ATHENS, Greece -- To have seen this country and not cruised the
islands of the Aegean Sea is like touring France without having
tasted the wine.
thousands of years its turquoise-blue waters have been a playground
for ancient gods and heroes and mortals, and sailing among the
islands is one of the world's great travel experiences: simple,
memorable and beautiful.
Years ago I learned that my idea of an optimum Greek Islands
cruise included neither quick-look excursions to legendary sites
nor even one jacket-and-tie dinner on big passenger cruise
That discovery was followed by two separate crewed-yacht charter
cruises, each in the company of seven friends, that filled the bill
beautifully with small-island ports of call and short-haul
Looking for a middle ground between deluxe big ship and private
charter cruising, I recently asked Zeus Tours if I could sail
aboard its 18-cabin Galileo yacht, whose weekly departures from
Athens include classic Cycladic islands and off-course ports of
call: Santorini, Amorgos, Patmos, Samos, Delos, Mykonos and
Kusadasi in Turkey.
One is always nervous that, as a guest, you might have to say
nice things about a cruise experience that didn't add up; a friend
of mine and I got lucky, for the Galileo is a big and comfortable
motor yacht staffed by a top-notch crew and has a near-perfect
itinerary for the first-time, as well as repeat, Greek Islands
It also seemed to be a first-class charter choice for group tour
cruises that could easily add customized arrangements if
Further, among the 20 passengers (from the U.S., the U.K. and
Australia) on our cruise, there were three honeymooning couples for
whom this style of cruising offered freedom and privacy.
Keys to the Galileo's approach to islands cruising are three
elements: informality aboard; two rather than three meals a day on
board, with breakfast and either lunch or dinner, and lots of time
-- mid-morning through evenings -- in most ports. Passengers can
take organized excursions, rent cars or motor scooters and explore
islands themselves, shop till they drop and sample restaurants in
The main drawback to small-ship cruising can be the weather,
which is normally sunny May through October but can be
unpredictably windy, which can mean getting stuck in a port,
missing an island or two and tossing about at sea.
The first leg of our journey, an overnight (and one of two long
sailings) from Athens to Santorini, was a pitch and toss for four
Later in the cruise, high winds were predicted between Samos and
Mykonos, which required clearing dinner dishes early, tying down
everything possible on board, tucking passengers in by 10 p.m. for
an early departure and anticipating missing the visit to Delos and
Mykonos islands. However, the rough weather never materialized, and
the sailing to Mykonos was relatively smooth.
Before arriving at each island, the cruise director would brief
passengers on restaurants, vehicle rentals, taxi hire, shopping and
Shore excursions were offered on Santorini ($40 per passenger)
and at Ephesus in Turkey ($35).
I thought that the island of Delos should have had an organized
tour waiting, but we all hired an on-site guide who added a special
touch to visiting the ancient home of the gods: She was a
knowledgeable blonde lady wearing a short pink dress, a pink Barbie
doll backpack and a lime-green sun hat and matching umbrella. Her
historical overview of Delos was occasionally interrupted to talk
on her cell phone.
On board, my outside Category A cabin on the upper deck had a
seaview window and, like the rest of the boat, was air conditioned.
The cabin was roomy enough for two to live efficiently, with twin
beds (many cabins have double beds) separated by a night table with
storage drawers and a good reading light, a recessed dressing table
and stool and one wardrobe closet.
The bathroom had a big shower, a mirror over the sink, a toilet
and fresh towels daily. There was, however, no separate seating
area in the cabin and little space to store luggage.
The main bar/dining room lounge was big, nicely decorated and
comfortable, with fresh fruit and sweets always available.
Galileo is blessed with a good chef who laid out a copious
breakfast buffet of many hot and cold choices, and the day's second
meal mixed Greek specialties with other European dishes,
accompanied by complimentary wine.
The spacious deck was outstanding, covered on upper and lower
levels for outdoor seating, open with lots of lounge chairs and a
Jacuzzi on the uppermost sun deck.
All in all, I found the Galileo perfectly suited in style and
performance for Greek Islands cruising.
Regardless of how one travels to other islands, one should
approach Santorini only by boat. The harbor you enter -- always
subject to prevailing winds -- is the caldera of an extinct
volcano, and it is faced by ash and pumice cliffs that plunge
dramatically to the sea.
A cable car takes passengers up to Thira, clinging to the cliff
edge over the Aegean; it is the supreme, much photographed, white
Cycladic town, and one I find fatally flawed by tourist razzmatazz;
however, not far along the coastal road is Ia, prettier and
My travel companion and I bought the Galileo's excursion,
visiting both Ia and the Minoan site of Akrotori, a Late Bronze Age
city which, like Pompeii, was preserved under a blanket of volcanic
ash that archaeologists have removed to reveal whole streets,
houses and their furnishings and art.
