Mediterranean cruise (with kids): worth it?
Updated: Jun 4, 2019
I just completed my first cruise! In only 10 days, our little family visited Rome, Crete, Mikonos, Rhodes, Santorini, Athens, and Naples. Having never cruised or stayed at an all-inclusive resort before, it was a really novel experience.
Three things stood out to me as extremely positive: first, that I didn’t have to cook, clean, or organize anything during our entire vacation. Second, the constant stream of free food and entertainment available at the ship. And third, the fact that we visited seven different towns/islands in a week and a half!
That last point, however, begs the question: can you really see and experience all of those different locations in such a short time? Of course I can only speak from my own situation; having two small kids in tow and (thus) not really being able to go on tours. Frankly, it was quite a challenge to see and do much at all. Here's what we managed to do:
The old town is beautiful—that I can’t deny. But when our bus (the one that goes straight from the cruise ship to the center of the town) dropped us off at a square filled with beggars, chaotic traffic and construction workers I felt as if I’d landed in hell. Fortunately, it took only ten minutes to walk to the pretty part of town: the old Venetian harbor, which is lined with tourist restaurants.
We had a nice lunch on the way; a mixture of traditional Greek food and modern bohemian fare. After that, we wondered through the adorable little streets until we saw the sea and felt like we found the place where we were meant to be. After a long walk along the coast line and Venetian monuments, and some souvenir shopping, we sat down for beers and more food.
All in all, I didn’t see much noteworthy in Crete, and I definitely didn’t see Crete. After having spent a full day on the cruise, I felt totally unprepared for being on land. In hindsight: why didn't I bring a guidebook? Maybe because I visited Greece before so many times that I figured I would just make my way, even in new places.
But I didn’t. Having no Wifi on the ship, and generally feeling more like seizing the day than worrying about must-see sights, or even generally planning our next steps, I was again totally unprepared for our next adventure: exploring “gay paradise” island Mikonos, with its atmospheric white buildings and accessible beaches. It didn’t help that it was very windy (apparently typical for Mikonos) and it rained a bit that day.
We literally didn’t make it further than the first city-beach, where we plopped down and ordered a bottle of Retsina and a plate of zucchini pasta and watched our kids throw rocks into the ocean. We all had a nice time though. Our sisters-in-law took a taxi ride to another beach, where they took some photos, and met up with us later at yet another beach, where we ate the best grilled swordfish I remember eating--ever.
So we saw as much of Mikonos as we saw of Crete: very little. I kind of regretted not seeing Lindsey Lohan’s beach bar, from the reality show, but in hindsight we did what we could: eat, drink, shop, and spend quality time on the beach with our kids, which is all that really matters.
I was both apprehensive and excited about going to Rhodes. Apprehensive because so many refugees wash up there—which I feel terrible about—and excited because it’s the only part of Greece (as in, the part that’s close to Turkey) that I hadn’t seen yet. For full disclose: I visited Greece about a dozen times because I had a Greek boyfriend during college.
So instead of wandering aimlessly into town, like we'd done at our previous island stops, we booked a tour with the first tour guide that presented himself when we walked off the ship. It turned out to be a good deal. I still think 200 euros is a little steep for a few hours of being driven around, but our guide was a proud local who showed us several stunning sites we would've never found by ourselves.
The day went by too fast. There was much more we wanted to do and see in Rhodes, and I think this is the first Greek island I choose to return to when given the chance. It's much larger and busier than, let's say the Cyclades, but it offers variety and tons of charm.
Of the four Greek islands visited I found Santorini to be the most "upscale." Or at least, that's how I would describe Oia, the town we visited by speedboat, and not so much Fira, the town we visited afterwards when going back to the ship. Unfortunately, it felt so resort-like that it didn't seem authentic at all.
The prices are also very steep in Oia and it doesn't even have a beach because it's so high up! Sure, the views are fantastic, but do I really want to pay 7 euros for a beer when looking out over white houses where Chinese newlyweds and blond models conduct photo shoots? Nope, not really.
I also hurt myself that day. There are very high stairs that lead from the harbor to Fira. You can even ride a donkey up there but... poor donkeys! Not all of them survive that particular tourist service, apparently. Anyway, I was trying to walk down those steps on slippery flip-flops and a baby stroller in hand. I slipped and got the biggest bruise I've had in years. So, like normal people, we took the cable cart down instead.
Now, I didn't even want to get off the boat in Athens. Because Athens is a busy and filthy place. It's also a wonderful city where I spent lots of fun times in my early twenties--but it's not great when you only have a few hours and a 1-year old in tow. I don't know why I changed my mind, but we went on a 2-hour-straight-from-hell metro ride to the Acropolis, where I dutifully waited with my daughter until my husband and his sisters completed their tours.
Oh, and we had a terribly mediocre lunch in a restaurant that may have been frequented by Jacky Kennedy and the likes back in the day, even though it offers a fully obstructed view of the Acropolis, but that now serves overpriced food that's barely edible. The best part of the day, honestly, was that we managed to get back to the ship in under an hour, which felt like a huge accomplishment.
I was excited about seeing Naples, but I ended up not setting one foot in the city and mounting the Vesuvius instead. In a way, the day started out very much like our day in Athens. Stuck in public transportation for hours, it took the entire morning to reach the volcano.
But, the Vesuvius is the most dangerous and active volcano in Europe. It's also the stuff of mythology--and so I had to go there. We miscalculated our gear a little bit, though. Once we arrived at the top, which was shrouded in clouds, we were the only ones in flip-flops, skirts, and with a baby in tow. Or so it seemed. The very steep incline didn't help, making it feel even more like a challenging expedition. On the way up, however, we saw people on crutches, and people with walking disabilities, so all things considered we weren't even in such bad shape. My husband had to carry Kemi the whole time though, as she was protesting loudly (she's too independent to be carried).
Honestly, you won't find us on another cruise anytime soon. But it's not because we didn't like it. It's because of the price tag. Our cruise cost almost 9,000 bucks (although we had a massive discount through my sister-in-law) and that does NOT include flights, airport transfers, excursions, or alcoholic drinks. I heard Disney cruises, which are more child-friendly, are even pricier. Instead, I think we'll spend our next vacation in an idyllic Airbnb in Rhodes.