Greece and the Greek Islands are some of the dreamiest destinations in the world that belong on any travel bucket list. Justin and I recently visited Greece on a seven day cruise, and we’re sharing all the details in this Celestyal Cruises review. If you’re planning a trip to the Greece islands, consider embarking on this unique cruising adventure around the picturesque Aegean Sea.
What sets Celestyal Cruises apart from other cruise lines? Why might you decide to take a Greek cruise to the islands rather than other modes of transportation? In this Celestyal cruise review, we’re going to answer all of your questions and showcase our amazing week in Greece and Turkiye from the Celestyal Crystal ship.
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Celestyal Cruises Review: About the Cruise Line
If you’re thinking about taking a cruise in Greece, Celestyal Cruises is the most popular choice for those traveling to Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean. They’ve won over 60 awards in the past seven years, and guests describe them as the “only genuine Greek cruising experience”. This is a Greek cruise line where they are the experts in Greece and the Aegean Islands.
The Celestyal Cruise line operates out of Athens, and was formerly known as Louis Cruises and Louis Cruise Lines. At the time of writing this article, Celestyal Cruises has two cruise ships: Celestyal Crystal and Celestyal Olympia. We sailed on the Celestyal Crystal. In September 2023, Celestyal Crystal will leave the fleet and all sailings will be transferred on the newest vessel, Celestyal Journey.
Celestyal’s cruise ships are medium-sized liners, meaning that they can reach ports that larger vessels simply cannot access. It is a great way to visit unique smaller destinations that are less visited by other cruise lines. This also means that there are fewer passengers on board, generally around 1200.
If you are looking for a cruise ship with all the bells and whistles, Celestyal Cruises may not be for you. However, if you like to focus on traveling to the ports and the destination itself, we highly recommend sailing with Celestyal.
Celestyal Cruises Review: Inclusive vs Enhanced Cruise Fare
In comparison to other cruise lines, sailing with Celestyal Cruises offers an incredible value. To keep your cruise set to your personal budget, you can choose the inclusive fare or the enhanced fare. With the inclusive cruise fare, you’ll receive an $80 shore excursion credit, complimentary dining, select drinks included with dining, entertainment, onboard activities, and port expenses and gratuities are included.
The enhanced fare starts for as little as $170 additional per person. You’ll receive a $160 shore excursion credit, premium drinks package, onboard entertainment and activities, complimentary dining, Wi-Fi access for one hour each day, and port expenses and gratuities are included.
If your budget allows for it, the enhanced cruise fare is well worth the cost. Your cruise is nearly an all-inclusive sailing with a premium drinks package and one or two shore excursions included (if priced at $160 or less).
Our Idyllic Aegaen seven-night cruise starts at $889 per person, though fares with Celestyal Cruises start at just $339 per person (three night cruise). It’s extremely well priced and ends up being far cheaper than a hotel stay, especially when it also includes food, drink and entertainment.
Celestyal Cruises Review: Ship Amenities
We sailed on the Celestyal Crystal and I’ll briefly mention the amenities on board the ship. As the Celestyal Crystal is being retired in September 2023, you should look into the amenities on board the newest ship, Celestyal Journey, as well as the Celestyal Olympia. This ship is pretty bare bones for amenities, but it had everything we needed.
Pool and Jacuzzi
There is one small swimming pool on the cruise ship, as well as one jacuzzi at the back of the ship. There were always a few kids in the pool, and there’s only really room for a few people at a time. You can’t really swim laps as it’s pretty small. It’s great to have a pool for cooling down or to entertain the kids, but I’d suggest going to a beach on land instead.
There is a promenade deck on deck five that wraps around the entire ship. It isn’t as long as the promenade deck on some other cruise ships because the Celestyal Crystal is smaller, but it’s still a lovely continual jaunt. You can certainly walk laps here (3.5 laps equals 1km, and 5.5 laps equals 1 mile). Many newer cruise ships have done away with the promenade deck entirely, which is a shame. I was happy to see one here.
