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Update: here’s a link to the relevant page on the Fred Olsen website.

Over the years I’ve done a few posts about the several “historical cruising” lines. Once there were three of these: Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery, and Voyages to Antiquity. Their USP was that they offered cruises to historical destinations, with the services of authoritative speakers and guides on board, so the cruise could be as much an educational experience as purely a leisure one. Swan Hellenic were the grand-daddy of this niche, with a history going back to the 1950s, and at one point they also had the best ship – being part of the P&O (later Carnival UK) empire they managed to acquire an R ship, at a time (early/mid 00s?) when these were languishing after the bancruptcy of their original owners. But then Carnival found other uses for her and Swan Hellenic was left without a ship. Eventually they, together with another of these companies – Voyages of Discovery – ended up as part of the All Leisure group; but they too went bankrupt in 2017 . That left Voyages to Antiquity (VtA) alone in the field, and continuing to provide cruises in its vessel, the Aegean Odyssey.

The Aegean Odyssey was originally built as an Aegean car ferry in the early 1970s and was converted to a passenger-only cruise ship in the mid 1980s. After being operated by various Greek cruise/passenger lines, she ended up with VtA in around 2009, and did her first cruise for them in 2010. She was very small – about 15,000 tons with just about 350 passengers. Things seems to have generally gone well until the spring of 2019, when she suffered major engine problems. Most of the cruises for 2019 had to be cancelled, and in September 2019 VtA announced that they were “ceasing operations” and that the now-repaired Aegean Odyssey was being chartered for three years by a US-based educational company. All future VtA cruises were also cancelled at that time.

Today I have received a brochure, ostensibly from VtA, announcing a programme of 12 cruises this year and into next (2020 & 2021) – on board Fred Olsen ships. In fact, once you get past the welcome message from John Cain, a director of VtA, you get the feeling that it is very much Fred Olsen. The model does seem to be pretty much as before – there will be speakers (a list of 13 speakers is included in the brochure) and each cruise will include at least two “VTA escorted group tours ashore”. It doesn’t explicitly say that VtA have chartered the relevant Fred Olsen ship, so I suspect that the VtA passengers will be sharing the ship with regular Fred Olsen passengers; in other words, the VtA cruises are actually offering a value-added extra to a regular Fred Olsen cruise.

That’s not a bad thing at all, actually. I had often thought that might be a better model than trying to run a dedicated cruise in small, old ships that all-too-frequently hit problems. Fred Olsen have a fleet of smaller and characterful ships of their own, and they have a good track record of providing many cruises that have run without incident or problems, so this may well be a good future for this type of cruising. Ten of the cruises will be ocean cruises, on either Braemar or Boudicca. Six will depart from either Dover or Southampton for itineraries in Europe, while the remaining four will be fly cruises to Asia (three cruises) or the Caribbean (one cruise). The other two cruises of the twelve will be river cruises in Europe, and will therefore also be fly cruises.

I’ve often been a bit tempted by this style of cruising, but I was put off by the very small ships and their less-than-perfect history. But with Fred Olsen running the cruises on their own ships, I may think again.

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