Sat at the top deck bar talking excitedly to Dani, our charming Honduran barman, about how best to mix the perfect frozen margarita as the dancing lights of Mykonos slipped into the night sky, it felt hard to believe we were only 12 hours in to our Grecian adventure. After leaving the Port of Piraeus, and the searing Athens heat, earlier that day, the first port of call on our iconic Aegean itinerary with Celestyal Cruises was the stunning shores of Mykonos.
This glamour filled island is unashamedly Greek. From the bursts of hot pink Bougainvillea spilling over multicolored balconies set against a backdrop of perfectly whitewashed stone along narrow weaving streets, to the iconic 16th century brown wooden windmills proudly standing guard over the old fisherman’s cottages down below, this island is a picture perfect postcard of what you would imagine a Greek island to be. Once a world renown party island, Mykonos has matured with age and now attracts a much more affluent clientele. In the old town you’ll find a twisting labyrinth of exclusive boutiques, high-end brands and millionaire filled bars leading you to Aroma Bar and the aptly nicknamed Paparazzi corner; the most sought after place to be seen on the island. Juxtaposed against this modern day glam are the tiny family chapels and old town wells dating back to 1700s you’ll find interspersed along each street giving the island depth and substance in the history books too. And if you want breathtaking, show stopping, sunsets, then this is the island for you.
8am departure from Athens, following a night of luxury in The Athens Marriot , our pre-cruise hotel, felt a lifetime ago. In the 12 hours that had passed I’d taken part in my first ever lifeboat drill, booked my onboard treatments with the spa team, had a delicious 3 course lunch in the Aegean restaurant, visited my first Greek island and was now back onboard for a evening of socialising and star gazing before returning to my cabin ready to wake up in Turkey the next morning. It was fast becoming apparent to my travel companions and I that Greek islands cruising with Celestyal was a full on affair.
As I awoke the next morning the window from my cabin gave me my first glance the Turkish port of Kusadasi. A far cry from the lime washed white stone of Mykonos, it was instantly clear that the short journey across the Aegean Sea had led us to a port with its heritage very much in both Europe and Asia. The domed roofs were still there, but instead of being painted white, all I could see where rich tones of brown and orange. Above all of this proudly stood the red of the Turkish flag flying high from the port. The view was inviting, intoxicating almost, offering something very different to the day before.
It’s not often you get the chance to visit one of the Wonders of the Ancient World on a sunny Saturday morning in June, but then again nothing about my time Greek islands cruising with Celestyal was predictable. Our Turkish guide explained to us as we walked around the ruins of Ephesus that while Greece has seen around a 30% drop in cruises docking this summer, Turkey has lost almost 50% of its since the effects of the Syrian crisis had taken hold. Not that you would know being there, even at the early hour we visited, Ephesus was still welcoming a steady stream of visitors and back at the port the covered Bazar of Kusadasi still had a wonderfully welcoming feel of hustle and bustle about it.
Just as the sun was approaching its midday peak it was time for us to return to our ship and seek refuge from the heat in the Deck 7 pool. As a relatively small ship, Celestyal Olympia has a capacity of just 1664, there was never a fight for lounger on deck, even in the middle of the day. The vibe onboard the Celestyal Olympia was fantastically Grecian. From daily Greek lessons to the restaurant menus and the evening shows to the wine served onboard, everything about this cruise had its roots deeply in Greece. My pre-cruise worries that travelling by ship would feel too generic, that I wouldn’t feel like I was visiting the part of the world I was in, were completed unfounded, this ship was like its very own floating Greek island.
I awoke on day 3 slightly jaded from the previous evening’s celebrations. It turns out that drinking until 1am ahead of a 7am start for breakfast and an early morning tour of Knossos while docked in Heraklion wasn’t the best idea, but the amount of fun I had dancing the night away at the onboard disco made up for any headache I may had been suffering from the next morning.
By Sunday lunchtime the thought of another 3-course midday meal was almost too much for me to take. The food onboard was exquisite, so therefore impossible to turn down when offered, however I was becoming increasingly concerned that I may not fit in my dress that evening if I ate another starter, main and dessert. Luckily alongside the main Aegean restaurant there was also a poolside buffet restaurant on deck seven that came to my rescue as we headed towards docking for our final island of the trip that evening. Both restaurants offer the same wonderful range of freshly cooked Greek food, with a daily changing menu full of classic dishes such as Greek salad, chicken souvlaki and a wide range of fresh fish option, with the only difference lying in the formality of your surroundings.
As Santorini came into sight a wave of nostalgia washed over me. The last time I had been to the island was 10 years ago in my early 20’s. I remember laying at the port watching the world go by, sun on my face and Grecian waves lapping round my ankles, thinking that if this was being a grown up then life was going to be fun. It was also right about then I added island hopping in Greece to my bucket list.
Leaving our air-conditioned transfer bus the late afternoon heat in the picturesque hills elevated over the Santorini Cauldron was enough to momentarily take my breath away. Spinning 360 degrees to take it all in the panoramic views over both sides of the Santorini coast felt almost overwhelming. As our jolly tour guide appeared, beckoning us over towards the steps of the Venetsanos Winery (venetsanoswinery.com) for our afternoon of wine tasting, I was instantly struck by how happy everyone was here. After just half an hour in this hill top paradise it wasn’t hard to see why.
Santorini had proved the perfect antithesis to the plethora of the historical explorations of past few days. As the golden glow of the early evening sun beat down on my sun-kissed shoulders and the wine glass sat pretty in my hand I found myself wistfully reflecting on the past few days and all we had covered. Our time on this iconic Greek island cruise may have been short but, in keeping with the fast paced Celestyal holiday vibe, we managed to pack in a full itinerary to our 3 days onboard. 7 ports, 2 continents and many cocktails later I’d finally ticked island hopping in Greece off my bucket list.
Queuing to disembark our Celestyal Olympia ship back in Athens at 7am Monday morning it was hard to believe we was doing the opposite journey just 72 hours previous. Travelling with Celestyal was a fast-pasted holiday, although if you chose to skip an excursion or two you could slow the past down for sure – yet what a shame that would be. We had covered everything from food in Mykonos to history in Kusadasi, religion in Patmos to wine in Santorini and still has time to relax, sunbathe and take in the views as we sailed along. For those, like me, who were wondering if a cruise is the holiday for them, this could just be the perfect way to find out.