A Greek Cruise Primer - Cruising the Greek Isles

| Updated 2-22-10

Considering a Greek cruise? The Greek Isles are Europe's most popular tourist region for good reason.

Each summer for the last seven years (since what is now known as "the terrorist event"), there have been more and more Greek cruises. Each year is hailed as "the biggest cruising season in Europe yet," with more ships, a longer duration and more destinations.

The Greek Isles, located in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas, are not only beautiful, they are full of history and offer a thriving sun-based culture with great beaches and restaurants and nightclubs for nightlife.

For many people, especially Europeans who often choose to spend their vacation time in the Greek Isles, the isles offer many people their first experience with passenger ships. All of the major isles are connected by a massive ferry system, mostly offering day trips and a few overnight voyages.

But for those of us who want to spend a week or more visiting as many Greek Isles as we can, you cannot beat the convenience of a cruise ship. Why?

Benefits of Cruising in Europe The first benefit of a cruise is convenience. If you are going to fly all the way across the pond, you probably want to stay awhile -- so you will probably take a good amount of clothes and other personal items. On a cruise, you unpack once and never worry about your bags for the rest of the vacation. You also don't need to worry about finding your hotel, paying for taxis or reading train schedules.

The second benefit of cruising is economic. The exchange rate for the dollar to the Euro is brutal, although it has come down some since two years ago when it reached an all-time high of $1.66 to one Euro. It is currently back down to about $1.36 to 1 Euro. I can remember when the dollar was worth more than the Euro.

With a cruise, you prepay for your entire vacation in dollars. You will not pay out anything more for lodging, meals (unless you eat ashore) or transportation between cities. This is a big benefit when you consider that restaurant meals in Europe are far more expensive than in the U.S., even without considering the exchange rate. Everything there is a la carte, and it is common to include a service charge of up to 20%. The average meal anywhere in Europe will be more than $20 per person.

Hotels in Europe are also very expensive -- mostly because of the exchange rate, but also because summer is peak tourist season and tourism is at record levels in Europe these days. The average rate at a four-star hotel in Europe is commonly over $400 a night. You can find smaller hotels, but you might find that the rooms are tiny, there is no elevator, and they may turn off the hot water at 8:00 p.m. So, when you add up hotels, gas and food, you see that cruising in Europe can be a real bargain.

The convenience of cruising and the economic benefits, especially for Americans, make this the best way to see Europe. While the economic picture may change someday, the convenience factor will remain. My first cruise to Europe was 25 years ago, and I remember when the Euro was only worth 90 cents (U.S.). Even then, cruising offered economic convenience because the fares were proportionately lower.

The Greek Cruise - Intro to Greek Isles Cruises The Greek Islands are in the Eastern mediaterranean, framed by Italy on the west and Turkey to the east. Some Greek Isles itineraries will expand to Israel or Egypt, or north into the Black Sea. Many Eastern Mediterranean cruises also include Venice, Dubrovnik (Croatia), Istanbul and the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey.

The beginning and ending ports for most Greek Isles cruises are Athens (Greece), Rome (Italy) or Istanbul (Turkey), Although many more cruises are leaving from Venice these days, which is an option we like. Just plan to stay a few extra days in Venice, it is definitely worth it. No matter where you start your cruise, it is highly recommended to fly in early for at least two full days to see the city. The actual port city for Rome is Civitavecchia, about 65 miles from the city of Rome but easily reached by train or car. You can fly into the airport for Rome and it is not far from the seashore, but if you are going to be close to Rome we also recommend setting aside time to see that city as well.

Athens can be seen in one full day and night, the highlights being the Acropolis and the surrounding area known as the "Plaka" -- a square mile of pedestrian streets with souvenir shops punctuated by restaurants. Nearby you will find the ancient "Agora" ruins -- worth a few hours of exploration. If you have time you can visit the National Museum of Athens to see marble statues and artifacts like jewelry and armor from the Hellenic period. However, you we see plenty of such artifacts in other destinations on the cruise.

The legendary Greek Isles include Delos, the ancient capital of the Hellenic Empire before Athens and once a trading center for all seagoing people of the first millenium BC. The island's many ruins include examples of Greek, Roman, Phoenician, Egyptian and Minoan architecture. No ships actually stop there but many cruise lines offer it as a shore excursion from nearby islands. If you love antiquity it is worth seeing.

Santorini is the famous island with the city of Fira high atop a cliff above the caldera of a doeman volcano that erupted around 2500 BC. This eruption is said to have been one of the largest known in history. Your ship will anchor in the caldera and tenders will transport you to the bottom of the cliff below the city. From there you take a cable tram or a donkey ride to the city above.

