Not take a cruise yet? Wonder if you might feel claustrophobic or feel seasick? Well as a sufferer of both conditions I can tell you that neither affected me on my first cruise.
Instead cruising was an experience very like what you see on the adverts, sitting in the pool on deck watching the children play and looking out to sea at the endlessly changing vista. The food was amazing and there was something for everyone to do. No doubt any of your friends who have cruised will also tell you this type of holiday has a lot to recommend it. Here are some of the reasons you should give it a try.
1. Great value for money
Fares include food, accommodation, daytime and evening entertainment and transfers. On land for a hotel, dinner and a show you could pay considerably more for the same standard. There are often even better deals including free kids places, drinks packages and more. Luxury cruise lines are even more inclusive, drinks, gratuities, shore excursions, onboard credits, and even flights packaged into the fare.
2. Unpack once
You float from one destination to the other without having the hassle of getting on and off trains, planes and automobiles! Choose your cruise dependent on the ports of call you wish to visit and then just relax.
3. Stress-free planning
If you don't want the hassle of planning your itinerary before you go on holiday then a cruise is the perfect choice. Once you book you just need to turn up! All the details are planned for you and all you really have to do is choose the destination, the dates and the shore excursions you wish to take. It really is a relaxing way to vacation.
4. Fun for all ages
There is entertainment to suit your whole intergenerational party. Many cruise lines now feature a range of activities for the kids split into different age ranges. From rock climbing to zip wires, kids clubs to surf simulators, video games to dancing. But cruises don't just entertain the young, there are top class shows, lectures, cookery classes, spas, exercise classes and much, much more for the adults - no matter what age. So take your grandchildren, children or just cruise as a couple, you'll find all you need to keep you busy, happy and entertained.
5. Great range of ship styles
Cruises are no longer a 'one size fits all' holiday. The ideal ship may be a 'mega-liner' with all the amenities from outdoor cinemas to skydiving simulators. You may prefer a smaller, more intimate cruise experience with old-style elegance. More of an explorer? Choose one of the newer ships which are being purpose built to cruise the less explored destinations of Antarctica or the Amazon. Alternatively pick the ultimate luxury of a clipper ship or a smaller vessel with impeccable service and amenities. Whatever your style there is a ship to suit you.
6. A world within a world
Cruise liners are like miniature worlds of their own. If you left something at home, need to wash your clothes, have health issues or just need to keep in touch with your loved ones there are ways to do this onboard. So ships are equipped with onboard shops, laundries, medical facilities, Wi-Fi and many other useful services as well as all the fun stuff.
7. Sightsee with ease
Nervous of sightseeing in an exotic destination on your own? Worried about the language barrier? No problem. Explore with the shore excursions arranged by the cruise lines. With these you will be transported from the ship to the sightseeing location with crew or a local guide (or both). This gives you the security of a group as well as local knowledge and English-speaking guides. Alternatively you can always team up with other passengers to share a taxi or a local guide.
8. Cruising is romantic
A cruise provides lots of together time. The sweeping vistas passing by, the wind in your hair and being on deck under the twinkling stars can certainly set the mood for romance. Take the love of your life with you or perhaps you'll find that special someone onboard. Don't forget, cruise lines can do special packages for honeymoons, anniversaries and you can even get married onboard.
9. A social occasion
A cruise gives you plenty of opportunity to mix and mingle. There are people from home and from all over the world who cruise and you may meet them at the pool, at the dinner table or in the bar. Children can meet lots of new friends too during the many youth-centric activities. A ship is a safe environment too - so you don't have to worry about the teenagers going off with their friends. Meet new friends onboard and you may cruise together next time.
10. World class food
There is so much choice onboard a cruise ship that the only thing you need to worry about is your waistline! There are buffets with a dazzling array of dishes for you to choose from so you can be sure that even the pickiest eater is catered for. There are also a la carte restaurants, often serving a particular cuisine, such as Italian, Chinese or French. Fine dining options will be available on the more luxury ships. Rest assured that no matter how much your cruise costs the food will be wonderful and served with style. On some cruises you might even get to tour the kitchens and try your hand at the chef's creations. A cruise is definitely a great choice for the foodie.
So what are you waiting for? Take a look at our latest cruise deals here.
Another bright day greeted us on the day of our departure from Thessaloniki. After a hasty breakfast we set off for the first visit of the day to nearby Kalamaria. This leafy suburb was quiet and pleasant and the route to it took us along the coast road past one of the old royal summer palaces, now used by state officials. Of course we had to swing by the symbol of the city, the White Tower before turning back to Kalamaria. Thessaloniki has invested in regenerating the seafront. There are now themed areas with fountains, trees and decked areas. A stroll along past the Tower is now essential on any visit to Thessaloniki.
