Home TravelsGreece CRUISING WITH KIDS WITH CELESTYAL CRUISES: A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE

CRUISING WITH KIDS WITH CELESTYAL CRUISES: A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE

38 minutes read

Mom, Dad, when are we getting back to the ship?

When you are on one of the most stunning beautiful places, Sarakiniko Beach on the island of Milos, the snow-white rock reflects on you the burning sun on a summer day, but you cannot take your eyes off the scenery that can literally blind you, this question pierces the hot air like a real bolt from the blue. For us, however, it is not unexpected. We have been sailing on a cruise with our two kids, aged 4 and 8, for 4 days now, and we know that of all the magical destinations, of all the things they do for the first time, the ship itself and the sailing itself excite them the most. And to please them with something outside of it is sometimes a challenge, but not that complicated at all.

We allow them to strip and splash in the shallow cove between the sparkling rocks, even though we only have a few minutes. The expression on the tired and hot faces suddenly changes and two pairs of feet stomp barefoot on the stony bottom, and the smiles shine.

The dazzling Sarakiniko Beach on the island of Milos
The dazzling Sarakiniko Beach on the island of Milos
Anna and Adriana on the island of Milos
Anna and Adriana on the island of Milos

Cruising with kids is a never-ending roller coaster of emotions for the four of us. One moment we’re laughing and enjoying our time together, and the next we’re wondering why we ever did this to ourselves and the kids. Until the next moment, when we see them encountering the next new thing, the next destination and challenge to make their day meaningful.

Like the volcano in Santorini, which Anna continues to speak about, question and talk about for weeks after we return from this trip. Her 8-year-old head is completely obsessed with the thought of underwater volcanoes and the sunken ship in the caldera of Santorini.

Anna and the Caldera of Santorini
Anna and the Caldera of Santorini

And 4-year-old Adriana can’t stop talking about the “huge” wave that washed over her after the crossing of a ferry near one of the magical beaches of Mykonos.

On a beach in Mykonos. In the background is our ship Celestyal Crystal

Both of them keep talking about their new friend Gaby – the animator on the Celestyal Crystal ship , who, to our great luck, turned out to be fellow Bulgarian and spent priceless (both for us and for the children) hours with Ani and Adi on the ship.

Ever since we got off the ship in Thessaloniki, we have been reminiscing about every single moment of this voyage. And to thank ourselves for having the guts and courage to take the kids with us on this week-long Aegean cruise. In this article we will tell you mostly about the peculiarities of family sailing on a cruise with kids, and a separate one we will dedicate to the visited destinations.

How do we find a child-friendly cruise?

Our desire to take the kids on a cruise came last year after we went on a cruise for the first time just the two of us. We enjoyed the three-day sailing on the Celestyal Olympia ship  so much that we were determined to repeat it in an family format. We liked the tour of some of the most exciting destinations in the Aegean Sea – Kusadasi, Santorini , Mykonos , Crete, Patmos. But we were eager to visit them again and for a longer time. So, at the beginning of this year, we started looking for an option for a cruise with the kids. We stopped on the 7-day Idyllic Aegean itinerary with the Celestyal Crystal ship of the same company. Here are the things that made us choose this particular cruise.

  • First of all, the company. Our first and only cruise so far was with Celestyal Cruises, we liked it and we never thought about taking a chance with another company.
  • We were looking for a relatively close destination. Some Celestyal Cruises itineraries allow embarkation not only from Athens, but also from Thessaloniki and other ports. We chose this one in order to shorten the distance from our home (Stara Zagora, Bulgaria) to the port, and also to be able to go by car, because the plane makes the journey both more expensive and more complicated.
  • The Aegean Sea seemed to us an excellent destination, because it was somewhat familiar to us from the last cruise, and we wanted to return to the Greek islands and explore them more thoroughly.
  • In purely practical terms, this region is convenient, because at almost every moment you are in civilization, in the European Union, you have telephone, internet and relatively easy access to hospitals, shops and all kinds of services of a domestic nature. And this is important when traveling with two children and a wife who have motion sickness.

So, back in February we booked our idyllic family cruise with kids with Celestyal Cruises.

Our chosen Idyllic Aegean route is circular: Athens (Piraeus) – Thessaloniki – Kusadasi – Crete – Santorini – Mykonos – Milos – Athens – and so on. You can embark from Athens, Thessaloniki or Kusadasi, and in each of the three cases the cruise lasts 7 days and disembarks at the same port from which you embarked. Most Celestyal Cruises itineraries are circular.

