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Trip Report Trip to Venice and Athens, with a cruise through Croatia and Greece

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Hi, Fodorites!
I have been lurking many years, occasionally, asking a question or answering one, but reading through trip reports voraciously and using much of the information. I have delighted in your love of travel, helpfulness and humor. I have so many favorites including Bobthenavigator with his love of Italy and of his wife. Thank you! I know so many of you have much more detailed advice, but I still had some experiences to share. I am venturing into my first trip report, be gentle with me!

First about us. We are a couple in our late 50s, celebrating our 30th anniversary. This was our 7th trip to Europe but the 1st in 27 years without our children. We knew we wanted to go to Greece and delayed our trip until May to take advantage of the weather. We had about 12 days and thought we'd fly into Athens, ferry to Santorini and 1 other island, and head back to Athens for a few days and the flight home. I am usually geographically savvy, and thought , OK about an hour ferry ride to Santorini, let me check on that. Whaaat !?! 5-8 hours! Time to reconsider.

During our planning, some friends took a 12 day cruise that stopped on 3 greek islands. We are not really cruisers. We went on one to the Caribbean as a family reunion and it was great for our 10- 80 year old age spread with all of the acivities. However, in July, the boat was over run with children and on the days at sea, the public areas were wall to wall people. It had the energy of caged animals in a zoo. We did not want to do that again for just the 2 of us. But I thought I might just check on some smaller ship options, and it was amazing! There was a 7 day cruise from Venice, to Dubrovnik, to Kotor, to Corfu, to Zaykynos, to Santorini to Athens. We had always thought a Venice and Croatia combination trip were on our list but here was a chance to do both! The ship was scheduled to leave Santorini at 7pm the last night and arrive in Athens at 6am so we inquired about disembarking in Santorini and they told us no problem. Others recommended flying between the islands, duh....of, course, but it was too late, this was our trip!

We are lucky have airline mileage for the flights and Starwood points for hotels so not too much planning was involved there. We love the smaller, quaint hotels but with the Euro exchange rate and Venice being such an expensive city, we were thrilled to get 2 nights at the Westin Europa. We had to take what free airline tickets we could get so that ended up being through London with a change of airports and 6 hours on the ground. Rough but it put us in Venice at 8:30 pm and for body time adjustment, it was great! We broke down and reserved the water taxi for 99 euros because we were afraid with the bridges, the dark and being so tired we would have a very difficult time. That was one of our favorite memories! We sat in the covered cabin of our gorgeous wood speedboat during the open water segment of our trip, feeling like we were in a James Bond movie, but as we turned onto a smaller canal and slowed down, we stood outside on this perfect evening and took in the magic and shared a kiss! We savored the silence and sights and we were delivered right to their dock. St. Maria of Salute was lit up across the Grand Canal and we literally giggled. Bellissima!

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    Happy 30th wedding anniversary!!! How romantic..... Waiting for the rest of the details.


    P.S. At some point later, you have to share some of your tips to a happy, successful and lasting marriage.

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    Great beginning! Looking forward to more. We just returned from Italy but have the cruise you took on our radar screen so we are interested in hearing your experiences. I agree about the magic of Venice! It was my favorite.

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    We were greeted warmly and taken up to our room. What a beautiful hotel! It is a 17th century building and we walked through creaky halls with beautiful windows along the way. We were upgraded to a remodeled suite with a city view. This is a gorgeous room! It has a separate living room with a pull out sofa, and a bedroom with a VERY comfortable king size bed. The bathroom was exquisite! It also has a half bath which was very helpful for getting ready in the morning. This room would work well for a family with 2 young children or 1 other adult. We didn't pull out the sofa, but it seemed like a stretch to put another couple in there. Now this hotel is out of our price range (we got it with points.)so I can't compare it to other places for the same price, but I can't imagine how you could not be thrilled with this room or the public areas. We went down to their bar, out on the Grand Canal and have a glass of wine. What a perfect introduction to this beautiful city.

    We slept great and woke up at 5:30, wow, is our time transition this easy? We went down to their overwhelming breakfast, (which being included when on points was a first for us,) again sitting outside on the Grand Canal. I defy you to mention something they didn't have, eggs, pastries, sausages, meats, fish, cereals, yogurts, fruits, breads,pastries,etc. and felt like we couldn't eat for the rest of the day. And then there was the coffee! Delicious!

