7-Day Late Season Cruise, Eclectic Aegean, on Celestyal Cruise Line’s Celestyal Crystal

Sailing Dates: November 12-19, 2022

Overall Impressions of the Celestyal Crystal Cruise

This was a bit of a gamble, a very late season cruise, but one with such an attractive collection of port excursions that we were ready to take the chance. And as luck would have it, the cruise was an excellent decision. Weather was cool but sunny, perfect for touring, the crowds were minimal and the number of passengers on board was lower than on a usual cruise so we got plenty of individual attention.

I sailed with my husband who has some mobility issues. That was another question we worried about. Would the cruise be suitable for someone who had to struggle sometimes with steps, distances and overly long excursions? Happy to report that he managed beautifully and enjoyed every minute and the cruise was highly adaptable for his needs.

The ship is not a luxury ship and is a bit tired in some places, but all the basics are there and available, the rooms are spacious and clean, with twice daily refreshes, and the atmosphere is casual and welcoming. The best thing about this cruise was the quality of the expertly curated port excursions and the friendly and totally engaged crew. It is also very affordable and a real bargain for those who value quality cruise experiences over waterslides and Broadway shows. The cruise fare includes some shore excursions, most alcoholic and non-alcohol drinks and gratuities.

Sneak Peek at Final Summary

Three things make this cruise a standout – the price, the ambiance and friendliness of the crew and the excellent quality of the port excursions, I think it is a real bargain for those who don’t mind that there are no big Broadway shows, min-golf courses or climbing walls. This is a highly affordable and enjoyable cruise for anyone who wants to learn more about Greece and Mediterranean culture.


Tips When Sailing With Celestyal Crystal

  1. Think casual when packing. There is only one formal night in each seven-day cruise, and that night is only vaguely formal.
  2. If you are a coffee lover, the best cuppa is to be had at Helios, the poolside bar. There is a professional espresso machine there and the cappuccino is really good.
  3. Consider a late – or an early- season cruise. A shoulder season cruise will get you a better price and will result in less crowds on your port excursions.

Pre-Cruise Preparations:

One of the uncertainties about a late or early season cruise is the unpredictability of the weather. We had to pack for both warm and cold conditions, so we concentrated on building layers that we could adjust as needed. Also, while it was not a requirement, we made sure we had our fifth Covid booster a few weeks before departure. We also took a box of rapid covid tests, in case we fell ill, but thankfully we did not need them.

Pre-Cruise Arrival in Athens

The cruise line will arrange a shuttle to get you to the ship or your hotel. I recommend coming in at least a day ahead, to recover slightly from jetlag and to leave some wiggle room should things go sideways with flights, etc. A taxi from the Athens airport to the middle of the city is about 45 euros and takes about forty-five minutes.

Arriving at our Athens hotel, the Athenian Grand, at noon meant there was ample time to explore the city. I hiked from the hotel to the Acropolis – admittedly a challenging walk, mostly uphill – and spent a few hours revisiting this most captivating place. I have visited the acropolis before and usually found the crowds to be huge and the heat overwhelming. Not so this time. The November light was soft, the skies clear and the temperature hovered around 70 degrees F, or 20 Celsius, perfect weather to really enjoy touring the treasures of the acropolis and viewing the city spread out below.

We took a short walk along Syngrou Avenue and found a small Indian restaurant, The Indian Chef, for dinner. Maybe an odd choice for Greece, but this place offered a kind of fusion of Greek and Indian dishes, like a madras souvlaki. Along the way back to the hotel we resisted the draw of two or three bakeries that featured shelves full of enticing baklava, honey cakes, and iced cookies.

The Athenian Grand is an attractive hotel, convenient, modern and very clean. The breakfast was excellent, and the coffee bar serves a good cappuccino.

Tip: Here’s an important tip if you stay there – demand a room on the back side of the hotel, away from the street. Syngrou Avenue is a very busy street 24 hours a day and the traffic is noisy. Added to that is the string of dance clubs across the street that emit pounding music until the small hours of the morning.

Boarding The Celestyal Crystal in Athens, Greece

The car organized by Celestyal picked us up promptly and the drive to the cruise port at Piraeus was smooth and quick, about 15 minutes. The boarding process was also quick. A slick and easy check in got us shown to our cabin in short order.

The small size of this ship makes everything easier, and each passenger gets individual attention. Our bags arrived in our cabin shortly after we did. Interestingly, our muster drill, usually conducted on the deck, was done via television, when all passengers were requested to be in their cabins and to watch the presentation which outlined all the safety procedures.

The Celestyal Crystal is a mid-sized ship, with a capacity of 1200 passengers.

