18 Sep 2014 - 26 Sep 2014
Forget everything you know about Contiki coach tours, the cruises are completely different! This is an ideal way to travel if you are wanting to do a cruise of the greek islands, as cruises are generally marketed towards older people. Contiki really helped as we had our own group of people. The size of your group will depend when you go, I went towards the end of the season, so there were only 24 of us, but it meant we were small enough that we could all hang out together and actually get to know everyone.
All the optional extras are operated by the cruise line, not Contiki, so you will notice the prices aren't as discounted as what normal optionals are. Your tour manager always goes with the majority of the group and what tour they do, so you may end up with your tour manager, or you may not. Our tour manager did a great job of keeping us all together on the days we didn't book any excursions and had free time in the port, and most of the time, we were on our own bus for the excursions, occasionally with a few elder people who were thrown in with us as well.
I only opted to do 4 of the tours out of the ones that were offered. The first one was the Ottoman Empire & Byzantine Legacy Tour which is a full day tour in Istanbul. You visit the basilica of Hagia Sophi, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Bazaar and the Spice Market. Unfortunately there were quite a few cruise ships in Istanbul the day we were there, and so the queues were quite long and we ran out of time to do the Spice Market. The Bazaar is great if you're looking for genuine fakes, learn how to bargain! Never accept the price they want. Also be careful, as some of the people can be quite sleazy. Turkey use the Lira, but you can also bargain in Euros, just make sure before you begin bargaining, you let them know which one. Overall the tour was great and we saw alot in one day, but we had no free time in Istanbul. If I had the time over, I'd probably do the tour again, or spend the day at the Bazaar, but it does get overcrowded, so if you're not a fan of crowds, Istanbul probably isn't for you! Lunch was also included, but nothing really special to rave about.
The next excursion I did was Ancient Ephesus through the ages, which was a great half day tour. We spent the first part of the tour exploring Ephesus which we went through with our guide, make sure you wear good shoes as the ground is super slippery. We were also given some free time throughout the tour to take photos and explore. The next part of the excursion included a carpet demonstration on the way back to the cruise ship. The demonstration itself was very interesting, but as soon as the demonstration is over, you get attacked by the salesmen. The carpets are not cheap and started from about $300 USD, but you can also purchase them in Euros, so again make sure you let them know before hand which currency you'll be bargaining in. We got free time in the afternoon/evening to spend in Kusadasi which was great and we went to the Bazaar which is similar to the one in Istanbul, just without the crowd, and grabbed some Kebabs before heading back to the ship and watching us sailing away.
The next stop was Santorini where I did the Cruise to Santorini’s islands and Visit the volcano. I would not recommend this one unless you are a super keen fit person and want to cross climbing a Volcano off your bucket list. I'm not an overly fit person, and I managed to climb it okay, I just thought it was a waste of time. It is only a half day tour, and we got to spend the afternoon in Oia, but given the chance over, I would have spent the day in Oia. Oia is beautiful, it's where you will be able to see the iconic white wash buildings and the churches with the blue domes. I could have sat there and enjoyed the view all day. There is also a bookstore in Oia which is one of the top 100 you must visit before you die, and it's definately worth a look even if you're not into books! There's a saying in Santorini.. there's more wine than water, more stairs than streets, more donkeys than taxis and more churches than days of the year!
The next day we were headed Crete and ported in Agios Nikolaos and did the The Crystal-Clear Waters of Elounda and Spinalonga excursion. Spinalonga is cool and used to be a leper colony. We had the worst tour guide here, and I've no idea what she was saying the whole time. But it's a pretty little island! We then had free time that afternoon in Crete where we got fish massages, something you have to do if you've never done it before! We then found a bar along the beach and sat there and drank cocktails until it was time to head back to the ship.
Crete was the last port where we got to spend a full day, and the next day we were headed to Rhodes in the morning, and Symi for the afternoon. Rhodes is a beautiful medieval town so very unique. Our tour manager took us on a walking tour and showed us a few places like where they still have the moats (there's no water now) but it is something different to where we'd been. We also did a little bit of shopping before heading back to the ship. We then set sail for Symi, where we ported at about 5pm, just in time to have dinner as the sun went down over the harbour. There isn't a lot to do in Symi, except buy some sponges (these are great!) and climb up a hill (using stairs) to get a view. This night on the cruise, our tour manager arranged for a private party in one of the bars, and we had our own toga party.
The next day we ported in Chios in the morning, before arriving into Mykonos about 5pm. Mykonos was probably my favourite and I wish we got to spend more time here. We arrived just in time to get some quick photos before the sun was setting over the iconic windmills. We grabbed some Gyros for dinner (these are a must try in Greece!) They're a bit like a kebab, with potato chips/fries & a special sauce! We then headed to a bar, and partied in a club before having to be back on the ship at midnight.
There is also a captains cocktail on one of the nights, which is a great opportunity to get dressed up and get some free champagne!
The cruise also offer drink packages starting at 10 euros for the basic one, or 20 euros to do the unlimited (including alcohol) and we definately got our money's worth. The only problem is, your roommate on Contiki has to do it as well. So if you get put in a twin room with someone who doesn't drink, you could have some issues there. It's always worth asking the tour manager if she can have a word to the bar manager to see if they can do an exception, but in our case you couldn't.
The next morning our cruise came to an end, and we arrived back into Athens. Not many people stuck around the next day, and I was headed to Italy.
All in all, it's a great cruise. It was definately great not having to live out of a suitcase for a week!
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask :)
Review written Oct 2014event 0.3
02 Oct 2014 - 10 Oct 2014
Greece is absolutely amazing with it's wonderful mixture of history, nature, great seafood, and donkey rides!! Santorini was my favorite, with the iconic blue and white buildings and crystal clear waters. This picturesque island is unreal, really takes your breath away. Being with a great group of people is so important on a cruise, since you spend quite a bit of time on the boat. We had an awesome tour manager who was so much fun and so helpful. Toga party was epic!
Review written Oct 2014event 0.3