My Golden Gap year has been full of ‘firsts,’ so it seemed like a fitting way to end the European leg of my adventure with a grand finale of ‘firsts’ on board the Celestyal Crystal cruise.
My maiden voyage departed from Athens, and over the course of eight days we explored four Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, with a day in Turkey at the end. If I am totally honest, cruising has never been at the top of my bucket list, but Greece most definitely was, and the eight day Celestyal Idyllic Aegean itinerary offered by far the most efficient and affordable way to explore the Greek islands, especially since I was travelling alone. So, in the spirit of adventure (and with a year’s supply of sea sickness gum), I embarked my cruise in Athens, feeling excited but with little idea of what to expect.
I have often observed those massive cruise ships docked at Circular Quay, full of waterslides and shopping centres and felt a tad overwhelmed, which is why I breathed a sigh of relief when I stepped on board the Celestyal Crystal.
It is deemed a ‘mid sized’ ship (with a capacity of 1200 passengers) and the scale immediately felt more personal and ‘manageable’. It still has all the bells … with just a few less whistles, which suited me perfectly.
Over the ten decks of the ship, there are four restaurants and five bars, a small pool and jacuzzi, a spa centre, duty free shop, small casino and plenty of lounge and deck space to spread out and find a quiet spot when I felt like some time out.
This ship ‘wore’ its passengers well.
Not once, did it feel crowded or hectic. There were no queues, or jostling for the best deck chairs … it was all very civilised and relaxed and if I am honest, not what I expected.
My room was also way more spacious than I had mentally prepared myself for and a lot bigger than many of the hotel rooms I’ve occupied over the last six months. A queen size bed and a fold out sofa and plenty of storage to unpack ‘Big Red’ as well as a big window to watch the world and waves go by.
The personal scale of the ship also seemed to translate to the service and staff, who were friendly and outgoing without being too theatrical or OTT. I guess that was another one of my repressed cruising ‘fears’ … the whole hyped up, ‘forced fun’ vibe where everyone tries a tad too hard to paint a picture of non-stop conviviality.
But, there was nothing disingenuous about the Celestyal staff, many of whom I was on a first name basis with by the end of the cruise. They came from over twenty-five countries and genuinely seemed to enjoy what they were doing … pretty important I guess if you’re stuck at sea with your workmates for months on end! Nothing felt forced.
There were a plethora of activities offered daily on board which you could elect to participate in or not as you chose. My natural FOMO saw me try quite a few, including Greek cooking, yoga, Greek dancing lessons, wine tasting and morning gym sessions. But there were loads more that I didn’t get time to try and a few like bingo and towel art that didn’t ring my bells. But that’s ok, because there was something for everyone and no pressure to do anything if it didn’t appeal.
The truth is, that we didn’t actually have a whole lot of free time on board, because this cruise was all about the destinations.
In fact that is one of Celestyal’s unique points of difference and another reason why it suited me perfectly. I have a small obsession with time management … so the idea that my sleeping time was maximised and used to deliver me to the next port, was right up my alley. The places we visited were billed as the heroes, not the ship.
The time on board was primarily early mornings and evenings, after we returned from the islands and excursions, when you could enjoy the facilities, the shows, eat, drink and dance into the wee hours if you so desired. I did indulge in one (biggish) night on board with some of my new cruising besties. Fuelled by one (or four) B52 shots, we may or may not have channelled our inner Cyndi’s and belted out “Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun” at the karaoke bar. An ambitious choice, which was reflected in our particularly low score and scant applause. At least we had fun!
The food on board also exceeded my expectations. I opted for the a la carte dinner option most nights, which was varied and excellent, but there were also several buffets, which were more relaxed and good too. At the risk of sounding like an unsociable Ebenezer (which BTW I am not), another one of my cruising concerns was the whole idea of forced communal eating at every meal. But I needn’t have worried. I was always offered the option of dining alone and on the occasions that I did join a table of my fellow cruisers, I actually had a really good time (bah humbug).
There were a plethora of idyllic drinking spots, with outdoor bars on many decks where you could just chill out and watch the sun set over the Greek islands while you worked your way through the cocktails on the unlimited drinks package, accompanied by some tunes from the on board musicians. After dinner each night there were different themed shows, which again you were free to attend or not as you chose. The standard was actually really good and I ended up watching a show most nights.
On board offerings aside, the real reason I opted for a cruise around the Greek Islands was to see and experience the Islands … and this is where the Celestyal Idyllic Aegean cruise comes into its own. They spotlight the destinations as the heroes not the boat (as lovely as it is). Unlike other companies, the Celestyal itinerary focuses on the Greek Islands without diluting the experience with a bunch of other destinations, and as a result, I felt as though I was able to really enjoy and immerse myself in each place we stopped, not just dip my toe in the water and head off again. In fact, we had a full day and night in Mykonos and two and a half days in Santorini (we left after midnight on the second night) … so I was able to enjoy dinner on the islands, watch the famous sunset over Santorini and soak up some of the after dark shenanigans, for which Mykonos is famous!
We also stopped in Milos and Crete for a full day of sightseeing and had a day in Kusadasi (Turkey) en route back to Athens.
By the end of the cruise, I really felt as though I had a good feel for the area and the islands we’d visited, partly because of the time we spent in each place and partly because of the excellent shore excursions. On each island, there was a selection of excursions to choose from, a number of which were included in the all inclusive ticket price.
They ranged from historically informative to culturally immersive to just plain relaxing. I explored villages, climbed volcanoes, sailed to remote beaches and swam through sea caves. Experiences that would have been impossible to replicate on my own.
And that’s what I loved most about this Celestyal cruise. It simplified the logistics around visiting the Greek Islands, not in a tick a box kind of way, but with a truly authentic, memorable and immersive experience and for an all-inclusive price that delivered incredible value. The Celestyal Idyllic Aegean cruise was the perfect choice for my maiden voyage and delivered a standing ovation to my grand finale of firsts. I am officially a ‘cruising’ convert.
Check out the website and book a cruise of your own!
Angela Galloway was a guest of https://australia.celestyalcruises.com/en-au