Azur eastern Med cruise

We took an eastern Mediterranean cruise aboard the Azur, Oct. 29-Nov. 8, ’03. It was booked through White Travel Service (127 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT 06119; phone 860/233-2648). The price of $3,006, for my wife and myself, included airfare from New York’s JFK to Venice, Italy, with port charges and taxes added.

Ports of call were Dubrovnik, Katakolon (for Olympia), Alexandria, Limmosol, Antalya, Rhodes and Piraeus (Athens). The shore excursions were optional, and we opted, for the most part, to take the less expensive half-day excursions, as about all that the full-day excursions added was lunch and, of course, we always got that on the ship.

The exception to this was a full-day tour from Alexandria to Cairo, the pyramids and the Egyptian Museum. My wife, Meme, took that one, as she had never been to Egypt. I had never been to Alexandria, so I happily filled my day exploring that ancient city and its many artifacts.

Antalya, Turkey, was a pleasant surprise. I had never been there and knew it only as a resort center. Turns out there are several Greco-Roman ruins nearby. We took the tour to the one known as Perge, after which we spent time examining the stunning collections in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya.

The Azur has been around awhile (built 1971) but has been well maintained. It is medium-sized by today’s standards, with 360 cabins. They all were filled on this cruise, for a total of 731 passengers, the majority of whom were German, with Italians a close second and sizable groups of Swedes and Spaniards. There were fewer than 30 English speakers, and that included two couples from Holland and one couple from Hungary.

The tour buses were arranged by languages. Since we were so few, we often were with other groups and the tour guide would relate the information in multiple languages, once even in Swedish when we were touring Cyprus!

We rate the ship and staff excellent, the food average and the entertainment mediocre.

This was NOT a cruise for anyone allergic to tobacco smoke. The only area where smoking was prohibited was the dining room. Both the Azur and Pacific lounges had small, isolated areas marked “No smoking,” but those signs were totally ignored, even by people with cigars and pipes.

On the final day, sailing from Piraeus back to Venice, we passed through the Corinth Canal. Ships larger than the Azur cannot make the passage, so this was a special event with which to end the cruise.

Cape Canaveral, FL