From September 2023 the 7-day cruises will be served by the new ship of the company – Celestyal Journey. It will be more luxurious and we believe that the experience will be even better. Celestyal Journey will hve 280% more balcony suites, seven decadent dining venues, eight magnificent bars and lounges, expansive sun decks, two shimmering pools and an entire deck dedicated to wellness. The information about itineraries, procedures, excursions, etc. is not expected to change.

Boarding the Celestyal Crystal ship from Thessaloniki
Boarding the Celestyal Crystal ship from Thessaloniki

How to book the cruise?

We won’t lie to you, we admit that we used our contacts with Celestyal Cruises representatives from last year to consult on the most convenient options for our family and asked them to make a reservation for us. Overall, the Celestyal Cruises website is extremely nice and informative and you can book your tickets directly through it. There you can look at deck plans, different cabin categories, etc. to decide which one is best for you. We researched everything on the website before we asked for a reservation.

In our format – two adults with 2 children aged 4 and 8, the most convenient option was to take 2 adjacent cabins with a door between them. We felt really comfortable. If you are with one child, you can take only one cabin with a sofa bed. There are options for inside and outside cabins, studios with balconies, etc. We were in outside cabins without a balcony, category XC, on deck 4.

Our cabin on the Celestyl Crystal. The other was the same, but mirrored and right next to it
Our cabin on the Celestyl Crystal. The other was the same, but mirrored and right next to it

Tip: look for cabins towards the bow of the ship, where engine vibrations are felt less, especially if you are on smaller ships.

You can also book the trip through a travel agency. Generally, Celestyal Cruises have very good distribution worldwide, so check the agents in your region.

On a cruise with children – preparation and what to take?

The children spent almost half a year in euphoria and impatience for the upcoming cruise. They started packing weeks in advance. We also started the preparation early. Here are some important things you need to know in terms of preparation:

  • Passports . As this particular cruise has a stop on Turkish territory, it is necessary for all travelers to have a passport with a minimum of 6 months validity on the date of visit to Turkey. As Adi’s passport was about to expire, we decided to renew it. The cruise company will ask for your passports after booking to register you as a passenger. From then on, you won’t need them on the ship, when getting off and on, but still we always carry our IDs.
  • Baggage . Imagine going for a week to a big hotel, 4 or 5 stars. In other words, you will not miss anything on the ship. There are numerous restaurants, bars, everything works almost round the clock, the cabins have all the necessary accessories. Take comfortable clothes and shoes, as well as a swimsuit. If you are sailing in the summer, a hat, sunglasses and sun protection are important. But even if you forget something, the ship stops at a different destination every day and there is an opportunity to buy everything.
The market in Kusadasi is a great place to shop for…well, everything. We bought backpacks and fans for the kids and small decorated bowls for us.
The market in Kusadasi is a great place to shop for…well, everything. We bought backpacks and fans for the kids and small decorated bowls for us.
  • Medicines . There is a medical centre and a doctor on the ship, but it’s always better if you don’t need to use their services. Our biggest fear was whether the children and Mimi would get seasick and whether they would be able to control it. So we stocked up on several different types of anti-nausea medications and supplements that we gave preventatively. They got the job done and no one felt bad.
  • Don’t fill your suitcases to the top or bring a bonus bag for the things you’re going to buy. In our case – the wine from Milos, olive oil from Crete, the children’s new backpacks and what not.

Important! Every time you get on and off the ship, your luggage goes through scanners at the port terminal, similar to airport screening. There are no restrictions on liquids in luggage, but explosive, sharp and flammable items are prohibited. You cannot take a drone on the ship , even if you are not using it. For photographic equipment, you may be asked to provide a detailed description of the models and serial numbers of the cameras and lenses. On the Celestyal Cruises website you can find detailed information of what you can and cannot bring on board.

Travel to and from the port

We chose to board from Thessaloniki and reach the port by car because it seemed the best option. From Stara Zagora to Thessaloniki is about 6 hours, which we took in one day with one break for lunch. On the way, we chose to stay one night in Thessaloniki, explore the city and take it easy on the ship the next day. As parking in central Thessaloniki is a challenge, we booked a hotel in the very centre, next to the White Tower, partnering with a local private parking. We can happily recommend Pillow Urban Stay both for its location, service, amenities, everything.

Quick pictures from the walk in Thessaloniki, an hour before we board the ship
Quick pictures from the walk in Thessaloniki, an hour before we board the ship

Boarding in our case was between 12:00 and 16:00.

