First cruise of my life – CHECKED!
Never had I thought I will get the chance to hop on a cruise. What’s even better was, it was in Athens.
Since I started my journey on the road, I had the luxury of travelling to more than twenty destinations over the past years. However, believe it or not, I have never taken a cruise. Just about the only sea-bound journey I’ve embarked on was taking a forty-five minutes ferry once in a blue moon from Singapore to Batam. That is my farthest and longest seafaring trip in the sea, channel or straits – whichever you call it.
I have always admired people who have went on huge luxury cruise liners, sailing for days and weeks at a time far out into the beautiful Caribbean or the Mediterranean seas. So while I was laying over in Athens, I chanced upon a fellow Instagrammer who showed pictures of the beautiful Mykonos island. The aesthetic and serene blue sea from that image began waves of roaring passion deep in my heart instantly. Then, a thought bubbled into my mind and I began reading more about the Saronic gulf and Aegean islands off the coast of Athens. Not long after, the quaint little peaceful island of Hydra popped up in my sights and very truly, I fell in love with it.
With a little research online, it appears that the Port of Piraeus has multiple ferry operators that travel to and fro Athens to Hydra. However, their websites aren’t reliable enough to give me a specific travel itinerary. Hence I made my way down to Piraeus to find out more. It just so happens that I came to realise that Greece is one of the largest maritime entreport in the entire Mediterranean sea. The entire port had many gates to different out-bound destinations. Many of which are behemoth vehicle wielding ferries the size of buildings!
Either it was a stroke of luck or fate, the words Hydra caught my eyes as I was walking around searching for the ferry passenger terminal. With a warm and gracious smile, the operator lady sitting behind the booth greeted out to me as I strolled right in. It was Hellenic Seaway, a licensed travel agent firm with a single booth operator at that time. Without hesitation, I asked if they had ferries heading to and fro Hydra while my eyes were busy panning around looking for the names of the ferry operators I was reviewing that morning online.
With a motivated head she said “yes, but what time would you be travelling there?”. As I enquired the time, she informed me that the return trips were limited between certain times and a return trip to Hydra from Piraeus was €56. It was still cheaper than the online ticket prices quoted but my eyes caught sight of a day cruise banner to 3 islands; Poros, Hydra and Aegina. As I enquired more information about that cruise, she was extremely helpful and explained every bit of details of the cruise and what was expected of it. She even turned on the monitor to show me the Youtube video of the cruise by Evermore Cruises. It was impressive and out of curiousity, I asked how much was it. Shockingly she revealed it was only €79 that comes with lunch, onboard entertainment and additional optional tours of each island. She was even kind enough to offer a return shuttle bus pick up service from my hotel in the morning and back when I landed. I couldn’t be happier when I said yes!
Evermore Cruises is a luxury cruise ship operator offering splendid sails to and around the Saronic Gulf archipelagos and operates all year round.
While some cruises can be overcrowded and feel extremely touristy with no personal space to yourself, Evermore Cruises is the total opposite. Focusing on quality over quantity, Evermore Cruises’ crowd control and management of tour group bookings are excellent. Wherever you turn to onboard, you are sure to get a comfortable spot or even the whole area to yourself. Even when you are taking a picture perfect selfie with a stunning backdrop of the Aegean Sea, no one will be blocking your view. However, I’m advised that the summer crowd can get a tad more crowded as people from all around the world and Europe come to enjoy the island beaches that we’re headed to.
Spacious and elegant, Evermore Cruises is designed with the luxury of ultimate voyaging comfort in mind, featuring a total of three decks both on the inside and outside. Onboard facilities include a cafe and restaurant, an accessories shop and a huge sun-deck area on both level two and three. For those who prefer even more privacy, they have business class lounges and a private cabin area available for a small upgrade fee.
While its facilities may look pretty simple, it has everything you need for an enjoyable, hassle-free one day cruise. Trust me, you will be glued to the sun-deck most of your time onboard as the scenery of the Aegean sea is way too mesmerising. You will totally forget about the time, shopping and eating, needless to say, as your mind spaces out into the broad beautiful blue horizons and the sea breeze coalesces you and unwinds every part of your muscles. Also, the ship is steady as a rock as she ploughs through the clear blue sea sailing hundreds of kilometres southward to the farthest island first.
Lunch time is super happening. It is a moment not only about food, but also a moment of unwinding and ‘releasing your excitement’. Your equally enthusiastic seafaring travellers on board gather around shared dining tables busy babbling about the ‘wow-ness’ of their journey so far. Laughters and chatters fill the dining area as everyone takes turns to queue up for the wide selection of food.
Serving a good spread of traditional Greek dishes in a buffet style, there is nothing better than savouring delicious food with like-minded seafaring travel buddies.
Cruising The Saronic Gulf
The Saronic Gulf, also known as the Aegean sea sits between the peninsula of Attica and Argolis and is part of the Mediterranean sea. It is dotted with many breathtaking islands like the Spetses, Angistri and Hydra that are way less touristy and equally beautiful in their own stature. I wouldn’t compare any of these islands to those big name islands that are already famous because, as you know the islands of Greece, are each very unique and rich with its own history, surprises and colours.
Each island on the Saronic gulf has its own distinct heritage and culture, unique architectural design and extraordinary ambience. To find out which is your favourite island, just do an island hop as these islands are just a few hours high-speed ferry ride away from Athens. Photos are always deceiving. Initially, I loved the colourful mood of Hydra as it looked oh-so cute on photos with the donkeys and the small harbour backdrop. In reality and as a personal experience, I found that I adore Poros even more for its simplicity and quietude.
