CELESTYAL ANNOUNCES YEAR ROUND WINTER CRUISES IN 2018

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

As part of a series of ongoing investments and improvements to its brand, Celestyal Cruises will commence a first ever, year round programme of winter cruises from Greece, beginning in 2018.

These winter itineraries will take the form of a series of seven night, three continent cruises, to be operated by the Celestyal Olympia. The 38,000 ton ship, familiar to many as the former Song Of America of 1982, will sail from the port of Lavrion, just outside of Athens, Ports of call will include Antalya in Turkey, Jerusalem, Port Said for Cairo, and Rhodes. An itinerary that uniquely allows passengers to set foot in Africa, Asia and Europe on each round trip.

This route marks a welcome diversion for the company’s largest ship, which usually spends four months of the year laid up each winter in Piraeus, before resuming her spring and summer programme of three and four night mini cruises to the Greek islands and Turkey.

Celestyal also plans further enhancements at the line’s new fleet home port of Lavrion, the closest actual embarkation point for passengers flying into Athens. It is one of a number of bidders currently looking to build a new pier and, given the importance of the cruising sector to the overall Greek economy, the company is likely in prime position to achieve its aims.

In other developments, Celestyal Cristal will offer another season of seven night, winter cruises around Cuba this winter. And next spring, the line will introduce the 19,000 ton Celestyal Nefeli on a route that features a lot of Turkish highlights.

Plans are also afoot to embark passengers from both Kavala and Thessaloniki, located on the northern shores of the Aegean, in a couple of years’ time, in order to tap into the potentially very lucrative eastern European market.

Interesting times at the specialist Greek islands operator here. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

BYE BYE ODYSSEY, HELLO NEFELI- ALL CHANGE AT CELESTYAL CRUISES

It’s both in and out with the almost new simultaneously over at Celestyal Cruises.

Out as of October this year is the one season chartered Celestyal Odyssey, formerly the Olympic Explorer. The ship is returning to her owners after a one off season offering short, three and four day cruises around the Greek Islands and Turkey for Celestyal.

While I personally regret the loss of this ship, the good news is that her place and itineraries in the Celestyal Fleet will be taken up by the 1992 built Gemini. After a refit in February of next year, the 19,000 ton ship will enter service from either Piraeus or Lavrion on the same short, three and four day cruise circuit as her predecessor, under the new name of Celestyal Nefeli.

Originally built as the Crown Jewel in Spain back in 1992, the ship is the twin sister of Crown Dynasty, now better known as Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ ever popular Braemar. After spells sailing for Star Cruises in Asia, and then the short lived Quail Cruises the ship, by now known as Gemini, was laid up after a stint as a hotel ship for the London Olympics.

The nascent Celestyal Nefili- the name comes from a famous Greek cloud nymph and goddess of hospitality- boasts some four hundred inside and outside cabins, including some forty three executive and junior suites. Some of these even have private balconies.

Most inside and outside cabins come in at around 140 square feet- more than big enough for a long weekend in warm climes. Wardrobe space is not excessive, but the largely smart casual lifestyle on board Celestyal Cruises means that this should not be a problem for most people.

Her relatively small size and intimacy makes her a perfect ship for these short, port intensive cruises (something I mentioned to the still then Louis Cruises a couple of years ago). Additionally, she has a wonderful series of tiered, cascading sun decks at the stern, which make her a perfect indoor/outdoor ship at night in those sultry Aegean waters.

It is also heartening to see this smaller, beautifully styled ship getting another chance to carry a a lot of happy passengers around these beautiful, storied islands. I expect this classically restyled ‘lady of the seas’ to do brisk business come next spring, and I wish her fair winds and smooth sailing.

As ever, stay tuned to this site for any additional updates.

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

ESPECIALLY ESPRIT- CRYSTAL’S NEW YACHT GOES HIGH TECH

Imagine being able to glide right up to the wreck of the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, as she lies sprawled like some great, fallen beast on the bottom of the Aegean. Getting up close and personal to her giant, thirty eight ton propellers; almost close enough to touch them, in fact.

Imagine cruising around the nine hundred foot long hospital ship as she looms over your small, two man submarine like some ancient, felled building.

Sounds like something straight out of the pages of a James Bond novel, right?