    Time to venture out and see this city in the light! we brought with us 2 maps: Streetwise Venice which listed EVERY street and the vaparetto lines. It was laminated and accordion folded with ease but had small print. Also Map Easy which was waterproof bigger map that had a very easy quick glance style with hotels and and points of interest illustrated. We had heard maps were crucial and this was true, we used both all of the time.

    It seems many Fodorites are in love with Venice, but honestly we have a few friends that did not like it. All I can imagine is that they must have been there with the heat and the crowds. At 8:00, we turned the corner into Piazza San Marco and fell in love, too! It was suprisingly empty and so quiet. I knew we were too early but thought we could confirm the times and see if tickets were available yet at the Doge's palace. By the time we worked our way through the square and took way too many pictures we arrived at the Palace and saw no one in line. It is 8:30, bought our tickets and we are in. We chose to go to the apartments first. A few people were ahead of us and trickling behind us, but this is great! The history and the rooms are fascinating, I am embarrassed to say how little I knew about Venetian history. On to the Institutional Rooms! OK, raised yellow umbrella, pink tour guide sign time! This turned into the crowds and the groups we expected. We were not on a tour but with them back-to-back-to-back we did get to benefit from some of the interesting facts. I usually do plan more and arrange a few private tours, but sadly, had to leave town for a funeral right before we left and we ran out of time and we were winging it a little here.

    On to the Basilica! Again the lines are amazingly short, but then were were informed that is was closed for a private service and the lines were only for the museum. OK, new plan...let's go get our vaporetto tickets. We got the 3 day ticket for 35 euro. Expensive but a single ride is 7 and we could easily see ourselves using it more than 5 times. I had heard many people walk everywhere and rarely use it, but we were very happy to have it. Often we would walk far from our hotel and use it to rest our feet to get back. Also, we loved the views from it. I got some of my best pictures from the outside front of the boat. At one point DH said 'why do you even need a ticket, they never check it" and sure enough our next trip they checked tickets and caught a student with and expired pass and fined him 59euros on the spot.

    We hopped on#2, a quick one stop over to San Giorgio. We headed left around the building which was wrong, and went way out of our way. Heading back around the corner,our cruise ship was arriving in town, if we had gone the right way we would have been inside and missed it. Happy accident, it was great to see it! We went through the church and over to the entrance to the Campanile. There was a short line to an elevator which took 6 at a time up, self service. It was very orderly and free! The views were fantastic, it is really worth the effort!

    Hopped on to another vaparetto and headed over to the Rialto bridge. where we wandered a few areas on either side, we were too late for the market but knew we had 2 more days. We were approaching lunch time even though we were not too hungry. We grabbed 2 sandwiches at a standup spot for 7 euros in our wanderings back to San Marco, I can't even tell you where and they weren't that memorable but we did find this cute shop.

    http://www.nuok.it/venessia/shopping-intelligente-alla-bottega-della-solidarieta/

    I am not much of a shopper but I do like to find different things or gifts but so far everything is too expensive or too touristy. I found something fun for my daughter and for me!

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    Obviously, I loved our trip, but I can see I'm too wordy and not giving that much new information. I will never finish! So I'm going to highlights, I promise!

    We did go to the recommended Alla Rivetta for dinner and enjoyed it. We got the warm mixed vegetables from the appetizer section, steak with green peppercorn sauce, bread, wine and sea bass. My husband was dismayed when the whole fish arrived, but now we know to ask. 63 euros. The entrance is a little tricky, it partially under the bridge.

    Thursday we toured the San Marco Basilica,( do pay the extra 2 euros to see the jewel and the high alter.) Again we were only in a 10 minute line to get in. We paid the 8 euros each to get into the San Marco Campanile, that was another 5 minute line. I don't know that I needed to see both towers. The San Marco had a nice view of the city away from the Grand Canal but I probably wouldn't have done it. Headed to the market and enjoyed many of the neighborhoods wandering and yes, getting lost.

    We got in on Tuesday night and can check into our cruise (Thursday) today so we headed over to the cruise terminal at 2:30. DH decided with the difficult location of the Westin with our luggage to get another private water taxi. This was 60 euros but again door to door service and they took our luggage to the ship. Check in was a breeze and we headed right back to the city using the people mover ( 1.3 euros) and our vaporetto pass. Our cruise is not leaving until Friday at 4. Toured many more neighborhoods and made it to everything on our list except the Guggenheim. We will sleep on the boat tonight and head to Murano tomorrow. My DH especially enjoyed Murano and we got some nice jewelry gifts and Christmas items. I think to go first thing in the morning is worth it and you can easily be out of there by lunch.

