ATHENS -- The Olympia Explorer is here. That might seem like an obvious way to introduce a ship, but this new vessel from Royal Olympic Cruises is a long-awaited product.

The ship originally was slated to launch on May 12, 2001, but delivery from Germany's Blohm + Voss shipyard was pushed back several times until last month, when the Olympia Explorer sailed to Athens for its inaugural cruise.

Yiannos Pantazis, Royal Olympic's chief executive officer, said the ship received a 90% satisfaction rating on its first sailing "despite the fact it was only the first cruise, and you can expect many things to go wrong."

So the Olympia Explorer is moving full speed ahead -- literally. The ship's top speed is 33 knots with a cruising speed of around 26 knots, making it and sister ship the Olympia Voyager the fastest cruise vessels in the world, according to Royal Olympic.

The Olympia Explorer's seven-day Grand Mediterranean itinerary calls in eight ports: Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Istanbul, Turkey; and Olympia, Mykonos, Santorini, Athens and Corfu, Greece.

Company officials boast that most ships would not be able to visit this many ports in a regular seven-day sailing, although some calls are only five hours long.

The 25,000-ton ship carries 836 passengers, a relatively small size that enables the ship to visit smaller ports, as well as provide more personalized service, Pantazis said.

The Olympia Explorer's design scheme is called "precious earth," with bright stones and matching colors dictating the theme of each room. The main restaurant, Aqua Marina, features 2,000 blue crystals in the room's chandeliers; the casual Topaz Garden Lounge eatery features a brilliant blue design.

Gambling is available in the Golden Room Casino, shopping along the Coral Walk. The Jade Spa offers facials, massages, mud baths and thalassotherapy treatments.

After dinner, guests can be entertained in the Amber Lounge or at the disco in the Panoramic Lounge.

The Olympia Explorer's layout is similar to the Olympia Voyager, although there are a few changes, such as the addition of more balcony cabins.

But on a speedy ship such as the Olympia Explorer, the port calls take center stage. Passengers, Pantazis said, "can visit many ports and can go on more excursions."

"The shore excursions [are] geared towards archeological [sites] and monuments that Greece has a rich tradition in."

Royal Olympic's passenger base is split between U.S. and European travelers, but Pantazis said the line makes a special effort to cater to U.S. clients.

"Americans are very good customers," he said. "They appreciate what Greece and the Aegean have to offer."

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