There are currently 11 cruise lines choosing to extensively sail Greece in 2021, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as smaller lines such as Celestyal Cruises and Variety Cruises.
Most of these ships will be based in Piraeus for Athens, sailing around the Greek islands. Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas is based in Limassol, Cyprus, but the itinerary is primarily the Greek islands, as well as Crete.
Why the rush to Greece? The country is one within the Mediterranean that is welcoming vaccinated tourists. Quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers and those testing negative for COVID-19 from certain countries, including the United States, the UK and the EU, were lifted on April 19.
It's worth noting that coming into the country has its own rules, beyond what the cruise lines require; it's important to be aware of both. Under the new rules, arrivals from these countries, as well as Israel, Serbia and the UAE who have been vaccinated or have a negative PCR test up to 72 hours prior to arrival, are allowed to enter. Rapid checks will be carried out at airports and quarantine hotels have been set up for those who test positive. Safety protocols including wearing masks and social distancing remain in place.
With so much choice for Greece cruises in 2021, how do you choose which one is right for you?
We break it down by ship, line, date, what's on offer and vaccination requirements for 2021 so you can choose the right Greece cruise for you. Most lines have said that they will be sailing at reduced capacity so if you're interested, booking sooner rather than later is recommended. It's also worth speaking to your cruise specialist agent, who can also help guide you through the array of new options.
(It's worth noting that MSC Cruises is also embarking passengers in Greece this summer, as part of an itinerary which includes Italy and Croatia on MSC Magnifica. Sailings are currently only open to citizens of Schengen countries, but the line will look at opening up bookings outside Schengen, including the U.S., from July, depending on those nations' COVID protocols.)
Best For Families
Ship: Jewel of the Seas
When: July 10, 2021.
Itineraries: Seven-day cruises calling in at Athens and the Greek islands of Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos and Santorini through October.
What's on offer: The 2,112-passenger ship is one of the line's older vessels (2004), the fourth and final of the line's Radiance Class ships. There's a climbing wall, a sports court with basketball hoops, a children's water slide and a mini-golf course, plus two pools and a kids' splash area. Just don't expect as many gadgets and gizmos as the line's later-class ships, such as Quantum and Oasis. Multiple dining options, bars and a three-deck theatre top out the night-time entertainment.
Requirements: All passengers and crew over 18-years-old must be fully vaccinated and those under the age of 18 produce negative COVID-19 test results.
Best for a Sophisticated Experience
Ship: Celebrity Apex
When: July 3, 2021.
Itineraries: One to the Greek islands including Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes as well as to Limassol, Cyprus; and one to the Greek islands and Haifa and Jerusalem, Israel.
What's on offer: The line's newest, yet-to-sail, ship, Celebrity Apex, is the second of Celebrity's Edge-class ships which was due to make its debut in Southampton in March last year. Instead, it will commence its first passenger sailings from Piraeus, Athens in July.
With sister Edge, the line has planted its flag firmly in the exclusive arena, offering a ship-within-a-ship concept for those willing to pay for it in the form of The Retreat. The keycard-access only enclave is for suite guests only and includes a private restaurant, a private lounge and bar and private sundeck. Cabins, which include double-height "Garden Villas" are designed by UK-based designer Kelly Hoppen, who also had a hand in the spa. The Edge-class ships are all about the wows, with the biggest of them all being the "Magic Carpet" a moveable external deck which goes up and down the ship. Inside you'll find an array of outstanding drinking and dining options, including the extraordinary multi-use Eden, at the aft of the ship, which really comes alive at night. Although the line welcomes kids, Apex is a better fit for couples.
Requirements: All over-18s fully vaccinated. Under 18s must show proof of a negative PCR test. All passengers must also present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to arrival in Greece.
Best for Adults Who Want to Party
Norwegian Cruise Line
Ship: Norwegian Jade
When: July 25
Itineraries: Departing Athens, offering seven-night itineraries to the Greek islands including Corfu, Rhodes, Santorini and Mykonos.****
What's on offer: Have you always wanted to experience a big ship with no kids onboard? Well, now is your chance. The normally family-friendly line's strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements means that Jade will be sailing child-free this summer.
Although the 2,402-passenger ship isn't the line's newest (2006) it has had a significant refresh thanks to the Norwegian Edge project: Cabins have been refurbished; carpeting and furniture have been replaced; some restaurants have been moved (Moderno Churrascaria) or expanded (Cagney's), while new ones were added (O'Sheehan's). The ship's somewhat dated color palette has also been toned down. And because the ship will be sailing at 60 percent capacity, expect no lines for restaurants, bars and shows. At night the ship really comes alive with 12 bars, a huge theater and themed nights including a Caribbean dance party, Norwegian's well-known White Hot Party; game shows, such as the Newlywed/Not-So-Newlywed game show and Battle of the Sexes as well as the Jade Club Casino.
Requirements: All passengers and crew will be required to show proof of vaccination.
Best for Luxury
Ship: Seabourn Ovation
When: July 3
Itineraries: Two itineraries: Agios Nikolaos, Rhodes, Mykonos and Nafplion; and Limassol, Cyprus. Patmos, Rhodes, Thira and Spetsai and Paphos, Cyprus.
