Posts Tagged ‘Greek Islands’

Cruising the Greek Islands

Santorini

The appeal of small ships

It’s safe to say I’ve never really been a cruise person, but 10 days cruising the Greek islands changed that point of view.

Sailing effortlessly from one colorful port to the next, visiting islands big and small, touring charming Cycladic villages, intriguing archaeological sites and sleepy out-of-the-way beaches, I suddenly realized the value, ease and possibility that comes with touring this way.

There is a certain delight in waking up in a new location each morning, the sun rising outside your cabin window to illuminate all the colors and sights of a new port. There’s also a comforting feeling each night as you drift off to sleep, knowing that the chore of traveling to a new destination will be taking place while you rest.

With thousands of islands large and small spread over only a few hundred miles, Greece is uniquely suited to island-hopping.

And touring the Greek islands via a small ship allows you to visit a long list of destinations in a compressed period of time. In some cases, you can tour one island in the morning and enjoy dinner on another that evening—without feeling rushed. Trying to coordinate visits to this many islands on your own would be logistically daunting, to say the least.

Halfway through my recent trip, I started thinking about Jackie Kennedy and her days sailing amid the Greek islands while being romanced by Aristotle Onassis. Suddenly this mode of travel took on a whole new meaning and historically glamorous appeal.

Syros

Island hopping

For my recent journey, I sailed with Celestyal Cruises, a Greece-based company. With small ships, Celeystal is able to access tinier harbors that the large cruise ships cannot — a feature that sets the company apart and allows its cruises to include charming, less frequented ports of call.

My island hopping was divided between two different cruise itineraries — one that focused on the iconic Aegean islands: Mykonos, Santorini, Patmos, Crete and Rhodes and a second that highlighted smaller, more idyllic ports and lesser-known islands like Samos, Milos, Syros, Kos and Ios.

I also appreciated the fascinating variety of pre-arranged, hassle-free excursions on each island. There were options for those interested in scenery, culture, fine dining or merely beach hopping, or a little bit of all of the above.

When touring the island of Kos for instance, the excursions included visiting local, family-run wineries and honey makers; spending the day lounging on remote, pristine beaches or touring the intriguing archaeological ruins of Askleipion, which date to around 400 B.C. Often, there were simply too many tempting choices to squeeze into a single day’s visit.

There was a similar variety of choices on Ios — including whiling away the day on the pristine Maganari Beach, touring the pre-historic ruins of Skarkos, and meandering through the charming Chora village, where picturesque white cube houses and narrow stone streets cling to a steep hillside and offer dramatic views of the bay below.

On Mykonos, I enjoyed dinner in an incredibly quaint and charming beachfront restaurant in Ornos that I probably would not have found were it not for the cruise company. The small community offered a quiet, idyllic place to dine and escape thecrowds of Mykonos Town. A smattering of kids played in the water a few hundred yards from my open-air table. Sailboats bobbed quietly in the cove before me, and lights from the houses cascading down the nearby hillside twinkled, as the sun slipped beneath the horizon.

Kos

Traveling with Relaxation and Comfort

After a long day exploring archaeological ruins or wandering down the winding, cobblestone streets of the many small villages we visited, I was ready for a little rest and relaxation.

Back on the ship I found the perfect antidote in the spa, where each afternoon I pampered myself as we sailed from port to port — choosing a facial one day, a pedicure, foot and leg massage the next. I also enjoyed lounging on the poolside deck as we cruised through the impossibly blue waters of the Aegean, observing the island scenery as we sailed.

And because I did not have to waste time packing and unpacking each day, I was able to focus more time on just relaxing, digging into a good book, or reading about our next destination. During our sailing time, Celestyal also showcased Greek culture with language lessons, dancing classes and mythology quizzes.

Celestyal Cruises Olympia

A trip I won’t soon forget

Visiting the Greek islands is easily a bucket list trip. The islands have long had a special glamour, mystique and allure associated with only a select group of other destinations. There’s a reason Jackie O, as she later came to be known, came back again and again.

And cruising from one island to the next, not worrying for a moment about how you will get from place to place, makes the experience all that much more pleasant. Instead of being distracted by any of the hassles of travel, I was free to focus on the many pleasures of vacationing in this fabulous part of the world.

What’s more, I took my trip amid the height of the Greek financial crisis. While news headlines around the world projected gloom and doom, and a descent into chaos for the country, the islands remained as they ever were: a quiet sanctuary from the cares of the world.

