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September 30, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Santorini, Greece

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Yahsu from Athens! We’re finishing up with our incredible seven-day Aegean cruise on Seabourn’s newest ship, The Odyssey (if you missed it, here’s the first part of the story). This unforgettable trip began touring around Istanbul (and here’s that story) and last week, we visited some of Turkey’s most famous ports including Kusadasi (to see Ephesus) and Bodrum. Today, we’ll hit some of Greece’s magical ports like Santorini and we’ll end up at a hotel in Athens that overlooks the Acropolis. Not a bad week, eh?

I will be speaking at the 2009 Digital Media Travel Symposium in New York City at the Sony Wonder Tech Lab on October 15 so if you are in the Big Apple, come on by; it's free! MedjetAssist is sponsoring the discussions and insights into how blogs, Twitter, Facebook and digital media outlets have transformed travel for consumers, editors, agents, marketers, and operators. Other panelists include: Michael Yessis of, Adrien Glover of, Janelle Nanos of National Geographic Traveler’s "Intelligent Travel", Everett Potter and Rudy Maxa. To RSVP and for more information contact Ross Belfer at Twitter: @MJAMediaSymp

From Bodrum, Turkey to Santorini, Greece, it’s 112 nautical miles. For this part of the journey, the waters were the roughest of any we encountered along the way, and it wasn’t even that bad, really. For a few hours, you could feel the boat swaying gently and occasionally, you’d feel a little tipsy if you tried to walk down the hallway in a straight line. Despite this, I didn’t hear of anyone aboard the ship getting sick.

Santorini is 126 nautical miles (233km) southeast of Athens and is located in the Cyclades, a group of Greek islands that total about 220.

I had never been to Santorini before so I knew nothing about it except that it was regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. So when I found out that daily life is lived atop a 1,000-foot-high cliff and that the best way to there is via cable car, I admit I became a bit concerned. I have a slight fear of heights.

Santorini does have an airport (code JTR) so if you fly in, you don’t need to worry about a cable car and there are excursions available that do have a bus ride to the top but they were for one way only and I didn’t see any taxis.

We moored in the central lagoon, which is a former volcano crater that measures about 7.5 miles × 4.3 miles (12 kilometers × 7 kilometers). Three other ships arrived before us and Barry the cruise director informed everyone over the P.A. that there were long lines to get to the top so everyone should sit tight and relax. Natalie and I did just that by having breakfast and enjoying the vistas from the ship.

Seabourn didn’t use their tenders to transport passengers to shore. Instead we were shuttled in 100-seat, Greek-run covered wooden boats that departed every 30 minutes. The ride took 10 minutes and everyone was excited for the day’s adventure – especially me.

NOTE: Although we were entering a new country for the first time, we didn’t have to go through any kind of passport control or show IDs. Upon boarding the ship, passengers are required to hand their passports over to Seabourn staff for the duration of the sailing. They must have taken care of the tedious behind-the-scenes paperwork for us.

Even when we arrived late, around 11am, the line for the tram was still insanely long, a 90-minute wait. It looked like Disneyland during Spring Break. But to be honest, I was actually relieved since it gave me an excuse not to ride in on the six mini, side-by-side gondolas, each holding six passengers. FYI:The price for the tram is 4 euro.

Our other options: We could either walk the 500+ steps or take a donkey, but the line for the donkeys was almost as long as the tram line. Luckily, someone from the ship had told us that if we planned on walking up, to just push our way through the donkey line because there’s no wait to walk.

We did just that and as we began walking away from the crowd, a sly donkey owner approached us and said, “Donkey? Give me five euro.” That’s the regular price anyway so we figured why not? The next thing you know, everyone in our group of seven were being led up the stairs to a group of sad looking animals. They looked just like Eeyore.

One of our friends, who had never been on a horse before, was somehow helped up onto the first donkey. The guy helping her up didn’t offer any words of warning or advice so you should have seen her face when the donkey went into autopilot and slowly started climbing the shallow, slippery cobblestone stairs. She screamed the whole way up, while the donkey zigzagged through the crowds of tourists on foot and others on donkeys.

The craziest part of the journey up was when a herd of donkeys came storming down the steps unmanned, as they returned from the top. It was exciting but a bit dangerous; the donkeys stepped on a few toes … literally. BTW: There’s a two-foot-high wall to protect people and donkeys from falling off. It’s nerve-racking but even if you do have a fear of heights, this is totally doable.

When we reached the top, we were hot, sweaty and in the picturesque, pedestrian-only capital of Fira. The view, those whitewashed building overlooking the steep drop, was so spectacular you could cry. But I didn’t. There were so many cruise ship passengers milling about, it just ruined the moment.

I turned to Natalie and suggested we get the heck out of the tourist jam and lose the crowd. We ended up walking all around and getting lost. In some places, we didn’t even see a soul around. Most of the people we passed were locals on mopeds and a few lazy dogs, basking in the hot Mediterranean sun. Perfect.

The highlight was walking to the traditional village of Imerovigli. There were lots of small hotels built high into the cliffs, with views you wouldn’t believe possible unless you saw them for yourself.

Our end goal was to make it to the Anastasi church, which we’d spotted from the donkey trail. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at an empty, expensive restaurant with unforgettable views but food that didn’t compare. Looking back, we should have gone to the restaurant nearby that didn’t have the spectacular views but was packed with locals – a sure sign that the food was better and cheaper.

Around 4pm, we made it back to the main tourist town by which time the crowds had dissipated. We opted to walk down, which we did at a pretty fast pace; it took 20 minutes but be sure to wear good shoes because the cobblestones are quite slippery.

If you want a woman’s perspective, here’s Natalie’s take on Santorini on her blog

The next day, Seabourn scheduled a relaxing Marina Day for everyone. This is when they bring out their sea pool and all types of complimentary water sports. But the water was rough (the wind gusts were 25 to 30mph) so instead, we made an unscheduled stop in Milos and did the Marina Day the following afternoon.

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Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


View of Santorini From Boat


Breakfast on Seabourn




Getting On The Tender


Santorini Cable Car


You Want a Donkey?


View From Donkey




Rent A Buggy


Getting Off The Beaten Path


View From Top


Colorful Scenery


Lazy Dog


What A view!


With A Bit of a Zoom


Say Cheese


Our Ship




Where We Walked


No Tourists


Local Church


Up Close


Walking Down



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