Everyone on board were given full explicit information by Evermore Cruises’ staffs on the locales that we’ll be visiting and what to expect of them in different languages. They even provide all the island’s tour packages with shuttle bus services at a reasonable price, including all entrance tickets to the places of interest to lighten the load of asking Google map and finding your own way to and fro. They even separate group tours based on the language of your selection. One thing to note, don’t be late for the boat can’t wait!
The three islands this one-day cruise sails to are Poros, Hydra and Aegina in that order.
For a complete carefree island experience, this is the one. With verdant pine trees and crystal clear water overhung a pastel like sky, Poros is a well-loved destination by the Greeks. The island is simply filled with the nature’s elements that naturally rejuvenates one’s soul. This is definitely a perfect location for honeymoon and family vacation any time of the year especially without the touristy crowds. No monotonous blue and white painted rooftops but soulfully resting views of the seas and mountains around.
An island just about you and life, it is best to laze at a local cafe or at the waterfront seeking new inspiration and taking your mind off the stresses in life. To spark a little adventure, you can visit the quaint old town to experience the local culture or climb up the rock with the island’s only clock tower to catch a beautiful panoramic sunset in the evening.
As Poros is very much less crowded and sparsely populated, you get all the privacy you need and all the space to yourself.
Though you can see some modern touches here and there, Hydra is still an island that remains framed as much as it was way back in time.
Clean air from the pristine environment invigorates your soul the very moment you alight from the cruise, sending your body into a tranquil yet relaxed mode at the quiet rhythm of its surrounding atmosphere. There are no cars and motorbikes on the island. Hence, there is no pollution and everything is slow paced. The only mode of transportation allowed are boats, donkeys and your own two feet.
Hydra is truly a pretty small laid-back island with centuries old cobbled streets and windy corners. Even the islanders import water from the mainland every week ferrying thrash out of the island and fresh water back in! Thus, there isn’t much activities to engage in on the island giving you a quietude time to yourself to grace the simple sweet colours of the small island town. This island is also famous for the centuries old almond cake sweets still sold at one of the oldest surviving family run bakery on Hydra.
Interestingly enough, Hydra may be small and insignificant to some, but it actually houses the only prestigious Naval Academy of all of Greece. All Greek ship captains and mariners have to undergo study at this naval school that is no larger than a four storey shophouse near the dock that was established since 1645! The ONLY vehicle on this island is a small minivan ambulance that is parked at the only hospital on the island. So for those tourists who got injured while on vacation here, they will be ferried to the mainland using one of the water taxis parked at the docks.
Besides climbing up the Bastion of Hydra for a fantastic view of the island and walking up to the nostalgic square which was used as the scene of one of the James Bond movies, it would be a picture perfect landscape to bathe under the sun at one of the waterfront taverns, tasting some delicious local dessert while taking in a cup of the slow passing time back into your life. There is another famous Baklava cake shop in front of the island’s hospital but serves the Greek kind of Baklava without nuts as this island was relatively independent from Turkish occupation.
There is also one of the oldest orthodox churches in the whole of Greece that was built from wood and stones found here on the island. The relics and dedication materials of gold and silver offered by the ship captains can still be seen in the church and the church’s museum above. Also the old clock tower still chimes accurately and is the only tall structure on the island.
As for me, you may find me sitting at the waterfront scheming to kidnap a donkey back! Ha ha! Gosh, they’re so cute albeit a little smelly. Speaking of animals, this is a cat crazy town! The settlers keep cats here to ward of snakes. Yes, you read right, snakes. The story goes that food and water supply had to come from the mainland and usually ships would also bring a lot of unwanted pests i.e the rats. So the cats will catch and eat all the rats forcing the snakes to leave the island as there is no food. So for those cat lovers out there, it’s a feline paradise!
Aegina was the first modern Greek capital after Greece obtain its independence from the Ottoman Turks and has turned into a tranquil yet hardly populated island today when Greece moved the capital to Athens in the following years. Preserving the true charm of Greek beauty, Aegina is truly an unspoiled destination. The picturesque waterfront is totally flawless for few Instagram photos as the buildings outline the shorelines with its neo-classical architecture.
The closest to Athens yet the least visited island, Aegina has a strong reputation among the locals for its beautiful sandy beaches and tasty pistachio nuts. In fact, everywhere around this island has pistachio trees that were brought in long ago by the middle-east settlers. Seated on the islands are two important monuments that are of great historical significance to Aegina. The magnificent Temple of Aphaia and the elaborate Cathedral of Saint Nectarios.
The Temple of Aphaia was much larger and built much earlier than the Parthenon in Athens and together with the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, form the mythical Sacred Triangle. Near the Cathedral of Saint Nectarios is the infamous ‘hill of churches’ at Palaiochora where one chapel was built to commemorate each day the inhabitants survived the heavy bombardment from the Turks during the Turco-Venetian war. From the hill as you ride down, you can see the sea of Salamis where the Aegean fleet decisively defeated the massive overwhelming Persian fleet during the second Persian invasion of Greece and the European world.
For this island, it is definitely important to take the tour option as the distance to these sites are quite far from the docks. You will definitely need a bus or taxi to get there and back in time for your departure.
Try the the pistachios and their homemade pistachio ice cream at Aphaia. It’s heavenly. Melts straight in the mouth with a unique pistachio taste that isn’t too sweet.
After a full day of exciting expedition and island hopping, it’s difficult to say goodbye to such a wonderful experience and amazing people I’ve met onboard. Even the crew keeps the moods lively on our way back to Athens with dances and traditional music that will bring you up on your feet. Nonetheless, even though the journey is finished, the stories continue…
I highly recommend Evermore Cruises to everybody who wishes to have a fantastic Greek island sailing experience.
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