Idyllic Aegean With LOUIS CRISTAL, Part One

Peter Knego spends a week on board Louis Cruises LOUIS CRISTAL visiting the less traveled Greek Islands on one of the ship’s new “Idyllic” itineraries. Part one gives a quick overview of the ship and several ports, from Piraeus to Mykonos, Kusadasi and Samos.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

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Kali nichta, Athens!

Fifteen? Twenty five? Even if it were a thousand, it wouldn’t matter how many times I’ve been to Greece — I will never tire of its scenery, mythology, food and sapphire blue seas. On my latest trek, the savvy people at Louis Cruises would be adding some exciting new ports to my Greek Islands checklist along with a few familiar favorites.

The downside, is, of course, commuting from California via shuttles, airport lounges and cramped airplanes. After some 30 hours from my door to that of Athens splendid Intercontinental Hotel, it was light’s out and sweet dreams…

Friday, July 18, 2014

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Captain George Koumpenas and Mr. Loizou.

At nine sharp, I joined our press group in the lobby for a coach journey into Piraeus. Fittingly, the first visible cruise ship was our diesel-powered destination for the next week, the sparkling LOUIS CRISTAL. After passing through the usual calamity of the Piraeus Cruise Terminal, we were led to the Horizon Lounge for a brief press conference with two of Louis’ top brass, CEO Mr. Loizou and Port Captain George Koumpenas. They hinted at major changes (since revealed as the new “Celestyal Cruises” division) and welcomed us. All niche market lines have had their share of challenges these past few years but Louis has had to cope with the Greek financial crisis as well as unrest in the Eastern Mediterranean. Fortunately, bookings are stronger than they have been in years and Louis is enjoying a new stride with its Greek cuisine and culture themed Classic and Idyllic cruises. Another (thus far unnamed) ship is to join the fleet for the 2017 season and further expansion is expected to follow.

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Category XF Outside Cabin 7213, facing starboard.

I next headed to my Category XF Outside stateroom 7213 on starboard Deck 7. The well-appointed, 162-square-foot cabin features a large picture window, a sitting area, queen-sized bed, television, fridge, writing desk, closet and plenty of storage space.

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Standard outside cabin WC.

Even the loo was more than adequate for a ship of the CRISTAL’s size (25,000 gt) and vintage (the current configuration dates to 1994) and featured a tiled floor and a wedge-shaped shower compartment with a sliding glass door.

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Khaled returns!

It was so nice to see Egyptian steward Khaled, who has worked with the Cyprus-based company since its earliest cruising days aboard the dowager PRINCESA VICTORIA. Just last year, he was my steward aboard ORIENT QUEEN (ex STARWARD) on a seven night cruise to Turkey and the Greek Isles from Lavrion. He’s a kind, attentive attendant and a veritable Rodin of towel animal sculpting. Throughout the week, despite my manic schedule, he kept my “Aegean headquarters” clean, fresh and well-stocked.

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Olympus Restaurant, facing forward.

At 11:00 sharp, we could hear the LOUIS OLYMPIA’s deep-throated horn as the former Royal Caribbean flagship departed from the opposite side of the cruise terminal. As our boat drill wrapped up, we would follow in the wake of the ex-SONG OF AMERICA on a southeasterly course to Mykonos. Hunger pangs would be quickly sated as we headed off to the handsome Olympus Restaurant on aft Dionysos Deck (5) for our first meal on board the LOUIS CRISTAL.

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Olympus Restaurant table setting. Note the Greek olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.

Since 2013, Louis has been serving up authentic Greek cuisine on a full-time basis. Not only does it rank with the tastiest afloat, it is also among the healthiest.

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Greek salad appetizer.

I will never tire of horiatiki, AKA the traditional Greek villager’s salad. In the States, it is often watered down with iceberg lettuce, flavorless feta and stale oregano. Louis uses fresh and flavorful ingredients, making this a “must” with each meal.

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Eggplant main course.

One of the main courses was an artful Eggplant Imam Topped With Onion Ragout, a dream come true for yours truly, with its herbed tomato sauce and olive oil finish. There was no sense in resisting — for the next seven days, dietary restraint and moderation were out!

