Sailing the Greek Isles - where myths become reality
THE mere mention of Greek islands conjures up a picture of sun-splashed land jutting abruptly out of lapis-blue water. This image makes you want to drop everything and go - to see for yourself. If you do plan a Greek islands trip, you may find yourself on one of several Greek-owned Epirotiki ships, a line that began back in 1954. ``That was the year that Epirotiki teamed up with the new National Tourist Organization to convert a small liner, the MV Semiramis, into a cruise ship,'' said Andreas Paliuras, purser of the MTS Oceanos. He added, ``Its first cruise carried 150 passengers, including several journalists, who loved it and went home to write about it.'' The experiment proved to be most successful.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, of the nearly 30 cruise ships sailing in the Aegean and Mediterranean waters, 11 are owned by Epirotiki.
My husband and I sailed from Piraeus, the port of Athens. On our return, several of Epirotiki's ships were dockside at one time: the small Neptune, the mid-sized Atlas, the large World Renaissance, and our mid-sized ship, Oceanos. It was an impressive fleet, with most ships easily identified by their cream-colored hulls and white tops, and unique blue smokestacks sporting the insignia of a stylized gold Byzantine cross.
To understand why so many of the ships were in port at one time, it's important to know of the variety of cruises offered by Epirotiki. The line offers Mediterranean trips lasting 1, 3, 4, 7, 14, or 20 days, from May to October. We were there in October.
Most package tours to Greece include a cruise segment. Itineraries from Athens vary in ports of call so that a visitor can return many times and sail to different islands. Our seven-day cruise was part of a 14-day Trans World Airlines Getaway package with three days in Athens before the cruise and a 3-day motorcoach land trip following it. The itinerary included a stop on the island of Rhodes, the ports of Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt; Ashdod, Israel; the island of Patmos; Kusadasi, Turkey; and back to Piraeus. Optional shore excursions were available in each port.
Incidentally, this summer may be a bumper year for travel to Greece, as the exchange rate is favorable and tours take advantage of pre-booked fixed hotel rates along with air and shipboard costs. The biggest savings may be in cruises that include meals and entertainment.
Room with a view
On board the Oceanos, we were pleased with the layout of the ship, which has a large protected rear-deck space for enjoying the sun, the pool, and views of the sea and islands.
Cabins on the Epirotiki ships are attractive, as are the common rooms with themes from famous Greek legends and myths, rendered in strong, clear colors in plush wall decorations, statuary, mosaics, and paintings. Artist Arminio Lozzi and movie set designer Maurice Bailey collaborated on the d'ecor.
The cabins were comfortable though not enormous. Ours had a double bed. Some have an extra fold-down berth to accommodate a third person at a reduced rate. Prices quoted for most packages include inside cabins on lower decks, with an added charge for a cabin with a porthole. We opted for the view.
Food with a Greek flair
The Oceanos specializes in Continental cuisine and features a wide variety of food with a definite Greek flair - which we enjoyed. Theme nights on board coordinate meals, entertainment, and dress - such as Greek Night, when we had Greek dishes, wore the flag colors of blue and white, and watched a Greek entertainment.
In typical cruise fashion, there were numerous courses and generous servings at mealtime, starting with delicately flavored seafood appetizers, tasty soups, and salads generously heaped with late-season tomatoes, cucumbers, and Greek olives. Then came the entrees of native fish, lamb, beef, and pork, with a good variety of vegetables.