Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise

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After a whirlwind 8-day trek through Italy by train, we were ready to slow down for the second part of our honeymoon – a 10-day cruise through the Greek Isles.  While the pace might have been a bit slower, it was still filled with exciting adventures and amazing memories.  Whitewashed houses, cobblestone streets, deep blue waters, and the rich history of Greece are just some of the reasons why Greece is time and time again on the top list for Honeymoon destinations.  When picking a route through the Mediterranean, our priorities were Santorini and Turkey.  Shortly after booking, Turkey got replaced by Rhodes, due to political unrest and safety concerns.  We were still beyond excited! Beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, and watching sunsets from the balcony were calling our names.

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #Greece #cruise #mediterranean

Itinerary:

Day 1: Boarding the Ship from Rome

10:15 am - Train ride from Roma Termini to Civitavecchia

Taking a train is the cheapest way to get to the cruise port.  Buying tickets in advance online, only cost about 6 euros per person.  The train ride takes an about an hour and has only a few stops along the way.  Be forewarned, some Italian trains are overbooked.  Buying a ticket on regional trains does not secure you a seat.  Our cruise left on a Friday, so the train was packed not only with foreign cruisers but also local Romans looking for a weekend escape to the beach.  Those that arrived 5 minutes or less before the train departed were left standing in the aisles resting on their suitcases.  Our advice: as soon as you see the platform number announced, go secure a seat for yourself.  Additionally, the train's first stops are other stations within Rome, even if those stations are closer to your hotel - board the train at Roma Termini.

Besides the crowding issue, the train was a great way to get to the cruise port.  The other options were a 25 euro bus ride or 150+ euro cab ride or private transfer.

11:30 am - Arrived in Civitavecchia

The train station is just a short walk (5-minute) to the entrance to the port.  The port is a working industrial port, meaning no walking allowed.  However, there is a free bus that takes you to lot where you can get ANOTHER bus to your specific cruise ship.

12:30 pm - Boarded the ship and the party started!

Spent our first day eating, walking around the ship, searching for an ice cream machine, eating said ice cream, unpacking, taking a nap, and eating again.

Day 2: Sicily (Messina), Italy

After breakfast, we went back to our balcony room and watched as Sicily got closer and closer.  Pulling into the port, the ship did a 180º turn to settle into its spot.  The city of Messina on Sicily is only a short 3 miles away from mainland Italy - close enough to see, even on a cloudy day. 

 View of Messina, Sicily from our Balcony

View of Messina, Sicily from our Balcony

 The drive to Taormina from Messina is scenic, but slightly scary, especially in a large bus.

The drive to Taormina from Messina is scenic, but slightly scary, especially in a large bus.

11:00 am - Docked in Sicily and took a bus to Taormina

We booked a transfer to the delightful Silician towns of Taormina, a must do!  

Read more about our day: Top 5 Free Things to See in Taormina

 Piazza IX Aprile - the main square of Taormina

Piazza IX Aprile - the main square of Taormina

In Taormina, we strolled through the pedestrian-only town delighting in the gorgeous sea views from this cliff-side village.  We had traditional cannoli, recommended by locals, from O'Sciality.  Yummy!  We had until 3:00 pm till we had to get on the bus back to Messina.  The drive between the cities is an hour, so we had some time to walk around Messina.  Messina is mainly just the entry to Sicily by ferry boat from the mainland, however, it is not without its charm.  Like most Italian cities, it has a gorgeous cathedral and Piazza in the center of town.  Messina is also home to an automated astronomical clock tower next to the cathedral.  

 Isola Bella Beach sits just below Taormina

Isola Bella Beach sits just below Taormina

 Beautiful scenic lookout over Isola Bella and the Sicilian coastline

Beautiful scenic lookout over Isola Bella and the Sicilian coastline

 Villa Comunale - Public Gardens - in Taormina

Villa Comunale - Public Gardens - in Taormina

8:00 pm - Cruise got moving again, heading to the Aegean Sea

Day 3: Sea Day

2nd full day on the ship was just cruising on the Mediterranean.  We have a love-hate relationship with sea days, while we don't get to visit a new city, there is so much to do on the ship.  A nice couple's massage, musicals, swimming, dance parties, running laps on the top deck, karaoke, mini golf, and amazing food, of course.  Typically sea days are also formal days, which you can either avoid like the plague and chill out in your casual clothes at the buffet OR embrace the forced date night.

