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Onboard with Celestyal Cruises

As all the big-name cruise lines continue to build newer, larger and even more eye-popping megaliners featuring all manner of onboard amenities, leave it to a smaller niche operator like Celestyal Cruises, whose programs are much more specialized and port intensive, to provide a comfortable home for older and smaller but still quite-serviceable ships that have gone through one or more previous owners and have become available on the market. Not only are such vessels far less expensive to acquire and operate but, when given Celestyal’s “tender loving care,” which I’ve witnessed in person, they can be perfect for operating itineraries during which little time is spent at sea.

Celestyal, formerly known as Louis Cruises, is part of a long-established, Cyprus-based travel and tourism group that began as a travel agency in 1935 and expanded into the short-cruise market during the 1970s. It specializes in three-, four- and seven-night cruises, primarily of the Greek Islands and Turkey, with convenient departures available from Athens, Istanbul and other ports.

In July, I participated in a line-sponsored media trip that included a three-night sailing of Celestyal Odyssey and four nights on Celestyal Crystal, so my colleagues and I got a good feel for how their itineraries are operated. It is important to realize that although these ships do a fine job of providing transportation, lodging, meals and a goodly amount of onboard entertainment and activities, the stars of Celestyal’s programs are the incredible ports that are visited, at least one and sometimes two per day, every day. These range from well-known stops like Mykonos and Santorini, and Kusadasi, (the port for Ephesus,), to smaller, less crowded but equally fascinating islands like Samos, Kos and Ios.

Although the company’s ships are older, which translates to having virtually no private balcony accommodations available other than for suites, they are well maintained and spotlessly clean, with comfortable cabins and a nice complement of public rooms and facilities. Just don’t expect any climbing walls, ice rinks, zip lines, water slides or Imax theaters. Being relatively small vessels by today’s standards, the line’s ships are easy to get around without becoming disoriented.

Food is good and plentiful but not gourmet, although extra-cost steak and lobster entrees are excellent. The poolside barbecue dinner on Celestyal Crystal is tasty, and both ships offer nice buffet breakfasts. My colleagues all seemed to enjoy the Greek-centered music and entertainment a lot, even a portrayal of a traditional Greek wedding presented by the Lyceum Club of Greek Women. The Greek atmosphere, spirit and hospitality evident aboard its vessels has to be one of the line’s top selling points, as is its highly attractive pricing.

For a little background, the 25,611-ton Celestyal Crystal, built originally in 1980 as Viking Saga, and rebuilt in 2007, accommodates 966 guests. It sailed for quite a while as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Leeward. The 37,773-ton Celestyal Olympia, originally Royal Caribbean’s Song of America, was built in 1982 and refurbished in 2012; it accommodates 1,450 guests. And the 24,391-ton, 840-guest — two per cabin — Celestyal Odyssey was built in 2000 as Olympic Voyager, refurbished in 2011, and subsequently operated by Costa Cruises.

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