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GREECE: please help me get my trip started

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Im having a hard time putting my trip together. Intially was going to do a tour but i am kinda reading some mixed reviews and many people urging to do it on my own. This will be my husband and my 1 year anniversary trip. Looking to go in June, around 12 days. We are leaving for New York. My ideal budget is $9000 for both of us for everything, flights, hotels, transfers, sight seeing. I think flights are around $3000 for the both of us.

I have been thinking Athens Mykonos and Santorini as we likely wont return.

As i have never planned a trip like this before, and my research time is MINUTES between tasks at work im finding it hard.

Should i start by booking flights first or hotels first? i don't know how or where to book the transfers from one place to the next... i read there are a lot of options.

Any recommendations for hotels in the above locations? I do not require luxury as i believe one should not spend too much time in your room.. but would like comfy bed, nice bathroom, A/C and location is key. Im thinking spending the most in santorini hotel for view??

Do i need to rent a car?

Thanks in advance.... once i get the above off the ground, then the next step will be to plan each day.

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    I agree a tour is not a good idea for a couple, but it sounds like you could use some prof. help if you haven't been to Greece before. There are lots of travel agents in NYC which are Greek ex-pats - I'd look them up in your yellow pages or in the travel section of the NY Times, sunday edition. Also may want to try this link.
    If it you first time to Greece it is too easy to get caught up in how to navigate when all the road signs are in the funny looking cyrillic script - plan on using taxis - on the islands it is easier - you may want to consider a couple of scooters - they are a bundle of fun.

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    You should not book flights until you have looked at how flights, accommodations availability, open days of key attractions, e.g. Delos, Akrotiri, etc., and island connection situation can be integrated. Don’t look at everything, you won’t get anything done, just the key critical items.

    Moving between islands. A key book on this subject is “Greek Island Hopping” by Frewin Poffley
    The 2014 edition should be coming out in late February. Find a 2013 edition in your library. This book is one of the few resources I found that shows you how the islands are connected and how frequently. However, like anything else in Greece, you should not rely on the accuracy of the schedule. For that you have to look up online resources such as However, you will not get good idea of passages until a couple weeks before the departure and on top of that, the schedule can change up to the day of the sailing especially the ones by Sea Jet consortium.

    hotel transfers I recommend contacting your hotel to arrange transfer from airport/ferry dock to your hotel. For Mykonos, the transfers from/to airport/port was complimentary from my hotel. For Santorini, I paid for both. I would strongly prearrange a transfer through your hotel upon Santorini arrival by ferry. By the time the buses and transfers cleared, there was no taxi left at the ferry port. There is of course a bus to Fira linked to the ferry arrival. But Fira bus stop to your hotel can be a trek and if you are staying in Oia, that is one more bus ride. Probably not a good thing to do for your anniversary.

    Car or not depends on where you are going. I think US visitors tend to rent a car independent of specific destinations, but it really should be driven by where you are going. All key attractions in both Mykonos and Santorini are connected by frequent enough buses to/from the main town. The taxis are not that expensive, either. Where a car is needed is if you visit one place not served by bus or taxi to another, which is connecting locations without backtracking to the main town.

    While you can save money by taking ferry from Athens to islands, you can speed up trip by flying. You can do Athens, fly to Mykonos, ferry to Santorini, fly to NYC via somewhere in Europe or vice versa –- from NYC fly into Mykonos/Santorini via somewhere in Europe, ferry to another island, fly back to Athens, then fly back to NYC. Which way is better? You have to plug in different scenario into your flight booking engines. For my last trip, I have looked more than 100 different scenarios and chose the one that gave me acceptable price, duration, layover consideration, and departure time. You probably have less scenarios to deal with by flying from NYC, since you have direct flights into ATH.

    Hotels with view in Santorini, especially ones in Oia command premium price especially the ones with both the sunset and the caldera view. If you are somewhere else at sunset, e.g. dining at Amoudi bay, watching sunset from a sailboat on a sunset cruise, etc, having a sunset view from your hotel room probably does not have value and you can choose one with a caldera view only.

    And finally, both Mykonos and Santorini are mobbed by cruise boat tourists. Some days there are insane number of boats in port. If you want an island without cruise boat, visit Naxos or Paros. Naxos and Paros are ferry stop on key boats coming from Santorini, so it is a trivial addition. Of course, you have to reduce your stay in Santorini and Mykonos.

