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Question about cruise versus ferry/flying to see islands

A friend and I in our 40s were looking at going to Greece mid-May for 10 days. Want to hit Athens, Delphi, Mykonos, Santorini, Kusadasi, Patmos and Crete. The cruise we are looking at is 2 days in Athens, a day in Mykonos, a day in Kusadasi (checking out Ephesus) and Patmos, and just a half day in Santorini. We'd then shoot up to Delphi for a day, spend the night and come back via bus to Athens. From what I'm reading, it seems that it would be worthwhile to spend a few days in Mykonos and Santorini and it seems like the best way to do that would be to fly to at least one of the islands. We like to see both historic and natural sites. It seems like it would cost more if we didn't do the cruise, but you spend more time on the ship. Would it be better to just stick to the Greek islands and do the Turkey places another time? We're looking at low budget, but still safe for females. Thanks for any input!

Posted by
2852 posts

Hi Christy -- and welcome to the Greece adventure!
Many people who are new to travel abroad choose a cruise -- partly because they want someone else to make all arrangments, and sometimes because the cruise prices seem like a "bargain", enabling them to explore many places in a short time. Alas, they have to learn from experience. Many cruise packages lure people with a long list of destinations, but your visits are so brief, they are almost a "drive-by" ... it's really mainly a shipboard experience, interleaved with brief hours in port, where you stand in lilne with 2,000+ other people to get ashore, wander in crowds around the port town, then line up to re-board. Any site tours set up by the ship are $$$; that's how they make big profits. You'll come back saying NEXT time I'll know better ... but why not learn before you go?

Here's a possible alternative: stick to Athens and TWO islands (plus perhaps a Delphi daytrip) -- and to do that, you'd need a full 10 days ON the Ground. You do not clarify if your 10 days includes travel time to/from Greece. If so, you really only have 8 days. With 10 days on the ground (ie., Leave Fr 5/15, DepTu 5/26) a possible scenario would be: Friday: Fly CO to NY or PA for nonstop aft plane to ATH... Sat: arrive 9-9:30 AM, fly direct to SANTORINI @ noon. [NOTE-- if you buy this flight now, you may luck into a good "promotional price" of 40-50€].. Sat aft-Sun-Mon - SANTORINI. Mon 3:30pm --2 hr Ferry NAXOS (or PAROS)... Mon Nt-T-W-Th on NAXOS [NOTE: this enables a Th day-trip to Mykonos on special Excursion vessel). Th 6pm- ferry to ATH port. Fri-Sat - ATHENS sightseeing; Sun noon - intercity (KTEL)bus to DELPHI, o'nite. Mon A.M.-DELPHI; return by 5pm ATH. Tues -Dep USA. OPTION: Day-trip to Delphi -- but this involves 3+hours each way on Tour bus, limited time to enjoy site, in a crowd.

I go with travel pals & solo, and definitely low-budget (€75 per day covering most costs), but make own bookings. If this seems daunting, several good Greece-based travel agencies work constantly w US travelers via e-mail: Dolphin-Hellas, Aegean THesaurus and Fantasy Travel. Contact all 3 at once, give them dates, desired destinations, budget limit per nite for double room (ask to eliminate "transfers"; if you're fit enough to wave a hand for a taxi u don't need that costly perk). NOTE: ATH & SANTO are among 2 most pricey for hotels; (lo/mid-budget in May? €90? there are lower bargains but they will only book directly). Naxos/Paros would be 50% less. See which agency responds fastest/best; compare prices & services. NOTE: do a Bit of homework first, so u will know what areas u may prefer in each place, i.e., Plaka in Athens? Fira-Firostephani-Oia in Santo? etc.

Posted by
3680 posts

What Janet said. You have too many places and too little time.

Greece is logistically complicated and it takes time to get around. Everything is dependent on the transportation schedules for flights and boats and buses. That limits when you can go and automatically adds in wait time. If you want to fly between islands, you have to return to Athens to do it. The boats for the islands leave from Piraeus and take much longer than flying. You can take boats between the islands, but there aren't that many. Travel time between Athens and the airport or Athens and Piraeus is not trivial.

You mention that you like both historic and natural sites. You don't mention any particular interest in seeing the art and architectural pieces that are now in museums for their own protection. One thing I think you need to do is figure out what you actually want to see and do in the places you want to go and how long that will take. I think you could come up with a more focused itinerary on your own that would be cheaper than using the cruise as a base for your trip. The RS book on Greece is great for estimating how much time is appropriate for each thing you might want to see or do. Unfortunately, he doesn't do Crete, but you can find a lot about going there just by Googling. These websites on Greece might help -- and

We were in Greece from 11 October through 3 November 2014, so what I'm going to say is pretty fresh in my mind. We went other places in Greece, but none of them were the other places you mention.

Two actual full days in Athens might be okay depending on how much and what you want to see. I spent 3 full days (5 nights, my husband was sick the whole time we were there and stayed in the apartment) exploring, taking the metro and the buses, walking and visiting the usual tourist sites. I even got to see a little demonstration in the Syntagma area. We flew from Athens to Santorini.

