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Celestyal Olympia

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Celestyal Olympia has undergone a number of reincarnations in its 34 years afloat. The 1,664-passenger vessel, rebranded as Celestyal Olympia in early 2015, started sailing in 1982 as Royal Caribbean's Song of America and was later owned by Sun Cruises as Sunbird. Louis Cruises bought the ship, chartering it for seven years to Thomson as Thomson Destiny before returning it to the Louis fold in 2013 as Louis Olympia. It was rechristened Celestyal Olympia after its 2014/2015 dry dock to reflect the line's greater focus on all things Greek.

Celestyal (which means heavenly in Greek), has successfully established itself as an authentic Greek brand in just two years of operation. The rebrand is not just a marketing exercise. As well as a new livery of gorgeous sky blue and white, which includes the crew uniforms; the entire ship received a massive refurb in 2014/2015. This included the renovation of 160 inside and outside cabins, renovation of all bathrooms for lower cabin classes, flat-screen TVs through the cabins, and a complete overhaul of guest services on Deck 4 -- even the elevators got a refresh. A subsequent refurb (part of a rolling program) addressed an ongoing issue of noise from the theatre, installing soundproofing in the ceiling, as well as refurbishing the rest of the cabins.

The ship embraces its Hellenic heritage with gusto -- and indeed the whole ethos of Celestyal is to celebrate that heritage. This is reflected in the food, the entertainment, which plays on Greek mythology; the shore excursions and the shops onboard, which sell authentic Greek goods such as shoes, food & wine, jewellery and branded goods in a new area on deck 4. Public areas have been redesigned with Greek murals representing the islands visited, and bars and restaurants renamed with Greek names -- again to reflect the Greek heritage.

Celestyal Olympia operates three- four and seven-night cruises exclusively in the Greek isles and Turkey, visiting both well-known and out of the way islands -- often two in a day. Oddly, despite the rapid pace, the cruise never seems hurried and there always seems time to explore at leisure before the ship heads off to the next port of call. Many passengers use it as a way to pack several Greek isles in a few days. Another feature that goes over well with Greeks and Turks is that passengers can embark and debark in various ports, so it's easy to add a day or two in Santorini or Ios, and even catch the ship on its way back a week later.

Celestyal Olympia is not competing with mainstream cruise lines for passengers -- it solely focuses on destination-intensive short trips -- and the experience onboard is vastly different to bigger ships. So keep your expectations in check -- what it might lack in speciality restaurants, variety of entertainment or onboard activities -- it more than makes up in giving you an authentic insight into the Greek islands.

Our view is if you want to see a lot of the islands in just a few days and enjoy an authentic Greek experience, Celestyal Olympia is excellent value for both your time and money.

Passengers dress casually during the day, with comfortable excursion clothes being the norm. Make sure you bring a hat in the summer months. Evenings are equally low key; most women wear sundresses while men wear collared shirts. There is one formal night per cruise (except on the three-day cruises), where the outfits ranged from beaded jackets and black pants or sundresses for women, and sport coats or collared shirts for men. There is no need (or expectation) for formal dresses or suits.

Theatre

Muses Lounge (Deck 7): The ship's main theatre is more of a lounge with a large stage and dance floor than the Broadway or West End-style theatres you'll find on more modern cruise ships, and it's also situated in the middle of the ship, with entrances either side so you get a lot of through traffic. In 2017, Celestyal again has again upped its game by partnering with a Canadian company called Cirque Fantastique who produce a variety of exclusive, different-themed shows onboard, mainly Greek-themed and exploring myths and legends, as well as a Cirque-type show, a cabaret show and a Latin-themed show. They may not be the Broadway-style shows you find on the biggest cruise ships, but they are of a good standard, particularly the non-Greek-themed shows.

The entertainment team will inevitably try and drag you up for a dance after the show. You'll also find dance competitions here on some evenings, as well as a live band after the main show. The lounge is used in the morning for people gathering for shore excursions, but apart from that, it's not used in the day, except by the performers practising for their next show. It's worth noting that for any passengers who have travelled on this ship before and stayed in the Junior Suites directly above the lounge, the ceiling is now soundproofed.