But soon, thanks to the newly wrought Crystal Yacht Cruises, this kind of experience could be one of the items on the menu for the sixty-two privileged guests of the soon to be commissioned new luxury yacht, Crystal Esprit.

The Crystal Esprit will carry a small, two passenger submarine on board for expedition dives on each of its voyages; a truly remarkable first for any line. And, while the circumnavigation of the Britannic, outlined above, is not an advertised activity offered on the yacht, it does serve to illustrate the sheer range of undersea possibilities that Crystal can add to complement it’s ‘wonderful world’ of adventures on the surface.

Currently being converted from the platform of the luxury yacht, Megastar Taurus at the Sembawang shipyard in Singapore, the Crystal Esprit will take highly styled, mega yacht cruising to new heights. And, on an adventurous level at least, to new depths as well.

Due to debut this winter with a maiden season in the Seychelles and Dubai, the Crystal Esprit will move to the Aegean and Croatian Riviera for the summer of 2016.

For those sybaritic souls in search of true, all inclusive style in a very intimate atmosphere, the Crystal Esprit will offer the best of all worlds, and comes complete with the all inclusive fares, together with the superlative service and cuisine that the Crystal brand is synonymous with.

At just 3,300 tons and with a capacity for sixty-two guests, the yacht will feature sumptuous, all suite accommodation, both indoor and outdoor restaurants, as well as some very expensively primped outdoor maritime real estate; think plush sofas, pod beds, and the sort of poolside service you would expect to get at a really top notch Ritz Carlton hotel- but without the bill.

In addition to the submarine already mentioned, the Crystal Esprit will also offer the use of four, ten passenger Zodiacs for exclusive adventures ashore, as well as a one off, 12 passenger, 32 metre long yacht, built by Winder, for out of this world meandering around the islets and waterways where the ship sails.

If you’re not quite ready for the level of playing Captain Nemo, there will be a whole raft of less tech-intensive ‘water toys’ available for use from the yacht. These include jet skis and wake boards, and there are also options such as scuba diving, water ski-ing, or even just fishing.

Crystal Esprit has been cruising as a deluxe yacht for Star Cruises, ever since the company acquired her in 1994. She was originally built in Germany for the long defunct Windsor Line as the Lady Sarah, back in 1991.

As things stand, the yacht has a maximum capacity for eighty passengers, which Crystal intends to pare down to sixty two. Public rooms and accommodations are spread over some four decks in all.

This hip, beautifully styled little adventurer raises the bar yet again on small ship cruising. And, for those really wanting to play at being James Bond in an amazing underwater world, there is also the welcome assurance that, this being Crystal, the Martinis served up topside will be superb as well.

Quite the fascinating premise, this one. As ever, stay tuned for further news.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

FIVE REASONS WHY A GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE IS A GREAT CHOICE RIGHT NOW

Despite the hail of horror stories raining in and around Athens, there has probably never been a better time to visit the region, especially on a short cruise and stay holiday. And, for those of you that think I’ve taken definite leave of my senses, I’m going to outline the reasons why in this piece.

CHEAPER FLIGHT PRICES

Since the high noon standoff between Tsipras, Merkel, and the rest of the EU, flight prices from Europe to Greece have gone into something of a tail spin- pun wholly intentional. And, with airlines such as KLM serving Athens via Amsterdam from no less than twenty-one different regional airports in the UK, you can add a healthy dollop of convenience into the mix for good measure. And, with flight times from Amsterdam to Athens of around four hours, you get cheap, fast and convenient all packaged up and served in a goody bag.

IT’S TIME FRIENDLY

Taking one of the short, three or four night cruises offered by Celestyal Cruises out of Piraeus, the port for Athens, will serve up snapshots of anything up to six different ports of call. No other Aegean cruise can pack in so much on such a short itinerary.

Three night cruises sail from Piraeus at 1100 every Friday morning. By five that same evening, you’re in Mykonos for a few hours of fun and frivolity ashore.

Next morning will find you in the stunning Turkish seaside town of Kusadasi, leaving around noon, and by mid afternoon you’ll be in Patmos for long enough to enjoy dinner and drinks ashore. Back aboard, and you’re on your way again about 2200 that evening.

The last full day finds you in Heraklion first thing, before an afternoon arrival in Santorini, with time enough to ascend the caldera to Thira, and a chance to check out the most stunning single vista anywhere in the Aegean.

