In addition to its storied mainland, Greece offers more than 6,000 islands perfect for oceangoing vacations. Sail the Aegean or Mediterranean seas (or both) to reach destinations like Corfu, Mykonos and Santorini, where breathtaking beaches meet fascinating cultures.
Many Greece cruises depart Athens, about nine hours from New York City. Others leave Venice or Bari, Italy, an eight-hour flight from New York followed by a one-day cruise to the islands.
Greece cruises are available year round, though the most popular time to cruise is from May to October. Often itineraries include stops in other ports in the Mediterranean like Istanbul or Venice. Most trips are between seven and 28 days in length and call at ports on the mainland and in the Greek isles. The heaviest tourist traffic in the region coincides with the high temperatures of the summer months. The hottest month is August, but even then there's often a cool breeze to alleviate the summer heat. Travel during the shoulder seasons in the spring (April and May), fall (September and October) or winter (November to March) makes for a cooler and calmer trip.
These trips typically last seven to 28 nights.
Passports are required for all international visitors. Visa rules vary by your country of origin -- residents of the U.S., Canada and Japan, for instance, do not need a visa when spending less than 90 days in the country.
It is spoken and understood at most resorts, shops and restaurants connected to the tourist trade.
Most of Greece lies six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Greece uses the euro. Currency exchange stations are available at most local hotels and airports, though many tourist destinations accept credit cards.
Tipping is customary almost everywhere, but be sure to review all bills before handing out gratuities. Many Greek restaurants tack a wait-service charge onto their meal and bar tabs, making tips redundant.
Casual resort wear, including shorts and T-shirts, is the standard daytime attire for most cruises. Bring a variety of footwear, including low-heeled shoes for walking on deck, sandals for beach excursions, sturdy walking shoes for guided tours and a pair of dressier shoes for formal dining. You can check your ship's dress codes for options suitable for nighttime, but most restaurants encourage slacks and sundresses during evening meals.
Think about the kinds of activities you will want to try -- swimming off Santorini, or hiking among Athens' antiquities, for example -- and pack accordingly. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and swimsuits if traveling in summer; protective hats, good walking shoes and windbreakers are advisable no matter when you travel. Also, remember to pack all of your medications, prescription or otherwise, in a bag you can keep with you as needed.
Most Greek islands filter their tap water, but some of the smaller destinations still suffer from occasional quality issues. First-time visitors often opt for bottled water, which is available almost everywhere.
Shots aren't usually necessary for visitors from North America, but it never hurts to check with your health care provider and discuss your itinerary. Medications that ward off seasickness and stomach bugs also might come in handy.
U.S. cruise companies use the standard 110-volt outlets. International guests will likely need converters and adapters; these same devices come in handy for U.S. citizens who plan to sleep on shore during their stay, as much of Europe uses the 220-volt outlet.
Resort hotels and public phone booths offer direct dialing for international calls. Calling cards also are available for sale in tourist-friendly markets. U.S.-based cell phones might not work in the region, so make back-up plans before embarking on your cruise.
In Greece, where many residents use fresh ocean breezes to cool their homes, many budget hotels might skimp on air-conditioning units. If recycled air is important to you, make sure to consult your travel counselor before booking a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay.
Food-related items are a big hit among Greece's visitors, who snap up olive oil, wine and the country's signature liqueur, ouzo, while browsing the outdoor markets found throughout the islands. Bronze and ceramic replicas of famed historic attractions are available, too, as are religious icons and komboloi, a type of worry bead especially used by Greek men. Give haggling a try if you feel comfortable, but don't press your luck with a flustered shopkeeper.
Look for experienced guides offering bus, boat, scooter and helicopter tours. Otherwise, try taxis and public transportation when sightseeing in Greece; smaller cities often boast bicycle rentals or pedestrian-friendly streets that make short shore excursions a breeze.
Rental rules vary by destination, but most companies require renters to be at least 21 years old. However, the proliferation of public buses, trains and ferries make car rentals largely unnecessary in Greece, so opt for state-sponsored transportation whenever possible.
Ancient civilizations are a highlight of this region, so sample a historic tour of Athens, Crete or Rhodes during your visit. The food also is excellent here, with fresh seafood, lamb and other dishes flavored by the rich, complex olive oils handcrafted throughout Greece. The beaches are a major focus for visitors, of course, so be sure to stake out a seat on the sands of Santorini or Mykonos, often praised for their sugar-white shorelines and warm waves.
The cool, azure sea surrounding Greece is ideal for scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts. Corfu is a particularly popular among novices, as the island offers a number of secluded coves and shallow bays for simple mask-and-flipper tours. But divers should be on the lookout for restricted historic sites, even underwater -- some spots are protected by cultural parks and should not be entered without express permission from local authorities.
There's plenty of seaside beauty to capture, so be sure to bring plenty of gear. Users of "point-and-shoot" digital cameras should pack rechargeable batteries, a charger, electric adaptors and high-capacity memory cards (1 gigabyte is recommended). If you're bringing a digital video camera, don't forget the long-life batteries, charger, adaptors and converter.