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #Cruise #greece
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #cruise #sunset

Day 4: Mykonos, Greece

Made it to Greece!

7:00 am - Docked in Mykonos

Depending on if there are other cruises at Mykonos that day, you will either tender in or dock.  We were the first ship to arrive, so we docked.. which strangely was the inferior alternative.  The tender from the ship takes you directly into old Mykonos Town.  The cruise ship dock is a bit of a distance away from the old town, requiring either a bus or a ferry, costing a few extra euros.  

 Old Town Mykonos port

Old Town Mykonos port

While the Greek island we were most looking forward to was Santorini, Mykonos far and beyond surpassed our expectations and might have even beat out Santorini.  The romantic atmosphere of Mykonos early in the morning was ideal.  We had cobblestone alleyways nearly to ourselves.

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #cruise #mykonos
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #mykonos #cruise

Read more about our Day: Half-Day in the Stunning Mykonos, Greece

Before most people got off the boat, we had strolled the streets, found the famous windmills, relived the beginning of our honeymoon in Little Venice, and watched the sea on a bench on the beach.  

6:00 pm - Sailed way from Mykonos

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #mykonos #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #mykonos #cruise #greece

Day 5: Rhodes, Greece

7:00 am - Arrived in Rhodes

In Rhodes, you dock right outside of the well-preserved historic walled Old Town.  We dedicated this day to the beach, so we got a transfer to Faliraki beach.  To use our onboard credit received when booking, we chose to go through Royal Caribbean for this excursion.  There are cheaper ways to DIY this, including getting a cab from the port or using a public bus.  Many other people skip the beach and head to the gorgeous ruins of Lindos while in Rhodes. 

 Old Walled Town of Rhodes, Greece

Old Walled Town of Rhodes, Greece

Our beach transfer included access to a beautiful resort on the beach and beach chairs.  The Rhodes beach transfer was among the cheapest beach transfers offered through Royal when looking at the options for all of the ports and one of the only that did not require an extra charge for beach chairs and an umbrella.  The beach was perfect.  Being the beginning of June, the water was a bit chilly, but still enjoyable for a swim.  We had time to read, get access to WIFI for the first time in days (this is when I learned that my workplace burnt down...), and layout.  There are many beach activities (jet skis, parasailing, tubing) that you can do for an extra fee.

When it was time to leave... our bus did not show up.  The guide that was with us did whatever she could to get a new bus as soon as possible.  It took an extra 45 minutes for a new bus to get to us, time I wish could have been spent on the beach and not on the hot concrete sidewalk, but the problem was handled professionally and as swiftly as the guide could.  We never did find out what happened to our original driver.

We were planning on exploring the old town after our beach excursions, but after the delay returning and a couple's massage we had scheduled for later, we skipped it.

5:00 pm - Bye Bye Rocky Rhodes

Day 6: Santorini, Greece

7:00 am - The day is finally here, the picturesque Santorini!

The day before we were warned there would be 4 cruise ships in Santorini.  Santorini cannot accommodate that many people.  The advice was to get off the ship as early as possible.  We took that to heart and were on the second tender (which departed before the time reported on the cruise compass) off the ship.  The tender drops you off at a port below the cliff-perched town of Fira.  There are a few vendors at the port that sell a boat transfer to Oia and bus back to Fira.  We chose the one that already had their boat available at the port.  That early in the morning, we had to wait a bit for the boat to fill up to justify leaving for Oia.  About 15 minutes later, we were speeding off to Oia.

