You could spend a lifetime visiting only Greece and not be left wanting. There are, after all, over 6,000 Greek Islands to explore. From the ancient ruins to the twisting cobbled alleys, to the swanky hotspots, Greece is a dream destination that’s wrapped up in sapphire seas and fringed with red, black and white-diamond beaches. The question isn’t are you going to visit the Greek Islands, it’s when…and how?
My first experience of island hopping in Greece was basic. Fun, of course, but it was hard and messy and time-consuming. Navigating the local ferries, searching for rooms on islands that were stuffed like vines leaves, full of tourists. Getting more than one elbow in the face (and less than one apology) trying to win a peek of the famous Santorini sunset was the final blow. The next time I went island hopping, I swore I’d do it differently.
And I did. I sailed around the Greek Islands on the luxury yacht, Running on Waves. In this review, I’ll share with you my experience on this exceptional cruise. From what’s on board to what you can expect to why this is, without a doubt, one of the best Greek Island cruises.
The Running on Waves Ship – Overview
Running on Waves is a 64-metre, three-mast sailing yacht. Sitting somewhere between a large yacht and a small cruise ship, with tall masts and billowy white sails, she is (in less technical terms) simply stunning – both up close and from a distance.
Running on Waves is a luxury sailing yacht that will make you proud. And you should be proud because sailing on her is usually the preserve of the elite. For the most part, Running on Waves runs as a private charter. Accepting only 45 guests and costing over €135,000 per week for private hire, you can see why this beautiful ship is out of reach for most of us. However, sometimes a little magic happens. And that magic occurs several times a year as Running on Waves opens up to the public, offering scheduled itineraries. Starting at €1,680 ($2,049/£1,546) per person, people like you and me can rent a cabin rather than the entire ship and indulge in the kind of luxury that creates lifelong memories.
Before I go into more detail about the ship and the service onboard, a quick note on the itineraries. There are four publicly available schedules to choose from:
- Aegean Cruise – Athens, Syros, Delos, Mykonos, Patmos, Kos, Santorini, Milos, Athens
- Dodecanese Cruise – Athens, Mykonos, Ios, Santorini, Kos, Bodrum (Turkey), Patmos, Naxos, Athens
- Cyclades Cruise – Athens, Mykonos, Ikaria, Cesme, Chios, Tinos, Andros, Syros, Athens
- Peloponnesus Cruise – Athens, Monemvasia, Pylos, Katakolo, Kefalonia, Itea, Corinth Canal, Aegina, Athens
I took the Aegean Cruise, but I’d say this is one cruise where the itinerary can take a back seat. Unless there’s a specific island you must explore, the real highlight of this cruise is being on the ship. Island hopping is mere icing on the cake. If you do want more information about which islands to visit, I have written a separate article about the Best Greek Islands. This includes the islands I visited on my Aegean cruise as well as a few others I’ve visited on other trips. If you’re interested in a Mediterranean cruise, the Greek islands are an excellent place to start.
Embarkation and welcome onboard
I’ve been on a few cruises before joining Running on Waves. One with Swan Hellenic around the British Isles which was wonderful. One was a small catamaran that I took around the British Virgin Islands, where we dragged our small backpacks onboard and then cooked ourselves dinner. The other cruise was on a mega-cruise ship, the kind that holds thousands of passengers, which I took around the southern Caribbean. The embarkation for the big cruise was regimented, crowded and exhausting. Running on Waves sits high above these other experiences.
Embarkation was quick and immediately personal. We were introduced to Robert and Claudia, the couple who were in charge of running the ship, at least from our perspective (sorry, Captain). From rooms to shore excursions to any questions or requests, Robert and Claudia were the duo – I’d go so far as to call them a dream team – that made our cruise so special. They helped a nervous young man arrange a photographer for the marriage proposal he was planning on Mykonos (his girlfriend said yes!), they helped another guest arrange a medical appointment on-shore, they took pictures, planned trips, recommended bars and restaurants, orchestrated timings and did it all without raising a visible sweat.
The cruise’s success owes a lot to their hard work, efficiency and all-around excellent customer service, which starts the second you step onboard. Having been relieved of the burden of your luggage at a very quick check-in, you’re welcomed on board with a cold hand towel, a crisp glass of Prosecco, and a selection of canapés. Sitting in the Ocean Bar, sipping wine, nibbling on snacks and getting to meet your fellow guests offers very relaxed embarkation, devoid of the disorienting process of locating your cabin or scrambling around to find your luggage. By the time you’ve finished your drinks, your luggage has been deposited in your cabin. You then have enough time to change for dinner and to watch the ship leave Piraeus port just before your first dinner is served.
