Seeing Greece, the “Cradle of Civilization,” is an inspiring, bucket-list experience, taking you back centuries to walk in the sands of time. Greece has over 2,000 islands, but only 200 are inhabited. While you can visit Greece via a land tour, island hopping aboard a cruise ship lets you relax and make the most of your valuable travel time and dollars.
Here are some of the reasons I think visiting the Greek Islands on a cruise is the best choice.
Note: I was hosted by Celestyal Cruises, but all opinions are my own.
1. Unpack Once
When you cruise, you board the boat and only unpack once, not in a different hotel on each island. Everything is in one place, and you just sail away. Imagine having to carry your bags up the steep cobbled streets of Santorini?
If you’re island hopping but not cruising, you have to plan ahead for a hotel on each island, unpacking over and over again. In the high summer season, the room rates are higher and there’s less flexibility.
2. Experience Islands Accessible Only By Boat
Many of the smaller, “hidden gem” islands are only accessible by boat, and many of the larger vessels are too big to dock there. That means you may miss spectacular scenery, beaches, and shopping. You could cruise on a private yacht charter, but that’s extremely costly.
3. Fewer Flights
Flying between the other islands is possible, but those charges mount up quickly, especially when you add in the price of taking a taxi back and forth.
4. No Need To Navigate The Ferry System
Trying to navigate an irregular ferry schedule is challenging, and in most cases, a direct route isn’t available. The ferry you want might not run every day, or it could make multiple stops before you get to your destination. A friend spent 8 hours on a ferry to Santorini recently. That means you spend more time on the ferry than you do on the island!
5. Heavenly Ports O’ Call
My seven-night Cruise began and ended in Piraeus (Athens), followed by port stops in Thessaloniki, Kusadasi, Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, and Milos. For even greater flexibility, Celestyal allows you to board in Thessaloniki or Kusadasi. More on my favorites below.
6. Beautiful Staterooms And Suites
My first impression was my good fortune in having been assigned one of Celestyal’s suites, which gave us lots of extra room for relaxing and more than enough drawers and closets, something usually in short supply in other cruise cabins. The suite also entitled us to enjoy their private dining room for breakfast and lunch as well as fresh fruit, appetizers, and desserts delivered to our stateroom throughout the day.
What’s more, I found this smaller ship easy to navigate. With only nine decks, everything was easy to find without getting lost.
Pro Tip: I was told before I cruised that each of the islands is different, with its own history, identity, product, and handicrafts. If you see something you like on a Greek island, buy it. Chances are you won’t find it anywhere else. I saw beautiful lace in the windows in Mykonos, but nowhere else.
Greece’s Second Largest City
Our first stop was Thessaloniki, filled with Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman relics. We chose a Panoramic Tour of the port, and our expert guide took us by the White Tower on the Aegean Sea, the iconic symbol of the island. The Tower served as a fortification, and prison in later years. Near it is a statue of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian leader who ruled in 336 B.C.
We loved the hustle and bustle of Aristotle Square with its open-air cafes, lovely boutiques, and grand hotels, highlighted by exquisite views of the sea. We drove through the mountains to the walled Upper Town for a sweeping panorama with Mount Olympus looming in the background.
The Jewel Of Turkey
Kusadasi, a Turkish resort town on the country’s western Aegean coast, was the next port, and the excursion included with our cruise highlighted the ruins of Ancient Ephesus, spanning the third century B.C. Walking through the Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian relics, we marveled at the amazing structures and marbled streets. Our guide told us the multi-story Library of Celsus stored 12,000 scrolls made with calfskin.
Also impressive was the Great Theatre, which held 24,000 spectators. As a part of our tour, we had a chance to watch a carpet weaving demonstration, starting with the silkworms that created the silk and were woven into gorgeous, intricate patterns.
Where Whitewashed, Sky-Blue Domes Will Enchant You
You’ve probably seen pictures of Santorini, with its whitewashed houses contrasted by sky blue doors and domes. Those are typically from Oia, the city of buildings carved into lava rock, which is known for its splendid captain’s homes and magnificent sunsets.
A remnant from a caldera and volcanic ash, this island is a joy to explore with its marble stairs and hidden alleyways, all set against the turquoise waters.
We also visited Fira, the capital city, perched high on a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea, and took the cable car back to the tender. For those with more time, there are wine tours, catamaran cruises to catch the sunset, great museums, and outstanding beaches.
