CELESTYAL OLYMPIA PART TWO: MYKONOS

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Eighties elegance at sea; the Celestyal Olympia sets sail from Piraeus for the Aegean

Once clear of the port of Piraeus, the Celestyal Olympia cut an elegant swathe through Homer’s ancient, wine dark Aegean as we settled on our course for Mykonos. Lunch was being served, both at the upper deck buffet and in the main restaurant downstairs.

I opted to go alfresco, picking at some delicious souvlaki as the ship slipped neatly between a string of shimmering, arid looking islands flung at random across the sparkling emerald carpet of the Aegean. Sunlight danced on the water in the two swimming pools as the sound of on board bouzouki music caught the ears of seabirds wheeling in our wake. Warm breeze, ice cold ouzo- life felt good that late September afternoon.

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Mykonos revisited……

All too soon, a familiar, fondly remembered shape stirred me from my daydream as it breasted the line of the horizon, filling our view as it spread across the sea. Low, rolling hills took on depth and definition as the sun began to dip, taking on a sharper aspect. Indistinct dots on a headland morphed into a quintet of shimmering, petrified white windmills.

Time to say ‘hello again’ to dear old Mykonos, the hedonistic queen of the Dodecanese.

Yes, Mykonos is expensive compared to many other Greek islands, and there are those who think that it is over rated. But for me, the island retains an inherent, ageless charm that no amount of tacky souvenir shops can erase. It’s a magical place, almost adrift in time and space.

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Windmills on the waterfront, Mykonos

The Celestyal Olympia docked at the new port of Tourlos, and I was amazed at just how much that port has developed now from just a small pier surrounded by arid hills, into more or less an extension of the main town itself. A chain of small, biscuit coloured beaches has been grafted onto the sea shore here, lined with a run of bars, shops and tavernas that now runs right along the waterfront.

As a result it’s now busier, more bustling and colourful than before, and the yacht marina near the pier is now blossoming into a beautiful, expansive place in its own right. But, inevitably, I found myself drawn back along that ancient, cobbled quayside, and back towards the old town centre.

In the winding streets, shop lights shone on white bordered crazy paving. Bouquets of flaming red and cherry plants overflowed from painted baskets that hung below balconies framed by bright, electric blue shutters. Tables and chairs spilled out across every conceivable space as evening revellers sought out a place to dine. On the crown of the hill where the windmills stand, crowds gathered to watch the ritual, world famous Mykonos sunset.

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Mykonos sunset; twilight of the old Gods

I would normally have joined them, but this time I chose to grab a veranda seat on the upper level of a bar overlooking Little Venice. From there, with an ice cold Mythos beer to hand, I watched spellbound as the vast, crimson ball of the sun sagged slowly into the Aegean like some flaming piece of performance theatre. In the background, I could hear Louis Armstrong’s La Vie En Rose playing. The sound of Satchmo’s soft, cool trumpet notes kissing the flaring purple Mykonos twilight was almost too good to be true. I hardly dared breathe, in case I shattered the moment forever.

It was the end of the season in Mykonos, and the night air somehow felt heavy with the feeling of the impending winter’s hibernation. White capped waves flailed and thrashed against the quayside on Little Venice like the heralds of the coming darkness. It felt beautifully mellow, nostalgic and sentimental all at once.

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Mykonos at dusk. Magnetic and compelling.

But Mykonos will awaken again. Come the spring, she will stir lazily and smile at the first, welcome rays of the returning springtime sun. Tourist haunts, closed against the bony stillness of winter, will reopen. Plants will bloom. Life will flood back like spring water. And I, too, will return.

I mused on this as I walked back to the ship. Floodlit from bow to stern, the Celestyal Olympia was a towering, majestic presence, at once welcoming and reassuring. As I walked back on board, the sound of an acoustic guitar caught my ears.

Later, I sat in the spectacular, twelfth level high Viking Crown lounge, drinking prosecco as the lights of Mykonos glanced against the window panes before fading from sight like so many dying fireflies. The gentle shudder of the ship brought me out of my reverie, and set me to thinking about the upcoming ports of call on the morrow.

