There are few truly perfect cruise-ship destinations in the world, and the Greek isles are one of them. Who can argue with jagged islands crowned by whitewashed villages and harbors of stunning blue sea lapping up against charming beaches and ancient city walls? The sea approach to places like Santorini and Rhodes is really hard to beat. Cruising in Greece is all about gorgeous scenery, ancient historic sites, delicious Mediterranean food, and lots of local culture. You don't have to worry about ferry schedules, driving a car, or changing hotel rooms. You get on the ship, you unpack once, and the vessel is your floating hotel. It's your familiar retreat after a long day of touring or a place to kick back and bask in the Greek sun. Among the most beautiful regions to cruise in all the world, the seas are relatively calm and the islands are individual in character, offering travelers a satisfying mix of local culture, stunning scenery, and ancient and medieval ruins to explore.
Most Greek island itineraries highlight the region's history with optional guided shore excursions that take in the major sights, spicing up the vacation brew with other, less history-minded excursions such as visits to beaches, meals at local restaurants, and fishing or sailing excursions.
Of course, you can choose to get off the ship at each port of call and head off on your own to explore the sights, hit the beach, or check out the local color at the nearest taverna. Solo is often the best way to go.
If cruising sounds like a good deal to you, fares can be low due to the worldwide economic downturn (though you may find the airfare to Europe can be high). The region has many cruising options. You can go ultraluxe on a small, yachtlike ship like the SeaDream I or übercasual on the easyCruise Life. You can choose a classic vessel or a modern megaship. You can choose from cruise lines making new inroads into Greece; other companies build on their current offerings and add new ports.
Cruise Preparation Practicalities
About 1 month before your cruise and no later than 1 week before, you should receive your cruise documents, including your airline tickets (if you purchased them from the cruise line), a boarding document with your cabin number and sometimes dining choices on it, boarding forms to fill out, luggage tags, and your prearranged bus-transfer vouchers and hotel vouchers (if applicable). Some lines offer some or all of these documents and forms online. You'll save time checking in at the cruise terminal if you've filled out your boarding documents online.
There will also be information about shore excursions and additional material detailing things you need to know before you sail. Most lines also list excursions on their websites and allow you to book shore excursions in advance of your sailing online, which will give you first dibs at popular offerings that may sell out later.
Read all of this pretrip information carefully. Make sure your cabin category and dining preferences are what you requested, and that your flight and arrival times are what you were told. If there are problems, call your agent immediately. Make sure there is enough time so you can arrive at the port no later than an hour before departure.
You will be required to have a passport for your trip. If you are flying into Istanbul, you will also be required to have a Turkish visa, which can be easily obtained upon arrival at Istanbul airport for about $20.
Confirm your flight 3 days before departure. Also, before you leave for the airport, tie the tags provided by the cruise line onto your luggage and fill in your boarding cards. This will save you time when you arrive at the ship.
You already paid for a good portion of your vacation when you paid for your cruise, but you will still need a credit card and perhaps bring along some cash, to handle your onboard expenses such as bar drinks, dry cleaning and laundry, e-mail, spa services, salon services, photos taken by the ship's photographer, babysitting, wine at dinner, souvenirs, shore excursions, specialty restaurant charges, and tips. On most lines, you'll use your cabin key card as a charge card. Prepare to spend at least $200 and easily $600 to $800 per person on a weeklong cruise for "extras" -- or more, depending on how much you drink, shop, love massages, and spend in the casino, and how many shore excursions you purchase during the cruise.
Some ships (but not all) will take a personal check for onboard expenses. If you want to pay in cash, you will be asked to leave a deposit. Some ships have ATMs, and some (but not all) offer currency-exchange services.
We suggest you keep careful track of your onboard expenses to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the end of your cruise. You can get this information at the purser's office or guest-relations desk.
You will want to have some cash in hand when going ashore for expenses, including taxis, snacks or meals, drinks, small purchases, and tips for guides.
Generally, ships describe their daily recommended evening attire as casual, informal, and formal, prompting many people to think they'll have to bring a steamer trunk full of clothes. Not true; you can probably get along with about half of what you think you need. Almost all ships offer laundry and dry-cleaning services, and some have coin-operated self-serve laundries, so you have the option of packing less and having your clothes cleaned midway through your trip.
During the day, the onboard style is casual, but keep in mind that some ships do not allow swimsuits or tank tops in the dining room. If your ship operates under the "traditional" dress codes, you can expect two formal dinners and two informal nights during a 5- to 7-day cruise, with the rest casual (or more typical these days, 1 or 2 formal nights and all the rest casual). There will usually be proportionally more formal nights on longer cruises.
The daily bulletin delivered to your cabin each day will advise you of the proper dress code for the evening. Formal means a tux or dark suit with tie for men and a cocktail dress, long dress, gown, or dressy pantsuit for women. Informal is a jacket with or without a tie, and dress slacks or a light suit for men and a dress, skirt with blouse, or pants outfit for women. Casual means different things to different people. Typically it means a sports shirt or open dress shirt with slacks for men; women can wear skirts, dresses, or pants outfits. Jeans and shorts are usually frowned upon.
Check your cruise documents to determine the number of formal nights (if any) during your cruise. Men who don't own a tuxedo might be able to rent one in advance through the cruise line's preferred supplier (who delivers the tux to the ship). Information on this service often is sent with your cruise documents. Also, some cruises offer theme nights, so you may want to check your cruise documents to see if there are any you'll want to bring special clothes for. (For instance, Greek Night means everyone wears blue and white -- the Greek national colors.)
Having said all this about formal and informal, you might not even need to know about it: A few lines, especially the smaller, more casual ships, have an all-casual policy, meaning slacks and sundresses at night are as dressy as you need to be; others are "formal-optional," which gives you the option of dressing up (or not). If you're one of those people who refuses to wear a tie on vacation, consider that many lines also offer a casual alternative during formal evenings, such as dining in the buffet restaurant or in your cabin.
If you want to bring the crown jewels, be careful. If you're not wearing them, leave them either in your in-room safe (if there is one) or with the purser.
In general, during the day in Greece you're best off packing loose and comfortable cotton or other lightweight fabrics. You'll also want to pack a swimsuit, a sun hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen -- the Greek sun can be intense. Adjust your wardrobe depending on when you plan to travel. Even if you're traveling in August, though, you should bring a sweater, as you'll be in and out of air-conditioning. And don't forget an umbrella.
For shore excursions, good walking shoes are a must, as some excursions involve walking on stone or marble. Also, some tours may visit religious sites that have a "no shorts or bare shoulders" policy, so it's best to bring something to cover up with. (If you're taking the tour through the cruise line, you'll be advised of this before you go.)
If you plan on bringing your own hair dryer, electric razor, curling iron, or other electrical device, check out the ship's electric current in advance. An adapter may be required. Because of the risk of fire, items like irons are prohibited; ask your cabin steward about pressing services or bring a portable steamer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.