Doesn’t a three continent cruise sound thrilling? Although Alan and I cruise on small luxury ships, we realize that some of our readers need to watch their budgets. That’s why My Itchy Travel Feet contributing writer, Debi Lander from ByLanderSea, is here to share an affordable cruise that checks off some amazing bucket list destinations. Disclosure: Debi was hosted by Celestyal Cruises.
Many boomers prefer to cruise because it provides the opportunity to check out a destination yet removes the obstacles of transportation, packing and unpacking. It also eliminates decisions as to where to stay and dine.
If a 7-night cruise to three continents with stops at dream destinations sounds thrilling, read on. I experienced one recently with Celestyal that was affordable and spectacular.
All Celestyal cruises start near Athens, in Greece, allowing you to explore the ancient ruins on the Acropolis. This cruise also gives you a chance to see the Sphinx, pyramids of Giza, Bethlehem and Jerusalem in Israel, the island of Cyprus, the fantastic Acropolis at Lindos, Rhodes, and Ephesus, Turkey.
Each day and country will connect you with very different cultures, traditions, stories, events, and sights—all bonded by common themes of history and archeology. It’s impossible to describe their variety in any sort of composite way, with each day so different and enthralling in its own right. Instead, I’ll attempt a day-by-day recap, accompanied by a few recommendations.
The Three Continent Cruise beings and ends in Athens
The cruise begins and ends in Piraeus, Greece, a suburb of Athens. Allow at least a day before or after your sailing to climb the ancient Acropolis and visit the equally stunning, glass-sided Acropolis Museum, the latter full of priceless wonders, accompanied by helpful explanations of their context and importance.
The glass floors let you look down on the foundations of the ancient city as you wander the expansive structure. Be sure to watch the video on the top floor.
You’ll board the ship on Monday afternoon and remain at sea through Tuesday. While at sea, you have time to recover from jet lag and get acquainted with the boat. The spa stays busy that day, so book treatments ahead of time.
I opted instead to get myself organized in my cabin, a room that included twin beds (pushed together), a sofa and coffee table and a large window. The bathroom was tight but totally adequate.
My bed felt comfy, and the room steward cleaned it and brought new towels daily. Except for the one day at sea, I was off on excursions most of the time and mainly using the cabin for showering and sleeping. The Celestyal line maintains older ships, not classed as luxury, but still well maintained, very comfortable, and included everything I needed.
During the day at sea, I attended a lecture on the Egyptian history given by Egyptologist, Mr. Hanny Tawfeek, whose engaging style and comprehensive knowledge of ancient Egypt made for a lush introduction to this sandy paradise. Other options included a Greek wine tasting, dance lessons, or language lesson.
In the evening, guests dress fancier than average for the Captain’s Cocktail party. No need to worry, however, men don’t need a tuxedo (or even a tie) nor women evening gowns. (Be sure to read Donna’s tips on dressing for a cruise).
Excursion 1: Cairo
I recommend heading to bed early on Tuesday, as a very long and exciting day begins on Wednesday morning around 6:30 in the port of Alexandria. Celestyal includes the full-day Cairo excursion with the cruise, and nearly all 1,180 passengers aboard made the 2.5 to three-hour trek by bus.
A professional guide is posted on each bus and will lead that group on the excursion. Mine spoke about the fascinating history of Egypt and told us about current day lifestyles. He prepared everyone for the logistics and what they would see.
Reaching Cairo, the pyramids appear suddenly and almost magically rise from the sand, a site most unforgettable and, for most, one they have never viewed before. I was overwhelmed by the height as I stood in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Imagine the effort needed to move some 2.3 million stone slabs to construct this gigantic structure. Exactly how they did remains part of the mystery.
Participants can then ride camels across rolling sand dunes to soak in the panorama of the other Giza pyramids (and sync with the swaying of a camel for some great photos as well). If a camel ride seems too taxing, horse-drawn carts offer another version of this a quintessential Giza experience.
