a seafood buffet, and we both chowed down pretty good, despite the fact that it was only a few hours since breakfast.
While dining, we scoped out picturesque Sibenik, Croatia from the deck. The old city is lovely from the harbor view, much like other towns on the Croatian Riviera. After lunch, we took the tender ashore and spent a couple of hours wandering around the narrow streets of quaint old town Sibenik. Since it was Sunday, almost everything was closed except for a few cafes and souvenir shops. We managed to find the Sibenik Cathedral, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and saw some Croatian stray cats.
With nothing open, we were back on the ship well before time to sail. We heard good reports from the shore excursions to the Krka National Park with its great waterfalls and to Split and Trogir, but also heard we saw almost everything those on the Sibenik walking tour did. Juanda relaxed on the balcony with her Kindle while I wandered the ship and made photos of many of the common areas. Before dinner, we went up to the lovely observation lounge on deck 10, sat at the bar, enjoyed a Cosmopolitan, and watched the sunset as the Odyssey sailed away from Sibenik.
Dinner was delicious (again). I had the lobster and Juanda had the beef Wellington. Our favorite part of dessert were the frozen petit fours -- dark chocolate (or white chocolate) bon bons on a toothpick filled with chocolate ice cream. Yummy!Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
Bari and Alberobello, Italy from the Seabourn Odyssey
The Seabourn Odyssey docked in Bari, Italy the next day, and we did a shore excursion to see Alberobello and its amazing trulli houses. Bari is on the Adriatic Sea on the southeastern coast of Italy. This is definitely olive country, and it seemed like we saw many of the 6 million olive trees of the Apulia (also called Puglia) region while on our tour.
The ship arrived at Bari about 8 am, and our tour to the World Heritage site at Alberobello left at 8:45. This town is filled with over 1000 trulli, traditional white-washed houses with conical rock roofs. It was fascinating to see this construction technique, which has survived for hundreds of years. Alberobello is definitely a tourist town, and we had a guided tour after our 1.25-hour ride from Bari. Even after learning about how the homes were built, I'm still amazed the construction process works. It was fun to see inside of one of the homes, and tourists can even spend the night in a trulli house.
One small problem, which was a... little comical. Another Seabourn ship was docked in nearby Monopoli, and the guests also had a tour bus to Alberobello. Unfortunately, the tour company labeled their Alberobello bus Seabourn #3, the same as our bus number! We had two people missing for over 30 minutes after our appointed time back on the bus. They had boarded the wrong Seabourn bus #3! Our guide was quite upset with the tour company. What's even funnier was that the poor couple (who weren't that old) didn't have a clue they were on the wrong bus. Moral of the story is always take a good look at your guide and driver when on a tour.
On the way back from Alberobello, the tour stopped at a lovely hotel surrounded by olive orchards for a light lunch of small pizzas, bread, grilled veggies, mozzarella cheese, fruit salad, and red wine. Nice lunch and just the right amount.
We all napped a little on the ride back to Bari, arriving at the Seabourn Odyssey about 2:15. We spoke to some fellow passengers who had taken the white Ostuni and olive oil tasting excursion, and they loved it, so I'll have an excuse to return to Bari and Apulia.
We enjoyed a delightful dinner with the two couples we had met at the Marriott Courtyard in Venice. It was so much fun, our table was the last group to leave the restaurant. Juanda and I both had prawns and roasted tomato soup. I also had a wonderful carpaccio beef appetizer. The surprise of our dinner was the nightly bon bons. The night before, the dark chocolate ones were frozen and filled with chocolate ice cream. That night they looked like truffles--dark chocolate filled with dark chocolate. The surprise was that the dark chocolate filling was laced with wasabi (hot green Chinese horseradish)! Very interesting, and we were continually impressed with the quality and presentation of the food in all the Seabourn Odyssey dining venues.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Fiscardo on the Island of Cephalonia in Greece
The next morning, the Seabourn Odyssey anchored about 11 am off the small town of Fiscardo (Fiskardo), which is found on the northeast corner of the island of Cephalonia (Kefalonia), Greece. Juanda and I ate a light continental breakfast in the Seabourn Square, which serves as the "living room" of the ship. It has the library, a coffee bar, the travel desk, and the concierge desks, which are like the reception area on most ships. There is not a traditional reception desk on this ship. It seems to work well. The concierge area is staffed with four crew who answer all sorts of questions, etc. We only saw a line the first day, but if there were one, you could sit in the comfortable chairs and read the paper or have a coffee or drink. Very nice concept.
