Planning a shore day on Santorini with kids.
Our first port of call on this summer's Mediterranean cruise is the Greek island of Santorini where we will be anchored from 2pm-10pm. The crescent-shaped island of Santorini is part of the Cyclades chain in the Aegean Sea and is widely considered to be the most extraordinary of the Greek Islands. Ships drop anchor in the water-filled caldera that formed when the volcanic crater collapsed into the sea during an eruption some 3000 years ago. The villages of Santorini are perched atop the 300 metre high cliffs which are the rim of the still-active volcano. When most of us picture Greek islands it is likely images of Santorini and its white-washed buildings and blue-domed churches that come to mind. The stunning beauty of this island makes it one of the most popular of the Greek islands, particularly with honeymooners. So the question that I have been pondering for some time now is how to plan for a day on the picturesque, romantic island of Santorini with a couple of kids along.
Ships stop at one of two spots in the caldera and passengers are tendered to shore. Our ship's first stop will be in Athinios where passengers who are on the Celebrity shore excursions will be tendered to shore and motorcoaches will transport them to the cliff-top villages. The ship will then proceed to Skala Fira where the remaining passengers will be tendered to shore and either take the cable car or a donkey up the cliff side to the village of Fira. From what I have read the lines for the cable car can be quite long depending on how many ships are visiting Santorini on the same day and this potential delay needs to be taken into consideration when planning the day's excursion. I didn't outright dismiss the idea of riding a donkey up the steep cliffs but it didn't take long for me to decide that there was no way I was getting to Fira on the back of a beast of burden.
After having taken a number of factors into consideration I decided that for this port we would book a Celebrity shore excursion for the Village of Oia & Santorini Island. We will travel by motorcoach to the top of the caldera and have a scenic tour of the small villages of the island (from the coach) as we drive from the southern to the northern end of the island. We will have a walking tour of the beautiful village of Oia and then a stop at a local winery before concluding the tour at the hilltop village of Fira.
My primary concern was that with a mid-afternoon arrival at Athinios that by the time we arrived at Skala Fira, tendered to shore and waited in the cable car line that it could easily be 5pm before we set foot in the village of Fira. Traveling with an 8 year old this would likely mean that we would have to skip the village of Oia (or Ia) which is the most-photographed village in the Aegean and opt to spend just a couple of hours in Fira before returning to the ship. By booking a shore excursion with the cruise line we will be able to tender at Athinios for the 2:15pm departure of our 3.5hour tour which will take us to the village of Oia and then on to Fira (by 5:45pm) where we can explore independently and return down the cable car to the ship at our leisure.
There are definitely disadvantages to this approach. For one, we will be touring on a coach bus full of people and I know from experience that I don't like this method of sightseeing because I like to stop when I see something I like (generally to take photographs) and it's hard to do that and remain with your group. Secondly, the tour stops at a winery for snacks and a wine-tasting which I suspect is the thinly-disguised shopping opportunity that always seems to be part and parcel of a shore excursion and which drives me crazy. I swore that after our last experience with a cruise line's shore excursion (in Gdansk) that I would never do that again but here I am eating my words. I am hoping that being able to get off the ship earlier and see both Oia and Fira will outweigh the disadvantage of having to remain with a group tour for 3.5 hours and that we will have an enjoyable family outing in Santorini. Time will tell whether I have made the right choice or a disastrous one!
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