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Newbee Greece Traveler needs advice!

Hi, I am in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Santorini from the States with my family (other suggestions are welcome: Naxos better?). There are 4 of us (ages 43,42,21 and 15). We know that we are not into "touristy" attractions, and really want to avoid cruise ship crowds. But at the same time, we want to have plenty of exploring to do. Our travel dates are May 25 - June 4 this year. We are open to two different locations, but we don't want to squeeze too much in to our short time. I have seen so many different suggestions for areas to stay on this site. Although very helpful, there are so many different opinions. So here are some of my questions:
1- Hotel or Homeaway.com? (budget is 270euro-550euro per night, but we are not high maintenance people) We would need a two bedroom suite if we stayed in a Hotel.
I found these houses that look nice, but have no idea about the location
Firastephani:
https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p3995126
https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p690729vb
Oia:
https://www.homeaway.com/search/keywords:Oia%2C+Santorini%2C+Greece/arrival:2016-05-25/departure:2016-06-04/minSleeps/4
https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1770429?uni_id=3607464
https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p3558652
2- We really don't want to rent a car, so walking distance to a cool town with plenty to do would be nice. Firastefani, Oia, Fira?
3 -Do we need restaurant reservations?
4- I think we are flying into Athens, should we reserve a day on the way home to explore Athens?
I realize this may take some time to review, but I really appreciate any help and suggestions. As a newbee, I am really nervous about doing this right, while making the most of our money.

Posted by
8293 posts

I have only been to Santorini once and we stayed at the Santorini Palace in Fira. It is a short walk to a bus stop into town. The hotel is beautiful, with a view of the caldera and glorious sunsets. I see that they do have suites for up to 4 people. It may suit you.

Posted by
2853 posts

To start with, it helps to know how long you actually would have IN Greece. If you depart the US on May 25, you do not arrive until May 26, sometimes even late in the day, depending on your airline. So that would be less than 9 days. Secondly, what do you want from your Greek isles experience? Santorini's famous View makes it a highly desired must-see for first-time visitors, but what else is on your to-do list? Swimming on sandy beaches? Some walks in mountain scenery? Browsing in a small nontouristic village where Greeks go about their lives? Plenty to do? All of these (plus avoiding cruise crowds) can be better accomplished on an island like Naxos (along with lodging options that are much less expensive and on or near a good beach). A great deal depends on what your Santorini priorities are; perhaps your 21-year-old wants some late-night clubbing, there's more of that than activities for 17 year olds.

But there's a way that you can have your cake and eat it too (i.e., experience BOTH islands) -- the secret is planning LOGISTICS first, and only then dealing with accommodations. Greece travel, alas, is more complicated than US ( you must work out boats & planes connections vs being able to jump in a car & get somewhere anytime).

There are several ways to do this -- and a LOT depends on your arrival time and on what day:
(1) FLY to one island -- ferry to 2nd -- fly/ferry back to ATH to spend (at least) 1 day sightseeing
(2) FLY to Naxos -- do special Day-excursion to Santorini -- ferry back to PIRAEUS - ATH for final day of sightseeing
... transportation will add to your budget (at least $100 pp for domestic air = $400-600 more), but when you lack time, you may have to invest money. You CAN save on lodging costs if you stay a shorter time on Santorini and longer on Naxos, where places on/near good beaches are very moderate. In Santorini, staying on the "view side" can be quite costly.

If your arrival is May 25 AND you're taking one of the (few) nonstops from US that arrive 9 or 9:30, you have the most options -- a 12:55 flight (45 mins) to Naxos @ €106, or a 1:10 flight(also 45) to Santorini @€123-145. If you arrive late in day, you might consider staying at a cute local B & B with a pool, then catching a (bargain) 6 or 7AM flight to either. If Santorini is where you want to head first, you might consider spending only 2-3 nights there, then taking a pleasant 2-hour ferry to Naxos for 4-5 days. Alternatively if you mainly want to see Santorini for "the View", 2x a week day-trip: vessels leave Naxos at 8:30, arrive 10:30, where a bus whisks you to 0ia for 3 hours free time, then to Fira for another 3-4 hours on your own, then boat sals back to Naxos by 7 or so. At the end of your island time, a ferry takes 9 hours from Santorini (3pm-midnight) and whereas the Blue Star (large, comfortable) ferry stops at Naxos at 6 pm, giving you a last afternoon on the beach, and a shorter voyage. Do save at least one day in Athens to see the Acropolis at least - and we always recommend not arriving back on mainland th same day as homebound flight.