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CELESTYAL OLYMPIA TO THE GREEK ISLANDS PART ONE

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Celestyal Olympia at Santorini

I boarded the Celestyal Olympia at the port of Piraeus on September 26th for a short, four night run around the Greek islands and Turkey. Recently fresh from a multi million dollar overall refurbishment, the flagship of Celestyal Cruises looked  magnificent, her long white flank bathed in late summer sunshine as the passengers went on board.

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The Viking Crown aboard Celestyal Olympia

The ship has a long and interesting history. Built as the Song of America for Royal Caribbean back in 1982, she was the first ship in that company’s fleet to have a complete, wrap around Viking Crown lounge installed right around the funnel- a feature that, quite happily, still survives on board to this day.

In 1999, the ship was transferred to the UK based operator, Airtours, and sailed for them as the popular Sunbird. A few years later, she was bought by the as-then titled Louis Cruises, and chartered to another UK operator, Thomson Cruises, as the Thomson Destiny. At this stage, a set of penthouse suites, complete wit balconies, were added to the forward, upper structure of the ship.

A subsequent ship swap with Thomson meant another rebranding, this time as the  Louis Olympia. She then entered service from Piraeus, the port of Athens, on three and four night mini cruises to the Greek islands and Turkey, from March until November, and is usually laid up until the following spring.

Finally, with Louis itself transformed into the nascent Celestyal Cruises, the ship was renamed once more as the Celestyal Olympia. But this time, the company recognised that more than a simple renaming was in order to make the ship into an attractive, contemporary choice for short, port intensive cruises.

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Instantly familiar to many former RCCL passengers, the Selene Lounge now doubles as the ship’s disco

Celestyal Olympia was given a comprehensive refurbishment, with new TVs and fittings in every cabin, major enhancements to the Junior Suites on Deck Seven, and a vastly upgraded food operation, both in the main dining room and at the aft facing, enclosed upper deck buffet. With an emphasis on local Greek cuisine and regional wines, the ship was intended to be a floating, authentic complement to the places that she visits on each cruise.

The revitalised Celestyal Olympia then resumed service on the three and four day cruise circuit. Leaving Piraeus at 11.30 every Friday morning, the ship arrives in Mykonos that same evening for an approximately five hour stay.

Saturday morning finds her in the Turkish resort of Kusadasi for five hours, usually departing at one in the afternoon. By four thirty she is in the port of Patmos until around nine in the evening.

Sunday morning finds her in Heraklion until around noon, with the afternoon and early evening spent in Santorini. From here, she leaves for Piraeus, arriving back at around five the next morning. At 11.30 that same morning, she goes out again with a fresh complement of passengers.

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The Thalassa Bar, looking aft towards the Viking Crown

The longer, four day sailings also include a full Wednesday spent in Rhodes. As you can see, both cruises are short on time, though long in potential for seeing the sights. It needs a comfortable ship, capable of docking smartly in the smaller ports along the way, to maximise the full potential of this itinerary.

Hence my  return to the Celestyal Olympia on September 26th, to check out the four day cruise circuit. First of all, I wanted to get a good look at the re-imaged ship.

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The famous Argo Bar, looking aft towards the Selene Lounge

I was delighted to see that the Argo Bar- the one time Schooner Bar of RCCL days- retains it’s classic maritime theme, with coiled ropes and decorative furled sails, wooden decking and table groupings that lined the floor  to ceiling windows. It was a venue that featured a live acoustic duo each night, and it also had brilliant, attentive bar staff.

I was also much taken with the upper deck Thalassa Bar, a great attempt to recreate a classic Greek taverna on a terrace overlooking the twin pools. Complete with white painted tables and chairs with basket weave coverings, it was a joy to just sit here, sipping on ice cold ouzo as the ship slipped smartly between a series of sun kissed islands, sprinkled across a glittering seascape.

My refurbished Junior Suite on Seven Deck combined both space and grace. With shaded windows overlooking the Promenade Deck, it was easily big enough for twin beds, ample storage space, a full bathroom, a table, and full length sofa that could easily convert to another bed. I loved this room, both for its comfort and accessibility to every part of the ship. It’s always worth remembering that, although the Celestyal Olympia is a big enough ship for these short cruises, she is relatively small compared to today’s giant new vessels.

