Overall the trip was excellent and went very smoothly. We covered a lot in 12 days between parts of Sicily, Athens, Crete and Santorini. We planned very far in advance and I am a seasoned traveler so I had done a lot of research and had a good idea of what I was looking for in the trip. I needed to narrow down choices, especially around what islands in Greece we should visit. It isn't always easy to work with me as a travel arranger since I am very particular.
I thought the travel company did a good job. I would have given a 4.5 star rating f I could because there were times when I sent email messages or left phone messages and had to follow-up once or twice because the response time was slow. When I did get responses they were usually complete and gave me what I needed. I think the response time was slow because I had planned so far in advance and she was dealing with people traveling in the summer months when it was really busy. For the most part, I think we received excellent guidance given the travel request I had originally submitted. I had put down my budget as $5000-6000 per person for two of us and the first itinerary came in at over $8000 so I did a lot of research to bring the price down to our budget and still stay in hotels that were reasonable. It is hard in Europe to find good hotels that have 2 beds for 2 single friends traveling together. There were a couple hotels where I wish the room would have been bigger, and had I known, I may have chosen differently or upgraded the room. The only other feedback I will add about the travel company that wasn't really a big deal was that I had asked for a half-day catamaran trip in Crete, since that was our only free day, and she was not able to find one. The only thing offered was more of a traditional Greek boat but I had my mind set on a catamaran. I ended up finding it myself via Trip Advisor and booked it on my own. We also booked our own boat ride in Taormina based on the hotel's recommendation and it was a great way to see Taormina in Sicily. I am glad we found out about it at the hotel and was able to reserve it for the next afternoon. Our hotel in Taormina didn't realize we had prepaid the room so we took a little time to correct the situation. They showed us the communication on the reservation and it could have been more clear but it worked out fine.
It was a very good call to book first class tickets on the Ferry between Crete and Santorini. It was a pleasant way to travel. I am glad our driver told us to pick up the tickets before we boarded because I thought the print out we were provided were enough. It was a little hard to find our pickup driver in Santorini but you just had to be patient and look around away from the ferry.
All the flight arrangements and transfers were perfect and easy. The tours that were set up were all very good and well-timed. It was a good mix of touring and leisure time. I found all the history fascinating and the scenery was beautiful. We had tour guides that matched our interests. Getting private drivers/transfers is the way to go!
The highlight of the trip was Crete. The hotel was fabulous and lush with a huge room and beautiful view of the sea. We were picked up at the airport by a nice young woman and we stopped on the way to the hotel for a two-hour tour of Knossos Palace. We really enjoyed the tour of the 4000 year-old ruins with a guide that was so knowledgeable and passionate. The catamaran half-day cruise in Crete was the best day of the trip.
In Santorini we enjoyed a cooking class in a local restaurant. We also enjoyed the tour of the old ruins of Akotiri there as well. The driver and guide in Santorini were also excellent.
The food is Greece was fantastic.
In Sicily, we found Taoromina to be charming and beautiful, Since we were only there less than 2 full days, we were fortunate to book a boat ride that took us around the islands so we got to see a lot of the area. The captain was great. In Sicily, the cannoli and almond cookies were amazing. The seafood, especially mussels were great.
I enjoyed seeing the towns of Ragusa and Modica (the chocolate was excellent).
For some reason in my mind I had compared Sicily to the Amalfi Coast. While Taormina was pretty, Sicily is really not like Amalfi and I could have modified the trip to spend a day or two less there. I would have skipped the stop we made in Catania as there was nothing interesting there. Instead I would have driven straight to Siracusa and started the Siracusa tour that afternoon to see the architectural park (very interesting). I would have cut one day in Siracusa. While everyone we had talked to said it was fantastic, we thought it was just ok. On our day trip from Siracusa to Ragusa, Modica and Noto, I would have skipped Noto. I think if I had known more about Knossos in Crete and Akotiri in Santorini, I would have maybe skipped the trip to Agrigento. It was a long drive and I feel we saw a lot of the same things in Athens, Crete and Santorini.
I would have liked more time on the Greek Islands but my friend had not been to Athens. While we had a good tour (there the guide was just ok), I would have skipped Athens since it is a big city. Santorini was ok but way too crowded and touristy. I would have added more time in Crete by reducing a day in Siracusa and a day in Athens.
I did not like our hotel in Santorini. It had a nice view but the room itself was extremely uncomfortable. The bathroom was tiny and the beds were like sleeping on concrete. We did switch our hotel in May for a late September arrival so I am not sure how much it limited our options. All hotels in Oia, Santorini are small and more local and all seem to have plenty of stairs to climb (96 stairs up and down to our room). The view may have been worth it but I have nothing to compare it to. It was just hard after leaving our stunning hotel in Crete.
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