Why? Because you love yourself and those you want to bring with you, that’s why!
In all seriousness, cruising the Greek Islands is something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. And it’s the destination itself that’s everything.
As the cradle of modern civilization, the historic importance of Greece can’t be overstated or over-appreciated. The antiquity of the sites, their grandeur and preservation is mind-blowing and is proudly reflected in its whopping 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Greece played a crucial role in constructing society as we know it today and a chance to visit this culturally imperative part of the world should be jumped on, without hesitation.
But, you don’t have to be a history buff to fall in love with Greece and its thousands of stunning islands. The Mediterranean lifestyle is enchanting and easy to get behind. Locally grown and produced foods, from olives and olive oils to figs, feta and fresh-caught seafood, take centre stage. Mouth-watering wafts of grilled souvlaki coax constantly and Ouzo threatens after every meal.
Away from the big cities of Thessaloniki and capital, Athens, much of Greece has remained true to how it’s always been. Village life hasn’t changed much, now exotic in its simplicity in today’s always-connected world. With almost 14,000 km of coastline, beaches are the place to be, and each island has its very own flavour. With over 200 inhabited islands, each different from the next and only a handful with airports, flying to get around isn’t always an option, making cruising/sailing the only viable (and most rewarding) mode of transport.
The question then changes, from ‘why cruise the Greek Islands’, to ‘how to best cruise the Greek Islands’.
How to Best Cruise the Greek Islands
The short answer is, by sailing them. And by sailing, I mean boarding an actual sailboat, manned by an experienced crew and local guide with a month or two to spare, and heading out into the Aegean, Ionian, Cretan and Mediterranean Seas until you’ve had your fill. Only in a sailboat can you reach the shallow bays and harbours of the smaller islands, and only in a sailboat can you do and see everything.
If you’re a little short on time and money, your next best bet is to join a small-group escorted sailing trip. You get all the benefits of seeing Greece (or Croatia) from a sailboat, without the over-the-top fees associated with renting your own. Sure, your itinerary may not be your own but that won’t matter much if it’s all new to you anyway. Escorted group sailing tours also tend to include visits to certain must-see attractions, perfect for any first-time visitor.
If you’re not one for organized tours, don’t have the money to rent a sailboat and crew but still want the Greek island-hopping experience, you’ve dwindled your options down to just one: taking a cruise of the Greek Islands aboard an ocean liner.
Taking in the islands with a popular cruise line may have some drawbacks, but it also has many pluses, mostly to do with life on board these fabulous floating resorts.
The Benefits of Greek Island Cruises
For any first-timer to Greece wishing to see the islands, a 7 to 14-day cruise from Piraeus (main port city near Athens), Civitavecchia (Rome’s port town) or Venice on a major cruise line is perfect. Not only do you get a good enough introduction to a half-dozen or more islands, you do it in the most comfortable way possible. And, if any of the above embarkation points interest you, why not add a few nights prior to cruising?
Choosing a Cruise Line
Cruising with the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America Line or Celebrity Cruises is a treat. Spacious staterooms, often bigger than European hotel rooms, are perfect to return to after a day of seeing the sights on a sweaty itinerary stop. Meals on board are restaurant quality, the shore excursions immersive, and the entertainment options plentiful. By all accounts, cruising Europe often offers the best value for the money spent. And unpacking only once while visiting numerous destinations isn’t so bad either.
So, which cruise line is right for you? Well, it depends. As itineraries are similar across the spectrum, the difference between cruise lines mainly comes down to your preference in the ship and the amenities offered on board, the demographic they best cater to, and of course, price.
For those bringing the family or for younger cruisers, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International more than fit the bill. Both offer modern ships, activities for all ages and flexible dining options (hello, NCL’s Freestyle Cruising!). It is worth noting that Norwegian Cruise Line has been voted ‘Europe’s Best Cruise Line’ every year for the past 10 years! For those a little older, you can’t go wrong with Celebrity Cruises or Holland America Line, and their classic, slightly more refined programs.
As far as Greek Island cruising goes, bigger isn't better, as a smaller ship is more maneuverable and takes less time to embark and disembark at the many amazing stops. Unless you plan to remain on the ship during days at port, of course.
Popular Greek Island Cruise Itineraries
Keep in mind that most major cruise lines will only give you a day at any port of call on a Greek cruise. Account for the time it takes to disembark the thousands of guests on board (and the time it takes to reload all of those getting off) and your island time is actually quite limited. Mammoth cruise ships can’t just enter any port either (namely Mykonos and Santorini), and a smaller vessel (a tender) is needed to ferry passengers between the ship anchored in deeper water and the port, lengthening the overall procedure.
Many cruise line itineraries will combine Greece with Italy, Turkey, or a passage through the Adriatic Sea with stops on the gorgeous Croatian coast. Guests can enjoy Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Paros and Olympia, alongside Rome, Venice, Dubrovnik, Split, Izmir in Turkey and even Montenegro and Malta, among others. There will also be entire days at sea, making the ship you choose that much more important.
By the end of your cruise, you’ll have your favourite spots picked out, which you can then return to on your next European visit for a lengthier stay.
Here are some of our favourite itineraries that include the Greek Islands: