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After not having had a holiday since the start of the COVID pandemic and having had to cancel our dream holiday to Japan last year, we decided that we could do with a break. Since flying in these troubling times is a real pain we opted to go on our first cruise for our wedding anniversary. Several of our friends and neighbours have recently been on the one-week Royal Caribbean cruise of the Greek Islands that started and ended in Limassol and really enjoyed it, so we'd thought we'd give it a try. The ship is the "Jewel of the Seas".
We left home at 11am to arrive at the Limassol Cruise terminal in plenty of time for our embarkation slot starting at 1:30pm. To get there we came off the A1 at the "New Port" exit, travelled south and took the first exit off the roundabout just after "My Mall"; we then carried on that road as far a possible before entering the port area. Click Ferry Terminal for a map. We parked the car at the car park there, which is currently free of charge for passengers and walked 50 metres to the departure gate, where we showed our passport, Royal Caribbean SailPass and our European Green Pass vaccination certificate. We then took a rapid antigen test and within 2 minutes after that we were allowed onboard. We handed over our passports to be held on the ship until the day before the cruise ends.
We were given directions to the Windjammer buffet (Deck 11), where we availed ourselves of some lunch. It was our wedding anniversary on Day 2 of the cruise, so, although the food in the Tides (main) Dining Room is excellent, we wanted to push the boat out and eat in Chops Grill on that evening, so we booked it. It cost $39 each but the maître d' said that for a addional £11 each we could eat in Chops or any other speciality restaurant on another day. This was such a good deal that we got the package and used our second ticket to visit Giovanni's Table later in the week. We then made our way to our Junior Suite on level 10, where our CruisePass (like a credit card and key) was waiting for us. You use this to get in your stateroom and on and off the ship. You also need to show it to get into the restaurants, get drinks etc.
The junior suite is quite spacious and has an outside balcony, which we used mostly in the morning and evening. The video below (not ours) shows such a room and gives you an idea of its features. There is a walk-in wardrobe and plenty of storage space, so much so that we couldn't fill it even with the contents of our two full suitcases. There is a small wall-mounted safe to keep your valuables in. The bed was large enough, but a bit hard, which did give Neil a few aches and pains towards the end of the cruise. There is a bath with a shower, but no separate shower cubicle. The complimentary shampoo, conditioner etc. were not the best we'd had, but we always bring our own anyway.
It is a legal requirement that the ship cannot sail until every passenger has read and understood how to identify the "abandon ship" signal (7 short blasts of the horn followed by 1 long one), how to put on a life-jacket and has visited their designated muster station. There were a few "bing-bong" announcements at departure time saying that one or two people had yet to do this and would hold up departure if they didn't get their backside into gear (not quite the phrase used by the announcer).
The rest of the day we spent unpacking, exploring the ship, which passenger-wise was at about 50% capacity (around 1,200 people) and lounging around with a drink in our hand. We booked "My Time" dining in the main dining room (Tides). We were told the only slot available was 6:45pm, which really was too early for us. But in effect it didn't matter since no matter what time we did turn up no-one complained and we got the same table or one next to it each time. Our table number was 159, next to the window and our waitress was Maria, from The Pillipines. She was a treasure and looked after us well all through our trip. The menu has several "classic" dishes, which are available all week and several other dishes that change each day. We made the most of the drinks package by choosing glasses of some very nice wine and having a cocktail or two before the meal. It was while we were dining that the ship started to sail.
After dinner we decided to have a cocktail in one of the bars then go to the show, which started at 10pm. Most nights the show starts at 8pm, is 1 hour long and is repeated at 10pm. It was a balancing performance and how he managed to place a champagne bottle on a table then balance upside down using first just a finger, then just his forehead is beyond me. After waiting 5 minutes for the lifts to become clear of people we decided to call it a day.
The second day we woke a little late and went down to breakfast in the Windjammer at around 8am. Initially it was a little crowded around the pool and in the solarium, so we found a quiet part of the ship next to our muster station and hunkered down on the sun-loungers there as it was quite a windy day and it could get a little cool in the windy-shady areas. We passed several islands throughout the day. Neil had his Garmin golf watch on and it started to act up funny when in the open sea: it would suddenly switch to and stay on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), rather than Eastern European Summer Time, then revert to the correct timezone when another island came in view - most peculiar.
Later we moved to the solarium and it was here that we met Errol, another Phillipino, who is a little gem. He was the bar tender and could make up almost any cocktail you asked for. Neil is partial to Long Island Iced Tea and the only problem was that after Errol had put in the ice, the various liquors and the juices he could only manage a couple of squirts of coca-cola. Sue's favourite was the frozen Piña Colada. With most of the bar staff you had to give them your room details each day, with Errol you did it once and he'd remember those details each time. Whenever Sue turned up at the solarium on her own Errol would ask "Where's Neil?".
