There’s no mistaking the destination of my cruise. From the blue and white flags, lunchtime language masterclasses, daily dances, mounds of feta cheese at the buffet, bottles of ouzo behind the bar and even the odd ancient poem on the wall, it’s clear from the moment we get on board that we’re heading to Greece. Our whistle-stop three-day voyage will take us to the eternally popular Greek islands Mykonos, Santorini and Patmos, as well as Kusadasi in Turkey.
For a first-time cruise passenger and a newcomer to Greece, this is an ideal way to gain my sea legs. Packing in as much as possible during the day, while travelling at night, also means we don’t compromise on sightseeing. After a frantic first day in steamy Athens, spent trekking up to the Acropolis in the mid-afternoon heat and examining artefacts at the blissfully air-conditioned museum, basking in the shade on deck is just what the doctor ordered. We slump down with our plates piled high with stuffed vine leaves and Greek salads from the buffet, and eat while watching the white churches and pretty homes of Mykonos come into focus.
Bar-hoppers trail between taverns dotted along the coast, while those with euros to burn head to the eclectic boutiques in the cobbled alleys, stocking up on one-off jewellery and designer handbags. Neither big partygoers nor enthusiastic shoppers, my husband and I instead order reviving takeaway frappes and stroll around the chapels and lanes.
After a seafood feast, we toast the day and head off for one last walk, before trotting back to the ship as everyone else on the island gears up for a big night. There are no lie-ins for us the next day, but with a full weekend of exploring on the agenda rising early isn’t a hardship.
First up is a guided walking tour of the ancient metropolis of Ephesus, built in the 10th century BC. We linger underneath the Library of Celsus, built to honour the Roman governor, and admire the ruined temples. We’re distracted temporarily by a string of stray cats prowling the site of antiquity, before we climb the steps of the amphitheatre to soak up the view.
With a couple of hours to spare, I take advantage of the ship’s spa and have my muscles’ kinks and knots kneaded out with a relaxing massage. And the relaxing vibe continues once we arrive in Patmos. Smaller and less bustling than the other islands we visit, the pretty town boasts the sacred grotto where St John the Evangelist lived and wrote the Book of Revelation. We paddle in the bathtub-warm sea, cooling off at one of the friendly coffee shops before vowing we’ll definitely come back.
Our last day sees us docking in Heraklion, Crete, to spend the morning at Knossos, the impressive Bronze Age archaeological site and the capital of Minoan Crete. Although busy here, the guides are slick, moving clusters of visitors around each artefact.
For our final afternoon, we head back to the ship and sail towards Santorini, one of the Cyclades islands. Like us, many passengers come out on deck to marvel at the multi-coloured cliffs as we approach. Once the site of a huge volcanic eruption, Santorini is now a tourist hot spot, attracting backpackers, honeymooners, young families and cruise passengers alike. As sunset beckons, we duck away from the competing selfie sticks and settle down on a bench with a cold can of Mythos beer, watching as the light disappears.
We deliberate over whether we should stock up on souvenirs, pay our respects at the church or pore over goodies at the archaeological museum. But with the call of the ship in mind, we opt for a juicy kebab at a nearby shack and watch the world go by.
As holidays go, this is a busy one, but in three days, we manage to dip our toes into more Greek islands than we could have done alone, and we leave with a real appetite for seeing more of the country.
Keeley Bolger was a guest of Cosmos Tours & Cruises (0800 440 2797, cosmostoursandcruises.co.uk), which offers the five-night Athens and Iconic Aegean Cruise aboard the Celestyal Olympia, including two nights hotel accommodation on a B&B basis.
Prices start from £799 per person for a October 19 departure. Package includes return flights from Heathrow, three nights full-board cruise, an Athens city tour and all overseas transfers.