Next morning, you’re back in Piraeus.

HISTORY AND HEDONISM

The Greek mainland and islands offer endless scope for both history lovers and sun worshippers. Just consider the itinerary above, and look at what you can actually see in a mere four days;

In Athens itself, there is time to check out the Acropolis, with it’s stunningly majestic Parthenon. On Mykonos, there’s time to take in the fabled sunset- the best such show east of Key West- from the waterfront at Chora, before an evening in the nightlife capital of the Aegean.

In Kusadasi, you can check out the stunted, sprawling ruins of magnificent Ephesus, and then savour a long, lazy evening of dining and people watching on the waterfront in pretty little Patmos.

From Heraklion, there is time to see the stunning palace of Knossos, a platinum chip rated UNESCO World Heritage site. And an afternoon in Santorini, spent chilling out on the Olympian heights of Thira, is one of the most unforgettable travel experiences in the world.

It’s worth mentioning that the four day cruises, which sail on a Monday morning, also throw in a full day’s visit to the amazing medieval theme park known as Rhodes. The old town has history in spades, yet the nearby beaches are a sun seeker’s utopia. This one island alone really does have it all.

SIZE REALLY DOES MATTER…

The smaller, comfortable ships operated by Celestyal cruises offer a far more intimate, ‘up close and personal’ view of the islands. In fact, these ships are sailing their own home waters, and their captains know the area better than most. The small size of the ships also means that they can get into the smaller ports, and often much closer to all the good stuff, than the much bigger ships with their thousands of passengers.

And that small size makes for a far more intimate, rewarding on board experience. The ships feature many authentic Greek specialities on their menus in addition to international fare, and there is a very definite emphasis on Greek hospitality on board. In other words, it’s a more genuinely authentic, pared down way to see the islands. One that offers the best of everything.

OVERALL VALUE

Add up all those points above and you’ll realise what a fantastic, time sensitive, cost effective little jaunt one of these cruises represents. Over one slightly long weekend, you can see and do more than many millions of people actually achieve over the course of a lifetime. These trips offer comfort, good pricing, awesome, world famous sights and jaw dropping scenery, plus the chance to just spend a few days’ lazing under that glorious Aegean sun.

Greece? It’s still the word. See you out there.

Savour marvellous vistas from atop spectacular Santorini

Savour marvellous vistas from atop spectacular Santorini

YEAR ROUND CRUISING FROM ATHENS- COMING SOON?

It has been increasingly bruited over several weeks that the port of Athens might be gearing up to become a year round departure port for cruises. With these stories gathering pace, I thought it might be worth a look at the possibilities.

The obvious major contender for this would be Celestyal Cruises, part of the Louis Group. Although their Cristal goes out on charter to Cuba each winter, the company’s biggest ship- the 38,000 ton Celestyal Olympia- is usually laid up in Piraeus from November through to April each year.

That makes for five totally unproductive months when the vessel is doing nothing but racking up port fees while earning no revenue. So, any opportunity to bring in money- especially in the current Greek situation- ought to be a no brainer.

On the other hand, that winter Aegean weather can be famously unsettled. Many of the Greek Islands are tender ports, and any winter storm might well mean foregoing a port of call. Also, the temperatures are going to be a good way cooler than in the high days of summer.

These have always been the main reasons why the domestic Greek cruise scene- that is, Celestyal itineraries- typically begin each March, and then end each November.

But the truth is that, even if some tender ports have to be abandoned because of bad weather, there are quite a number of ports with open berths in  winter- I’m thinking of the likes of Kusadasi and Marmaris- which are likely to be available as viable substitutes. Even in summer, the weather can sometimes oblige cruise ship captains to abandon planned port calls, hopefully arranging some nearby substitute. There is nothing new- or unusual- in this.

And the experience of cruising the Greek Islands in winter would be a more sedate, intimate experience- even on the usual Celestyal three and four night runs.  And Athens’ port of Piraeus certainly enjoys an unrivalled, prime position for sending out ships on short jaunts, or even on longer itineraries to the Holy Land and Egypt. However, the current volatility of the political situation around both would probably

make most firms think twice about that, at least for the foreseeable future.

