Visiting Santorini by cruise ship
Visiting Santorini by cruise ship was one of the highlights of our trip around Greece on P&O Oceana in September 2018. This was our second port day and you can read about our sea days here and stop at Pireaus in Greece here.
It’s fair to say it was the destination I was most looking forward to visiting. I am a traveller who tends to research and plan for hours before travelling but this was the one time that I could have enjoyed a better stop if I’d paid more attention.
I hope by reading this I can help you enjoy a day when visiting Santorini by cruise ship.
Holidays in Santorini is the dream of a lifetime for many people. As this is the top tourist destination in Greece, the island is famous for the impressive caldera, the volcano and the romantic sunset. In fact, it is frequently included among the best destinations in the world. Over the last years, tourist season has extended in Santorini, from early April until early November due to the many cruise ships that dock there. Source: www.greeka.com
When you arrive by sea, there is no confusing the island of Santorini. Dazzling white houses cling to the edge of vertical, rocky cliffs against azure blue waters. The most southern of the Cyclades islands, it is surrounded by Thirasia and Aspronisi, which were once part of a large volcanic island. Considered by many to be the site of the “Lost City of Atlantis”, this magical little island glimmers from the fading sun as many watch its decent from the numerous bars and cafés at the water’s edge.
Arriving on Santorini from a cruise ship
Our cruise ship P&O Oceana docked in the sea offshore from the old port of Fira and we were transferred to the Island by tender. As we had a balcony cabin we could see the tenders being loaded and passengers being ferried across. We found this beneficial as we could see when the initial hustle and bustle had ended and we could enjoy a less crowded boat and a relaxed trip across. This short boat trip itself was a real treat.
When you arrive at the Old Port of Fira there are 3 ways to get up to the cliff tops so that you can explore the town and travel further afield on the Island.
The 3 choices to get into Fira town are Cable car, walk up the 600 steps into the town or ride a donkey to take you up the steps.
At this point I would state that I do not in anyway endorse anyone riding the donkeys. There is mounting objections, quite rightly too to these poor creatures being used for tourists. Heavy overweight tourists are being carried and causing injury. There are even gathering campaigns for cruise ships to boycott Santorini until the donkey transfer is discontinued. Therefore I will not discuss this option
If you choose to walk I would suggest that you would have to be super fit to manage this climb! I only climbed a few whilst at the top and they nearly killed me. Also by walking you will have to look at the poor donkeys of Santorini and walk through piles of donkey droppings!
Santorini Cable Car
Having said what I have done so far you can guess that we used the cable car. During my pre cruise research I had read of there being long queues to actually get on the car. It was a blisteringly hot day in the high 30 degrees and thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long. I also have to give a big shout out to P&O who provide shade and cold water, either plain or infused with fruits to provide refreshments in the heat. The cable car looks modern and in great working order. The fee was around 6 Euro’s each if I remember correctly. Now at this stage I have to confess that one of my fears and phobias is heights. We shared our carriage with 2 older ladies who teased me all the way up after I sat there with my eyes closed gripping my husbands knee! I have been on other cable cars that I have tolerated better. It’s quite jerky as it passes over the upright towers. If you wish to see what it is like there are several videos on Youtube showing the journey.
As you may have read in my other posts about this cruise, we chose not to participate in any of the bookable excursions. Mr Fitz and I like to just stroll and explore ourselves, we viewed each Port as a taster of the destination. We had no desire to be off the ship for long periods, especially as it was so hot. Once we arrived at Fira we initially found ourselves on the main street. It was a typical small town with cafe’s, restaurants and gift shops, added to this the roadway was busy with cars and kamikaze scooters! We just ambled about and initially found ourselves ambling around and found ourselves following more dusty roads dodging psycho scooter riders! We don’t tend to use maps we like to just drift and see what we see. After a change of direction we found ourselves heading back towards the cliffs. I have to confess here that my research and homework fell short and I had missed something vital which I will expand on later in this post!
Again I cannot reiterate for a fair skinned celtic skinned woman like myself the heat was becoming unbearable! Even my sun loving husband was finding it hard going. Once we were back near the cliffs we found a network of small pathways between houses and hotels. I’ve taken a little bit of video footage to provide a taste of how lovely it is.
We found a little hotel with a cafe which seemed to provide art classes to tourists. There were several people sat around the edge of the terrace drawing and painting. This lovely quaint hotel was painted in the colours of blue and white, that are synonymous with the Island. It provided much needed refreshment and shade. I tried a traditional Greek coffee which was very strong and enjoyable.
We then decided to make our way back to the cable car and return to the beautiful Oceana. We continued in the warren of small alleyways and found ourselves on the steps that climb up to the top. Boy they are challenging in the heat! It wasn’t just me that was struggling, even though it was September the temperatures were higher than the seasonal norm. We saw a few people struggling and overcome. We had carried water in our rucksack and I think that is an absolute must when on a Port Day. I packed 2 budget lightweight plastic water bottles and filled them up each day. You cannot always rely on having water to hand if you feel a little light headed in the heat.
There are some fabulous gift shops selling jewellery and gifts. I treated myself to a small necklace as a souvenir, another confession here – another of my addictions is to jewellery and accessories! Besides the normal tourist souvenirs, Santorini is full of one-of-a-kind boutiques and galleries and interesting shops that sell local arts and crafts and things that you wont find in Athens. There are over 40 jewelry stores, most of them on the main street in Fira which is how it got the name ‘Gold Street’ – Ypapantis Street is it’s real name. This street is considered to be one the biggest Gold markets in Greece.
Following the descent by cable car P&O staff were there again with shade and cool courtesy refreshments whilst we waited to board a tender back to the ship. Again I am going to say that the trip across by the tender is really relaxing and part of the whole experience of visiting Santorini by cruise ship.
Do your research
If you are planning to visit Santorini by cruise ship then do your research and don’t make the mistake that we did. Whilst we were walking around Fira we were looking for the viewpoint that is symbolic with Santorini – the white buildings with blue domed roofs on the cliff edge. We found similar but not that one! It wasn’t helped that in Fira we couldn’t find many signs to help guide our way.
After returning back to our cruise ship I decided to read a little more about the destination – that was when I had my light bulb moment, (my menopausal brain fog provides many of these, when I remember what I’d read or learned previously!) The iconic view is not in Fira but Oia. On reflection if we had taken an alternate route we could have improved our experience. This is the information I am offering to you to hopefully help you.
A fun way is after arrival by tender is to book a 20 minute boat transfer from the old port to Ammoudi Port in Oia for around 8 Euro’s. This includes a bus trip to Oia Town where you can spend a few hours, then take a half hour bus trip back to Fira. There is no return boat transfer from Ammoudi to Fira by boat.
By doing this you can maximise your visit to Santorini in the time you have available ashore.
Of course you can always participate in one of your Ferry companies planned excursions when visiting Santorini by cruise ship if you like to be looked after and are nervous doing your own thing. That’s the beauty of a cruise holiday – it caters for all tastes!
If you’ve visited Santorini or taken a cruise holiday I’d love to hear your highlights.
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