I never intended to go on a cruise – first, I am not really the type for this kind of travel and secondly, I always had concerns about environmental issues. I will get back to the second point later. However, when I saw the programme of the mini cruise with the Celestyal Olympia, I had to confirm my participation right away. Mykonos, Patmos, Santorini, Crete – four of the most famous Greek island beauties (all in all, this country has close to 200!). So here we go … off to Athens. After an overnight in the Plaza Hotel (centrally located at Syntagma Square, very close to the popular Plaka with all its cafés and restaurants) we board the boat the following morning. Despite the many people, the check-in procedure works fast and efficiently. I really happy with my junior suite – cozy and comfy and enough space to leave all my stuff. There is an orange safety vest in my closet which we need to wear for the so-called safety drill. Luckily, a colleague helps me to put it on – otherwise, I would probably have finished this procedure at the end of the trip ;-).
Photo: On board of MS Celestyal Olympia
Off we go! I slowly get used to the smooth-swinging boat. After all, my last cruise dates back to the late 80s. I am now really looking forward to all the stunning spots waiting for us over the next few days. First stop: Mykonos! I have heard (and seen) so much about this beautiful island. A paradise for gay and lesbian travelers, a hot spot for party animals and lots of Greek flair. Before landing on Mykonos, we get to know Ion, the lively cruise director. This guy is simply everywhere. He teaches stiff tourists how to dance salsa, makes announces in many languages and talks to every guest on board (well, almost – after all, there are over 1,000 people on the Celestyal Olympia). How does he calm down in the evening? I am sure he still talks while he is sleeping.
Photo: What a view - this is Mykonos!
A few words about the boat. The Celestyal Olympia is an older lady with over 30 years (talking about boats, of course). However, some of these vessels are cruising for 50 and more years, so this one still has a few tours ahead. 270 m long and a capacity for almost 1,500 people - which means middle class in terms of size. The big cruise ships can take up to 6,500 people. I don`t even want to imagine that! Over 500 crew members look after the guests, which means one employee for three guests. Not bad at all! Captain Romeros, a suntanned and very laid-back guy, has been in this business for 40 years. It seems like the sea is his life. You feel like you are in good hands right away. Don`t expect pure luxury on the Celestyal Olympia – rather the charm of the 70s. On the other hand, you will find all the usual amenities such as nice social areas, little boutiques, a spa with a small gym, swimming pools and a very cool bar on the 12th floor. From the Horizon lounge, you have an awesome view, my favorite spot on the boat! WiFi works pretty well. And the international crew is just lovely. There are so many Asians among them and they perfectly know how to take care of guests. Most importantly, this cruise is not expensive at all. And the overall ambiance is relaxed and down to earth.
Photo: Drinks (... coming...) with a View from the Horizon Bar
I just want to get back to the environmental issue. Uwe Bahn, one of my fellow travelers on this tour and a real expert for cruises, assures me that „the shipping companies are obliged to do something in terms of sustainability. However, cruise ships only make up for 1% of the total traffic on oceans, 99% are freight boats“ I feel less „guilty“ now for doing this cruise!
Time for the first shore leave – Mykonos! Our guide Kleopatra (I am wondering if that is her real name) tells us about the laid back lifestyle of the locals – „live and let live“. Makes sense to me. After all, this enchanting island was one of the first meccas for gay and lesbian travelers. You discover the awesome architecture only at second sight, nice understatement and nothing exaggerated. Obviously, this impressed the famous French architecture Le Corbusier who came to Mykonos a long time ago, followed by international designers, world-class soccer players, models, actors. „The young girls come here to be photographed“, says Kleopatra with a smile on her face. Why not? I am sure the photographers get awesome images. We make a stop at one of the island`s trendy beaches which is now – early October – a bit empty. However, you can feel how cool it must be to chill (and party) here in summer. Fortunately, there are no big hotels on Mykonos, you will rather find charming little boutique hotels. All the buildings are white, what a nice contrast to the color of the island which is pretty dry. It is time for another photo stop on our way to the little capital. Finally, I see some of the windmills Mykonos is so famous for. The view over the city and the Aegean Sea at sunset is simply stunning, oh my gosh! Too bad we have to return early to our boat. I promise myself though to come back to Mykonos one day. If I only had more time, there are so many places left on my bucket list.
Photo: One of the nicest beaches on the Island of Mykonos
Next stop on the following day is Kusadasi in Turkey. You can opt for an excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus. However, we prefer a rather lazy stopover, walking along the sea shore and sipping Turkish mocha. Watch out for the guys in the (very modern) bazaar. Everyone wants to sell something and if you want to buy, don´t forget to bargain.
Photo: Enjoying the stopover in Kusadasi
In the afternoon, we reach the seducing island of Patmos. Lots of history. Right here, apostle John the Baptist had his vision of a revelation in a cave. Today you can visit this religious site. During the time of the Romans, Patmos was a place for banishment. These days, the island is a paradise for tourists looking for quiet vacations. Patmos is of volcanic origin with sandy and pebble beaches. Buildings may only have two stories (so nice!). I love the little village of Ora with its monastery, built in 1088. Wear comfy shoes for a walk up and down the hills. From the monastery hill, you have an awesome view over the Aegean Sea and the neighboring islands. Just awesome! A pretty fat cat wearing a little bell around the neck is sitting on a wall, enjoying the view and not really caring about all the people taking pictures of her (I could not resist either). We take advantage of our free time and have dinner in the wonderful tavern Tzivaeri in the picturesque village of Skala. Time to enjoy real Greek food which is tasty and (mostly) healthy at the same time. Life is good!