Although supposedly just dropping by for a coffee, we were treated to home made ‘tiropita’ those delicious crispy cheese pies with filo pastry. A good cup of Greek coffee was offered too. What a treat. Refreshed after our short visit we set off to visit a relative in a care home on the outskirts of Thermi, a small town on the hills near Thessaloniki airport. After getting lost and the stupid GPS in my phone trying to direct us across a field and into a factory yard, we finally arrived at our destination. Although a little remote the home is set in lovely grounds and there are fabulous views of the city from the balconies. We were pressed to have some chocolates and remembered happier times before setting off for Halkidiki.
The main motorway passes the outskirts of Thessaloniki with its light industry and many furniture outlets before reaching Tsantali winery. After this I always feel that the scenery becomes more green and picturesque. Scattered vineyards are in evidence but much more so are the hundreds of olive groves producing the famous big fat Halkidiki olives. The soil here is red and the contrast between the red and the green and grey of the olive trees is really beautiful.
Arriving at our small hotel at the top of the first leg of Halkidiki (an area known for its 3 parallel peninsulas or ‘legs’), I felt at peace. It is such a lovely part of the world. The azure of the sea meeting the deep green of the pines and flowers everywhere.
After such a busy day we didn't want to venture too far for dinner so drove the short distance to Gerakini Beach and the excellent taverna Anemomilos (the windmill). Since we had been fed everywhere we went today we decided to share a mossaka and a ‘horiatiki’ known worldwide as Greek Salad with a carafe of the very passable house red wine. Artisan bread and oil were brought with the salad to start. The moussaka was one of the best I have ever eaten, and believe me, I’ve tried a few! It was home made and to the chef’s own recipe. The service was excellent and the whole experience extremely enjoyable. Anemomilos is right opposite the Ikos Olivia 5* hotel and the hotel gives the taverna their seal of approval as they issue their guests with discount vouchers. More about the hotel tomorrow.
Today is a day of visits to relatives and friends so we make sure we have some time to relax before the running around begins. Instead of heading to the centre, round Aristotelous Square (named after Aristotle who came from Halkidiki just down the road from here), we decide to go for coffee at the port. On the way we passed jewels of turn of the century architecture amongst the less delightful blocks of flats.
Once Thessaloniki was full of such beautiful buildings but a huge fire in 1917 destroyed about two thirds of the centre of the city.
Along the seafront there are a few 'Belle Epoque' buildings and deco masterpieces can also be found. Stroll around the centre of the city and you will stumble across wonderful old buildings wedged between the ubiquitous flats. What you will also find are remains of the Byzantine city walls as well as Roman ruins, such as the Arch of Galereus and the Emperor Galereus' Palace. It is an ever fascinating place to walk around for those interested in history but here there is something for everyone, great shopping, sightseeing, cultural events and much, much more.
The port has been redeveloped as a cultural hub with several museums near the wonderful Passenger Terminal building. Although still functioning as a commercial port, Thessaloniki no longer has the same amount of maritime traffic as it once did. There are still ferries operating but nothing like from Piraeus and mainly in the summer to the Sporades islands for example. Cruise ships put in at Thessaloniki but again, not in large numbers. So Thessaloniki made a smart move by regenerating the area and capitalising on the fabulous views you get of the city from the port area.
To the left of the magnificent Passenger Terminal building and facing the sea is the Kitchen Bar, our destination for coffee and later a spot of lunch. We sat outside watching the pleasure boats on their harbour tours and the huge container ships at anchor. The weather was sunny with a few clouds to make it interesting. To our left the whole of Thessaloniki and close by Aristotelous Square. My frappe (iced coffee) tasted delicious looking at that great view. Basking in the sun in great surroundings is what holidays are all about.
We enjoyed a spot of lunch at Kitchen Bar, American style diner with a Greek twist. Food is plentiful and tasty. Knowing how large the portions are we only ordered one ma in course and a salad and were totally full. The pork souvlaki was succulent and the salad unusual, including baby figs, Cretan hard cheese and beetroot leaves, as well as spinach and cranberries. Bizarre combination I hear you cry, but it worked.
Tearing ourselves away from the view we whizzed back to the apartment for a quick change. Next stop Panorama, upmarket hilltop suburb of Thessaloniki. Here we visited relatives and were pressed to eat some 'spanakopita' and 'tiropita' (spinach and cheese pies respectively) made by the mother in law in Crete. Despite being pretty full from lunch the pies were so appetising that of course they had to be tried. To go with our coffee we also had to try some 'glyko', home made fruit in syrup, also known as 'spoon sweet'. In this case we were treated to strawberry glyko, a bit sweet for me but yummy nevertheless.
Last stop in our packed programme was with another friend who we had arranged to meet near Parorama in another picturesque village on the heights. Our destination was Zografou, a cute cafe bar which offers a great range of herbal tea, particularly Krocus Kozanis, made with saffron. Of course they also serve wines, beers and snacks. I stuck with a lager and this time chose an Alfa, which is not at all bitter and very easy drinking.
We had a pleasant time catching up with news of friends, work, etc, and said our goodbyes fairly early as our friend had to get up early next morning. Frankly we were pretty relieved as we were whacked! Mind you before we left, in true Greek tradition, our friend gave us a huge box of cakes as a gift. The patisserie box was full of the local speciality of 'Panorama trigono', filo pastry triangles with syrup and custard. My diet is suffering but it is all too good not to eat!
