“A Day Trip”
OK, the title is misleading. When we booked several weeks this summer on the Greek island of Naxos (see blog post here) we envisioned doing day trips to the neighboring islands – Paros, Santorini and Mykonos. But when we arrived in Naxos and started trying to plan those trips, we discovered that the schedules of the three ferry companies – Sea Jets, Hellenic Seaways and Blue Star Ferries – were not set up for convenient day trips. In the case of Santorini the earliest ferry each day was at 10:30am and the latest return was 3:30pm. As the ferry takes 1.5 to 2 hours each way, if we tried to do it in one day we wouldn’t be able to see anything.
So we changed our thinking and, even though we already had a hotel in Naxos, we looked into staying overnight in Santorini. This was easier said than done in the high season! I looked at dozens of Oia hotels and found exactly one that had availability for a family of five the first half of August: Alexander’s Boutique Hotel. They actually a family suite available several different days, so I looked at the cruise ship schedule for Santorini and booked our arrival for a day when there were no ships in port. Santorini in high season with no cruise ships = a little crowded but not bad. Santorini in high season with several cruise ships in port = too crowded and unenjoyable.
I booked the hotel and headed into Naxos Town to get ferry tickets. We chose to take the 10:30am Sea Jet to Santorini since it got us into the island far earlier than the other ferries. Coming back, both Sea Jet and Blue Star were scheduled to leave at the same time – 3:30pm. The Sea Jet was faster but the Blue Star was a lot less expensive. So partly to save money and partly to be able to compare ferries, I booked Blue Star.
Sea Jet vs. Blue Star Ferries
Thoughts on the ferries? First, both of them were late, which apparently happens often in Greece. The Sea Jet departed Naxos 50 minutes late. The Blue Star departed Santorini 25 minutes late. So that was annoying. We arrived early for both of them to be safe so we ended up waiting a long time. In Santorini especially it was very hot standing in line to board. Not fun. The Sea Jet that we took was fine – fast but uninteresting. We sat in standard seating, and even though we hadn’t bought a ticket for our 5-year-old, it was easy for her to get a seat. On the Blue Star Ferry back we sat in a lounge near the restaurants. The kids loved it since it felt more like a cruise ship, and said that even though the journey on the Blue Star was 30 minutes longer, they preferred it to the Sea Jet.
Arriving into the Port of Santorini
Our arrival into Santorini was chaotic. We envisioned taking a taxi to our hotel in Oia, but quickly figured out that of the 29 or so taxis on Santorini, only one was at the port and it was taken by a passenger in front of us. That left the buses. We took one bus from the port to Fira and then another from Fira to Oia. It was inexpensive and the transfer was easy, and took an hour or so to get to Oia.
NOTE: The ferry port is different than the cruise ship landing spot. Cruise ships anchor off of Fira and you can climb the stairs, ride donkeys (although people generally advise against that from an animal welfare standpoint), or take a cable car to the center of town. The port is well outside of Fira and your only options into Fira are taxis (good luck), hotel shuttles or buses.
Lunch on the Water
Our goal of this entire day trip? A meal at Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna, our favorite restaurant in the world. Since we had packed light for our one night on the island (pretty much just swimsuits and toothbrushes) we headed from the bus stop straight to the restaurant. Well, more or less straight – Oia is at the top of a hill and the restaurant is on the water, down 250 stairs. Was it worth the journey? YES! We arrived around 2pm and left at 5pm and it was one of the most enjoyable three-hour meals ever. Grouper. Tomato fritters with tzatziki. Prawns. Baklava. Molten chocolate cake. Rosé. Great conversations with Joy the owner. And it was even better than last year because there were several baby kittens running around, which thoroughly entertained the kids.
Thoroughly satisfied from a culinary standpoint, we took a short taxi ride to our hotel – arranged by Dimitris since walking back up the 250 stairs after lunch isn’t fun for kids. We were very impressed when we arrived! The only hotel with a room available for us turned out to be amazing. We had a suite with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a private deck with a hot tub. The view was stunning – of the sea, Oia and the coast around to Imerovigli. We let the kids play in the hot tub for several hours before heading back out to walk around Oia at sunset.
If “Oia” and “sunset” sound like a familiar pairing, it’s because there’s a famous overlook in Oia where (it seems) everyone on Santorini flocks to see the sunset. As we were walking into town at 7:45pm we joined a river of people flowing towards that spot. But being where everyone else is usually isn’t appealing, especially with young kids. So we broke off and got a table at our second favorite restaurant on the island, Thalassia. And as a bonus, when I was walking around with my 5-year-old before our food arrived, we went by the sunset spot right after all the people had left and got some great photos of the post-sunset light.
Post-dinner we stopped by the exceptionally cool Atlantis Books and then headed back to our hotel (roughly a 15-minute walk) and enjoyed the view of the city at night. And we fell into our beds and slept exceptionally well.
After the hotel staff delivered breakfast to our room and we dined overlooking the caldera and Aegean, we let the kids enjoy the hot tub some more before heading back into town around 11:30. This time it was less fun. The cruise ship passengers coming off the four (!) ships in port were arriving by the busload, it was hot, and we didn’t have quite enough time to sit down for lunch before heading back to the port at 2pm to catch the 3:30 ferry. So we purchased pastries and sandwiches from several bakeries and just wandered. We also tried out the fish spa (Kissing Fish Spa Oia) and were unhappy with the experience. Our kids have always enjoyed fish spa experiences before, where you put your feet in a tank and garra rufa fish nibble the dead skin off. But this one wasn’t kid friendly – they didn’t want my 5-year-old to do it – and they were abrupt and unfriendly with my 9-year-old. The fish spa experience was great, and much less expensive, in Rhodes and Naxos. I wish that we skipped the spa in Santorini.
From there we walked back to our hotel and a shared ride van picked us up for the trip to the port. With all of the cruise ships in port we didn’t want to take any chances with unavailable taxis or full buses. We were happy with the decision – it was roughly 20 minutes faster than the trip in by bus.
How To Do An Overnight Trip Better
Were we glad that we did the quick trip to Santorini? Absolutely, if for no other reason than our amazing lunch at Dimitris. Ideally we could have picked two consecutive days without cruise ships in port (you can check the cruise schedules here), but given the hotel’s availability and the dates that worked for us, that wasn’t possible. If we did it again, we would arrange to have the hotel pick us up at the port – it’s worth the extra 30 Euros or so. But otherwise we wouldn’t have changed a thing. Santorini isn’t the kid-frindliest of islands, but Oia is a great town, and if you spend the night there you can enjoy it without all of the day-trippers.