Don’t put yourself through island-hopping in Greece – take a cruise instead

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The Greek islands’ biggest advantage is also their biggest downside: there are an awful lot of them. If you’re anything like me, this means any prospect of a trip is hindered by the terror of making the wrong choice.

 

What if, on arrival at your destination island, you hear mutterings that the best souvlaki is actually on Rhodes, or you spot a photo of Santorini’s brightly coloured beaches and spend the rest of your stay yearning to see them?

 

One solution is island-hopping, which in reality can mean lots of long schleps on an overnight ferry, an even less comfortable version of Interrailing. But having just tried one, I’d strongly advise you take a cruise instead.

 

Bad reputation

Cruises have a poor reputation, especially among younger travellers. They’re seen as expensive, the domain of the over-sixties, and a less cultured way to travel. But my trip around the Greek islands proved most of my twenty-something preconceptions wrong.

 

First, price. There is a huge amount of variation among cruises, but on my four-day trip aboard the Celestyal Olympia, prices started at £397 per person for a three-night cruise, taking in five destinations. This included all food and drink, plus two organised excursions. I’ve been on landlocked package holidays for more, and they were in walled-off, semi-clean resorts.

 

Which brings me to my next point: cruises tend to be very well staffed, partly for safety reasons, and our ship was impeccably clean and well-maintained, with spa treatments, a pool on the deck, two restaurants and three bars. 

Cabins are small, unless you splash out for a suite, but cleverly built. I was particularly impressed by the hairdryer stashed under the desk. There are also lots of communal areas, if your cabin-mate is driving you up the porthole

 

Next stop: Patmos, then Santorini, then Crete…

The real draw, though, is the islands themselves. We started in Athens and travelled to Mykonos, the fashionable party island, where we wandered around the pretty streets and took photos by the beautiful white windmills that form its signature view across the sea.

 

Next was Kusadasi in Turkey to see Hellenistic ruins and shop in the souk; then to Patmos, for a swim on the untouched beaches; before rounding off with a short stop in Crete and an evening on Santorini, famed for its beautiful capital built into the side of a cliff. Then it was back to Athens again. All within four days.

 

If that sounds breathless, it was at times – but the travel between locations is done at night, or over an afternoon spent by the pool. Excursions are all optional, and you can do as much or as little on each island as you want.

 

The islands we visited, and Santorini in particular, are at the upper end of the price spectrum for accommodation, so an equivalent trip taking in ferries and hotels would have cost far more and involved far more hassle.

 

The on-board food is very reasonable for the price, but isn’t anywhere near as fresh or delicious as the fare you get in the island tavernas. On Santorini, tomato fritters and the island’s own rosé at the Thalami taverna came as a bit of a relief after three days of the ship’s buffet options.

 

The guests

By its nature, a cruise involves a lot of mixing with other guests – either while travelling on tender boats from the ship to the next island, or at the nightly karaoke in one of the bars (my  “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League went down swimmingly, thanks). Guests came from all over the world, and the clientele on the ship strikingly included about 300 American teenagers in Europe for a month on “summer camp”. The over-sixties barely got a look-in among the teens snapping selfies on deckchairs.

 

For evenings spent on the ship, there was a mind-boggling array of entertainments, from the kitsch (dress-up pics in Greek outfits) to the educational (a dancing and acrobatics show about the Greek gods). I was a little perturbed by the number of times I heard Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” playing, but I’m told Titanic was a huge boon to the cruise industry, and therefore remains close to its heart.

 

Going the extra mile

A special mention is due to the staff, who made it feel more like a four-star hotel than a package holiday. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and the staff are recruited to reflect clientele – an increase in Chinese customers has led to more Mandarin speakers, for example.

 

The staff’s endearing signature move is a towel folded like an animal in your cabin every day – culminating in the initially terrifying sight of a towel monkey dangling from a coat hanger jammed into the ceiling on our last day.

 

Our waiter at the main restaurant, The Aegean, was also the on-board guitar player, and serenaded us on our last night night – with Elvis, thankfully, not more Celine. That was it for me: I’m a cruise convert.

 

Barbara travelled with Celestyal Cruises (Celestyalcruises.uk +30 216 400 9999) on an Iconic Aegean 3 day cruise to four Greek islands and Ephesus on board Celestyal Olympia.

 

Prices start at £397 pp (Full Board basis, including unlimited drinks package and two shore excursions). Return flights from Heathrow to Athens are from £239.69 with Aegean Airways.

- Editor, Source -

Barbara Speed, inews.co.uk