Spa and Fitness Center
The Sana Wellness Center is the spa on board where you can pamper yourself. Make an appointment with the team for spa treatments, hair treatments, and beauty services. Near the spa, there’s a small fitness center with cardio equipment, weights, and some weight machines, too.
The casino on the Celestyal Crystal is a smaller room and it’s operational when the ship sails at night. There are several slot machines and one gaming table. We don’t really like to gamble, so we didn’t enter the casino at all.
Shops on Board
There is a duty free and value shop that’s open when the ship is sailing. It is a tax-free shop with a wide variety of gifts, alcohol, and essential items you might need throughout your stay.
There is also a shore excursions desk, the front reception desk, and a photo shop featuring pictures that you’ve had taken by the professional photographers on board.
Celestyal Cruises Review: Our Cabin
Justin and I stayed in a very roomy cabin with a large window. It contained a bed, a sofa and matching chair, a desk, and a wardrobe for our clothes. There was enough space for both mine and Justin’s clothes in the cupboards and drawers. Plus, we were able to store our suitcases under the bed.
There’s also a small fridge in the cabin, a safe, a small TV, and places to charge our devices (both outlets and USB ports). Like most cruise ship bathrooms, it was small, but had everything we needed. There were toiletries provided inside the shower (shampoo and body wash).
Next time, I’d love to book a balcony because there’s really nothing like savoring your coffee each morning with a new beautiful view. I also love sitting out on my balcony in the evening, listening to the crashing waves or watching the sunset. Instead, we enjoyed pretty views at breakfast outside near the buffet, and watched the sunset at night from the upper decks of the ship.
Celestyal Cruises Review: Food and Drink
In this Celestyal Cruises review, I’ll be reviewing the food based on my personal perspectives as someone who follows a vegan diet. All of my food, whether it was from the buffet or the main dining room, was included in my trip. There are some “Chef’s Gourmet Selections” that you can purchase for an extra fee at dinner, but I didn’t personally try any of them as they were exclusively animal products.
Justin and I mainly dined at the Leda Buffet every morning for breakfast and sometimes dined at the Leda Buffet for lunch. On some days, we came back on board for lunch, and sometimes we had lunch at restaurants in the places we visited.
For dinner every night, we dined at the Amalthia Restaurant, one of the main dining rooms. The Leda Buffet also offers a rotating selection of dishes each night at the buffet. The theme is listed in the daily program each day. You can try a menu of Mediterranean food, Middle Eastern dishes, a Pan Asian menu and more.
Main Dining Room
Every night, the two of us enjoyed dinner in the main dining room (a la carte restaurant). I was delighted to see a vegan main course on the menu every night under the heading, “Ikarian Bleu Zone Cuisine Highlight”. Items on the menu are clearly marked as “vg” (vegan), “gf” (gluten-free), or “v” (vegetarian).
Most starters were vegetarian, but I was able to have them made vegan by providing advance notice. The maitre d’hotel provided me with the following night’s menu every day where I chose what I wanted to eat. Here are some of the meals that I enjoyed while on board the Celestyal Crystal:
- Lachanodolmades of Naxos (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and lentils)
- Hortorizo (Greek-style wild greens risotto)
- Baked fresh artichoke with vegan cheese
- Greek Gigantes (Buttery Greek giant beans braised with tomatoes, herbs and garlic)
- Assortment of vegan cheeses
- Poached asparagus
- Vegetarian Yuvetsi (whole wheat orzo with season vegetables)
- Hummus and roasted vegetables (the maitre d’ ordered this one special as a surprise!)
- Assortment of vegan cheeses (I loved the cheese plate, what can I say!)
There were always delicious dishes to discover at the buffet. For breakfast, I usually had a combination of beans, toast, hashbrowns, fresh fruit, and coffee. At lunch, I always had a big green salad, potatoes, bean salad, hummus, pita, couscous or others.
Bars, Lounges and Drink Packages
There are several bars and lounges around the ship, though our favourite was either the one by the swimming pool or the one on deck five at the back of the ship. As always, the service is fantastic and there’s always a server waiting to bring you a drink.
