“Ahoy” Greece: Eastern Med Cruises

Looking beyond U.S. shores, many cruisers are saying “Ahoy, Greece,” as they head for the eastern Mediterranean. Some travel advisors including Henry Dennis, travel sales specialist, AAA Carolinas, Charlotte, NC, are seeing good demand. He’s personally booked one honeymoon couple’s cruise to Greece this August and trips for another two couples in September. 

“Greece and the Greek Isles have always been of interest to our clients,” he explains, and the big plus is diversity with the opportunity to visit Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete, among other isles. “That’s different from many Mediterranean itineraries and many people are looking for something different.”

Heart of the Aegean

On July 3, ultra-luxury Seabourn will restart cruising in Greece, with the 600-passenger Seabourn Ovation sailing seven-day “Heart of the Aegean” roundtrip cruises from Piraeus (Athens) to Agios Nikolaos (Crete), Mykonos, Nafplio and Rhodes, Greece, as well as Limassol, Cyprus. Or, travelers can opt for a seven-day “Gems of the Greek Isles” itinerary, departing July 10, roundtrip from Piraeus (Athens) to Spetses, Santorini, Patmos and Rhodes, all in Greece, plus Paphos, Cyprus. Those two itineraries also are combinable to create a robust 14-day “Wonders of the Aegean.”

In Spetses, Greece, the island’s old town in the Saronic Gulf region, cruisers can expect to see a gorgeous harbor with yachts, historic old town, quaint shops and fine restaurants. For those going ashore, Seabourn’s “Stroll Through Spetses: A Mindful Living Tour,” starting at $59 per person, will take them to the Museum of Bouboulina, named for a female warrior who played a significant role in Greece’s War of Independence. Those on this tour, if desired, can also sample the taste of ouzo (licorice-flavored liqueur) or glass of wine along Spetses’ waterfront. 

The 2,910-passenger Celebrity Apex will debut in the Aegean Sea this summer.

“Greece stands out as a destination that has it all,” says Cathy Brooks-Oliver, founder of Make Time for Travel and a Las Vegas resident. She’s affiliated with Global Travel Collection’s Protravel International office in Chicago. “No matter what experience my client wants, it’s there,” she says, citing “the unique flavor of each Greek island, the beautiful weather, beaches, history, culture and food.”

“Pair all of that with the stark, white-washed buildings perched on cliffs, against surreal blues from the Mediterranean Sea, why would you not want to experience Greece?,” Brooks-Oliver asks. “Santorini may be one of the most well-known and popular islands; however, so much of Greece can be considered undiscovered by most tourists. While Corfu and Mykonos are among the top islands known for nightlife, you can also visit Ikaria, Lesvos and other islands for total quiet and relaxation.” 

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor will begin that line’s restart in September 2021. While the initial voyage will be from Southampton, the ship then will reposition to the Mediterranean, and sail several voyages in fall that include Greece and Turkey

For example, Seven Seas Splendor’s seven-night “Sunset over Istanbul” sailing will depart November 4, 2021, roundtrip from Piraeus (Athens). Calls will include Bozcaada, Istanbul (overnight) and Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey, as well as Rhodes and Santorini, Greece. Prior to this voyage, the ultra-luxury ship also will operate voyages from Venice to Istanbul, and Istanbul to Piraeus (Athens); both include Greek port calls.  

S.A.L.T. Lab on Silver Moon 

Starting June 18, 2021, Silversea Cruises will restart service in Europe with its new, 596-passenger flagship, Silver Moon, a sister to Silver Muse. Nine voyages will operate within the eastern Mediterranean, departing roundtrip from Piraeus (Athens), Greece. Ten-day voyages will call at Santorini, Paros, Mykonos and Crete, among other Greek destinations, as well as Cyprus. A call at Haifa, Israel, has been cancelled, instead replaced with Katapola (Amorgos), a gateway to the ancient city of Minoa and Nafplio.  

Highly anticipated is the debut of Silversea’s Sea and Land Taste (S.A.L.T.) program. The new S.A.L.T. Kitchen will serve such Greek favorites as a sweet-and-sour dish of Syros beef meatballs, walnuts and almonds, baked with red wine and prunes or a traditional Cretan delicacy of cured pork loin smoked with Mediterranean aromatic herbs, a dish dating to Byzantine times.

Local wines served could include those from such regional grape varieties as assyrtiko, malagousia, agiorgitiko and xinomavro. The S.A.L.T. Bar’s Symposia Spritz is an ode to the ancient Greek tradition of symposia (drinking parties) and concocted by blending assyrtiko white wine, tsipouro, olive brine, verjus and Mediterranean tonic water. At the S.A.L.T. Lab, guests can learn to prepare kakavia, a traditional Greek soup of fresh fish and vegetables. 

During optional S.A.L.T. shore excursions, Silversea’s guests can opt to visit a Mykonos dairy farm and make cheese, while in Crete, they can head to an olive oil producing estate to learn the art of making olive oil and preparing Cretan dishes.

