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Greek Island Cruise: The Best Way To Explore Greece?

Do you hate packing and unpacking? I do too. I just got back from a 5-week trip around Greece. During the first part of my trip, I had to switch hotels every couple of nights. Ugh! So it was a relief to finally board the Celestyal Crystal and stay put for my eight-day Greek Island Cruise! I can’t wait to share with you why I think this is the best Greek Island Cruise to go Greek Island Hopping!

 Greek island Cruise -Celestyal Crystal Cruise Ship docked in Heraklion Crete

8-Day Greek Island Cruise “Idyllic Aegean”

There are a few reasons why I picked this cruise line and itinerary for my first Greek Island Cruise:

  • The islands on the Idyllic Aegean were on my bucket list (Thessaloniki, Kusadasi/Ephesus, Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, and Milos).
  • Celestyal Cruise Line stays longer at each destination, so you can experience the islands after the crowds leave. This made a BIG difference!!!
  • They offer small group “authentic excursions” at many destinations, which is great if you want to have a more custom experience in Greece.
  • With 1200 passengers, the Celestyal Crystal is a relatively small ship, which I prefer.
  • I did the 3-Continent cruise with Celestyal in 2019 and loved it!!!

Greek Island Cruise Itinerary

As I was traveling with my 13-year-old niece, I found the Celestyal Idyllic Aegean cruise itinerary and tours offered a good mix of historical places, great food, beautiful islands, and stunning beaches that made this trip interesting for both of us. Here were some of the highlights at each of the Greek islands we visited.

Day 1: Piraeus/Athens

As we arrived the night before our cruise departed, we didn’t have time to explore Athens or Piraeus before we boarded the ship. I had been to Athens before, but it was my niece’s first time in the city, so we added a few days to explore Athens after the cruise.

We arrived on the ship pretty early, around 11 AM. There was almost no line to check in and we were on board the ship at around 11:15. After checking out our Junior Suite, we explored the ship and had a quick lunch at the buffet. By the time we returned, our bags were waiting for us in the room and we unpacked and got settled in before heading to dinner and watching the evening show “Mama Mia”.

I highly recommend getting to the ship early. Last time we did a cruise out of Piraeus, we checked in after lunch, and not only was the check-in process much longer due to long lines, but the whole day felt more rushed.

Starting in September, you might be lucky to sail on the newest ship of the Celestyal fleet, the Celestyal Journey. This 1260 cabin ship features 149 suites, two pools, seven restaurants, and eight lounges and bars. Can’t wait to sail on it, too!

aerial shot of celestyal journey cruise ship under a star-y night sky

Day 2: Thessaloniki

On our first stop, we explored the second-largest city of Greece, Thessaloniki, on a food tour. This was an “authentic experiences” tour, and it was fantastic. We were a small group of 6 hungry travelers, ready to eat our way through the city.

Our local guide was fantastic and shared some interesting stories about Thessaloniki while taking us to some of the city’s best restaurants, bakeries, and cafés. We tried things like traditional Greek coffee, bougatsa (phyllo dough pockets stuffed with either sweet cream or cheese), and a traditional meze spread at an ouzeria with all kinds of treats, such as grilled octopus, mussels, fava beans, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with goat cheese, and many more local delicacies.

After our delicious food tour, my niece and I strolled through the city and did some shopping before returning to the ship.

Day 3: Kusadasi/Ephesus

This was my second time in Kusadasi, but the first time for my niece, so we definitely wanted to see Ephesus. The crowds at the end of May/beginning of June were definitely more than the last time I visited in December, but I= think that the UNESCO Heritage site of Ephesus is a must – at least once.

My favorite place in Ephesus is the area of the Terrace houses, which are over 2000 years old. You have to pay an extra entrance fee, but it is worth it to see the stunning mosaics and wall paintings that are incredibly well-preserved.

Afterward, we visited a carpet factory. To be honest, this was not my cup of tea as the experience was very sales-y and I would have preferred some more free time in Kusadasi to explore.

Pro Tip: If you plan on buying sweets and souvenirs, don’t buy it in the shops in town. For many things, the prices inside the cruise ship terminal are much better ($8 vs $22 for a box of Turkish delight).

Day 4: Heraklion, Crete

Crete is the largest Island in Greece, and one of the biggest sights on the island is the Palace of Knossos. Knossos is often referred to as the first city of Europe, dating back to the Neolithic area around 7000 BC.

After spending our previous day in Ephesus, I thought it would be a good idea to skip another day of ruins and go on a scenic drive around the Cretian countryside to a picturesque mountain village instead.

Big mistake! Our tour was quite touristy and not as idyllic as I had hoped. Three big busses of tourists approximately doubled that small village’s population, making it a lot less “quaint.” We overheard several cruise ship guests who had gone to Knossos’s archeological site and LOVED it. I recommend choosing one of the Palace of Knossos excursions for this cruise stop.