    I know everyone can't travel at their preferred time of year but this was a great time to go. We have travelled many times in July with kids (Rome was brutal.) Our weather ranged from 55-76 with mostly sunny skies. I cannot imagine it in the heat.

    I will post the most of cruise info on another forum (except land tips) but I must say this was a great part of our trip. It was on Oceania Insignia and had just been dry docked and totally refurbished. We were the second group to be on it. It holds 684 people and advertises that it has no kids programs or facilities and so it is an adult cruise. It has informal dining and you can eat outside with all of the gorgeous views, for every meal. It does have 2 free specialty restaurants and each guest get 1 reservation in each. It has a self-serve laundromat. It has minimal entertainment but you are in a port every day. You can bring on unlimited alcohol. Our ship was about 70% from the U.S. and the main age range was 45-75. There were a few college reunions, winery sponsored groups and some family reunions where we saw the only children(maybe 8 on the whole ship.) Mainly it was couples. Every one was very friendly but it was quiet and you felt like you could have your privacy too. It was a nice feeling to stay put for a week and see some friendly faces in the evenings at dinner or a trivia game. It was a really great way to get a taste of new places, there wasn't a dud on the whole trip. We are not quite ready to repeat things we have already seen, we still have a long "new" list.

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    Our sail away was on Friday at 4:00 and we had the most beautiful views and perspective on the city. They served bellinis and it was a nice introduction to our cruise mates. Our first port tomorrow is Dubrovnik and we will be in port from 1pm until midnight.

    It was fantastic to approach the city while eating in the outdoor cafe. This day was the only one with strange port hours and we had to plan it differently. Usually, it is good advice to walk the wall early, but realistically we couldn't get there until almost 2. There were 2 huge cruise ships already in port but they were leaving in the afternoon so it would probably thin out about 3.

    As we got off the boat we were told they would be providing occasional free bus service into town but there were many taxis and it would be about a 10 euro fare. The cab drivers do take euros even though the currency is the kuna. We wanted to ride up the cable car, by the entrance to the Ploce gate, to see the city views, first. Since the bus was nowhere in sight, we asked a cab driver , how much it would be to take us up there. He said 15 euros but for 40 euros he would take us to 4 vista points, including the top of the cable car and get us back to the Pile entrance to the old city. Great deal, especially since the cable car costs 15 euros each.

    He was delightful, his English was wonderful and we could stay as long as we wanted to at each point. We also, love to hear about his background and life and a history of the areas we stopped at. Obviously, in this situation you are getting a driver and not a guide but the price was right and we were with him about 1.25 hours. Ivan Kulas, ivku1986@gmail.com

    We were dropped off at the Pile gate and entered into almost a Disney experience, it was immaculate and sparkling and really not too crowded. The tickets to walk the wall were 100 kunas (about 18 dollars) and they only take kunas but do take credit cards. The walk was fabulous and different in every direction. It is so interesting that people still live within the walls. We had a 61-76 degree day, but it did start getting warm at times. I wouldn't call the walk challenging, but you could not do it if physically impaired. Good shoes are essential, the surface is very uneven. Hat, sunscreen and water are all must haves. There were alcoves that were shaded by the wall to stop in. There were also occasional shops, including a ice cream shop that also sold water. It seemed like quite a few people only walked half of it. It took us about 1.5 hours.

    When we finished and came down the stairs, there was an ice cream stand with flavors I am still fantasizing about. They did only take kunas so we had to convert some money. The shops seemed to be a higher quality than the usual tourist places and the jewelry and crafts were very nice. There was a Christmas shop and the only purchases we made in town were ornaments and an angel.

    The churches are beautiful and we had the added treat of seeing 2 weddings begin. It was interesting, the bride and groom walked in the church together. What a gorgeous night and perfect weather, we were happy for them and their lovely beginning.

    We found this wonderful restaurant and had one of our favorite meals of the trip.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g295371-d1172066-Reviews-Konoba_Pupo-Dubrovnik_Dubrovnik_Neretva_County_Dalmatia.html

    We had salad, a fantastic vegetable soup, stew, sea bass (filleted this time!) bread and wine for 62 DOLLARS. They did take a credit card. The Croatian wines are fantastic and reasonable.

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    I lam loving your report! We just returned from Italy and Venice was our favorite city. We hope to one day do a cruise to the places you visited so I will return to read more! don't woryry about being too wordy. The detail makes the report more personal and interesting.

