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TravelerThom

OAT Artemis, Zageb-Athens trip report

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This is a coastal boat, not a river boat or a frieghter. Since it almost, but not quite, fits either of those categories I'm posting at both locations

 

We are back from a lovely trip with Overseas Adventure Travel to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece, mostly a cruise on the 50 passenger MV Artemis. We flew from Washington Dulles to Paris and on to Zagreb where we met our Trip Leader, Matt, and spent two nights at the Sheraton. The flowers were gorgeous and the city clean and interesting, although there are still some buildings in need of long neglected repairs from years of communism followed by war in the 1990s which created more pressing repairs elsewhere.

 

Croats are very polite, busily going about their way but never pushing you out of the way (car horns are NEVER used except in emergencies). Croatia is extremely clean, in addition to being blessed with great scenery. Croatia is not yet in the EU, but is next on the list to be admitted. The only downside is that it has already been discovered by Europeans, and prices are rapidly approaching those in Western Europe (the Croatian Kuna essentially fluctuates with the Euro, and that is not good news to travelers from the US).

 

Our group of twenty people (there were two groups on the ship) departed Zagreb via a toll expressway on a dedicated 49 passenger bus. After an hour we turned south on smaller roads through rolling hills, encountering evidence of mine fields and bombed out villages still remaining from the wars of the 1990s, and after several breaks arrived at Plitvicka Lakes National Park where we spent the night. The water in this limestone karst region has a very high mineral content, and the series of lakes and waterfalls has been formed by tufa building up (rather than the more common erosion process that forms most waterfalls). An exoticly beautiful area, rather like being in an above-ground cave. Leaving Plitvicka Lakes the next day we traveled through the mountains (helped by a 5 kilometer tunnel) to the Dalmatian Coast, and down the coast to Split and our vessel.

 

MV Artemis is the second of (currently) three OAT owned 50 passenger vessels purpose built in 2006/ 2007 specifically for coastal voyages. It has 18 double balcony cabins on the Upper Deck, six outside double cabins on the Main Deck, plus two single outside cabins on the Lower Deck. Since we got the last available cabin, we were on the Main Deck (there were actually two cabins empty due to last minute cancellations – both singles aboard ended up being placed in balcony cabins). Cabins are listed at 150-170 square feet, but our cabin seemed larger than any of the 170 square foot cabins we have had on Celebrity ships – we had plenty of room for the small table plus two chairs, whereas on every ocean cruise we have asked to have the table removed just to be able to move around (since we didn’t have a balcony, and due to hall and hull configuration it seems possible that our cabin [204] may have been the largest aboard – I didn’t measure it). There was a dressing table (with hair dryer, a wide drawer and an upholstered stool), a refrigerator, a reasonable sized safe, and a very nice smallish bathroom with good lighting, lots of mirrors and a sliding door shower with adjustable shower head. The bathroom and main room came with both US 110 volt and European 220 volt outlets. Double cabins have twin beds that can be pushed together, and two bedside tables. The closet had lots of hangers, and the bottom of one half had three drawers; luckily Lyn and her clothes are short – my shirts are long enough that they would have been overlapped on the drawers if they had been on that side. The beds were high enough to easily take large suitcases, and there were two large pull-out wooden boxes under the bed for additional storage. It was suggested that we travel light [never a need for a sport jacket, and certainly not a suit or tux], so there was more than enough storage space. The twice a day cabin cleaning was flawless, and they would actually let you at your option reuse a towel by hanging it up (as opposed to all those places that talk big about saving resources, but no matter what you do they wash everything whether it needs it or not). The Captain and Officers (who were Croats) welcomed you to the bridge anytime except during docking maneuvers. The chef was German, and the remainder of the staff was Filipino.

 

Food: this was not a “cruise ship” and food is not the center of attention nor available 24 hours a day, but it was quite tasty. Meals were open seating at tables for six (there were two tables for two, usually used by ship officers) always with clean linen and pre-set utensils and glassware. Breakfast and Lunch were always buffets, but beverages, soups and special orders (omelets, etc) were delivered by the always attentive staff. There are normally three waiters on board, but one had hurt his hand and was on leave for the entire cruise – I know this only because we were told; the laundry guy, the Purser and the Hotel Director helped out and the service was excellent (I drink lots of water and hate not having it available; the water glasses were small [the size of wine goblets], and it was rare that mine was empty). Dinner generally had two or three entrees including a vegetarian option, and came with as much quite respectable house wine (Croatian Red and Montenegrin White, or was it the other way around?) as you desired – other wines were available for purchase. Lyn is on a low fat diet, and the chef checked with her every day to work out her desires (generally the same food, but no frying, no breading, and no heavy sauces). Coffee and tea are available 24 hours a day in the Lounge, and I think that fruit is also probably always out in the open dining rooms (we always took an apple, orange or banana back to the room to have if we desired a snack, so I never checked back to see if they were always in the dining room). Excellent pastries were out in the morning prior to breakfast opening. There was a bar in the Lounge which offered beer, wine and cocktails, but the ship had a totally open BYOB policy – you could bring in a bottle wine and they would open it for you and provide wine glasses with no corkage fee, and you could stock the frig in your room with beer or whatever. An ice bucket was provided for self-serve ice in the lobby.

