Celestyal Cruises focuses on maximizing its time in port to allow guests to see some of the best parts of Greece and Turkey on the Aegean Sea. Its ships often stay late into the evening so that those who want to dine ashore can do so. Plus, the ships sometimes visit two islands in one day, giving their passengers exposure to more of these amazing islands.
The cruise line primarily sails 3, 4, and 7-day cruises in the Aegean, but guests can combine the 3- and 4-day trips to make a longer voyage. Celestyal's ships visit many of the Aegean destinations of other cruise lines like Mykonos, Santorini, and Istanbul. However, they also stopover at quieter islands and ports not yet discovered by the masses (e.g. Chios and Milos).
The rest of this article below provides a discussion of some of the various Celestyal Cruises ports of call along with links to more detailed information and photos from Greece and Turkey.
Santorini - Greece's Most Spectacular Island
Santorini (also called Thira) is one of Greece's most popular islands, and it is certainly the most spectacular. The world's largest volcanic eruption (over 3000 years ago) changed the island from around one with a volcano in the middle to several smaller islands surrounding a huge, deep caldera.
Cruise ships love Santorini, and it's on most of the Celestyal Cruises' itineraries. Cruise passengers love to stroll the streets of scenic Oia or the capital of Fira, stopping often to enjoy the views or to shop for jewelry, souvenirs, or something to eat or drink.
Santorini also has beaches (in different colors!) and charming towns like Pyrgos in the interior. Those who love ancient history should plan to visit the Akrotiri archaeological site, and wine lovers should stop at the Santos Winery for a tasting and more marvelous views.
Mykonos - Shopping, Parties, and Gateway to Delos
Mykonos is dry and mostly flat--not exactly Greece's most scenic. However, it is one of the country's most popular because of its outstanding beaches, variety of shops, and great places to eat and enjoy some late night partying.
Often the Celestyal cruise ships will stay until about midnight at Mykonos, giving guests the chance to at least get a taste of the famous nightlife. The daylight hours on Mykonos are best spent on the beaches, shopping, walking along the waterfront or exploring Mykonos town. It's quite cute, and many visitors end up at Little Venice in the evening near the windmills to watch the sunset.
Mykonos is the closest island to Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Delos is a must-see for anyone who loves mythology or archaeology. Since ancient Greeks believed Apollo was born on Delos, the island was considered sacred. Cruise travelers can either take a ship's tour to Delos or book a tour boat at the pier on Mykonos.
Patmos - Where St. John Wrote the Biblical Book of Revelation
Patmos is best-known to Christian pilgrims who visit the Mediterranean to learn and see more of the sites made famous in the Bible. St. John the Disciple was exiled from Ephesus to the island of Patmos for 18 months in 95 AD, and used his time to write the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. He didn't plan to write Revelation, but God spoke to him while he was in a cave on Patmos, where he used his time to meditate, pray, and gaze at the view. Subsequent to this dramatic meeting with God, he wrote this book of the Apocalypse and hope.
Due to this significant link to Christianity, it's not surprising that Patmos has many churches and monasteries. Its signature landmark is the Monastery of St. John, which dates back to the 11th century AD. Most shore excursions include a visit to this monastery and to the Cave of the Apocalypse where St. John wrote the Revelation.
Those who have visited Patmos before or who want something else to do can enjoy one of the many nice beaches on the island or explore the port town of Skala or its capital high on the hilltop named Chora (or Hora).
Crete - Greece's Largest Island and Home of the Minotaur
The Celestyal Odyssey visits the city of Heraklion (also spelled Iraklion) on Crete when sailing the Aegean from Athens. Most guests visit the nearby archaeological site of the Minoan Palace of Knossos, where King Minos supposedly kept the half-man, half-bull monster the Minotaur in his basement.
Much has been written about how Sir Arthur Evans, the primary archaeologist of Knossos, reconstructed some of the site. Many visitors don't like this reconstruction, but it does give an idea of how some of the different parts of the palace "might" have looked.
Most of the artifacts excavated at the Palace of Knossos are on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This museum was significantly renovated in the last few years and is well worth a visit.
Kos - Home of Wine, Honey, Zia, a Few Beaches, and Hippocrates
Kos is one of the more fertile islands of the southeastern Aegean. It's most famous resident was HIppocrates, the father of modern medicine, who was supposedly born on Kos about 460 BC and died on the island about 377 BC. There's not much to see on Kos related to Hippocrates, although some tours take visitors to the Hippocrates Plane Tree, which is celebrated as the place where he taught his students. Although the tree looks very old, it is doubtful that it is more than a few hundred years old, not over 2500 years old!
I did a "Taste of Tradition with Zia" tour from the Celestyal Crystal cruise ship on Kos. This was a fun tour that included some of the highlights of the Kos scenery and beaches, plus gave us a taste of the local wines and honey. The tour ended with time to shop, explore and enjoy the views from the mountain town of Zia.