There is a vast menu of alcoholic beverages, including several kinds of beer, wine for every taste, and a seemingly infinite amount of cocktails. There are several drink packages where you can enjoy unlimited drinks and premium options throughout the cruise.
Navigating the drinks package isn’t easy at first glance. Take a look at the drinks menu page on Celestyal’s website as they have a PDF document with a full listing of what’s included in each one. I suggest thinking about how much you’ll be drinking (and what you like to drink) to decide whether or not a drinks package is worthwhile. Of course, you can pay for each beverage individually, if you choose. Here are the various packages with their prices per day:
- Premium Plus (€47): Any drink from the premium package, plus any drink from the bar up to €10, any beer on the menu, smoothies, energy drinks and more
- Premium (€30): Over 100 drinks, including Mythos draft beer, cocktails, wine, coffee, juice, soft drinks
- Alcohol-Free (€27): Mocktails, fresh juices, Monster milkshakes, smoothies, coffee, sodas
- Premium Kids (€20): Similar to the alcohol-free package, but for kids
- Kids (€16): A selection of mocktails, shakes, Monster milkshakes, hot cocoa and more
- Coffee (€10): Hot and cold coffee, as well as herbal tea
- Premium Water (€7.50): Up to 6 bottles a day of mineral or sparkling water
Celestyal Cruises: The Entertainment
As the main focus at Celestyal Cruises is on the ports themselves, there isn’t much onboard entertainment by comparison to other cruise ships. You can find the entertainment and activities listed in the daily program each day. The daily program is left in your stateroom each evening by your room steward.
In the daily program, you’ll find a listing of onboard activities each day. We didn’t have the opportunity to experience many of these as we were exploring the ports each day, but we did play one round of Bingo (and Justin won!).
Some onboard activities include:
- Ping pong tournament
- Turkish and Greek language lessons
- Arts and crafts
- Dance classes
- Greek cooking demonstrations
- Olive oil demonstrations
- Cocktail demonstrations
- Team games
- Darts tournament
Shows and Performances
Every night, the cruise director presents an evening entertainment program with two productions each night. On Celestyal Crystal, these shows included:
- Abba’s Dream: The songs of Abba
- Cirque Fantastic: An acrobatic show featuring circus artists
- Welcome to Cabaret: A show about the World of Musicals
- Latino Show: A journey to Central and South America with Latin rhythms
- Hellenic Voyage: A Greek traditional party highlighting Greek folkloric traditions
- Odyssea: A musical voyage around the world
- Mythologia: Travel back in time to Ancient Greece
Live Music and Parties
There are a few different bands and musical performers on board. On our cruise, we enjoyed melodies by the duo, “Cuerdas de Crystal”, live music from the band, “El Greco”, melodies by the pianist, Lourdes, melodies by the duo, “Music Zone”, and DJ Evelyn plays music at the late night disco. You can hear live music throughout the day and every evening on the ship.
Celestyal Cruises Review: The Crew Members
One of the best aspects of sailing that I’ll note in this Celestyal Cruises review are the staff. Since there are fewer passengers on board by comparison to larger cruise ships, you’ll be able to get to know the staff much better. You’ll see the same friendly faces from day to day, and we found that there were more opportunities to have a chat.
We met staff members from places around the world and had conversations about casual topics like their favourite kinds of beer and smartphones to more in depth conversations about their home countries. Moreover, they got to know us as well and often remembered our favourite drinks and my vegan dietary requests.
Our cabin stewards, Ricky and Mark, always welcomed us with friendly greetings and their smiling faces. They kept our room in tip-top shape, often surprising us with towel animals and treats on our pillows.
On day one in the main dining room, our waiter, George, invited us to dine in his section every night. We took him up on that offer and received excellent service every day. The maître d’ and other servers surprised us one evening with a guitarist, and they played/sang a song just to the two of us!