We ate lunch outside at the Colonnade and watched the crew set up the marina area. Since we were anchored in a protected harbor, the captain could let the back of the ship down and get out the water "toys" -- kayaks, paddle... boats, banana boats, water skis, donuts (inner tubes), etc. I went down and made photos, but Juanda and I decided to skip participating since the water looked a little cold.
Cephalonia (also spelled Kephallonia) is the largest of the Ionian islands, and became famous early in this century when the movie, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" was entirely filmed on the island. Fiskardo only has a few hundred residents, and its pretty Venetian-style buildings stretch for a few blocks along the waterfront.
We rode the tender into Fiskardo in the mid-afternoon. Because of its small size, it didn't take long for us to stroll along the waterfront, which was packed with sailboats. The harbor was dotted with white sails, too, so this must be a popular area. After wandering around for a while, window shopping and taking some photos of the waterfront and the flowers, we came back to the ship.
Some passengers took a shore excursion to the village of Assos and the subterranean seawater lake of Melissani Cave. I had visited this cave and lake a few years ago, and riding a small boat across the lake deep in the cave was a magical experience. It's a great excursion for those who love grottoes and can navigate some steps.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Katakolon and the Mercouri Estate Winery
The next morning the Seabourn Odyssey docked in Katakolon, Greece. The Ocean Village 2 was docked next to us, as were the Calypso (a Thomson Travel ship) and the Costa Fortuna. Busy port!
Katakolon is best-known as the closest cruise port to the site of the ancient Olympic games. Most passengers take an excursion to this ancient Olympic site, but since I had visited the Olympic site before, we took a short tour to the Mercouri Estate and its vineyards, which was less than a 15-minute drive from Katakolon.
Mercouri Estate was an old winery (over 150 years old), and we had a funny guide from Glascow. He had lived in the USA and worked at Los Alamos in New Mexico as a physicist for 12 years, but had wanted to move to Greece, so he got a job at the winery.
The Mercouri Estate is owned and operated by the fourth generation of the family, and they make wine and grow olives for olive oil. They are starting to produce balsamic vinegar, but the first batch won't be ready for 12 years. The old... house is a little spooky (we didn't go inside) and is inhabited by a 92-year old woman and her housekeeper. We toured the old stable, which was filled with antique farm equipment, took a photo of the very small family church, and petted the St. Bernard dogs. I felt like we were on a traditional Greek vineyard and farm.
Chris, the guide, explained that the property is part vineyard and part zoo, and we believed him since there were also numerous peacocks on the grounds. They had finished the grape harvest just that same week in October, and the winery was busy beginning to process the harvest. We went down in the cellar and looked at the French oaken barrels used to store and age the wine. After the tour, we sat outside at tables under huge shade trees overlooking the Ionian Sea and enjoyed the Foloi Fume white wine the estate is famous for, accompanied by bread and Mercouri olive oil, cheese, small ham sandwiches, and olives. Very relaxing snack, and delicious, too.
We were back at the small town of Katakolon by 1:00, and Juanda and I wandered around the town and shopped for a while before returning to the ship at 2:30. We ate a light lunch outdoors by the pool. It had been a marvelous day in Greece.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
Gythion, Greece - Fishing Port for Ancient Sparta
We awoke in a town I had never heard of before - Gythion, Greece, which is a small fishing port and once was the gateway to ancient Sparta. As was becoming a habit, we ate breakfast outside and did some self-service laundry, then ate lunch outside. I guess doing all that laundry made us hungry! Lunch was especially good. I loved the tuna and swordfish kebabs and the cucumbers with Tzatziki (yogurt) sauce.
The ship featured shore excursions to the ancient medieval city of Mystras, with its huge gates and many palaces. Interestingly, the original Spartans did not build grand buildings or structures like other Greeks did. They lived a rather austere existence and did not leave any landmarks or monuments for tourists to see. Today's Sparta is a modern city with little ancient history to offer travelers.