Parking in Thessaloniki port

If you have a car, parking at the port is very convenient. There is dedicated parking for cruise ship passengers in the port itself and the prices are much better than the standard paid parking in the center of Thessaloniki. We took advantage of this option, which was recommended to us by the cruise company, and we are very grateful.

The very beautiful building of the passenger terminal of the port of Thessaloniki, built 1909-1912.
The very beautiful building of the passenger terminal of the port of Thessaloniki, built 1909-1912.
The port of Thessaloniki
The port of Thessaloniki

On a ship with children

The boarding is fast and very organized. We arrived at the terminal, unloaded our luggage, and Celestyal Cruises employees were already waiting for us at the entrance. We handed in our tickets and passports and they placed stickers on our suitcases. At the entrance they took the large suitcases and brought them directly to the cabin to avoid traffic jams with suitcases in the corridors.

The baggage of passengers ending their cruise in Kusadasi
The baggage of passengers ending their cruise in Kusadasi

So our team of four, with only light hand luggage, waited for our boarding passes and got on the ship.

We board the Celestyal Crystal - a cruise with kids
We board the Celestyal Crystal – a cruise with children

On Celestyal Cruises ships, boarding passes are magnetic cards that serve as both a cabin key, identity document and a means of payment on the ship itself. Accumulated consumption bills and other services are paid at the end of the trip. The kids were also given wristbands with their parents’ cabin number and phone number so they could easily find us if they got lost on the ship.

So the 7 day cruise with kids began.

Bye, Thessaloniki! We'll be back in a week.
Bye, Thessaloniki! We’ll be back in a week. Someone had asked us how high the deck railing was and was it dangeroud for children. It is high enough, but not safe to climb on.

Our first task was to tour the ship and familiarize ourselves with its main areas.

Celestyal Crystal

The Celestyal Crystal is a medium-sized ship with a capacity of up to about 1,200 passengers and almost 500 personnel. Compared to the largest cruise liners, it even counts for small. We liked it a lot because all the areas are very cozy and there were no crowds.

Mykonos port is always very busy. Our ship is currently the smallest of those present in the picture
Mykonos port is always very busy. Our ship is currently the smallest of those present in the picture
Celestyal Crystal
Celestyal Crystal

On the ship there are 5 or 6 restaurants, as many bars, a pool, a spa center, a shop, a casino. There is animation throughout the day in the different areas – dancing, language learning, various games for children and adults, and separate children’s animation for 2 hours a day.

One of the ship's breakfast restaurants
One of the ship’s breakfast restaurants
Horizons bar, where the disco was in the evening, and during the day it offers a wonderful view from the highest part of the ship
Horizons bar, where the disco was in the evening, and during the day it offers a wonderful view from the highest part of the ship

To our great joy, the children’s animator Gaby was Bulgarian and got along well with our children. Every night there was also a performance in the ship’s theater with a different theme – circus, Greek night, ABBA night, Cabaret, etc. The children really liked the circus.

Highlights from the Cabaret performance on the second night of our cruise
Highlights from the Cabaret performance on the second night of our cruise

We boarded around noon and quickly found ourselves at the Amalthia Restaurant, which is the ship’s main restaurant. By our standards, it was the most refined and relaxed of all the restaurants on the ship, and we almost always dined there.

If you’re not as snobbish as we are, many people preferred the two buffet restaurants on the top deck, right next to the pool. But we are snobs and like eating to be a relaxed ritual for us with all its courses and attributes.

At lunch on the Celestyal Crystal
At lunch on the Celestyal Crystal

The food on the ship

Food onboard Celestyal Cruises ships is included in all packages. You have breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as afternoon snacks and late night snacks. You can eat in all restaurants. There is only one where you pay extra, but there is no danger of getting into it by accident and without a reservation.

Our favorite restaurant was Amalthia, which is also the ship’s main restaurant. On breakfast and rare occasions it operates as a buffet, but it is usually a la carte.

The beautifully arranged tables in the Amalthia restaurant
The beautifully arranged tables in the Amalthia restaurant

The difference between all the restaurants is only in the form – the food is the same and is prepared in a common kitchen on the ship. But in the a la carte restaurant, you can order different courses – appetizers, soups, mains, desserts, carefully and beautifully arranged and served in the appropriate order.

If you choose the buffet – the food will be the same in terms of products and quality, but you will have to arrange and serve it yourself.