Ports of Call on the Idyllic Aegean Itinerary
In this Celestyal Cruises review, we’re covering our experiences on the “Idyllic Aegean” itinerary. Our Greek island cruise ventured roundtrip from Piraeus in Athens to a new port each day. We traveled to Thessaloniki, Kuşadası in Türkiye, Heraklion (Crete), Santorini, Mykonos and Milos.
On our Mykonos day, the winds were too high to dock there, so we visited the beautiful island of Syros instead. As it turned out, we sailed to Mykonos in the evening after all, so we got to enjoy two islands in one day (a total bonus)!
Celestyal Cruises’ Shore Excursions
You can book shore excursions through Celestyal Cruises or visit the ports on your own. Please note that if there isn’t enough interest in a particular shore excursion, Celestyal Cruises may cancel that excursion the night before. We were a little bit disappointed to have one of our excursions canceled, but we ended up having a fabulous day regardless.
Shore excursions are ideal for those looking to join a tour where you don’t need to worry about planning any of the details. They usually include a guided tour and transportation. In some cases, finding transportation can be tricky, especially when there’s a limited number of taxis or a lack of public transportation.
Celestyal Cruises has regular shore excursions and enhanced experiences called Authentic Excursions. These are immersive tours that dive deeper than typical excursions that just scratch the surface. These are smaller group tours that often connect you with locals for a more personalized trip. Their Authentic Excursions include foodie tours off the tourist trail, deep dives at archaeological sites, cultural experiences and unique adventures.
For the most part, Justin and I visited the ports of call on our own because we like to arrange our own adventures at our own pace. We took one shore excursion in Kusadasi to the ancient ruins at Ephesus. We experienced the remaining destinations independently.
Of course, you’re welcome to book your own shore excursions through popular tour booking sites like Get Your Guide and Viator. These are independent tours, so make sure they have good cancellation policies in case your arrival in a particular port gets cancelled or delayed. You’re also responsible for making it back to the ship on time. If you’re not back on time, the ship could leave without you.
We spent the day in Athens before our cruise. I highly suggest doing a pre-cruise stay, just in case your original flights are delayed. This will allow you some buffer time to get to the ship before it departs. Thankfully for us, our flights went off without a hitch, and we enjoyed one glorious day in Athens before our cruise (and two nights at our hotel!).
During our day in Athens, we took a morning tour of the Acropolis and Greek Agora, and spent the afternoon wandering all over the city. We visited Psyri, the Little Kook cafe (Alice in Wonderland/fairytale-themed cafe), walked around the neighborhood of Anafiotika, and admired markets and ruins we stumbled upon on the way.
Justin and I stayed at the Athens Avenue Hotel, a clean and modern accommodation in Athens. It’s about a 30 minute walk to many attractions, including the Acropolis, though it’s very easy to take a 5 minute Uber ride if you don’t feel like walking. We enjoyed our stay at this hotel, and you can book your stay at the Athens Avenue Hotel here. If you’re looking for something closer to the action, feel free to browse the handy map below for hotels and apartments.
Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece with a rich history. Justin and I walked from the cruise port all over the city, admiring ancient ruins along the way. Don’t miss checking out the Rotunda and Arch of Galerius, plus it’s just lovely to go for a stroll on the seaside.
It’s also a fantastic city for food. As we were wandering around, we stumbled upon a vegan-friendly crepe joint, as well as a delicious vegan fast food restaurant. Furthermore, like most places in Greece, there were cats everywhere (which I love!).
Kusadasi, Turkey (for Ephesus)
The port of Kusadasi in Turkiye is most famous for its proximity to Ephesus. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once an ancient port city and considered the most important trading center in the Mediterranean. Its gigantic amphitheater and the Library of Celsus are some of the most iconic ruins you can witness there.
Justin and I took the ship’s shore excursion to Ephesus with a knowledgeable tour guide. It is a really busy place to visit, especially in the middle of the day, and we went there with a very large group. Most tours include a stop for a carpet weaving demonstration with a sales pitch for the rugs.