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    June is a great time for the Greek Islands, as everything (hotels, restaurants, ferries) are operating, but nothing is full. For travel in June I always book my flights first, looking for the best deal, then make the other arrangements.

    There are many, many hotels with rooms that fit your description, so you won't have a problem finding somewhere to stay. The standard basic room has twin beds, shower, and a/c. Mattresses are firm by American standards. Most hotels will have vacancies even if you leave it until late to make your search. You can wait until arriving in Greece to buy your ferry tickets, but flights to the islands must be booked in advance.

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    Like Heimdall we always nail down the transatlantic flight first. Once you have chosen your island then you can determine if you have time to catch a connecting flight through Athens on your day of arrival. You have to get over jet lag someplace and an island like Santorini is a perfect place to do that. You can check Olympic air and Aegean for those connecting flights. June schedule is out now and Aegean occasionally has seat sales. We book that flight next.
    Now that we know we are going to be on Santorini on a specific day we start to look for hotels. Caldera view is a must for Santorini. You can use a booking web site like booking dot com where you can plug in your dates and get price and availablity conveniently.
    Best towns are Fira, Firoestofani and Oia. One trick we learned is Oia and Fira are flooded with cruise ship visitors during the day but Firoestafani is just far enough away from Fira that the cruisers don't go that far. Yet it is an easy walk into Fira when you choose to go. That is how we manage the crowds. Santorini is the place where you will have to spend your budget to get those views.
    Many people find 3 or 4 nights in Santorini to be enough and then head out to a second island.
    Here is where I would depart from your plan of visiting Mykonos. Santorini and Mykonos are the two most promoted islands and the most expensive. I am always willing to pay for Santorini because it is unique but there are other charming alternatives to Mykonos that give you the same white and blue colours, without the cruise ships and with greater value for less money.
    From Santorini it is easy to get to Heraklion Crete. You can rent a car there or take the local bus to Chania. It is a beautiful Venetian era town with its walled section and harbour area. Chania is a perfect centre for excursions like the boat to Balso and Gramovossa with its beaches and pirate fort. Ancient Aptera is only 18 km away and the Samara George is famous as a day excursion.
    Or alternatively as Greg suggested look to Naxos or Paros as that perfect companion island with Santorini. Both have lots for you to do and they both have permanent populations so you will have a more realistic Greek experience. Our favourite is Naxos but either one will do. Or you could try Heimdalls favourite Antiparos which is a 15 minute water taxi ride from the main ferry port. All are perfect for your anniversary trip.
    Here are images of Chania, Naxos and Antiparos. All have daily ferry connections from Santorini.
    Naxos Town

    You can easily spend 5 top 6 days on any of these islands. Once you determine the number of days you want to spend then look for a return flight to Athens. Only Olympic Air services Naxos and Paros while you can fly back from Chania on Olympic and Aegean. We nail down this flight as well even before booking hotles.
    Plan to get back to Athens at least two nights before your return flight, Athens deserves two maybe 3 days. Concentrate on the center around the acropolis and you will have lots to do.
    Here are images of Athens

    Once you have your plan firmed up then we can help with suggestions for hotels and where to stay.

    Oh yes last thought don't set your expectations too high for a comfortable bed in Greece that, is bordering on a miracle.

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    My fiancee and I did a similar trip last August, starting in Athens, then going to Mykonos and Santorini. Some thoughts...

    On flights, look into open jaw or multi-flight itineraries. We ended up flying into ATH and out of JTR (Santorini) for a few hundred less than flights in and out of Athens and using ferries for the rest.

    Definitely take advantage of any hotel transfers, especially on the islands. Taxis tend to be a ripoff, especially on Santorini.

    One of our favorite parts of the trip was renting an ATV to drive around the islands. We did it on Mykonos and our friends who rented a car wanted to trade with us. Riding the ATV down to Super Paradise Beach was one of the most fun times I've had in my life. Kalo Livadi on Mykonos might be my favorite beach, and I'm from California.

    Most of all, enjoy! Like OP said, Greece is not a country we expected to go back to either, yet, we're planning a return trip because we loved it so much!

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