S.A.L.T. Bar on Silver Moon

Holland America Line also has received approval to restart cruising from Piraeus (Athens) in August 2021 with four departures onboard the 2,104-passenger Eurodam. Departing August 15 and August 29, the “Idyllic Greek Isles” itinerary features Kotor, Montenegro, plus the Greek isles of Kékira (Corfu), Thíra (Santorini) and Mykonos. Another itinerary, “Ancient Wonders,” departs August 22 to explore Nafplio, Mykonos and Rhodes, Greece. A call is still planned at Haifa, Israel, too, although the line says it’s still evaluating shoreside conditions. 

Both itineraries can be combined to form a 14-day Collectors’ Voyage. In addition, Holland America Line’s seven-day “Adriatic Allure” itinerary will depart September 5 from Piraeus to Venice, Italy, with calls at Mykonos, Katakolon (Olympia) and Crete (Chania), Greece, as well as Sarande, Albania

Following the Greece cruises, Eurodam will assume the previously scheduled cruises of Westerdam. From September 12 through its October 30 transatlantic departure, Eurodam will offer five different Mediterranean itineraries; some have Greek port calls. 

Holland America expects to offer dining in all restaurants and specialty venues, as well as room service. Entertainment will be in full swing in the main show lounge, the line said. To accommodate physical distancing, more performances may be added. Live music awaits in “Music Walk” at Lincoln Center Stage, B.B. King’s Blues Club, Billboard Onboard and Rolling Stone Rock Room. "Port-to-Table" culinary demonstrations, EXC Talks and more will bring Greece and its culture onboard.  

Celebrity Cruises’ newest ship, the 2,910-passenger Celebrity Apex, a sister to the innovative Celebrity Edge, will debut in the Aegean Sea this summer, sailing to the Greek Isles and Cyprus from Piraeus (Athens), Greece. “Feedback on its sister ship the Celebrity Edge has been nothing but incredible and I expect the same from the Apex,” Dennis says. “Celebrity’s ‘Always Included’ promo [drinks, gratuities and Wi-Fi onboard] is great also. No more feeling like you are being nickeled and dimed.” 

Celebrity Apex’s seven-night “Greek Isles and Cyprus” itinerary calls at Santorini, Mykonos, Limassol (Cyprus) and Rhodes, spends two days at sea, and departs on June 19, July 17 and September 4, 2021. Another version of that seven-night itinerary visits the same ports but in a different order with departures June 26, July 24 and August 7, 2021. Other options include an eight-night “Greek Islands and Cyprus” sailing that departs July 9.

In Athens, cruisers can tour the ancient Acropolis, explore the city’s downtown area or get acquainted with Greece’s wilder side during the “Athens Safari Adventure,” an off-road journey to Mount Parnitha National Park; they’ll rumble through forests, past streams and up Parnitha Mountain, searching for wildlife along the way. 

S.A.L.T. Kitchen on Silver Moon

With contemporary, trendy design, Celebrity Apex is home to a floating “Magic Carpet” platform cantilevered off the ship’s side, where guests can eat, drink and socialize up to 16 decks above the sea. The ship’s Retreat will offer an all-exclusive experience for suite guests and pre-cruise concierge services. Plus, Celebrity Apex will have expanded staterooms with "Infinite Verandas," as well as two-story Edge Villas with their own private terrace and plunge pool.  

Now under new ownership by Sycamore Partners, Azamara will send the 702-passenger Azamara Quest to Greece to operate five back-to-back, seven-night “Greece Intensive” voyages and one classic Mediterranean sailing, starting August 28, 2021. Guests will enjoy many late nights in port in such destinations as Santorini, Rhodes and Heraklion

Lynn Clark, partner at Travel Leaders - Journeys Travel Group, Middleton, WI, has been seeing strong demand recently for Alaska and river cruising, noting that “the one request we had for Greece was for an Azamara Greece intensive itinerary.” That request came from a “new to cruise” couple desiring to explore multiple islands. “The itineraries typically have you visiting a new island each day because there are so many, and they are so close together,” Clark says. So, “there are not many ‘days at sea’ on a Greek Island cruise and clients like that.”

“Our biggest takeaway is the desire everyone has to sail again, and we are excited to share that we can finally make this dream come true,” said Carol Cabezas, Azamara’s president. “There’s no better way to return to service than in a country Azamara knows best, Greece.” Check the sidebar on page 16, for Azamara’s feedback about a few Greek island draws. 

In addition, Oceania Cruises plans to restart cruising with Riviera from Istanbul to Venice on October 18, 2021. That 10-night cruise will feature an overnight in Venice, and also call at the Greek destinations of Kavala (for the ancient ruins at Philippi) as well as Athens and Katakolon, and ports in Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro and Italy. It will sail a series of Mediterranean voyages prior to starting its winter Caribbean season.  

In May, the 2,826-passenger Costa Luminosa set sail from the port of Trieste, Italy, becoming Costa Cruises’ second ship to resume operations in 2021 and the first to resume cruises in the Adriatic Sea and to Greece. Departing Trieste, Italy, Costa Luminosa’s weeklong itinerary will include calls at Bari, Italy, and the Greek destinations of Corfu, Athens (Piraeus), Mykonos and Katakolon/Olympia. Those voyages will continue until mid-November. Costa Deliziosa also will restart its voyages on June 26 with week-long cruises in Greece. 

