The bright blue rooftops, pearly white buildings, and windmills are the three things that spring to mind when I think of the Greek Islands. Greece is an area of the world that I have never been to, but has always sounded appealing. A cruise is the best way to see the hundreds of small islands, but for my first time to Greece, I wanted to experience something extra special.
Celestyal Cruises offers a different cruise experience than all the other major operators who typically see around four islands during a week – we’d be doing the opposite, stopping at six ports in just four days. Celestyal Cruises offers a truly authentic Greek experience, from local Greek dishes in the restaurants, to traditional entertainment, and fascinating shore excursions – of which some are included in the fare! Drinks are included in the price too, so once onboard there’s very little that you need to spend to have a great time.
My four-night cruise aboard Celestyal Olympia from Piraeus, would take in the majestic and picturesque Mykonos, Kusadasi, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion, and Santorini.
Day 1 – Embarkation/Piraeus/Mykonos
I was up early, ready to head to the Port of Piraeus from Athens. The ship was due to depart at 11:30 a.m. and check-in was open between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. I arrived at 8:15 a.m. and was greeted by a chaotic queue of people waiting to hand over their luggage to the porters. Assuming the line was because check-in was still yet to open, I joined the back of it. After waiting in line for 20 minutes, and getting to the baggage porters, I was then told to go over to a desk to ‘check-in’ and to get luggage tags. After finally entering the terminal building, I completed the health questionnaire, where I then had to queue again to get my onboard keycard, before having to join another queue to formally check-in, and finally the final queue for security. The whole experience reminded me of the chaotic process to board Carnival Vista in Barcelona back in June 2016.
Once onboard, I ascended to the pool area to enjoy the sun with a drink. Staterooms were still out of bounds, and no food would be served until after we set sail, so I took the time to explore the ship whilst guests were still embarking. Royal Caribbean International’s former Song of America and the ex-Thomson Destiny is full of charm, character, and quirkiness.
An announcement was made to say that staterooms were now available. I was staying in #6075 – an XF category outside stateroom. Located on the starboard side of Deck 6, it was a similar size to that on Sovereign and other smaller ships. It was comfortable, with plenty of storage space, a bright bathroom, and relaxing beds. The only downside was the shortage of plug sockets.
Muster was at 11 a.m. and was held on the promenade deck. Lifejackets were required to be worn. Immediately after, we departed Piraeus bound for our first port of call – Mykonos, which we’d arrive at later that day at 6 p.m. By this point, a breeze had picked up, and the skies were overcast. It was an interesting sail away, with a narrow entrance, and a sharp turn as soon as we cleared the harbour wall.
Having been on Pullmantur’s Sovereign – another former Royal Caribbean ship – back in November 2016, I could see some similarities, in terms of layout, between Celestyal Olympia and her big sister. The Argo Lounge Bar is unmistakably the former Schooner Bar, filled with nautical décor.
In just under six hours, we arrived in Mykonos. P&O Cruises’ Ventura was berthed at the cruise dock, which meant we would anchor off-shore. The sun was just reappearing again, but grey clouds still loomed. I took one of the tenders ashore to explore the island. Mykonos is the place I had always pictured when conjuring up images of what Greece would be like. Tiny, narrow passageways, with whitewashed walls and floors were just waiting to be explored. This way…that way…I wonder where this leads to. It’s sometimes best to just go with the flow, instead of heading in a particular direction with an aim in mind. I eventually stumbled across the iconic row of Greek windmills as the dark clouds rolled in. I headed back through the maze of alleyways and boarded the tender just as a thunderstorm approached the island.
Back in the comfort of the ship, I quickly changed ready to enjoy my first dinner aboard in the Aegean Restaurant. Due to the diverse timings and frequent evening arrivals, Celestyal Cruises operates a flexible dining experience. The Leda Buffet and Aegean Restaurant are open from around 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. Simply head down to Deck 4 between those hours for a great taste of Greece and other world dishes. On the menu this evening was Octopus, Beef Brisket, and Ouzo Cheesecake.
Production shows are only performed once each evening, so always draw a large crowd. This evening was a quick showcase from the cruise staff, followed by the headlining singers and dancers, with an acrobatic show. The songs were very modern, and included the dancers recreating the dance routine from Sia’s song, “Chandelier”, along with Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”. IT was a spectacular show, even more so for the relatively low height of the stage. The show finished at 11:15 p.m. and it was an early night as we would be disembarking the ship in Kusadasi at 7 a.m. the next morning.
Day 2 – Kusadasi/Samos/Patmos
It was a very early start in order to be ready to meet in the Muses Lounge at 7:15 a.m. to begin our excursion in Kusadasi. The ship docked right on time at 7 a.m. and we swiftly disembarked the ship. Although it was early, we were not the first passengers to disembark that day. In the early hours of the morning, at 4 a.m. Celestyal Olympia dropped anchor just outside the port of Pythagorion, on the island of Samos – the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras – to disembark tourists wishing to spend the day on the island. It must have been an unnerving sight seeing your cruise ship, with all your belongings still onboard, sail into the horizon.
As part of my first complimentary excursion during this trip, I would be taking in the sights of ancient Ephesus. Our tour guide for the day was Fulia. She briefed the group on the history, and geography of not just Kusadasi, but also Turkey in general. Kusadasi – pronounced Koo Shad A Shu – was once a small fishing village, until the tourism boom came along. Now, tourism is its most important industry, and the recent cancellation of many visits by cruise companies has had a significant impact on locals, that usually expect a cruise ship almost every day in the peak season – now that number is almost one ship every five days.
It was around 30 minutes by coach to Ephesus. This UNESCO World Heritage site was once a major Hellenic and Roman city, until the city was abandoned due to the harbour silting up. Having been to Pompeii last year, it was amazing to see how tourists were free to get up close with the ancient remains here, unlike Pompeii where very few areas are not protected by some sort of rope or fence. We could walk through the tunnels of what would have been the backstage area of the majestic Great Theatre of Ephesus, which would have seated 24,000 people, and got to go inside the remains of the Library of Celcus, and even the old toilet building! It was a fascinating experience, but the tour wasn’t over yet. Turkey is famed for its rugs and we stopped off at a place where they hand-make hundreds of beautiful rugs. We learned the process of how a rug is made, from starting life as a silk worm cocoon, to being knotted together by talented woman. It takes around nine months for a large rug to be completed. We were then shown a wide selection rugs, and told what made each one different. By the end of the talk there must have been over 30 rugs lining the floor of the room. We were all given a free traditional Turkish drink to try too. The apple tea was very soothing and refreshing, but authentic Turkish wine and ouzo were also available. We were left to explore the site, and look at more of the amazing rugs, which were like works of art, before we headed back to Kusadasi to board the ship.
After departing Kusadasi at 1 p.m., it was just a short sailing to the nearby island of Samos, to pick up those passengers who had disembarked. We slowly drifted outside the small harbour, as a large boat transferred passengers to the ship.
This is a live blog review. Keep checking over the next few days for more updates from onboard Celestyal Olympia!
DISCLAIMER: In addition to a stateroom upgrade, Celestyal Cruises provided me with complimentary Wi-Fi access to make this daily blog possible. However, all opinions expressed in this review are my own. To find out more about Celestyal Olympia and Celestyal Cruises, visit celestyalcruises.uk
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