Tag Archives: celstyal cruises

GREEK ISLANDS TO BECOME YEAR ROUND CRUISE DESTINATION?

MYKONOS
Mykonos

As a rule, the main season for cruising the Greek islands runs from early March through to mid November, at least in terms of shorter cruises. But the region’s most consistent and destination immersive operator-Celestyal Cruises- is finally set to change all of that.

Beginning this year, the company will extend it’s main range offering of three, four and seven night cruises by a full month on either side, with the eventual aim of making the sailings a full, year round operation. At present, the line’s brace of intimate, smaller ships- Celestyal Crystal and Celestyal Olympia- typically lay up at the Greek port of Piraeus during the winter months, before resuming their respective cruise programmes the following spring.

As with anything, cruising those waters during these off season months throws up a whole raft of potential pros and cons. Here’s just a few thoughts of mine that you might care to take on board, pun wholly intentional.

CROWD NUMBERS WILL BE MUCH LOWER

In these destination rich waters, sightseeing is everything for a great many people. Nowhere else on earth offers up such a vast, vibrant palette of alluring historical sites and world famous attractions as those fabled, wine dark waters, and the clusters of often arid islands that sheer up out of them. And, of course, in the long, hot months of the summer season, they are often bursting beyond capacity with tourists. It’s not the ideal season for in depth exploration, to be sure.

Come summer, and whole flotillas of giant cruise ships descend upon this perennially popular region. One or two of these large ships at, say, Santorini (and that’s usually an absolute daily minimum in high summer) can disgorge a staggering nine thousand visitors ashore in one stupendous outpouring. The pressure on the local infrastructure is obvious and intense, as is the searing, pitiless heat that you’ll be subjected to as well.

Those quieter, off season months thin these same crowds out quite dramatically, as the bulk of those self same huge resort ships return to the Caribbean for winter. As a result, the entire Greek Islands region feels calmer, more tranquil and hushed. An ideal time for getting ‘up close and personal’ to those sites that you’ve always wanted to see. But, on the other hand…..

THE WEATHER MIGHT NOT BE KIND…

Sure, the temperatures can be quite mellow, with the Aegean region sometimes getting up to a positively balmy seventeen degrees centigrade, even in February. Typically, temperatures are lower than that, but it’s still agreeably mild. Perfect, in fact, for sightseeing.

The real problem can be the wind, which can whip up the sea on a regular basis at this time of year. And, because so many of those same popular Greek ports require you to go ashore by tender, there’s a real chance that you might end up missing one, or maybe more, of the banner ports of call should the sea kick up.

Still, safety has to come first, and no captain worth his salt would ever consider exposing his passengers to even the merest hint of danger. While potentially disappointing, your continued existence is much more important than taking a chance on getting you ashore to traipse around the likes of, say, Patmos. In the end, the weather can always be a factor, just as it can be on any cruise.

It’s also worth remembering that, as so many of these islands are clustered together in close proximity to each other, the captain can almost always take you to some other interesting little idyll in the event of a cancellation. Think of it as a form of ‘magical history tour’ and you won’t be too far off the mark.

PRICES ARE NICER….

From a European perspective, air fares to the prime Greek embarkation port of Athens are always cheaper in winter than over the peak summer season. There’s no shortage of good, quality priced air lift into Greece and, this being winter, overnight hotel stays will also be much cheaper.

LESS KIDS AROUND…..

If other people’s children are an issue for you on holiday, then obviously the patter of tiny footfall is going to be a lot slacker- and possibly even non existent, in fact-over those somnolent winter months. It follows that the ships themselves will often be a lot less crowded than in the fun filled, hectic hugger mugger of the long summer nights. More space, and an easier pace. The common sense here is obvious.

IT’S QUIETER ASHORE, TOO….

Banner ports of call such as Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini will have many food and drink outlets closed up during the quieter winter months, but not by any means all of them. There will obviously be less choice and diversity than during peak season, and the overall pace of life ashore will feel much slower. Depending on your mindset, this could be either a boon or a bust.

So; there you go. You pay your money, and you make your choice. It’s entirely over to you but, as an avowed fan of the Greek islands experience in the long summer months, I am more than a little intrigued as to how those same islands would strike me during the calmer, cooler, less crowded days of winter.

And I don’t think that I’m alone on that one, either.

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CELESTYAL CRYSTAL PART TWO: GETTING TO KNOW THE SHIP……

CC

Our week long Greek Islands and Turkey cruise was not my first time on the Celestyal Crystal; in fact, it was my third trip sailing aboard her in these waters since 2012. So, to me, she is a ship that is quite familiar. And, being quite small, her size lends her an air of informal intimacy that is one of the things that I really do love about her.

She’s also quite endearingly quirky; originally built as a car ferry for the Baltic trade and then extensively rebuilt to work as a cruise ship, the Celestyal Crystal is a wonderfully angular piece of seagoing architecture; very much a one-off ship. In comparison to many of the huge, purpose built floating resorts of the moment, she’s quite an enigmatic little ship, and one well worth getting to know.