The other tour in Gythion went to the caves at Diros, which were inhabited by prehistoric man but not discovered until 1958. In addition to seeing the artifacts uncovered by... archaeologists and learning something about the history of the area, the tour included a boat ride into the cave to view the stalactites and stalagmites.
After lunch, we rode the tender into town, but stayed less than an hour. The town looked very quaint and picturesque from the ship, but didn't have the tourist shops we had seen elsewhere. This lack of tourist areas made the ship seem like a real fishing village. Seeing these squid drying on a line was worth the trip ashore, and we saw many fishermen working on their nets or sorting their catch of the day.
That evening we enjoyed dinner at Colonnade outside on the deck with some of our new cruise friends. They gave us a corner table, and we could see the sparkling lights of the Greek isles as we sailed from Gythion to Mykonos. It was lovely outside, and the cuisine and service impeccable. I had grilled gambas (like small lobsters or giant prawns) and Juanda had a yummy steak. It was "Spain night" at this alternative outdoor restaurant and we loved it. I wished we had booked dinner at Colonnade earlier in the cruise. Although there is no surcharge for dining at Colonnade or Restaurant 2, reservations can only be made 48-hours in advance, so be sure to plan ahead.
After dinner, we had a deck party at 10 pm. It was great fun, with lots of live music from the 50s - 80s. Everything from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Eagles. Perfect for the many baby boomers on the ship. They also served hot bananas foster, and other snacks. I was surprised to see so many couples dancing - I counted about 50-60 people dancing at any one time.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Our next port was the Greek island of Mykonos, which is known far and wide as a party and beach island. We enjoyed room service breakfast and then took the shuttle from the pier to the small town. Juanda and I were in town about 3 hours, browsing the shops and slowly sipping a 6 euro diet coke at a sidewalk cafe. (A wine or beer would have been cheaper!) It was very windy, but still perfect weather, and we managed to find a sidewalk cafe out of the wind with a terrific view of the water and the famous Mykonos windmills. I guess the diet coke was worth one euro, and the seat with a view five.
Myknonos is considered a quintessential Greek isle, covered with low, whitewashed buildings and houses, domed churches, old windmills, and narrow winding pedestrian streets lined with shops and brilliant flowers. Other than the red bougainvillea, the other predominant splashes of color are bright blue, which is found on the shutters and domes of the churches. Shoppers can (and do) spend hours in the... numerous jewelry, clothing, and artisan shops. Many cruise ships and ferries visit Mykonos each year, and its popularity is well-deserved.
Many who travel to Mykonos take a small boat to the nearby island of Delos, which is celebrated as the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Delos is uninhabited and one of the most revered sanctuaries of ancient Greece. Our Seabourn Odyssey cruise featured shore excursions to Delos and an island tour by bus. When we visited Mykonos on this trip in October, the beaches were closed, but they are always packed with tourists in the summer.
Our last evening on the Seabourn Odyssey, we dined in Restaurant 2, the small tasting restaurant on deck 8 near the pool and the Colonnade. It is all decorated in red and black. The menu is set, but changes daily (7 menus per week). It features many dishes in at least 5 or more courses, but only a small bite of each. The presentation is exquisite. We shared a table for 6 with two couples who were both staying on another week (about 200 passengers were doing so).
After dinner, we returned to the suite to finish packing. We did have one minor (and very funny) event. When putting the luggage outside a little before midnight, we managed to both get locked outside of the cabin in our pajamas! Since Juanda had on lovely linen pajamas and I only had a short cotton nightshirt on, I made her go to the reception area at Seabourn Square to get someone to let us in. Good thing it was late and her pajamas were lovely and very "covered up". One couple came by the cabin while I was hovering next to the door. They asked it they could help, and I had to admit what we had done. I could hear them snickering down the hallway. The next day, I saw the same couple at disembarkation, and the guy just broadly smiled and said I looked a little different with my clothes on. I didn't bother trying to explain to those sitting/standing nearby.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Athens, Greece and Disembarkation from the Seabourn Odyssey
The 6:30 am wake up call came way too early, followed by our last room service breakfast. As we disembarked, the captain and cruise director met all the passengers on the pier. A very special farewell touch!
