Greek Islands: Best Cruises and Sailing Adventures

Fira, Santorini, Greece. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
By Heidi Sarna

White-washed villages, impossibly blue seas, and mouthwatering fava: Welcome to the Greek Isles.

The popular cruising season in the Greek Islands is May through October, with July and August being the busiest (and hottest) months. A few companies offer Greek Isles itineraries year-round. Most ships sail round-trip from or between Athens, Istanbul, Civitavecchia (Rome) and/or Venice, with cruises ranging from three nights to three weeks.

Many itineraries hit one, two, or three of the most popular Greek Isles -- typically Santorini, Rhodes, and Mykonos. A few itineraries are more intense, calling on as many as 10 islands, some wonderfully obscure like Kos and Chania.

We've culled the options aboard ships carrying from 30 to 3,000 passengers and came up with the top Greek Isles itineraries and cruise lines for 2012, based on ports, ship vibe, and pricing.

Though Greece is currently going through a period of political and economic turmoil, travel agents have reported it has not affected the operation of shore excursions and touring. In fact, expect prices to be lower in port due to the challenging economic times there.

Summer 2015 prices of these Greek Isles itineraries are provided by Just Cruisin' Plus (tel. 800/888-0922; www.justcruisinplus.com).

Photo Caption: Fira, Santorini, Greece
Harbor view, Kos. Photo by Georgios Makkas
The Azamara Quest (www.azamaraclubcruises.com) is a hybrid, offering an unpretentious yet high-end experience for its 710 passengers. Fares include complimentary house wines at lunch and dinner, gratuities, free specialty coffees and bottled wines, and a good number of overnights in port. There are three open-seating restaurants to choose from. Butlers service the cabins offering little touches like cold towels at the gangway after a hot day in port.

Sample Itineraries: A 10-night cruise from Athens-Venice with stops at Mykonos, Greece (overnight); Paros, Greece; Santorini; Chania, Crete, Greece; Katakolon, Greece; Kotor, Montenegro; and Dubrovnik, Croatia.  (From June 23, 2015. Starting at $3,749 per person.)


Photo Caption: A harbor view in Kos, Greece.
Windmills along the harbor, Mykonos. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
If you want to cruise with Europeans and experience the languages, food and customs (dining late and enjoying copious amounts of espresso, for instance), then Costa Cruises is a good way to see Greece with Italians, Spanish, French and other continental European cruisers.

Of the line's many ships sailing in Europe, the whimsical décor of 2,114-passenger Costa Mediterranea (www.costacruises.com) is designed to reflect Italy's 17th- and 18th-century palazzi and castles. Like her fleetmates, the Mediterranea includes visits to the Greek Isles along with other ports, including the great mix of ports below.

Sample Itineraries: A 7-night round trip cruise from Venice with stops in Bari, Italy; Corfu, Greece; Mykonos, Greece; Santorini; and Dubrovnik, Croatia. (From June 7, 2015. Starting at $999 per person inside the U.S. and $1,249 per person outside the U.S.)

Photo Caption: Windmills along the harbor, Mykonos
Dining on deck, Windstar Cruises. Photo by Windstar Cruises
The 144-passengerStar and Wind Spirit (www.windstarcruises.com) are each outfitted sails and engines, so you can enjoy the beauty of one and the efficiency of the other. Guests spend a lot of time on deck, sunbathing, or cooling down in the small pool as the ship glides to or from a gorgeous Greek island. The no-jackets-required dress code sets the tone for the low-key elegance of a Windstar cruise. Cabins are roomy with a nautical flair.

Sample Itinerary: A 7-night cruise between Athens and Istanbul with stops at Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Bodrum (Turkey), and Turkey's Ephesus/Kusadasi (From June 20, 2015. Starting at $3,599 per person.)

Photo Caption: Dining on deck, Windstar Cruises
Sea Dream I docked in Patmos, Greece. Photo by SeaDream Yacht Club
The no-jackets-required yacht-like vibe of the 116-passenger SeaDream I and SeaDream II (www.seadream.com) offers passengers an unstructured, casually elegant vacation with diversions including Jet Skis and mountain bikes for use in port. There are bed-size Balinese loungers on deck, a small pool, and a hot tub -- the latter is a great spot from which to order a glass of complimentary champagne and some jumbo shrimp (fares include open bar and all gratuities).

Sample SeaDream I Itinerary
: A 7-night cruise from Athens-Istanbul with stops at Hydra, Santorini, Parikia, Patmos, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; and Kepez, Turkey. (From May 30, 2015. Starting at $4,799 per person.)