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Sozon from Aegina.

Our attentive, gregarious and intuitive head waiter was clearly not a novice. I mentioned to a colleague that he must have trained with Sun Line, which was renowned for its stellar service. I would later learn Sozon, who hails from Aegina, began his career with the equally lamented Royal Cruise Line. He served aboard their GOLDEN, ROYAL and CROWN ODYSSEYs and then, before coming to Louis, moved over to NCL after its parent company Kloster purchased and ultimately “undid” Royal.

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Starboard Deck 5 Promenade, facing forward.
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Over stern en route to Mykonos.

Up on deck, it was typically glorious. The rugged, barren Cyclades islands appeared on either side of the LOUIS CRISTAL as she cut through piercingly blue seas.

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Gym, facing starboard.

The only way I can get through the various indulgences of a cruise and remain conscious is by maintaining a daily workout regimen. I squeezed in an hour at the gym on forward Hera Deck (9), which was well equipped, especially for a ship of LOUIS CRISTAL’s moderate size.

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STAR CLIPPER departing Mykonos.

When I spotted the STAR CLIPPER unfurling her mighty canvasses of sail, I knew we were nearing Mykonos.

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As we made our approach to the Tourlos passenger jetty, only a slight breeze tempered the searing heat around us. Gently, we nudged into our berth, directly astern of the LOUIS OLYMPIA.

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Louis duo at Mykonos: LOUIS OLYMPIA (left) and LOUIS CRISTAL (right).

We were on one of the first shuttles into the Chora, also known as Mykonos town. As most ogled super yachts in little Alefkandra harbor, I couldn’t resist getting a shot of the two Louis ladies in their Aegean element.

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Octopi in the sky.

Our walking tour took us past a string of cafes overlooking the picturesque harbor.

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Mykonos mascot.

All these visits to Mykonos and I had no idea until now that its signature windmills (Kato Milli) are truly historic structures built by the Venetians to mill wheat, some dating all the way back to the 16th Century.

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Mykonos setting.

We continued onward, past checkered tablecloths, smoldering espressos and clinking wine glasses into a labyrinth of whitewashed stone passageways. When we emerged, the sun was nearing the horizon and casting a golden glow on the area affectionately called “Little Venice”.

Mykonos Theoxenia lobby.

Our next stop was the Mykonos Theoxenia, a deluxe property now owned by Louis but once the realm of jetsetters like Jackie O. Supposedly, this is where she met her Greek tycoon.

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Mykonos Theoxenia mini-suite.

After inspecting a mini-suite, we adjourned to the patio for a view of the setting sun and, across a small bay, a purplish sliver of the neighboring island of Delos, home to one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Alas, as we all raised our glasses in a toast, the sun faded into a cloudy haze and never returned.

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Twilight view from “La Roca” terrace, Mykonos.

A mandatory shopping break followed before we convened at La Roca, a seafood cafe overlooking the Chora.

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CRISTAL night.

We caught the last shuttle back to the ship. As we crossed the gangway, the LOUIS CRISTAL’s lines were already loosening and she was preparing to sail to Kusadasi.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

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Brekkie on decky.
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Helios Bar, facing forward.
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Leda buffet, facing forward.

At Kusadasi, I slept in and took advantage of the mostly empty ship to document the public areas. I resisted a fresh-pressed waffle by the pool but did stop at the Helios Bar for a cappuccino before bee-lining it to the Leda Buffet for genuine Greek yogurt drizzled in honey and dates.

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Midships starboard Zeus Deck, facing forward.

For the next few hours, as most of the guests were exploring the Roman ruins of Ephesus, I dragged the cameras around our nine deck, 521-by-82-foot, 960-passenger ship. A fully detailed Decked! feature will show everything but here are some highlights. At the top of the ship on Zeus Deck (10), there is sheltered and open sunning space forward of and surrounding the Hera Deck (9) pool, which, since the time of NCL’s LEEWARD, has seen the addition of a Magrodome.

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Horizon Lounge, facing aft from port.