Photo: MS Celestyal Olympia anchoring close to the Island of Patmos
The same evening, there is a big barbecue on the Celestyal Olympia, just next to the pools. Lots of meat so I did not really miss it, being a vegetarian. After dinner, you can enjoy plenty of entertainment on the boat, from Greek music (learn to dance the Greek way) to gambling in the casino on board. I would have loved to attend one of the Greek lessons but no time. Anyways, you will not get bored once being on board.
Photo: Nice ambiance for the barbecue on board
The following day we meet a real Greek guy. Vasilios is the sous-chef on the Celestyal Olympia and has a few very impressive numbers for us: the kitchen alone measures 300 sqm. Every day, 70 kg of the famous Greek yogurt are served. For the barbecue, 30 kg of Tzatziki (a wonderful dip full of garlic) is used. Surprisingly, you do not smell all that garlic on the boat. 100 kg of tomatoes and 600 kg of feta cheese are used in the kitchen per week. I am really impressed about all the logistic behind this, to get the stuff on board all the time, to keep it fresh and, and, and. No wonder that in the kitchen alone 74 employees are working hard to make the guests happy. In short: Greeks perfectly know about the cruise business. It is their passion.
We are getting close to the highlight of this tour – Santorini! The name alone sounds like music in my ears. For sure you have already seen lovely images of this small island with its blue and white houses and churches. Our tour guide Agathe knows everything about Santorini which has a size of 76 sqm. The island is sitting on a huge, 400 m deep crater („caldera“), the second largest of its kind worldwide. The legendary island of Atlantis may just be under us – Santorini is one of five spots in the world where scientists suppose this sunken island. How cool is that?
Photo: MS Celestyal Olympia waiting for us close to Santorini
Dark lava beaches remind you that Santorini is of volcanic origin. The last earthquake happened back in 1956 – with an intensity of 7.8 on the Richter scale. Why are so many stunningly beautiful places on earth so dangerous? There is a price for everything. On Santorini, you will also find hot springs of 38 degrees C. They are perfect for asthma, rheumatism and skin problems. Back in the 50s, the island was hardly known. The first car was driving here in 1963, imagine that. That has changed a lot over the years. Today, 15,000 inhabitants are living here and over 2 million travelers from all over the world come visit this little gem. We will see lots of cruise tourists in the quaint village of Oia, located on a giant rock and so charming with all its small alleys. If there only weren´t all those visitors! You hardly make your way through the little streets. Everyone wants to get the same pictures so be patient until it is your turn to shoot your desired photo. However – visiting Oia is a MUST! From here it is a short drive to Thira, the little capital of Santorini. The crowds are much smaller, hooray! I immediately fall in love with this place. The view on the caldera and all the islands around is second to none. The smooth air caresses your skin. The sky is pink and blue. Everything is just light and relaxing, with the sound of a singing bowl in the background. In short – this must be paradise and I no longer have any doubt that Atlantis is just below us ;-).
Photo: Stunning views on the island of Santorini
I cannot take enough photos. We reach our place for dinner –„Rastoni“, a beautiful Greek restaurant with small white staircases (don`t drink too much, you may have trouble to get out of that place). The view from here is one of the most spectacular ones I have ever enjoyed. And believe me, I have seen many fantastic places in my life. The lights are put on and the whole scenery gets even more romantic. On top, delicious Greek specialties are served by charming young ladies. What a perfect evening! I will never forget it. After dinner, we stroll through the elegant alleys, admiring chic boutiques and bars before taking the gondola down to the little harbor. Alternatively, you can walk down 589 staircases or … take a donkey! What a day.
Photo: View from the Rastoni Restaurant - not bad at all...
The short tour is coming to an end. Heraklion, the capital of the island of Crete, is the last stop. After all those highlights over the past few days, Heraklion cannot really cope with all the charming places we have seen. No doubt this city has, like the whole island, lots of history. However, I am missing the charm of places like Patmos or Santorini. I stroll through the pedestrian area, sip an espresso in a nice café and think about this awesome trip. Alternatively, you can book an excursion to the ancient city of Knossos but I prefer to avoid the crowds and just enjoy a few quiet moments over coffee.
Photo: View on Heraklion, Crete
Ah, I almost forgot one thing. There is an interesting gift shop on board of the Celestyal Olympia where you can get cloned. Yes, no kidding! The friendly vendor asks me to come in to get my body scanned! Once that has been done, you can get a little copy of yourself produced in various sizes. The smallest one costs 100 EUR. Unfortunately, I forgot to pick up my little cloned Karl-Heinz. Hopefully, he is standing in one of those displays, being admired by people from all over the world ;-).
Photo: The little clones (not mine...)
My summary: the mini cruise with MS Celestyal Olympia was just wonderful. In just a few days you get to see some of the most beautiful places in Greece. And you can perfectly combine this tour with a city break in Athens and/or an extension in one of my favorite hotels, the Kinsterna on the Southern Peloponnese.
For more info, have a look here.
Photo: Stunning colors of Santorini
Photo: Different shopping in Patmos
Photo: Enjoying the view over Patmos
Photo: Here she is - cool cat in Patmos!
Photo: Simply stunning - sunset over the Aegean Sea close to Santorini