The nightly events on Athena were low key and centered on our destinations. We enjoyed a Greek dancing class, costumed Klapa singers performing the traditional songs of Montenegro and a colorful group showing off the lively folk dances of Croatia.
The night before we landed in Corfu was movie night, and everyone gathered together in front of the big-screen TV in the salon to see "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," a film that took place on a Greek island not unlike Corfu.
The movies available on the TV sets in cabins were also relevant to our destinations. We had "Zorba the Greek," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Never on Sunday in Greece" and a documentary on Dubrovnik when we visited that city. Three interesting films shed light on our destinations and their conflicts. One was a biography of Tito, the controversial former head of Yugoslavia, another a documentary on the war between the Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians called "The Death of Yugoslavia." The fictional drama, "No Man's Land," takes place during this war.
Along with appreciating the beauty of the area, passengers learn a great deal about the history and culture of these countries that once made up the former Yugoslavia. We were divided into small groups to have dinner in local homes near Dubrovnik, a rare chance to see how ordinary people live in this country. And we gained insight into the 1990's conflicts that devastated so much of the region. The trip leaders, captain and cruise director were all from this area and shared their personal stories.
In addition to daily port talks, many special educational sessions were available. Some were serious, like a map orientation to the region or guest lecturer speaking on Croatia today; others were light-hearted, including a lesson on how to pronounce the almost-unpronounceable Croatian language. Our group leaders waited for the long bus ride from Split to Plitvice National Park to allow the time needed for a proper explanation of the Yugoslavian conflict. It was appropriate timing since this drive was when we saw houses still without roofs or with bullet holes in the walls -- evidence of the scars of war in the villages we were passing.
Athena is a small ship, and all the public areas are on the main deck. In the paneled entry, a library of books on the region (and cases displaying jackets, caps and shirts bearing the ship's emblem) is found behind the reception desk. Old maps of the area are on the walls along with color photos of Dubrovnik and Corfu to whet you appetite for what is to come. A basket of umbrellas is beside the door, just in case.
The salon, the center of all activity, is furnished on each side with three congenial seating areas around coffee tables. Wood paneling and dark shutters, wicker chairs and plush leather sofas create a warm ambience. Chairs are covered in a bright regional floral print, with the red picked up through other pieces in coordinated stripes and checks. In the center is a circle of leather seats, which are moved aside when the room is used for entertainment. One end of the room holds a cozy circular bar, the other a large-screen TV. Near the bar is a machine always ready with coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Walls are hung with black and white photos of everyday life in the region, part of the set specially commissioned for the ship.
Beyond is the dining room described above, and at the end of the ship, there are two floor-to-ceiling glass doors offering vistas of the sea. These doors are open when passengers are swimming off the boat, and on our cruise, we used the area for debarking on the one occasion when we boarded tenders to visit a small island outside of Kotor (in Montenegro).
Rows of tables, chairs and loungers are set under a wide canopy on the Sun Deck. During fine weather, this area is well used. Meals are served here regularly, and one night the crew offered a special regional drink, local cheeses and hors d'oeuvres on deck.
There is no elevator on Athena, and no smoking is allowed anywhere inside the ship.
The only fitness facilities on board are two exercise bikes and a treadmill at the end of the main deck. On my cruise, no one seemed interested in using them, maybe because there was plenty of walking in port each day.
This is definitely neither a cruise nor a ship recommended for children. There is nothing for a child to do onboard or room for them to play and run around; few young children would have the patience for the educational talks and walks in each port.