When you are one of 12 instead of one of 3500, of course!
I just returned from our Greek Islands walking tour of Crete and Santorini. My week there reminded me how easy we make it to maneuver around and undertake each of the activities we offer our guests. This became clearer than the Aegean Sea one day while we were in Santorini. As I’m sure you already know, it’s one of the most popular spots in the world and a staple on any cruise ship’s itinerary in the Mediterranean. And so I’m sure the average traveler assumes that if your cruise includes Santorini, you’ll get a chance to really see the island.
And so as my mother used to say, “that’s why we don’t assume.”
The cruise ship way to visit Santorini will get you to the famed island…
…but the Classic Journeys’ way actually allows you to be a part of Santorini
The typical cruise ship now carries about 3500 passengers. When the ships anchor, the passengers need to be moved around for their shore visits and that’s where the problems arise. The buses that the cruise companies use hold 50 passengers. 50 goes into 3500 seventy times!
Imagine 70 busloads of tourists in any place at one time. There is no way that you are going to have anything like an authentic experience. One day, our small group ventured from our quiet eastern side of the island—where we were staying in Oia—to take a private boat to one of the uninhabited islands in the sparkling blue sea of the caldera. On our return, my wife wanted to do some dress shopping and by coincidence, it provided me the perfect opportunity to do a little experiment. I sat with a pistachio and coconut gelato, and from my cliffside observation point, I watched a tender pull up to the dock and empty its passengers, who then boarded a bus and drove up the zig-zaggy cliffs to enjoy their four hours of bliss in the island’s main town, Fira.
Using my iPhone's stopwatch (I don’t wear a watch anymore, but that’s for another blog), I timed how long it took 50 people to board the bus. At 30 seconds per passenger, it was 25 minutes. Then from my vantage point, I could see as another bus let off the cruisers. Again, 30 seconds per person on average, for another 25 minutes. In total, 50 minutes just loading and unloading the bus! I couldn’t believe it. Nearly a full hour just getting on and off the bus. That didn’t include any of the time to get on or off the tender (100 passengers at a time) or what the waiting times must have been like for the lunches or shopping once in the town. In all, those four to five hours in Santorini must have been a blur. Or maybe actually one long dull ride.
In contrast, our time on Crete and Santorini was in a small group (we average 12 and never take more than 18 guests on any of our cultural walking adventures). We hopped on and off a small Mercedes mini-coach whenever we needed to make a transfer or if anyone was abbreviating a walk. Often, we were not in a vehicle at all, as many of our visits with locals were at the culmination of a memorably scenic walk. For example, in Santorini, we walked from Fira to Oia along a blissfully deserted seaside footpath for about two hours, right into our hotel overlooking the sea. On other days during the week, we shared a path with some donkeys, and in Crete with vineyard and olive grove workers; and even some goats with their bells tinkling in the morning air.
Our visits with George the baker who still makes phylo dough by hand, Poppee the lacemaker, Joanna whose family grows olives, Nikos the vineyard owner, and George the potter (George is a popular name in Greece) were private affairs and each memorable in their own way. Each new friend talked to us about their family history and what life was like now pursuing ancient crafts in modern Greece. We left feeling that we’d really immersed ourselves in the history and culture of these famed islands.
I hope the cruise passengers had a great time and I’m sure in their own way they did. But for some reason, I don’t think we’ll be able to share anecdotes very easily about any common experiences in Santorini.