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    Our ship did not leave until midnight so we were happy to wander the streets, cleared out of all of the crowds. It was so delightful and the shopkeepers had lost that shell shocked look and were so engaging. Back on this ship we enjoyed some dessert, a glass of wine and a beautiful sunset. We even played team trivia that was really fun. We really did enjoy the comfort of returning to our same room every day and sharing notes with some of our new friends.

    We were in Kotor from 8-5 and our temperature was 56-78.

    We wanted to get up early to enjoy the 17 mile sail in to Kotor Bay. We had thought the views in this fiord of the Adriatic would be breathtaking and they didn't disappoint! We were greeted with morning mist and shimmering sunlight. That is one of the joys of cruising, flinging your curtains open in the morning to the next new place. It was heaven to putter with a cup of coffee and see the views.

    We did not sign up for any of the ships excursions. They were expensive and many too long. We did not want to be obligated in bad weather, poor health or just the need to reboot a little. They were always up and off the boat so early, this was a nice morning to enjoy the peace and quiet. It was also Sunday and many places were not open until later.

    We loved our huge breakfast every morning. We would also grab some fruit or muffins for snacks later in the day. It really helped make our day more about touring and just getting a light snack. We are not used to eating this much food.

    We decided to do the hop on hop off trolley to Perast for 10 euros each. We were the only ones out there and they obviously were waiting for more passengers, so we held off buying our tickets. We wandered to the cab stand and they had printed up maps with pictures of possible tours. One of them included Budva which was on our list. I'm guessing it was his Dad, was pushing us toward one of the drivers with the proposal of 2 hours for 50 euro. It was preprinted at 70 euros but there weren't many others coming off the boat. We looked at the open air trolley and the air conditioned Mercedes and hopped in.

    The driver was very pleasant but not too thrilled to be up so early, I'm guessing after a late Saturday night. His English was good but just barely. He drove us to some fabulous vistas, including one where we could see our ship in port. It was another gorgeous day! He took us to look down on Sveti Stefan, the ultra exclusive resort that is always ranked one of Europe's top hotels. You can only cross the causeway to it if you are staying there or have a restaurant reservation, not on our list but I bet it is fascinating.

    On our way to Budva we went through an area of unbelievable development. Dejan said it was very high end, expensive, casino heavy and foreign investor funded. This seemed so ugly and commercial, I hope it doesn't ruin the charm of the area.

    He dropped us off at the old town gate and said he would wait for us in a cafe for an hour. What another charming town! As we meandered through the streets, we heard a small band and a lot of cheering approaching. A bride and groom beamed as their family joyously surrounded them clapping. The brothers and uncles(?) grabbed our hands and made us clap along. How fitting that in celebrating our anniversary, we have witnessed so many happy new couples.

    The charm and the tranquility are permeating this sweet site. we wandered onto the beach and this was the only area already crowded. It was so great to stick our feet in the ocean and grab another coffee and meet up with Dejan.

    He took us to Kotor and we are slowly being overwhelmed by the beautiful churches, architecture, carvings and history everywhere we have been. We sat in the city square at the Cafe Bar Ombre and shared a large pizza, shaved ham and mushrooms, for 7 euros. It was absolutely delicious and especially great for DH who had tried pizza in Venice and was disappointed.

    We just had a taste, but Dubrovnik to Kotor to Budva is an area we can highly recommend. It is so visually stunning, so historically amazing, and reasonably priced. The people are so cordial, helpful, and sweet. If you add on Perast and the beautiful national parks there is so much to do. It does have an outdoorsy tilt with rafting and hiking but you could just as easily enjoy their beautiful beaches.

    One of the great moments of our sail out was passing Our Lady of the Rocks. There are many legends surrounding this island but apparently is was a tiny rock island that has been built up over the years with old boats and rocks. It is a tradition from sailors at sea to bring back a rock to put on it from their journey or fisherman , grateful for their bounty to bring one out, in thanks. The islands birthday is June 22, 1452, so every June 22, there is a boat procession out to the island where everyone adds another rock. Our cruise director announced that in tribute, boats all blast their horn as they leave, we did and the nuns came out and jumped up and down and waved, to bid us bon voyage.