The most impressive thing about this history of Santorini is that it is believed that the civilization that thrived there at the time of the valcanic eruption was a highly advanced civilization related to the Minoans of Cyprus. The eruption literally blew half of the island away - it exploded and vaporized. Many historians believe this civilization may have been what many old texts refer to as the ancient (mythical?) settlement of Atlantis. There are still ruins of the civilization that grew on the part of the island that remains in two places; Akrotiri and Thira. There is a beautiful museum devoted to Thira in the city of Fira, called the Museum of Pre-Historic Thira.

The tidal wave created by the volcanic explosion is believed to be the event that ended the Minoan culture thriving on the island of Crete at the time. It was famous for the mythical labyrinth of the Minotaur. Little is known of this civilization because they did not leave any writing behind.

Although there are thousands of Greek Isles, among the most famous are Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete, Cyprus, Naxos and Lesbos. Rhodes is famous for its harbor which once boasted the famous "Collosus of Rhodas," a gigantic statue of a warrior that straddled the opening to the harbor. Considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, sadly there is nothing left of it except paintings of what it is believed to have looked like.

Rhodes has an ancient acropolis, Lindos, built in 500 BC. The port area also has the castle of Rhodes. Built by knights of the order of St John (Knights Hospitaller) in the 14th century, it was an outpost of Christianity in this part of the Mediterranean, near to the coast of Asia Minor. The Hospitallers held it from 1306 until 1522, when they surrendered to the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

Other Places of Interest Near the Greek Isles

The ruins of Ephesus, near the port city of Kusadasi, Turkey, is also one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but there is still plenty to see there. The city -- referred to in the New Testament as the place where Paul preached to the Ephesians -- still has the ruins of a Roman theater and the façade of a famous ancient library. Nearby is the house where James the lesser allegedly brought Mary, mother of Jesus, to live out her years. His crypt is near Ephesus in the Turkish city of Selcuk.

Venice, Italy, is one of the most beautiful and intriguing cities in the entire world. No cars or other vehicles are allowed there -- only pedestrian traffic and boats. The city is built upon hundreds of tiny islands connected by bridges. The main transportation system, the "Vaporetto," is a network of bus-like ferries that run throughout the city on regular schedules. Many cruises begin or end in Venice. Ideally, you should set aside at least one full day to see Venice. The best cruises set aside two days to visit.

Dubrovnik, Croatia is on the Dalmatian coast in what was once Yugoslavia. This walled city that juts out into the Adriatic Sea was a formidable trading and military rival to Venice in the days of Marco Polo and city-states. Among the city sights is the world's first pharmacy, still in use.

Corfu: Becoming a more popular stop on cruises, this most northerly of the Greek Isles is unlike its southern sisters. While most of the arid and treeless Greek isles are in the Aegean Sea closer to Turkey, Corfu is northwest of the Greek mainland, off the coast of Albania -- and it is covered with vegetation.

Istanbul, Turkey: This famous ancient city is known as the place where Europe meets Asia. The dividing line is the thin strip of water known as the Bosphorus Strait that leads to the Black Sea. Some people think the city is fascinating, while others find it sprawling and dirty. The most important sites include the Istanbul Archeology Museum and the Hagia Sophia Mosque, once the largest in the world.

Other possible eastern Mediterranean ports of call include Alexandria, Egypt, where you must see the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Cyprus is an island not far from Israel, half Greek and half Turkish. The two countries do not like each other and you must travel back to the mainland in order to get from one side of the island to another. Israel stops include Haifa, and if you are lucky you have time to visit Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

Summing Up Of all cruises in Europe, the ones that stand out in the memories of most people are the eastern Mediterranean cruises, especially visits to Venice and the antiquities of Rome, Ephesus, Athens and Delos.

The warmth of these islands draw plenty of Europeans, but their attraction to this area is a far cry from what Americans want to see. Select a cruise line that normally caters to U.S. tourists -- such as Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, NCL or Princess. You get all the advantages of paying in dollars and your tours and shipboard activities are conducted in English. You get plenty of chances to try the local cuisine, but you are not forced to pay exorbitant prices every time you get hungry.

While Europe may seem expensive now compared to what it was a few years ago, as of late 2008 it is predicted that the region is about to enter an evconomic slowdown. Fuel costs have driven up airfares, but the value of the dollar may finally turn away from the eight year course of losing value every year.

And you aren't getting any younger! By the way, if you're thinking of taking the kids, be aware that young children will probably cause you more consternation and expense than they will enhance your journey. Much of Europe is fascinating intellectually, but it isn't action-oriented like a theme park. Leave the kids at home. Even teens that are not interested in history or art will probably be an expensive drawback.

However, if you are not sure about your kids, one advantage of a cruise ship is the fact that it offers onboard youth activities and babysitting. If your children get bored and cranky, you can always leave them in the hands of trained youth directors.

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