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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

R1 Cruise Review
The Greek Isles

by Linda Coffman

What's a "cruise/tour"?
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 alike.

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 - June 12th
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, Renaissance.

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 scheduled.

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 love with.

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.

Continued... Part Two