This is the life. Watching the shore fade into the distance (a glass of wine in hand, of course), the sea breeze in my hair, those first excited words exchanged with the folk sharing your floating home for the next week.
I know, I know. Ocean cruising is on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) no-go list, a lunatic diktat that at a stroke has invalidated our travel insurance, so neither I nor my husband should be on this ship, but frankly we don’t care.
Not that we have been cavalier about coming. We weighed the pros and cons carefully. A week of sun, sand, sea and some of the best Greek islands the Cyclades can muster or another seven days at home? The decision took about 30 seconds.
We’re on Variety Cruises’ Galileo, a comely yacht that’s more outsized Turkish gulet than ostentatious floating gin palace on which ‘no news, no shoes’ is the order of the day.
We’d booked an upper cabin that opened onto the promenade deck that was compact but comfy and with adequate storage (frankly if it’s not enough, you’ve packed too much). It was all very Death on the Nile. Except here, instead of murder, the game afoot – sparked by Variety’s protocols to keep Covid-19 away – was competing for the lowest temperature and highest blood oxygen level.
Testing for both was mandatory before we were allowed on board as well as every morning. Masks in indoor public areas were de rigueur, except when eating, and every other day, a natty machine sprayed our cabins with a chemical ‘fog’ to kill all bugs. Crew are regularly tested and also wear masks or Perspex shields (much nicer as you can see their smiles) indoors. We all felt super safe and importantly none of this impinged at all on the whole cruise experience.
Before setting sail, cruise manager Joseph summoned us to the lounge to spell out a few of the do’s and don’ts, which was mostly to do with not drowning if we chose to swim off the boat (there’s no pool on Galileo so instead we had swim stops in the Aegean most day).
The ship holds 50 passengers, but there were just over 20 of us – a mixed bag of Germans, French, Spanish, Greeks and two other Brits who knew nothing of the Government’s rules on cruising (and had a good laugh when they found out but were surprised a company had neglected to mention it when it sold them cruise travel insurance) – so it not only felt exclusive but was well within the maximum number Variety has set to allow for social distancing.
The islands of Santorini and Mykonos are so famous, one for its sunsets, the other for its party vibe, that under normal circumstances Variety daren’t skip them. Sadly this year nothing is normal and with both just added to England’s quarantine list (Santorini doesn’t appear on Wales’s list, while all of Greece is on Scotland’s), Variety will aim to tweak the itinerary if there are Brits on board while that restriction remains in place.
On both islands you usually have to do the shuffle to get around because there are so many people, but this time, with no other cruise ships in port, so no crowds, they were lovely. However, the stars for me were the lesser-known Poros, Paros, Syros and, my favourite, Folegandros. Home to just 600 people, it was Santorini without the tourist trappings.
We joined guide Jenny, an expert in Ancient Greece who sailed with us, for a brilliant tour of the archaeological site on Delos, the mythological birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, but otherwise did our own thing. Which alternated between sweaty climbs to landmark chapels or churches in 34-degree heat and getting lost in the maze of streets and alleyways, each lined with white-washed houses covered in colourful bougainvillea, that characterise every Greek town.
We need the exercise, I reminded myself, as we puffed up to St George’s Cathedral above Syros – 188 metres above sea level and so steep I could either climb or count steps, but not both together – to work off our daily calorie intake. Every evening we’d agree we didn’t want much dinner ashore after a lunchtime feast of olives, salads, dips, meats and fish (the cruise is half-board, with mostly breakfast and lunch included), only to give in to temptation and order a feast.
“Do you get stowaways on cruise ships,” pondered Ian, one of the other Brits, as we headed back to the marina just outside Athens where Galileo berths. Believe me, he wasn’t the only one mulling ways to stay and do it all over again.
Variety Cruises offers a seven-night Jewels of the Cyclades voyage round-trip from Piraeus, departing April 23, 2021, that visits Poros, Folegandros, Santorini, Paros, Delos, Mykonos and Syros from £2,309 per person half-board excluding flights (0208 324 3117; seafarercruises.com).
Please check the latest travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before travelling, and be aware that government advice can change suddenly. Always check your operator’s cancellation policy before booking.