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Eighties elegance at sea; the Celestyal Olympia sets sail from Piraeus for the Aegean

As such, she represents the design ethos of the early 1980’s. With cabins mainly in the forward part of the vessel and stacked more or less in layers, the aft part of the ship contains most of the public rooms and lounges. It makes the Celestyal Olympia a very easy ship to navigate, even for those new to the cruising life.

Although the ship can accommodate around 1400 passengers, just over eight hundred actually came on board for this cruise; one of the last of the season out of Piraeus. So the ship seemed very spacious and, throughout four days, there were no real queues for anything. Both embarkation and disembarkation took mere minutes.

I had sailed on this ship before as the Thomson Destiny back in 2007, but I have to say that the food overall was of far better quality this time around. The main dining room- the Aegean Restaurant- was open sitting; it’s a loud, bubbly chamber where most passengers dine at night. But there was also a small, speciality option called the Galileo, just off the main restaurant entrance.

This is quieter, more subdued, and offered a few tables for two. It also featured a small, extra charge menu that included some memorable surf and turf, as well as fillet steak collections. With the more intimate surroundings and hushed tone here, this venue makes for a wonderful treat for a special occasion. And the service was first rate, too.

Up top, the Lido Buffet had also improved a lot from my previous cruise, from breakfast right through to dinner. Passengers in general do not dress up for dinner at night on these short trips- it’s not that kind of cruise experience. But it was, undeniably, a little piece of ‘Greece afloat’ and, in that respect, a far more authentic taste of these islands than many of the mega ships could offer.

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Looking aft from inside the upper level Viking Crown

Similarly, the entertainment was more low key, but much more in keeping with the region through which we sailed. It was wonderful to hear real, live bouzouki music played on board during our short spells at sea during the day. The typical Greek dancing ensued at night, and always attracted a good, energetic crowd. There was also a casino and a late night disco in the large, aft facing Selene Lounge. But for me, those guitarists in the Argo Bar won out every night.

So, that’s a short overview of how I spent four nights on the Celestyal Olympia. I found her to be a charming, captivating travel companion at all hours of the day and night. As well as the bars. pools and dining venues on board there was also a small shopping centre (though Celestyal really needs to have more of its own, branded products available for sale such as polo shirts, caps, etc), a spa, an internet cafe, and even a library, as well as laundry services available to all passengers.

The Celestyal Olympia is big enough to feel spacious and accommodating, and to allow enough choice on board without being overwhelmed. At the same time, she is also intimate and accessible, with everything to hand. And now, with all shore excursions folded into the on board fare, plus drinks and speciality coffees, the value to be found in board is very hard to beat.

FREEDOM OF THE SEAS IS EUROPE BOUND IN 2017

In 2017, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Of The Seas will return to Europe for her first series of cruises since being delivered from the Turku shipyard in Finland, back in 2006.

The 154,407 ton ship- first of the three Freedom class ships (Her sibling are Liberty Of The Seas and Independence Of the Seas) has stayed in service out of North American ports ever since her debut.

The deployment of the 3,782 passenger ship brings a temporary halt to the deployment of successive Oasis class ships on the seven night ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ circuit out of Barcelona for Royal Caribbean. In succession, Oasis, Allure and currently Harmony Of The Seas have spent summer seasons sailing on the port intensive Mediterranean run out of the Spanish port.

Thus, this first European deployment for Freedom Of The Seas comes as something of a surprise, and definitely a downscaling of Royal Caribbean’s presence in Europe. On the other hand, the deployment of all three Oasis class ships in the year round Caribbean trade gives the company unparalleled dominance in the US domestic market.

Whether this is a one off deployment (a reaction to falling passenger numbers in general, perhaps) remains to be seen. None the less, with sister ship Independence Of The Seas sailing out of Southampton to the Mediterranean as well, the arrival of Freedom Of The Seas on station in Barcelona next summer still gives Royal Caribbean a very formidable presence indeed in the region.