I would have enjoyed more time at Ephesus on a smaller group tour and less time at the carpet shop, though most tours include these stopovers as a way to support those keeping this ancient art alive and thriving. I felt a little bit rushed at Ephesus. It was difficult to take photos, absorb my surroundings, and pay attention to the tour guide with only a little time in each area.
Heraklion is the port city and capital city of the island of Crete. The Palace of Knossos is one of the best things to do there, and you can easily take a shore excursion there (or a taxi, if you’d rather not take a guided tour). Justin and I decided to walk around Heraklion on our own, and we had a very enjoyable day.
We explored the old town, walked past the Koules Fortress, and admired some architecture around the city. There are lively markets with souvenirs, fresh produce and food. We also ventured to a less visited area in Heraklion, the old neighborhood of Lakkos. There’s some beautiful street art in this old area of the city that’s slowly being revitalized.
Santorini is one of the most famous Greek islands and it’s certainly one of the most picturesque. With its towns perched up high on the cliffs, there’s a beautiful view everywhere you look. We started our day by taking the cable car up to Fira (do NOT ride the donkeys to the top of the hill as the donkeys are not treated properly and it is very cruel). Wander around the whitewashed town of Fira, admiring the scenery, shopping, and dining.
Then, it’s really easy to take the public bus to the charming town of Oia. Oia is somehow even more beautiful than Fira with stunning panoramic scenes and the most idyllic places to watch the sunset. We walked around, ate gelato, took photographs, and loved every moment. With plenty of time in port (8:00am to 12:00am), we made the most of our time and loved experiencing the island later in the day with fewer tourists.
The quaint island of Syros was not on our original itinerary, but our cruise ship stopped there after we were unable to visit Mykonos due to high winds. The misfortunes of missing Mykonos were quickly remedied when we realized how magnificent Syros truly was!
We walked around the port town of Ermoupoli and embarked on a trek up a massive hill to the beautiful Ano Syros. This is where you can soak up some of the best views of Syros. We spent the rest of our day discovering picturesque alleyways filled with flowers, meeting adorable cats, sipping iced coffee from local cafes and more.
As it turned out, we did end up going to Mykonos after all! After a full day in Syros, the Celestyal Crystal sailed a short distance and docked in Mykonos in the evening. After enjoying dinner on the ship, Justin and I witnessed the most brilliant sunset in Mykonos as we got off the ship.
Then, Celestyal Cruises provided a short shuttle bus ride into town. We wandered around the cobblestone streets at dusk and into the night. The souvenir shops, restaurants and maze of streets remained full of tourists, and Mykonos offered an energetic nightlife scene.
Lastly, the Celestyal Crystal docked in Milos and we decided to have a fun beach day on this pretty island. Justin and I walked for about 20 minutes from the cruise port to the crystal clear waters of Papikinou Beach. We paid a small fee for two loungers and an umbrella and enjoyed a half day at the beach. Then, we returned to the ship for lunch.
After lunch, we took a taxi from the port to Sarakiniko Beach to discover its enchanting turquoise and deep blue waters, magical coves, and cliffs that look like the surface of the Moon. Its unlike any beach that I’ve ever seen in my life! After spending some time at the beach, we took the public bus back to the cruise port.
Celestyal Cruises vs Other Ocean Cruise Lines
One more thing that I wanted to note in this Celestyal Cruises review is that this cruise company may not be for everyone. Let’s compare and contrast Celestyal Cruises with other cruise lines that sail to Greece. Simply put, sail with Celestyal Cruises if you love visiting new ports each day and you’re less concerned with ship amenities.
On the positive side, you will venture to many smaller ports that the larger cruise ships cannot reach. This leads to discovering new destinations and in some cases, escaping the crowds. Speaking of crowds, since you are sailing on a smaller ship with fewer guests, we didn’t ever encounter lengthy lineups at the buffets. There was never a wait to enter any restaurants or main dining rooms as we’ve encountered with pretty much every other ocean cruise line.
