An Unnecessary Warning Before We Get Started
I kind of hate to do this to you, but I feel like I need to.
---I hate it when I'm trying to get to a recipe that I've found on Pinterest and I have to scroll through a backstory or anecdote that is twelve paragraphs long before I am told how to bake a batch of muffins. Like... just tell me what temperature the oven needs to be and how much vanilla and get on with it.---
And yet, here I am... Giving the dreaded background. Enjoy.
The Dreaded Background Pretty Much Everyone Skips
I'll skip *some* details because you can see some of them in my bio on the website if you really want to know them.
In December of last year, I finished all of my required courses and I graduated (with honors, mind you) from Indiana University! Being in my mid-thirties, I have the urge to let you know that this was not my first degree, I have a lot of kids and I run a business so take from that what you will.
My degree is in anthropology (with a minor in creative writing... I thought it would help me with my blogs I suppose). I love history, archaeology, cultures of the world, and having new experiences PLUS it fits with my actual business as the owner of a travel agency so, yeah, I am an official anthropologist as of December!
The Meat and Potatoes of it All
Wow, that was fast! We have arrived at our destination!
(Did you catch that travel pun? Because this is a travel page... Get it? We have fun like that...)
My background in anthropology (because I'm an official anthropologist now with a piece of paper to prove it) is part of the reason why I chose to cruise with Celestyal Cruises for my cruise around the Aegean!
There are a number of excellent cruise lines that offer cruises to the same destinations as the itinerary we went on (Virgin Voyages, Celebrity, Norwegian, just to name a few). I chose Celestyal because it offers a much more "authentic" experience. Celestyal is not a world-wide cruise line. They have two ships (soon to be three) in their fleet and their focus is primarily on the destinations they visit! I say it like that for a reason... You'll see why in a minute.
Our itinerary was Celestyal's Idyllic Aegean itinerary aboard the Celestyal Crystal. This is what our itinerary was like:
Starting out in Athens was AWESOME! I'm going to do another post very soon about our experience there, along with some hotel and tour recommendations so make sure you are subscribed so you don't miss it! In the meantime, here a few of my favorite pictures from our day there just to tide you over! If you really just can't wait, or you simply love great travel content, you can follow me on >>Facebook<<! I have a lot of stuff about the trip on there!
P.S. --- We booked our Athens excursions via my favorite excursion company, Project Expedition! They have tons of options WORLDWIDE!
Check them out here or click on their logo below: Project Expedition
Why did we choose Celestyal over all of the other cruise lines?
To be honest, there's not really one solid answer. There were several factors that we considered which I *know* some of you guys consider, too, when making your own travel plans. Here is a list I came up with to show, in a very roundabout way, how we arrived at our decision!
- I love cruising and my husband could take it or leave it. He would much rather be exploring on land every day, and if I'm being truthful, I sometimes feel the same way. I know that kind of makes it sound like a cruise isn't the best idea for us... But just hear me out! Most cruise lines will have at least one "Sea Day" and on those days you are free to do whatever you want onboard the ship. A lot of cruise lines have water slides, pools, entertainment, trivia, games, casino, shopping, and a lot of other things to keep you occupied. There are cruisers who absolutely love Sea Days, there are those like me who don't love them, don't hate them, and then there's Kyle. He is his own category. With Celestyal, there are no sea days. Remember when I said they focus on the destinations? They really do. You are in a port every. single. day! How great is that for people like Kyle? The answer: Very.
- The price was right. I don't know who hosts that show anymore, but even they would agree that the price of Celestyal is not only competitive, but it is also doable for budgets of most sizes. Our budget? Spending too much puts us in Jeopardy. If you are a cruiser who views the ship as a destination, this may or may not be the ship or cruise line for you. The accommodations in your stateroom are comfortable, but I would not consider them "luxury"... more traditional Greek/ European and less over-the-top American. We had zero complaints about our room. Considering how little we were actually in it, it would have been a waste of our hard earned money to pay extra just for a different "aesthetic". Without a waterpark, tons of somewhat wasteful fast food/ fast-casual dining everywhere you turn, and other extra amenities of a larger ship (which we did not care about for this trip) you don't see that high price tag. If there were sea days we might have missed those amenities, but because we were in port every day we literally never once cared about not having a Guy's Burger or a rock climbing wall. You aren't paying for all of the extra bells and whistles that you pay for on other ships sometimes.
- The smaller ship. Don't get me wrong, I love the big ships (and I can not lie). However, this trip was for our wedding anniversary and we wanted something a little less... busy. On Crystal, we never got lost like I have done on other ships. We saw many of the same faces each day which was nice because we got to know some people--- which we normally don't do on bigger cruise ships. The restaurants, theater, and other venues were less crowded and more intimate. We never had to wait for a table at dinner and never had to fight our way across the ledo/ lido deck to get to a table like we have had to do on other cruise lines, and we always found a good and comfy spot to sit in the theater to watch the live performances each night.
