R1 Cruise Review
The Greek Isles
by Linda Coffman
Much as our cruising forebears did in
the early 1900's, my husband Mel and I set out for Athens on June
9th on a voyage of discovery. Our Renaissance Cruises cruise/tour itinerary (Athens, Santorini,
Rhodes, Kusadasi, and Istanbul) was rich in Roman, Greek, and
Turkish history--significant to Christians, Jews, and Moslems
Such a journey can be approached in
several different ways. Travelers may choose to fly to each
destination and rent a car or use public transportation. Hardy
souls might want to backpack and reach the Greek Isles by ferry.
Either of these options naturally means hotels and a great deal
of packing and unpacking--not to mention locating restaurants and
finding your way around. I can't imagine attempting to read road
maps and street signs in either Greek or Turkish. My attempt to
navigate downtown Brussels last year taught me a lesson--street
signs and maps don't always match up.
The most sensible choice for me, and
other like-minded travelers, is a cruise/tour. Why not take your
"hotel" with you? The added bonus of available guided
tours saves the bother of car rentals and getting lost. Those of
us wives who are usually appointed "navigator" can
appreciate this luxury.
Departure - June 9th
One of the things Renaissance does
very well is move people. We departed Atlanta on Delta and
transferred to our Athens flight at JFK. Most of our fellow
passengers flew to Athens on ATA, a charter flight for
Renaissance guests. I heard one complaint about the charter--that
is was too long. Well, there isn't anything to be done about
that. Other comments included excellent service and good food. I
can say the same for Delta.
Arrival - June 10th
Arriving in Athens we were met at
baggage claim by a Renaissance representative who helped us claim
our luggage and escorted us to awaiting transportation to the Athenaeum
Intercontinental Hotel. Cheerful young
ladies greeted us at the Renaissance courtesy desk in the lobby
and we were checked in and whisked off to a lovely room and
welcome showers. Refreshed, we immediately set off on a tour to
the ancient city of Corinth.
After evening cocktails in the Club
lounge, we were beginning to feel the effects of our long flight
and retired to our room and dinner served on a cart by a
white-gloved waiter. Having signed up for a full day of touring
the next day, we were conserving our energy for a climb to the
top of the Acropolis and other highlights of Athens.
Athens - June 11th
Our morning began early with breakfast
in the Club lounge and the opportunity to meet Brad Ball of
Renaissance Cruises and my fellow press tour colleagues. After a
full day in Athens, we gathered for dinner on the rooftop of the
Intercontinental where we dined on international fare with a
fabulous view of the crown jewel of the Acropolis--the Parthenon
bathed in evening sunlight.
Athens & Embarkation on R1 -
After leaving luggage in the hall for
pick-up, we left the Intercontinental Hotel behind and set off
for Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. Very appropriate,
since we'd be embarking on the R1 upon our return to the Athens
and the port at Pireaus. The pre-cruise embarkation tour made
transfer from the hotel to the ship as seamless as possible. We
were already beginning to experience the pampering Renaissance
offers all their guests.
I always feel a rush of excitement when
arriving in port to embark on a cruise and this day was no
exception. Tour busses were timed to arrive in sequence and
check-in was swift. We received our Great Times Cards,
combination boarding passes and room keys, and in no time we'd
experienced a Kodak moment with a ship's photographer and were up
the gangway. In the reception lobby a white-gloved stewardess met
us and accompanied us to our stateroom, a Category D on Deck 6
aft. Our luggage was already waiting for us--what service!
Unpacking accomplished, it was time for
the general emergency and lifeboat drill. We reported to our
muster station where emergency procedures were explained and we
were escorted to the boat deck and roll call was taken. I was
very impressed by the seriousness of crew members and passengers
alike, and by the thoroughness of the entire drill. Well done,
Before dinner we gathered with the press
tour group in the Sports Bar to meet informally with Captain
Derrick Kemp and his Officers and Staff. Captain Kemp hails from
England and Officers on the bridge are from all nationalities, a
cruise line first. Unlike similarly-named lounges on other ships,
R1's Sports Bar has a little something for everyone. In addition
to a bank of televisions (sorry guys, you can't control the
remote), there are slot machines tucked into a corner and video
poker screens built into a section of the bar--presumably for the
ladies who want to keep their husbands company but aren't
particularly interested in football. Decorated in rich colors,
the Sports Bar is a daytime observation lounge and becomes the
late-night dancing spot and the place to perform when Karaoke is
Dinner in the Italian Restaurant was
hosted by R1's physician, Dr. Julio Janes, from Coral Gables,
Florida. He was leaving later in the week, to be replaced by
another physician (who I had the misfortune to meet
professionally). Mel and I ordered Caesar salads and after a very
tasty veal entree, we ended our first meal onboard with after
dinner drinks and the stimulating conversation of our companions,
Lauren and Sal Livina, producers of Travel Daily.
Santorini - June 13th
Arising early, I realized I hadn't put a
breakfast order outside our cabin door the night before. A call
to Room Service brought a pot of steaming coffee and platter of
croissants in less than ten minutes. Mel and I enjoyed morning
coffee and R1's arrival in Santorini's volcanic caldera from our
balcony. Today we would meet our tour group in the Cabaret Lounge
to tender ashore. Leaving the ship, a security officer swipes the
magnetic code of passengers' boarding cards through a
computerized terminal, enabling them to keep track of everyone.
That came in handy later in the week when Mel and I made
different arrangements for the day--I was able to ascertain he
had indeed come back aboard.
From a distance, Santorini's whitewashed
buildings appear to be snow atop dramatic cliffs. This is one of
the loveliest islands we've ever visited. After our tour and
shopping in the capital city of Fira, we took the cable car to
the tender pier at the bottom of the cliff--a beautiful view and
a heart-stopping ride. Alternatives are riding a donkey and
walking. Walkers are reminded they will share the path with
donkeys and donkeys have the right of way. Those who choose to
ride a donkey are warned they will smell like the beast
and would be wise to select an outside seat on the tender.
