Cruising to Athens - Scary or Sane?

| Friday, 01 Jun. 2012

Read the newspapers, watch TV and the news is everywhere - Greece is in financial turmoil. And yet for cruisers, "Med season" has just begun. This is primetime (from now through October) for a Mediterranean sail. So many voyages begin or end in Athens, with tempting ports of call in-between. Do you avoid cruises that embark or disembark passengers in Athens - or say yes, but go straight from the airport to the ship? What is a cruiser who has never seen the glorious sights of this ancient city to do?

No one can predict the future, but it's easier to make the right decision knowing the facts. If you've already seen Athens' sights (notably, the Acropolis) and feel apprehensive, skip a visit and go directly from the airport to the ship, or vice-versa. But here's how to make it work: When flying in or out of Athens, book the ship transfers – even if they cost more than a taxi or other privately arranged transportation.

Ships have secure arrangements to get you to and from the airport. Should there be a citywide or national strike, you could potentially miss your cruise or your flight if you're dependent on taxis and car services.

Cruise ships dock in Piraeus, a port some seven miles from Athens. Should any demonstrations or marches occur, you will be far away, snoozing on your verandah, oblivious of any possible discord.

If you have never visited Athens, please don't let Greece's current economic woes stop you from planning a fantastic visit. Find reassurance beyond my words at the Embassy of the United States web site. Click on "Visiting Greece." You'll be taken to "Is it Safe to Travel to Greece?" The site answers its own question, saying that with some common sense and planning, you will have a fun, safe holiday.

This site has several excellent recommendations for visitors, including registering with STEP (Safe Traveler Enrollment Program), so the embassy will know where you are and more easily assist you, if needed.

What is your opinion of Athens as a cruise destination? Talk about it in the Embarkation/Debarkation Ports forum.

Here are more words of encouragement: The embassy web site states that it has received no reports of U.S. citizen tourists being injured as a result of a demonstration. Plus the embassy says that it doesn't anticipate any protests spilling into the traditional tourist sites. When in Greece, stay abreast of current news at web sites, local television news and through hotel security.

In need of more enticement to visit Athens? Reassure yourself further at government web sites such as Travel.State.Gov. Select Greece for the country and find further information for invaluable peace of mind.

When I was last in Athens a few months ago, there was the inevitable demonstration. But taxi drivers knew where and when it was occurring, and took different routes to avoid any traffic disruptions. The demonstration did not disrupt my visit in any way. Demonstrations are geared towards the government, not visitors. Greek people are warm and hospitable. They need and want tourism.

Most demonstrations occur in Syntagma Square, near the parliament. I've never been to Athens when any demonstration occurred anywhere near the bucket-list-worthy Acropolis, which is the city highlight.

And you must tour the new Acropolis Museum, which cost some $200 million to build and sits near the base of the Acropolis with a direct view of the Parthenon. The ascending, wide glass-floored gallery houses finds from the slopes of the Acropolis. This world-class museum is filled with treasures

If staying in Athens, book a hotel away from Syntagma Square, and also, away from the Plaka (Old Town), as it's close by the Square. The Athenaeum InterContinental Athens was first recommended to me by a city insider, who touted its safe locale and top-notch security. Plus, it's slightly nearer the port, and with Athens' terrible traffic, saves valuable time. I've stayed here a few times and also recommended it to family members.

The Athenaeum InterContinental is a high-rise hotel with killer Acropolis views and a rooftop restaurant worth a stop in Athens alone. Its Premiere Restaurant serves superb modern Greek cuisine and would be receiving greater international acclaim if it wasn't located in Athens. The breadbasket – house-baked seven-grain bread, lemon sundried tomato rolls and kalamata olive bread – is stunning. Put yourself in the hands of the sommelier, and try graceful Greek wines like Palivos from Nemea.

click on pictures below for larger imagesAll from the Athenaeum InterContinental Hotel, Athens, Greece:

 
 
King Crab with Panna Cotta of Celeriac
 
Lobster Salad with Mustard Leaves and Ouzo Jelly
 
Aegean Sea Bass with Olive Oil "Egg Yolks"

King crab with panna cotta of celeriac, lobster salad with mustard leaves and ouzo jelly, and Aegean sea bass with olive oil "egg yolks" (a nod to modernist cuisine, also known as molecular gastronomy) are oustanding. Whether dining indoors or out, the nighttime view of Athens with the lit Acropolis is a jawdropper.

Unwind from (or prepare for) the long flight home at the newly renovated I-Spa. Rooms have also been freshened and deluxe accommodations include access to the Club Lounge with a private concierge, complimentary breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner snacks and drinks. The fitness center is open 24 hours, perfect for jet-lagged travelers.

If you have any lingering concerns about visiting Athens, remember that cruise lines are hyper-vigilant about security and maintain strong communications with ground operators. They will never visit a port that puts passengers at risk. Now start planning that summer Med cruise!

What is your opinion of Athens as a cruise destination? Talk about it in the Embarkation/Debarkation Ports forum.

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