 

Daily Fun

 

There is a packed program of predominantly Greek-themed activities, although with no sea days and often two ports in a day, there's little time to take part in any of them. Activities include: Board games and card games, cooking and cocktail making demos, flower making and origami, napkin folding, Greek language classes, Zumba classes around the pool deck, darts and table tennis tournaments, trivia, basketball shoot out, musical quizzes and bingo. Tours of Olympia's unusual open bridge -- unlike most modern cruise ships, part of the bridge is actually outside -- are available daily €10 (€5 for children).

At Night

There is always a sailaway party round the main pool area on Deck 9 (sometimes two). Come early evening you can hear music in the Argo Bar, piano or violin recitals; karaoke takes place in Selene Lounge most nights and there are dance competitions with the animation team after the show in Muses Lounge.

On Deck 5, Casino Royale is a small space positioned right by the spa and near the Argo Bar. It has slot machines, poker and a variety of table games. Smoking is allowed.

 

Celestyal Olympia Bars and Lounges

There's a wide range of bars and lounges on a relatively small ship, each with a different vibe and atmosphere.

Selene (Deck 5): Selene Bar, Olympia's disco on Deck 5, is large for a cruise ship, with screens for music videos and karaoke (which takes place most nights). The action here depends on the makeup of the passengers; one night, we saw Japanese passengers getting down to "Gangnam Style"; other nights, the teenage tour groups kept the disco going till 4:00 a.m., while on others it was totally dead.

Argo (Deck 5): With a sailing theme, the Argo Bar on Deck 5 is a good spot to get a coffee, and one of the nicer places to meet for a pre-dinner drink. It's also one of the best areas for a strong Wi-Fi signal which sometimes drops in the cabins. In the evening, a pianist and singer take requests for favourites.

Eclipse (Deck 7): This a lovely, out-of-the-way bar, which you have to hunt for via a mid-ships staircase. It hosts Cuban and Latino music most evenings, with a dance floor to practise those salsa moves, but it was rarely crowded. It's dark and atmospheric with plush red low chairs and banquettes. This is a good spot to get a (very strong) mojito.

Helios (Deck 9): Helios Bar, adjacent to the main pool, serves up fruity tropical drinks and cater to smokers.

Thalassa Bar (Deck 10): This is in a great spot overlooking the midship pool, with plenty of tables and chairs. Both are lively on sunny afternoons.

Horizons Bar (Deck 12): This is Olympia's most distinctive bar, and certainly our favourite. Located on Deck 12, surrounding the aft funnel, it provides a bit of a conundrum. For one thing, it's difficult to reach; you can only access it by a single elevator and staircase tucked away on Deck 7. Inside, it's a marvel of light blue leather that's both retro and weirdly futuristic. Despite having the best views of the ship, the bar is surprisingly dead (probably because it's so hard to find); on multiple visits, we saw only a handful of customers. It's the spot to go if you want some downtime with your drink.

Celestyal Olympia Outside Recreation

Pools  

There are two pools, both on Deck 9. The aft one (though note, it's not aft as in right at the back of the ship, it's just further aft than the midship pool), is adults-only and beside the Helios Bar. The midship pool has a small splash area for kids, and a main, deeper pool. A cabana-style stage separates the two. Note these are not heated, which is no problem in the summer months of course, but when the season starts in March, they are very chilly. There are plenty of deckchairs and lots of seating, so you shouldn't have a problem finding a spot. There are no hot tubs.

Recreation

A sports deck on the aft of Deck 7 offers ping pong tables and dartboards with netting to shield from the wind. Basketball also takes place up here.

Sun Decks

As befits a ship built before cruise lines decided to cram in more top-deck activities, Olympia has outdoor observation decks to spare. No matter how crowded the ship gets in the summer, there's room for all passengers to be outside. A huge deck space occupies the bow on Deck 10, although you won't find deck chairs here out of season. If the ship isn't too crowded, impromptu football games are also played up here. From here, you can look down on either side and see the ship's open bridge. In addition, another spacious sun deck aft on Deck 7 has a glorious teak wood expanse. Smokers will find a haven in an outdoor alcove aft on Deck 6.

 

Celestyal Olympia Services

Deck 4 is the hub of Olympia's services, containing the reception desk, the shore excursion desk, the library, the duty-free shop, a jewellery shop and a shop for sundries. This area received a complete redesign during the ship's 2014 to 2015 dry dock which included a new layout for guest services.