 

Split is one of the largest cities in Croatia, but for many centuries it was just squatters in Roman Emperor (ruled 284-305) Diocletian’s 705 foot by 590 foot sea front retirement home. Most of the Palace (complete with squatters) is still there, and it is the center of Split’s cultural and tourist life. Coming from the US where 100 years is really old, and something 200 year old is ancient, it is really a sight to see. After overnighting in Split we sailed for Hvar.

 

Hvar is a lovely town on an island of the same name that is nothing but a pile of rocks. Coming from the Shenandoah Valley I am aware that all those graceful stone walls were built mainly to get all the rocks out of the fields. In Virginia you could haul the rocks out of a forty acre field and get a quite nice wall; in Hvar you have stone walls every 10 to 20 feet in the fields! Most of the fortifications along the Dalmatian Coast were built by the Venetians, who ruled the area from the Middle Ages until Napoleon came along in 1797, in order to provide protection for their Asian trade fleets. I walked up to the Venetian fort at the top of the hill that guards Hvar town. After overnighting in Hvar, our group traveled the next day across the island to view the rocky fields and to do research work in a local winery.

 

Korcula was our next stop, and when we arrived in late afternoon the Korcula channel wind was living up to its reputation and the windsurfers were out in strength, but despite the difficult docking conditions the crew handled it with skill. We overnighted just outside the walls of Korcula town, definitely lovely and interesting, and one of my favorites on the trip.

 

Dubrovnik was our stop for the next night, and it deserves its high tourist reputation. Of course with that reputation come lots of tourists, and having had the last two towns almost to ourselves it was a shock to see all the people – but I’m thankful that it was still off season and the crowds were manageable. We docked in the cruise boat port, passing the Rotterdam as it left town, our first docking not in the center of town, but about a twenty minute bus ride away. We had an evening stroll around old town, and then spent much of the next day back in town before heading out forty minutes into the countryside for a wonderful home hosted dinner (a standard OAT feature). Everything was homemade and delicious, including the brandy, the cured ham, the cheeses, the cabbage rolls, the wine and the dessert, and we got to tour the smoke house, winery, etc. The only downside was that there was four times as much food as even I could eat, and the hostess looked sad that we did not finish it all (I did my share!). After a second night docked in Dubrovnik we sailed the next morning.

 

Kotor, Montenegro and the entrance through a series of gorgeous bays and channels was (along with Korcula) one of the two highlight of trip for me. The walled city is protected by a fortress perched high on the hill, and the entire scene emanates beauty and charm. Montenegro split from Serbia in 2006, and has ditched any pretence of local currency and operates on the Euro despite not being a member of the Euro-zone or even a candidate member of the European Union. We overnighted just outside the walls of the town, and I spent part of the next morning climbing to the fort. We sailed for Albania mid-day, and stopped at a church on a small man-made island on the way out of the bay. The night at sea transiting from the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea was the roughest (still not too bad) waters of the trip.

 

Saranda, Albania is a city undergoing a sort of construction boom, and after many decades of the most extreme communism in the world they can use it. Apparently much of the construction is financed by remittances from local people working outside the country, and it proceeds in spurts as money become available – many of the buildings are at a stand still, but everyone thinks this is normal. The stop at Saranda was for a visit to the Roman ruins at Burtrint; the ruins were okay, but the highlight was to see some of the 750,000 communist era bunkers and to experience single lane Albanian roads with dueling buses that rather than back up, inch slowly past each other on the very narrow roads. We again sailed at mid-day for the short run to Greece, visible only six miles away.