Sample SeaDream II Itinerary: A 10-night round trip from Athens with stops at Sifnos, Greece; Skopelos, Greece; Skiathos, Greece; Kusadasi, Turkey; Patmos, Greece; Santorini; Nafplion, Greece; and Hydra. (From July 25, 2015. Starting at $6,499 per person.) 

Photo Caption: Sea Dream I docked in Patmos, Greece
Santorini Photo by Jennifer Brady
The brand-new 930 passenger Viking Star (www.vikingcruises.com) with amenities such as its Wintergarden and penthouse state rooms sails in May 2015

Sample Itineraries: A 10-night cruise from Venice-Istanbul with stops in Pula Croatia; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Santorini, Athens, and Ephesus, Turkey. (From Nov 17, 2015. Starting at $4,749 per person. All cruises are sold out until Nov 2015.)

Photo Caption: Coastline along Fira-Santorini
Nafplion, Greece, with the castle of Bourtzi in the harbor. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
The 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity (www.crystalcruises.com) is an appealing mid-size luxury ship. Crystal has one of the best education and enrichment programs at sea, with multiple expert lecturers and classes offered on every sailing. Better yet, beginning in spring 2012, Crystal will begin including all alcoholic beverages in its fares as well as soft drinks.

Sample Itineraries: A 10-night cruise from Instanbul to Venice with stops at Izmire, Turkey; Mykonos, Greece (overnight); Corfu, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Rijeka, Croatia; and an overnight in Venice.
(From June 12, 2015. Starting at $3,795 per person.)

Photo Caption: Nafplion, Greece, with the castle of Bourtzi in the harbor
Paliokastro, Crete. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
The nearly 20-year-old 1,800-passenger Louis Majesty (www.louiscruises.com) isn't the newest or swankiest ship, but it does pack many ports into its short itinerary. It's common to visit more than one island in a day.

Sample Itinerary: A 4-night sail round-trip from Athens with stops at Mykonos, Ephesus/Kusadasi (Turkey), Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini (From Aug 31, 2015. Starting at $710 per person.)

Photo Caption: A beach in Paliokastro, Crete
The popular and reputable <strong>Norweigan Cruise Line</strong>'s (<a href="http://www.ncl.com/">www.ncl.com</a>)<strong>&nbsp;</strong> <a href="http://www.ncl.com/cruises/7-day-adriatic-greece-and-turkey-from-venice-JADE7VCEDBVPIRKUSSPUVCE/staterooms?sortBy=Featured&amp;cruiseHotelAir=1&amp;numberOfGuests=4294915774&amp;cruiseTour=1&amp;cruiseHotel=1&amp;pageSize=5&amp;state=null&amp;currentPage=1&amp;embarkationport=4294963144&amp;cruise=1&amp;&amp;itineraryCode=JADE7VCEDBVPIRKUSSPUVCE&amp;shipCode=JADE">Norweigan Jade </a>offers a week-long round trip for under $500.<br /><br /><strong>Sample Itinerary:</strong> A 7-night round-trip from <a href="../../../destinations/venice#sthash.jJ6cVMA8.dpbs">Venice </a>with stops at <a href="../../../destinations/dubrovnik#sthash.4zNiudhh.dpbs">Dubrovnik</a>, Croatia; <a href="../../../destinations/athens#sthash.Fq7cNtVS.dpbs">Athens</a>; <a href="../../../destinations/kusadasi/#sthash.l48IRTmX.dpbs">Kusadasi</a>, Turkey; Split, Croatia; and Venice. (From May 9, 2015. Starting at $499 per person.)<br /><br /><em>Photo Caption: </em>Walking along the cobblestone streets in Santorini, two young girls from town ran by me in a flash, zooming through the gate. Photo by Margaret Barrett
The popular and reputable Norweigan Cruise Line's (www.ncl.com)  Norweigan Jade offers a week-long round trip for under $500.

Sample Itinerary: A 7-night round-trip from Venice with stops at Dubrovnik, Croatia; Athens; Kusadasi, Turkey; Split, Croatia; and Venice. (From May 9, 2015. Starting at $499 per person.)

Photo Caption: View of rooftops in Dubrovnik


Photo Credit
: Margaret Barrett

Molivos, Lesvos, Greece. Photo by Georgios Makkas
Oceania strives to offer a reasonably priced yet upscale cruise experience. The brand-new 1,258-passenger Marina (www.oceaniacruises.com) has a casual no-jackets-required dress code and five great restaurants to choose from, including a steakhouse, Italian trattoria, and a French venue. Almost all cabins have private balconies.

