By Linda Raymer on June 23, 2021
An avid cruiser for 35 years, I have been fortunate to be a guest on many luxury ships of all sizes. More than 40 nights have been on one of the Regent Seven Seas ships and there is not a more perfect way to get a taste of a new destination or an immersive experience in a favorite part of the world. Packing and unpacking once in a beautiful floating luxury hotel is a pampered, stress-free way to travel.
The fact that one of the signatures of Regent is that in every port more than one opportunity exists to see and explore the destination on an “included” shore excursion. Of course, if you have been to the destination and want a more specialized personal experience, it is also possible to custom design your own shore experiences with the help of our expert advisors before you travel. The food, amenities, décor, personal space, and attentive service are second to none on Regent so take a short virtual trip with me as I share a few favorite memories.
A very special memory aboard Regent was the journey from Auckland to Sydney introducing us to the beauty and culture of New Zealand and Australia. However, a place I have returned to on many occasions is the Mediterranean and my most recent cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager was the Picturesque Greek Isles cruise from Haifa to Athens. While most of the ports were ones I had been to and some more than twice, the fact that this trip began in Israel gave us a fabulous chance to revisit some amazing destinations that have not changed in over 2000 years and yet others that are new every time we have been lucky enough to see them such as Ephesus and Athens.
To whet your appetite for a beautiful Mediterranean adventure to Israel, Greece, and Turkey, I will share a few photographs and details about our cruise that began in Haifa, Israel. We spent four full days at the beginning of the trip with a wonderful private guide and driver exploring Jerusalem, with is rich culture and history; followed by Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Caesarea. The biblical connections are everywhere and so often we found ourselves standing still to capture and appreciate that we were among places we had read about and studied all our lives. I had been to Israel twice in the 1980s, but this was my husband’s first visit, so it was especially meaningful for us to share the experience staying in the World Heritage old walled city in the majestic King David Hotel.
Via Dolorosa is the narrow path through the heart of the city beginning at Lions Gate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also known as the Road of Sorrow. Marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross, it ends just west of the Dome of the Rock which is a brilliant site for the visitor’s initial impressive view of the Old City from the Mount of Olives. Our tour continued to the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western Wall, the Garden tomb, and Bethlehem before driving to the Jordan River and on to the Sea of Galilee for a ride in a boat that would have been like those used by fishermen during the time of Jesus. We were fascinated at the museum by the lake showcasing a fishing boat that had been preserved from the sea that is more than 2000 years old!
The Mount of Beatitudes, where we read aloud the Sermon on the Mount; Nazareth, where we imagined the early childhood of Jesus, and Capernaum where we stood at the home of Simon Peter were all highlights of this short visit to these iconic Holy Places.
We boarded the ship and settled into our comfortable verandah suite and enjoyed the first dinner in the main dining room. The next morning, as we were to remain in Haifa for the day, our guide and driver returned to treat us to a lovely trip along the coast to explore Caesarea, one of Israel’s’ major archaeological sites. This ancient city is preserved within Caesarea National Park. This was one of the surprises for me as there has been a tremendous amount of excavation since I first visited this area in the 1980s. This 2000-year-old city was built to honor Augustus Caesar. It was here that Herold laid out a classical city compete with an amphitheater and stadium as well as an artificial harbor with concrete pilings under the water, said to be the first such use of concrete. It was from this harbor that St. Paul was taken prisoner to Rome. We were fascinated to see that near the excavated theater there is an inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate which is the only secular reference of his existence!
Once we set sail, we were off to ports in Greece and Turkey. Our first day was a delightful opportunity to relax at sea and reflect on the things we had packed into those first few days. Then the next day our first port of call was Kos, the third largest of the Dodecanese Islands of Greece where the resources are principally vineyards, figs, olives, and vegetables. The charming village of Zia on Kos instantly made us realize we were in Greece. Because of the mineral springs in the mountains in the south, the town of Asclepius became a health resort and the first school of scientific medicine in Greece. We learned that Hippocrates was one of the island’s most famous citizens.
The cruise lines all do a marvelous job of changing the order of the itineraries, so if like me you have taken a cruise to this area more than once, there will be new places to visit on each trip while often having the opportunity to return to very popular destinations like Ephesus and Mykonos.
Our next stop was the bustling town of Kusadasi on the Aegean coast of Turkey. Near the ancient city of Ephesus, one of the Mediterranean’s most important archaeological sites, Kusadasi, is also one of the Western world’s most important and best-preserved cities. This is a place worth visiting every few years because it changes regularly due to the constant excavation. In 7 short years since our last visit, the size of the city to explore was simply amazing.
