A Greek island and Turkey escape is the best option for seafaring first timers, says Laura Hannam.
Up until now, I’d never been on a cruise before. As a frequent sufferer of sea sickness and loather of organised fun, the idea of being stuck on a floating city never quite appealed.
So, a three-day cruise, travelling to two countries and stopping at a whopping four Greek Islands, seemed like the perfect opportunity to challenge my preconceptions.
As I arrive in Athens to board the 1,664-passenger Celestyal Olympia liner, I feel anxious. What if I get claustrophobic? What if I get the nasty norovirus bug that always seems to be popping up in the press?
Luckily, as soon as I’m shown my cabin, I feel at ease. While my room, equipped with two single beds and a shower, is little more than a cubby, it’s cosy and I feel safe.
Exploring the ship, I quickly discover boredom is not going to be an option – there are multiple restaurants, bars, shops, performance rooms (this includes a disco and a theatre), a spa and swimming pools. Most importantly, the sprawling ship is impeccably clean throughout.
Time to party
Our first island stop is the ‘party island’ of the Greek Isles, Mykonos. Walking down the maze of stone streets littered with high-end bars and boutiques, it’s easy to see why this island has an ultra-glamorous reputation.
I enjoy gin cocktails sitting in an al fresco bar, while trendy revellers dance to thumping Eurobeats. And although a 10.30pm curfew sends me scurrying back to the ship, there’s still plenty of opportunities to party on-board with a lively karaoke session.
Feline fun in Turkey
Come morning, we’re already in another country – Turkey. Disembarking at Kusadasi, I head out for a guided tour of Ephesus, an Ancient Greek city dating back to the 10th century BC. Impressive ruins include an ancient theatre that once seated up to 25,000 and even the remains of brothel. Just be prepared to meet many surprisingly friendly stray cats!
With a few hours to spare back on board before our next stop, I have time for an invigorating massage at the spa, followed by a suntanning session on the top deck.
Finding pure peace
Our next stop is Patmos, a Greek island with a very spiritual atmosphere. Climbing the steep steps of the 11th century Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, I’m blown away by views of far-reaching farmland, dotted with pink island flowers.
Another unforgettable site is the Cave of Apocalpyse, where John of Patmos received the visions which he recorded in the Book of Revelation.
With a heavy heart I leave this haven of tranquillity and am thrown into something quite different – night-time cruise entertainment. Sat on a velvet armchair in front of a stage, I’m transported back in time to Vegas showrooms of the 1950s – and although the cabaret entertainment is certainly cheesy, it’s also hilarious.
Next stop is Crete, which includes a tour of the Minoan Palace of Knossos (built at the beginning of the Middle Minoan period from 2000–1580 BC), where the legend of the Minotaur was born. Today, 70 peacocks roam the charming ruins.
Picture perfect sunsets
Our penultimate stop is the highly Instagrammable island of Santorini. Yes, it’s crowded, but you can easily dodge the masses by wandering the labyrinth of gleaming white streets. The wines cultivated here are excellent and served at many of the bars; I sip several glasses while watching the sun set into a deep blue ocean.
Before getting off the ship at Piraeus on the mainland, I end my voyage with yet another session of karaoke – and even some of the crew join in for a hilarious rendition of the classic tune, Sway.
As I knock back another cheeky G&T, I can’t help but marvel about how wrong I was about cruises. They’re terribly good fun and the best part – not one bout of seasickness!
How to get there
The three-day Iconic Aegean Cruise with Celestyal Cruises (celestyalcruises.com) starts from €539 per person. Flights extra.
- Press Association