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Mike Yardley: Greek Cruising with Celestyal Journey

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sun, 7 Jul 2024, 5:32pm
Portside with the Celestyal Journey. Credit Mike Yardley
Portside with the Celestyal Journey. Credit Mike Yardley

Mike Yardley: Greek Cruising with Celestyal Journey

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sun, 7 Jul 2024, 5:32pm

If you’re dreaming of enjoying a starry-eyed float around the Aegean Sea, why not do it with the Greeks? After all, they know these waters better than anyone else. Combine immersive shore excursions and engaging onboard entertainment with a mid-sized ship and you’ve got a winning mix. Recently, I enjoyed a week-long cruise with the Greek owned-and-operated Celeystal Cruises, aboard one of their recent additions, Celestyal Journey. Unlike the rise and rise of mega-ships, with all their cutting-edge titillations and action-packed sea-days, you don’t need to board a floating city when you’re cruising the Greek Islands. The time spent sailing from one port to the next is so short. In fact, there were no sea-days on my Idyllic Aegean 7-day cruise with Celestyal, which whisked me from Athens to Thessaloniki, Mykonos, Crete, Kusadasi, Santorini and Milos.

What I love about the size of Celestyal Journey is that it’s a mid-sized ship, with a capacity for 1260 guests and 500 crew. The mega-ships carry over three times that muster of guests and crew, but at no stage did I feel like I was competing with humanity or competing for space, on-board this well-proportioned cruise liner. Entering Celestyal’s fleet late last year, the Celestyal Journey was built at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, 30 years ago. But after a tip to toe NZ$35m refit, the 55,000-tonne ship has ushered in a wave of eye-catching features, including a selection of seven dining venues, eight themed bars, beautifully refreshed accommodations, two lido pool decks, a double-decked theatre and comprehensive spa and wellness centre.

For the first time ever, Celestyal Cruises has launched its Stargazer Suite — an expansive penthouse suite complete with a private terrace. Beyond the standard interior and exterior staterooms, why not push the boat out and enjoy suite life at affordable rates? Studded across Decks 9 and 10, Celeystal Journey’s Dream Suites is the accommodation class you really should be eyeing up. Dream Suites offer far more than just a place to sleep; they are designed as a sanctuary to restore your sense of magic as you bask in the tranquil rhythms of the Aegean Sea in supremely spacious comfort, complete with private balcony.

Junior Suite on Celestyal Journey. Credit - Mike Yardley

Boasting 120 Junior Dream Suites and 28 Grand Dream Suites, they can accommodate up to four people. I plumped for a Junior Dream Suite which spans 21sqm and includes a cosy sofa, cloud- comfortable bed, cable TV, bathroom with shower and jet tub, fridge and mini bar, and that dreamy private balcony, which you acces via a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door. The colour palette exudes a celebratory sense of place, in bold nautical blue, gold and cream. Our suite was impeccably attended to by our convivial, outgoing room attendants, Ahmed and Ray. Across all departments, the Celestyal staff and crew are so obliging, personable, attentive and engaging. Cruise Director, Tereza Alevizou remarked that the beauty of sailing mid-sized ships, is the high level of service guests can receive from the crew. That is very self-evident.

What I found particularly distinctive about the refreshed Celestyal experience is the lifting of the bar on the food and beverage offerings. Feast like the ancients with a world of flavours to savour, from daytime Greek noshing to extra-indulgent speciality dining. The Taverna became my daily wake-up go-to, with a lavish breakfast buffet that evolves into all all-day buffet restaurant, with a vast array of food stations to pick and choose from.

It exemplifies the Greek tradition of grazing throughout the day and the surfeit of choice on offer was positively enticing, whether I was eager for a full meal or cheeky bite. Bonus points for the Greek delicacies and oven-fresh pastries. When dining at Taverna, you can’t help but be impressed by the intricate melon carvings—some of faces, others of various nature or sea scenes. There’s also the occasional ice sculpture in the dessert section - all created by the onboard sculptor who’s artistic skills have been passed down through family generations. If you prefer an a la carte breakfast, the main dining restaurant, Thalassa, delivers handsomely, as it does across all meal services.