- The food. I don't know if you have cruised lately, but some of the lines that used to get rave reviews about their food are starting to get more and more negative reviews. We are by no means picky eaters. If you've tasted my home cooking and you look at my somehow-still-well-nourished family you know we willingly eat just about anything. But this was a special trip (sans children) so we did want to spoil ourselves a little bit. In my travel circles, Celestyal dinners got high marks for taste, freshness, presentation, and service. While they don't have a ton of menu items to choose from in each category every night, the selection is still well thought out and something for everyone. I feel like this is one reason why the food is so good. They aren't trying to prepare a ton of different types of meals every night and they can focus on the carefully curated menu items and make them amazing each time! We were blown away by our dinner each night. I know I said we are easy to please, but still... The food onboard this ship was the best food I have ever tasted in my life. Plus--- we never paid anything extra for these scrumptious meals. You can order specialty items at dinner at an additional charge but we did not see the need as we were already satisfied with the included items!
- The demographics. Our fellow guests were from all over the world! Americans, Greeks, Australians, Japanese, Turkish, and many other nationalities! They have to do the announcements in 4-5 different languages each time because of the diversity! If you like meeting people from everywhere you will enjoy this experience. It is a great opportunity to learn about other people and places! Another demographic that we enjoyed (and don't take this the wrong way) was the age demographic. Most of the cruisers are... well... adults. While we love kids (we do have a lot of them ourselves) we kind of wanted something that was geared more toward "grown-ups". There are things for kids onboard, of course... but if your kids are used to cruises with waterslides, character meet and greets, or go-karts and ice skating rinks this may not be the cruise to bring them on. You know your kids so just be discerning when booking this type of cruise. On our cruise there were several families with smaller kids and they seemed to be enjoying the pool onboard and exploring the ports/ sightseeing as a family! But we enjoyed not having a lot of kids running wild as you see on other lines as we were really looking to have some quiet R&R this time around. Maybe that sounds bad but it was a deciding factor for us this go-round. With that, the onboard activities were seemingly more geared toward adults. They had cocktail lessons, cooking demonstrations, dance classes, wine tasting, just to name a few of the activities.
- The Immersion into history and culture. Celestyal takes pride in offering a lot of cultural experiences not only onboard but also on land in each port. Onboard you can learn how to prepare Greek cuisine, learn some phrases in Greek, watch a live performance depicting Greek gods and mythology, and meet people from all over the world (including Greece, obviously). On shore many of the excursions offer trips to UNESCO or other important archaeological sites, and a chance to eat fresh cuisine at a local restaurant. Each excursion also includes being led by an expert guide who will not only take you around where you need to go but also provide in-depth insights and knowledge about the places they show you. We learned a lot more than just what we read on plaques or handouts from the sites thanks to the wonderful guides we had. We wanted to be able to learn as we explored and Celestyal really is top notch in this area. When you get your excursion tickets on the first day of your cruise, they give you headphones that will plug into "whisper" devices that are passed out for many of the excursions. The whisper allows you to easily hear what your guide is saying even if you are in a crowded area, in a different part of the site, or in the back of the tour bus where it may be hard to hear what they are saying during the driving portions. That came in so handy because we didn't miss anything the guides had to tell us even if we were not physically standing near them.
Before I get to the rest of my review, check out my video of the nightly LIVE entertainment onboard Crystal!
I don't really have enough "cons" to make a pros and cons list. That's weird to admit because, according to the hubsters, I generally love looking for things to complain about.
He ain't wrong.
So instead, I figured I'd give you some of my "notes"... things that stood out or might be helpful to know for first timers.
1) Men CAN NOT wear shorts to dinner. I bought Kyle some nice pants to wear anyway, but on night #1 he had on shorts and the hostess asked him to please put on pants... I seconded the motion.
2) There are different levels of drink packages available. Your drink package level is actually shown on your key card / boarding card and they will ask you for it every single time you order a drink (unless you stay in one spot and just keep ordering the same thing... then we noticed they don't do that for 2nds or 3rds). Yes, they even ask to see it when ordering a plain old glass of ice water. KNOW YOUR PACKAGE INCUSIONS! Some packages include classic drinks such as soda, basic coffee, alcoholic beverages up to a certain dollar amount, etc. Some include all drinks, milkshakes, specialty coffees, etc. If it is not included in your package, they will tell you it will be an additional charge to your account. We had the classic package, so we had drinks like mai tais, harvey wallbangers, fruit punch, soda, and more included but not any of the more expensive cocktails or milkshakes and stuff like that.
3) Keep your plans flexible! This has nothing to do with the cruise line or the ship, really. It's more to do with mother nature. I had been super excited about or day in Mykonos because I wanted to do a specific excursion. Well, unfortunately the water was too choppy that morning so we could not safely tender to port. Instead of just keeping us on the ship all day, we ended up getting to visit the port in Syros for several hours and THEN spent the evening in Mykonos. Not gonna lie, I was a grumpy gills that morning despite my best efforts to not be. My brain wasn't ready for the change.
