Unexpected adventure with Crystal

A one-room church on a hiking trail in Patmos, Greece. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing
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"Arrogance that comes from ignorance." That's how Alf Nucifora, president of the Luxury Council of San Francisco, recently referred to travelers who shy away from cruises because they see them as one long, rowdy party at sea.

My husband and I stood guilty as charged. I didn't take my first cruise until after age 50, only deciding to go because it was a long-overdue opportunity to spend time with my favorite group of traveling girlfriends for a Princess sailing to Alaska.

When I arrived for that trip, it seemed as bad as I had feared, with hundreds of passengers waiting to board three ships at the port in Vancouver. After that and the first-night dinner lines, we had a better-than-expected time, avoiding the organized tours and venturing on our own for hikes and shopping.

Still, when the opportunity arose to sail aboard the Crystal Symphony through the Greek isles (on an assignment to cover Crystal's annual sales gala for Travel Weekly), I knew my husband would be hesitant. Actually, we both were, wondering if our aversion to group tours would mean we would spend our time eating and drinking too much and just wandering through tourist towns, buying useless knickknacks.

A one-room church on a hiking trail in Patmos, Greece.
A one-room church on a hiking trail in Patmos, Greece. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing

Instead, we ended up having one of the most active, enjoyable trips of our lives, turning the 12-day cruise into our own private hiking adventure by day, with hassle-free fine dining and luxury sailing by night.

Our first stop on the May sailing from Athens to Rome was the small island of Patmos, best known for its mountaintop Holy Monastery of the Apocalypse and the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse, believed to be where John wrote the Book of Revelation. While most of the cruisers took buses up the steep mountain, we ventured on foot to an unmarked hiking trail that wound around through homes, past a one-room church and up to the still-operational monastery, taking in the stunning views of the clear, blue Aegean Sea and the magnificent landscapes.

Each day brought a new island with new walking adventures and hikes, from the ancient city and castles on the islands of Rhodes and Navplion to the more popular, sophisticated and cosmopolitan island resort of Mykonos.

Walking the donkey path from port to the cliff-top city of Thira on Santorini.
Walking the donkey path from port to the cliff-top city of Thira on Santorini. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing

On Mykonos, rain showers scuttled our plans to rent a scooter in search of remote beaches. Instead, we stuck close to town, enjoying the sheer beauty of its narrow, white-building-lined streets that offered a host of shopping, eating and drinking options.

But the highlight, without question, was the island of Santorini, where we ignored the crew's advice to take the cable car rather than walk the donkey path of 1,000 steps up to the cliff-top town of Thira. After a little shopping, coffee and ouzo, we followed an almost 5-mile path through town and along, up and down the mountaintops to the town of Oia.

My husband likened the trip to a luxury version of backpacking through Europe. And while you probably won't see us cruising the Caribbean aboard a megaship anytime soon, once I scrape up a few million dollars you might find us in line to buy one of the private cabins Crystal plans to sell on its new ocean liners.

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