And- for those who do not think that year round Greek Island cruising is feasible, I’d just remind you that the same was said of the Baltic, when P&O pioneered the first ever winter Baltic Capitals cruise some years ago. These have been quite successful; enough, indeed, for many rival lines to also start offering them.

Also, consider how popular cruises to the often stormy waters of Northern Lights itineraries have now become. Passengers now no longer think that cold weather and rough seas would be an impediment to such an adventure.

And it goes without saying that, even in the depths of winter, the Aegean would be a lot calmer and more benign than either of those options.

Short winter cruises in the Aegean? Hell, why not?

A potentially fascinating development, methinks. As ever, pray stay tuned.

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

SHORT CRUISES? GREECE IS THE WORD….

If you’ve always hankered to try a cruise, but don’t want to invest a lot of time or money, then a short but sweet, three or four day run around some of the Greek Islands might be an option worth looking at. Beginning next month, three night cruises sail from Athens on a Friday, with a four night option available each Monday through to November.

These voyages are offered on Celestyal Cruises, very much the Greek specialists, on the Celestyal Olympia, a 38,000 ton veteran that many might remember as the elegant, former Song Of America. She’s a comfortable, commodious ship, capable of carrying around 1600 passengers in a wide range of inside and outside cabins. Throw in authentic, Greek accented cuisine and entertainment, and you’ve got the perfect base for a fun filled few days, whichever break you choose to take.

Comfortable and welcoming rather than glittery and plush, the Celestyal Olympia is perfect for these short, destination oriented cruises. In just a few days, you’ll get snapshots of the highlights and lifestyle in places as diverse as Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini, Rhodes and Patmos. In point of fact, you can see more of the world on one of these short, stylish jaunts than many people actually do in a lifetime.

If you’re so inclined, add on a few days pre or post cruise in addictive, exhilarating Athens, one of the greatest cities in the world, and the cornerstone of modern democracy. That makes for a brilliant week in total if you choose this option, and a fantastic collection of memories as well. Did I mention the suntan?

Some brief, glorious glimpses of what you might do on such a cruise? Imagine sunset Margaritas overlooking the Aegean in marvellous, highly styled Mykonos, or staring in awed amazement at the petrified remains of once magnificent Ephesus, from Kusadasi. Stroll through the cafe thronged, winding streets and alleys in the staggering medieval theme park that is Rhodes, or simply while away a languid hour or two at a waterfront taverna in Patmos, with a side order of succulent souvlaki and a glass of chilled retsina. For sure, this is not your ordinary weekend away.

Add in the very real benefit of packing and unpacking only once as a whole host of historical, hedonistic hot spots come to you one after another, and you have the stuff of dreams. Value wise, these trips are very hard to beat. Short on time but high on style, one of these short trips will raise the bar massively for your typical weekend break.

And, come June, Celestyal cruises will be adding a second ship, in the trim form of the lovely Celes

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

tyal Odyssey. This 28,000 ton ship- one part floating hotel, one part floating explorer- will also offer the same, three and four night cruises as her slighly larger sister. And, if you’re really in the market for some serious fun, it is perfectly possible to sail on both ships one after another, just by crossing the pier at the end of the first cruise.

A more fulfilling and exhilarating short break would be very difficult to find, especially with so much included in the price. for 2015, Greece is most definitely the word.

LOUIS REBRANDS AS CELESTYAL CRUISES

Celestyal is going to a three ship fleet as of June, 2015.

Celestyal is going to a three ship fleet as of June, 2015.

In a not altogether unsurprising move, Louis Cruises (as was) has rebranded itself as Celestyal Cruises.

The Greek niche specialist operator created Celestyal as a ‘spin off ‘product late last year. The emphasis of Celestyal was to be on Greek history, cuisine and culture, all to be experienced in authentically Greek surroundings.

To that end, the company hived off the two main stream ships to Celestyal. Former Louis Cristal- currently cruising around Cuba for Cuba Cruises– will be restyled as Celestyal Cristal. Larger fleet mate, Louis Olympia, will morph into the Celestyal Olympia when she resumes sailings from Piraeus in March.

The duo will be augmented by the recently purchased Celestyal Odyssey, currently sailing as the Semester at Sea ship, Explorer. The 24,000 ton ship, with accommodation for 834 passengers, will join the Celestyal Olympia on the popular, three and four night Greece and Turkey itineraries from June.

