Sara Macefield boards Celestyal Crystal and spends a relaxing – and value for money – week with her family, enjoying both the incredible scenery and the food
A blood-curdling scream cuts through the tranquil peace of the sunset, followed by a loud splash as a young girl hurls herself off a dizzyingly-high cliff into the sea’s inky waters below.
Her friends gaze after her plummeting figure in awe and we spend the next few minutes watching in amusement as they try – and fail – to pluck up courage to follow her.
This is as exciting as life gets on the isle of Milos in the Greek Cyclades where Hellenic line Celestyal Cruises is virtually the only one to visit.
The pocket-sized outpost is refreshingly far off the route of larger ships that sail through the Greek islands, and there’s a deliciously undiscovered feel as we jump aboard a tourist boat to follow the coastline of roughly-hewn ivory cliffs before stopping to plunge into enticing aquamarine waters and swim through mysterious caves.
Later, a coach takes us to Sarakiniko on the north coast, famous for its milky lunar landscape that isn’t only perfect cliff jumping territory (as we witness), but additionally serves as a suitably space-age backdrop for trendy magazine fashion shoots.
It’s a complete contrast to the bright lights and lively buzz of Mykonos, where our ship, Celestyal Crystal spent the previous evening – the first of two overnight stops on our week-long voyage from Piraeus which enable us to explore night-time attractions without worrying about missing the ship.
On Mykonos, we spend the day wandering narrow, cobbled alleyways weaving past pristine whitewashed houses with trademark blue doors and balconies, interspersed with tumbling clumps of purple and hot pink bougainvillea, and window shopping in chi-chi boutiques.
Following dinner on board, we return to find the streets even busier, thronging with hip young couples and singletons. But there’s a real family feel, too, which is fitting as we’re accompanied by our twin 15-year-old daughters Holly and Dani.
It’s a similar story in Santorini, where Celestyal Crystal stays for two days, giving ample time to explore its capital Fira, sitting 400m high atop jagged cliffs that surround the flooded caldera where cruise ships anchor.
This is one of the highlights of the cruise, but our visit gets off to a somewhat inauspicious start when, despite the 90-degree heat, we decide to walk up to Fira instead of taking the cable-car. Forty-five soul-destroying minutes later, we arrive at the top; exhausted and dripping with sweat. Thankfully, the inviting bars and restaurants perched precipitously on Fira’s steep slopes provide the perfect pick-me-up with their breathtaking views.
However, drinks aren’t cheap, which makes us appreciate Celestyal Crystal all the more because drinks and gratuities are included, along with three tours to the pretty town of Oia and the ancient cities of Knossos in Crete and Ephesus from Kusadasi.
I can’t help thinking what excellent value this cruise offers, particularly for families. While the 900-passenger ship may not be the most modern, with its rather dated décor, limited sunbathing space and slightly odd pool layout, the friendly crew, homely atmosphere and spotlessly clean surroundings duly compensate.
The style of Celestyal is distinctly Hellenic, which makes it refreshingly different to the norm, with bouzouki music and innovative entertainment themed around traditional dancing and ancient mythology.
Greek cuisine brings an extra flavour to an impressive culinary line-up in the main restaurant where memorable treats include one of the best moussakas I’ve tasted along with unfamiliar specialities such as cheese saganaki (fried kefalotiri cheese with lemon and honey), though there are plenty of international options too.
Even the Sana Spa is Greek themed and a haven of heavenly value with keenly-priced treatments and no hard sell or expectation of a gratuity.
The days speed by and it’s no time at all before our final evening arrives. As we relax on deck and toast the final stunning sunset to the soft strumming of bouzoukis, I reflect that the Greek gods have obviously been smiling down upon us this last week.