Interesting times, for sure. Stay tuned for further news.

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The ground breaking Freedom Of The Seas.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD- A CRUISING MYTH?

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Fillet steak, sir? Good choice…..

Ah, food on board cruise ships. Perhaps nothing over the years has been so eagerly anticipated by embarking passengers, or so hyped in the pages of glossy travel brochures. Few would dispute that, in terms of booking any cruise, food is right up there as the top priority as most people’s reason for sailing on a particular ship.

Whether we are talking about a basic, three star ship right up to the most uber luxurious six star floating paragon, food is always in abundant supply. And, indeed, for some, it is as much about quantity as quality.

Nowadays, thanks to an almost volcanic explosion in the size and stylings of modern ships, passengers can eat their way around the equivalent of a world wide range of tastes. From Mexican to Mongolian, Polynesian to French and classic Italian, cruise ship owners have found that offering the world on a plate is not only their oyster, but their fattened cash cow, too.

At sea, high end steak houses exist on most of the deluxe lines, and many of the premium ones as well. Further down the line, mainstream dining rooms offer more international fare. Buffets, however extensive, are often criticised as offering up the same food every day, while paradoxically finding a table in some of them seems like Mission; Impossible. Such are some of the dining conundrums of the modern cruise industry.

Of course, this diversity is a product of the cruise boom of recent decades. More people are taking to sea now than ever before, and from right across the social spectrum. In that mix, there will be those who are quite happy to stay in shorts and T-shirts all day, and eat every night from the buffet. Just as there will be others who keenly anticipate an evening of fine, themed dining every evening, and use the occasion as an excuse to put on their best glad rags. The point is, modern cruising can engage and entertain both of these viewpoints, at least by and large.

That said, the great majority of passengers fall somewhere in between these two fixed poles, and it is to the credit of the industry that it can accommodate- and largely satisfy- this teeming mass.

In truth, any line claiming to offer ‘gourmet food’ and ‘the best dining’ is putting itself in potentially stormy water. For nothing is as individually subjective on a cruise ship as taste. One passenger, sitting at a table on any given ship, might rave about their wonderful dinner while another, sat just feet away and ordering the same courses, might be disappointed, if not nigh on apoplectic. Not even the most detail accented, taste sensitive lines are going to please all of the people, all of the time.

So, just how does a prospective passenger plan for the best, food wise?

Look at the price for any cruise that appeals to you. It is obvious that the bargain, three star cruise adventure that you like the look of in the Mediterranean, is going to cost a hell of a lot less than a week of sybaritic slobbing around those same waters on a six star ship. If you pay to sail on the equivalent of a decent Hilton hotel, you just would not expect the upmarket care and personal attention to be found at a Ritz Carlton. Why would it be any different with a ship?

It’s a numbers game in other respects, too. Any ship catering for thousands of passengers at a time simply cannot provide ‘gourmet’ cuisine for the mainstream. There are insufficient staff; the per person per day food budget usually does not permit the chefs to buy the absolute top of the range, best quality ingredients while on the voyage. Practical as they are, they do the best they can within a regime constricted by such economies of scale, and the constant desire of shore side operations to pare down running costs.

It surely also follows that a much smaller ship can cater much more effectively- and edibly- to the far smaller number of passengers on board. These people pay for the best, and they expect to get it. A more high end clientele such as this, used to eating in the best restaurants at home and abroad, will not be fobbed off with second rate food and service. Quite right too, when you consider what they stump up per diem for the privilege.

Even in such a cocoon of rarified refinement, sometimes things do go wrong. Even the most talented and attentive chef can have an ‘off’ day, when all is said than done. In the words of the song, we are all human after all.

How graciously you deal with such a situation- and, indeed, how it is dealt with- well, that truly is a measure of your own, personal good taste, and that of others. Far more than a delicious dinner or an artfully flambed crepes suzette, that is what people will remember.

