Cruising on a Small Ship from Athens to Venice

In this latest post from guest contributor and cruise enthusiast, David Wishart explores the benefits of a cruising on a small, luxury ship.

Most of the first cruise ships were hand-me-downs. But some can still be a joy to sail on, such as the elegant liner SS France that became the SS Norway after being purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line, and which hosted some memorable rock ’n’ roll cruises. As the industry has matured, many vessels have changed owners; a recent example being Windstar Cruises’ purchase of three vessels from Seabourn Cruise Line.

I recently went to Athens to join Star Breeze, the former Seabourn Spirit, built as a Rolls-Royce of the sea, and now freshened up with a $9 million update.

The newly carpeted, wide corridors running down the centre of the ship are as luxurious as ever, and the cabins are a glorious blend of light wood and brass. Every room has a walk-in closet with a full marble bathroom, rarities on new ships unless you are paying top dollar.

A Balcony Suite Onboard the Star Breeze (Windstar Cruises)

A Balcony Suite Onboard the Star Breeze (Windstar Cruises)

My room had a fridge, flat-screen TV, DVD player and Bose Bluetooth speaker. Not all cabins have balconies, but they do have large windows and those that open, such as mine, do so wider than the balcony windows of almost any other vessel.

There is a well-stocked library with computers backed up by shipboard Wi-Fi that works well, superb lounges, and a deck bar that does not close at sundown — an indication that Windstar understands what passengers want.

The dining rooms — one far below and the other on deck — are a perfect balance for lunch and dinner, and the chefs try hard to please, starting with shore side visits on most days to buy fresh fish. Add to that smiling waiters and you wonder why it can’t always be like this.

Candles, an Outdoor Dining Options (Windstar Cruises)

Candles, an Outdoor Dining Options (Windstar Cruises)

Then again Windstar knew it would have to try harder when it is introducing three completely different vessels almost all at once. In a time when new resort ships that hold up to 6,000 people are being delivered like pizzas in Pisa, will there still be a market for ships that hold just 212 passengers?

Dinner at AmphorA Restaurant (Windstar Cruises)

Dinner at AmphorA Restaurant (Windstar Cruises)

I got my answer on day six of my nine-day cruise that was headed towards Venice. After cruising a long, fjord-like passage along the Adriatic Sea up to Kotor in Montenegro, we passed a mega-ship at anchor. There we saw many of the ship’s 3,000 passengers, including lots of children, stewing under the sun while in a queue on the dock that went all the way around the port building.

There will always be a market for a small ship that can go places bigger vessels cannot, and usually allowing passengers to stroll ashore rather than queue for tenders. It’s akin to flying with just hand luggage and being able to stroll smugly past the carousels. Traditionally, smaller ships have been in the luxury category and priced accordingly — but now with Windstar you can have the best of both worlds — although alcohol and tips have to be paid. Wines are reasonably priced and all soft drinks are complimentary. Windstar offers a good range of shore excursions including slick transfers, such as the Mercedes taxi that took us from Athens airport to the port of Piraeus.

Our first port of call was the nearby island of Hydra, where singer Leonard Cohen romanced his lovely Marianne as a young man. We walked around the pretty harbor — there are no cars here, just donkeys — and went to an old favorite, the Hydronetta Cafe, which hangs over a cove. A swim here is magical, setting one up for a tzatziki-flavoured lunch.

Star Breeze Passing the Corinth Canal (Windstar Cruises)

Star Breeze Passing the Corinth Canal (Windstar Cruises)

The next day we barely made it through the Corinth Canal on our way to Delphi, an archaeological site and a modern town overlooking vistas of soaring hillsides coated with olive terraces. If the Star Breeze was a few inches wider would have to make a big detour. Another bonus for a smaller cruise ship!

Olympia, home of the original Olympic Games, was another classical highlight with the Stadium running track that has survived the onslaught of time, along with its marbled starting line. The best part was the Archaeological Museum of Olympia with statues of Zeus and Hermes.

Counter Current Pool, Whirlpool & Jacuzzi at the Bow (Windstar Cruises)

Counter Current Pool, Whirlpool & Jacuzzi at the Bow (Windstar Cruises)

By now we were heading north on the Adriatic Sea, but first, the Albanian port of Saranda, a popular tourist resort town, looking quite chic with a tidy waterfront busy with Russian-made hydrofoils skimming over to nearby Corfu.

Windstar treated everyone on a complimentary excursion on this day to Butrint National Park, a remarkable place that has seen a lot of history from early Greek and Roman times. Cicero wrote that it was cool and pleasant, and many others, including Lord Byron, came to share its pleasures.

The fjord-like passage to Kotor is one of Europe’s most interesting journeys, while on shore passengers enjoyed the chef’s visit to the market. Lore has it that cruisers can gain as much as a pound a day during their cruise, but one pound was all I put on in a week. I credit the chef’s light cooking.

The final two ports before Venice is the handsome, walled city of Dubrovnik, which was jammed but I still managed to bump into the captain of another cruise ship; while the bustling waterfront at Hvar was busy with yachts of all sizes.

Sailing into Venice is one of the great experiences in travel, up there with arriving at Sydney, Hong Kong and Vancouver, but the sight of mega-ships being shoe-horned in through the San Marco canal would make Marco Polo cringe. Star Breeze feels just right.

  • Windstar’s three small cruise ships and three sailing boats are cruising in Europe, the Caribbean and Tahiti, some of them at very attractive rates, including a two-for-one offer on the Star Breeze.
  • Cruises on this itinerary start from $3,999 per person for an ocean view suite for travel between May and October, 2016.
The Marina of Star Breeze (David Wishart)

The Marina of Star Breeze (David Wishart) Updates

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Featured Image: Star Breeze in Port (Windstar Cruises)

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