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    Corfu 8am-6pm 64-84 degrees
    We are getting a little weary at this point, so we take another leisurely morning. Poor Corfu, on this stellar list on places to visit, it holds the least interest for us. We head on out and... pump up the energy...we are in Greece. The shops are full of delightful, enthusiastic proud artisans who give a history of everything we stop to look at. We buy some beautiful ornaments and angels, noticing a trend here?

    We walk through the old town and it is lovely. The Esplenade is a huge park,which is bay side where they still play cricket,.It has Venetian,British and French influences, the Liston lines one side. Built in 1807, with beautiful archways and lanterns, it was intended for only noblemen to stroll. They kept a "list" of who could use it. It was modeled after the rue de Rivoli in Paris.

    We ate in a fantastic covered courtyard restaurant, Pitonostimies, at Agiou Vasileiou38. We had Chicken souvlaki and a stuffed pepper and stuffed tomato and fantastic bread for 12.90 euros. My goodness, I love Greek food!

    It was Monday and the Palace of St. Michael and St. George was closed. Many of our ship mates went 15 miles to Paleokastritsa to the beach and absolutely loved it. It is considered one of the prettiest beaches in Greece. We love the beach but only if we are staying right there, we are too fair to get stuck at the beach all day. We had some beach time in Budva and it was already a lot hotter day than we had experienced.

    So what to do? Our waitress suggested the 1 hour tourist train that takes you through the old town and along the bay so we headed that way. We bought our ticket and think we got looks like, "where are your kids?" All aboard! We left with a loud fake train whistle blaring and thought "PLEASE" do not let this sound the whole way. It didn't and actually was breezy and enjoyable. We drove by Prince Philip's birthplace( Queen Elizabeth's husband.)

    Here it is https://www.flickr.com/photos/borgmichael/9439379957/

    We were fading and decided to head back to the ship and enjoy the quiet. Actually, it was a perfect time to do laundry! I don't care how many times you rinse out clothes, washing them full cycle and embracing them warm out of the drier is always a treat! Our ship had 4 washers and 4 driers so that was a nice bonus.

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    Zakynthos 8am-4 pm 55-80 degrees
    We are so excited today! We had never heard of Zaykynthos before this cruise, which is amazing to me now, because the picture of Navagio beach (Shipwreck) is one of the most used photos in Greek travel ads. That and the blue caves were our dream sites. I did think it was odd that there were only 2 excursions from the ship that day, 1 just a general tour with lunch and greek dancing, and 1 a general trip but also going to the monastery and a photo op location. Not one to Navagio or the blue caves?!?

    There is a pecking order getting off the ship when being tendered into port. The tour participants, the club members, and high end suite occupants all get tickets on the first tenders. We knew we would have to wait but were still up and ready to go as soon as we could get on which ended up being at 8:50.

    I had contacted the Potamitis brothers at Lighthouse Skinari about their glass bottom boat tour, which left every 10 minutes, and cost 15 euros a person. It does a blue caves tour and then pulls up to shipwreck beach for hop off/hop off service, you can stay as long as you like. They assured me it would be no problem getting on and back and we did not need reservations. Hearing of port change disasters and not knowing when we could get off our ship or how long it would take to get up there, we did not make one.

    One of the nice features of the cruise, when the port's customs officers comes on to clear the boat, a local travel rep also comes on and has maps and advice on what to do. We asked the rep about our plans and she said she had never heard of them. She also said it is hard to get a taxi and we would not have enough time anyway, because it was an hour away. Nooooooo! We were crushed because that was one of our main interests on the whole trip. We asked what she suggested and she said to take the bus to Laganas to go to the beach.

    We had met a lovely couple on board who were interested in doing this tour with us. When we all heard her advice, we each went our own way. Coming off the tender about 9:15 am, we were approached by a taxi driver who offered to take us around the island. We showed him our original plans and he did agree that we probably didn't have time to do everything. Plus, the last tender back to the ship was at 3:30 and they said that could be full. We are not skitterish travelers, but missing your boat and having your belongings sail off made us very conservative in our time management.

    He offered to drive us around for 25 euros an hour and proposed to take us to the monastery, the vista point for Shipwreck beach, and to St. Nicholas beach to catch a boat for the blue caves tour, estimating a round trip of 3-3.5 hours. Perfect. He was fantastic! He had a nice, clean, air conditioned Camry(?) His English is great and he has actually lived in Seattle for a few months. I would say he is in his late 20s and was a very careful driver.I asked for his card when we parted and I didn't look at it, it doesn't have a website. His phone number is 0030 6978 274651 and shares the cab with his brother, Antonis and Apostolis.

