Today we reached Santorini (pictured), a cluster of white buildings perched so precariously high on a clifftop you fear they might all come tumbling down into the bright blue sea. After a cable car ride that is not for the faint-hearted, you’ll discover lots of little stores dotted around, piled high with memorabilia guaranteed to make visitors part from their hard-earned cash.
The ubiquitous blue of Greek’s national flag has been press-ganged into service everywhere in the island’s capital of Fira and is used to sell t-shirts, handbags, kitchenware, jewellery, you name it. My top tip would be this: invest in a stout pair of walking shoes, or trainers at the very least, because the cobbled streets are smooth to the point of being slippery, having been worn away by the passing feet of thousands of tourists over the years.
In fact, the place is clearly a victim of its own success: undeniably gorgeous, but now so popular that you can barely move an inch without banging into someone taking a selfie, buying a fridge magnet, or ordering an ouzo. Those who wish to discover a more authentic side to the island might like to try one of the excursions on offer, which include a visit to its volcano, or a trip to the region of Perissa in the southeast where you’ll find the ruins of a must-see archaeological site at the ancient settlement of Thira.
Returning to the ship, I decide to try out the fish tavern: an additional charge of €36.95 applies, but I’m pleased to report it’s worth every penny. Chef Reda from Egypt serves up a cornucopia of amazing seafood courses, starting off with super-tasty dips that include pesto and the aubergine-based Baba ghanoush, followed by mussels in a garlic sauce and then amazing lobster pappardelle (pictured left) – the meaty crustacean is super tender and flavoursome, pan-fried to perfection.
There’s one other couple dining and, since I notice they’re quite a bit younger than your average cruisers, I can’t resist asking them how they come to be on board. Dan and Natalie hail from Chicago and Dan recounts the story of how he won the cruise as a prize on gameshow The Price is Right; apparently, Dan’s mother hasn’t quite forgiven him for not taking her as his plus-one instead of his bubbly, blonde girlfriend, but she’s sure to come around in time.
As it’s their first time on a cruise, the all-American couple turn to me for advice on a delicate matter that is troubling them a great deal: the thorny topic of tipping. Since failing to tip your server at a dining establishment in the US is tantamount to committing second-degree homicide, they’re concerned about the set-up on board but I’m happy to reassure them that all gratuities are included in the price of the cruise.
I pop into the open-air Helios Bar for a nightcap on my way back to my cabin; Zeus deck is my favourite part of the ship – home to a bar, dancefloor and solarium, it brilliantly combines my three favourite activities in one fell swoop. Waiters Nelson and Ivan both come from Cuba so are chatting happily away to Spanish guests, who form a large contingent on board; the cruise has a lovely, cosmopolitan mix of passengers, with a sprinkling of French, Latin American, Australian, Canadian and Eastern Europeans, as well as Greek cruisers.
As I sip on a Tipsy Mermaid (the drinks on this menu have the best names), I wonder what to wear to the captain’s cocktail party tomorrow night and look forward to discovering the treasures that Crete has to offer when we arrive there in the morning. “Choose cruise” is one of industry body CLIA’s most popular hashtags and at this point in my trip I can’t honestly think of a better way to travel…