And Its Iconic Statues At The Terrace Of The Lions
The excursion to the sacred island of Delos is an archeological site not to be missed. Starting with a delightful 30-minute boat ride, we could see the island come into view. Known as one of the most important mythological and historical sites in Greece — and they’re still digging — this UNESCO World Heritage site boasts Doric temples, houses with mosaics, and an open-air museum.
Delos was considered a holy sanctuary as the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister, Artemis, during the first millennium. Discover the Temple of Apollo, the House of Dionysus, the Colossus of the Naxians, and the Terrace of the Lions. Mykonos is known as the “Island of the Winds,” which actually feel great on a hot day. It’s also recognized as a party city where the nightlife goes to the wee hours of the morn.
Pro Tip: Delos is open and without shade or amenities. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.
Where Venus De Milo Was Discovered
This was my favorite island for several reasons. We walked down to Sarakiniko Beach to see the pure white stone sculpted by volcanic eruptions. This impressive natural wonder has an almost other-worldly sense to it, like hiking on the moon.
Go down the inlet to see sunbathers and swimmers snorkeling in the sea caves. Take in the dramatic lunar landscape and snap tons of pictures.
We also stopped at a local bakery to sample their sweets and visited the Mining Museum to trace the island’s famous history of mining obsidian.
But the piece de resistance was seeing the ancient Roman amphitheater where the armless wonder, Venus de Milos, was discovered in 1820. She now resides in the Louvre in Paris.
Experts believe this ancient Greek sculpture was created during the Hellenistic period, between 150 and 125 B.C., and depicts Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love. She is made of Parian marble and stands slightly taller than life-size. Where her arms are is one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
Home To The Acropolis Overlooking The City
Perched high, almost above the clouds, stands the Acropolis, a symbol of the once-mighty Greek Empire, built around the fifth century B.C. Imagine living among all of this splendor in your daily life.
On this historical hill stands the renowned Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena, the city’s protector. Walk through the well-preserved ruins and see the Temple of Athena Nike, gorgeous iconic columns, and splendid temples. Be sure to check out the Acropolis Museum next door with its see-through glass floors that let you stand in awe of the structures below.
Pro Tip: Head to the Acropolis and Parthenon early in the morning when the lines aren’t as long and it isn’t as hot. Wheelchair access is available via an elevator.
Our tour also included a stop at the Greek Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. One can only imagine the thrilling glory of victory.
We walked through the main plaza, Syntagma Square, with its five-star hotels, central fountain, statues, and the Parliament building. Surrounding us were restaurants, bars, and plenty of souvenir shops, meaning I could bring back loads of baklava, halva, and olive oil.
Beyond these fabulous destinations, after spending a week aboard the Celestyal Crystal, I came to appreciate the following Celestyal cruise-specific Greek island hopping benefits:
13. Don’t Pay Tips Or Gratuities
A Celestyal cruise offers an outstanding value because it’s all-inclusive, meaning it includes your deluxe accommodations, onboard dining, live entertainment, and several shore excursions. Even tips and gratuities are included.
Compare the costs of a cruise to a land tour, and you’ll see why a cruise is much more cost-effective, stress-free, and enjoyable.
14. Celestyal Is An Authentically Greek Outfitter
Celestyal does all the planning for you. With so many islands to choose from, how do you decide where to go? Celestyal is authentically Greek and offers a range of destinations to maximize your experience. Visit the most popular islands without having to worry about how you’ll get there.
15. Greek Culture’s On Board
Celestyal Cruises takes it one step further by offering authentic Greek culture, Greek music, and Greek cuisine to enrich your experience. On-board activities celebrate Greek civilization with Greek folk dancing, Greek language, crafts, and other activities. Cruisers can even enjoy enrichment programs on subjects like Greek mythology.
16. The Best (And Freshest) Greek Food
Celestyal has just partnered with Greek culinary expert Diana Kochilas, author of 18 cookbooks and creator/host of the My Greek Table TV show. Her spectacular onboard restaurant serves a six-course feast featuring the most authentic Greek cuisine and ingredients straight from the islands: homemade bread, the freshest vegetables, succulent seafood, and a Greek Village Cheese Platter to die for.
17. See The Most Greek Islands
On a Celestyal Seven-Night Cruise, you’re in a new port every day — some days even two. There’s no way you could replicate visiting so many islands in such a short space of time.
Upon returning home, our Celestyal cruise and exploration of ancient Greece seemed like a dream. It made me yearn to see more of this exquisite destination.
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