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All About Our Greek Islands Cruise: 7 Days In The Aegean Sea With Celestyal Cruises

Embark on an unforgettable Greek Islands Cruise with Celestyal Cruises! Share our experiences through the beauty of Santorini, Mykonos, and more.

A family looking at windmills on Mykonos on a Greek Islands cruise with Celestyal cruises

Before my family embarked on an Aegean Greek Islands cruise in the port town of Kusadasi, Turkiye, I had never really considered myself a “cruise guy.”

The only other cruises I had ever taken were a seven-day Alaska cruise from Fairbanks to Vancouver and a seven-day Northern Lights cruise on the Hurtigruten ferry in Norway. While the Alaska cruise was your “typical” cruise experience, the Norway cruise was on a far more “utilitarian” boat, although it did have some nice amenities for travelers.

I’ve never been a lover of crowds. Often, my family’s travels around the world have been focused as much on getting away from the big cities and out into smaller, less-crowded, and more experiential experiences. We were midway through our four weeks of travel in Turkiye when we boarded our cruise with Celestyal Cruises at the port of Kusadasi. The Aegean cruise would take us through Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, Milos, Athens, and Thessaloniki. I honestly didn’t know if cruising could mesh with our adventurous, independent travel style.

A Greek islands cruise at the peak of the summer travel rush seemed overwhelming. We would be visiting some of the most popular islands in the Aegean Sea at their busiest time. What I learned after our seven-day Celestyal cruise is that even the most popular places in the world have hidden gems. And even the Greek Islands offer the opportunity for an intimate escape.

Choosing The Right Company For A Family Cruise Through The Greek Islands

Two boys stand with the chef team of the Celestyal Cruise in the Aegean Sea
The boys share a moment with the chef team of the Celestyal Crystal

There are countless companies offering Greek island cruises. The biggest cruise ship companies, including Carnival (who we traveled with in Alaska, Royal Caribbean (who owns the world’s largest cruise ship, the Icon of the Seas), and Norwegian, all have their largest and most opulent boats touring these scenic islands during the summer months.

But massive ships with dozens of restaurants and nightclubs don’t really interest my family. For us, travel has always been about the experiences along the way. The people we meet and the memories that we make.

So while we boarded in Kusadasi, right next to the city-sized Icon of the Seas, our small, 1,000-passenger Celestyal Cruise ship seemed just about right.

It had a small pool, a couple of lounges, some places for Christina and me to do work, and enough activities to keep us all occupied between the moments that really mattered. The ones where we would be discovering a new Greek Island, city, or experience.

While many cruise companies push for visitors to take “cruise-sanctioned” tours, ones that offer the same experience as those offered on places like Viator and Get Your Guide but at 200% mark-ups, the staff at Celestyal was very honest with us about which experiences we could easily navigate ourselves and which ones might be better on a tour package.

That kind of honesty breeds loyalty in my eyes.

I won’t talk much about the ship itself. The cruise ship that we were on, the Crystal, was retired shortly after our Aegean Sea cruise experience. But I will mention that the staff were excellent, caring, and attentive.

My brother once worked on a cruise ship, and I know enough people who have worked in the industry to know that it’s often a challenging and thankless career path. The people that I met aboard the Celestyal Cruise ship seemed to care and be cared for.

We were treated to excellent entertainment that varied from night to night, from cabaret shows to “Cirque du Soleil” style acrobatics and comedy. The food was excellent, and the large staff of Filipino servers and chefs were constantly bringing us some of our favorite Filipino food including sinigang, adobo, and pancit.

The boys were over the moon!

Our Aegean Cruise Itinerary

Kusadasi, Turkiye

A woman gazes up at the ruins of the Library of Ephesus near Kusadasi, Turkiye
Christina looks up at the Library of Ephesus in Kusadasi

Most Aegean cruises depart from the port of Piraeus, which is not far from the Greek capital of Athens. My family was in the midst of a four-week tour of Turkiye, though, so we were able to board in the Turkish port of Kusadasi.

Kusadasi is the only Turkish port on most Aegean cruises, but it’s an incredible stop for those who choose to explore. While Kusadasi is a resort town known for its large, family-friendly resorts and epic waterslide culture, the true gems lie about 30 minutes away near the town of Selcuk.

Near Selcuk lies one of the most famous ruins in all of Turkiye, the vast and stunning Library of Ephesus. The Ephesus ruins make for an easy day trip from the Kusadasi port. The large city is one of the most complete Roman cities to explore, and the Library of Ephesus is stunning to behold.

