Cruises arouse images of moonlit voyages enveloped by salty mists. Thoughts of romantic adventures at sea spliced with escapades to picturesque ports made our imagination run loose with all kinds of possibilities. So we let ourselves drift away with fanciful promises of the Aegean’s infinite shades of blue in a three-day programme entitled “Idyllic Aegean” presented aboard Celestyal Cruises’ Crystal.
The destination-intensive itinerary – in our case Mykonos, Samos, Kusadasi (Ephesus) and Milos – is good value for those hankering to catch brief whiffs of numerous places in just a few days while also enjoying an authentic Greek experience through cuisine and entertainment available on board. We decided that with short stops at different ports it was best to go with the flow and allow ourselves to casually soak in the local atmosphere, rent a car at leisure or hop on a taxi when needed rather than book the expensive excursions on board that are filled with promises of jam-packed itineraries (also available at half the price by local tour guides at the ports).
The relatively medium-sized cruise ship travelled at full capacity when we set sail, meaning that there were 1,200 people from around the world adding their own cosmopolitan flare to the ten decks. Despite the crowds, everything moved along smoothly as far as check-in was concerned (baggage already at our rooms before we got there). Three dining areas ensured that traffic was evenly spread though the quality of the food itself was generally nothing to write home about – nor did it give us any reason to complain.
Entertainment was enjoyable with a Grecian focus. We skipped Vladimir’s Zorba-dancing classes and octopus towel-folding workshops, but did enjoy the Cuban dancers perform on-stage acrobatics inspired by Greek gods and Olympic themes during evening performances at the Muse lounge. Meanwhile, there was more live music on the pool deck and Eros lounge.
Crystal’s compact design includes a casino, theatre, spa, jacuzzi, swimming pool, gym, play room and other facilities, however – despite the offerings – the ship has not managed to shrug its ferry-boat style. The cabins are spotless but tiny and frugal. Not quite as dazzling as one would expect from a cruise ship, it is hard to suspect that past passengers have included Sweden’s Royal Couple who stayed here for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and President George H. W. Bush in November 1995.
The international staff is efficient and exceptional, but their efforts are not enough for Crystal to ditch its beginnings as a passenger liner in 1980 before it was converted to a cruise ship six years later. Rather than turn its past life into a plus, Crystal is still haunted by it. The Nineties decade merely added to its colourful history with a fire, a partial sinking, and its rebirth every time it passed through five different lines before ending up with the Louis Group – its current Cypriot owners – in 2007. Finally renamed Celestyal Crystal in 2015, it spends half its time in the Aegean and the other half in Cuba where its hull is painted accordingly and menu changed to reflect its new itinerary at five Cuban ports and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Obviously, “Idyllic Aegean” programme as well as the seven-day extension tour are more about the ports of call than the cruise experience itself. If you’re looking for a new cruise-liner with luxury facilities and a great focus on food and entertainment, it is best to look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want simple accommodation, average food and affordable prices (minus excursions) as you briefly explore a number of ports at hand, then this experience is for you!
HIGHLIGHTS – THINGS TO DO
Lavrio (Start of our cruise)
• watch the fishermen roll up their nets as you stroll along the marina with the colourful fishing boats
• enjoy an ice-cream at one of the numerous cafes along the waterfront or on the street where the stately Town Hall is located
• make a pit-stop at Cape Sounion where the Temple of Poseidon is located
• check out the amphitheater, Thoriko, on the north slope of the hill besides the Athens-Lavrio highway
• visit the town’s tiny Mineralogical Museum that packs in the region’s rich mining history or head to the Archaeological Museum that holds finds from the region as far back as 5,000 years ago
Mykonos Town (6 hours)
NOTE: The bus leaves you outside the Archaeological Museum so its a 20-minute brisk walk to Little Venice – wheelchairs are offered to people who have trouble walking, but there are no buses that take you to the parking lot where the windmills are which would be more convenient for the disabled.