This summer, MSC Cruises will deploy three ships in the eastern Mediterranean, calling at Italy, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro. Ports of embarkation include Trieste, Venice and Bari in Italy as well as Piraeus for Athens in Greece. The 2,550-passenger MSC Orchestra will depart starting June 5 with embarkation in the Italian ports of Venice on Saturdays and Bari on Sundays; calls will include the Greek Islands of Corfu and Mykonos, plus Dubrovnik, Croatia

On June 12, the 3,247-passenger MSC Splendida is expected to begin sailing with embarkation in Trieste, Italy on Saturdays and in Bari on Tuesdays, calling at Dubrovnik in Croatia, Corfu in Greece and Kotor in Montenegro. In addition, the 2,518-passenger MSC Magnifica will begin sailing on June 20 from the ports of Venice, Italy on Sundays, Bari, Italy on Mondays and Piraeus (Athens), Greece on Wednesdays and calling at Mykonos and Split, Croatia. 

“After 15 months of not being able to travel, we are going to see people looking to travel — anywhere,” stresses Dennis, who believes that as the E.U. opens up within the next few months, there will be a surge in European cruise demand. “The cruise lines have done a great job operating cruises in Europe since late last summer and have learned a lot about what they can do to help make passengers and crew feel safe. The increase in the number of vaccinated people has also helped smooth the way.”

Henry Dennis of AAA Carolinas believes that as the EU opens up within the next few months, there will be a surge in European cruise demand.

In its “Welcome Back” service restart, Viking has added a third ocean ship to sail roundtrip voyages between July 2021 and early October 2021 from Valletta, Malta. The 930-passenger Viking Star will join sister ships Viking Venus and Viking Sea. One of three itineraries is “Malta & Greek Isles Discovery,” during which the ship will overnight in Valletta and then will sail to Greece, calling in Kalamata, Athens, Santorini, Rhodes and Souda Bay, before returning to Valletta.

Norwegian Cruise Line will relaunch the 3,963-passenger Norwegian Getaway sailing a mix of  10- to 11-day Greek Isles voyages from Civitavecchia (Rome) between September 13, 2021 to October 25, 2021. The line’s Mediterranean voyages will have five to eight ports of call, remain in port for up to 13 hours in each city and spend no more than two days at sea. 

Small ship Celestyal Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Windstar Cruises, Scenic (on Scenic Eclipse), Variety Cruises and others are also planning Greece itineraries. Ponant recently unveiled a seven-night “Cruising the Greek Islands of the Southern Aegean — with Smithsonian Journeys,” operated by the 184-passenger Le Jacques-Cartier roundtrip from Athens on July 5, 2022, while Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’  500-passenger Europa 2 will sail an eight-day voyage roundtrip from Piraeus on September 23, 2022.

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s new, 298-passenger Evrima will sail a seven-night roundtrip sailing from Athens on June 18, 2022; calls will include Ikaria, Patmos, Santorini and Milos, Greece, along with Kusadasi (overnight), Turkey. Launching in January 2022, Emerald Cruises’ new 100-passenger Emerald Azzurra will sail the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Red, and Aegean Seas, and in 2023, two new itineraries to the Black Sea will be added. 

“There’s so much to love about Greece — the food, people, history, architecture" and more, says Clark. “I’ve cruised in Greece twice and I love that you wake up every morning on a new island.” Not only are the isles sun-drenched, but they’re diverse in experiences. The Greek cuisine and wine are savory, and advisors say the “locals” are tourist-friendly. It’s a potent combination for enticing clients with pent-up demand to journey overseas for a cruise. 

One of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history happened in Santorini, and today, ships sail right into that volcano’s caldera (now filled with water and open to the sea). // Photo: Getty Images 

Immersive Greece

Azamara cites these island highlights for those planning a Greece cruise:   

Rhodes: Brimming with Medieval and ancient wonders, this Greek island is known as the island of the knights. Guests can see the harbor that was once home to the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of the Greek sun-god Helios and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Heraklion, Crete: As Greece’s fourth largest city, Heraklion has stunning architecture and ruins, among them the ancient Bronze-Age Palace of Knossos dating to the early Minoan period. 

Santorini: One of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history happened here, and today, ships sail right into that volcano’s caldera (now filled with water and open to the sea). Cruisers can tour the ancient ruins of Akrotiri by day and enjoy stunning sunset views as nightfall descends. 

Mykonos and Delos: Cruisers can bask on Mykonos’ beaches or head by small boat to the ruins of ancient Delos. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was believed to be the birthplace of the Greek gods Apollo and Artemis.

Limassol, Cyprus: Blending old and new, Nicosia is a divided capital city, shared by Cyprus and Turkey. Cruisers can peruse Byzantine landmarks, hear tales of the Crusades or visit nearby fruit orchards, olive groves and vineyards.

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