DSC_7964.jpg
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #oia #cruise

Read more about our Day: Caldera and Cable Cars: The Perfect Day in Santorini, Greece

Santorini definitely lived up to our expectations!  Breathtakingly spectacular.  If you go to the island, you must see Oia and preferably first thing, before it gets too crowded with tour groups.  After walking around Oia for a few hours, we got the bus to Fira.  Being extremely accident prone, getting into my seat on the bus I hit my head on the overhead rack above the seats.  Nausea and the headache afterward, made it pretty hard to enjoy Fira.  After a short walk around in the extremely crowded streets of Oia, we got the cable car back down.  

6:00 pm - Get to the deck and watch as you cruise away from the ashy caldera.

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #oia #cruise #santorini
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #santorini #oia #cruise
 View of Oia, Santorini, Greece from Oia Castle

View of Oia, Santorini, Greece from Oia Castle

Day 7: Athens, Greece

6:00 am - Start of our last day in Greece

The port of Athens, Piraeus, is about a 30-minute drive from the Acropolis in traffic.  Avoiding an organized tour, the best way to get into Athens is using a Hop-On Hop-Off bus.  While we normally avoid these buses, we would highly recommend one in Athens.  Having only one day in this large city, an open top bus allows you to see the main sights and get basic background/history through the audio commentary you can connect to on the bus at a reasonable price.  

The first place we went was the Acropolis.  This might have ended up being a foolish choice, as most organized tours do the Acropolis first thing and they get to skip the line.  We did have a relatively short line to get tickets (which was an hour long at the time we were leaving).  Despite not being college students anymore, we brought our old college IDs and were able to get 50% off tickets since we were still in our 20s.

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #athens #greece #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #athens #acropolis
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #greece #athens #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #athens #greece #cruise

Wow! The Acropolis is completely surreal.  Remembering Greek history from middle school, seeing this 5th century BC site in person left me speechless.

After the Acropolis, we did the full loop on the bus.  Some great spots to get off are for the Acropolis museum, Panathinaikon Stadium, National Gardens, and Syntagma Square.

6:00 pm - Sailing away from Athens

Day 8: Sea Day

Wahoo! After four early mornings and lots of walking, a sea day was much deserved.  

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #cruise #greece
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #Greece #Ocean #cruise

Day 9: Naples, Italy

7:00 am - Back in Italia! 

There are so many options of places to see from Naples – Capri, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast or Naples itself.  No matter which option you choose, you will have an amazing day.  We chose to do both Pompeii and Amalfi Coast - a lot to fit in one day.  We booked a tour through Viator, which is a trusted company which hosts independent local tour companies in many different cities around the world.

9:00 am - Picked up in the port and drove to Pompeii

Before entering Pompeii, we stopped at a carved cameo sea shell factory.  I'm sure visiting this factory allows the tour company to get a cut of sales, allowing for a cheaper tour ticket price.  We had a fun time guessing the exorbitant prices of these shells and left before we accidentally knocked something over.

Pompeii is huge!  It would take a whole day to see it all, but we only had a limited time and focused on the highlights.  A guide is extremely valuable in Pompeii so you actually know what you were looking at.  They were able to point out the ancient Pizzerias from the ruins, how Pompeiians drank from their fountains and the arrows (*cough* penises *cough) that pointed to the brothels.  We did have some free time in Pompeii to explore a bit on our own.

 Streets of Pompeii with the deadly Mount Vesuvius in the background

Streets of Pompeii with the deadly Mount Vesuvius in the background

 Ruins of Pompeii

Ruins of Pompeii

 Our first view of the Amalfi Coast

Our first view of the Amalfi Coast

After Pompeii, we had lunch that was included in the tour price.  The restaurant was designed to accommodate large tour groups and only had a few choices on the menu. The tour company combined a few of their tours - some that just went to Pompeii, others that went to Capri or the Amalfi Coast after Pompeii.  Therefore, not everyone was making the long drive to the Amalfi coast.  Those that were only had one menu option - the Pizza (which would have been my choice regardless), as it was the fastest.  After the Pizza, we were treated to ice cream and then got in a van to the Amalfi coast.  

Unfortunately, due to an accident and traffic on the road along the Amalfi coast, we had to go an alternative route straight to Amalfi.  We missed out on seeing Positano, but their priority was to get us back to the ship on time.  The road was still scenic and Amalfi was stunning.  We had a great day in the Postcard town of Amalfi and the culture-rich Pompeii ruins.

