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View from abroad: round trip from Athens on Celestyal Cruises, chapter 1

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In this regular blog, the CTN team report back from their trips on the high seas: in this edition editor Colette Doyle is sailing round the Greek islands on Celestyal Cruises’ Crystal

My arrival in Athens courtesy of Aegean Airlines was a pleasantly retro experience; authentically Greek in ambience (I was even sat next to an Orthodox priest garbed all in black with obligatory beard) and offering a full meal service, replete with a delicious sesame seed and honey cake, a rarity nowadays on such a short flight.

I breezed through Customs but fell at the baggage reclaim hurdle: just as I began to despair of ever being reunited with my trusty neon orange case, at last (after a fraught 40 minutes or so) it emerged resplendent from the darkness of the baggage-handling chute.

Luckily, taxi driver Manos was waiting outside and swiftly ferried me down to the port of Piraeus, which is around a 40-minute drive from the airport; on the way we made the obligatory small talk that you have with taxi drivers wherever you are in the world. We chatted about Brexit, the troubled economy and the reprehensible behaviour of the local youth (in this case manifested by some rather spectacular graffiti).

At port security, to my dismay, some contraband material was found in my case: apparently, travel irons are a real no-on on Celestyal and I was required to hand it in for safe keeping. (I do take their point, as of course it might constitute a health & safety hazard, but it has come in handy in the course of my travels on more than one occasion, especially when you don’t have time for the in-house laundry service). Not wishing to be branded a twisted fire-starter, I duly complied.

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Celestyal Crystal in all its glory

As I arrived on board my luggage was whisked away by an obliging crew member and I was shown to my seat at the Olympus restaurant. Andy from the Philippines made my night with his cheeky chap patter (apparently, I’m the spitting image of some local Filipina celebrity; let’s just hope it’s not Imelda Marcos).

Dinner offered a good choice of classic Mediterranean staples; I opted for prosciutto and melon followed by shrimp Caesar salad. More upmarket fare is also available for a small supplement, but the standard menu was more than satisfactory and the house wine free-flowing (drinks packages can be purchased prior to boarding and cover lots of options, including cocktails, but do file your credit card with reception just in case you want to splash out on a ‘premium’ beverage not included in the standard package).

This morning, after breakfast in the Leda lounge on deck 9 (a good choice of European favourites, including hot food, cold cuts and delicious Greek pastries known as Bougatsa), I met the affable Ahmed and Nura, the stewards who will be looking after my cabin during my trip. Plied with fragrant-smelling fresh towels and exhortations that nothing was too much trouble, I wondered idly whether they might consider doing a stint at my flat in London if they ever get fed up of a life at sea.

The ship is in Mykonos today and shuttle buses run every half an hour from the port of Tourlos. I have signed up for a trip to Super Paradise: despite the ecclesiastical sounding name, this isn’t some spiritual conversion course but rather a fancy beach club. The beauty of this itinerary is that rather than leaving the resort this evening as is cruise convention, Crystal will remain in port until 6am tomorrow, leaving me and the other 800-odd passengers to enjoy the nightlife on offer in this gorgeous Greek idyll.

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