•stroll through the cosmopolitan island of Mykonos as the meltemi winds that shaped the island blow through your hair
• drink a cocktail with the waves lapping at your feet at Little Venice
• catch a film at Cine Manto – an open-air cinema that is an unexpected oasis of green at the boisterous center of the main town
• search for Petros, the island’s pelican mascot, who is often seen at the square behind Cine Manto where the taverns and restaurants are
• visit the Vanity exhibition at the Mykonos Archaeological Museum with interesting Cycladic jewellery through the ages, write up to contemporary pieces, including the famous earrings that Mykonos is renowned for
• shop at some of the finest design outlets that all have branches on Mykonos
Kusadasi (4 hours)
• in our case, a free trip to the ancient site of Ephesus is included and this was well worth visiting (not recommended for passengers who are disabled)
•stroll to Pigeon Island, a symbol of Kusadasi (meaning Bird Island), that is a Byzantine castle near the port and houses a museum inside
• visit Kusadasi markets and haggle, haggle, haggle for rugs, bags, leather and jewellery – bear in mind that the tours often take you to places that supposedly sell cheap goods but you’ll no doubt find them cheaper here. The rule of thumb is to settle for half the price given… state your bottom price and then walk away and they’ll chase you back – that’s how it’s done!
• go for a swim at one of the lovely nearby beaches
• go on one of those 2-euro tuk tuk rides touted just outside the cruise ships
• enjoy the clean, efficient and impressive port facilities where you can shop or just have coffee with a view of the waterfront
Vathy, Samos (5 hours)
• rent a car at one of the rental places just outside the port (in our cases, 60 euros for a small jeep + 15 euros for fuel) – from there, it was an easy drive to colourful Kokkari town to soak up the view before an invigorating swim at Tsamadou beach, an ice-cream at the waterfont of Pythagoreion and a last dip at Portokaki beach before heading back to Vathy.
• Celestyal cruises offer transport to Tsamadou beach at 24 euros per person (17 euros for kids under 12 years), whereas a taxi ride to Pythagoreion is 20 euros.
• stroll around Vathy and enjoy the lovely hue that the buildings take as the sun begins to set
Milos (12 hours)
NOTE: Passengers are taken to the port on life boats that are difficult for people with disabilities as it is required that they hop over a gap ALSO excursions listed for Milos on the excursions programme sold on the ship are not necessarily the ones you’ll go on so make sure you don’t miss out on what you want to see by getting down the programme in writing (in all fairness they do give you a 100 percent refund if you don’t get what you bought but they still can’t refund your missed opportunities).
• choose one of the tours on offer at the port (60 euros for a sailing trip on a traditional wood boat known as Trehadiri around the island with stops at the fishing village of Klima, Sykies cave, Arkoudes beach and Kleftiko pirate’s cove).
• the cruise offers a 104-euro day trip (coach ride + 3-hour trehadiri tour) with pit-stops including Sarakiniko moon-scaped beach, Plaka town where the Archaeological Museum has a replica of the Venus de Milo, light appetizers at Kipos and Kleftiko swim (by boat).
• the celestial beaches of Sarakiniko and Papafrangia are a must.
• try the Miloterranean Geo Experience, geo walks designed by environmentalists, engineers, geologists to reveal the secrets of the volcanic island
• learn about the natural history of Milos at the mining museum
• don’t forget to try some of the culinary delights, such as pitarakis cheese pies with onions and herbs, a pizza-like local specialty known as ladenia and definitely stock up on flower honey.
The cruise ends here for the three-day programme but continues back to Lavrio for new four-day programmes or seven-day programmes with stops at Syros, Cesme (Turkey), Kos, Ios, Santorini.
COST: The price of the cruise began at 245 euros per person (907 euros for a family of four with a sea-view cabin + entertainment + unlimited food and soft drinks, coffee etc) includes port costs.