 

Corfu harbor was several kilometers from old town, and was already docking several large (90,000 ton) ships. Old town was moderately interesting, but overrun with tourists and seemed to be almost entirely old buildings that might have had some interest if they weren’t all tourist shops (I do realize that some people live to shop, but obviously I’m not one of them). After overnighting in Corfu we took a bus ride into the countryside and spent an hour or so walking around a small typical village and visiting its museum, a refreshing change from all the tourists in Corfu town. All in all I’d say that Corfu was the stop I enjoyed least, but I’m sure that shoppers would disagree. We sailed mid-afternoon for our second night at sea. We, along with about half the ship, requested a 2am wake up call for the sailing under the 2004 Gulf of Corinth Bridge. We had driven across this bridge in 2006, so it was interesting to see it from a different angle.

 

Itea (the port for Delphi) was reached just before breakfast. We had been at Delphi only two years ago (just before going over the Gulf of Corinth Bridge), but fortunately we got a terrific local guide, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, so the return trip was nice. We sailed earlier than scheduled so that we could transit the Corinth Canal during daylight. In 2006 we had walked across one of the “sinking bridges” at the end of the Canal, and had gone to one of the high bridges to watch ships pass, so again it was interesting to see this from a different angle.

 

Athens docking occurred in the middle of the night. We had a bus and walking tour in the morning, with the opportunity to spend the entire day in the city (giving enough time to go to the Acropolis, etc), but having done that two years ago we returned to the boat for a leisurely afternoon of sitting on deck and packing. We were docked next to RCI Spendor of the Seas which at 70,000 tons is relatively small compared to many new cruise ships; the lifeboats on Splendor are rated at 150 people, while the entire passengers and crew of the Artemis is less than half that [73 maximum]. The trip came to a pleasant end as we were invited to dine with the Captain at the farewell dinner.

 

Other than one afternoon of intermittent rain we had gorgeous weather with temperatures around 70 and many spring flowers. Shoulder season travel can’t be beat. If we had done this trip in summer it would have been unpleasantly hot, the crowds would have been much worse and the prices would have been significantly higher. I just hope not too many people catch on.

 

GCT/ OAT encountered considerable negative publicity a year or so ago concerning cancelled trips and poor refund policies, but I have used them a number of times with good results (knock on wood). Well over half the people on this trip were members of their Overseas Adventure Club, meaning they had traveled at least three previous trips with the company, so they do seem to please many of their customers and offer good value (I am not getting paid to say this, but if they wish to send me $$ that's okay with me).

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A very good review. I am not familiar with the whole concept but sounds very enjoyable. Do you speak other languages? Were most of the passengers from outside the US? Thanks.

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A very good review. I am not familiar with the whole concept but sounds very enjoyable. Do you speak other languages? Were most of the passengers from outside the US? Thanks.
I travel a lot, but am linguistically challanged outside of English - fortunately English is as close to a universal language as there is, especially in travel circles. All passengers were from the US - the ship (and included ground tours) language was English and the ship currency was US$. OAT is a division of Grand Circle Travel, a privately held company who only markets directly (does not pay any commissions to Travel Agents). Their marketing strategy is to flood you with brochures for any and every trip they think you might remotely be interested in, so mailing costs limit them to marketing strictly to people in the US. Ideally I would like a broader group of nationalities, but at least on the trips I have been on people have been quite well traveled and are fairly aware of conditions in different parts of the world.

 

Thom

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Hope you are still checking your above revue for questions. Mine: Age and mix of nationalities ? With so few people (50) did you get "tired/bored with "same old same old" and wished you could get away from some of your fellow passengers?......i have traveled on regent, silverseas, a number of river cruises, and there has been 150 on up of fellow travelers at minimum and i like to mix, not sit at same table every meal particularly for 11 days running?????? Thank you!

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Hope you are still checking your above revue for questions. Mine: Age and mix of nationalities ? With so few people (50) did you get "tired/bored with "same old same old" and wished you could get away from some of your fellow passengers?......i have traveled on regent, silverseas, a number of river cruises, and there has been 150 on up of fellow travelers at minimum and i like to mix, not sit at same table every meal particularly for 11 days running?????? Thank you!
Overseas Adventure Travel/ Grand Circle market almost exclusively to residents of the US [they did not use travel agents and marketing is via direct mail; they do not mail outside of US postal system]. While I would prefer a broader range of nationalities, the people onboard are generally extremely well traveled and while happy to share experiences, they have done enough to have passed the "need to brag" stage. Dining was at a fixed time, but open seating at mostly 6 passenger tables [maybe two 2 passenger tables] - most people did random rotation and I think I ate with almost everyone more than once. I don't recall anyone I tried to avoid [yes, those types are possible], and while I enjoyed some more than others I was always happy with my dining partners. We are in our very early 60s, fairly recently retired, and most of the ship was similiar. There were definitely people younger and older than us. Hope this helps.