The key thing for you is learning enough about both islands to decide what YOU want, and how you're going to manage the transport to do it .. after that, you can get plenty of help on lodgings. BTW, it can be hard to find 2-bedroom places in the best locations, not needing car, but much easier to find accoms. where there are side-by-side "studio" units which also have kitchenette ells, v. handy for breakfast, lunches, snacks at will (especially welcome when kids sleep in). A final note: we can give you better advice if you can give a lodging budget range per night, so we won't suggest inappropriate places. PPS: when looking at Santorini properties, be aware that "sea view" means the place only looks east toward the other side of the island, no "Caldera view."

Posted by
439 posts

We were just in Santorini this fall for a few days. We really didn't go to any of the other islands, so it is hard to compare. I can tell you it is one of the most beautiful places I have been. We stayed in a B&B in fira. We got a taxi to Oia one day but some friends said the bus was very easy for getting around to any of the places you would want to go. I can tell you that when the cruise ships dock it was overwhelming. Apparently, there is a Japanese movie that was very popular and the couple married in Oia. Now all the Japanese women come there to marry. They put the white dress over shorts or pants & hike up the hills, then have one large ceremony. It was a little odd to see. They are also very into the selfie sticks, they walk up the narrow lanes, not paying attention to anything (like other people's eye's) taking pictures of themselves. I found this a bit hard to take, there were a lot of people. They all return to the boats for sunset & the island returns to a quiet beautiful place. I loved the locals on the island, all were very friendly. One restaurant even found my camera, it was still there the next day.

I don't believe you will need reservations, there are a ton of restaurants. We didn't make any & never had a problem. Try Mama's House, very good.

Posted by
2853 posts

Amusing, Mary, this is a phenomenon from APril onward. And these many of these couples don't even marry in Santorini... they just go there to get pictures, then go back home for the wedding. I've even heard of Japanese women who don't have wedding plans yet, .. who go to Santorini for "bride" pictures, in anticipation of finding a fiance. It's a funny world!

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks to all of you for your help. I am a bit overwhelmed with my planning, but here is where I am leaning now. I would love more input as well:
May 25 - Leave east coast States
May 26 - Arrive in Athens and travel / fly directly to Santorini (stay for 4 nights)
May 30 - Leave by Blue Star to get to Naxos before Cruise ships come in (stay 4 nights)
June 3 - Early flight back to Athens - See Acropolis- any other sights we can fit in - eat a good meal
June 4 - Fly home out of Athens

As for what "we" want to do.....it's pretty simple:
My Family just wants to be together doing cool new things. We live near a beach so we don't really care to "experience" the beach a lot. We would like to swim in blue water, eat good food, drink good wine, maybe see wineries, maybe hike cool areas, and per my 15 year old daughter's request....."stay on the side of the cliff where all those cool white buildings are". Note: My son gets very sea sick, so boating may not be an option.
Ps: Suggestions for places to stay would be greatly appreciated. Our housing budget is anywhere from 300 euro all the way up to 800 euro per night. We may even stretch that for an experience that is worth it.

Posted by
248 posts

We stayed in Fira last October and it worked out very well. The bus station there is a hub so you can go north to Oja, or south to Akrotiri ruins (very interesting), east to black sand beach or other places. We stayed at the Keti which is on the side of the caldera with great views. Our room opened out to a large terrace and had a room adjacent also opening onto the same terrace. Breakfast is provided and they will arrange for airport shuttle (10 euros? each person, each way) that includes someone taking your luggage on the walk down to the hotel and more important up when you are leaving. It is a walk down from town center as are many of the hotels with views.

I'd really recommend more time in Athens....even if you arrived the evening before the 'one day'. The airport is an hour from town. You will have to deal with luggage (maybe going to hotel) before going on to Acropolis. Those two things will take up a significant amount of time before you can head out to see sites. It would be better getting situated with arriving in the evening and then start early on the last day to see the Acropolis and other nearby sites.

Posted by
5 posts

Ok. So now I am settling on May 26 - June 1 in Santorini (So that we will not be there during cruise drop off days). On June 1, we will travel to Athens and spend Thursday, June 2 and Friday, June 3 in Athens before heading home on the 4th.

I just can't figure out where to stay in both Santorini or Athens. We want to spend 650 euro or less per night. Any advice would be helpful. I am seriously doing my homework, I just can't settle on a decision.