The way home was a bit exciting as we went the wrong way up the road and ended up winding down the big hill on some windy single track roads - terrifying in the dark. But the view of the city lights as we returned to civilisation was amazing. And so to bed...
Feeling a little more refreshed we got up and made breakfast. Barley rusks with olive oil and tomatoes called dakos (something we learned in Crete), olives, boiled egg, soft cheese and fresh bread. Did I mention the cucumber and lashings of olive oil? So delicious and certainly beats a bowl of cereal.
I was still so tired from the early morning and flight delay that I declined to accompany Peri into the city centre. He had business to take care of so the thought of sitting in government offices for the morning didn’t fill me with get up and go. On his return we set off for a late lunch along the seafront in Nea Krini (part of Kalamaria). We wanted something more traditional than yesterday so headed for an ‘estiatorio’, an eatery in between a taverna and a classy restaurant. After driving down the strip and then back up we decided on Okeanis. They have a menu which changes from day to day.
The food was certainly plentiful and it was excellent Greek staples such as ‘kokkinisto’ (beef stew with tomatoes - kokkino means red) and 'bakalaria me skordalia' (cod with garlic sauce). We were not hungry enough for starters as we know of old how huge the Greek portions are! Instead we settled for a main course each and a salad. This time we chose the ‘horta’ which is wild greens, a bit like spinach but with a more bitter flavour. We added plenty of lemon juice and olive oil and started on it whilst we waited for our main courses.
The kokkinisto came with oven baked courgettes - delicious - and so filling I only added the ubiquitous bread rather than ordering some kind of potatoes as well. The cod was battered and was really light and the cod succulent, with the accompanying skordalia piquant with raw garlic. Good job we both had some!! And what did we drink with this feast? Retsina from one of the oldest and best procurers in Greece, Malamatina. Crisp, cold and supremely refreshing on a hot day. It is the perfect choice for lunch. To finish the meal what better than fruit and ice cream as a gift from the restaurant?
Back to our apartment to get changed and then our with friends to a bar at the marina, Erotikos. No, it is not a girlie bar as the Greek word ‘erota’ is only concerned with romance. The bar is cool, music not too loud so you can chat, and there is a good selection of Greek and international beer. I chose the Fix, one of the oldest breweries in Greece. Brewed in Athens, this lager is light and yeasty with great flavour and no real bitterness. Refreshing and morish, I managed to drink all of a large bottle on my own - usually unheard of! It was great to catch up with old friends, especially in lovely surroundings.
As usual Thessaloniki provides great cafe and restaurant culture and I’m loving it. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings in this exciting city.
After not one but 3 different delays which kept us on the tarmac at London Gatwick for over an hour longer than expected, we finally took off for Thessaloniki. Don’t you love computer systems?! At least we were on the very early flight so still arrived in Greece for lunchtime.
Having hired a car we stepped out of the air conditioned airport into the wonderful hot sun. This is the perfect time to visit as the blazing heat of the summer has mellowed but you are still guaranteed uninterrupted sunshine and temperatures of approx 24oC.
We’re staying in the leafy suburb of Kalamaria within walking distance of the sea. To blow away the cobwebs we went for a walk around the area. Of course we headed for the beach! My husband remembers swimming there as a boy but tells me that nobody does so now. But we can see some of the huge Bay of Thermaikos which Thessaloniki stands on and we found a picturesque spot. It just so happens that, past the quaint little fisherman’s church, is one of the city’s best clubs, Remvi, which is also a trendy bar and restaurant.
Of course we were starving by this point so took a table in the restaurant which boasts a fabulous view.
The food at Remvi is modern but uses some unusual local produce. There is nothing of the traditional taverna about the menu but instead some Greek mainstays like meatballs, have been reinvented as chicken meatballs with the taste of wonderful fresh herbs and served with game chips. I had the grilled octopus which was soft and delicious. The salad we chose to go with our meal was ‘herbs from Ammouliani’. Ammouliani is a small island off the coast of Halkidiki, about a 2 hour drive from Thessaloniki. Neither of us knew what would turn up but the huge salad was of a cooked vegetable which we had never eaten before. It was a little like samphire but tasted quite different. It was almost bitter but not unpleasantly so and I could not compare the flavour to anything else. Dressing the greens were crushed tomatoes, a soft cheese which resembled cottage cheese but tasted a whole lot better, and a vinaigrette. Interesting and tasty. It was too hot for wine so we shared a large bottle of Fix beer. Deliciously refreshing.
We declined the dessert as we were full but we stopped at a local patisserie for cakes for later. Thessaloniki is the city of patisseries. Almost every corner has one. They generally serve homemade ice cream as well as cakes (works of art!) and the fabulous chocolates. We swung by the supermarket and stocked up as we decided to go self-catering this time.
And so to bed! Exhausted after the long day of travel, the hot sun and the walking. I wonder what delights tomorrow will bring…