But if you want to explore a little deeper, the nearby town of Selcuk is work exploring as well. Here, you can find the Ephesus Museum, which contains many of the most beautiful sculptures from the city. But it’s also home to a hidden secret.

Selcuk also hides an incredible secret. Among the many places to visit in Selcuk is the remains of one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Selcuk was the location of the Temple of Artemis. And while not much remains of this once grand temple, there are still original pillars that you can wander among.

You can read our guide to Selcuk here and our complete guide to visiting Ephesus here.

Popular Shore Excursions in Kusadasi

Heraklion, Crete

A stunningly vibrant painting of a bull on the walls of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete
A stunningly vibrant painting of a bull on the walls of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete

Our first night on our Aegean cruise was fantastic. We settled into our large room and enjoyed a special family meal at the ship’s private dining area. It gave us a very nice introduction to the ship’s incredible food.

In the morning, we woke early as the ship docked in the town of Heraklion on the island of Crete. We had come to the ship relatively unprepared for our Greek island’s adventure, so we hadn’t booked anything with the ship prior to docking.

Luckily for us, finding a taxi to show us around the island wasn’t too difficult. There were a few taxis right outside the port that had clearly labeled day rates. The driver that approached us was fantastic and gave us an incredible tour of some of the best things to see on Crete.

His name was Manos, and he works for a company called Taxi Manos if you’d like to reach out to him yourself.

The main draw of Crete for us was the Palace of Knossos, a stunning Minoan temple that dates back past 1900 BCE. Many of the walls of the Palace of Knossos still feature incredibly vibrant paintings. The fact that they’re still so bright and bold after nearly 4,000 years is astounding.

Among the many things to do on Crete, we visited Lion Square in Heraklion, stopped by to see a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct that still transports water across a towering gorge, and visited a friend of our driver who showed us his incredible collection of German WWII vehicles.

Popular Shore Excursions in Heraklion


A family smiles for a selfie in front of the blue roofs of Santorini
Family selfie in front of the blue roofs of Santorini

When we docked in Santorini, we were a bit more prepared for the Aegean Sea ports of call. The night before, Christina had booked us on one of the Celestyal cruise excursions. So, after a great night of sleep and a fine breakfast, the four of us deboarded and loaded up on a bus that would take us to Megolachori and the famous city of Oia.

Megalochori is a relatively off-the-beaten-path destination on Santorini, and I’m very happy that we had the chance to explore it.

The whitewashed buildings of the city are adorned with flowering bougainvillea, and its historic architecture is an incredible reflection of the island’s heritage. Unlike the busy city of Oia, Megalochori is tranquil and relaxed, surrounded by small vineyards and dotted with traditional tavernas and artisan shops.

The tour gave us very little time to check out Megalochori, and I would have loved to have seen more. But we were quickly shuttled off to Oia, on the northwestern tip of Santorini.

Unlike its southern neighbor, Oia was jam-packed. There were shoulder-to-shoulder tourists all trying to reach the best viewpoints to see the famous blue-roofed buildings of Santorini.

There are a few places where you can find unimpeded views of the beautiful Santorini skyline. But our favorite part of Oia was the walk back to the cable car that would take us down to the port. It gave us a chance to find some small ice cream shops, check out some of the beautiful churches, and admire some of the great shopping that Santorini has to offer.

Popular Shore Excursions on Santorini


A woman in a pink dress walks through an alley in Mykonos, Greece
Christina checks on the laundry in Mykonos

The next morning, we woke to find ourselves docked at the island of Mykonos. We opted to explore the port town of Chora by foot. It was a great choice, as it gave us the freedom to wander around on our own and see some of the hidden gems of the city that you can only find by stumbling upon them.

Chora is an absolute delight to wander through. We wandered along the waterfront, checking out famous sites like the Mykonos windmills and the beautiful white-washed buildings with bright blue doors that symbolized the Greek experience.

As we strolled outside of the tourist zone and into the residential area of the city, we found a beautiful outdoor movie theatre, wonderful cafes, and the delightful Hausbrandt bakery, the oldest bakery in Mykonos. They serve up delicious treats and breads and provide baked goods to many of the island’s best restaurants.

We had a late departure from Mykonos, so after heading back to the boat for a rest and to enjoy dinner, we stepped back off the boat and walked to nearby Agios Stephano Beach for a sunset swim.

Mykonos is definitely an island that I’d love to return to and see more of.