Our cabin was a junior balcony suite and proved to be clean, spacious and equipped with everything you might require – hair dryer, housecoats,  ample storage space and a small but efficient bathroom. While not luxurious, the room is bright, immaculate and pleasant. The room was also quiet, with no engine noise.

Tip: If possible, a cabin midship is always a good choice.

For a detailed description of the cabins, see Debi Lander’s very comprehensive description here: Celestyal Greek Cruise (allthingscruise.com)

Where Does This Itinerary Go?

All of Celestyal’s cruises begin and end in Athens, as did this one.

We departed from the port at Piraeus in the late evening, sailing to Istanbul, Turkey on the itinerary set for the Eclectic Aegean cruise. We were scheduled to spend two days touring Istanbul but fate stepped in to change those plans. A bomb exploded in the central part of Istanbul just as most of the cruise tours were about to begin. The cruise company wisely decided to be very safe and called all cruise passengers back to the ship. Once they were all on board, the ship left the port.

This may have been an excess of caution but at the time, there was no way of knowing if there would be other incidents. While passengers were disappointed to miss the excellent tours that were planned for Istanbul, I heard no complaints.

The cruise company must have moved very quickly because there were new tours and a new destination set up for the next day in Canakkale.

After Canakkale, the boat stopped at Kavala, then Thessaloniki, Volos, Santorini and then returned to Athens.

Tours on the Eclectic Aegean Cruise Aboard Celestyal Crystal

In each port there is a complimentary tour, as well as several other possible tour selections for a range of quite reasonable prices. The beauty of the small size of the Crystal is that, for most ports, the boat is right in port, with no need for tenders. That means that passengers who like to explore on their own can just step off the ship and do their own thing. The only port on this itinerary that required a tender was Santorini, and all ships that berth there must use tenders.


Had we not had to leave Istanbul precipitously, we would have had a large number of land and boat tours to choose from, including a walking tour of the Spice Markets, a visit to the Blue Mosque and a cruise down the Bosphorus.


This port stop proved to be an excellent substitution. We took a short bus ride to the site of the ancient City of Troy which has been in the process of excavation for many years.

Our guide, Adam, was the head of the Guild of Tour Guides in Turkey and specialized in this area specifically. He was obviously very proud of his city – it produced, he claimed, the best olive oil in Turkey, and he told us that Turkey’s most famous cheese came from here. His knowledge of the Trojan ruins was deep and interesting. Later we visited the new Troy Museum, a gorgeous modern building that displays some of the finest antiquities unearthed from Troy


The tour I took of Kavala left the ship at eight and lasted until noon. We bussed to St. Lydia Church, an ancient Christian site, and then went to Philippi, an amazing, vast and architecturally fascinating site, a city buried by earthquake and still only partially unearthed. This complex and mythic city is in the process of being revealed.

I spent the afternoon hiking through the lovely city of Kavala, climbing its elevated cliffs and exploring the narrow streets and the lively portside shops and restaurants.


This lovely old city is filled with unearthed temples, ancient walls and beautifully preserved buildings. The tour today was part bus tour,  part walking, and took us through the main parts of the city. Our guide, Banoush, was a local who knew the city well and could give the background history on the White Tower, the Umbrellas Art installation, the Rotunda, and the Archeological Museum. We ended at the gorgeous St Demetrios Church.

Tour members could then bus back to the ship or walk. I spent the afternoon exploring on my own, doing a long visit to the Rotunda, enjoying coffee in one of the many cafes in the city and exploring the very active and popular streets along the port, which are full of restaurants and shops.

Volos and the Monasteries of Meteora

This was the highlight of the cruise – the tour to Meteora and the ancient monasteries. The bus trip is not fun – almost two hours each way, and the scenery is flat and bland, but seeing the monasteries makes it entirely worth while

Tip: Bring a good book with you for the bus trip, or a movie or game to play on your phone. The bus stops twice for bathroom breaks and coffee.

Tip: Bring a warm sweater with you. Once you get up into the mountains, the weather gets quite cool.

The monasteries are almost too wonderful to be true, partly carved from stone, built on precarious elevated rock formations, and defying belief. How could the monks have built these monasteries when everything had to be hauled up by ropes or carried up in an arduous climb? But they did and the results are awesome. We toured two of the six monasteries that are still in use. Gold embossed icons, gardens, paintings and a celebration of solitude – this was a tour that should not be missed.


This was the only port that required passengers to tender in. We did a bus tour of the island, including a guided walk through Megalogora. We ended up in Fira where we elected to have a fine Greek lunch and spent the afternoon exploring the narrow streets and shops.

One of the tour options offered is a visit to Akrotiri, an archeological site that rivals Pompei. We have done this experience on a previous cruise and would highly recommend it.