Still on the topic of ports, you will spend a longer amount of time in each destination than other cruise ships. On most days, if there were other ships docked with us, they always arrived later than we did and left before us. For instance, in Santorini, our day in port lasted from 8:00am until midnight. In Mykonos, you’ll dock from 8:00am until 2:00am! You won’t feel like you’re rushing around as you’ll have the opportunity to spend more time in each place.
While some of the decor on the Celestyal Crystal appeared to be a bit dated, this cruise ship is being replaced by the new Celestyal Journey. Our cabin was perfectly comfortable and it was comparable to other cruise ships we’ve been on.
The staff on Celestyal Cruises goes above and beyond, and their service is among the best I’ve experienced on any cruise ships. We sailed on a mega cruise ship once in the past, and the staff seemed worn out and stretched a little too thin. This was exactly the opposite on the Celestyal Crystal.
Now, on the negative side, Celestyal Cruises is not the cruise company for you if you’re seeking continual entertainment on board. In fact, it’s pretty bare bones for amenities. There’s just one small pool on the Celestyal Crystal (two pools on Celestyal Olympia) and one jacuzzi at the back of the ship. There is one live production show each night, but not much other entertainment in the evening.
If you love dining at specialty restaurants, there aren’t any on the Celestyal Crystal. You can choose between the Leda Buffet or the main dining rooms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Justin and I don’t typically seek any specialty dining options, so this was perfect for us. However, if you’re someone who likes a wide variety of options, you may wish to choose another cruise.
There’s only one shop on the cruise ship offering duty free goods, snacks and essential items you may have forgotten to bring with you. You won’t find huge souvenir shops, jewelry stores or clothing stores like you might on some other cruise ships. This isn’t a deal breaker for me as I like to do most of my shopping in the port anyway.
If you have kids and they love extensive kids clubs programming, waterslides, arcade games and others, this won’t be the cruise line for you. Some families prefer larger ships for the seemingly endless choices for entertainment and activities. However, if your kids are happy going to the ports each day, enjoying the swimming pool and beaches, and eating yummy food, I feel like they’ll be happy on this holiday.
Celestyal Cruises Review: Cruise vs Taking the Ferry
Taking a cruise of the Greek Isles with Celestyal Cruises is an easy and painless way of getting around the islands. If you’re traveling by ferry, you will be able to spend more time at each island, perhaps days at a time. However, it won’t be an easy trek from the Greek Islands up to Thessaloniki or Kusadasi, Turkey. And you’ll likely need to get a visa to visit Turkey, which isn’t necessary if you’re visiting from a cruise ship for the day.
If you’re taking a cruise, you unpack once in your comfortable stateroom and don’t need to carry your luggage from one island to the next. You won’t need to figure out ferry schedules, join massive lines to get on and off the ferry, and you won’t need to carry your luggage to your hotel every time. The ship sails when you are sleeping, so you’ll wake up in a new place each day.
While we dined on many of the islands, we could have enjoyed every meal on board the cruise ship. You can enjoy an all-inclusive experience, including food and drink, with Celestyal Cruises, rather than have to pay for everything separately everywhere you travel.
You don’t really need to plan your trip, apart from flying to the cruise port and perhaps choosing your excursions. If you’re taking the ferry, you’ll need to book your hotels, plan your route and itinerary, book your ferry tickets, book your tour tickets, find restaurants or groceries, and the list goes on. A Greece cruise is the most relaxed way to see the Greek islands, hands down.
Celestyal Cruises Review: The Final Verdict
So, what’s the final verdict for our Celestyal Cruises review? All in all, we had a great experience on our Greek islands cruise. From its great value to the full days in different ports, this is the perfect vacation for a first time cruiser or a seasoned veteran. For us, the Celestyal Cruise experience was a wonderful one, and we wouldn’t hesitate to sail with them again.
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Celestyal Cruises Review: More Blog Posts From Greece
Would you like to read more articles specifically from this trip to Greece with Celestyal Cruises? We’re going to have more coming very soon! For now, please enjoy this article:
Thank you so much to Celestyal Cruises for hosting our cruise and our pre-night stay in Athens. The opinions, advice and recommendations that you read in this review reflect our honest opinions of this voyage.