DINING WITH FRED; FOOD ABOARD THE BLACK WATCH

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Treats abound at The Grill aboard Black Watch
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Sumptuous Fillet Steak with Red Wine sauce at The Grill, Black Watch
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Edible chocolate cup with berries at The Grill

 

 

Fred. Olsen has always been a company that prides itself on the quality of its food and service. My recent return to the company’s Black Watch after something like twelve years provided me with a great opportunity to run the rule once more over the culinary landscape to be explored on this stalwart cruise line, a favourite of British passengers for more than three decades now.

FORMAL DINING The main dining room- the Glentanar- is situated in the middle of the ship, on Deck Six. It spans the full width of the ship, and offers tables for two to eight passengers at a time.Within set times for breakfast and lunch, the Glentanar is an open sitting venue. At night, it reverts to being a formal, two sitting venue- first seating at 6.15, secondseating at 8.30. Most of the passengers still seem to like it that way, and many do enjoy dressing up for the experience.

The food throughout the ship is tailored to the taste buds of the predominantly older, primarily British clientele that is Fred. Olsen’s staple diet, so to speak. There are typically five courses for dinner, with three choices for each dish, plus an ‘always available’ section that offers options such as Caesar Salad, Norwegian Salmon, and steaks. served with a variety of vegetables.

There are some nods towards continental tastes and twists, and also sometimes some Filipino styled options that passengers really do seems to enjoy. Tables are still set with traditional linen cloths, unlike many of the modern place mat style settings on newer ships. There is plenty of room around the tables, and the service in general is deft, attentive, without ever feeling overly intrusive. In terms of formal dining, the company can give any rival a run for its money.

THE ORCHID ROOM BUFFET

The preferred alternative for those who eschew the main dining room, Orchid Café is- most unusually- a completely indoor space, with floor to ceiling windows down one side. Located just behind- and adjacent to- the main dining room, it features many of the menu items offered in the Glentanar for breakfast, dinner and lunch but, being a buffet, the Orchid Room is open sitting for all meals.

There are a surprising number of tables for two here, a very welcome boon on such a relatively small ship. The Maitre’ D sets guests personally- a very nice touch. Again, there is plenty of space between tables. The two centrally sited, hot and cold buffet lines effectively divide the room in two, at least visually. The effect is to make the Orchid Room appear much more intimate than it actually is; a clever sleight of hand.

It has the look and feel of a sunlit French sidewalk café, and it is enormously popular. So much so that some tables in the adjacent Courtyard are sometimes also used for potential spill over passengers, especially in the evening. Because of the proximity to the galley, food comes out piping hot for all main meals. Quality wise, this buffet is far superior to many so called more upmarket lines, and a leisurely breakfast in this setting is one of the most pleasant dining experiences available on the British market cruise ships today.

As well as the three main staples, the Orchid Room/Courtyard area also serves up afternoon tea each day, with scones, sandwiches, and biscuits on offer free of charge. From around eleven each night it offers up late night snacks, including at least one main hot dish. Fish and chips is typical of this fare.

Both Glentanar and the Orchid Room post menus outside in advance of opening times, allowing passengers the option of shaping their evening entertainment and dining choices to suit their mood every night. On such a relatively small, intimate ship as the Black Watch, this works quite beautifully.

THE GRILL (Not available every day)

Situated outside aft on Deck Six, The Grill is something new to Fred. Olsen; their first extra tariff restaurant, which has now been rolled out right across the four ship current fleet.

While the choices are limited compared to many steak houses and a la carte restaurants on bigger ships, the food and ambiance is nothing short of sublime and- for a cover charge of £20 per person- it is one of the best bargains anywhere at sea. Specially commissioned glassware sets the scene, in a sheltered location just behind the superstructure, and adjacent to the swimming pool.

On a beautiful, mellow August night, I feasted (no other word is adequate) on a ten ounce Fillet Steak, complete with Asparagus spears and hand cut chips, served up in a gorgeous red wine sauce. There was a chocolate cup with berries to follow that looked almost too good to eat- I still ate it.

Complemented by a very fine red wine (extra charge) and a fulsome, frothy Cappuccino (included), this collectively constituted the best meal that I have eaten on any ship this year. Out in the open air, garnished with a side order of sea breezes and a stunning sunset as we sailed down Aurlandsfjord, The Grill is, quite simply, a must do when the weather permits. It really is that good.