The joy of dessert. On a cruise with kids
The joy of dessert. On a cruise with kids

The a la carte restaurants also have children’s menu, including burgers, fries, bites and such. Our children sometimes ate from it, and more often they asked to be served only a bowl of boiled broccoli or fried eggs. Although these things are not on the menu, the staff was ready to help in asking the kitchen to prepare them. In general, the ship’s staff is very child-friendly and will do anything to please them.

Happy Adriana in Celestyal Crystal's restaurant
Happy Adriana in Celestyal Crystal’s restaurant

The drinks onboard

Basic packages include limited drinks and only during meals. But various upgrades are available. Celestyal Cruises provided us with a Premium Plus package for the four of us, asking us to test them and share our honest opinion about the service.

The package includes absolutely all drinks from the menu worth up to 10 euros each, which is 99% of the drinks. We made the most of the dozens of types of smoothies, fresh drinks, shakes for the kids and last but not least – wine for us.

The wine list on board is excellent and we tried it all
The wine list on board is excellent and we tried it all
When the wine by the glass offer includes Barolo
When the wine by the glass offer includes Barolo

On board they have a wonderful wine selection. There are also more other packages, such as a children’s package, or a non-alcoholic package, or a package with only mineral water.

It often happened that we replaced breakfast in the morning with coffee and smoothies at the bar
It often happened that we replaced breakfast in the morning with coffee and smoothies at the bar
Afternoon refreshment with fresh fruit, smoothies and milkshakes after a very hot day
Afternoon refreshment with fresh fruit, smoothies and milkshakes after a very hot day

Destinations – Celestyal Cruises’ greatest asset

Celestyal Cruises are known for offering unique destinations and excursions. Their ships are not huge and visit places that big liners can’t reach. Like the islands of Patmos and Milos, for example, but also popular places like Santorini and Mykonos , which have charmed more than one tourist. You can explore these pearls of the Aegean Sea on your own or with an organized excursion – the choice is yours.

During the Idyllic Aegean cruise, the ship stops each morning at a different port, stays there until late afternoon or even late evening, and departs for the next one. At some ports such as Kusadasi, Piraeus and Heraklion you can disembark at any time, walk around and board the ship.

Celestyal Crystal at Kusadasi Harbor
Celestyal Crystal at Kusadasi Harbor

On the islands, disembarking is often done by boats that take passengers to the shore and back every 20-30 minutes. Boats to the shore are free if you just want to go for a walk on your own.

Let's go to Santorini!
Let’s go to Santorini!
The boat that will take us to Santorini
The boat that will take us to Santorini
On some smaller islands such as Milos, the ship's own lifeboats are used to bring passengers ashore
On some smaller islands such as Milos, the ship’s own lifeboats are used to bring passengers ashore

Excursion with Celestyal Cruises

In each destination there are organized excursions, which are paid and have a guide and organized transport. Each excursion has a different program and may or may not be suitable for children.

On the Celestyal website there is a detailed brochure with a description of the excursions , duration and level of difficulty. You can also ask on board. Excursions are reserved at least 2 days in advance. We chose ones that don’t have a lot of walking and difficult terrain, because of the kids. More cultural and culinary program and bus tours.

We were able to go around almost the entire island of Santorini and even go up to its highest point with an organized excursion
We were able to go around almost the entire island of Santorini and even go up to its highest point with an organized excursion
Santorini faces
Santorini faces

If you are with elder children, there are very interesting excursions such as a visit to the uninhabited islands in the caldera of Santorini and the unique archaeological reserve of Delos near Mykonos. And around Milos you can go boating and diving around the rocks.

The beautiful Milos. The statue of Venus de Milo was found nearby here. And the opposite shore you see is the uninhabited half of the island, which is a nature reserve
The beautiful Milos. The statue of Venus de Milo was found nearby here. And the opposite shore you see is the uninhabited half of the island, which is a nature reserve

For us, it turned out to be most practical to reserve half-day organized excursions, and in the second part of the day to be on the ship. This way we were able to do a tour of the islands, but avoid getting exhausted and feel uncomfortable on our cruise with children. Our afternoons usually ended by the pool on the top deck of the ship with lots of smiles from both the kids and us.

Smiles by the pool, which was not big, but was quite enough for the children. Every day they filled it with water from the sea and it was always very clean
Smiles by the pool, which was not big, but was quite enough for the children. Every day they filled it with water from the sea and it was always very clean
Relaxing moments by the jacuzzi on the aft deck of the Celestyal Crystal ship
Relaxing moments by the jacuzzi on the aft deck of the Celestyal Crystal ship

Excursions with children – what impressed them the most

Paradoxically, all the excursions outside the ship were very interesting to them and at the same time they kept grumbling about going back to the ship. They were definitely very excited. But here are their favorite moments from the destinations.