We watched the sunset and then got ready for our Anniversary Dinner at the Chops restaurant. We had a cocktail at the Schooner Bar, which is next to Chops, where the food and wine were excellent. We really enjoyed ourselves. The show that night was the City of Dreams, a dazzling theatrical adventure that visits mythical worlds and far-flung continents. It really was excellent.
We were up a little early today to see the ship dock in Piraeus. Although we docked at 7am we had to wait till 9am to disembark. This was because Piraeus was the first port of entry into Greece (all the islands we visited are part of Greece) and certain formalities and paperwork had to be completed.
Rather than take one of the tours organised by Royal Caribbean, we decided that we'd take the Hop on Hop Off (HoHo) bus instead. We did this some years ago in Madrid and really loved the freedom it gave you. So we booked it online prior to the cruise on: HOHO. The bus was waiting at the terminal when we arrived, we could see it from our stateroom. We took the Piraeus line to the end (at the Acropolis), hopped off and went to the Acropolis ticket office. There wasn't a big queue, but it would have been quicker to get the tickets online - however, since we are now over 65 and we could show we were resident in Europe, we got a 50% discount, which we wouldn't have got online. P.S. There is a toilet near to the ticket office.
We went into the Acropolis and saw the various ruins. They are spectacular and would look even more spectacular should the UK ever return the Elgin marbles. You cannot go to Athens without visiting the Acropolis, dedicated mainly to the godess Athena it is one of the most recognisable historic landmarks in the world. The variouse sites on the Acropolis are astounding and the views over Athens from there are wonderful.
After the Acropolis we took the HoHo Athens line through the City and hopped off at Monastiraki Square. We then spent quite a bit of time walking through the small streets of the Plaka district, especially Anafiotika, which is more like a Greek island town than a suburb of Athens. You pass by quite a few ruins, museums and artisan shops as well as more restaurants than you could shake a stick at.
We had a drink and rest at a taverna in Plaka and slowly made our way back to the Acropolis entrance area where we caught the HoHo Piraeus line bus back to the Ship. Unfortunately we had a rain shower on the way back and Sue in particular got a bit wet, as we were on the top deck. But it didn't dampen our enjoyment of this historic city. The deadline for getting back onboard the ship was 7pm.
We spent some time in the Solarium, Sue went in the warm hot-tub while Neil had a cocktail and a couple of slices of pizza to tide him over till dinner. We had dinner in Tides again and after a cocktail or two went to see the 10pm show which was The Barricade Boys. These are 4 singers who met playing in the musical Les Misérables. They were outstanding. At one point they performed Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and were exceptional. Apparently Queen themselves never actually played it live because of its difficulty, but these guys pulled it off beautifully.
We arrived at the new port of Mykonos at around 7am. After a hearty breakfast in the Windjammer we disembarked and caught the water bus parked just outside the port gates. It cost €4 per person for a return ticket and takes you directly to Mykonos Town (Choros). Choros is gorgeous. We walked around Alefkandra (Little Venice), where there are loads of small streets each hosting a number of boutique shops. Some weeks prior to going on the cruise Sue lost one of a pair of her most favourite earings. We managed to find a similar pair in one of these shops.
You cannot visit Mykonos Town without going to see the windmills by the sea there. Mykonos used to be famous for supplying flour throughout the Aegean. Some of the windmills are occupied, while others are more or less drelict.
Originally we had planned to take a local bus to one of the beahes on the south coast and ride the water taxi between beaches. Luckily I contacted the water taxi company before the start of the cruise and they informed me that the service had stopped for this season. So we had a drink in one of the bars at the old port. Neil's beer was locally brewed and tasted very good after walking the lovely alleyways of this beatiful town.
The deadline for re-embarking the ship was 7pm. We caught the 4:30pm water bus and there were still people leaving the ship to go into town at that time. The show that evening was a magician, who performed some pretty amazing tricks.
We woke on this day to see the lights of Santorini houses perched on top of the Caldera clifs passing us by. We arrived at Fira. It is not possible to dock cruise liners at the port so we moored a little way offshore. Tenders started ferrying passengers to Fira port from about 8am onwards. Our plan for the day was to go first to Oia in the north of the island, so we took the cable car (€6 each one-way) up the cliff to thira town and then walked in a southerly direction through the little streets to the local bus station. We boght a return ticket (€3.60 each) and waited for a bus driver to announce he was going to Oia. It was a little confusing since the local pronunciation is "ee'-yah", not "oi-yah". It took about 20 minutes to get there.
If you've seen picture postcards of Greek island villages you'll have some idea of what Oia looks like. But it's only an idea. When you actually get to see it in real life you'll be blown away. It is absolutely stunning. Typical white and blue houses perched on and in some cases spilling over large clifs, with little alleyways leading higgledy-piggledy in all directions. Almost every other house is an artisan shop, or a boutique hotel.
