I came back from from Celestyal Cruises 4 Day Cruise Iconic Aegean. Here’s a report of my experience, focusing on cost and the arrangement aspects. Hopefully someone doing research for Greek Island cruises may find it useful.
It is important to state that all the details of the cruise can change, especially the prices. This is the 2018 itinerary I had:
In 2018, it included:
- Breakfast, snack(?), lunch, tea, dinner
- Unlimited standard alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks – this is changed from 2017 and I suspect this may change again in the future
- Excursion at Kusadasi (Turkey)
- Excursion at Rhodes (Greece)
- Port and service charges
This is an all-inclusive package that covered everything essential (USD1049 at the time of this post). If one does not join any extra excursion, one does not need to spend another Euro more.
On the sea there is no cellular coverage unless it’s near land. On the cruise there is a paid WiFi service, which required EUR7 for one hour of use.
I bought two different SIM cards for Greece, but made a great mistake. Both http://www.three.co.uk SIM card and cmlink SIM card for Europe do not cover Turkey. Someone from my tour group had AIS SIM2Fly SIM card, which did cover both Greece and Turkey.
Cruises give priority to people who paid for the (expensive) excursions. Not joining the excursion, it took more than 1 hour before we were permitted to disembark via a tender boat.
It took only a short walk from the port to the windmills. So no excursion is required for seeing the windmills and the town. It was possible to see the sunset.
The key thing to see in Patmos is the St. John’s Monastery and the Cave of Apocalypse. Remarkably they open beyond the standard opening hours, for the cruise excursion since we arrived in the evening.
Not joining the excursion (which cost more than EUR70), I walked up the hill to the Cave of Apocalypse for roughly 25 minutes and paid EUR2 to see it. For those who want to go to St. John’s Monastery, it should be possible to take a taxi or bus to Chora (Hora), walk up to the monastery then down to the cave.
The key thing to see in Heraklion is the Palace of Knossos. I did not join the EUR74 excursion. Leaving the port there is a taxi station and a bus station. Four of us took a taxi that cost EUR50 for Port -> Palace of Knossos -> (driver waits for 1 hour – it took some negotiation to slightly extend that without extra payment) -> Archaeological Museum. The combined ticket of Palace of Knossos and Archaeological Museum is EUR16 (EUR15 for the Palace of Knossos alone). So the total cost is EUR28.5 for each person only. Walking from the museum to the port took 20 minutes – and having cellular service for Google Map helped. Unlike other islands it required queueing up for security check before we are allowed to embark.
I think we stayed at the Palace for about 75 minutes. I was surprised to find that those who joined the excursion left the Palace of Knossos at the same time we did. After that they did not go to the museum, but went to the market instead, which I believe was known as 1866 Street.
It is important to that know that for excursion and non-excursion passengers from cruise, they disembark at difference ports, and have important consequences. (For people who leave the cruise and stay overnight at Santorini the cruise has a special arrangement for them and their luggage.)
Paying the EUR74 excursion to Oia village, we boarded the excursion coach at 5:15pm and arrived at Oia village at 6pm. We were required to leave at 8pm. So it was impossible to see the sunset at Oia village. For my wife this is supposed to be the highlight of our tour but it only gave us a short amount of time. Joining this excursion also means we could not visit Fira. Note that a friend had his wallet stolen at Oia village.
For those who are not paying for the excursion, they have several ways to leave the (different) port and go to Fira:
- Walk up to (or down from) Fira while avoiding the donkeys, reportedly taking 30 minutes
- Donkey ride, reportedly taking the same amount of time and it is usually not recommended for several reasons
- Cable car – note that there would be a very long queue. The cruise recommended not to buy the round trip ticket because it would not save money and would not save one from queueing up again when one returns. The cruise recommended queueing for the cable car at 8:15pm when coming down. From other forum posts it could take well over an hour to queue, so even 8:15pm sounds tight.
- Water taxi – some forum posts mention a water taxi service. It takes passengers to another bay for a bus to Oia village. The risk is that the boat will leave only after it is completely filled with people. It’s also not clear to me the bus schedule (that I could not find beforehand) would fit the time requirements I had. Strangely there is no return boat to the port. So one has to go back to Fira from Oia by taxi or bus, then still has to come down by one of the above means.
With our cruise schedule people not joining the excursion are better off visiting Fira only, instead of spending additional time travelling to/from Oia village.
Our rooms at deck 2 of Celestyal Olympia are small. It was just enough for opening a 29″ luggage and a small luggage. I don’t think opening two 29″ luggage would be practical.
The shower was ok for me, but multiple friends, including very slim women (even by Asian standard), think it’s too small for them and the shower curtain had the tendency to stick to their skin.
Near the end of ship it’s so noisy it prevented one of our friends from sleeping. She thought this was the worst cruise experience for her.
There are breakfast, snack, lunch, tea, and dinner at different times. I never had the chance to try the snack – which was served between 9:30am and 11:30am.
The buffet quality is pretty standard. Multiple restaurants serve the same buffet food, but smaller ones may have less variety. I’m especially disappointed with the croissants during breakfast. They are similar to those large bags of croissants from supermarket, served without any baking whatsoever.
There is also a la carte service during lunch and dinner. Based on my observation, the lunch a la carte is actually buffet food (not hot) placed nicely on a plate. I had a la carte lunch waffle that was clearly left over from the morning buffet, because I already had a waffle in the breakfast and the quality was further degraded.
The tea buffet seems to be the same everyday, but that’s fine. The panini is actually baked and good, unlike the croissants. I also love the hazelnut cookie.
One night I had an a la carte dinner that was good. The other night the cruise was preparing for a Captain’s Party and had to serve double the guests than they’d normally do. I would like to thank the nice Chinese staff outside the 4/F restaurant who kindly reminded us to be early for the event and gave us other advices. Attending this event, however, caused an unexpected unhappy incident for us. My steak turned out to be well done – I did not complain even though this was not expected. Two friend’s duck a l’orange were too tough they could not eat it. They exchanged it for a seafood dish. The shrimp and fish were not fresh. The shrimp head turned black. Since one of them actually had the same seafood dish the night before with reasonable quality, the dish this time was below their usual standard. A guy in a supervisory role named Roy came to see what happened. Although a simple apology would have been sufficient, he did not apologize for the bad quality for the food, but instead offered to cook Asian food for us the next day, implying that we were unable to appreciate Western food.
In the past alcoholic drinks cost extra, but in 2018 it was included. Standard drinks include soft drinks, standard draught beer, standard red/white wine, several types of hot and cold coffee, wine, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktail, etc. The bar menu, which has not been updated, lists two columns of prices. Those standard drinks with a single price is free, but those luxury drinks with two prices cost extra per glass. Alternatively, one may pay EUR14 for one day of unlimited consumption of those luxury drinks. We were told we could get the drinks from bars and take them to our rooms if we want.
In the same way that all buffet restaurants serve the same food, all bars serve the same drinks at the same prices (for luxury drinks). The differences among the bars are their opening times and environments. The bar at 12/F has the best view of the pool deck and the sea, but it is a little tricky to find the way up there.
Unlike the free food, the free drinks are tracked precisely. Every drink that is ordered, even if they are free, will show up in the bill. I guess this sort of statistics will affect future availability of the free drinks.
It is worthwhile to mention that bottled water in the room is not free. However, one can get free bottled water from bars or restaurants, then take them to excursions if necessary.
With the exception of the unhappy restaurant incident and the disappointingly short time we had at Oia village, I enjoyed the time I had on the cruise with help from unlimited alcohol. I loved drinking cocktail while watching the beautiful blue Aegean sea more than I ever imagined.