One of the greatest Greek cities in Asia minor, Ephesus is also considered a sacred site for Christians due to its association with several biblical figures including St. Paul, the Apostle John, and the Virgin Mary. The House of the Virgin Mary, where she spent the remainder of her life after the resurrection of Jesus is a place of pilgrimage for Christians. It is a short distance from Ephesus at the top of Mount Bulbul and is now a church where Daily Mass is held each morning.
We were completely in awe of the Terraced Houses, a fascinating addition since our last visit when that area appeared only as a large, serene hillside in the city. That excavation along with the Library of Celsus, the Great Theater, and the long boulevard make these extensive ruins an inspirational highlight for any visit to Turkey.
Next on our itinerary, situated on the Bay of Kavala across from the island of Thasos, was Kavala. It is situated on the mainland of northern Greece in a region known as Macedonian, not to be confused with its country to the north. In antiquity Kavala was known as Neapolis and in the Middle Ages renamed Christoupolis. The city is considered one of the most beautiful in Greece and is filled with ancient archaeological sites, popular beaches, the famous Aqueduct built in 1550 (that also served as a wall to the city), the Byzantine Castle and the house of Mehmet Ali, the founder of the last dynasty of Greece. Due to the Easter season when we were there many of the sites were not available so this destination will clearly call for another visit!
And we were on to Volos, the newest of the Greek port cities with most of the new buildings erected following the catastrophic earthquake in 1955. This area’s mythical background features in some of the most remarkable tales in Greek Mythology. Volos is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Greece and the wealth of the region is seen in numerous mansions, museums, and splendid churches.
Mykonos, the last of our romantic Greek islands on this trip, is one of the most picturesque and one of the smallest of the Cyclades and well known in large measure because of Jackie Onassis. Travelers from all over the world are drawn to the miles of sandy beaches, thatched windmills, and the charming port town, also called Mykonos. The extensive maze of narrow cobblestone shopping streets, whitewashed walls with blue doors and windows create that classic Cycladic post card image of Greece.
Our favorite activity on each visit to Mykonos (other than visiting the handmade jewelry at Georgios), has been sitting by the water enjoying a fabulous meal of fresh seafood and lovely wine while watching all the fascinating people stroll by. There are several interesting things to explore such as the archaeological, folk art and maritime museums and the more than 400 churches and chapels. This small 30 square mile island has more than a million visitors in a normal year which means it is very busy during high season. Mykonos, one of the most popular of the Aegean Islands is always a favorite stop on any Green Isle cruise, especially knowing you will likely see fashion models and jetsetters and often many very impressive yachts of the rich and famous in the harbor.
Our final stop and place of disembarkation was the magnificent city of Athens. In the several years since our last visit the New Acropolis Museum has opened so we opted to spend an extra day and night in Athens. After a nice reorientation drive through the city, we took time for an in depth visit to this phenomenal museum that sits just below the Acropolis, always with that ancient site in view. What an amazing way to conclude this adventure. We were so impressed with how clean and green this city was compared to the last time we were there.
After the tour of the fabulous museum, we enjoyed lunch at Dionysus, again with the view of the Acropolis in clear view. We decided to forego the hike up the hill since we had done that on several previous visits and my husband had not yet had his now successful knee replacements that will make such future activities much more enjoyable. Relaxing before dinner in this memorable luxury hotel provided a nice opportunity to rethink our packing for the return flight the next day.
Our final day in Greece, filled with many “WOW” moments, concluded with our farewell dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the Grand Bretagne Hotel. The food and service were excellent, but our eyes stayed mostly fixed on the last views of the Acropolis as the sun set and the entire hill became a blaze with lights. A fitting way to end a spectacular adventure to this beautiful and historic part of the world.
About the author
Following a career of 35 years in the industry as owner and senior executive of one of the top American Express Franchise agencies, now as President Emeritus at Travelink, Linda's influence and impact on our business and the travel industry is everlasting. Having developed the luxury division of our leisure business, Privileged Journeys, she continues to support our growth and remains available to develop luxury itineraries for individuals and custom groups as well as represent our company in local charity work. Linda has served on the American Express CTN Advisory board as well as the American Express Vacations Advisory Board, the Bedsonline Advisory Board, the Departures Luxury Council and the Departures Magazine ETA (Elite Travel Advisor) Board.