My camel leader stopped and took photos of me with my mobile phone, and another photographer also snapped away. He magically reappeared near the Sphinx, selling the 8×10 pics for just $3.
The bus then shuttled us over to see the guardian of the complex, the Sphinx—a giant statue with the body of a lion and a human head, this one adored like a pharaoh. Unfortunately, his beard fell off years ago.
The Sphinx shows his age (he is, after all, 4,513 years old), but remains mesmerizing. I found myself pondering the fact that he has stared stoically back at millions who have visited this site over millennia.
The silence of his expression speaks to a permanence that makes our time on earth seem immeasurably brief. More time with him before driving off for lunch would have been excellent, but groups here, as elsewhere, move to a far quicker pace than his.
Following a tasty meal (a harbinger of what was to come through the rest of the excursions), we rode to the National Archeological Museum for a too-brief but fantastic tour. We took in statues, mummies, ancient scrolls.
Still, most importantly, we gazed upon the Treasures of Tutankhamen, marveled at his solid gold death mask and the series of enclosures surrounding his mummy (Matrushka dolls have nothing on the ancient Egyptians). The exquisite artistry and skills of the craftsmen who sent him well-dressed to the afterlife spoke to an incredibly advanced and sophisticated time and place. The group then completed the day with a long bus ride back to the ship, which had moved from the port of Alexandria to Port Said.
Excursion 2: Bethlehem and Jerusalem
Hard to top a visit to the pyramids and Sphinx, but Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the next stop, lured us on. We docked in Ashdod early the following day, then traveled by bus to Bethlehem, crossed the barrier wall into the West Bank of Palestine.
Don’t miss the art adorning the otherwise chilling barrier—it gives graffiti a better name. We explored inside the Church of the Nativity, squeezing in to see the grotto recognized as the birthplace of Jesus.
The basilica functions for three religions: Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic. After our tour, we hurried off to a luncheon and took some time to shop—olive wood being one of the great mediums of artistic expression.
The bus proceeded back into Israel and stopped in Jerusalem at the Garden of Gethsemane. It adjoins the Church of All Nations, also called the Basilica of the Agony. I was captivated by the knurled, ancient olive trees, the calming atmosphere, and could easily imagine Jesus praying there.
We rode up to the Mount of Olives and overlooked the ancient walled city and extensive cemeteries in a vast area shared by departed Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I found in them a great irony—three faiths together in peace at last, at rest.
Back in the bus, we traveled to the old town and entered through the Jaffa Gate. We visited the wailing wall below the golden Dome of the Rock.
Our guide led us along the Via Dolorosa, the path taken by Jesus carrying his cross, and into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The scene remains so real that, closing your eyes, you can almost see and hear an angry Jesus turning over the tables of the money lenders.
This pilgrimage church was built upon a few previous ones and reveres the site of the crucifixion and burial. We climbed up to the glittering Altar of the Crucifixion but did not have time to go down to the burial tomb. FYI: Expect crowds in this iconic church.
Excursion 3: Limassol, Cyprus
Thankfully, after two long and tiring tour days, Friday’s excursion (optional) in Cyprus didn’t start until 10:30. My group boarded a bus and paused at an old crusader castle and then toured the ruins of Kourion.
We walked around the remaining House of Efstolios, formerly a private Roman villa that became a public recreation center during the early Christian period. It consists of a complex of baths and several rooms with beautiful 5th century AD mosaic floors.
We also explored the acoustics in the amphitheater with a spectacular view down to the sea. A quiet joy, I found this scene a chance for reflection and enjoyment of blue waters, bluer skies, and warming sun.
The group heartily enjoyed a lovely lunch in the old town of Limassol and later meandered through the historic area. I can’t say this excursion was the most interesting, but I am happy to have touched base in a new country and learned about her turbulent past and ongoing border troubles.