Size wise, she comes in at a svelte 25,611 tons. There are 476 cabins, of which something like fifty-three are balcony suites. Of the remainder, some 163 are inside rooms.

The rooms on Two Deck are pretty small but, as you move up the ship, cabins open out in terms of space. I was in a Four Deck cabin on this trip-4221, to be precise- and it came in at around 170 square feet overall.

With that came twin beds that could convert to a double, and a comfortable sofa and table combination in a separate sitting area. There’s a good sized television with about a dozen channels. Wardrobe space is decent, as is the open drawer space. Because the Celestyal Crystal is a pretty informal ship in terms of evening dress, you won’t have to overdo it on the formal wear front.

The bathroom is small, with a toilet and shower only and a selection of in room toiletries, but it’s surprising how easily you manage. And the shower, too, was really good. In general the room was much like the rest of the ship, solid, functional and comfortable, easy to navigate and pretty handy for everything. In fact, two of the four lifts and the main, after staircase were literally right outside my door.

On this cruise, the Celestyal Crystal was full to capacity, with around 1200 passengers booked for the week long round trip from Piraeus. It was a fascinating mix of passengers: Greeks, Spanish, French, Germans, Canadians, Americans- even a handful of Brits. Over the week, it would coalesce into a pretty easy going, well mannered crowd, one that was well looked after by the ship’s crew of 406.

Touring the ship was akin to rediscovering an old friend. I’d quite forgotten how charming the Thalassa Bar and Terrace at the back of Five Deck is, with it’s centrally located hot tub overlooking the stern, and scores of wicker chairs and tables scattered across the fantail. With the port side reserved for smokers, it became a popular hangout at all hours of the day and night. In fact, it was nothing unusual to see scores of people sitting out there in the small hours of the morning, enjoying the balmy Aegean breezes.

Centre stage, at the top of the ship is a small pool set on a teak deck, surrounded by cafe style tables and chairs. It has a sliding, perspex roof overhead, perfect for shelter from the sun when needed. With a forward bar- the Helios- and live music both at lunch and dinner, this was an intimate, raffish little place to just kick back as the ship meandered between the hedonistic sprawl of the Greek Islands.

You’ll find sun loungers aplenty on the deck overlooking the pool, and on the stepped series of terraced decks at the stern.

Aft of that pool complex is a pair of buffet restaurants set up for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. The offerings are the same in both sections, but with some delightfully indulgent Greek twists. After all, when was the last time that you saw chicken wraps on an afternoon tea buffet? And delicious they were, too.

In terms of interior spaces, there was the main Muses Lounge on Eight Deck; a forward facing show lounge set on two levels, this was the main venue for the evening production shows held on board. It leads neatly into the Eros Lounge, with it’s row of floor to ceiling windows facing out to port. This was a popular, late night venue for some sultry, after dinner samba and soft rock.

There’s also a full service spa up here on Nine Deck, with all the treatments that you could want at an extra charge.

There is a small, adjacent Sports Bar and a neat little casino here, too, but the other main public room is the surprisingly large disco, wrapped around the ship’s funnel on Deck Ten. It has glass walls looking out on three sides, an aft facing bar, and a decent sized dance floor for such a small ship. On our cruise, the disco was invariably full most nights, right through until the early morning hours.

There are two main formal, sit down dining venues, one aft on Eight Deck, and the other on Five Deck. Both are open seating and, on our itinerary, they offered full dinner service right up until 2200 each night. And, while it was wonderful most nights to just kick back and enjoy dinner and live music under the stars, sometimes it did make for a nice change to just come inside and enjoy some succulent Greek and international fare, served with a lot of flair.

With Celestyal, all drinks come included in the fare, together with something like three complimentary shore excursions per passenger. In terms of the drinks, there’s the option to upgrade to a premium package that includes brands such as Havana Club, Grey Goose and house champagne for around fifteen euros a day. It’s a good deal but, to be honest, many people will find the included drinks package more than enough to be getting on with.

As with most European cruise ships, in cabin breakfasts and a basic, ‘any time’ menu that includes pizza, burgers and other fast food, comes in at an extra charge. There is no midnight buffet or late night snacks service as such but, to be honest, you don’t really miss it, either.

Five Deck houses the reception and shore excursions desks, as well as a small shopping area that has everything from sweets to fine couture, sun tan lotion to fine perfumes. It’s only allowed to open while the ship is actually at sea, with the opening hours usually being posted on the shop’s glass door.

So, this is the Celestyal Crystal. She’s intimate, warm, unpretentious, bright and pretty.  Yes, sometimes she’ll feel crowded when you’re looking for a lunch table, but the crew works wonders at clearing tables. And, in terms of a crew that is hard working and eager to please, you’d be hard put to find better on any line anywhere.

So- this is our ship. Grab a chair on the Thalassa Terrace, and watch the twinkling lights of Piraeus disappear over the rim of your wine glass. There’s a lot of fun in store over the next few days…….