You'll find the photo gallery one deck up on Deck 5, next to the casino, and opposite the open "market" Agora, which sells a lovely selection of good quality hand-made Greek jewellery, sandals, olive oils, soaps and Celestyal-branded products such as pretty mugs and tote bags at reasonable prices.

The ship is Wi-Fi enabled throughout, but note it does drop in cabins and public spaces are better for a good signal. Prices start at 7 euros/hour, 16 euros for three hours and 25 euros for six hours.

 

Spa

The one area that was not tackled significantly in the numerous refurbs which have taken place on Olympia is the Sana Wellness Spa. Sandwiched between the Casino and Muses Lounge on Deck 5, it feels a bit like an afterthought on an otherwise very well thought out ship. It would be much better placed high up on a top deck, with views of the Aegean enhancing your treatments. There are seven treatment rooms, including a new one (which at least has a view), which is on its own in the corridor opposite the complex. There are also several treatment rooms in the gym. and a couple of cabanas on the top deck.

The spa offers a full array of services including massages, facials and body treatments. While the prices are about average for treatments at sea (massages range from 55 euros for 30 minutes to 96 euros for an hour), packages offer the best value, with a whole array on offer. You can choose a Perfect Pampering package which is three treatments in 60 minutes for 89 euros; or a Sana Spa offer for 27 euros for four 20-minute treatments plus a shampoo and a manicure! We opted for an outstanding lipo massage one day and a traditional Balinese massage the following, both of which were outstanding. The masseuses (mostly Filipino), were discreet, professional -- and very, very good. Gratuities are included in the price, and there's no sales pitch afterwards. Treatments were well worth the price, although it's a bit of a bummer to wait for services in a chair near the smoky casino. Sana also encompasses a beauty salon, with manicures, pedicures, hair styling and waxing. Prices range from 22 euros or a blow-out to 79 euros for highlights. Sana also offers a 45-minute teen facial for 56 euros.

Fitness

Olympia has a small gym, located midship on Deck 8. Here you'll find four treadmills two bicycles, four step machines and a weights machine, along with a handful of free weights; the equipment is not extensive and the space is tiny. It rarely seemed used. Small separate saunas for men and women are also located here, just off the gym's locker room. There is no steam room or indoor pool. Use is complimentary. Hours for both the sauna and the gym are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Not so much a jogging track, more of a walking track, a teak promenade encircles the ship on Deck 7. Shielded by lifeboats, the walkway is usable in wetter weather. Three times around equals one mile. Every morning there are complimentary fitness classes -- a Walkathon with the Sports Animator from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., and "Wake up and stretch" in the Selene Lounge.

Celestyal Olympia prides itself on offering an immersive Greek culinary experience, and the menu reflects this. Bread is baked fresh daily, and staples such as Greek salad, moussaka and baklava are available at every meal. There are also be Greek classics featured as main dishes every day, such as lamb souvlaki, various local fish dishes and chicken with stuffed vine leaves. The line introduced extended restaurant opening hours in 2017, so you'll be able to sate your hunger for 16 hours a day, continuously (should you wish).

The food on our cruise was without exception, was of a very high standard: fresh, authentic and delicious. There is also an extensive Greek wine list, with varietals from many of the various islands the ship visits at reasonable prices; bottles start at 9.95 euros and few are more than 20 euros. The service across the board was also excellent: highly attentive and helpful, especially with children, who are embraced on this ship. And also knowledgeable, particularly the wine sommelier, Terrence, who helped us choose a suitable Greek wine every evening.

Note there is little choice when it comes to dining venues, with no speciality restaurants, just the main dining room and buffet to choose from, with the poolside grill open and an open-air BBQ in good weather. However, you can pay a supplement for steak and lobster dishes from a separate, for-fee menu. The restaurants are included in your fare and cater for dietary requirements including gluten-free and offer a good range of vegetarian options.

Aegean Restaurant (Deck 4): The Aegean Restaurant is the ship's main dining room. It provides open seating on a first-come, first-served basis; tables are meant for six and eight, and waiters will try to seat smaller parties with other cruisers (but of course you can ask to be sat alone). There are plenty of large picture windows, and the centre is dedicated to two rows of buffet service at breakfast and at lunch.