ELEGANT AFTERNOON TEA (Not offered every day)

I mentioned the free afternoon tea served each day in the Courtyard earlier, but Fred. Olsen now also offers an extra charge (£7.95 pp) ‘elegant’ afternoon tea, served up in the forward facing Observation Lounge, with views out over the ocean. I got to sample this one day, too.

What do you get for your cash? Well, there are three tiers of beautifully presented finger sandwiches, cakes, biscuits and scones, together with all the gooey jams and clotted creams that anyone could ever desire. There are several kinds of teas- and these are refilled as often as you want. I tried a variant called Imperial Gunpowder, and it was love at first taste.

It’s quite Downton Abbey-esque, with a string trio playing genteel melodies as a backdrop. The setting, the stylings of the food offerings, and the deft service combines to offer something that is truly a little bit special, especially for a birthday or anniversary celebration. And all at a price that no London hotel could get anywhere near, either.

In sum, Fred. Olsen continues to punch way above its weight in terms of food offerings, the flair with which that food is prepared, and the finesse with which it is offered up to passengers. There may not be enough variety for some with more exotic tastes, but the range and sheer, well rounded and well thought out variety of the menus on board will leave most people on board more than happy to come back for more.

CELESTYAL CRUISES: GREECE IS THE WORD…..

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Celestyal Olympia at Santorini

Following on from the recent Norway trip on Fred. Olsen, here’s a heads up on the next one in this year’s calendar.

I’ll be joining Celestyal Cruises’ 38,000 ton flagship, the Celestyal Olympia, for a short, four night cruise from Athens to the Greek islands and Turkey, sailing on September 26th and flying home on the 30th. Short, for sure, but awfully sweet as well.

A number of factors influenced my choice. Here’s the breakdown of those;

SHEER INCLUSVITY

The mutual proximity of the Greek islands and Turkish mainland to each other means that you can pack in an almost unimaginable amount of sightseeing in just those four days. Should I really decide to push the boat out- pun wholly intentional- I could see and savour a whole raft of sights, many of them rated as UNESCO World Heritage experiences.

Ftom Kusadasi, I could see the magnificent, swaggering ruins of the preserved city of Ephesus (and on my birthday too, no less). There is the stunning Library of Celsus, the House of the Virgin Mary, the magnificent amphitheatre, and the vast, marbled central axis that Anthony and Cleopatra once strolled. Not bad, eh?

Mere hours later, from Patmos I could visit the Holy Monastery of St. John, where the great man is said to have written the Book of Revelations, as well as visit the Cave of The Apocalypse. For anyone with even a passing interest in either history and/or religion, that would rank as reason enough alone to make this trip.

The next day- a full day in Rhodes- I could take in the stark, isolated splendour of the Acropolis at Lindos, or tour the still formidable Palace of the Grand Masters that dominates the old town of Rhodes. I could stroll the ancient, cobble stone lanes of Rhodes Town, where the Knights Templar once fought and died in their vain attempts to hold on to the island. On an island like Rhodes, the echoes of history are, quite literally, just around every corner.

Crete next and, from the port of Heraklion, I could visit the magnificent, recreated Palace of Knossos, with its links to the fabled Minotaur, the legendary half man- half bull that supposedly roamed the corridors here. Or I could simply take in the harbour itself, with its magnificent Venetian fortress at the entrance. Not a bad morning’s enlightenment on offer there.

The same afternoon, I can take in the view from the legendary caldera of Santorini, where white painted houses look like bits of frosted wedding cake, clinging to the rim of the long extinct volcano. Thought by many to be the sight of the fabled ‘lost city’ of Atlantis, the views down into the lagoon are rightly regarded as some of the most awe inspiring, heart stopping vistas anywhere on the planet.

Not bad in four days, eh?

THE COMFORT FACTOR

Celestyal Oympia is the ideal sized ship for cruising these idyllic waters. Big enough to showcase a variety of bars, lounges and restaurants that offer up local as well as international favourites; yet still small and intimate enough to find her way into the chic, more sedate little places that make cruising these waters such a rewarding experience.