We chose burgers and shishkabob from the
Barbeque adjacent to the pool and after a lazy afternoon
poolside, we dined in the Club Restaurant, R1's main dining room.
Dinner is served from 6:30 to 9:00 pm and guests are encouraged
to dine when they please. We never encountered a wait, but should
there be a delay in securing a table, the Club Bar area is a most
pleasant room to have a pre-dinner cocktail while your table is
being readied. My pasta was al dente and the sauce savory, but
I'd have enjoyed a bit more of the sauce.
Capping off the evening, we went to the
show in the Cabaret Lounge featuring comedian and magician Tony
Albano and his wife Caroline. I really don't care much for this
sort of show but found myself wondering, "how did he do
that?" more than once. We enjoyed the show, especially the
very-visible Captain Kemp's introduction. It was a pleasant
surprise to see the ship's Master assisting Cruise Director,
Richard Joseph, in introductions.
Retiring to our stateroom, we passed
through the Casino Bar and stopped to listen to Jane Passell, the
wife of Diversions Magazine writer Josh Passell. The
Casino Bar is R1's "piano bar" and Jane was singing
with the pianist. In this intimate setting, I could imagine I was
in Jane's parlor enjoying her lovely voice as friends gathered
around the piano. This, as much as anything, conveys the cozy
atmosphere of R1.
Rhodes - June 14th
Mel selected a morning tour to Lindos
and we both planned an afternoon touring the medieval sites of
the Knights of St. John. I set off on my own and hired a taxi to
take me to a "suburban" jewelry store. For $20,
Tharenos Platis (Mercedes Taxi Service) delivered me to Nassos
Export, the Greek equivalent of an upscale jewelry emporium,
where I purchased handmade earrings in traditional Greek designs
for myself and a friend. Back in the old walled city I
encountered Cathy and Jim Gaffney (Mature Life Features' writers)
and Len Hansen (Copley
News Service columnist) and joined them
for coffee. We set off on foot to explore the medieval city until
it was time for me to meet Mel back at the ship for our afternoon
tour. Cathy recommended Rhodes Shopping for linens and their
Byzantine designs proved irresistible.
Mel's morning tour to Lindo's sounded a
lot more interesting than our afternoon tour of Rhodes' medieval
sites. Maybe I was just tired and cranky? Perhaps the tiredness
explains what happened next... on our way to the Club Restaurant
to meet new friends Al and Mae Palermo for dinner, I fell.
Catching my heel, I pitched forward on the stairs. Feeling
somewhat embarrassed, I just wanted to apply bandages to my
scraped shins and go on to dinner. Mel and Mae insisted I visit
the Medical Center for attention. After professional bandaging
(just scrapes--thank goodness nothing broken!) a Security Officer
interviewed me for an accident report. See what lengths I'll go
to to provide a complete cruise report?!?
Somewhat shaken from my encounter with
the killer stairway, nevertheless I managed to enjoy my seafood
dinner and we went on to the show in the Cabaret Lounge.
Tonight's One Singular Sensation was "a musical stroll down
the Great White Way." I love Broadway tunes so I propped my
feet up and prepared to enjoy. Four of the six singers were quite
good and the female performers' gowns were spectacular. The other
two singers seemed fairly weak, their voices (even amplified)
just weren't strong enough. Arriving late, we sat in the back of
the room at a high bar-style table with comfortable stools. Our
view of the stage from these higher stools was better than at our
closer up table in the center of the room the previous night.
Kusadasi - June 15th
This is the port I
was most anxious to see. The ancient city of Ephesus is NOT to be
missed (photo left--the
Library of Celsus). We
again chose different tours, Mel's was a full day, mine a half day.
Following my tour, I ducked out of the carpet demonstration and
fortified myself with a cup of strong Turkish coffee. Next stop--the Bazaar.
Rumor had it that prices in Kusadasi
would be lower than in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul due to this summer's tourist shortage. It was true. While
others warned me ahead of time about the aggressive Turkish
merchants, I had a great time. With few customers about, I was
the center of attention the moment I stepped foot in the Bazaar.
After drinking many cups of apple tea and sampling a
Turkish cigarette, I left the Bazaar laden with treasure to head
for the Kismet Internet Cafe to send email ($2.00). Then I ran
into Mel, the proud new owner of a small prayer rug. He went to
the carpet demonstration, but I found better deals and took him
in hand to Benny's where we snapped up two throw rugs before
heading back to R1. Which are the best rugs? The ones you fall in
Tonight we joined Bob and Jeanne
Schulman for dinner. We met the Schulman family on our flight
from Atlanta to JFK--their two teenagers were among a handful of
young people on board. Renaissance's new adults-only policy
affects only future reservations. As we made the way to our
table, we passed their daughter and son--at separate tables,
having an immensely grownup time with their peers. With tonight's
dinner of tender prime rib and succulent lobsters we enjoyed a
bottle of Chardonnay from Boutaris Winery in Santorini. It was an
excellent meal, by far one of the most memorable of the trip.
Bringing our own wine to dinner was no problem; however, there is
a $10.00 corkage fee. Since it was such a nice wine, and so
affordable at $7.00, we certainly didn't mind.
Mike Ivy, featured on Caroline's Comedy
Hour, Evening at the Improv, and Rosie O'Donnell's Stand-Up
Spotlight, presented Down Home Humor with a World Wide
Perspective in the Cabaret Lounge tonight. I don't know when I've
laughed more! Mr. Ivy is far and away the best comedian I've ever
seen on a ship.