Day 5: Santorini

Santorini is by far the most popular Greek island, and we were visiting at the beginning of the high season, so I was expecting big crowds instead of serene Instagram-able scenery. Don’t get me wrong, it was busy, but as all the other cruise ships were leaving, the island transformed and turned into the magical place that drew those crowds in the first place.

We started our day with a winetasting tour and visited two small villages. Our group was about 20 people, and we had a very nice experience without the crowds and saw some beautiful places in Santorini. We visited two wineries: Anhydrous Winery is within walking distance or a short taxi ride from the town of Fira and has excellent wines. But don’t miss Venetsanos Winery! This winery has stunning views overlooking the whole caldera. What a spot to enjoy a glass of wine, no?

After our tour, we were dropped off near the cable car. As there were five cruise ships in Santorini, the wait time in the afternoon was approximately 1-1.5 hours. I felt bad for the other cruise ship travelers, as their visit to Santorini was cut even shorter by having to stand in line to make it back in time to the last tender.

Celestyal doesn’t leave Santorini until past midnight, so got to enjoy the island when it was a lot less crowded. We strolled up the coastal path to Imerovigli, a small village north of Fira to enjoy the views and then had dinner trying some of the delicious Santorini dishes, overlooking the sunset over the caldera. Definitely worth the splurge for this stunning view.

Our waitress said it was only about 10 more minutes by foot down the switchbacks from the restaurant to the tender boat harbor. That was a lie, ha! I attribute our 30+ minute descent to the fact that I was wearing flimsy sandals (the stones are very slippery!) and that we had to dodge the donkey droppings in the dark with flashlights.

Pro Tip: If you plan on walking up or down to the harbor, wear proper footwear and give yourself a little extra time before the last tender leaves.

Day 6: Mykonos

Since my niece and I enjoyed our food tour in Thessaloniki so much, my niece and I decided to do another one in Mykonos. This time, our group was a little bigger (17 people) but we had the chance to try some delicious food on this tour as well, while also getting to know the port city of Chora.

Mykonos is known as one of the high-society party islands of the Mediterranean and we got to enjoy a little glimpse of it as our ship was again the last one to leave the port well past midnight. Most cruise ships left the island between 3-5 PM. After they left, Mykonos transformed similarly to Santorini and felt like a completely different island.

Day 7: Milos

I was really looking forward to Milos. My niece and I signed up to go kayaking, and I could not wait to see the bright turquoise water with white limestone cliffs. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. We were still able to kayak and had a fantastic time, but the grey sky turned the water into a similarly bleak color.

However, my niece and I still had a blast. Our guide showed us stunning beaches, hidden caves, and hot springs and even shared homemade snacks with us. It was my niece’s first time kayaking, and she did really well. I was super proud of her for trying something outside her comfort zone, and when we returned to the ship, she couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day. What a great way to finish our Greek island cruise!

Day 8: Piraeus/Athens

Time flies when you are having fun, and before we knew it, we were already back in Piraeus, and it was time to disembark.

Greek Island Cruise with Celestyal Review

I am so glad I picked Celestyal for my first Greek isles cruise. The small ship, small group tours, and long time in port really made this cruise a perfect fit for me, as I am not a big fan of crowds and like to explore each destination a little deeper. Of course, each island deserves more than just a one-day stop, but I felt I got a good first glimpse of each cruise stop.

If you have limited time and want to see as much as possible and as many places as possible during your trip to Greece, then a Greek island cruise is the most convenient and cost-effective way. Seven different destinations in 8 days would not be possible in any other way.

Of course, a smaller ship like the Celestyal Crystal has not have quite as many amenities as some of those big cruise ships, but it still has everything you expect to find on a cruise ship, including spa, pool, jacuzzi, casino, evening performances and several restaurants. And since there is no sea day and the time in port is so long, I wouldn’t have had much time to take advantage of those amenities anyway.

On the other hand, a smaller ship and longer time in port also means that it is less invasive and disruptive for the locals. Yes, they depend on tourism, but when the roads are so busy that even emergency vehicles can’t get through, you can see the dark side of mass tourism. As we had more time in port, we also had more time to shop, eat, and drink at each destination, supporting the local economy. Celestyal Cruise Line is a Greek company with headquarters in Piraeus, so even the money for the cruise tickets goes back into the Greek economy.

If you are looking for a small ship Greek island cruise that lets you maximize your time at each cruise stop and want to avoid the big crowds, then Celestyal is for you. I highly recommend them and can’t wait to cruise with them again!

Greek Island Cruise – Pin for later:

small fishing boats in the bay of Chora on Mykonos on the bottom, on the top blue banner with white text "Europe Up Close - Greek Island Cruise Tips"

Maria joined a Press Trip sponsored by Celestyal Cruise Line to experience the 8-day Greek Island Cruise Idyllic Aegean to write this article. This invitation did not influence her opinion and review of the cruise, tours, meals, and places mentioned in this article.

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