Cunard's Vistafjord Traces Classical Route, Athens to Genoa

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Sabina Rubbinaccio, a Travel Weekly editor, sailed the Mediterranean with her adult daughter aboard Cunard's Vistafjord. Her report follows: ABOARD THE VISTAFJORD - I visited Rome about three years ago and threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, never believing I would get to return to the land of my parents, let alone with one of my daughters. I had not taken Dana on a trip since we went to Disney World when she was a kid. But now, at age 30, she liked the idea of traveling for the first time to Europe, and especially to Italy, with Mom. Since, as a history buff, I've always wanted to go to Greece, the Vistafjord's Greece and Italy itinerary seemed a perfect choice for us. We boarded the 677-passenger ship in Piraeus, joining the second half of a 12-night cruise that originated in Venice. We had arrived in Athens a day earlier giving us plenty of time to see the Acropolis and enjoy ourselves at the sidewalk cafes. Our A-category cabin on the promenade deck proved to be quite spacious, with a king-size bed and a comfortable sofa. The closet was double-sized (and for two women traveling together, that is important). The bathroom, with stall shower and oversized dressing table, came with terrycloth robes, slippers and a hair dryer. The room featured two rectangular windows that gave us a chance to see our destinations as we approached. The ship's young staff spoke English and German and were courteous and accommodating. About one-third of the passengers were American, one-third German and the rest from other parts of Europe. The average age seemed to be in the 70s, with some younger and several older. The overall ambience was more European than American. The Vistafjord, which entered service in 1973, retains some of the elegance of days gone by, even though it underwent a major refurbishment in 1994. The main dining room features sea-foam-green decor and crystal chandeliers with windows that overlook the sea at every angle. Meal offerings include vegetarian and spa cuisine choices. Another favorite spot, the North Cape Bar, is decorated in gray and taupe. The bar itself is rosewood. Among the ship's other notable features is the library, which is outfitted with comfortable leather sofas and mahogany and glass bookcases. In addition to books, it offers videos and a pair of computers, which seemed to be popular with passengers. I found one of the nicest features of the ship to be the more intimate Tivoli restaurant, which features Italian cuisine and seats 40 on a reservations-only basis. The maitre d' greeted us in Italian, and the waiters spoke the language, too, and I felt as though I had arrived in Italy (even though the ship hadn't, yet). My meal at the Tivoli consisted of an appetizer of octopus, scallops and shrimp served hot. A second plate consisted of lobster ravioli in a red lobster sauce, and the main course was osso buco (veal shank) with potatoes, followed by a unique "chocolate salami" - a chocolate roll with nuts scattered throughout and sliced to look like salami. Both the Tivoli and the Dining Room are nonsmoking. The ship has a small casino with a roulette table, two blackjack tables and 28 slot machines. Other facilities include an outdoor pool, indoor pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center, spa, beauty salon, gift shops and self-service laundry. Afternoon tea is offered on the Vistafjord at 4 p.m., both in the Ballroom and the Lido Cafe, and features all kinds of pastries, fresh fruit and finger sandwiches. The ship also offers snacks from 11 p.m. until midnight. The Lido, where we had breakfast every day, is not large enough to accommodate all of the passengers at once. Many either eat outside or spill into the Ballroom. Plans are to replace the ship's Oregon-pine deck with teakwood and its metal lounge chairs with wooden ones. An ice-cream bar was added recently and appeared to be quite popular. The nightly entertainment varied from the classics to the big-band sound to relaxing piano tunes in Club Viking. A nice touch is the ship's roster of gentlemen hosts, who will dance with women traveling independently. Our first port call was Mykonos, a small island with picturesque windmills and churches and beautiful white houses. There were no scheduled excursions offered by the ship here, so we went exploring on our own. The best way to get around the island is by motorbike, but I was not that adventurous. We walked around the city all morning and then chose the bus, which runs every half hour or when the driver decides the bus is full enough to leave. We visited one of the area's many sandy beaches. This one was called Paradise, and it felt great just to lie back and enjoy the perfect weather. Beach chairs were available at a cost of 500 drachmas (about $3). We ate at one of the fine tavernas overlooking the sea. Our next port of call was Santorini. Here we took a shore excursion offered by the ship. We visited the Akrotiri Excavation, where in 1967, Greek archaeologists dug a tunnel through pumice and found the remains of a Bronze Age community. Our tour included a visit to a winery overlooking the sea. The island tour was well organized and informative, although the wine wasn't anything to write home about. On our sailing from Santorini to Rome, the captain advised us to be sure to be on deck at 11 p.m. We would be passing the island of Stromboli and would catch a glimpse of the island's active volcano. What a sight it was, with the volcano spewing reddish lava into the sky every few minutes. Next stop was Rome, where the ship was set to spend a day and a half. We arrived at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, on Sunday. We took a complimentary shuttle bus to the train station for the trip to Rome, which takes about one hour. Taxis are available at the pier and at the port gates as an alternative. In Rome, we went right to the Colosseum, but it was closed for the night. We decided to have dinner ashore, as my daughter was eager to have an authentic Italian meal to go with her first trip to Italy. That night, we would learn you cannot rely on the train schedule. It was getting quite late, so we rushed to the train station and the ship, only to discover the train wouldn't leave the station until it was full. The next day, we took the motorcoach transfer to Rome offered by the ship. At a cost of $59 per person, we felt it was a good choice as it dropped us off in a central area near the Vatican, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately, our first full day off the ship happened to be a Monday, and most of the better shopping and all the museums in Rome were closed. (Some stores did open after 3 p.m.) Since we had to be back on the bus by 4 p.m., we didn't have much time for shopping. Especially enjoying all the mother-daughter time, we threw coins in the Trevi Fountain together in hopes of coming back to Italy again. We sailed on later that day, north toward Genoa, our disembarkation point.
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