Posted by
2853 posts

adaire, i am afraid that you have mistaken the timing a bit -- the biggest Cruise Ship days are Tues-Wed-Thurs ... when about 3 cruise ships dock with about 2500-3000 passengers eacj, so it's about 7,000- 9,000 arriving from about 9 AM on, to about 4:30. June 1 is Wednesday. And that is 7 days in Santorini ... if that is the case, you will want a hotel with a pool -- but I don't know if you can get everything you want at that price. You are competing with all the "Bridezillas" (not the japanese, the US & European ones). In Firostephani, look at http://www.agnademaapartments.com IMHO one of the best values w pool & caldera view, if they have any units left.

In Athens, I would suggest staying on the SOUTH side of the Acropolis, near the wonderful no-cars promenade. Quieter, very convenient to Acrop/acrop museum etc etc. Suggest looking at Hotel Airotel Parthenon, Hotel Herodion, Hotel Phillipos, on high floors. NOTE; you probably will have to get 2 adjoining rooms not a suite, but your progeny are "big Boys/Girls" now.

Posted by
2853 posts

PS, to "swim in blue water" in Santorini you will need to get to Fira "Bus square" and then take a bus to the Eastern beaches (wear water shoes! the beaches are black and get VERY hot). From Oia you can walk the steps down from the cliff to the water and swim off rocks there. That's why a lot of people look around for pool hotels.

PPS: Those "cool white buildings" are indeed lovely ... and they are also all over Naxos, Paros, Sifnos, Serifos, Mykonos -- well, about 25 Cyclades islands. You can check out some of these on your next trip!

Posted by
2853 posts

PPPS: I just clicked on booking.com for Agnadema -- and for your dates they still have their deluxe 2-room suite for 4 for $1,538 for 6 nights = about $250. A total bargain IMHO

Posted by
5 posts

Thank You, Janet for the great info!
One last Question....hypothetically speaking......using my info above......and if budget were not an issue, where would you go in the Greek Islands if you were me? What would you do? And How would you get there? (I love having this kind of information because it will allow me to choose where to "splurge" if I decide to.)

Posted by
2853 posts

Happy to oblige, adaire (and BTW, don't you HATE the RS feature, that when you click on "reply" the entire thread disappears except for original question??? So you have to open a 2nd window so as to have all the answers before you... end of rant!!).

Not at all hypothetically, I already tried to advise what I'd do if I were you! And almost any option I would suggest would cost you LESS than the one you've seemingly chosen, because Santorini is THE most touricized, most ballyhooed, most costly destination in all of Greece. Not that I'm saying avoid it, because it has become a "must-see." It was actually the first island I went to on my First trip to greece in 1999 (tho I must add my trip was 30 days, after 2 days on Santorini, I went on to 6 more islands AND Peloponnese AND Athens). 2015 was my 12th (and perhaps final?) visits, and on 9 of my trips I've taken along 3-4 newbies... so of course I've returned to Santorini numerous times. All of them loved the view -- and all of them chose another island (mainly Naxos) as their top favorite. I know what they mean ... on my 1st trip I meant to spend only 3 days there, but kept adding on and adding on, couldn't bear to leave. Naxos has it all -- and (alas) the world finally is discovering it, and I'm urging people to go there before it changes. Last year Trip Advisor listed their choice of the 10 top islands in the WORLD to visit -- and the only island in the entire Mediterranen - Aegean TA named was ... guess what??

As I said, ALL the cycladic isles have the "white cube" houses your daughter admires, she just has not seen any photos but Santorini ... and Naxos has 15 MILES of golden-sand beaches, a SUPER bus network that enables you to get most places without a car (except if you want to take a one-day swoop around, and then I've got a neat taxi-driver u can hire). It's one of the greenest most fertile isles, farms, vineyards, flocks of sheep, marble (!) mountains, stunning hillside ruins, the BEST tiny museum in all of Greece, wonderful waterside tavernas with freshest ingredients; hard to spend more than €15 per person a hearty meal w. 1/2 litr wine each. You've picked the ideal week to visit, perfec weather. staying on Ag. Giorgios beach adjacent to Port town gives u best of both worlds. And it ideal for teens, safe, fun, lots their age, your daughter can roam a bit, be on her own a little (the Waffle House is the teen mecca in town). And for your 21-year-old, nightlife at some mellow clubs, good music, not over the top. Oh, did I mention that beach-side rooms in nonpool hotels in May can be anywhere from €35 - 75 nightly? And "Luxe" hotels, about €120?

Why has it not become Santorini? Well, its harbor not deep enough for Mega-cruisers, Airport too small for jumbo jets (so you don't get hordes of European package-tourers) and Naxians like it that way. But... that all could change.