 

Thom

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I already have a deposit on the ms arion in july for the dalmation coast from slovenia to albania which was the only similar cruise i could find last fall thru gate1 travel. I am now torn between the two. Oat is longer 16 vs 10 days, but the price per diem is about the same. Anything else you could tell me to tip the scales one way or another.

Help, but don't lose any sleep about it !

Bruce

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Bruce

 

I can not comment on the MS Arion, as I have no knowledge of it. OAT's three coastal ships are all new within the last few years, and are very pleasant. The cabins are generous and their bathrooms are the nicest I've seen on ships, short of fancy suites. About an hour Walking Tour of all the towns are included - nothing overly strenuous, but there will be steps and coblestones, so walking ability is necessary to fully appreciate the trip. We overnighted in almost every port and the lovely towns were generally a very short walk away and could be appreciated at liesure. The staff was outstanding. Food and included dinner wine were low key but very pleasant. The three land days in Croatia [Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes] were a nice overview of a beautiful country. I guess my best discription is that this low key trip was the most pleasant I have taken in a number of years [and I do travel a fair amount on both land and water]. If you do decide on OAT and have never traveled then before note that if you use my name Thom Flory and OAT customer number 568340 you will get an introductory discount [i think $100, but has run as high as $200]. Which ever way you go, I'm sure you'll enjoy Croatia!

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I just got back from the Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina Winter cruise (November 2009) on the MV Artemis. We were very lucky to have nice weather throughout this cruise. November is the wettest month, but we had mostly sunny days.

 

The ship is very nice. As others have said, OAT markets only to Americans and the vast majority of their customers are in the 55+ age group. Having said that, most of their customers are somewhat active and able to do the city walking tours.

 

One thing that several people commented on was the poor sound insulation between cabins. You can often hear conversations in the next cabin. This appears to be a design flaw in the construction of the ship. You should bring earplugs as this helps a bit.

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Thanks for your excellent review of the OAT trip.

 

We, too, just returned from a superb OAT trip - to "The Wilderness Beyond" in Patagonia. We were extremely impressed with the OAT product which was so well organized and run, leaving us free to enjoy and learn.

 

4 days of our trip consisted of a luxurious cruise on the expedition ship Via Australis from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Ushuaia, Argentina. This ship is virtually unknown on this website, yet it was the experience of a lifetime. Each day we left the ship on zodiacs for landings at glaciers and other scenic places to view penguins, elephant seals, and birds.

 

There's something to be said for small ship cruising. After this trip, It will be hard for us to go back to a mainstream cruise ship!

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I Googled OAT tours and found nothing but bad reviews and then checked Better Business Bureau in area and found many unhappy customers.Mainly with air travel problems, trip refunds, poor customer service. Because of this I tried other cruise lines.Looked at Small ships.com and they said both Monet and Arion not running in spring.Plus, one reviewer said he gave down payment to above and ship never sailed.So now I m really confused.Anybody else have this concern before???:(:(

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Thanks for your excellent review of the OAT trip.

 

We, too, just returned from a superb OAT trip - to "The Wilderness Beyond" in Patagonia. We were extremely impressed with the OAT product which was so well organized and run, leaving us free to enjoy and learn.

 

4 days of our trip consisted of a luxurious cruise on the expedition ship Via Australis from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Ushuaia, Argentina. This ship is virtually unknown on this website, yet it was the experience of a lifetime. Each day we left the ship on zodiacs for landings at glaciers and other scenic places to view penguins, elephant seals, and birds.

 

There's something to be said for small ship cruising. After this trip, It will be hard for us to go back to a mainstream cruise ship!

We are going on this same trip the end of October. Although we have been on river cruises with their sister company, Grand Circle, we have not been on an OAT trip. We will be doing the pre-trip to Easter Island and the post-trip to Iguassu Falls. If you have any tips or suggestions for us about anything, we would be very interested. Thanks!

