It’s All Greek to Me! Sail Greece and Turkey Aboard Celestyal Crystal
by Olivia Balsinger
Few moments in life prove more blissful thank sitting dozens of meres high the edge of an off-white length in Santorini, nursing a crisp Greek wine, belly full from souvlaki and olives (of course!), as you watch the colors of the sky melt into the Mediterranean below. Yes, this may seem like a scene setting for the climax of a cheesy romantic movie. But, indeed, it was my reality during my recent overnight in Santorini, Greece as part of my seven-day journey on The Celestyal Crystal through Greece and Turkey. Though the company primarily sails 3, 4, and 7-day cruises in the Aegean, guests have the option of combining programs to customize the length of their stay.
Though I have been fortunate to cruise aboard many luxurious lines, Celestyal stands apart for its commitment to maximizing a guest’s time in port giving travelers as comprehensive understanding and experience of the destination possible. Celestyal Cruises, a Greek owned and operated company, is the company that delivers Greece in the most authentic manner of all its competition. From the superior service, to the mouthwatering menus, to the the attentive staff and especially to the commitment to showing off destinations, there is really no comparison.
One of the world’s most visited cities, our Celestyal Cruise began in Athens—capital of Greece arguably one of the most important cities in human history. I arrived a few days early, deciding to stay at the NJV Athens Plaza, a five star property part of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, within walking distance to Athens treasures (and, bonus points: my hotel room faced the Acropolis!) Both the capital of Greece, the heart of ancient world, Athens has become a prime destination for tourists interested in discovering the roots and the rise of Europe as it is known today; it is the city where Classical civilizations intellectual and artistic though originated; where symposia were held to entice the spread of ideas and healthy debate; where democracy was developed and culture flourished. When you travel there today, you can feel this almost mythical quality permeating throughout the air; where millennia old structures stand proud against a bustling urban city that is equal parts elegant and edge. The boarding process onto the ship was seamless—it was time to begin my adventure.
You’ve most likely heard of the mesmerizing, paradise shores of Santorini island, which for decades has been the primary destination for tourists to experience the idyllic beauty of the Greek Islands. Its beauty is romantic, as it combines a naturally gorgeous landscape with villages that preserve its classical legacy as well as cater to modern luxuries, such as fine dining and truly fabulous shopping. Sparkling turquoise water, beaches with impossible mosaic of sand (such as black, red and white), an active volcano, and spectacular rock formations that provide a sense of tranquil seclusion ensure that, no matter which angle you view it, any picture of the land will be postcard-worthy. But Santorini is not just a feast for the eyes…it is also a feast for the senses! It is home to some of the best restaurants in Greece and boasts wine that rivals the rest of the world and because Celestyal spent a night in port here, I was delighted by the many divers, delicious dishes of the island.
During my overnight stay in Santorini, I had the pleasure to visit Oia, which is famous for being the most picturesque village in all of the Cyclades. I was not able to put my camera down, as seemingly every corner of this quaint and colorful village is astonishingly photogenic. The tour ended in Fira, located on the caldera cliffs opposite the island’s active volcano. The capital of Santorini and its largest town, some claim that it is here, on the bottom of the Caldera cliffs, where one can truly soak in all of the wonder that is Santorini.
A hidden gem within the Cyclades island group, Milos offers the more adventurous tourists everything that one can ask for from an idyllic Greek getaway. Scattered throughout are spectacular views of its whitewashed village architecture, picturesque beaches on the shores of the Aegean, and quaint city centers where one can experience the warm hospitality of the local people. Milos is the perfect destination for those looking for a break from the other comparatively crowded islands in the Cyclades.
I enjoyed what was sincerely the swim of my life at the magnificent Firiplaka beach. I took a refreshing dip in the crystalline green-blue seas, and drifted ashore to the silver sand beaches, where I laid back, gawking at the gorgeous colored rock formations that line its coastline. I also visited the picturesque fishing village of Pollonia, which host numerous events dedicated to the arts and music. The area truly feels ass the fishing boats moored by the quay to find that perfect spot on the beach, hidden within the tamarisk tree-lining. Luckily, I also had the time to visit Sarakiniko Beach on the island’s north shore, whose north-wind waves result in greyish-blue rocks that are famously compared to a moonscape.
I spent a day in the life of an Ancient Greek with a visit to Ephesus, a place frozen in time, reliving its extensive, fascinating history by careening through its beautifully preserved ruins—some dating back to the prehistoric ages! Excavations spanning almost a century and a half have marked Ephesus as Europe’s most complete classical metropolis (even though 80% of the city has yet to be unearthed!), allowing modern eyes to see its former glory as the capital of Roman Asian Minor, and the fourth largest city during the Roman period.
The highlight of our excursion was a visit to the Terrace Houses, which gives the clearest example of how the diversity of the Mediterranean peoples historically embedded in this area’s ruins. Located on a hilltop, these structures were the “Houses of the Rich,” and gives in-depth insight into the lifestyle and living conditions of the empirical Roman elite. I learned about the brilliant planning and ingenious structure of Roman domestic architecture, with original frescoes and mosaic cycles intact.
Crete is the largest island in Greece, the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea, and the eighty-eighth largest island in the world. Remnants of its brilliant past arrange themselves like stage props against an awe-inspiring coastal landscape. Mythology tells us that it was in the caves of Crete where Rhea hid her newborn Zeus from his titan father, but this mystical air transcends time, and embeds itself in the bustling cities, charming villages, splendid shores, and fascinating archaeological sites. Celestyal cruise excursions brought the exquisite cuisine, delicious wine, and impossibly gorgeous landscapes to life for me, giving me free time to explore the island.
The Crystal boasts 476 staterooms (317 are outside cabins and 163 are inside cabins.) There are 15 cabin types to choose from aboard the ship, accommodating individual needs and budgets. Staterooms are equipped with air conditioning, telephones, televisions and hairdryers. Passengers may pay for Wi-Fi to enjoy anywhere on board, including their staterooms.
For more casual dining, guests may opt for the 9th floor self-serve Leda Buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The two more formal dining rooms on board, The Olympus Restaurant and The Amalthia Restaurant, are that perfect balance of sophistication and authenticity. Especially being a Greek ship and given the destinations of this particular cruise, it is fitting that the majority of the restaurants serve traditional Greek cuisine.
After dinner, I would often find myself in the Eros Lounge, relaxing and unwinding among a crowd of fellow passengers. With a martini in hand and the onboard band’s melody in the air, I’d reflect on my day of adventures and wonder what next is in store.