Cruise Newbie Shares Her Experience of Cruising for the First Time

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As someone who loves to travel, I’ve always been curious about cruises and whether they’d appeal to me as much as my usual land-based vacations but I was a bit put off by the idea of being stuck on a ship for any lengthy period. I was also worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the food on a cruise ship because I’m an extremely fussy eater who likes things as plain as possible. But when I came across Celestyal’s three-night Greek island hopping cruise, I decided it was time to take the plunge and try something new. 

 

The first thing that attracted me to the Iconic Aegean itinerary was the fact that it was only three nights and more of a mini-cruise, perfect for a clueless newbie like me. Saying a big YES to this cruise also meant that I would discover a range of amazing destinations, including Mykonos and Santorini, two bucket list islands I’ve always dreamed of visiting. The cost and the all-inclusive meals and drinks were big draws too. 

First Impressions

Stepping aboard the Celestyal Olympia, I was excited and a little nervous as this was not only the start of my first ever cruise but my first solo travel experience. I didn’t know what to expect but I did imagine that there would be a lot more people, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the mid-sized ship wasn’t overcrowded. I was also glad that my luggage was checked in at the port (and later delivered to my stateroom) as this meant I could spend some time checking out the ship. And I have to be honest, discovering the many layers of this vessel seemed like an exciting adventure in itself.

Life aboard Celestyal Olympia

The atmosphere was relaxed, and the helpful staff went out of their way to make me feel happy and comfortable. I lost count of how many times I had to ask for directions to my stateroom and the fabulous Horizons Bar at the top of the ship, the place I enjoyed drinking Ouzotini’s (a special Greek cocktail) every night. I didn’t use the swimming pool during the day but I did sink many glasses of wine at Thalassa Bar on deck 10, the perfect spot to people-watch and enjoy the wonderful ocean views. I found all of the bars and lounges to be great spaces for grabbing a drink and meeting other guests and there were plenty of quiet areas for when I needed some alone time.

There was no chance of being bored as the daily program was always jam-packed with all kinds of activities, ranging from quizzes, bingo and cooking demonstrations to dance classes, language lessons and sports competitions. The evening entertainment was top-notch too, and I particularly enjoyed the live shows at Muses Lounge and the disco nights at the Eclipse Bar.

One of the things that surprised me the most about this cruise was the wide variety of food options. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style at the Aegean Restaurant but I preferred the self-serve buffet at the Leda, a casual dining area located at the back of Olympia. Both gave a fussy eater like me plenty of choices, however, the Leda buffet is semi-open to the elements which meant I could still be caressed by the sea breeze. I did have lunch and dinner at the Aegean twice though as it has a table service option and a menu that features something for everyone, including Greek classics, salads, grilled meats and seafood, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Plus, I was able to tailor the dishes exactly the way I wanted with a little help from the friendly waiters. I also munched my way through loads of food at a Greek barbeque on deck one evening.

The Destinations

Mykonos, my first port of call was everything I hoped it would be and more – a picture-perfect postcard of a Greek island with the prettiest whitewashed houses, cobblestone streets, winding alleyways and shades of bougainvillea pink. After I took what seemed like hundreds of photos, I decided to grab a cocktail at a bar in the waterfront area of Little Venice to admire the view. With the fading sun shining on my face, I promised myself I would return someday to explore the dazzling island again.

When I awoke on day two, the ship was close to Kusadasi, my next destination. The cruise included a free tour of Ephesus, a famous archaeological site near the port and beach resort town of Kusadasi on Turkey’s Aegean coast. I was really looking forward to visiting this major tourist attraction even though I was feeling a little fragile after a night of drinking and dancing at the Eclipse Bar – oops! Thankfully, my mild headache had disappeared by the time our transfer bus reached the majestic ancient city of Ephesus, which is home to some wondrous ruins including the Library of Celsus and Temple of Artemis.

Five and a half hours later, I was back on board Celestyal Olympia, indulging in a big bowl of scrummy pasta and a glass of vino. Soon after that, I headed to Thalassa Bar, which is where I stayed until the ship reached Patmos, a Greek island I knew very little about and the destination I was least excited about visiting when I booked my cruise.

 

It turns out that Patmos is one of the most beautiful and serene places I’ve ever been to. A secluded island with a very religious past, Patmos is unspoilt and picturesque yet elegant with a cosmopolitan vibe. I strolled through the local monastery and went to see the Cave of the Apocalypse before grabbing a drink and some nibbles at a cute tavern that overlooked the harbour. The island’s unique sense of tranquillity and laid back pace drew me in, and I was genuinely gutted when it was time to leave.

On Sunday, it was an early morning arrival at Heraklion in Crete. As much as I did want to see the Minoan Palace of Knossos (a free excursion) I chose to book the Cretan countryside and lifestyle tour, which included a stop at the family-owned Raki distiller of Stironas – and this turned out to be my favourite Celestyal Cruises shore excursion of them all. In addition to seeing how the wine is produced and bottled, I tried the wine and raki, I enjoyed an authentic meal, I watched a group of captivating dancers perform in their traditional costumes, and I even learned how to dance to Greek folklore music. The distiller was truly an amazing experience for me, and I had a tremendous amount of fun eating and dancing like a local.

Once I’d said my goodbyes to Heraklion, I returned to the ship for some more delightful food and a couple of colourful cocktails. I did flirt with the idea of treating myself to a spa treatment and this probably would have happened if the group of people sitting at the table next to me hadn’t persuaded me to join them in a Salsa lesson. None of us talented dancers, we nonetheless danced our socks off and laughed at our mistakes whilst cruising towards our last port of call.


Surrounded by the jaw-dropping scenery in Oia village, I couldn’t quite believe that, after many years of dreaming about visiting Santorini, I was stood right in front of those famous blue domes and pristine whitewashed buildings. The capital of Fira was just as beautiful, offering warrens of cobbled streets, numerous shops and gorgeous views of the Aegean Sea. Santorini was an outstanding final destination, and I’d fallen under its spell way before I even reached its shores.

Final Thoughts

Although a fast-paced holiday, I was able to get a good taste of each destination and there was plenty of time for fun and relaxation in between stops. And by hopping from one island to another, I got to know some places I never thought to visit but now are definitely on my radar for the future.


Something I really like is that you’re never made to feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to. No one tries to make you book an optional excursion, a spa treatment or a meal from one of the specialty menus and the crew members were the friendliest people I’ve encountered on a trip in a long time. Every moment of my cruise was personalised and it was a lot better than I had expected it to be, which kept me thinking “why I haven’t I taken a cruise sooner?”


In just a few days, I walked the maze-like streets of Mykonos, visited the top tourist attraction in Kusadasi, saw the iconic religious sites of Patmos, enjoyed local food and wine in Heraklion, and explored the most popular areas of Santorini. But that’s not all. I had a brilliant time on board Celestyal Olympia, and I’m already missing my cosy stateroom, the towel animals, my favourite bars and lounges and the new friends I made along the way. My only regret is not taking one of the longer cruises as this would have allowed me to spend more time at sea and ashore.


So, what did I really think of my first ever cruise? I loved every minute of it.

 

Ellen Hudson, 30-year-old travel addict from the UK