Greece off the beaten path: 6 of the best less-known Greek islands

When you think of spectacular Greek islands, most people picture the black sand beaches of Santorini, the whitewashed villas of Mykonos, and the stunning landscapes of Crete. While Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete are spectacular, they’re not the only jaw-dropping islands Greece has to offer.

With more than 6,000 islands dotting the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, there’s no end to the number of sun-drenched isles waiting to pamper visitors with scenic beaches and quaint hillside towns. Here’s a list of some of my favorite lesser-known Greek islands.

Paros for adventure seekers

Located in the heart of the Cyclades, a group of Greek islands, Paros’ ancient villages, cobblestone streets, and bougainvillea-covered whitewashed villas make this island one of the most quaint in Greece. The island’s golden sand beaches appeal to families and honeymooners alike while the cool island breezes draw in watersport enthusiasts eager to kiteboard and windsurf. In the capital city of Parikia, visit Panagia Ekatontapyliani, the Byzantine “Church of 100 Doors,” to get a taste of the island’s history.

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4 destinations to visit in summer 2012

It’s hard to believe that summer is right around the corner. With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, I started thinking about the best summer destinations to visit in 2012. Here are my thoughts:

Kenya: See the abundance of spectacular wildlife and lavishly gorgeous, incredibly photogenic landscapesKenya. Although June through September is the rainy season, the great migration of animals that cross the Serengeti occurs during this time, making it well worth the trip. Travelers will be amazed to see the plethora of wildlife as the animals take part in their annual search for water and a mate. Think of it as the best safari ever, unfolding right before your eyes.


Ireland: Enjoy the emerald green countrysideIreland. Pleasant weather during the summer allows travelers to enjoy the lush, green scenery that this country is known for. The friendly, outgoing Irish people will make you feel right at home, and travelers will have more chances to take in all of the attractions, as they have the longest operating hours during the summer.


Greece: Explore the ancient secrets of the Greek islands and bask on the sun-splashed Mediterranean beachesGreek Islands. This summer is a great time to visit, as travelers can take advantage of the many bargains being offered to attract tourists. Although Greece is experiencing unrest and a problematic economy, the exquisiteness and charm of the most beautiful islands that exist anywhere in the world remains unchanged.


Italy: Experience the art, fashion, and music that flourish in the citiesItaly. Though a great year-round destination, some places are better visited in the summer. Tuscany is lavishly fertile, with vineyards and olive groves as far as the eye can see, delectably fresh food, and magnificently endless panoramas and rolling hills. Venice and Florence are also great to visit in the summer, thanks to many outdoor performances and festivals. The Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, aka the Sunbelt of Italy, is home to some of the most beautiful towns, dramatic coastlines, and stunning panoramas in Europe, and should not be missed. There’s also nothing like enjoying a summer evening outside at one of the countless restaurants with a delicious Italian meal, glass of wine, and good friends.


If you’re interested in booking a trip to one of these destinations, or would like to speak with a member of our reservations team about other fantastic summer getaways, you can reach us at 800-555-5765.

Where are you traveling this summer? Let me know your top choices in a comment!

Friendly Planet Travel in the news

Instead of ringing a bell here every time Friendly Planet Travel makes headlines, I thought it would be easier to provide a wrap up post every week or so that highlights some of the recent press coverage we’ve gotten. Way to go, FPT team!

Thumbnail image for New Picture (1).jpgAugust 20

USAToday.com: Athens & Greek Isles Cruise package

MSNBC.com: Athens & Greek Isles Cruise package

Diva in a Carry On: Friendly Planet Travel and Kiva partnership

August 24

MSNBC.com: Morocco package

Budget Travel Real Deals: Morocco package

August 25

Treehugger.com: Morocco package

August 26

Topix.com: Morocco package

Friendly Planet Travel’s eight-day Athens and Greek cruise hits USA Today

USA Today’s expert travel advice column, ShermansTravel, featured our eight-day Athens and Greek Isle cruise for $999 in its Editor’s Travel Deal Review.

Yes, I DID say eight days in Athens and Greek Isles cruise for $999. Have a look at the article and our original blog post for the full scoop.

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Welcome Travel + Leisure readers!

If you’ve found us through today’s Travel + Leisure Hot Deal of the week, an eight-day trip to Greece with roundtrip airfare for $999, welcome! Interested in booking? Head on over to our online booking engine to reserve your spot today.

