Last summer when I stepped on board the Olympia in Athens, Greece, I joined more than 6.7 million passengers who have traveled with Celestyal Cruises since it set sail in 1986. I loved every minute of it — whether I was on board or on shore.
In retrospect, my only wish is I could have cloned myself. The activity choices onboard were as intriguing as those that lay ashore.
Onboard, guests can discover ancient Greek history and culture through Greek dancing, cooking lessons or kicking back with live shows. One performance included a bouzouki band presenting a melodic journey through Greece.
I made sure I made time for a spa treatment, to visit the pool and to line up to meet the ship's captain and his officers. In the end, however, my curiosity floated to the top, and I signed up for as many shore excursions as possible.
Destination immersion, such as a shore excursion, is the darling of cruising and another reason I was thrilled to be on a Greek-owned, Greek-operated and -staffed ship. Who knows Greece better than a Greek? We were immersed in Greek life on board as well as on our excursions.
The islands have such deep harbors, we used tenders only two times.
On the four-day, all-inclusive cruise in the Aegean Sea, we visited the Greek ports of Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion — the capital of Crete — and the World Heritage site of Kusadasi. While each burrowed its way into my travel bank of places worth a return, it was Mykonos that won my heart.
The shuttle bus dropped us within view of the island's iconic 16th-century windmills. To reach the landmarks, a group of us followed the painted flagstones on Matoyiani Street through a bougainvillea-draped warren. We peeked into shop windows and paused at Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa Church. Mostly, we people-watched.
We watched a wedding party ready for guests at an outdoor reception. There was no late afternoon service planned at the churches, but all had plenty of visitors.
Mykonos' nightlife attracts all ages, but the natural beauty of the environment rises above the falderal. Its white-sand beaches are the antitheses of the rocky shoreline and busy harbor that line the curve of the Little Venice bay. Both glisten under a piercing blue sky.
Walking the steps to the top of the hill for the view of the activity along the shoreline of Little Venice is well worth the effort. The photos commemorating the experience are my favorite, especially those of visitors and guests readying for sunset.
Ritual of sunset
It was an hour before the sun would set, and prime spots for watching the event were being snatched up. The view of the windmills overlooking the beach in Little Venice is enough to quiet the entire capital. When the sun finally sizzles into the sea, onlookers applaud, whistle and cheer. It's the best show on the island, it's free, and it happens every night.
We followed along the waterfront to our gathering spot to walk to Roca Cookery for dinner.
Roca Cookery is located on the waterfront in the Old Port. We dined at a communal table on a terrace overlooking the harbor and the low-lying sun.
The menu, similar to that on board the Olympia, is created from local products. The chef greeted our table and explained typical Greek cuisine features simple, tasty specialties served in a distinct way, such as with the restaurant's shrimp and marinated anchovies combined perfectly with arugula salad with soft cheese and Cretan cherry tomatoes.
For dinner, he grilled sea bream over an open fire. The fish arrived lightly charred as much from herbs as heat. Happily, my boning skills rose to the occasion, and I could enjoy the local catch as much as the Mykonos residents who filled the rest of the restaurant. The entree was worth a chapter in a cookbook; ditto for Roca Cookery's selection of Greek wine.
The fillip for our day on Mykonos was the panoramic view. Roca's terrace is considered the best spot for the sunset on the entire island. To that, we toasted an enthusiastic "Opa!" and headed back to the ship.