  • They were very happy when we decided to go to the beach in Mykonos.
Ani on the beach of St. Stephen in Mykonos, which is very close to the port
Ani on the beach of St. Stephen in Mykonos, which is very close to the port
On the island of Crete we chose the Experience the Cretan Countryside and Lifestyle excursion, where we were taken to a traditional Cretan breakfast in a winery with a folklore program
On the island of Crete we chose the Experience the Cretan Countryside and Lifestyle excursion, where we were taken to a traditional Cretan breakfast in a winery with a folklore program
A quick stop on the bus in the town of Kamari on the island of Santorini, famous for its beach of black volcanic stones
A quick stop with the bus in the town of Kamari on the island of Santorini, famous for its beach of black volcanic stones
  • The white cliffs of Sarakiniko Beach in Milos they enjoyed climbing.
On the beach of Sarakiniko on the island of Milos
On the beach of Sarakiniko on the island of Milos
  • Again in Milos they really liked the mining museum. We were on this island with the Step Back in Time excursion
In the Mining Museum of Milos Island
In the Mining Museum of Milos Island
  • The Acropolis in Athens was a challenge because if the 40-degree heat but the kids endured it stoically. In general, they liked it there too.
With children on the Acropolis in Athens
With children on the Acropolis in Athens

THE ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS – GREECE

In Athens, the ship stops at either the port of Piraeus or Lavrion. In our case it was in Piraeus and if you want to go to the capital, you have to organize your own transport. One of the options is by subway, but there is also a lot of walking. If you want to see a specific landmark and especially the Acropolis, we personally recommend an organized tour because the guide will help you beat the crowds too.

Cruising with children – the fine print

We knew that cruising with kids was a new experience for both us and the kids, and we were quite afraid that we might miss something important that would spoil our holiday. Our biggest worries were seasickness, but everyone felt very well on board. This was probably helped by the calm weather during the summer, in contrast to our first rather stormy cruise in May 2022. Here are the things that most often caused arguments and tension among us:

  • The children were overexcited all the time and accordingly did not want to listen at all. They constantly wanted to try everything, unable to keep their attention on almost anything. Expected behavior, but sometimes very annoying. Especially when you want them to stand still for 3 seconds for a photo while there are no people in the otherwise overcrowded village of Oia in Santorini, and they’ll decide in those 3 seconds that they want something else.
The good shots and the angry kids
The good shots and the angry kids
  • Often in the middle of organized excursions they decided they were bored or tired and sometimes the whole group had to wait for us and we had to carry them. They also stubbornly refused to sleep during the day and often fell asleep on the bus, which made them cranky during excursions.
Adi refused to sleep in the afternoon on the Mykonos day and fell asleep during the walk in the afternoon
Adi refused to sleep in the afternoon on the Mykonos day and fell asleep during the walk in the afternoon

But the bright and curious eyes at the sight of the pool, the milkshake with marshmallows and colorful sticks or a beach are priceless treasures that remain forever for us and for them. And we are extremely happy that we went to a cruise with children and had a truly new experience.

In the next article we will tell you more about the Idyllic Aegean cruise, and with this one we hope we have convinced you that a cruise with children is not scary, but it is very emotional and enriching. We are sure that both we and the children grew up together in these 7 days.

Last moments on the ship before we disembark in Thessaloniki
Last moments on the ship before we disembark in Thessaloniki

How do you know you really enjoyed your trip?

Whether you felt great on a trip, you can feel it in the first minutes after it’s over. You are sad to leave the ship, you are sad to say goodbye to these people and say goodbye to everyone several times. The children also left somewhat sadly. And now, sorting through photos and memories, we miss those moments, days and emotions. So our cruise with kids was PERFECT!

It's a miracle, but we even managed to take a picture of the four of us together. Once.
It’s a miracle, but we even managed to take a picture of the four of us together. Once.

From September 2023 the 7-day cruises will be served by the new ship of the company – Celestyal Journey. It will be more luxurious and we believe that the experience will be even better. Celestyal Journey will have 280% more balcony suites, seven decadent dining venues, eight magnificent bars and lounges, expansive sun decks, two shimmering pools and an entire deck dedicated to wellness. The information about itineraries, procedures, excursions, etc. is not expected to change.

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