A year of lessons for Voyages to Antiquity

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The Aegean OdysseyNow that Voyages to Antiquity has completed its first cruising season, the upmarket line is taking stock of its operations and making some important observations about its passenger profiles.

The company, founded in 2009 by Gerry Herrod, launched operations last May aboard its single vessel, the 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey.

The ship sails throughout the Mediterranean, Aegean, Black and Adriatic seas and to Egypt, offering "immersive education and enrichment programs" about the port calls, all of which hold distinctive places in antiquity -- think Sicily, Malta, Corsica, Rome and Athens, to name a few.

In its first year the line maintained a 95% load factor.

"We were very pleased with that," said Mitch Schlesinger, vice president of sales and marketing.

It attracts 70% of its passengers from North America, 20% from the U.K. and the remainder from Australia and New Zealand.

It receives 90% of its bookings from travel agents or other business partners, such as firms that specialize in alumni marketing.

Its typical guest is 60-plus years old and has a keen interest in historical topics.

"We appeal to people looking for a smaller number of passengers to sail with, people who want an up-close and personal experience with each destination," said Schlesinger, who noted that the line features three lecturers on every cruise. Catering to the cerebral crowd has its upsides: Marketing is tailored to a more narrow field, and organizations within the field can be tapped for alliances.

Mitch SchlesingerFor example, Voyages to Antiquity forged an alliance in 2010 with the Archaeological Institute of America.

"It promotes certain of our departures to its membership, and it will provide lecturers on some of our cruises this year," Schlesinger said.

He described the cruise line as a four-star, premium product, "slightly below Azamara [Club Cruises]," offering a mostly inclusive price.

"Virtually all of our excursions are included, beer and wine with dinner are included, and we have 16 single cabins [for which] there is no supplemental fee."

Schlesinger said there are some changes in the 2011 program. In a bid to draw a slightly younger clientele, the firm offers two levels of product: cruise-only and cruise-tour. The cruise-tours are longer, because they include pre- and postcruise destination tours.

"To attract more 40- to 60-year-old guests, we're offering the shorter, cruise-only option for people who have limited vacation time," he said. "A lot of people can do a 10-day cruise, while fewer can do a 16-day cruise."

New for 2011 is a 15-day sailing from Rome to Limassol, Cyprus, priced from $3,595 per person and departing Oct. 24. The cruise-only fare is from $2,695.

An expansion in the works for 2012 is the addition of a Venice-Cannes itinerary, Schlesinger said.

For now, Schlesinger said the 2011 season is off to a very good start. "It's going to be a very strong second year. We are 80% to 85% booked for the season already."

Herrod, the British owner of Voyages to Antiquity, drew inspiration for the line and its excursions from the historical writings of John Julius Norwich, the well-known British author. Herrod is the former owner of Orient Lines, which he founded in 1993 and sold to Norwegian Cruise Line in 1998.

Voyages to Antiquity is headquartered in Oxford, England.

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