One of the more popular tours available from Athens is the day cruise to the Greek islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina off the Saronic gulf. If you have a look around on the net for day cruises around Athens this will be the one that pops up the most, and there are plenty of companies to choose from.
Last week we (my wife, parents and myself) went on this cruise as part of our stay in Athens. Was it any good?
Well, overall I’d say it was pretty good. Not great, but if you have limited time and want to see some islands, then it could be worthwhile.
For starters, it is a little pricey. If you book online in advance (which we didn’t), you can probably save roughly 10 Euros or so, but we booked at our hotel and it cost 98 Euros per person (392 Euros all up). That’s rather steep for a day, even if lunch is included. Note we went in mid-June, which is nearing peak season, but I’m not aware of price fluctuations according to time of year.
The good thing about this tour is that there is pick-up from and drop-off to your hotel (or at least nearby), particularly important because (1) departure time is an early 8:00am; and (2) Piraeus port, from which the ship departs (about 30 minutes in morning traffic from Syntagma Square), can be darn confusing if you make your own way there. You can expect to arrive back at Piraeus around 7:30pm, just in time to return to your hotel for dinner.
The ship we took was decent, with 3 spacious floors and lots of tables and chairs and counters selling snacks and beverages. The bottom floor was where you would go for inquiries and where everyone has lunch. It’s cooler but darker than the other floors. The second floor was where we hung out, air conditioned inside but you can go outside when you wanted some sun. There was also a little gift shop at the far end. The third (and top_ floor was predominantly without shade, for those who want to get maximum sun exposure. There is plenty of space and we had no trouble getting our own tables and seats.
The only time we had to share a table was during lunch, when everyone crammed into the bottom floor. The lunch, by the way, was well organised, with 3 courses but, as expected, had very average food.
To me, it was important that the ship was comfortable, considering that we would spend most of our time on it (rather than the islands).
- All that’s left of the Temple of Apollo on Aegina
Different cruises take different routes. Our one went to Hydra first, then Poros and lastly Aegina. Others I’ve seen go the opposite way. Hydra is hands down the best of the 3 in my humble opinion, and it’s a bit of a shame we went there first because it made the remaining islands a little disappointing in comparison (or at least too similar). But make no mistake, all 3 islands are very beautiful (though not as spectacular as say Santorini). The waters and the architecture are simply exquisite.
Time spent on the islands is rather limited. We had 1 and a half hours for Hydra, 45 minutes for Poros and 1 hour and 45 minutes for Aegina (all up that equals 4 hours and 15 minutes on the islands, meaning around 7 hours on the boat). Consequently, don’t expect to go very far inland (except for Aegina if you take the optional tour), and realistically all you have time to do is explore the coastline around the ship, taking a few happy snaps along the way. Maybe have a drink or an ice cream.
On Aegina, you have the opportunity to pay extra to go on optional tours. We didn’t so I don’t know if it was worth it, but it was 25 Euros for the ‘attractions’ tour (which includes the famous Temple of Athena Aphaia) and 22 Euros for the ‘scenic’ tour. While it would have been great to see the Temple, the price was a bit too much in my opinion so we decided to walk around instead, and we even had time to walk to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, which wasn’t much to be honest. If we wanted to we probably could have taken a local taxi to check out those same sights for a fraction of the price (as we had 4 people).
All up, it was a good, albeit long day, but given the price I kind of expected a little more. They could have at least included the Aegina tour in the package. If you are going to the other more famous islands such as Mykonos or Santorini then you probably don’t need to see these islands if you think the cruise is too expensive or if you prefer using the day for a trip to the Peloponnese or Delphi (which is a lot more worthwhile).
In my opinion it probably would have been better to skip Poros and allow more time on Aegina and in particular Hydra. Or perhaps you may prefer to make your own way to those islands to spend a bit more time there (like a day or two), because you really don’t get more than just a tiny taste of them on this cruise.