A Song for Greece

Celestyal Olympia off Mykonos, Greece on April 30, 2018. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Piraeus / Mykonos, Greece; Monday, April 30, 2018

Celestyal Cruises’ Celestyal Olympia sat at her berth in Piraeus, Greece on an unusual cloudy and cool day. Thunderstorms in the late evening and early morning had threatened to spoil embarkation, but the rain held off and dry conditions prevailed for my first time aboard this storied and well-kept ship, which would shortly take us on a magnificent four-night cruise through the Greek Islands.

Our itinerary over the next four days would be a busy one, with port calls on Mykonos; Patmos; Rhodes; Heraklion; Santorini, Greece; and Kusadasi, Turkey.

Celestyal Olympia - Classic Aegean

Day 1Embark Piraeus; Mykonos, Greece
Day 2Kusadasi, Turkey;
Patmos, Greece
Day 3Rhodes, Greece
Day 4Heraklion;
Santorini, Greece

Celestyal Olympia, Reception Lobby, Deck 4. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Celestyal Olympia has a hugely storied past. She debuted in the fall of 1982 as Royal Caribbean’s Song of America. Entering service on December 5, 1982 from Miami, she was, at the time, the largest purpose-built ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet; the largest passenger ship built in Finland; the largest purpose-built cruise ship; and the largest ship to fly the Norwegian flag. Notably, she was also the first Royal Caribbean ship to have a Viking Crown Lounge that completely encircled the ship’s funnel uptakes; a design element that still survives for all onboard to enjoy.

As built, she was 37,584 gross tons, with a capacity for 1575 passengers. Today, she carries slightly more, with 1664 passengers occupying 724 cabins – the majority of which are oceanview, and nine of which feature private balconies. At 703 feet long and 93 feet wide, she’s a big ship, though bordering on small by today’s standards.

The former Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 12 is now the Horizons Lounge. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Song of America stayed in the Royal Caribbean fleet until 1999, when she was sold to Sun Cruises. She was sold to Louis Cruises – the precursor to Celestyal Cruises – in 2004, and was subsequently chartered to Thomson Cruises for nearly a decade. She returned to Louis in 2012, served as a floating hotel during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and was refitted and rebranded as Celestyal Olympia in late 2014.

The Argo Bar and Lounge…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…betrays its former life as Royal Caribbean’s Schooner Bar. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Celestyal Cruises has lovingly cared for Celestyal Olympia. While you’re not going to find any trendsetting décor onboard, you will find a classic cruise ship with cozy public rooms that have been exceedingly well-kept. Celestyal has been good about changing out soft furnishings and making technical upgrades throughout the service life of this three-and-a-half-decade old ship, and she looks every bit as good today as she did when she first sailed along Government Cut and into Miami in December of 1982.

Five Days in Greece

Preparing to set sail from Piraeus: Celestyal’s crew keep Olympia spotless. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Celestyal Olympia sails what I call the “Classic Greek Isles” itinerary: a five-day, Monday-to-Friday voyage that offers a ton of value by cramming as many ports into four nights as humanly possible.

To do that, Celestyal Olympia sets sail at Noon – and that means embarkation starts at 8:30am, and all-aboard is scheduled for 11:00am.

Kudos to Celestyal for one of the best embarkations ever. I arrived at the pier in Piraeus shortly after 8:30am to find minimal lines and only a handful of guests boarding. Most of the guests on these short Celestyal cruises are here as part of larger overland tours with companies like Globus and Trafalgar, so if you beat the coaches, you beat the rush.

Our Category XF Oceanview Stateroom is compact but very comfortable. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

The room has all the essentials, but don’t expect to spend much time here: the real fun is out on the ship and ashore. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Bathrooms are basic, but the shower size is fairly generous. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Embarkation took all of 15 minutes, and I arrived to find my Category XF Exterior Stateroom on Deck 6 forward ready for my arrival – at nine o’clock in the morning. I’m accustomed to boarding ships at Noon and having to wait until 2pm to access my stateroom, so this rapidity was a real treat.