 Amalfi, Italy

Amalfi, Italy

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #italy #amalfi #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #amalfi #italy #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #italy #amalfi #cruise

6:00 pm - Farwell to our last port

Day 10: Rome, Italy

7:30 am - Saddest day - leaving our home for the last 9 days.

8:00 am - Got a bus to the train station and took a train to Roma.  We booked these train tickets that day and once again the train was packed.  Get to the platform early!

10:30 am - Metro to our hotel

12:00 pm - Saint Peter's Basilica

Before the cruise, we spent 3 days in Rome and were able to hit most of the major sights, but ran out of time to see the inside of St. Peter's Basilica.

Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #italy #rome #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #italy #rome #cruise
Exploring the Greek Isles on a Cruise - A Happy Passport #Italy #rome #cruise

Next stop was our favorite gelateria in Rome - Giolitti.  The perfect way to end our trip.

The next morning (before sunrise) we got a Taxi outside our Hotel to the Airport.  Word of warning, the drivers in Italy are crazy.  That early in the morning the streets were nearly empty, but that did not stop the insanity.  Taking a peek at the odometer while on a residential, our driver was going 90-100 mph on a 45 mph street.  We made it to the airport in one piece and in nearly half the time google maps estimated it at.  Taxis have a set price they must charge when going from intercity Rome to the Airport, so the faster a driver is able to do that journey - the more fares they can get.  One last thrill of our honeymoon.

Cost:

Below is the total expenses for two people in a balcony room on a 9-night Greek Isles Mediterranean cruise.  Since it was for our honeymoon, we splurged on a few excursions that we might not have done otherwise.  We did avoid getting food in port since it was free on the cruise ship.  However, we did budget for a few sweet treats here and there while on land.  The actual price we paid was less than listed as we got $300 of onboard credit when booking.  

We booked the cruise a year in advance and during a sale.  You can either book directly with the cruise line or with a website such as Cruise Direct.  If you want to compare multiple different cruises, Cruise Direct price matches, so you are guaranteed to get the lowest price and helps with comparing cruise lines and specific cruises.  

  • Cruise fare and gratuities .......................... $3384

  • Train: Roma -> Civitavecchia ........................ $15

  • Transfer to Taormina ................................... $110

  • Rhodes Hotel Beach Package ....................... $78

  • Oia Speed Boat Transfer .............................. $50

  • One-way Cable Car down from Fira ............ $10

  • Athens Hop-on hop-off ................................ $45

  • Acropolis student tickets ........................... $20

  • Pompeii and Amalfi Day Trip from Naples ... $183

  • Train: Civitavecchia -> Roma ........................ $15

  • Sweet treats (cannoli, gelato) .................... $25

  • Total .............................................................. $3,935

Tips:

  • Mediterranean cruise season runs from May to October.  Going on either end of the season (May/June or October) is the best option - lower crowds and cooler weather.  July and August can be excruciatingly hot, made worse by being packed shoulder to shoulder at the Greek ruins.  No matter when you go, bring sunscreen and sunglasses.  Most of the islands are pretty lacking in the tree department or shade.
  • You can get by with minimal Greek, but make sure you know the basics (Hello, Thank You, You're Welcome).  Everyone we interacted with spoke English.  You will likely have to withdraw Euros, as credit cards are not as widely accepted as they are elsewhere in the world.
  • You will be walking a lot.  Likely in narrow, cobblestone alleyways.  It can be very challenging for people with mobility impairments.  Get good shoes and rest up before each port.
  • Same thing I recommend with any cruise: bring a surge protector.  Most of the ships that visit the Mediterranean are older, made in a time when people did not carry around 10 different electronics with them.  A surge protector will greatly expand on the available outlet options you have in your cabin.
  • Use this as a taster for future land-based vacations.  Europe is full of culture and experiences that can be only enjoyed spending the night in a country.  A cruise is a great way to see multiple places to determine where you want to visit again later.

 

Check out the video from our Honeymoon, including our cruise adventures!