    We cut across the interior and what a beautiful, California-like, feel! Roses, bougainvillea; olives,lemon and orange trees; and vineyards, it smells so fragrant. He is very relaxed but attentive and tells about the history of the island, of its mention in Homer, and its devastating 7.3 earthquake in 1953. This happened at lunch time and the woman were tending to their outdoor stoves which collapsed and set fire to what had survived. Only 3 buildings remained standing in Zakynos town afterwards, and most of the historical structures, documents and art were destroyed.

    The monastery is an impressive 15th century Venetian building. It still serves as the town church. Nearby is the vista for Shipwreck beach, the view is beautiful! I am sure it is where all the photos are taken. The water is an almost unnatural bright blue and you can see forever. You can only get to the beach by boat and it does get over run by boats and people. There are no facilities and you do wade in a little to get there. It was still pretty empty in the morning. I would have loved to have stepped on it but this is the downside of a cruise, the limited time.

    Again we are crossing through the interior and the houses are fairly modern but still with an old world charm. It is very hilly and the roads are somewhat nerve racking as we approach the coast. It is amazing to me the tourists on 4 wheelers, he says, they tip over all of the time.We arrive at St. Nicholas beach and he asks when the next boat leaves and they say "Right now." Sorry folks, I have to take a bathroom break before being in a boat for an hour. We are pointed to a Subway-ish looking deli and buy a water to use their facilities. We promise to buy lunch there when we get back...Yuck.

    There are 3 open air speedboats lined up ready to go, and I think "right now" means whenever we have more than 2 people on board. This was about 8 euros each and there was a Dutch couple about our age on with us. They said they came only to that island for the week.The blue caves were amazing! Our boat was small( capacity about 16) but we really got in there close, whereas many of the bigger and covered boats going by could not. This would be hot later in the day, though.

    We got back on land and went to get our sandwich which ended up being so good! The roll was perfect, it had "salad," ham, and a divine yogurt sauce on it. Why does their food taste so much more flavorful, I am still drooling over it! We ate right there on the beach and there were many low key cafes overlooking the water. I would highly recommend doing all of the above.

    We started our trek back to the port and he took us through his town and slowed down to show us his apartment. This is a gorgeous peaceful place to live. Apparently it is very popular with the British because of the easy nonstops on Ryan air and Easy jet. I can see staying here a few days.

    Back in town, we browsed shops which specialize in gourmet foods, olives, olive oils, goat cheese packed in olive oil (delicious) and honey. Also olive woods products and my new favorite, olive oil soap! We also visited the beautiful and unique Saint Dionysios Church.

    It turns out Antonis had heard of our original tour and said it was good. I think the Shipwreck beach is more of a photo op and experience,than a day at the beach. I still think I would have done that if we had the time. Our friends got off the boat about 20 minutes after us and the cabs were all gone. They were advised to take the city bus to Laganas beach which was 20 minutes away for 3 euros each. They liked it but heard that in season, the young tourist partiers can make that area miserable. There are so many other quiet areas, that you could avoid them.

    I know I didn't have the time to do the research I normally do, so that's on me. I am disappointed for other people on the boat that the rep didn't convey how extensive and reliable the bus service is. It would have been easy to take advantage of this lovely island on your own.

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    Santorini 10am 64-82 degrees

    Our fabulous cruise is over. We really loved the size of this boat, the casual ambiance, our fellow cruisers, the food, the staff, and we could go on and on. We would do this again in a second. I can see that as we are aging, we still have a sense of adventure, but the comfort of having a familiar base and friendly fellow travelers to compare notes with was really fun. I do think 1 week was plenty for us and also, not having any days at sea was important. I think it was great we visited 5 Unesco World Heritage sights.

    We are so excited, we are here! We have been blessed with the most fantastic weather so far! We fling open the curtains and.....it is totally overcast and the water is a gloomy gray. Bummer! But, we have 2 more mornings here and so there is hope! Another downside to cruising, you only get one day there and if that is your fantasy destination....it is not the day you dreamed of. We feel bad for our fellow cruisers, but maybe it will burn off.

    We arranged ahead of time to get off in Santorini instead of continuing on to Athens, since Santorini was the main place we wanted to visit. They took our passports the night before, so the customs agents could clear us in the morning when they got on. They also requested, that we wait until everyone else was off before we left and used the tenders. Santorini is a challenging port to leave a cruise ship early, because you have to ride up a cable car with cruise passengers from every other cruiseline. 2 huge ships arrived at port an hour earlier so we knew we better let everyone clear out. We packed wisely, but we still were managing our luggage on our own.

