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There must be three times as many boats connecting Athens with the Cyclades as there were a decade ago. Most boats leave from Athens's port of Piraeus and also from Rafina; a few leave from Lavrio.
The big boats are more stable, and islanders consider the various Blue Star Ferries as their main connection to the mainland. Remember that some fast boats are small, and can roll uncomfortably in high seas. Also, highspeeds have little or no deck space; you are closed in.
Some older boats have no seat numbers, but usually these are the least crowded. The Blue Star will give you a seat number for a small extra fee, and the fast boats have reserved seats only. In summer, reserved seats must be secured in advance.
At Easter and around August 15, seats are hard to come by, and boat schedules alter for the holidays. Boats run much less frequently in winter, and many fast boats don't run at all.
Complaints are often heard about scheduling or overcrowding, but don't listen to them. Yes, everything is unpleasantly crowded in August—but reservations are secure.
Off-season you don't need reservations, and you can purchase tickets at offices on the dock in Piraeus. Boats can be canceled owing to gales, and then schedules go haywire and hundreds of people and cars have to fight for new tickets (in effect, the boat agencies never cancel boats; the harbor police decide, according to international regulations).
The Greek boats in general are efficient, stable, fast, and comfortable. The new no-smoking law seems to be effective, and in summer they are all air-conditioned.
For schedules (not too far in advance, please), check www.openseas.gr/OPENSEAS/map/index_en.vm. You can get daily schedules from the Piraeus Port Authority (210/451–1311 or 210/415–1321) and the Rafina Port Authority (22940/22300). Kaló taxídi (bon voyage)!
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