The rebranding makes simple sense. As things stand, retaining the Louis name would have left just one ship- the 1968 built Louis Aura- sailing under that flag. There is as yet no news on the company website regarding the 2015 deployment of this former NCL veteran, but she is usually chartered to a French company for much of the early summer, before reverting to short sailings from Cyprus for the remainder of the season.

As ever, stay tuned for future developments.

C’EST CELESTYAL- LOUIS AIMS FOR THE STARS

See gorgeous Santorini on a Louis cruise

See gorgeous Santorini on a Louis cruise

Louis Cruises will expand its cultural and culinary horizons next month with the launch of a new brand called Celstyal Cruises. The new line will put the emphasis firmly on Greek culture and local cuisine, as well as local wine, history, and music. Full details are expected to be rolled out in September.

The core product will be built around the two ships currently sailing out of Piraeus and Lavrion respectively, namely the Louis Olympia and Louis Cristal. The two ships will lose the ‘Louis’ prefix from their name, sailing simply as Olympia and Cristal.

At present, Louis Olympia is sailing the line’s very popular programme of three and four night cruises from Piraeus, while the smaller Louis Cristal is sailing a more all embracing series of seven night, round trip cruises from Lavrion, just south of Athens near Cape Sounion. I’ll be on the Louis Cristal next month, and there will be a full report from on board posted here soon after.

There is no word yet how the smaller, veteran Louis Aura of 1968 will fit into the Louis schedule for 2015. The ship operated a successful French charter earlier this year, and is currently sailing short cruises out of Limassol. The French charter has apparently been renewed for next year.

In related news, Louis Cruises is also said to be close to completing a deal for another ship for it’s fleet. The line is said to be considering both the laid up Gemini and the slightly larger Aegean Paradise. The latter has a fair number of balcony cabins, which would be a first for the company if they do take that option.

The central fountain in Rhode old town

The central fountain in Rhode old town

For the 2014 season that runs through until November, Louis added a series of new destinations to the Aegean portfolio, including Bodrum and Cesme in Turkey, and smaller, less visited Greek islands such as Chios and tiny, picture perfect Symi.

For those travelling from the USA and perhaps further, it is worth knowing that Louis Cruises has a tie in with several luxury hotels across Greece and the islands, as part of the larger Louis Group portfolio.

Many will remember the Louis Olympia as the former Song Of America, the first mid sized new build for Royal Caribbean back in 1982. The Louis Cristal will be familiar to many as the angular, popular Leeward of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Over this winter, the Louis Cristal will head for a second season of popular, round Cuba sailings for a Canadian charter company. Embarkation is possible from both Havana and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Though primarily aimed at the Canadian market, the cruises are also on sail to Europeans, via Louis.

As ever, stay tuned.

RHODES OLD TOWN PHOTO GALLERY

Of all the treasures that litter the historic, hedonistic glut of the Greek islands, few, if any, match the old town of Rhodes. The centre of the town constitutes nothing less than an amazing medieval theme park; a beguiling warren of winding, cobbled streets that lead, almost inexorably, to the almost completely intact Palace of the Grand Masters, the stunning fourteenth century series of fortifications that once protected the harbour entrance. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the visit…..

Rhodes Town, one of the few straight streets

Rhodes Town, one of the few straight streets

Crenellated battlements in the mid day sun

Crenellated battlements in the mid day sun

That really is a room with an old world view

That really is a room with an old world view

This was once the scene of desperate fighting

This was once the scene of desperate fighting

Walls bleached white by centuries of sun

Walls bleached white by centuries of sun

An amazing, almost perfect sight

An amazing, almost perfect sight

The Palace of the Grand Masters

The Palace of the Grand Masters

The scale of the Palace is obvious from here

The scale of the Palace is obvious from here

Fountain in the middle of the old town, Rhodes

Fountain in the middle of the old town, Rhodes

Unfinished grain mills on the waterfront

Unfinished grain mills on the waterfront

The castle keep on the harbour's edge

The castle keep on the harbour’s edge

Even now, the quality of the work is amazing

Even now, the quality of the work is amazing

Sun and shade in the middle of town

Sun and shade in the middle of town

The central fountain in Rhode old town

The central fountain in Rhodes old town