    We couldn't check into our hotel until 1 so we had lunch on our ship and headed out at 12:15. When we left the boat, we saw we were on a list of 5 cabins leaving the cruise early. I had never of doing that before this trip, but it worked out perfectly for us and we were so happy to not have to get off the boat in Athens at 6am the next day.

    It was a struggle getting into the cable car but the attendants were very patient since no one else was there. We had to climb stairs on either end of it and roll our bags about 2 blocks to a taxi center. We were helped by a sweet couple from Toronto, our trivia teammates. We were told it would be 20 euro by the rep on the boat but to always ask before you get in a cab in Greece because they usually don't run the meters. Fira was a bustling madhouse so we quickly hopped in and forgot to ask. We asked our cabdriver if it was usually so humid and she said yes, it hadn't been humid our whole trip, so this was a change. I am really glad we don't have busy sightseeing planned. The ride takes about 20 minutes and does cost 20 euros.

    Our hotel has been very responsive and insistent on knowing our plans and arrival time. Now, I get it! We are dropped off at a town parking lot and it is challenging to get to your room. The poor fellows that took care of our luggage, that was quite a workout. If you have a fear of heights or can't climb stairs, many of these cliff dwellings are not for you. We were fine and enjoyed being more at the edge of town, for the peacefulness, but I think it is really important to know how far from the parking lot you are and how much climbing you have to do, when booking a room at any hotel there.

    We are staying at Fanari Villas because we wanted to be in Oia for the caldera and sunset views. It was in our price range and some places were already booked. We had a junior suite with our own private terrace and "lukewarm" tub, a jacuzzi bathtub, and a full hot breakfast. The hotel had a pool and a sundeck. We really liked it! The staff was great and it was very low key. It is kind of quirky, a little dated, and had firm beds but otherwise it was perfect.

    It was a 5 minute walk into town and still overcast, it was not worth taking pictures of the white buildings against the white sky. It was so crowded in town that we wandered around a little but it was really too much. The cruisers were in town but also busloads of other tour groups from the ferries are being deposited regularly. These streets are narrow and very uneven. We sat down at Thalami, an all blue and white outdoor cafe and just wanted a snack so we had delicious fried tomatoes for 5 euros, and a basket of bread for 1 euro. It is a lot more fun looking at the views and people watching instead of being a part of it.

    We headed by the church and they just started ringing the bells at 4:50(??!!??) so it was fun to see the priest and about an 8 year old boy practically swing on the ropes. Town is cleared out but it has been a long day and we decide to just eat at our hotel. They provided a nice bottle of red wine and I still have my snacks of almond and wheat thins, (who brings snacks on a cruise?) so we enjoy that on our terrace with our views.

    This gloomy day never cleared up but I did get some gorgeous pictures that are almost black and white... they are so different! We wander to the restaurant and a few tables are reserved. Irritatingly, no one ever showed up for them. If you eat there, reserve the table for 2 in the front corner, it is unbelievable! We thought this restaurant was good but you are paying for the views, to me worth every dime. We had cocktails, grilled vegetables, chicken souvlaki, and beef stew and then cappuccinos for 83 euros.

    We sat enjoying the view and our cruise ship sails right by for a final farewell, we both had an initial sad, "wait for us moment' but knew our sunset was still ahead of us. It actually was really pretty in a more muted way. We loved just staying seated, except to take pictures, especially as we watched the throngs cluster above us in the distance. We went back to our room to enjoy our "lukewarm" tub on our balcony and enjoy the bottle of champagne, a nice couple from our cruise, sent with us to enjoy.

    We were up bright and early and this is the perfect day! Pictures galore! We had a fabulous breakfast and headed into town to beat the crowds. Ahhhh....so much better. We had seen some art work and pottery we liked and are still in gift mode, so to be in the shops finally, is wonderful. We especially liked Loulaki and all of the local artisan crafts they featured. We are ready to head up some steps and hear the bells, here come the donkeys! Really! Where are they taking them? There are about 7! Between the cobblestones and donkey souvenirs, choose you shoes carefully!

    We enjoyed Thalami so much so we went back for lunch and had stuffed peppers and moussaka or about 16 euros, Again, we really enjoyed it.