We spent ages going up and down the little alleys, getting lost, then finding where we were again. It was magical. Eventually we made it back to the bus station for the return trip to Fira. Again we walked through little alleys and got our faces covered in ice-cream along the way back to the cable-car. There is a very twisty road leading down to the port, but it isn't easy to walk it as it can be slippery and is very aromatic from the donkeys that ferry people up and down. Please do not be tempted to use the donkeys. In our opinion, and that of many others, it is unethical and a form of animal cruelty. For more reasons see this blog item: Why It’s Not Ethical to Ride a Donkey in Santorini .
Before leaving on the cruise we booked a boat trip that went from Fira port to the small island of Nea Kameni which lies in the middle of the caldera and is still an active volcano. It last erupted in 1950. The trip cost €20 each and we booked it with Caldera's Boats . When we reached the island we hiked about 30 minutes to the very top, then got back on the boat for a 10 minute trip to a bay on Palea Kameni that has a thermal spring, where Sue and quite a few of the other passengers went for a swim. We got back to the port at about 5:30pm and the tender got us back onboard the cruise ship well in time for the 7pm deadline.
We never made it to the show this evening. We'd done so much that after dinner we went straight to bed instead.
The ship doesn't actually dock at Chania, it docks at Souda, some 15 minutes away by public bus. A ticket costs just over a euro. The bus-stop is in font of you as you leave the ship. Take note of where the bus drops you off in Chania it is at Place Kotzampasi, not Place 1866. It is easy to get mistaken so set this as a favourite in your maps.me app after you alight from the bus.
We headed towards the port area, which reminded us of Kyrenia, but in our opinion is much nicer. Small roads lead in various directions in the old town and again we spent ages walking around them and along the horbour front. We had a bit of a late lunch and a craft beer at the La Bodega restaurant while "people-watching". Sue was taken by the quirky bathroom and insisted I "pay a visit" to look at it.
After lunch we decided to go back to the ship. This is where we spent 10 minutes thinking we were at the right place but couldn't find the bus-stop because we were actually in Pl 1866 mistaking it for Pl Kotzampasi a few blocks to the east. On arriving back we booked our COVID antigen test for the next day.
For dinner we went to Giovanni's Table, where the food and service was excellent, and after a cocktail or two we went to see the show, which was Tango Argentina. This was absolutely fabulous (as Craig Revel Horwood would say on Strictly Come Dancing). The costumes were brilliant and the dancing was exquisite, we could have watched it all night, but like the other shows it lasted for only 45 minutes.
Our last full day - we sail back to Cyprus tomorrow. After breakfast in the Windjammer we disembarked and walked along the wooden walkway that runs along the side of the harbour. After 10 minutes we crossed the road and entered through one of the gates into the old town itself. It was like walking back through medieval history. The buildings were awe-inspiring, especially walking up the Street of the Knights and seeing the Palace of the Grand Master of the knights. The walls and moat were especially imposing.
We slowly made our way to the Gate of Amboise and exited the old town, crossing to the coast on the west of the town. There are some beaches here, but the sea didn't look all that inviting, so we walked along a little coastal footpath for about half an hour. We saw some guys salvaging the outboard motor of a small boat that was in pieces at the edge of the sea. Then we made our way back to the east coast and the marina.
The marina had some interesting craft in it, but of more interest was a collection of vintage cars that were on display, from Alfa Romeos to Jaguars and Rolls Royces to minis. Sue spent some time photographing these for our grandkids who love that sort of thing. We then started back to the ship, but just next to the De Naillac Tower Sue spotted a tiny beach with crystal clear water. So of course we had to stop for a while while she had a swim.
We got back onboard just in time for the 2:30pm deadline and a little while later went to the conference centre on deck 4 to have a rapid-flow COVID test done. We also picked up our passports that had been held for us. Then it was down to the Solarium for one last time before saying goodbye to Errol. We went back to our room and packed our cases, then left then outside our door for them to be taken, ready for unloading in Limassol in the morning. We then got ready for our last dinner in Tides and had a lovely meal. We thanked Maria for looking after us in the restaurant and then went to our last show, which was The Barricade Boys again.
We awoke to a beautiful sunny day at the cruise terminal in Limassol, where we had departed 8 days previously. We went down to Windjammers for breakfast, but it appeared that the world and his wife had had the same idea, so we opted for a served breakfast in Tides instead. Once we had finished it was back to our stateroom to wait for our slot to depart. When we were finally called it took less than 5 minutes between leaving the room to unlocking the car doors to drive home and we were home less than 2 hours later.
We can honestly say that we had a wonderful time, met some lovely people and visited some fantastic places. We had always steered clear of Cruises in the past mainly because the thought of being cooped up on a ship with several thousand other passengers filled us with dread. But althogh there were over a thousand passengers on this ship, it really only felt crowded in one or two situations. However, had the ship had its full complement of 2,500 passengers, rather than 50% it would probably have been another matter.