Rooms aboard Celestyal Olympia are small, but we managed to unpack and find room for nearly everything we needed by keeping unused clothing in our suitcases underneath the bed. Our Category XF room had clearly been upgraded since the ship was built in 1992, but it still has a sort of early 2000’s look to it that, frankly, I find quite appealing.

Just remember: this itinerary is so jam-packed that you’ll be spending most of your time outside of your stateroom.

Cabin corridors aren’t quite as attractive…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…but the ship’s stairwells are classy and well-lit. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

The only area of the Celestyal Olympia that I am not in love with are the cabin corridors. They’re dark, brown, and dimly-lit. A splash of colour (or better lighting) would go a long way. But hey – how much time are you spending in the corridor anyhow? This is a minor quibble.

Promptly at Noon, Celestyal Olympia rumbled into life. Captain Stathis Romeos was on the starboard bridge wing as he guided the ship away from the berth, with Celestyal’s Majesty slipping away cross from us. Eagle-eyed cruisers will remember her as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Majesty.

Departing Piraeus…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…with Captain Romeos at the helm. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Passing Celestyal Majesty (left) and Celestyal Crystal (right) on our way out of Piraeus…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…and into the Aegean. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

I remember Captain Romeos from 18 years ago, when I sailed aboard now-defunct Royal Olympic Cruises’ pretty World Renaissance as part of a high-school trip. Both ship and line are now only memories of the past, but Captain Romeos still soldiers on, taking people each week to his fantastic homeland.

Mykonos Evenings

With a four-hour sail ahead of us before reaching Mykonos, most people quickly settled into their shipboard routines. We enjoyed a nice – if kind of chaotic – pool deck barbecue and set to sample the local beers up at the Thalassa Bar on Deck 10 forward, just behind the radar mast.

Sampling some local Greek beers up at the Thalassa Bar on Deck 10…Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

…while we sail to Mykonos. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

This is the best feature of Celestyal’s itineraries: moments of scenic cruising punctuated by ports of call.

Celestyal also doesn’t skimp on the activities when at sea. Our afternoon included Greek language lessons; arts and craft making classes; a Turkish language lesson (appropriate for our arrival into Kusadasi, Turkey the following morning); Zumba; and my favorite thing – plenty of live music throughout the ship.

Celestyal used to sail year-round in Cuba but has since abandoned those itineraries. The line did, however, bring some of their best and brightest Cuban staff with them, offering a trio of Cuban musicians in one lounge; a Greek music duo in another lounge; and a more traditional Caribbean-style band up on the pool deck. Absolutely fantastic offerings, and well better than what most lines offer on sea days.

Anchoring off Mykonos, on a stormy evening. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

At 4pm, we arrived in Mykonos and dropped anchor. Mykonos can be very windy, and today was no exception, with high winds and spray that buffeted our small tender all the way in.

While Celestyal offers excursions here, we elected to simply wander around and grab a local dinner before the all-aboard time of 10:30pm. It’s easy to lose yourself in this beautiful island in the Cyclades, and that’s the entire point: Mykonos is best explored on foot.

The best way to see Mykonos: on foot. Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Coming back onboard Celestyal Olympia, I was reminded of the first and only time I was here, 18 years ago. I was a teenager then, one who had never travelled outside of Canada before. Now, I’m in my mid-thirties and have been to over 70 different countries and have spent nearly three years at sea when you add up all the days. Mykonos might be busier and trendier than I remembered it, but it was no less magical – and it’s nice to see that Celestyal Cruises still offers this fantastic itinerary.

Photo © 2018 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report onboard Celestyal Cruises’ Celestyal Olympia will continue as we recount our day Kusadasi, Turkey and Patmos, Greece! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Celestyal Olympia - Classic Aegean

Day 1Embark Piraeus; Mykonos, Greece
Day 2Kusadasi, Turkey;
Patmos, Greece
Day 3Rhodes, Greece
Day 4Heraklion;
Santorini, Greece

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