Recently refurbished quite extensively, the ship is freshly primped, with all new menus featuring food for all tastes, from basics such as burgers to bountiful Greek fare. This particular cruise has a wine and cheese theme, as it happens.

Everything on board is handy, easy to reach, and expansive enough to relax in during our short spells at sea between islands. The cabins are comfortable, stylish and more than commodious enough for a short cruise like this one.

And-from 2017- Celestyal Cruises are also featuring fully inclusive fares that cover shore excursions, together with an all inclusive drinks package, as well as food and accommodation on board. This makes perfect sense as it creates a seamless, worry free product. Good forward thinking.

THE TIME OF YEAR

While cruising the Greek Islands is idyllic in high summer, I prefer the slightly cooler days of autumn- and indeed early spring- for my voyages in the region. There are not quite so many tourists, the heat is less intense and-in September/October in particular- the whole atmosphere is a little more mellow and reflective; a truly nice way to end the summer traveling season, without using a lot of valuable holiday time or, indeed, breaking the bank.

THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR

While Greece and Turkey are truly awash with historical lore, few other places on earth offer so many opportunities to just ‘kick back’ and enjoy the indolent, laid back pace that makes these waters so damned compelling. Whether watching a legendary Mykonos sunset from the quay just outside Jackie O’s, or savouring exquisite souvlaki on the Patmos waterfront, there are little moments for self indulgence that just stand out as if writ large in spotlights.

Few things beat an ice cold beer in Rhodes Town after a few hours’ spent strolling the ancient streets and magnificent sights. On Santorini’s almost exalted peak, a glass of wine takes taste to new heights. And that first, early morning coffee at a waterfront café in Heraklion is truly something special to savour, too.

So; these are my reasons. In the fullness of time, no doubt you will find your own. And, believe me, few other parts of the world are worth taking time out for so much as these ancient, seemingly enchanted Aegean idylls.

 

ANOTHER SHIP RECALLED FROM EUROPE FOR 2017

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Holland America’s Oosterdam is giving Europe a wide berth for 2017 in favour of an Alaska season. Photo credit: http://www.shipparade.com

A couple of days ago, Holland America Line announced that it’s popular MS Oosterdam would be withdrawing from European sailings next year. The 2003 built ship will, instead, switch to Alaska and Inside Passage sailings from the west coast of the USA.

Of course, Oosterdam is not the first ship to up anchor and go west, as it were. Recently, the entire Mediterranean programme for the deluxe Crystal Serenity was cancelled, in favour of a series of voyages that would involve sailings from both the east and west coasts of the USA. This will be her second consecutive season in the USA. And it is also the first time that the current Crystal flagship has spent two consecutive seasons away from Europe since her debut in 2003.

Things being what they are on the international scene right now, it seems that Americans in particular are reluctant to travel to Europe. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Turkey, in particular, have had an inevitably baleful impact on the plans of the travelling public. And Britain’s shock decision to quit the European Union has only added to a general air of unease and uncertainty.

Ironically, cruise ships have some of the best and most stringent security measures in the entire travel industry. But the seemingly random, mindless natures of atrocities carried out ashore is what has really made people stop and think.

Of course, there has also been the belief in some quarters that the European cruise market has simply been over tonnaged for several years now. In the wake of the 2012 loss of the Costa Concordia, fares plummeted across many of the mainstream lines, and have still to regain the pre-2012 levels of traction overall.

In the current climate, expect to see the curtailment of more European schedules for 2017. But, as everywhere in such circumstances, there are of course some winners.

Primarily, these will be in the US domestic market, where lines such as Carnival and Norwegian in particular, have been very adroit at positioning ships all around the perimeter of the mainland USA. Pacific Mexico cruises, already regaining popularity slowly but steadily, could see a real resurgence over the next couple of years. Increased competition in home waters should help leverage rates right around the continental USA. Bermuda cruises, too, should enjoy a bumper season.

Strange and uncertain times, for sure.