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For me, the big selling point was the overnight (or sleepover, as my 11-year-old called it) in Santorini. Seeing the sunset on this,my absolute favourite Greek Island, had long been on my bucket list. On previous cruise visits, the shadows had barely begun to lengthen before I had to dash back on board. But this one would be different.


I planned our sleepover day with military precision. First I was up with the lark to see our sail-in to the stunning bay. Then I enjoyed a leisurely al fresco breakfast while pretty much everyone else was busily tendering off to tour the island. The three of us spent the rest of the morning enjoying the sensation of having the lovely Celestyal Crystal prettymuch to ourselves, before setting out just as themajority of our fellow passengers were returning to the ship.


Taking a packed local bus to the beautiful village of Oia, Santorini’s world-famous sunset capital, we started scouting possible locations. After several false starts (and plenty of that teenage speciality, the scornfully raised eyebrow) we secured the perfect spot in the perfect bar. Troublewas, itwas still only 5pm, and there are only somany games on Uno one family can stand. I looked around me for inspiration, and then it struck – when in Greece do as the Greeks do. “Go and buy the biggest ice cream and cheapest backgammon set you can find,” I commanded the girls. Thirty five euros and three hours later, theywere so engrossed in their game they hardly noticed the dwindling light and the gathering crowds.


But then, as dusk began to descend and the sky turned to a dazzling vista of red and gold, the locals started clapping. I must admit I came over quite misty-eyed. Even 11-year-old Lily


conceded it was “one


of the prettiest things I have ever seen” (and this from a fan of Justin Bieber). Finally, justwhen I thought the day couldn’t possibly get better, JaneMcDonald jumped aboard our return tender andwonmore hearts with an impromptu rendition of “Santorini Sunset” - a song I’d never heard before, butwhichwill nowbring back the happiest ofmemories.


On this itinerary, Celestyal Crystal also sleeps over – sorry, overnights – inMykonos, the achingly hip island that brands itself as the new Ibiza. We all fell in love with the winning combination of whitewashed perfection and buzzing nightlife – even if paying for a round of drinks felt like bailing out the local economy. But to be honest, the best view of Mykonos – and most of the other ports we visited – was back on board, sitting in the alfresco bar and enjoying all-inclusive drinks served by the spectacularly friendly staff.


Celestyal Crystal is not the most glitzy ship I have ever sailed on, and the cabins are more functional than glamorous. But the wonderfully


laid-back, authentically Greek atmosphere more than makes up for it. The food is superb (so that’s what baklava is supposed to taste like!), the entertainment is charming (if you like Greek dancing) and it’s all yours for considerably less than you’ll pay to cruise the same waters with many rival lines. In fact, as the week went by we fell more and more under the spell of this delightful ship. So much so that only the sheer beauty of her other ports of call (Milos, Heraklion and Kusadasi) could lure us ashore. But I’m glad we made the effort, because the tours were extremely well organised, and our trip to the Palace of Knossos in Heraklion was bought alive by a brilliant guide.


We could have explored Ephesus, too, but for once I let the opportunity pass. Well, I’d been several times before and it was searingly hot… and I’d happened to notice


the brilliantly


accurate fake Mulberry handbags in the harbour market. I felt justly guilty for denying my offspring the chance to see the great classical city where St Paul preached the gospel. But as Lily pointed out, while haggling for a fake Louis Vuitton cat carrying case, “Don’t worry,Mum, we did loads of culture yesterday, and it justmeans we’ll have to come back next year.”


We certainlywill – andwe’d all love to do it onCelestyalCrystal, singing Santorini Sunset all the way.


Louise Robinson


MORE INFORMATION Louise Robinson travelled with Celestyal Cruises on the 7 day Idyllic itinerary to 4 Greek islands and Ephesus onboard the Celestyal Crystal. Prices are from£1099 pp (Including return flights fromLondon, full Board basis, unlimited drinks package and three shore excursions).


To book please call Planet Cruise on 02392 809 949 or visit www.planetcruise.com/celestyal-cruises. For more information on Celestyal Cruises please visit www.celestyalcruises.uk


Jane McDonald pic credit: All series of Cruising with Jane McDonald can be found on www.my5.tv


THE ADVERTISER - LOCAL PAPERS COVERING KENT PAGE 67


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