4) Learn to love olive oil. If not, you will die. All dramatics aside, you'll eat a lot of things that have olive oil in and on them. I love olive oil but if you aren't a fan you will have a smaller amount of options than the rest of us. ALSO--- if you go to buy olive oil in the ports they will put samples in cups and watch you drink it like a shot of tequila. I was not prepared for that but I did buy my grandma some very tasty olive oil.
5) Avoid getting a stateroom in the lower front of the ship if you can. We were in room 4002 and the noise from the ship was very loud at times. As I mentioned before, we have a boatload of kids so the clanging and banging and thumping sounds didn't really effect us too terribly but if we had a choice we would definitely choose a different location next time. Perhaps a higher floor in the middle would be less thumpity-bumpity?
6) If it is your anniversary or a special occasion--- tell them! You can get a special cake and song! Here is a video of our anniversary dinner where they brought us a balloon, a delicious cake, and sang us a song and then I cried publicly. Enjoy. Or don't enjoy. Your choice. They did different songs for different couples if there were multiple anniversaries and they also sang for birthdays as well. If you go through me as your Travel Agent I will make a note of the occasion on your booking, too!
7) There is a small gym onboard. If you find some time for fitness after drinking shots of olive oil, there *is* a small gym. There are several treadmills and some machines and free weights for you to use. We worked out one time while onboard and it was quiet and definitely not crowded at all which was nice because I am anti-social when I work out. If you like working out, bring your workout clothes. With the itinerary usually being full, you may or may not have time but having the option is nice!
8) Passengers who book excursions get priority debarkation at the ports and the process is VERY easy! If you book an excursion through Celestyal, you get off the ship first, and those who are planning on exploring on their own will get off the ship right after that (or whenever they want, really). We had excursions booked every day so we got used to the process really quickly. The night beforehand you will get number stickers delivered to your stateroom which correspond to the bus number you are assigned for your excursion. In the morning, all excursion participants put on their stickers and go to the theater. There, you wait for a very short time until they call your bus number and everyone on your tour debarks at that time. It is so, so easy and very quick to get to where you need to be!
This is an example of the bus number sticker here in this photo of me in Ephesus:
9) The queen sized bed is two beds pushed together. This is actually pretty typical for cruise ships, regardless of what line you're cruising on. This is so that they can easily separate them into two beds or push together into a queen to suit the needs of the guests in each room. However, what was different on the Crystal was that they actually completely made up the beds separately, so if you want to cuddle or what-have-you you have to pull up all of the blankets because they are tightly tucked in in the middle of the two beds and you can't get to each other without doing what is basically strength training trying to pull them up.
10) Excursions can be cancelled if not enough people sign up. That's right. If you pre-book an excursion there is a small chance that it may be canceled due to lack of participation. This happened to us for our tour we had planned in Thessaloniki. However, we were given the choice of taking a refund, getting the funds as onboard credit, or applying the money to a new excursion. We booked a new excursion and the remaining amount went toward our onboard spending account as a credit. We then used that to help offset the cost of the internet package we were purchasing. The excursion we did end up doing, which I will tell you guys alllll about in another post later, ended up being a lot of fun and very informative in regards to the history of Thessaloniki, Alexander the Great, Phillip the 2nd, and more! So it was still a positive experience!
I'm sure I will think of more things I want to add the minute I actually publish this. That is how it ALWAYS goes. And then I will think of something ELSE next week. But for now, this is my final summation of the Celestyal Crystal:
If you are a solo adult, a couple, a friend group, or a family looking for a more laid back cruise experience, great food, just the right amount of live entertainment, cultural immersion and to experience history up close and personal, Celestyal Crystal might be the cruise ship for you! If you like to meet new people from all over the world, this is the perfect cruise for it!
If you are a family with young kids who are looking for a lot of different activities onboard the ship, this might not be the cruise ship for you. Yes there are kids activities and a pool, but there are not the bells and whistles like what you would find on Disney or Celebrity, etc. If you are looking for a luxury ship with luxury accommodations, honey this ain't it. It is an extremely nice ship, incredibly clean and well maintained but "luxury" is not a word I would use. I would say "high quality".
If you are looking for an adventure in a different port every single day then this is definitely the ship and itinerary for you. We came home renewed but also worn out! If you want to learn, learn, learn like we do then hop onboard because you're about to get a great education!
Just a gentle reminder: I *am* a travel agent and my services are COMPLIMENTARY! I am available to get you a quote, help you plan, and answer any questions that you might have! I would love to help you decide if a cruise on the Crystal is right for you!
Celestyal Crystal: 1 out of 1 Anthropologist approves!