Excursion 4: Rhodes, Greece
My first sight of the Island of Rhodes brought excitement. Straight ahead, loomed a medieval stone fortress at the edge of the sea.
After docking, those going on excursions whisk off in buses. On Rhodes, however, the bus skirted the coastline and once past a section of resort hotels, a panoramic landscape surrounded us.
Do not miss the adventure to the Acropolis of Lindos. The outing grew far beyond what I expected. Wear walking shoes that have some grip, as hiking to the top involves some slippery sections. Don’t worry; you get enough time to proceed slowly.
As we climbed higher, we encountered tremendous wind (I almost felt I could surf the rippling puddles from recent rain), but the sight of the Temple of Athena pulls you up. The view from the top provides an unforgettable spectacle of ancient ruins against the background of turquoise water. I fell in love with Rhodes on this excursion and absolutely would love to return on a day with less wind.
Our meal at a traditional tavern brought another surprise. My group lingered so long; we decided to miss the walk back through the old town and were driven directly to the boat. Just another reason to return!
Excursion 5: Ephesus, Turkey
The fifth and final excursion of the cruise took us to the ancient city of Ephesus, near Kusadasi, Turkey. The Greeks originally built Ephesus in the 10th century BC as a commercial seaport, taking advantage of its strategic location.
Over time, as river and port silted up, the waterways shifted. The Ionian coast now rests several miles away. Having lost its access to the sea, Ephesus nevertheless continued to prosper under the Roman Empire (1st and 2nd centuries AD).
The ruins are vast and visitors can truly get a feel for how the sizeable city may have looked. I’d been on Ephesus cruise excursions three previous times, but one can never tire of the majesty of the reconstructed Library of Celsus.
In its prime, the library housed 12,000 parchment manuscripts and scrolls. The original builders incorporated double-lined niches to protect the parchments from humidity or damage, but a fire tragically consumed all. Ask your guide about what the local elite meant when they said they were going to the library—you’ll find the answer shocking and hilarious (I won’t ruin the surprise).
Luckily for me, on this visit, I was able to explore the Terraced Houses, the archeological ruins of homes belonging to the wealthy who lived here during early Roman times. The excavations (covered over by a sunroof for protection and glass walkways) provide a glimpse of the intricate beauty of the dwellings.
Frescoed walls come alive with delicate details and mosaic floors show expert design. I so appreciated this peek into the past. If you go, try to include this additional opportunity.
We concluded our stop in Turkey at the town of Sirince, more a village in the hills beyond Kusadasi. The region is known for its olive oil and wine production. We enjoyed another incredible feast at a luncheon and then had free time for shopping for those last-minute souvenirs.
My thoughts on the Three Continent Cruise
The three-continent cruise keeps participants busy and off-ship much of the time. Consequently, I did not attend all the live entertainment shows offered each night. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the ones I saw and found the talent to be professional.
The Celestyal line attracts an array international clientele. Must say bravo to the cruise director who has the uncanny ability to repeat every instruction in a blizzard of languages without missing a beat.
One of the many benefits of the all-inclusive policy is no tipping at the end of the cruise. Cruise prices include gratuities. Yes, I’ll repeat that—gratuities are included, adding another reason why Celestyal Cruises provide a tremendous value.
For the price, I cannot say enough about this cruise line and the itinerary. Celestyal offers affordable opportunities for those individuals looking to explore destinations rather than those looking to lavish in luxury accommodations, indulge in added shipboard activities (mini-golf, go-carts, wave runners) and partake 5-star dining.
I’d much rather take a cruise and discover somewhere new and noteworthy than just be pampered and entertained while sailing on a boat. If you feel the same, check out Celestyal’s fantastic itineraries in the Greek isles as well as other international ports such as this three-continent cruise.
Read about a Celestyal Cruise that travels on a Greek Island Cruise.
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Disclosure: Celestyal Cruises hosted Debi Lander on this trip.