Usually the words luxury and expedition are rarely found in the same sentence, especially at sea. However, onboard the Corinthian II, these words meld into a singular onboard experience of ‘pampered soft adventure travel.’ Sure, it’s not going to be the Ritz or the Four Seasons at sea, but on this ship a concerted effort is made to provide optimum conditions for cruising in comfort and style, all the while providing culinary superiority. Yet, this “go anywhere” (reinforced hull) expedition ship pushes the envelope when it comes to visiting off the beaten path ports, rarely visited by other cruise lines.
The Corinthian II is operated by Travel Dynamics, whose fleet consists of all small ship vessels, and has been exclusively in this market niche since 1969. The company focuses on enrichment oriented itineraries in three principal categories; historic-cultural, classical music or operatic, and eco-adventure. With its reinforced hull, the Corinthian II can withstand the rigors of Antarctic eco-cruising, a key part of their annual itinerary. The ship was originally built in Italy for the now defunct yet ultra-posh Renaissance Cruise Line. With this particular ship being one of their later designs, it boasts a quite opulent and stylish interior. Custom-crafted cherry walls trimmed in brass, mahogany and birds eye maple stand as testament to the Italian workmanship that adorn the common areas and cabins. Also, the ship’s interior “soft accents” were completely updated in 2009.
This itinerary, “Treasures of the Classical World” began with our arrival in Athens where the local tour agent for Travel Dynamics met us as we exited customs and immigrations. After collecting everyone’s luggage, we were whisked away to an awaiting premium transport bus. We had elected to participate in the pre-trip option of a night in Athens at the King George Hotel and a tour of Athens the following day. Based upon our experience, I would strongly recommend this option. Not only is it a way to re-set your biological clock, but it also provided a chance for several guests to collect their missing luggage before disembarking on the cruise. Beyond this, the ‘welcome reception’ allowed guests in our group an opportunity to connect with fellow cruisers for this voyage. Plus, it was a great way to see some of the sights of Athens.
The King George hotel offers finely appointed rooms with antique furnishing and marble baths. In general, the hotel exudes old world elegance and set the mood for this unfolding experience. The rooftop restaurant was equally stylish, and beyond having a masterful chef, it had a spectacular view of the Acropolis, which we subsequently visited during our tour.
Following our guided excursion through Athens that also included the Acropolis Museum and an amazing lunch at a classic Greek eatery, we were taken to our awaiting ship. The embarkation process entailed all passengers exiting our tour bus at the cruise terminal and catching a shuttle bus to the ship. Here we boarded the ship (single file) and checked in at the reception desk where we relinquished our passports for our electronic cabin keys. Having exited the bus last and being near the end of the line, we found that the whole process took less than 15 minutes. After checking in, we were offered a glass of Champagne and escorted to our cabin. Upon entering our suite, we were very surprised to see our entire set of luggage had already been delivered!
Rudy, our butler, arrived and popped an awaiting chilled bottle of Piper Champagne, while giving us a brief tour of our quarters. All accommodations onboard the Corinthian II are suites, which range from 225 to 400 sq ft. The top two categories, veranda suites and penthouse suites each have a balcony, a different layout, not to mention butler service. However, having photographed all suite categories I found that each was quite spacious and well appointed. All accommodations have identical rest rooms; with the two upper categories having upgraded amenities and flat screen TV’s.
After the obligatory lifeboat drill, the Corinthian II set sail. Within a few hours, guest had their first visual treat of transiting the narrow Corinth Canal. This engineering marvel was constructed between 1882 and 1893, having been carved out of clay and limestone. This passage henceforth has provided passage between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.
The next morning guests awoke to views of the harbor at Itea, Greece, with international flags lining the pier where our ship was berthed. After boarding our buses, we were soon on our way through lush olive groves up to the ancient city of Delphi. This is perhaps one of the most impressive archeological sites and setting in all of Greece! For nearly 1,000 years, it was known for both the center of worship of Apollo and a pilgrimage for those that sought advice from the infamous Oracle who resided here. Our visit to Delphi also included the Archeological Museum at the base of the site. Dramatic displays of major sculptures as well as revealing artifacts from this period are on display in this very modern and well-lit facility. Before long, we were back on board our air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz buses and later aboard the ship.