Athens and Disembarkation

Disembarkation was as easy and smooth as embarking. Suitcases were put outside our cabins the night before and were there to claim as we left the ship.

A taxi took us directly to the airport where we arrived in plenty of time to catch our flight.

Dining On Board

Because the ship was not at full capacity, one of the main dining rooms was closed on this cruise.


This is the place for breakfast or a light lunch. The buffet is quite large and highly varied. We had breakfast here most mornings, taking our plates outside to sit and eat in the sunshine on the back deck.

There was everything you might want for breakfast, from fresh fruit and cereals to cooked -to- order egg dishes. There is also a pancake and waffle station near the swimming pool. On one evening during each cruise, there is a barbeque by the pool and it is quite spectacular – with plates of squid and shrimp, bbq beef, salads and desserts. There’s also music and dancing.


The Main dining room, Amalthia, is quite pretty, with a fresh blue and white decor, and the atmosphere is cheery and inviting, with cheery French service.

Adrian, the maitre d’ is a force of nature, over six feet tall, substantial in girth and always welcoming. He came by our table often to tell us stories, – he is a twin! –  to check on our levels of satisfaction and to recommend dishes.

The food was always good, and sometimes exceptional.

The best bets, consistently, are the Greek dishes, braised lamb, souvlaki, fresh Greek salads and absolutely delicious baklava, made in house. There is always a vegetarian dish on the menu and suggestions for lean dining. They will also cater to any allergies or food intolerances. All wine by the glass is included in your cruise fare, but the drinks package, which also includes specialty coffees, is a good idea.

The Specialty Restaurant, Aura

There is an extra charge to eat here, but it is well worth it. The menu has been designed and tested by the well known Greek chef and television personality, Diane Kochalis, and its implementation is carefully supervised by the Executive chef, Ioannis Kolorouros.

The menu includes many Greek dishes, but each one has been tweaked to be more elegant and healthier. We enjoyed the multi-course tasting menu, lingering over delicate octopus, a lobster dish, beef and finally a superb floating island.

Shipboard Amenities and Activities

The Crystal has most of the amenities you would expect on a larger ship, though in smaller versions. During the day there are games and activities, trivia challenges, etc., but passengers don’t spend too much of their day time on board.


There were nightly performances in the main stage by the Canadian troupe, Cirque Fantastic. Shows were small in scale, really cabaret style, but big in energy.

A violinist, with piano accompaniment, performed on stage and in the small bar. There was also a late night disco in the top deck lounge in the late evenings.


I don’t gamble so I can’t tell you how the casino was, but I looked in. It is small but appears to have enough choices to keep the average gambler happy.

Spa and Gym

The spa is small but offers most of the treatments you might want, massages, facials, scrubs and mud wraps. It is recommended to book a treatment in advance. There is also a small but well-equipped gym.


The duty-free shops on board were surprisingly large and well stocked with souvenirs, clothing, jewelry and cosmetics. There was also a counter where staples like small toiletries and such could be purchased.


Internet packages are available, though pricey, and I wouldn’t recommend bothering with one. Because the boat is often out of internet range, the reception is always spotty. It is easy enough to connect to wifi in any of the port stops.

Tip: Try buying an e-sim multi-country card from a company like Airalo. The card lets you connect to the internet and automatically switches to the country you are in. That way, you can connect whenever the ship is in proximity to service for a very reasonable cost.

Dress Code

This is a casual boat, and the dress code reflects that. Most passengers wore shorts, t-shirts and jeans for daily activities, and slightly more dressy attire for meals. Shorts and flipflops are not allowed in the dining spaces.

There is one night that is designated as ‘formal’ but that can be pants and shirt for men, no need for a jacket or tie, and skirt and top or cocktail dress for women.

Typical Passengers

There is a real mix of passengers, a smattering from America and Canada, and quite a few British and European travelers. We met a former combat nurse and a biker who restores antique motorcycles from Missouri, a legal clerk from the island of Jersey, traveling with her teenage daughter, an investment analyst from Washington D.C. and a jovial Brit from Sheffield who got to know all  the single females on board in short order!

Final Summary of This Cruise

Three things make this cruise a standout – the price, the ambiance and friendliness of the crew and the excellent quality of the port excursions, I think it is a real bargain for those who don’t mind that there are no big Broadway shows, min-golf courses or climbing walls. This is a highly affordable and enjoyable cruise for anyone who wants to learn more about Greece and Mediterranean culture.

Photos credit Barbara Ramsay Orr

Cover photo: Rotunda in Thessaloniki

Ed. Notes: See more about Celestyal Cruises here Celestyal Cruises – All Things Cruise

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