We have 2 weeks to vacation next Sept. 2014. We want to visit Istanbul Athens and some other islands. Is it best to cruise or do a land trip ?
Taking an organized cruise will most likely limit your island exploration to Mykonos and Santorini since these are the two islands most visited by the cruise ship companies. Rhodes and Crete are less-often included. If these islands are the ones you want to see and if you can find a cruise that covers them that appeals to you then as long as you don't mind just a few hours ashore a cruise would suffice. But if you're more likely to want to spend some quality time exploring an island at your own pace then a DIY trip would be a better fit for you. There is an excellent ferry system that operates in the Greek islands. Many ferry companies are involved. There is no ferry from any Greek island directly to Istanbul. You will have to make your way into Turkey from one of several Turkish ports that connect with specific Greek islands, such as Lesvos/Ayvalik, Chios/Cesme, Samos/Kusadasi, Kos/Bodrum and Turgutreis, or Rhodes/Bodrum, Marmaris and Fethiye. Once you have entered Turkey you can take a bus or a flight to Istanbul. You can see Greek island ferry routes HERE You can explore Greek Island ferry schedules HERE but schedules for next September won't be available until sometime next May or June. Cruise line information and reviews can be found HERE Greece-Turkey ferry schedules HERE. These schedules for next September also won't be available until sometime next May or June.
We were planning to go to Turkey but ended up booking Greece instead, due to the political unrest in Turkey at the time of booking. I travel extensively and did tons of reading and planning beforehand so was well prepared. We just returned from Greece and wished we had gone to Turkey instead. Our stays in Athens and Crete were not good. Way too many unexpected closures, riot police, strikes and fully cancelled tours. "Short changing" is an art form in Greece. I have traveled a lot and this is the first time I am saying to stay away from a country. We were hugely disappointed with the people and the country as a whole. Suggest you go to Turkey and stay there, as everyone I talk to has a great time there. We had nothing but disappointments and stress in Greece. We will never return to Greece. Our tourist dollars will go to other more inviting countries.
Not every tourist is going to have a positive experience, regardless of which country they're visiting. I've been to both Turkey and Greece and I have to say they are equally as interesting and worth your consideration. I've returned to Greece several times over the years and consider it my spiritual home. Don't be deterred by what others say. You won't be disappointed.
We were in Greece on the front end and back end of a two week cruise about two years ago. We do not usually travel by cruise, but in this case it made sense because it visited a lot of hard to get to places, including Croatia, Greek Islands, plus I had found myself with time off and needing to book at short notice. Cruises are good for visiting a lot of such places in rapid succession, but you lose your evenings and the chance to really get to know a place. We found the constant threat of closure due to strikes of everything in Athens hampered our enjoyment. Metro offline, taxis on strike, etc. actually or the threat of it every day. What happens if everything is on strike the day your plane leaves, and there is no way to get to the airport and you miss your flight? Greece two years ago was an extreme sad sack country, can't imagine it's much better now. Mostly I mean Athens, the islands did not come with these problems as much, but you still have to pass through Athens. Personally I would go someplace else until things improve there. That said, the ancient sites and the archeological museum were spectacular. The shame was that it could have been so great, it just wasn't because of all the hassles and worry of potential hassles.
We just got back from a 16 day trip to Greece and Turkey. We flew into Athens for 2 days and stuck to the tourist sights, which were amazing. We did a 7 day Windstar cruise between Athens and Istanbul, stopping at Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Bodrum and Kusadasi/Ephesus. We ended with 4 days on our own in Istanbul. We have never done a cruise before and, as noted by others, you just get a taste of the islands. That being said, we didn't have a ton of time, and the cruise was a stress free way of getting around. We loved seeing all the islands and ports of call. Istanbul was incredible: not beautiful, but fascinating. The overall trip was awesome. Windstar is a good way to cruise if you are not a "cruise person," which we are not. We really enjoyed it.
You could easily visit Istanbul, Athens, and a couple of Greek islands on your own, if you have time to plan and organize your trip. If you don't have a lot of time or interest in planning and preparation, then a cruise might be best. I personally find planning to be a large part of the fun of a vacation. We just got back from 5 weeks in Turkey and Greece, and it was amazing. With two weeks, you could fly into Istanbul, spend 3-4 nights, fly to Athens and directly on to an island (Santorini?) for 3-4 nights, ferry to another island (Paros? Naxos? Milos?) for 3-4 nights, and ferry back to Athens for your final nights, flying home from there. I hope you won't let other people's bad experiences deter you from visiting Greece. We've been there many times, and love it. Especially the smaller islands. We've never experienced any major problems with strikes or shutdowns (there was a metro strike one day a couple of years ago but we easily found a taxi to take us to the airport). Istanbul is fascinating, but the Greek islands are magical.
I have been to both and while I really did enjoy Greece (although I only went to Athens and Nafplio) I really loved Istanbul. I would return to Greece but go to some islands next time, but I would go back to Istanbul again and again. The only time I ever encountered a strike (in many trips to Europe) was in Venice when all the buses and most taxi drivers went on strike (and we needed to get to our hotel which was not in Venice) so it can probably happen anywhere. No problems at all in Greece... just lucky I guess.