Also unearthed were breathtaking frescoes, now on display at the
National Archeological Museum in Athens.
Our next landfall was the port of Aegiali in the north of
dramatically rugged Amorgos. While there was not time to drive to
and explore the spectacular Monastery of Chozoviotissa in the
central part of the island, a scooter ride took us up to the
village of Tholaria, named for its vaulted holos tombs from the
Roman period and to the pretty village of Langada.
One of the reasons I sailed on Galileo was to see Patmos, only
accessible from the sea, whether aboard a cruise boat, a private
yacht or an excursion boat from Kos.
There are pretty beaches here and fine scooter drives, but we
came to see first the Monastery of the Apocalypse, and, high above,
the Monastery of St. John, with the chapel-tomb of its founder and
a dazzling treasury of religious art. We did this "pilgrimage" on
foot but hiring a taxi for the outing is more highly
Cruising into Turkish waters, we tied up in Kusadasi, the port
city gateway to Ephesus, the most dramatic and most visited of all
ancient sites in Turkey; here Alexander the Great as well as
Anthony and Cleopatra once walked along its white marble streets,
lined with dazzling remnants of luxurious homes, temples, baths and
fountains, a great theater that once accommodated 25,000
spectators, the grand Library of Celsus and newly uncovered mosaic
The tour also included a visit to a country carpet factory,
Bazaar 54 Sultankoy, to learn about rug production and view part of
the vast rug inventory over tea and coffee; we all invested heavily
in Turkey's most famous craft.
We returned to the Greek islands at mountainous Samos, whose
hideaway monasteries and traces of past greatness are hidden in a
landscape heavy with forests and wildflowers.
We rented a car to cross the island to the northern port of
Karlovasi, stopping en route to buy pottery and thyme honey and to
barrel up dirt tracks to churches, many of which are abandoned.
The scenery is spectacular along the rugged north coast road
that leads to Samos town, whose weather-beaten old mansions line
the bayside waterfront.
It's a long sail to Mykonos from Samos, with a stop en route to
anchor off Delos; the tiny island, once the hub of Greek political
and religious life and revered as the legendary birthplace of
Apollo and Artemis, has been reduced by time and pillage to a dusty
and deserted ruin.
But oh, what a wondrous remembrance of things long past, from
its famous line-up of marble lions to its newly found mosaic floors
in ancient hilltop temples.
After a short sail from Delos, Galileo tied up at Mykonos'
Paradise Beach, a favorite of sun worshippers in various stages of
dress and undress; our group dove right in, mostly swimming and
snorkeling from the boat.
Only the truly antisocial seem to be able to resist a call at
Mykonos, Greece's most famous small island; it retains a style and
chic that other out-and-out tourist islands have lost.
The harbor teems with luxury yachts and brightly painted fishing
boats, while narrow cobblestone streets thread through the
white-cubed village of little chapels, art galleries, pastry shops
and chic boutiques.
Most visitors come to sit in cafes by the sea beneath the
landmark windmills and watch the sun sink below the horizon, before
choosing a restaurant and consuming huge platters of grilled shrimp
And what better end to a Greek Islands cruise than a sail to and
visit of the temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion, en route back to
Athens?Charter operator's brochure is not quite
By Carla Hunt
NEW YORK -- The Zeus Greek Islands Yacht Cruises brochure needs
a good rewrite and new photos for agents to sell this program
First, the three Zeus yachts are positioned as "casual cruises,"
and that seemed indeed to be true, for we docked next to two out of
the three, and I went aboard both to take a peek.
At a quick glance, the decor of the public lounges and dining
areas is spartan and unimaginative, and the cabins looked adequate
However, passengers seemed to be having a very good time,
particularly on Zeus II, which I was told has a particularly
agreeable captain in command; passengers I talked with said the
food was good, and, like me, they enjoyed traveling on a boat that
left plenty of day and night time ashore.
The cruise price ($1,320 per person, double, for a main/upper
deck twin) is right.
The Galileo fills a slot called "deluxe cruise." Whereas it is
indeed far more upscale and comfortable with, I am sure, far better
service than its sister ships, it is no Sea Cloud.
Many people on our cruise were disappointed that the yacht never
hoisted its sails, as was shown in the brochure for the Galileo as
well as for Zeus I and III. However, these vessels do not cruise
The brochure indicates that Galileo passengers embark and
disembark in Marina Flisvos in Athens. Well, that has been changed
to Marina Zeas in Piraeus. (You guessed it: They held the boat for
Added to next year's brochure will be the new, deluxe, 164-foot
Sea Wind vessel, making its debut in May and sailing on the same
routing as the Galileo. The yacht will be fitted with 22 cabins,
including four suites