    We are not huge sunbathers but we love to go to the beach and walk and enjoy it, so that was the plan for the afternoon. As we headed back to change, it clouded over and a breeze picked up. Oh, well we can still go. We headed out past the office and they said, " where are you going?" and we said, " to the beach." They were concerned, and said, " in this weather you can't sun and it might rain!" They checked on their computer and they said "oh, not until, 9pm", we assured them we were not interested in a long visit and headed off.

    We are heading down a steep zig zag road to Katharos beach. We like the beach anyway but this is a black lava beach. I have a sand collection with 5 inch tube glass bottles with sand from our travels from all over the world. It is amazing with all of the different colors and textures, and is a trip down memory lane every time I see it. And how do Cannes and Chicago beach sand almost look the same?

    We walk through a canyon area with steep walls on 2 sides and water just ahead of us and there is this howling, screeching, wailing type noise all around us. I say to DH, "if we were in an Indiana Jones movie, the next scene would be really bad." We really consider turning around but just then some people coming from the beach assure us that it is fine and we go ahead. The "sound" is gone now and we get our toes in lava sand. There is a delightful cafe right there, we consider going in but are concerned about the weather and the steep climb back.

    Just as we are walking down the stairs back to our unit, the wind really picks up. I try to push open the shuttered doors to our terrace, and they fiercely blow shut again. I can't resist pounding on the door and yelling " Auntie Em, Auntie Em," because this does turn into a movie scene. We are barely in our room when the wind is so strong we are getting worried. All these shutters and candles,they are not for romance, this will be our safety and electricity. And almonds and crackers are looking mighty good for dinner. We definitely are as far back in our cave as we can go and then it starts to pour.

    There are catamarans and sailboats that can not get back in to Amoudi port below us. It turns out the wind gusts were 60 miles an hour. The captain of the Regal Princess (3500 passengers), left port for 3 hours and and came back, but left 2000 passengers on shore, because he was so worried about the safety of his ship. We were so lucky to get back safely, and did I have my umbrella and my disposable rain ponchos, (that my kids always tease me about,) of course not!

    Things calmed down and we never did lose power, so we enjoyed our candles, "hot" jacuzzi and the rest of our champagne. We headed into town and it was empty! We went to Terpsi in Oia for dinner. We went with our waiters recommendations for lamb shank and fish that we thought was just all right and too heavily sauced. This gets good reviews but maybe it was off with the weather.

    We had a really beautiful sunset and fun evening walking the streets, it is so delightful when you have it to yourselves. We are leaving in the morning but I would have liked another night here to explore other parts of the island and to go to Akrotiri. We only had a 2 week window and we had to still fit in Athens. We loved our time here and definitely had the "pinch me I'm dreaming" moments a lot. The crowds are a problem but easy to avoid during the day with outlying activities. I do think seeing it with a cruise would be rough and you probably would miss the sunset.

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    Our hotel arranged for our transportation to Santorini airport for 30 euros. It was a Mercedes bus/van that you could stand up in and would hold about 20 people, but we were the only ones on it. They picked us up at 9:30 for an 11:45 Aegean flight. As we drove in, traffic was stopped both ways for an accident. A motionless man was being attended to as his motorcycle was being pried out from under a truck. We had to change direction and traffic came to a standstill. What we thought was too early of a pickup time, ended up being perfect.

    When we arrived, there were lines everywhere. The driver said to avoid the tour groups and work our way to the front. We ended up being second in line, but one of our bags had to be weight redistributed with the other. While we were to the side attempting this, a tour group swooped in and was lined up out the door. Luckily, the agent waved us ahead, took our luggage and we were on to the next line.

    This is a tiny airport but packed with people. They had one screening station, it was a painfully slow line, it took at least 30 minutes to get through. Then it is on to the tiny waiting area, luckily, upstairs has outdoor seating and sandwiches and snacks for sale. To get to the plane you have to ride a bus and then climb outdoor stairs to the plane. This would be difficult with infants and their gear or the for elderly.

    On the plane we sat next to a mother and her 19 year old daughter, who's travel agent told them not to stay near Syntagma square, ooops!

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    wonderful report. Took some notes. We have also cruised with Oceania....great cruise line. Not overwhelming with people. Thanks for sharing. we will be cruising the Adriatic in september with Silver Sea. thanks for some tips.....Did you find it easy to get the Croatian Currency? hate to get to a place without the proper $ and find out there are long lines at ATM or it is broken. What did you do? Was your ship able to change Eruo or US $ for Kuna?

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