Greece-based Celestyal Cruises prides itself on a unique ability to showcase “authenticity” in its home country, and in striving to do that exposes travelers not only to popular, bustling ports of call, but also to charming hilltop villages; sleepy, out of the way tavernas; and locally-run businesses that date back generations. With slightly smaller, cozier ships, Celestyal is able to access ports that larger cruise ships cannot – just one of the features that sets this cruise company apart, allowing it to bring travelers to many unexpected and off the beaten path destinations in the Greek islands.
The Celestyal Experience: The destinations and the excursions
One of the nicest things about a journey with Celestyal is the variety of islands its ships visit and the selection of shore excursions offered at each stop. From ports in Piraeus and Lavrion, Celestyal Cruises sails to a long list of Greek islands including Crete, Ios, Kos, Milos, Mykonos and Patmos. They also sail to Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Symi and Syros. The company helps to showcase the best of each island it visits by offering a variety of shore options including choices for those interested in scenery, culture, fine dining or merely relaxing.
When touring the island of Kos for instance, the selection includes visiting local family-run wineries and honey makers; spending the day lounging on remote, pristine beaches or touring the intriguing archaeological ruins of Askleipion, which dates to around 400 B.C. Often, there is simply too many tempting choices to squeeze into a single day’s visit. On the island of Ios, there’s a similar variety of options – including whiling away the day on the pristine Maganari Beach, touring the pre-historic ruins of Skarkos and meandering through the charming Chora village, where picturesque white cube houses and narrow stone streets cling to a steep hillside and offer dramatic views of the bay below.
But what Celestyal does best in each port is connect travelers to the places they might not otherwise find, such as five-star restaurants in tiny, out of the way towns and family-run tavernas where the food is too good to be missed, but because of their lack of fanfare, might go unnoticed by the uninitiated. On the island of Mykonos for example, Celestyal offers the restaurant Kuzina Mykonos located at the posh and stylish Ammos Hotel. There are countless reasons to visit this restaurant, but it’s not likely to be found unless you’re told about it in advance.
To begin with, Kuzina is located off the beaten path - a few miles from Mykonos town, in Ornos. Its location is part of its allure – removed from the overwhelming tourist crowds filling every café, alley, store and square inch in Mykonos town. What’s more, the restaurant is situated in the five-star Ammos Hotel, which at first glance looks like an incredibly sheik beach camp. Perched on a small cove, just a few hundred yards from the water, the entire place is decked out in whitewash, white linen furnishings and tan accents.
There are five luxury hotels on this strip of beach in Ornos, Ammos being just one of them. The area as a whole offers a quiet, idyllic place to dine and escape the crowds. A smattering of kids play in the water, sailboats bob quietly in the cove, and the lights from the houses cascading down the nearby hill twinkle, as the sun slips beneath the horizon while you enjoy dinner.
The ships and their amenities
Celestyal’s ships, although somewhat dated, are clean and well-kept, the cabins roomy and pleasant. The Odyssey for example, is an 836-passenger ship that offers all the amenities you would expect on a cruise without being overwhelming. There is a pool, spa, gift shop, disco, casino and a piano bar. Although you’ll likely spend very little time in them with all that there is to see and do on the islands each day, the cabins on Odyssey provide a comfortable retreat. They’re bright, and spacious.
The slightly larger Crystal meanwhile, is a 1200-passenger ship that has 476 staterooms and 17 stateroom categories, as well as a few more amenities than Odyssey. Its facilities include two restaurants, two bars, a café, spa, sauna, hair salon, gym, video arcade and two pools. Similar to Odyssey, the cabins on Crystal are basic, comfortable, and serve their purpose of providing you a cozy respite after a busy day of island hopping.
The onboard experience
In addition to showcasing authentic Greece during shore excursions, Celestyal works to continue that theme onboard its ships. That effort includes such things as fresh, locally sourced food and ingredients, Greek entertainment, language lessons and mythology quizzes.
Both the Crystal and Odyssey have buffet and formal, set-menu dining options. The breakfast buffets on both ships offer a mix of American continental and Greek fare – a variety of eggs, fresh baked breads, cheeses, cereals and some fresh fruit and vegetables. Lunch and dinner buffets involve several appetizers, salads and soups, and delicious Greek dishes, followed by decadent cakes, rich ice creams and fresh fruits. Poolside dining is also an option on each ship, with buffets near the pool serving pizza, burgers, hot dogs, a few Greek specialties and pasta.
Each ship also has a spa with fabulous offerings including facials, pedicures, and even foot and leg massages, which are ideal after a long day of sightseeing in Cycladic villages with cobblestone streets.
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Celestyal prides itself on knowing the ports of Greece better than any other cruise company, and it succeeds in showcasing the many vibrant and historically rich facets of the country through extensive port offerings and unique itineraries. The seven-day Idyllic Aegean itineraries for instance include such hot spots as Mykonos and Santorini, and also visits to charming lesser-known Greek destinations like Samos, Milos, Syros, Kos and Ios, and Turkish ports of Kusadasi, Cesme and Bodrum.
Ultimately, Celestyal cruises provide a convenient way to see multiple islands. The ships meanwhile, are comfortable, but they’re not the main attraction with Celestyal. The ports are.
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