What's on offer: The 600-passenger ship is the second in the luxury line's newest ship class, which started with Seabourn Encore in 2016. The ship is stunning, with care taken in every aspect of the décor -- art adorns the walls, spaces are well-thought-out and comfortable, cabins, or more accurately suites, are huge havens of peace and tranquillity. Dining is exemplary, with the increased size meaning more choices than its smaller. Service is flawless and intuitive.
Requirements: Fully vaccinated for a minimum of 14 days following the final dose of the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines being administered. Proof of vaccination and the dates given will be required. Approved forms of documentation will be confirmed closer to the time of departure and must be shown at the terminal prior to boarding.
Ship: Silver Moon
When: June 18
Itineraries: 10-day itineraries sailing round-trip from Piraeus (Athens), calling in at Santorini, Paros, Mykonos, and Crete, as well as Haifa (Israel) and Cyprus.
What's on offer: Silversea's restart marks the long-awaited debut of Silversea's newest ship, Silver Moon, which will showcase the S.A.L.T. (Sea & Land Taste) culinary experience, which has been two years in the making and debuted on sister ship Silver Muse.
Silver Moon takes all the best of sister Silver Muse and tweaks it to perfection. The ship is all about understated luxury, from the public spaces to the art that adorns the walls and the carpets and furniture. It's all soft, thick, rich and muted, rather than shouty. Food is outstanding, reflecting the local area, which the S.A.L.T. program is all about. Suites are vast and supremely comfortable.
Requirements: Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for all passengers and crew.
Best For Destination Immersion
Ship: Azamara Quest (from Piraeus)
When: August 28, 2021
Itineraries: From August 28, 2021, Azamara will return to Greece with five of its "country intensive" cruises and one Mediterranean sailing. Ports include Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Heraklion (Crete) and Limassol in Cyprus.
What's on offer: Azamara's ships have always been a fantastic size for cruising the Greek isles, wtih Azamara Quest being no excepton at 690 passengers. The line also pioneered the practice of staying in ports into the late evening, allowing people to stay on land longer and have a drink or meal before coming back to the ship. Azamara has an intimate onboard atmosphere, with crew that get to know passengers and a White Night barbecue where almost everyone onboard participates. This cruise is sure to feature a sunset sailaway from Santorini, which is not to be missed.
Requirements: Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations completed more than 14 days before embarkation for all passnegers and crew.
Best For a Small Ship Experience
Ship: Galileo (from Piraeus)
When: May 28, 2021.
Itineraries: If you really want to discover undiscovered Greece, then this is the line and the ship for you. The 49-passenger, three-mast ship, Galileo, does visit the marquee islands of Santorini and Mykonos, but it also goes where no lines go, for example Ikaria, the island famous for the longevity of its inhabitants and Levitha, a tiny island only inhabited by an island of four people who run a single fish taverna.
What's on offer: Galileo is not a cruise ship in the traditional sense, it's more of a yacht, with three masts and three decks, so don't expect shows, entertainment or swimming pools. However, what you can expect is outstanding personal service, traditional Greek food and discovering some of the most stunningly beautiful and genuinely off-the-beaten-track islands in Greece.
Requirements: Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Greece.
Ship: Celestyal Crystal (from Piraeus), Celestyal Olympia (from Lavrion)
When: June 12, June 28
Itineraries: The 1,200-passenger Crystal will operate seven-night itineraries to Kusadasi (Turkey), Rhodes, Santorini, Lavrion (for Temple of Poseidon), Mykonos , Milos and Crete.
From June 28, the 1,664-passenger Celestyal Olympia will call in at Thessaloniki, Mykonos, Santorini, Agios Nikolaos (Crete) and Rhodes in Greece and Limassol in Cyprus with all-inclusive pricing starting from £759 per person. From August 30, the ship will operate a three-night itinerary calling in at Syros, Kusadasi (Turkey) and Santorini; and a four-night itinerary calling at Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Patmos, Heraklion (Crete) and Santorini.
What's on offer: Celestyal Cruises is a Greece-based line offering an all-inclusive, traditional Greek experience in terms of food, entertainment and décor. The two ships operating this summer are no spring chickens (Celestyal Crystal is 41 this year; Olympia is two years younger), with limited facilities (no climbing walls, FlowRiders etc.). They more than make up for this, however, in terms of service, excellent value, outstanding food and wonderful itineraries.
Do not expect the bells and whistles of a modern cruise ship; Crystal has one small salt water pool and a hot tub; Olympia has two top deck pools, one of which has a splash area for kids (note neither are heated). Expect lots of daytime activities of mainly Greek-themed activities, although with no sea days and often two ports in a day, there's little time to participate. Activities on both ships might include: Board games and card games, cooking and cocktail making demos, flower making and origami, towel folding, Greek language classes, Zumba classes round the pool deck, darts and table tennis tournaments, trivia, basketball shoot out, musical quizzes and bingo.
Requirements: A negative PCR test within 72-hours prior to embarkation of the cruise. The company is currently awaiting further guidance from the relevant health authorities as to the waiving of this requirement for those that have been vaccinated against COVID-19.