I stayed in cabin 16 which is one of the lower to mid-range rooms in terms of price, but was by no means mid-range in terms of spec. Sure you couldn’t swing a Greek cat in there – it’s a cabin on a ship, after all – but there was more space than I expected and the cabin has been incredibly well designed. There is a full double bed, wardrobe, small table, fridge, wall-mounted TV, A/C, safe and two portholes which let in great light. The bed lifts up for extra storage space (great for stashing your suitcase) and there is a useful pull-out washing line in the shower for drying wet swimsuits. In terms of decor, the cabin has a cute nautical theme.
The bathroom contains a good-size shower, full-size sink and ‘normal’ toilet. I say ‘normal’ in case you’ve ever been on one of those ships that have a complicated lever system rather than a flush. I know people are often quietly concerned about toilets. This one was normal and flushed just fine. As for the water, it is ‘sweet water’ i.e. freshwater produced through reverse osmosis, not salt water. While it won’t taste great if you drink it from the bathroom tap, it’s safe for brushing your teeth and showering. I know because I asked.
It’s hard to say if the cabins are well insulated because I had some ‘chatty’ neighbours on one side, yet didn’t hear a peep from my neighbours on the other side. Either way, there will inevitably be sailing noises since most of the sailing happens at night. So, if you’re a light sleeper, I recommend packing ear plugs. Here’s my packing list with suggestions.
The food and drinks onboard
I confess I gave a silent groan when I read the word ‘buffet’. Not only am I immensely lazy – I like the food ordering system where I point to a menu item and the food arrives – I also can’t be trusted at a buffet. I can’t count the number of times I’ve returned to my seat with a feast of seafood and gravy and curry and cake, all on the same plate. But somehow the buffet wasn’t just ok, it was one of the highlights of the trip.
Perhaps it’s the selection of food which is so well chosen each day that it all simply goes together, no matter how much I tried to mess it up. Or maybe it is the high-quality ingredients that made me focus my attention on one dish at a time. It also helps that the dessert is a little staggered, not sitting there from the start; most likely for freshness, but also saving people like me from myself.
In terms of what is served up, each night features a choice of meat, fish, salad and vegetables. From king prawns and tuna tartare to sirloin steak to greek lamb and pork souvlaki, you are literally spoilt for choice. Lunches are similar – hot, high-quality ingredients (no soggy sandwiches here); while breakfasts offer a feast of pastries, fresh fruit platters, smoked salmon, eggs, bacon, sausage and, my favourite, oodles of Greek yoghurt and honey. My biggest regret about the food is that I didn’t take enough pictures of it. I credit that mistake to the chef, who made the food taste so good that picture-taking fell entirely off my radar when I had a plate of tender lamb in front of me.
What if you’re veggie? There was a veggie on the ship and every night he was offered his own ‘special’ plate of food whether it was fresh pasta or fried rice or something else that looked divine enough that the rest of us wanted a bite. If you do have dietary requirements or, really, any requirements, let Robert or Claudia know. I asked for decaf coffee and that same day Robert went shopping on-shore to try and find me some.
All of your meals are included in the price of the cruise – breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as teas and coffees. Alcohol costs extra but there are no ridiculous mark-up prices like you get on most cruises. A beer costs around €3.50 a glass. Water is freely available with two 2-litre bottles placed in your cabin fridge each evening, and more available on request. My only wish was that there is a water refilling station on board to save some of the plastic bottles that are handed out.
I’ve also written an article about 23 Traditional Greek Dishes You Must Try in Greece.
If you’ve ever taken a cruise on a big ocean liner, you’ll be familiar with the idea of shore excursions. If you’re not familiar, shore excursions are pre-arranged trips that help you explore an island in one-day, all orchestrated so that you’re back on board in time for the evening’s sailing schedule. I took only one shore excursion during my Caribbean cruise because it was enough to frighten me off taking any more. Hideously over-priced, flooded with a conveyor belt of people, I’ve never felt so herded in my life. Plus, I can’t think of a quicker way to ruin other people’s trips – a crowd of cruisers marching through a place, to the flap of a flag, mounted on a pole.
I’m very pleased to report that the shore excursion style is different. Every day presents a new Greek Island and every day there is something new to explore. Yet, there are no excursions for the sake of selling excursions. Guided tours are only arranged where there are historic sights to see. On the Aegean Cruise, that means there are shore excursions on Delos, Patmos and Milos. For the other islands, Mykonos, Santorini, Kos, it makes more sense to explore alone. I took two of the guided tours – Delos and Patmos – and in each case, the guide was excellent, clearly passionate about the ancient sights, but without leaving you checking your watch wishing the tour to end (I call it ‘old-stuff-overload’).