The wondrous Greek Isles: Heraklion and Santorini

If three days of sailing throughout the Mediterranean just isn’t enough to take in all the wonders of Greece, there’s also an Athens and four-day Greek Isles cruise. The itinerary for the two vacations are almost identical, but on the four-day cruise, the M/V Aquamarine also docks at the most popular of all the Greek Isles, Santorini, as well as a stop at Heraklion, Crete.
Two Friendly Planeteers enjoying the breathtaking views of Santorini.
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On the four-day journey, after a day in Rhodes, travelers will enjoy a trip to Heraklion. Just five kilometers from the Heraklion city center lie the ruins of Knossos — the capital of Minoan Crete and today the island’s major tourist attraction — which travelers can visit on an optional shore excursion.
Other points of interest here include Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum — one of the finest in the Mediterannean — which houses exquisite findings from Knossos and other Minoan ruins, numerous Venetian fortresses, and fountains and loggias scattered throughout the city.
At the Historical Museum of Crete, Byzantine and folklore collections are on display. The island’s open air market is a must-see, where colorful and boisterous crowds buy, sell, and trade everything from goats and sheep to enormous cauldrons of freshly churned yogurt.
The next port of call is Santorini. This striking island, with breathtaking panoramas and rugged landscapes, is actually a volcanic crater slightly immersed in the sea. The island is famous for its whitewashed houses, narrow streets, open-air cafes, and glittering boutiques which cling to steep cliffs, accessible by foot, cable car, or mule. Like Mykonos, it is not only Santorini’s physical beauty that makes it one of Europe’s most popular destinations, but its dynamic nightlife as well.
The island of Santorini was formed by one of the largest volcanic eruptions on the planet, which destroyed the earliest settlements on what was formerly a single island. The Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption) occurred approximately 3,600 years ago at the height of the ancient Minoan civilization.
Vacationers can enjoy an optional tour of Santorini that takes them up along the Caldera (volcanic crater). They can also drive uphill along the rocky sides of the Caldera and pass through many traditional villages to Oia, a village that brims with many fine examples of Cycladic architecture. At the end of the day, passengers return to the ship for a final evening at sea before returning to Athens.

The wondrous Greek Isles: Mykonos, Rhodes, and Patmos

On the third day of our Athens and Greek Isles cruise, vacationers head to Piraeus, a large coastal city just 10 km from the center of Athens, where they’ll board the M/V Aquamarine. Travelers can pass their time enjoying the sun, warm sea breezes, pool, and shipboard facilities while they sail to Mykonos.
The island of Mykonos is famed for its cosmopolitan character and energetic nightlife (some say it’s the best in Europe), as much as it is for its labyrinth of winding alleyways and whitewashed buildings, basket-laden donkeys, and cascading geraniums. Chic crowds flock to the island’s trendy restaurants, discos, and clubs each night, and vacationers sit seaside, sipping ouzo and watching the sunset while listening to traditional Greek music.
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The next day takes travelers to Rhodes, the stunning “Island of Roses.” Historically, Rhodes was famous throughout the world for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
In the heart of the island’s biggest city, also named Rhodes, is the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe, a fascinating web of Byzantine, Turkish, and Latin ruins. There’s no wonder why it’s been declared one of the few World Heritage Sites. Its mighty fortifications provide the finest surviving examples of defensive architecture of the time.
Lindos, with its dazzlingly white houses clustered beneath a soaring castle-capped acropolis, is Rhodes’ most picturesque village and most important Doric settlement because of its natural harbor and vantage point built 125 meters above sea level. Here, travelers can explore on their own, or take advantage of Friendly Planet Travel’s optional shore excursions.
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The following morning, the M/V Aquamarine docks in Kusadasi, Turkey. Just 10 km from the port of Kusadasi lies the ancient city of Ephessos, where travelers will find an archaeological site that ranks among the wonders of the world. The day’s optional tours include the the Great Theatre of Ephessos, which had a capacity of 25,000 people, and the Library of Celsus, dating from 135 A.D.
Vacationers will then sail to Patmos, Greece. The Aquamarine docks at Skala harbor, a lively atmosphere with whitewashed houses, flowered courtyards, tavernas, and shops. The Island of Patmos is famous in history as the place where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. An optional tour takes you to the cave where St. John lived and the nearby Monastery, built on one of the island’s highest points, housing priceless icons and manuscripts in its Treasury.
From there, it’s back to Athens for a final few days in the Paris of the Mediterranean.

