My Greek Island Cruise: The Odyssey
Wherein the author learned that if you are not onboard when the ship is scheduled to leave, it does leave without you.
A fabulous 7- day cruise to the Greek Islands awaited me, if I didn't miss the boat.
A rocky beginning
Finally I arrived in Athens at midnight, having missed the boat. However, I did miss it by twelve hours so it's not like it pulled away as I was waving from the shore. Now it was time to play catch up -- in Mykonos.
Not too many people spoke English in Greece, at least not the ones I tried to speak to. So at the crack of dawn, I dragged my luggage from the tiny room I rented from a contact's friend, down to the street. Hailing a taxi in Athens requires some inside knowledge that I lacked. Frustrated as taxies sped by me ignoring my outstretched arm, I learned from a doorman, who spoke pretty good sign language that I was on the wrong side of this one-way street. Correcting my error, a taxi quickly stopped and while heaving my suitcase into the trunk, another taxi pulled up leading to an altercation between the drivers. As I entered the first cab, the second driver grabbed the luggage and threw it into his cab. I followed my luggage, scrambling out of the first cab and jumping into the second one just as he sped off.
Of course no one said a word to me; nor could my new driver understand a word I said to him. Two words did make it through the language barrier: port and Mykonos. A half hour later I found a ferry departing for Mykonos. I jumped aboard. Things were looking better.
It was a leisurely cruise on a lovely ferryboat. Although, food was sold onboard, they only accepted Euros. Since I had only dollars I found a couch and feel asleep, famished, for the five-hour trip. Previously, Europeans had jumped at the prospect of dealing in dollars, but now that the Euro is the currency for most of Europe and stronger than the dollar, it's a rude awakening to be rejected.
The blue allegedly reflects the color of the sky and sea, represents loyalty and is the color of the Greek flag. Imagine the USA decorated in only red, white and blue on houses, restaurants, churches and everything else. But in Greece, the blue on white theme is stunning. Prior to World War II, the buildings were all constructed of hand piled black and gray stones casting a dark shadow on the island. After the war, the community decided to whitewash all the buildings and decreed blue the official color. The ruling also required that the buildings must be whitewashed every six months.
In stark contrast to pre-World War I, Mykonos' beauty shines like a blinding diamond in the Aegean Sea. The island's economy once subsisted on salt; but since the supply depleted, it depends on tourism, which has brought a degree of wealth to the islands. Narrow streets that wind around community churches have multiplied now that residents build private family churches. Small shops, restaurants and unique art galleries line the uneven streets on uneven cliffs high above the rocky sea where you can look out for miles.
Returning to the ship for dinner, I was met by applause, congratulations and a few jokes and renamed "the phantom cruiser". Since this was a small intimate ship of only 140 passengers, it was a place where everybody knew my name--even before I arrived.
Passengers move at their own pace since there is so much flexibility and so few regulations. For instance, you can eat whenever the restaurants are open and sit at any available table. There are no seating times or appointed tables and no formal evenings or dress codes, but they do have the gourmet dinners that I heartily enjoyed when I met up with my girl friend, Michelle, explaining my odyssey over a luscious four-course dinner.
Our spacious cabin with a sitting area was located on the first deck. Although sailboats don't have verandas like larger cruise ships, they have large portholes. Once cruising, the best part of being on the lower deck is watching the waves crash against the windowpane. It is a new cruising experience to the uninitiated and it's great.
Finding no elevators, passengers climb the two flights adroitly to the main deck: It's a breeze in a few days. One flight up is the glassed-in veranda for breakfast or lunch with outdoor patio dining at one end; a sea pool and hot tub sits at the other end surrounded by cushioned lounge chairs. In the breakfast area, enjoy the buffet or order off the menu (or both) while enjoying scenic serenity pass by.
Between the tender rides into port, dining and day trips, everyone knows each other by the middle of the trip, establishing some real friendships. When at sea, it's a laid back day made for sleeping late, slow dining by room-service, reading a favorite book by the pool, winning at the casino, shopping on-board and indulging in a massage. When at port, you can still remain on the boat and have fun at the water sports platform bouncing on a banana boat, sea kayaking, sailing or snorkeling.
The days at port are looked forward to with great anticipation, so it's an early rise to see it all. Many times the ship is in port for up to fifteen hours allowing plenty of time to visit the port, recharge on the ship at 4:00 pm for Afternoon Tea or dinner and pop back to the port for one last visit.
At one point, winds reached gale force (35 knots) adding a bit of excitement, and a pilot came on board to assist. Anyone can visit the bridge at anytime to meet the Captain and so we did. From the age of 5, John Clark knew he wanted to go to sea. Easy-going and gregarious, Captain Clark was an easy interview. At 13, his father sent him to a prestigious naval school, but at 16, impatient to go to sea, he quit school and jumped on a cargo freighter circumnavigating the world for four years before he became a captain.
When asked what was special about the Wind Spirit, Captain John Clark replied " …it's small, it's intimate, it gives a great quality product in an informal way. … The major thing, really, is the sails, of course. The fact that you can pull out of port, put the sails up, stop the engine and go sailing is something you can't find anywhere else."
If You Go:
Windstar Cruises ("180 degrees from Ordinary") is owned by Holland America Cruise Line and has 2 ships which carry 148 passengers -- the Wind Star and Wind Spirit, and the larger Wind Surf which carries 308 passengers.
www.WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com or www.WindStarCruises.com
Award winning journalist, Karen Hamlin is a native New Englander who has just moved to the Sarasota area. She is the travel editor for City & Suburban Magazine and also published in the Springfield Union, The Sun, Travel World International, Experience Travel, and Senior Travel. Among Karen’s professional interests are mature travel, cruises, beaches and cultural/historical destinations. Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Food and Travel Writers Association.