Is Greece on your bucket list? Have you ever dreamed of visiting the Aegean Isles, but don’t know which islands to see or the best way to see them?
Greece has over 2,000 islands, and only 200 are inhabited, so that’s still a tall order. Why not go island hopping with a cruise line that doesn’t just know Greece, but gives you an authentic Greek experience at every knot?
The Greeks are a proud people, proud of their centuries-old heritage and contributions to the world in art, theatre, philosophy and democracy. Capturing the very essence of the Greek Islands is Celestyal Cruises, which means “heaven” in Greece.
Celestyal creates a deeper, richer more immersive experience. They believe in the Greek philosophy of “Kefi” – joyful, spirited with a love of life and infuse this into every aspect of the cruise.
Celestyal Cruises is Greece. They know the destinations and offer a rich, cultural cruise experience. The cruise line offers two ships, the Olympia which offers 3 and 4-day cruises. Many repeat cruisers return to this itinerary because of its great affordability. The Crystal offers cruises for seven days or more across three continents, giving you more in-depth travel.
After sailing aboard the Crystal, I understand why cruising is the optimum way to go, letting you truly be enveloped by the warmth and hospitality of the Greek people.
All Inclusive Cruising, Plus Several Included Shore Excursions
Come along with me on my all-inclusive Celestyal Cruise, which included deluxe accommodations, on-board-dining, live entertainment and two complimentary shore excursions. Even port charges/gratuities were included. If you added up these costs individually, Celestyal saves you money, without stress or the anxiety of having to plan everything yourself.
My Seven-Night Cruise started and ended in Piraeus (Athens), followed with port stops in Thessaloniki, Kusadasi, Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Crete, Mykonos and Milos. You even have the flexibility of boarding in Thessaloniki or Kusadasi.
I opted for one of their suites and found it very spacious with lots of room, closets and plenty of places to keep everything. In addition, having a suite offered a variety of other perks such as eating in the private dining room for breakfast and lunch. Every day, our private concierge dropped off fresh fruit, aperitifs and petit fours to our stateroom, so we could enjoy a private moment.
One of the things I appreciated was their dining options, which offered both formal and casual choices. At night, we enjoyed sitting with our fellow passengers who represented a range of nationalities on a global scale, making for interesting conversation.
What truly sets Celestyal Cruises apart is its authenticity. Greek culture, Greek music and Greek cuisine are incorporated into every aspect of your cruise. Their most popular onboard activities celebrate Greek civilization with Greek Folk Dancing, Greek crafts and Greek language classes. A Greek Wine Tasting event featuring six wines, fruit and cheeses is also popular. Their onboard enrichment programs on subjects like Greek mythology will be reinstated soon.
What’s more, I found this smaller ship really easy to navigate. With only nine decks, everything was easy to find without getting lost.
Gourmet Dining at Greek Table
If you’d like to enjoy curated Greek dining, you’re in for a special treat. Celestyal has just partnered with Greek culinary expert, Diana Kochilas, author of 18 cookbooks and creator/host of the “My Greek Table” TV show to create The Greek Table Experience, available on both ships. This optional dinner features an elegant, six-course feast with wine pairings featuring gourmet Greek cuisine straight from the islands. Start with a selection of homemade breads and dips, followed by seafood courses, sliced beef loin, and baked olive arugula and pasteli crumbles salad. This is all topped off with an epic Greek Village Cheese Platter and honey-shelled dessert.
I spoke with head chef, Allan Bonchol, who explained to me that the Mediterranean diet features fresh, simple, healthy cuisine. They use olive oil, lemon and other citrus fruits for flavor. Passengers will find a lot of vegetarian options using healthy cooking techniques and what’s in season on the islands.
I watched a cooking demonstration as the chef prepared Seafood Saganaki, skillfully mixing all of the ingredients together. He also whipped up a Tzatziki Sauce that can be used as a dressing, with bread, or any kind of vegetable. Looked easy enough, I could prepare it at home.
Interestingly, I was told before I cruised that each of the islands is different with their own history, identity, and handicrafts. If you see something you like on a Greek Island, buy it. Chances are you won’t see it on another island. They were right. I saw beautiful lace in the windows in Mykonos, but nowhere else.
During the day, listening to the musicians on deck playing Greek tunes served as great inspiration. At night, the talented staff put on entertaining shows, ranging from “Mama Mia,” Broadway, a celebration of Greek culture and more.
Thessaloniki Blends the Old and New
Our first stop was Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, filled with Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman relics. On a Panoramic Tour, we visited the White Tower on the Aegean Sea, the iconic symbol of the island. The Tower served as a fortification, and a prison in later years. Near it is a statue of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian leader who ruled in 336 BCE. 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.
Ancient Ephesus Beckons in Kusadasi
Kusadasi, Turkey was the next port, highlighted by the ruins of Ancient Ephesus from the third century, BCE, included in your cruise. Walking through the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian relics, we marveled at the amazing structures and marbled streets. Our certified guide told us the multi-story Library of Celsus actually stored 12,000 Scrolls of parchment scrolls, made with calfskin. Also impressive was the Great Theatre that held 24,000 spectators.
Santorini – Whitewashed, Sky Blue Domes
Whitewashed houses set against sky blue doors and domes welcome you to Oia. Carved into lava rock, Oia 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.
Mykonos – Iconic Statues At The Terrace Of The Lions
Delos is considered the largest archaeological site in Europe, filled with remarkably well-preserved ruins and relics. Digging continues today. We began with a delightful 30-minute boat ride, watching the island come into view. This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts Doric temples, houses with mosaics, and an open-air museum. Walk through the Temple of Apollo, house of Dionysus and Colossus of the Naxians. My favorite was the Terrace of the Lions, still guarding the ancient city. Don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and water bottle as there is nothing on the island but tons of open space. Known as the “Island of the Winds,” you’ll enjoy the gentle breezes that cool you on a hot day. It’s also recognized as a party city where the nightlife pulsates until the wee hours of the morn.
Milos – Where Venus De Milo Was Discovered
Sarakiniko Beach has pure white stone sculpted by volcanic eruptions with an almost other-worldly sense to it. The best was seeing the ancient Roman amphitheater where the armless wonder, Venus de Milos was discovered in 1820. Experts believe this ancient Greek sculpture was created during the Hellenistic period, between 150 and 125 BC and depicts Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love. Where are her arms is one of the world’s great mysteries. She now resides in the Louvre in Paris.
Athens – The Acropolis and Parthenon
Perched high, almost above the clouds, stands the Acropolis, symbol of the once powerful and mighty Greek Empire, built around the 5th century, BCE. Imagine living among all of this splendor and history amid 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.
People asked me about COVID protocols aboard the Crystal. A negative COVID test is required before you board the boat, masks were required and I felt protected.
Loaded down with baklava, olive oil and Greek coffee to bring home, our Celestyal cruise soon came to an end. Etched in our minds were thousands of years of ancient history, coupled with a newfound appreciation for fresh and healthy Greek cuisine. We can’t wait to sail with Celestyal again!
Celestyal is planning to expand with new routes and new itineraries for 2023. For more information, call 877-592-9151 or celestyalcruises.com