Here are some photo links from a Canadian couple I met on Naxos & re-meet there annually:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157634605629689/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/sets/72157645113682278/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157656336387898

I rest my case!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/albums/72157656336387898

Posted by
949 posts

Santorini is not what Greece is all about. It's what the travel agents want a first-timer to think that's what Greece is. I have been going to Greece every year for many years and I have never gone to Santorini. I've seen the videos, photos and "oh-wows" from many people but if you want a real Greek experience then Santorini is not it. Naxos is lovely, so is Sifnos, Milos, Amorgos, Astypalea, Seriphos, Folenandros, Ikaria, Lemnos, Thassos and many other smaller, non-touristy islands. I'm not saying don't go to Santorini but if you think that island is what Greece is then you'll be disappointed. If you like to party, nightlife, high prices, crowds, so-so beaches and vistas crowded with other tourists, then you'll love Santorini, but if you want a real "Greek" experience head for the small, less-touristy, and more traditional islands.

Posted by
439 posts

Hi,

We stayed at Kamaras Apartments. It did have a Kitchenette. It was just on the edge of Fira. I can't remember the owner's name but she was very nice. Wonderful breakfast, each apartment has their own balcony, they would leave the breakfast there for you. The only downside was if you looked to your left there was some sort of strip mining. I am pretty easy, I just turned the chair towards fira.

Janet - thank you for finally explaining something to me. I kept telling my husband, I can't find the grooms....they have to be there. Apparently they do not have to be there!

Posted by
5 posts

Janet,
Thank you! Thanks for taking the time to care about my family and our trip (which may very well be our last family trip before marriage, grandkids, real jobs etc)! You are the reason that I got on this sight! I just can't tell you how much it has meant to me. I am booking our trip tomorrow (after 5 days of nonstop research and pining) with the same schedule except I am inserting Naxos where I had Santorini originally. We may take a day trip to Santorini on the Blue Star.......MAYBE. Your pictures helped so much because the Naxos hotel photos were not very enticing. Again.....THANKS SO MUCH! I plan to share our experiences with you in June!
Adaire

Posted by
2853 posts

I am so glad my tips have been useful ... because of my many trips with "newbies" I can help others avoid pitfalls, and perhaps make for the best experience, that's what it's all about. So many people are disappointed because of decisions based on "my friends say" -- when their friends' circumstances are very different. BTW, my friend "Stanbr" & his wife have son/daughter; when the kids were 15 & 18, finally took them along... to ATH & 4 islands. "Kids" liked Naxos best of all, still talk about it, 15 yrs later.

NOTE: u don't have to take Bllue Star to see Santorini, as noted in my #1 post, take a DAY Excursion on MV Alexander (not the Naxos Star, it's too small, bumpy ride). Runs every Tuesday... reserve a couple days ahead. Leaves 8:30 - back before dinner. When you want to take BLUE STAR is last day of island stay. The 9:45am sailing takes till 3pm, cuts up a whole day. My strategy?? Take the "sunset" sailing of B-S. Check out of hotel at 12 as u must, but have hotel stash your luggage.. then arrange to use a spare bathroom at about 4:30 or so to wash up & put on travel clothes. That gives you another whole day in town or on the beach! Reach dock 5:30, board, sail at 6. Buy "reserve economy" also called "Aircraft seating". Ask for seats in SIDE compartments (smaller areas, quieter). You can sit out on deck as long as u wish, eat from several cafes, then go to numbered seats to snack read, nap, till 11:45 arrival - taxi to hotel.

Your LOGISTICS are first -- get those Domestic Air flights & then u can relax a bit. If u need to confer further about choices, you can send me a PM (just click on my name & you'll see how) and we can set up e-mailing or a quick phone chat. Now -- get busy and good luck!! --- TJ

Posted by
1913 posts

I think you've made a wise decision, although I would encourage a day trip to Santorini if you can work it in, because it is a memorable sight. Here's a schedule of cruise ship dockings in Santorini for May 2016, which may help in scheduling your day trip.

Posted by
1913 posts

That WAS the link I tried to include but didn't check afterward to make sure it worked, so thanks, Janet.

And Janet, on behalf of everyone who you have helped so much, I hope you will find yourself back on your beloved Naxos again someday!

Posted by
2853 posts

Thanks so much for your good wishes Charlene -- I hope so too! Alas, I don't seem to have the energy of the Everready Bunny these days, thus can't deal with leading 3-5 eager peppy "newbie" travel pals (who then help pay my airfare and make my trips possible) ... so I'm sitting out 2016, and hoping for 2017! In the meantime, I travel vicariously...