We've always subscribed to the adage, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." Under other circumstances, that's what we would have said about an ad that appeared recently in The Times for seven-day cruises from Los Angeles to Vancouver's Expo for as little as $669, including return by air.
In this case, however, the ship offering the bargain prices, Epirotiki's Jason, is the ship we sailed with most recently, on the first of what was to have been a series of seven Galapagos Islands cruises that were to be followed by Mediterranean and European sailings this summer.
First the line postponed the remaining Galapagos sailings until fall, due to a combination of weak bookings and bureaucratic snarls. Then, as many cruise lines have done, Epirotiki decided to keep the Jason positioned in the Pacific this year, joining the bandwagon to Vancouver and Alaska this summer, then returning to Ecuador and the Galapagos in the fall.
So the low-priced package is a way of getting some last-minute revenue out of a ship that will be repositioning anyhow. Here's the deal: On Friday, passengers fly from Los Angeles and sail back from Vancouver. On May 16 the Jason will be in Los Angeles to pick up passengers who sail to Vancouver and fly back.
Ports of call include San Francisco and Victoria, and the basic fare also covers a full-day admission and transfers to Expo, a sightseeing tour of Vancouver, airport transfers and baggage handling, and one-way air fare. Port taxes of $30 per person are extra.
The Jason is a small, homey ship, carrying fewer than 300 passengers when it's loaded to the Plimsoll Mark. (Jamming a ship to the gunwales has been illegal since 1890, when Samuel Plimsoll's waterline hieroglyphics became obligatory on the merchant vessels of every nation, a handy bit of trivia we learned from Epirotiki's in-cabin booklet.)
Registry, officers and crew are Greek, which means that you can look forward in particular to the Greek Night program of songs and dances presented during every cruise.
Tall, dark and handsome Capt. Pantelis Papageorgiou looks to be one of the youngest masters at sea, his English is fluent and he takes time to get to know his passengers individually, something difficult to do on a big ship.
While the Greek specialties and pasta dishes were the best part of the otherwise standard shipboard cuisine in South America, the opportunity to take on supplies in Los Angeles, U.S. prime or choice beef in particular, should eliminate one of the weak spots on the menu.
Our own favorite place on the Jason is the top sun deck area called the solarium. Classic wooden deck chairs painted white and covered with bright yellow and orange cushions tempt sunbathers to stretch out, while others can open table umbrellas and set up a game of Trivial Pursuit or sit and read in the gentle shade of a big canvas awning.
If you're really lazy, you can spend the morning lolling about, then help yourself to deck buffet lunch under the awning, have an afternoon swim in the pool and enjoy a sundowner from the little Argonaut Bar, without ever leaving the deck.
Indoors, the popular gathering place is the Jason Bar next to the Golden Fleece Lounge. While brushing up on the classics may be the last exercise you had in mind for your cruise, you'll learn a few terms as you learn your way around Jupiter, Apollo, Dionysius, Venus and Poseidon decks.
You'll find a duty-free shop, a minuscule casino with one blackjack table and five slot machines, and a disco. Some excellent lecturers fill you in on history, geology and wildlife for the cruise area.
The cabins, while not elaborately decorated, are spacious enough; there are no double beds and few bathtubs. Still, the bathrooms with tiled showers are quite large as ships go, and the cabins comfortably sized, with adequate storage space.
But the real charm of the Jason is the service. On a ship this size you can get to know everyone, crew and passengers alike, in a couple of days, and the service staff is exceptionally warm and efficient.
From May 23 through Sept. 21 the Jason will make a series of 11-night Alaska cruises between Vancouver and Anchorage. Each will include an overnight on board ship at Expo, plus lecturers on astronomy, geology, birds and animals, and classical music artists in concert. Prices from California gateways range from $1,700 to $2,745 per person double occupancy, including round-trip air fare.
In October and November the ship will return to the Galapagos with the Darwin Cruises, which begin at around $2,100 per person double occupancy, including round-trip air fare from Miami.