Sample Itinerary: A 10-night cruise from Venice-Istanbul with stops at Koper, Slovenia; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Bari, Italy; Corfu, Greece; Gythion, Greece; Santorini; and Kusadi, Turkey. (From Aug 27, 2015. Starting at $4,799 per person.)

Photo Caption: Boats in Molyvos, Lesbos, Greece
Waterfront in Argostoli, Greece. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
The cozy 680-passenger Ocean Princess (www.princess.com) is comfortable and geared to adults.

Sample Itinerary: A 7 night cruise from Rome to Athens with stops at Naples, Crete, Rhodes, Kusadasi (Turkey), and Santorini. (From Aug 15, 2015. Starting at $1,399)

Photo Caption: Enjoy waterfront strolls in Argostoli, Greece.
Portara in Naxos, Greece. Photo by Georgios Makkas
The 64-passenger Sea Cloud (www.seacloud.com) is a windjammer built in 1931. Refurbished and well-maintained over the years, the vessel was built for heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. To this day, many of the original fittings and décor are still there, from the fireplaces in the cabins to the antiques, marble, and wood.

Sample Itinerary: A 14-night round trip cruise from Piraeus, Greece with stops in Nauplion and Peloponnese Greece; Milos, Syros, Patmos, Dikili, Turkey; and Istanbul. (From July 12, 2015 starting at $9,185 per person. All Eastern Mediterranean Summer 2015 cruises are booked but are accepting passengers on a waiting list.) 

Photo Caption: Portara in Naxos, Greece
Swan Hellenic at anchor off Santorini. Photo by Courtesy Swan Hellenic
This British company's 320-passenger Minerva (www.swanhellenic.com) has guest lecturers who discuss the islands' history and culture. Often referred to as a "country house at sea," there are two open-seating restaurants, two bars, a cinema, a swimming pool, a spa, and beautiful tiered decks and teak promenade. Escorted shore excursions and knowledgeable speakers are included in the fares (and so are all tips).

Sample Itinerary: A 14-night round-trip cruise from Piraeus, Greece with stops at Skyros; Thessaloniki, Greece; Dikili, Turkey (overnight); Kusadasi, Turkey; Kas, Turkey (overnight); Rhodes, Greece (overnight); Symi; Aghios Nikolaos, Greece; Santorini; Milos, Greece; and Nauplia, Greece (overnight). (From Sept 16 2015, £5,350 per person.)

Photo Caption: Swan Hellenic at anchor off Santorini, Greece
Nafplion, Greece, with Acronauplia in the background. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
Travel Dynamics is owned by Greek brothers from the island of Rhodes and the unique trips visit some of the lesser known ports. Itineraries feature top-notch onboard educational programs geared to people who really want to learn something while on vacation.

The 34-passenger Callisto(www.traveldynamicsinternational.com) is filled with rich fabrics, wood, polished brass, and antiques; cabins have marble bathrooms, mini bars, and fresh flowers. Aboard the ship, there's a swimming platform and a hot tub as well.

Sample Itineraries: A 10 day cruise from Mytilene, Greece- Athens with stops in Kusadasi, Turkey; Rhodes, Greece; Astypalia; Santorini; Rethymnon and Knosos, Crete; Gerolimenas; Katakolon, Greece; and Piraeus, Greece. (From July, 28, 2015, starting at $7,395) 

Photo Caption: Nafplion, Greece, with Acronauplia in the background
Waterside cafes in Little Venice, Mykonos. Photo by Yannis Lefakis
Built in 1973, the mid-size 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey (www.voyagestoantiquity.com) has been extensively refurbished over the years. She's hardly posh but does boast beautiful classic lines and a retro feel. Expert lecturers, often professors and historians, help educate guests about the region. Fares include excursions; pre- and/or post-hotel stays in Athens or Istanbul or Rome; all meals; free wine, beer or soft drinks with the evening meal; and tips. Itineraries include popular islands like Mykonos and visits to off-beat Greek Isles that most other lines don't hit.

Sample Itinerary: A 15-night cruise round-trip from Instanbul with a 2-night pre-cruise hotel stay; stops in Izmir, Turkey (overnight); Kos, Greece; Rhodes, Greece; Heraklion, Crete, Greece; Santorini, Greece; Athens; Delos, Greece; Mykonos, Greece; Kavala, Greece; Canakkale, Turkey; and Istanbul. (From April 30, 2015, $4,945 per person)

Photo Caption: Relax at waterside cafés in Little Venice, Mykonos.
advertisement
advertisement