Each evening, guests would gather around the main bar where drinks were freely imbibed and impressions of the day’s activities shared. It was quite common to see Peter, our Cruise Director or our Captain interacting with the onboard guests preceding dinner. The ‘dress’ for the evening cocktail hour and dinner to follow, could be described as business casual for men and elegant but not too dressy for women. This was the norm for all but two evenings, which were formal and followed the Captain’s Cocktail Reception. Most men wore blazers to dinner during the regular dining evenings, but this was totally optional.
Our next day took us to Reggio Di Calabria, Italy. This shore side town facing Sicily has a sweeping view of the Straits of Messina. These straits are connected at one of the narrowest parts by a vast suspension bridge, which is a stunning spectacle to pass under. Onshore, guests were escorted to see the Riace Bronzes, a pair of full size nude, bearded bronzes cast around 400 BC. Surprisingly a tourist, while snorkeling in 1972, found them near Reggio Di Calabria. Today, they are considered one of the greatest finds from this period. Next, we were off for a drive through the Lungomare, a seaside stretch described as “the most beautiful kilometer in Italy.”
Back aboard our ship, we joined fellow passengers in the dining room for a sumptuous meal. Dining onboard was always open seating where guests could dine with fellow passengers and exchange stories and past travel experiences. The Corinthinian’s Maitre d’ Aerial was extremely attentive and was actively concerned with each guest’s satisfaction with his or her meals. The ornately prepared dishes were also a testament to the preparation each plate was given. Later, the onboard pianist entertained guests in the Club Lounge. Oksana, who was from Russia, had a repertoire of songs that was nearly endless and never failed to play a requested song.
In the morning, we awoke to a magnificent view of the seaside town of Lipari, Sicily. Situated between Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, this classic Mediterranean coastal town exudes the visual charm of travelers’ dreams. Due to its smallish yet quaint harbor, visitors here must reach shore via launch or in our case, the ship’s zodiacs. A great deal of care was taken by the crew to see that everyone made it to shore safely on our zodiac transit. Upon arrival at the town square, our guide met us for a narrated walking tour. This was another aspect of Travel Dynamic’s cruise operation, which I thought was very valuable. All guests received headsets in their staterooms for use on shore excursions.
In Lipari, we had a short coach tour to view some of the Aeolian islands’ volcanic sights; Stromboli and Vulcano. Later, we returned to town and had a walking tour to Lipari’s Archeological Museum. This impressive museum held the largest variety of amphoras (very early stoneware storage vessels) I have ever viewed anywhere in the world.
Back on board, and with the ship departing for Marsala, Sicily, I decided to take advantage of the ship’s open bridge policy. Cruisers should always take advantage of seeing a cruise ship underway from the Captain’s perspective. The Corinthian II has a modern bridge from the standpoint of its electronics and navigational equipment. The Captain did relate that the ship would be going into dry dock following our cruise for general refurbishments of the interior as well as repairs to the launch and stabilizers. I was surprised to hear the ship’s stabilizers were on the fritz, as the Corinthian II seemed to be extremely stable throughout our entire cruise.
The following day we arrived at the Port of Marsala along the western coast of Sicily. I found the port to be fairly blasé as would be the case of the adjacent town. Nonetheless, our tour to the Temples of Silinute would more than make up for the non-descript port. Our trip to Silinute would take us past many of the vineyards that produce the world-renowned Marsala desert wines exclusive to this region. In Silinute, we were escorted by our local guide through this expansive 5th century B.C. Hellenic city. Here, the Temple of Hera has been significantly re-erected, and now stands as testament to the grandeur of this ancient city.
Before long we were back on board for lunch, which was always served al fresco on the fantail of the ship. There were several themes at lunch but perhaps the most memorable was that of the ‘fresh fish on the grill’ theme day. Lavish platters of accompanying delicacies were equally tantalizing. Service here, as in the dining room, was sensational. Having finished lunch, we decided to remain on board to prepare and relax for our very full day scheduled in Malta. With this in mind, we settled into a set of lounge chairs on the sun deck. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the cruise was finding out that what was presumed to be a ‘hot tub’ was in fact a ‘cold water’ Jacuzzi. It was noticed that this surprised other guests as well. Besides this, our experience on the sun deck was quite enjoyable. Later that evening, we toasted Sicily goodbye with a glass of locally procured ‘Marsala’ wine with our desert. Next stop, Malta.