Greece, Greek Islands
Welcome to another trip report of our travels. This time we are headed to Greece, the Greek Islands, and parts of Turkey. This report will follow the same general design as the past several reports, with a general overview with basic information (which you are reading now), followed by a daily log of our trip. Along the way there will be a short section dedicated to the ship we were on, the Seabourn Encore, in order to sort of set the stage so you have an idea of where we spent a lot of our time. After that section, there will be multiple “Chapters”, with each chapter covering about 3 days of activities: sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on what we were doing.
For each different destination of our trip, I will use a map of the Aegean Sea to point out where we are, so you will probably get tired of seeing this map:
We’re in Athens!
Sometimes the island or town where we are will not actually be named on the map, but I will use a red box with the name of the place to identify and point out where we are. Yes, you will probably get tired of seeing that map.
So, let’s get started.
In the past couple of years, we had covered much of Italy and the Adriatic coast of Croatia, followed by a good look at Spain. We had always heard of how beautiful the Greek Islands were, so that seemed like a logical next destination. I had hoped to find a cruise on one of the Windstar ships, but just could not find a Windstar cruise with an itinerary that I liked. Sailing the Greek Islands aboard a sailing ship would have been great, but the Windstar cruises just did not visit many different islands and missed several that we wanted to see, so it was not to be. In looking at the various Greek Island Cruises I came across a two week cruise aboard the Seabourn ship, the Encore. The cruise seemed to cover what we were looking for: it visited all the places we wanted to see (and then some) and it was not a huge ship. We like smaller cruise ships and while the Encore, at 600 passengers, was bigger than we preferred, we thought it would be reasonable. I have made all our cruise arrangements through the “Vacations to Go” travel company and James Bingley there has always provided excellent service, as he did again this time.
Also as usual, I made the air arrangements myself directly with Delta then had James Bingley arrange appropriate transfers through Seabourn.
I booked Delta’s “Comfort+” seats in the hope that my Platinum Medallion and Million-Miler status would get us a free upgrade to first class (since that first class/Delta-1 fare was very steep) but both flights turned out to be absolutely full, so no upgrades were available. Delta does have daily non-stop flights between Atlanta and Athens so that made our travel easier.
Our flight to Athens was scheduled to depart at 5:00 PM and arrive in Athens at 10:35 AM the next morning. Notice that I said “scheduled” to depart at 5:00. We boarded the plane (Airbus A350) on schedule but then, once everyone was on board, the captain announced that there was a “mechanical” problem, apparently in the cockpit. Why they boarded the plane knowing that there would be an extended delay, I have no idea. After several interim announcements/delays the captain announced we were good to go after a 2 hour and 45 minute delay. The only “refreshments” offered during that time was a bottle of water for each passenger, which would have been distributed after takeoff anyway.
Over half-way there.
I know the flight was completely full, but in several respects, the cabin service on this flight was the worst we have experienced on a Delta flight in a long time. The service on the return flight was only slightly better and that departure was delayed by about 40 minutes due to ATC holds.
On the other hand, all three of our transfers (Athens airport to hotel, Athens hotel to the ship, and then from the ship to Athens airport) were timely and comfortable, with a dedicated sedan or small van with us as the only passengers. On arrival in Athens, we went through Immigration & Customs reasonably quickly, picked up our luggage, and found our driver very quickly. From the airport it was about 20 minutes to our hotel in a small passenger van. At the end of our trip, we got off the ship a little ahead of schedule and had to wait for about 10 minutes for our driver. This time the vehicle was a Mercedes sedan and the driver was a young man who took us on the “scenic” route along the coastal highway, although it was a bit longer. After being through several European airports lately, we had no trouble navigating the Athens airport, although some of the signage for passport control and the security check was a bit lacking.
Oh yes, the cats….. I knew that Istanbul was known for the large number of free roaming cats that reside there. Everyone takes care of them, feeding, medicating, providing protection from weather and such, but, for most of the cats, no one owns or is responsible for them. They are sort of “community property”. To a large degree, these cats have it made and they seem to know it. Well, we found out that this treatment of cats is not unique to Istanbul, but appears to be common throughout Greece and Turkey. Cats were roaming almost everywhere: they appeared well fed and were friendly, but very few had collars indicating ownership by someone (as much as any cat can be “owned”). Fair warning: cat pictures are likely to show up throughout this report.
Enough of the preliminaries, let’s get started. First a look at the Seabourn Encore, then we’ll start the daily activities log.
This trip was both interesting and fun, as well as educational. We learned a lot about Greek, Roman, and even earlier civilizations, and it did not even hurt our brains (well, not much, anyway). We did get our fill of very old ruins of cities that were thousands of years old and it became somewhat difficult to keep them all straight (thus, one reason for this report). After a while, seeing more ruins (restored or not) became somewhat like seeing yet another church in Italy or Spain.
The weather was definitely cooler and windier than we expected. We seldom (ever?) needed shorts or T-Shirts and our somewhat waterproof windbreakers and rain hats came in very handy. Perhaps the weather would have been better if we had gone two or three weeks later, but I am also sure that crowds would have been worse. All of the local people that we met or talked to, the guides or otherwise, were friendly and welcoming and the towns in the Greek islands, especially, were amazingly clean and well maintained.
The Encore was a very nice way to visit the island and was comfortable and provided good service, but not “great” service. My overriding thought was that the crew, with a few exceptions, seemed to think more highly of the ship than we did. The almost complete lack of local foods, the attitude of the main dining room sommeliers, and the relatively bland seasoning of the dishes was a disappointment. The lack of a printed “daily events” sheet until the last day was a definite problem. While the Seabourn app should have provided very up-to-date information about excursions (times, meeting places, etc.) we frequently arrived at the named departure/meeting point to find no one there. If the meeting place or disembarkation point changes from that printed on the tickets or in the Seabourn app, someone should be stationed at the original location to redirect people.
In both the main restaurant and Colonnade, the servers sometimes seemed to forget that there were patrons there waiting for service. Rearranging the silverware drawer or organizing bottles of cold water sometimes took precedence over actually pouring that water for the guests. After a few days we did figure out which servers were providing the best service (Ludwig, Julin, Xhemi), but so did the other passengers, so getting a table in their section was a challenge. Aimee, the Cruise Director was doing an excellent job in sometimes difficult circumstances. For several reasons, we had the opportunity to talk (socially, not “business”) to her several times and she was always pleasant, friendly, and glad to spend some time with us, although I knew she had many other things to be doing. The entertainers (the band, the dancers, and the singers) all worked very hard and put on good shows and were friendly whenever we met then “off-line”. Other than at the official reception at the start of the cruise, I don’t think I ever saw or spoke to any of the ships officers.
To compare the Encore to our other cruise experiences….. I really think that the Celebrity Beyond, in the Retreat/Suite section, provided a more luxurious feeling and better service. There were some disadvantages of being on a huge ship, but also some advantages and the staff (butler service for every suite) helped get past the crowds. Comparing the Encore to our Windstar cruise experiences is somewhat like apples and oranges. The Windstar ships (the ones we have been on so far) are certainly not as modern and luxurious as the Encore or Beyond, but the crew and the overall experience is more friendly and personable for a much more social and fun environment. As of this writing, we have reservations on one of the newer Windstar ships in September, so stay tuned.