The Horizon Lounge is a dynamic observation lounge at the base of the funnel, similar in design to the Viking Crown lounges aboard many Royal Caribbean ships. On the port side, there is a dance floor, which makes it the LOUIS CRISTAL’s ideal late night hangout.

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Muses Lounge, facing port from Deck 9.

The Muses Lounge is a double deck showroom accessed on forward Ouranos Deck (8) with stairs that lead to a balcony on Deck 9. Full production shows share the stage here with guest singers and musicians, lecturers and chefs.

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Casino Bar, facing forward.

One of my favorite spaces is the Casino Bar, with its full panorama of windows on the starboard side. This was the perfect spot to enjoy a cappuccino and catch up on e-mail via the reasonably priced wifi.

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LOUIS CRISTAL totally random carpet shot.

Since my visit to the ship when she was the LEEWARD in the late 1990s, her soft fittings have been pleasantly updated.

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Eros Lounge, facing forward.

The handsome Eros Lounge on port Ouranos Deck was, when I last saw it, part of LEEWARD’s vast casino. Quiet by day, save for the occasional Greek language lesson, it is a live entertainment venue at night.

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Midships stairs, facing down from Hera Deck (9).

Two stairwells and four lifts provide vertical access aboard the LOUIS CRISTAL. The midships stairs are set within a dynamic, open space and feature backlit acrylic panels that span from Hera Deck (8) all the way down to Athena Deck (2).

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Amalthia Restaurant, facing aft.

The L-shaped Amalthia Restaurant runs along the port side of Ouranos Deck (8) and wraps around the stern. It offers buffet style breakfast and lunch and full service dinner.

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Aft Olympus Restaurant, facing port.

The Olympus Restaurant, also shown earlier, is located on the port side of Dionysos Deck (5), where it also wraps around the stern.

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Dionysos Deck (5) is surrounded by a full wrap-around promenade that begins with a sheltered deck on the fo’c’sle and continues aft via open walkways to a sheltered bar and lido deck with a jacuzzi at the fantail.

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With most of the documentation complete, I headed ashore for shots of the LOUIS CRISTAL and LOUIS OLYMPIA from the Kusadasi waterfront, then made it back on board the CRISTAL just in time to watch the OLYMPIA sail off to Patmos. We would not see her again until our rendezvous at Santorini on Thursday.

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Stern first to Samos.

Although it is a mere 19 miles from Kusadasi, this would be my first visit to Samos. At 3:30 PM, just a couple hours after departing Asia Minor, LOUIS CRISTAL maneuvered stern first into the town of Vatty’s quaint arc of a waterfront.

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Quickly, we were off on excursion. Our first stop would be the Samos winery, which specializes in ports and Muscat wines that are coveted by both the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches in the region.

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Samos winery.

The winery’s museum was incorporated in 2005 and contains original vintage equipment used in the wine-making process.

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The other side of Pythagoras.

Our tour continued with a panoramic drive along the rugged coast with views of the wind-whipped Aegean. Samos was home to the mathematician/philosopher Pythagoras, the philosopher Epicurus and the astronomer Aristarchus (the first to believe the earth revolved around the sun). The island is covered in vineyards and its tallest point is the jagged looking Mount Kerkis, which looms some 4,700 feet above its northern coastline.

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Angling for a swim at Pythagoras Beach, Samos.

When we arrived at the town of Pythagoras, there was time to explore its crystalline coves and linger at a cafe. Paradise found!

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Thalassia Bar, facing port.
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Samos sunset.

We made it back to the LOUIS CRISTAL in time to watch the sunset from the comfort of the open air Thalassia Bar on aft Deck 5. What we were denied in Mykonos was amply made up for in Samos.

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Demi sings.

After dinner, it was off to the Muses Lounge to see popular Greek pop artist Demi perform to a packed house. Louis has a wide range of guest artists, musicians, historians, archaeologists and chefs as part of its Greek-themed enrichment program.

End of Idyllic Aegean With The LOUIS CRISTAL, Part One…

Special thanks: Nicholas Filippides, Marlene Oliver

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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