Having watched the cruise ships dock below us in Fira, your cruise ship visit to Santorini would be all about shopping and maybe lunch and nothing else. You would likely not have time to see the lovely little museum there or wander the "streets" that don't have shops. And you definitely would not have time to visit the Akrotiri archaeological site. We spent 3 full days (4 nights) on Santorini and could have used more. We took a catamaran from Santorini to Heraklion (Crete).

For both historic and natural sites, Crete is great. But it is big and it's a very long way from the mainland. We spent only one full day (2 nights) in Heraklion visiting the Palace of Knossos and the museum in town. We took the bus from Heraklion to Chania and spent 2 full days (3 nights) there. The weather turned bad, so there were no hiking trips for us, just walking around town and my husband going to the Go-Kart track when there was a break in the weather. We took the overnight ferry from Chania back to Piraeus because it was cheaper for the two of us to have a private cabin with a private bathroom than to fly.

You will not be able to "shoot up" to Delphi. The bus takes about 3 hours each way with only a few departure times each day each direction. Most of the ride is lovely. The Delphi museum is amazing and the site itself is phenomenal. It was my favorite place we went on the whole trip. You need to find out when the site and museum are open at the time you plan to go, and be aware that if it is raining heavily, the site will be closed for safety reasons. We had one full day (2 nights) there.

Good luck with your planning. Greece is great, even if you aren't supposed to flush the toilet paper.

Posted by
16883 posts

Ephesus is a fabulous site which doesn't take more than a day to see, but Turkey has much more and is worth a separate trip. In my opinion, Patmos is not a must-see on your first visit, but has been included in the cruise due to proximity (anyway, better than Kos).

Posted by
1286 posts

Agree with previous responses. You have listed 7 places to see in 10 days and that's not reasonable, especially when you consider the distance between them. Does your 10 days include travel time &/or the day you leave? Agree that Turkey should be a separate trip. Crete is a large island and you probably don't have time to include it in your 10 days. You could fly directly to Santorini for 3 nights. Taking travel time into consideration that's 2 days - Santorini has a lot of historical sights and interesting villages in addition to Oia and Fira. From there you could take a ferry to Mykonos for 2-3 nights. From Mykonos you could take a day trip to Delos for the archaeological sights. From there a ferry or flight to Athens and on to Delphi for 1 night. Return to Athens for your remaining nights as you will be in place to fly home.

Posted by
949 posts

I agree with all the above, especially the cruise. Low budget is not a cruise but doing the work yourself. Once you start researching you'll have a lot of fun especially during winter! With the internet you can book your own flight, hotels, rental car if desired, ferry and islands to visit. Contact the hotels directly and you'll get a better deal. You are trying to see and do to much in the amount of time you have. Limit destinations to Athens and maybe two islands. Slow down and appreciate what you are experiencing. Quality is more important than quantity.

Posted by
1717 posts

Hello Christy. I recommend : go to Athens and the islands Santorini and Naxos. Fly from Athens to Santorini. Ferry boat from Santorini to Naxos. Fly from Naxos to Athens. If you will be at Greece a total of ten days, I recommend :
Athens : 3 nights.
Santorini : 3 nights.
Naxos : 3 nights.
In the amount of time that you will be at the islands, I think renting a car there is not important.
The islands Santorini and Naxos are not the same. Santorini has the small white buildings and some blue domes. Naxos has the best beaches, and olive tree groves, and fruit tree groves, and mountains. Naxos is a good island for relaxing.

Posted by
2852 posts

Christy if you take Ron's advice about a 3-3-3 itinerary, you can save precious time (in your all-too-short visit) by NOT doing Athens first. You have to come back there anyway, for your flight home... so why spend time going IN to central Athens, checking into a hotel then checking out and traveling OUT to airport or ferry... and at the end, have to do it again. The strategy we "old hands" usually recommend is:

(1) try to arrive ATH airport in AM (this usually requires taking a USAir, Delta or Aircanada flight that is Nonstop fromN. America and arrives between 9-10 AM). If not, at least try to get a flight plan that gets you to ATH by 2 pm, to get aftenoon domestic flight.
(2) Get soonest convenient domestic flight (allow 2 hrs in between), say noon, to SANTORINI. there are numerous flights, and right now there may be some at "promotional prices" on Aegean (go to Aegean website and sign up for "newsletter" (e-mail alert).
(3) after 3 days, take ferry to Island #2 -- NAXOS?
(4) after 3 days, take flight back to ATH airport (or 6pm ferry to Piraeus.
(5) FINAL 3 days - for ATH sightseeing.
.... this provides little flexibility & security, so you are on mainland the days before homebound flight, not on a distant isle. NOTE: try not to book at departure for US at 7 or 8 AM... you must be in line 2 hrs ahead, it takes 1 hr to get to airport ... and that might mean getting up at 3:30 AM! That would surely spoil an enjoyable last evening in Athens!

Posted by
67 posts

Hi, Christy, greetings from Boulder. I have a friend who did the Mediteranean cruise which hit both Turkey and Greece and she said it was the most fabulous trip she had ever been on. She was delighted and surprised at how much fun they had in Turkey. I love both cruises and land trips so I thought I would throw it in the ring.