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CELESTYAL CRYSTAL GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE TO AEGEAN CYCLADES

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With so many ships cruising to Greece's islands, choosing which cruise line to book was a challenge. Why did we select a Celestyal Cruises Aegean itinerary?

Celestyal Crystal
Celestyal Crystal
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Most cruise lines spend just a few hours at Greece's most popular islands, such as Mykonos. Their passengers only have time to visit Mykonos Town. Celestyal Crystal stayed overnight so we could tour the countryside, experience the nightlife and explore nearby Delos island.

Other cruises combine the Greek islands with other Mediterranean destinations such as Croatia, Italy and Spain. We wanted an intensive Greek island cruise. Celestyal's itinerary brought us to five Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea.

It also gave us a much broader choice of dates with weekly cruises from March to November, rather than just a few Greek island cruises offered by other ships each year.

Bouzouki player
Bouzouki player
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Greek music and dancing

Another reason was the opportunity to learn about Greek history, mythology, foods, drinks, music, dancing, language and destinations. Who knows Greece better than the Greeks? Celestyal Cruises is the only cruise line based in Greece.

Our 900-fellow passengers shared our interest in all things Hellenic. As diverse as the United Nations, passengers came from Canada, the USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Japan and other countries. Celestyal accommodated the most common nationalities with activities, tours and key announcements in their languages.

To add to its appeal, the cruise included all gratuities, port charges, meals, entertainment, an unlimited drinks package and three shore excursions.

Delicious foods, wines & liqueurs

Meals in the two buffet and two à la carte restaurants always included Greek specialties as well as international dishes. We loved the thick Greek yogurt with thyme honey and fruit, Greek cheeses (from feta to manouri), succulent roast lamb, moussaka and the mouthwatering baklava and Greek pastries created by Crystal's chefs.

Paella
Paella
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Each day, a Chef's Corner featured made-to-order treats, ranging from Greek crêpes (savoury or filled with Nutella) to chicken and pork gyros. One evening, elaborately carved fruit and vegetables decorated a bountiful barbeque buffet.

Traveling through Greece's islands allowed us to sample a variety of fresh seafood. A highlight was the baked red mullet, a fish so cherished that some Greeks call their beloveds barbouni mou (my darling red mullet).

Baked red mullet
Baked red mullet
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The included red, white and rosé Ionas wines went well with all the appetizers and main courses that we tried, but to sample two premium Greek red and white wines, we signed up for an optional Greek wine-tasting class.

Our drink packages allowed us to sample six authentic Greek liqueurs. Clear, white Mastiha, made from the sap of the mastic tree indigenous to the island of Chios, had a sweet, herbal flavour.

Greek liqueurs
Greek liqueurs
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Bright orange Koum Kouat, made from kumquat fruits with an aroma reminiscent of oranges and strawberries, is produced on the island of Corfu. On Greek night, everyone dressed in blue and white (the colors of the Greek flag) and servers offered passengers glasses of traditional anise-flavored ouzo.

Culinary lesson

To learn more about Greek cuisine, we joined a Greek cooking class conducted by Teresa. Her Food Network-style demonstration and quips kept everyone laughing.

Greek cooking class
Greek cooking class
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Teresa distributed recipes for feta parcels, Mykonos dakos (similar to bruschetta) and Santorini fava (a split yellow pea mousse topped with tomatoes and onions).

As she and the ship's chefs made the fava, she explained that her grandmother spent three hours stirring the boiling peas. "We don't have that time nowadays, so we just cook the split peas for 20 minutes, and then blend them until smooth in a food processor. Don't feel guilty."

The use of Greek extra virgin olive oil in Teresa's recipes enticed us to attend cruise director Danny's presentation on the health and culinary benefits of olive oil. During Danny's humorous and informative presentation about Greek herbs, we sniffed the aromas of pots of oregano, rosemary and basil as he described them. "Greeks put oregano, an important antioxidant, on everything," he said, "even French fries."

Fun things to do

With so much good food on board, we scanned our Daily Program for fun ways to burn off calories. They ranged from early-morning walkathons, stretching and yoga sessions to Greek dancing lessons in front of Helios Bar.

Greek dancing lessons
Greek dancing lessons
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Enthusiastic passengers joined Joanna by the pool to learn the steps of Greek dances, from Ballos to Kalamatianos. We gained a greater appreciation for the dancing at the evening Hellenic Voyage traditional Greek party, one of two daily evening shows.

Greek wedding dance
Greek wedding dance
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The lively bouzouki music stimulated much handclapping, especially during the Greek wedding dances in a taverna setting.

Other shows featured cabaret-style musical performances, Latin dancing, acrobatics and Abba songs. Music resounded in the lounges of the ship, as well as in the evening karaoke bar and disco.

When we returned to our cabin at night, we found Greek treats such as loukoumi (Turkish delight) candies, with amusing towel animals created by Ahmed and Ray, our room attendants, who kept our cabin spotlessly clean.

Towel cat
Towel cat
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The critters were so appealing that we joined a towel-art class, one of several arts & crafts workshops on the cruise. Zulema made the octopus, puppy, cat and swan creations look easier to make than our futile attempts.

In contrast, Danny's Greek language lessons soon had us saying good morning, please, thank you and cheers (yia-mas) to the friendly staff who responded with big smiles to our efforts.

We were surprised to learn that we already knew many Greek words before we arrived. "Did you know that there are about 600 Greek words in everyday use?" Danny asked us. Noticing our raised eyebrows, he listed some of them, including mathematics, astronomy and gymnasium.

Shore excursions

In addition to the enjoyable on-board programs, we eagerly looked forward to the daily in-depth shore excursions given by Celestyal's top-quality guides. Our first tour was to Delos, the mythical birthplace of Zeus's twin offspring.

Back on Celestyal Crystal, a fascinating lecture by Caroline helped us understand Greek mythology. The evening Mythologia show featured costumed gods and goddesses interpreting the myths in dances.

Mythologia evening show
Mythologia evening show
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cruising between islands on our itinerary was so smooth that we barely noticed that the ship was moving. We traveled by tender from the ship to some islands and docked in the port at other islands, such as Crete.

Tender to Mykonos
Tender to Mykonos
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll
Cretan dancer
Cretan dancer
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

To prepare ourselves for the shore excursion to Knossos Palace in Crete, we listened to Caroline's Minoan culture lecture. When we returned to the ship after the tour, a group of Cretan dancers and musicians enhanced our immersion in Cretan culture with a folkloric performance.

After just eight days, we felt enriched by our new-found knowledge of Greek culture. But we craved more.

Fortunately, the Celestyal Crystal also offers a seven-night Three Continents Tour that visits Cyprus and Rhodes as well as Turkey and Egypt. Three-night and four-night cruises on her sister ship Celestyal Olympia are ideal for passengers who want to combine a short cruise with visits to Athens and the mainland.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

For a free brochure and more information visit www.celestyalcruises.com or call 1-877-337-4665 toll free.