Succulent seafood on Celestyal Journey. Credit Mike Yardley

There’s a variety of speciality restaurants to explore like Grill Seekers, for a whole new dimension on surf and turf. The grill is the ultimate place to go for the finest cuts of meat and the most succulent grilled dishes, including freshly caught seafood. Menu highlights include Brazilian Picanha steak, American Wagyu, Argentinian black angus beef, Australian lamb chops, Danish pork tomahawk and veal. Another stand-out is Pink Moon which transports you to the Orient, far away from the twinkling blues of the Aegean. This South Asian-inspired restaurant pleasingly tickled my taste buds, feasting on ramen and wonderfully spicy stews. Exclusive areas in the Pink Moon Restaurant are reserved for suite guests. For five-star exclusive private dining, make a reservation at The Chef’s Table – ideal for special occasions.

But my runaway favourite venue is the recently launched Smoked Olive restaurant, which Suite guests enjoy complimentary access to. (No supplementary charges.) Stylishly designed like a chic and intimate salon, adorned with bold prints of Sophia Loren, contemporary Mediterranean cuisine is exquisitely showcased here. Exclusive dining areas are available to suite guests. We noshed heartily here at lunch and dinner, repeatedly thrilled by the gastronomic flair. I made my way through buttered fried frogs legs in a spicy tomato marmalade; broiled shrimps with Turkish rice pilaf in a yoghurt sauce; seafood saganaki flambeed with ouzo; and traditional moussaka. All meals are paired with recommended complimentary wines. Desserts were extravagant and artfully executed. My highlight was Sokolatopita. Greeks love syrup-soaked cakes and this one smashes it out of the park with a creamy ganache, bathed in a warm chocolate sauce, flavoured with metaxa, which is a premium Greek brandy.

Celestyal Journey Smoked Olive. Credit Celestyal

I am also a raving fan of Fig & Honey, the ship’s very own juice bar and gelato stand. Nestled between the main pool and the Sozo Experience wellness hub, it's an alluring venue for a post-workout boost, or simply a decadent addition to your poolside sunbathe. The smoothies are sensational, but their signature monster milkshakes are more like a meal. Exhibit A: Cookies and Cream is a mash-up of Oreo cookies, stracciatella ice cream, milk, chocolate chips and whipped cream. Their marshmallow and jelly candies milkshake is another superstar selection to unleash your inner-child!

Feeling virtuous, I happily dealt to my calorific intake by working up a sweat at the fitness classes and in the excellent Pulse gym. Prefer to pamper? Head straight to the Sozo Health spa. Sozo is a Greek word for healing the mind, body and spirit. Feel your stress float away from the array of treatments on offer, from Swedish and sports massages, to facials, body exfoliation, wraps and hot stone therapy. Spark up your inner glow, floating from massage to manicure, facials to full body treatments.

Many a night was whiled away within the eight glittering new bars aboard Celesytal Journey, including the Blue Bar, Martini Bar and Fizz Club, where the signature handcrafted cocktails deserve to be fully and repeatedly explored. The evening entertainment shows in the Amphitheatre were brimmed with variety and performance verve from Cirque Fantastic to a cranking Greek night. But nature and its unstoppable beauty is the greatest entertainer in the Aegean and the one spot that I lingered at the most was on Deck 10 at Galazio Pool & Terrace. Gazing longingly at the tranquil sea and the ship’s wake, catching a languid sunset gild the cliffs of Santorini, or fortifying my wake-up with a dawn cappuccino at Galazio as we called into our next port, all frame my fondest memories.

Celestyal Journey Fizz Club. Credit Celestyal

Cruise the Greek Islands the Greek way, where passionate hospitality, intricate local knowledge and the spirit of adventure are all part of the package. The seasoned pros at Celestyal Cruises deliver the only genuine Greek cruising experience, across the Aegean and Mediterranean, projecting pride in their cultural heritage, inside and out. Cruise the Aegean, your way, with a choice of onboard options. The standard Celestyal Experience package includes accommodation, all of your meals, drinks with meals, entertainment, gratuities, and a complimentary shore excursion discount. For added-value, upgrade to the Celestyal Plus+ Experience package, which includes more dining options, an enhanced drinks package, complimentary WiFi and a super-sized US$170 excursion discount. Celestyal’s Idyllic Aegean 7-day cruise from Athens takes you to Thessaloniki, Mykonos, Crete, Kusadasi, Santorini and Milos. For the best deals on all upcoming cruises, head to https://celestyal.com

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Morning.

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