Before flying home, we had a driver for the day. His name was Paul Kalomiris, and he was excellent. His son and daughter work for him and he does all his business over the Internet at http://www.athensbytaxi.com. His fare covers the car and driver and was well worth it. Paul also has a van for 8.
Paul loaded the luggage in the back of his air conditioned Mercedes taxi, and we were off. We drove from the port of Piraeus to Athens, passing by many of the Olympic venues used in the 2004 Olympics. Our first stop was at the Acropolis. Paul is a driver, not a guide, so he could not accompany us into the venues, but he provided knowledgeable commentary throughout the day when we were in the car. Juanda and I had to buy tickets for the Acropolis, but they also covered entrance into several... other sites we visited during the day.
After walking around for a short while and checking out the Parthenon and other sites on top of the hill (as well as the views of Athens below), we picked our way back down the hill and met up with Paul in the assigned spot. Next stop was the new Acropolis Museum, which sits at the bottom of the Acropolis. If we had been touring on our own, we could have taken the subway and bus to the Acropolis from Piraeus and walked to the museum, but it sure was better to have a driver to chauffeur us around and keep up with our luggage.
I had warned Juanda that we would probably hear a lot about the "Elgin marbles" at the Acropolis Museum, and I was right--it's a very sore subject for the Greeks. Mr. Elgin was a British archaeologist who stripped many of the statues and other stone work from the Acropolis and other Greek sites during the 1800s. His excuse was that they were not being protected by the Greek government, and he was right. He sold many of the most important pieces from the Acropolis to the British Museum in London, but now Greece wants them returned. The Greeks say they were stolen, not sold to Mr. Elgin, and this fight has been going on for over 100 years. A few decades ago, Britain said they would return the "marbles" if Greece built a secure place to display them. So, the Greeks built the Acropolis Museum, which just opened in 2009. They quite cleverly have displayed the artwork from the Acropolis, with replicas of the pieces still held at the British Museum displayed but clearly marked. It's almost like a jigsaw puzzle, with the old, weathered marble art displayed next to the replicas. They also have a short movie on the third floor, which depicts the history of the Parthenon throughout the centuries. If (and when) Greece gets the marbles back, they only need to remove the replicas. Very interesting legal case study.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Poseidon's Temple and Seabourn Odyssey Conclusion
Paul next took us on a driving tour of Athens. Since it was Saturday, the traffic was lighter than normal, but still busy. We stopped at a few other sites, including the old Roman agora (shopping area), and the Parliament building (to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier). Paul just drove slowly by others, but we both got a good look at the city.
About 12:30 we left Athens for the coastal drive down to Poisendon's Temple at Sounion, the southernmost point of mainland Greece. The drive was beautiful and reminiscent of the Amalfi coast, with the sparkling Aegean below the cliffs and beautiful villas above us on the cliffs. We stopped at a small town and had a delicious lunch about 2:00 pm. Paul said he chose the restaurant for its good food and clean bathrooms, and he was right. Juanda and I stuffed ourselves on bread, Tzatziki sauce, Greek salad, fried zucchini (yummy with the sauce), moussaka, and chicken skewers. It was very good, and the ice cold... water and wine tasted good too. We had a table right on the water in the outdoor part of the restaurant. Very nice! Meal was 45 euros for the 2 of us, but we had way more food than we needed. We should have NOT gotten the mousakka or the chicken and just stopped after the appetizers.
At about 3:00 pm, we left the restaurant and drove the last few miles to the Poseidon Temple. According to Greek mythology, it was built to honor Poseidon after he and Athena had their "contest" to decide who the Parthenon in Athens would be dedicated to (Athena won, because she gave Greece the olive tree and all Poseidon could give them was sea water). The Poseidon Temple sits high on its own Acropolis overlooking the sea. It's a beautiful site, with the wind whipping across the cliff. Of course, it was uphill, but we both managed to make the summit.
By 3:45 pm, we were ready for the air-conditioned ride to the airport. Our time in Greece and in the Mediterranean was coming to an end. We had sailed on an elegant cruise ship from Venice to Athens, enjoying the quaint, picturesque ports along the way. However, we both agreed we enjoyed our time on the Seabourn Odyssey as much or more. The staff was friendly, competent, and accommodating. Our fellow cruisers were interesting and well-traveled, and the food and service were sublime.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.