The price of the shore excursions is unbeatable too. Offered at cost, there is a base price for each tour. However, the more people from the ship that join, the lower the price becomes. Both of my tours cost under €40 per person for hours of exploring. On Milos, I skipped the tour in favour of some independent exploration. Claudia helped me and my new ship friends hire a car with a local company and we spent the day beach hopping.
Each evening after dinner, Claudia presents you with the following day’s itinerary and options available, together with maps, tips and a schedule for getting to shore. From excursions to independent sightseeing, like wine tasting on Santorini, Claudia will help arrange any sightseeing you want to do.
Getting to shore – the tender service
Since the ship rarely docks in the port, there is a ‘tender’ boat that runs on a schedule to and from the port. It’s a 14-seater speedboat that you enter off the back of the ship. There was some stormy weather towards the end of our cruise and the tender was a little choppy but there are ample towels to cover against any spray and there is no problem getting on and off the tender because the crew are so good at helping. There was a lovely gentleman on our cruise who had walking and balance issues and the crew managed to help him in and out of the tender boat every time without a hitch. Then, it’s full speed ahead to the port. From luxury yacht to speedboat, I can’t think of a more glamorous way to arrive in port.
Watersports and entertainment
Perhaps one of the best features of taking a cruise with a yacht like Running on Waves is that (as mentioned above), the ship typically anchors away from the port. That means that you can wake up and slip into the water for a swim before breakfast. Or, indeed, at any time of day. Most of the sailing happens overnight, which means that coming back from a hot-sticky day of exploring, you can launch yourself off the ship into the water. Or just use the ladder if that’s more your thing like it is mine.
Sadly, because I was busy exploring the islands, I didn’t get a chance to use any of the onboard water sport ‘toys’ of which there are many – snorkelling masks, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks are all included as part of your cruise price. Other water sports, like underwater scooters, are available for a fee. My tip: if you go beach hopping, don’t forget to borrow a snorkelling mask. One guest borrowed a volleyball and made some new friends on a beach he visited.
There are other low-key entertainment options onboard including a movie night, (guest-requested) karaoke which I conveniently forgot to join, and a knot typing class. We didn’t get a chance to climb the mast due to the weather conditions but we did spend a glorious hour watching the crew put the sails up. To be honest, after a day of exploring and swimming and sailing, I was simply content to sit with a cup of herbal tea or a glass of wine at the end of each evening before retiring for a well-earned sleep.
Speaking of sleeping and relaxation, if you are considering a Mediterranean cruise for some well-earned rest and relaxation, you probably couldn’t find a better option than Running on Waves. The ship has two great spots for chilling out – the sun deck (above), which is the top deck complete with sun loungers and a hot tub (filled with water that will refresh rather than heat you). This was my favourite reading spot. If you prefer shade, there is a great seated area which is fully covered but is open at the sides allowing you a nice breeze and good views. Both spots are perfect for an afternoon nap. On one of the days, I stayed on board in the afternoon and had the entire sun deck to myself. Bliss.
Small touches of luxury service
It was the small touches that added up to make a big difference. My favourite evening was on Santorini Island – or, rather, off the coast of Santorini Island. The first time I’d been to Santorini I found the beauty was massively overshadowed by the mob of crowds, pushing and shoving to see the sunset. I remember looking out at the yachts on the water, thinking ‘that’s the way to do it’. And it was. Gathered on the sundeck, the crew sets out a table and starts serving Champagne (actual Champagne, not just sparkling wine). Glass in hand, sunset in view, not a single crowd to be found, I can’t think of a more special way to see the sun set over Santorini.
More Champagne is served on the final evening (once again, at no extra cost), along with an extravagant dinner of the finest seafood, meats, vegetables and salads. From the cold towels and iced water every time you return from shore, to the ‘call waiter’ bells dotted around the ship, the small luxuries and sense of pampering keep unfolding until, by the end of the trip, you’re enveloped in it.
As a final memento, you’re given a free t-shirt with a technical drawing of the ship printed on the back. It’s fast become one of my favourites. All I need to do is slip it on and I’m taken back to the sapphire seas of the Aegean Islands, the luxury Running on Waves ship, and into daydreams that one day I’ll step on board this luxury yacht once more.
If you’re looking to book a luxury cruise around the Greek Islands, Running on Waves is the one to book.
How to Book
You can explore itineraries, dates, and prices, and book directly with Running on Waves.
The Greece cruises all depart from and return to the Piraeus port in Athens. They run between June and September. As there are only 45 guests on board, with no last-minute discounts available, I’d recommend booking as far in advance as possible to secure your spot and choice of cabin.
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In partnership with Running on Waves.