All aboard the M/V Aquamarine

In my last All Aboard blog post, I gave you a little tour of the M.S.C. Sinfonia. Today, let’s take a stroll down the deck of the luxurious M/V Aquamarine, the cruise ship that vacationers on our Athens and Greek Isles cruise have the opportunity to enjoy.
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The Aquamarine, a member of the Louis Cruise Lines’ fleet, is considered one of the best vessels for cruising the Greek Islands. Her sleek design and medium size make her ideally suited for navigating the waters of the Aegean Sea, while her upscale amenities and services create a comfortable floating base that makes it easy to explore the beauty of the islands.
With 525 spacious staterooms and suites, the Aquamarine has capacity for more than 1,200 passengers. Her 339 outside staterooms — most with large windows and some with balconies — and 186 inside staterooms — all above sea level — are tastefully decorated and fully equipped with an array of modern comforts. Cabin amenities include adjustable climate control, TV, radio, direct dial phone, personal safe, and private bathroom.
The Aquamarine also features two spacious, full-service dining areas and several comfortable bar and lounge areas for cocktails, coffee, and light snacks. As vacationers sail between ports, there’s an array of leisure facilities to enjoy, including a swimming pool, sun deck, fitness center, massage/sauna facilities, basketball court, casino, and more.
I have a feeling that if it weren’t for the beautiful sights and sounds of the Greek Isles to lure them off the boat, we’d have a hard time getting the passengers aboard the Aquamarine off the ship. The full list of amenities include:
Adjustable climate control
TV
Radio
Direct dial telephone
Personal safe
Private bathroom
Two dining rooms
Lounge
Bars
Disco
Pub
Casino
Beauty salon
Fitness center
Basketball/volleyball court
Swimming pool
Sauna
Massage
Internet corner
Duty free shop
Onboard medical assistance
For more information on the M/V Aquamarine or any of our cruises, please contact us. And stay tuned for the next cruise ship in our “All Aboard” series.

Experience Athens and the Greek Isles cruise

Plato once wrote, “every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” And I am willing to bet that at the first touch of Greece, everyone becomes a lover. Because when you discover Greece, I swear your heart will sing.
In Athens, the past meets present and east meets west. With forefathers such as Plato, Sophocles, Socrates, Pericles, and Aristotle, there’s no wonder why Athens is considered the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy.
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Today, you can tour ancient monuments and works of art, such as the Parthenon on the Acropolis, amidst a city overflowing with Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman monuments, as well as modern landmarks from the 19th century Hellenic Parliament to the modern day Olympic stadiums.
Off the coast lie the Greek Isles, with some of the most resplendent and culturally rich coastal towns in the world.
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On our Athens and three-day Greek Isles cruise, you’ll see all of this, and more. Spend three nights exploring beautiful Athens, and three nights sailing aboard the M/V Aquamarine to the magnificent Greek islands of Mykonos, Kusadasi in Turkey, Patmos, and Rhodes.
The package includes flights, superior hotel accommodations in Athens for three nights, a Greek Isles cruise for three nights, buffet breakfast daily, all meals aboard the cruise, and all transfers. You’ll have the time to explore Athens and the islands on your own, or you can opt to take interesting and inexpensive tours, provided by Friendly Planet Travel guides. And best of all, now you can do it all for $999 per person. That’s if you book before July 17, with savings of up to $600 per couple.
Available dates for 2009 are Oct. 28 – Nov. 4, Nov. 4 – Nov. 11, and Nov. 11 – Nov. 18. And 2010’s departure dates include March 17 – March 24 and March 24 – March 31.
Got a little extra time? We also have an Athens and four-day Greek Isles cruise. Both trips cover the same ground, but the four-day cruise also hits Santorini, Greece’s most popular island. That’s nine days for $1199 if you book before July 17. That’s another sale price with savings of up to $600 per couple.
2009 departure dates for the Athens and four-day Greek Isles cruise have rapidly been selling out, but spaces are still available from Sept. 5 – 13, Sept. 19 – 27, and Oct. 10 – 18. Check out the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for more information.
You also have the option with either of these trips for an inexpensive and exciting four-day Classic Greece extension through Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, and Delphi.