Ios - Deserts, Mountains, Beaches, and Quintessential Greek Villages
Ios is one of Greece's driest islands, with much of its scenery rocky and barren. I'm not sure if (or how) this contributes to its reputation as one of the country's best party islands. However, the island has much to offer visitors looking for great beaches, lovely Greek villages, and fun. Like many other Greek islands, Ios also has an interesting archaeological site, Skarkos, which dates back to 2800 BC.
Cruise ships arrive at the town of Hora (also spelled Chora), which is very scenic, with lots of narrow streets, lovely buildings, and many churches. Those who love panoramic views can walk up to the top of the hill that towers over the town.
The drive from Hora to the beaches on the south end of the island is quite scenic and crosses the mountains. Maganari Beach is one of Ios' most popular and even has a great taverna, the Venus Restaurant, and Bar, right on the beach.
Syros - One of Greece's Less-Touristy Islands
Although many of the Greek islands are not very touristy, Syros is probably the most-populated island to not have its economy based primarily on tourism. Instead, Ermoupolis, the largest city on Syros, is the administrative capital of the Cyclades group and also has a shipbuilding and repair facility and textile factories. This commercial (rather than tourism) flavor makes the island have a different ambiance.
Cruise ships dock at Ermoupolis, and passengers can explore this capital city on foot or on an organized tour. The island has lovely marble streets and more of a Neo-Classical design in its buildings.
The Celestyal Crystal stays at the dock until almost midnight in Syros, giving its guests an opportunity to dine ashore or explore more of the island. Some of our group took a taxi across the island to the tiny village of Kini for a fabulous beachfront seafood dinner and a marvelous sunset at the Allou Yialou restaurant.
Symi - Mansions and Sponges
Symi (also spelled Simi) is another of Greece's very dry, but very scenic islands. It's found only about 6 miles from Turkey in the eastern Aegean. Symi is popular with small sailboats, but a few cruise ships visit and anchor in the harbor of Symi town.
Exploring the town is well worth the time, but beach lovers might want to take a small boat to St. George's Bay, one of Greece's best in the Aegean. It has powdery white sand and sparkling clean water.
Rhodes - Sunshine and History
Rhodes has long been one of the most popular islands for visitors in Greece. It is located far on the eastern side of the Aegean near Turkey, and tourists love the 300+ days of sunshine, the lovely beaches, and the fascinating historical sites including those related to the Knights of St. John and to more ancient residents.
The Old Town of Rhodes is one of the largest inhabited medieval towns in Europe and is a World Heritage Site. Its old fortifications are impressive even today. Unfortunately, one of world's most famous statues, the Colossus of Rhodes, no longer stands guard over the harbor as was once reported. This statue was even included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but was destroyed in an earthquake over 2200 years ago..
Many cruise visitors take a tour on Rhodes to the ancient city of Lindos and its fortress on the acropolis overseeing the town.
Samos - Home of Pythagoras
Like Symi and Rhodes, Samos is close to Turkey, It's much greener (and larger) than Symi, and more mountainous than other islands. The scenry includes many pine and olive trees. Many tourists pass through Samos when traveling between Turkey and other islands in Greece, but others stay.
Like many Greek islands, Samos has good beaches and cute villages along the coast and in the mountains. Many visitors come to Samos for its link to ancient history. The island is the birthplace of the famous mathematician Pythagoras, and also has an interesting Temple to Hera and an archaeological museum.
Istanbul - Great City Links Europe and Asia
Istanbul is a highlight of any eastern Mediterranean cruise. It's history is remarkable, crossing centuries and linking continents and religions. Although visitors can easily spend a week in Istanbul, many of the most popular Istanbul sites can be seen (albeit quickly) in a day since they are located near to one another.
Kusadasi - Gateway to Ephesus
Kusadasi is one of the most popular ports of call in Turkey. Cruise ships of all sizes can dock (rather than tender), and the town is near the ancient city of Ephesus, one of Turkey's most visited archaeological sites.
Most people who come to Kusadasi for the first time take a half-day tour of Ephesus and use the remainder of their time in port to shop and explore Kusadasi. Those who have been before might also return to Ephesus since the site is so massive you can see something different each time.
Cesme - Ancient Historical Sites or a Day at the Beach?
One of the problems with cruise travel is that you often don't have enough time in port to see or do everything that interests you. Of course, this just means you will have to return!
Cesme, Turkey is near Izmir, one of Turkey's most fascinating cities. Celestyal Cruises offers a shore excursion to Izmir, but I opted for a "day off" from touring and went with an excursion to the Sole Mare Beach Club, where I rested, ate, swam, and drank a little wine. After being immersed in the history and culture of Greece and Turkey, everyone deserves a day to just "veg" out.