Popular Shore Excursions on Mykonos


A replica of the Venus de Milo mounted above the sea in Milos, Greece
A replica of the Venus de Milo on display in Klima on the island of Milos

I had never even heard of the island of Milos before I started looking into the Greek Islands cruise. But by the time my family left, this small island was one of my favorite places to visit in Greece.

With four of us traveling in Milos, we decided to try a last-minute car rental from the port city of Adamantas. Surprisingly, even though we were visiting at the height of tourist season, we were able to pick up a small car that was perfect for a day of exploring around the island.

At the top of our list of places to visit on Milos was Sarakiniko Beach, a 30-minute drive from Adamantas. I had been told that this was a beautiful beach, but nothing prepared me for how stunning it was. In fact, this may be among the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever visited.

Sarakiniko Beach features dramatic white sandstone that has been elegantly caved by the wind and water into smooth arches. There are shallow inlets that are perfect for small children and huge rock arches for those daring enough to jump from their heights into the turquoise waters below.

Our next stop was the beautiful town of Klima. Klima is known for an incredible series of catacombs and a beautiful Greek theater overlooking the sea. It’s also where the famous Venus de Milo statue was discovered. There’s a replica near a road not far from the catacombs.

Klima is absolutely adorable, and the scenic waterfront walk made for a wonderful place for another swim before we made our way back to the boat.

Popular Shore Excursions on Milos


A rainbow over the Athena Parthenon in Athens, Greece
A rainbow over the Athena Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Our first stop on the Greek mainland was the country’s capital, Athens. My family had been to Athens just a few months before when we did a self-drive of the Greek mainland, including places like Meteora and Monemvasia.

On our previous visit to Athens, we checked out some of the city’s most famous sites, including the Acropolis and the first modern Olympic stadium.

This visit to Athens was a little less packed as we had already seen many of the city’s most famous attractions. We took public transit from the port of Piraeus to the city center of Athens.

Rather than the big sites, we focused on strolling the streets and shops of the city. We wandered through Hadrian’s Library and took in some of the incredible ancient churches and scenic markets. And, of course, there was ice cream!

Popular Shore Excursions in Athens


Inside the towering walls of the Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, Greece
Inside the towering walls of the Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, Greece

Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece. The city hadn’t really been on our travel radar before our Greek Islands cruise with Celestyal Cruises, but it made a great impression on us.

This was another city that we opted to explore on our own rather than joining a tour. Thessaloniki is fairly easy to access from the port, although it can be a bit of a walk compared to Mykonos and Santorini.

Thessaloniki is a wild city to walk through. It’s a huge Greek city, but the wide roads and decoratively adorned buildings can easily be mistaken for the streets of Paris. That’s because the principal architect behind Thessaloniki was Parisian, and he wanted this city to look like home.

We took in the views from the beautiful “White Tower” along the waterfront before strolling through the town to see Hadrian’s Wall before making a stop at the Hagia Sophia. No, not THAT Hagia Sophia, which we had seen while exploring Istanbul with our kids. This Hagia Sophia is much smaller and less intricately adorned, but its history uniquely parallels that of its more famous sister in Istanbul.

Popular Shore Excursions in Thessaloniki

Our Thoughts On Celestyal Cruises

A circus performance on a Celestyal Cruise in the Aegean Sea
A circus performance on a Celestyal Cruise in the Aegean Sea

As I mentioned earlier, my family isn’t particularly concerned about fancy amenities, countless pools, and kid’s clubs. For us, Celestyal Cruises was a great fit because it focused on the destination.

The food served on board mirrored the food experiences in the ports that we visited. Sure, there were loads of international options for those with specific appetites, but we LOVE getting into the local cuisine, and Celestyal offered that opportunity both at the ports of call and onboard the ship.

The Celestyal ships may not be the fanciest nor offer the most amenities, but if you look at cruising as a convenient way to experience amazing new destinations every time you wake up, and you’re less concerned with whether there’s a go-kart track, this company may be perfect for you.

The smaller Celestyal ships can access ports, such as Milos, that larger cruise ships can’t fit into. This means that there are more opportunities for experiences off the ship. The smaller ship size also means that boarding and de-boarding are much less time-consuming. This means that you’ll have more time at each port to see the things that you’ve traveled all that way to see.

You can find valuable tips about visiting Turkiye on our Turkiye Family Travel Blog. Or feel free to join our Family Travel Support Group on Facebook. You can connect with more family travelers just like you who love to explore the world.

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