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How was there house wine? Drinkable? We are doing Croatia in February.
Since I started this thread on 2006, we have had lots of trips. Fortunately we did our third OAT-GCCL small boat Med cruise in June 2017 so I have fairly recent info. My GF drinks considerably more wine than I and considers the wines definitely drinkable although not Gran Cru. Wine, beer and soft drinks now included all day, not just at meals. ENJOY

 

Thom

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Since I started this thread on 2006, we have had lots of trips. Fortunately we did our third OAT-GCCL small boat Med cruise in June 2017 so I have fairly recent info. My GF drinks considerably more wine than I and considers the wines definitely drinkable although not Gran Cru. Wine, beer and soft drinks now included all day, not just at meals. ENJOY

 

Thom

So can you tell me what all is included in the price of the trip? Obv. wine/beer/soft drinks, but what about the walking tours, shore excursions, etc. I am about to take my first cruise on a traditional ship to the Bahamas, and have put off cruising for over 20 years because I can't afford the interesting stuff like this (frankly I'm a bit scared of all the cheesiness of Caribbean/Alaskan cruising). Hubby is just turning 60 but has a very active job outdoors - up & down ladders all day, and I am 53 and work as a Security Officer and a volunteer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We are quite active and have travelled a lot to several countries as a couple doing our own thing. Sounds like the passengers on these trips have a 'wider world view' than the general US public :halo:... would OAT take other nationalities, and is there airfare included from somewhere in the US or just make your way to the embarcation point on your own?

 

Thanks, and I hope you are getting email notice about activity on this board lol.

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So can you tell me what all is included in the price of the trip? Obv. wine/beer/soft drinks, but what about the walking tours, shore excursions, etc. I am about to take my first cruise on a traditional ship to the Bahamas, and have put off cruising for over 20 years because I can't afford the interesting stuff like this (frankly I'm a bit scared of all the cheesiness of Caribbean/Alaskan cruising). Hubby is just turning 60 but has a very active job outdoors - up & down ladders all day, and I am 53 and work as a Security Officer and a volunteer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We are quite active and have travelled a lot to several countries as a couple doing our own thing. Sounds like the passengers on these trips have a 'wider world view' than the general US public :halo:... would OAT take other nationalities, and is there airfare included from somewhere in the US or just make your way to the embarcation point on your own?

 

Thanks, and I hope you are getting email notice about activity on this board lol.

I have definitely run into Canadians on OAT but I know that at least some of them also had US addresses - not sure what their policy is (most of their marketing [they don't use Travel Agents] is by US mail) but I would think they would take your money).

 

Our recent tour was a week on land (split between beginning and end) and a week on the boat. Most things were included; NOT INCLUDED: A few meals (clearly identified in the sales literature). Cocktails. Laundry. A few optional excursions (IMO nice but overpriced, we did our own thing). Tips for ship crew and the Program Director (I consider this semi-manditory and they are substantial)(tips for drivers, local guides and bellmen are included).

 

There are a lot of included tours with a fair amount of walking but with free time built in - you can always break off on your own - just let them know so they are not looking for you.

 

Air is an optional extra and includes transfers on standard arrival and departure days. We found air cheaper on our own, and since we arrived a few days early and stayed a few days extra at the end we did our own air. They offer pre and post extensions but doing it yourself is cheaper.

 

These are not cheap trips but they deliver a quality product. You are correct that passengers are well traveled and not planning to sit around drinking all day. I can give you a referral that saves $100pp on your first trip if you do go.

 

More questions?

Thom

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Thank you for the detailed review and discussion! We are taking this trip this winter and we are very excited.

 

Are there laundry facilities on board the Artemis or will they wash clothes for you?

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Thank you for the detailed review and discussion! We are taking this trip this winter and we are very excited.

 

Are there laundry facilities on board the Artemis or will they wash clothes for you?

99% sure NO self service laundry. 99% sure they offered wash (not dry clean). We just did our own; rolled in a towel and hung up was totally dry by morning. Choice is yours.

 

We have done 3 OAT ship trips (2 Artemis, 1 Atheruisa) and would go again in an instant if they were not so much more than ocean cruises but still worth it. ENJOY!

 

Thom

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Thanks, Thom, for the offer of the code, but looking at the costs....I think we will be doing our own thing for quite a while yet as it is much cheaper. We can easily go for 3 weeks for $3000 for the two of us including airfare and accommodations/food/transport without going the 'hostel route.' :) (not in Scandinavia or Antarctic though, lol) Ah, well.

BTW, the cruise we took was pretty well as cheesy as I thought it might be, although the kitchen and waitstaff were amazing with my Celiac Gluten Free needs. The best part of the cruise was getting off the ship and exploring on our own. In Nassau we walked to the Bahamian Football Club off some back roads and chatted with folks we had corresponded with online, then walked down the street to a little 'hole in the wall' lunch stop fave with the office crowd around there, that the Football Club gals recommended. We were the only non-locals there at a really busy lunchtime then grabbed an 'Uber/private taxi' to Caves Beach - only two other people on the beach all afternoon) I think we're likely not going to take another cruise unless it's a cheap very last minute one out of some port we already happen to have travelled to on our own.

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