Breakfast is served buffet-style and there is a wide choice: cereals, fresh-made pastries, pre-made omelettes, fried eggs, bacon, potatoes, and cold cuts, as well as the ever-present cucumbers, tomatoes and olives. Due to the increasing numbers of Asian passengers, there is also an "Asian corner", where you can get noodle soups, congee and dumplings for breakfast. There is also a good selection of fresh juice selections of local fruit, for a fee.

Lunch in the main dining room is also a buffet, although you can order from a menu if you choose. Cold choices from the buffet include salads, smoked fish, meats, and cheese, while hot entrees may include fish skewers and chicken souvlaki. Menu items could be vine leaves stuffed with salmon and cream cheese, beetroot and apple salad or delicious local specialities such as "peinirli" -- dough parcels stuffed with minced beef and peppers. Mains might include a pasta dish, traditional pork gyros or a beef sandwich. There is always a chef's special, which will be a local dish often from the island you're visiting that day.

Kids get their own separate menu both at lunch and dinner, which will include fish fingers, hot dog, burger and chicken nuggets; mac n' cheese or build your own pizza. Desserts include ice cream and jelly.

Dinner is served in three courses (or four, if you would like a soup as well as an app), and there are always vegetarian options. The line no longer offers "Your Favorites" (a selection of always available classics), but if you ask for something plain like grilled chicken, salmon or steak, they will oblige.

Appetizers may include octopus keftedes (balls of deep-fried octopus), oven-baked pasticcio (Greek lasagne), lobster bisque and a salad. Main courses are heavily Greek-influenced, such as seafood saganaki (a tomato sauce with feta cheese), fish filet with artichoke pilaf or chicken stew marinated in a red wine sauce. You'll also find grilled beef or steak and vegetarian paella.

Desserts are again strongly Greek-influenced and include Greek chocolate pie, Greek yoghurt with honey, ice cream, fresh fruit, a cheese plate, baklava or galatopita (kind of a Greek custard pie).

Open for breakfast (6:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.); lunch (Noon to 2 p.m., depending on port times) and dinner (7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.).

Galileo Room (Deck 4): Just off the main dining room, the Galileo Room has a quieter atmosphere, as well as tables for two. The same menu is served; you can ask to be seated there when you enter the dining room.

Leda (Deck 9): The self-serve Leda buffet is at the back of the ship, and is a space which is semi-open to the elements, in that the roof is not fixed: it's a large awning that can be opened up in warm weather. The age of the ship means you get to walk on real teak floors. This was the place to eat at most times of day on our short cruise, and was very popular with the school groups and families who perhaps don't want a traditional three-course set meal. It's also open later than the MDR. There is always a cooking station set up in the middle of the restaurant at all meals, where you can get eggs cooked to order, or tacos at lunch or interesting desserts in the evening.

The breakfast buffet includes pastries, waffles, eggs, bacon, meats, cheeses, as well as cheese and spinach pies. For lunch, you'll find plenty of Greek salad staples, including tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and onions, as well as moussaka, fish skewers and lamb. Dinner choices are the same that you'd find in the main dining room. During the summer months when student groups board, snacks such as pizza, gyros and burgers are added.

Leda is open for breakfast (6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), "elevenses" (9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.), lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.), afternoon tea (4 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and dinner (7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.).

Aura Grill (Deck 9): Open only on days when the ship is at sea during the lunch hour, Aura Grill on Deck 9 is the buffet closest to the pool, serving up burgers and fries. It's a popular choice in the warmer months, and also attracts passengers looking for non-Greek options.

Once a cruise (Day 2) there is an outdoor BBQ served on the pool deck, just below the Aura Grill, accompanied by live music. Here you'll find mountains of meat -- steaks, pork, chicken, sausages, burgers all being cooked in great big BBQ pits under the starry sky, sending off wafts of delicious aromas; plus salad, sweetcorn and baked potatoes. It's all delicious and there is a lively atmosphere -- it's hard to beat on a warn Aegean night.

Gelato and frozen yoghurt are sold from a stand located by the pool on Deck 9. Cones cost one euro per scoop.

Room Service: Room service is available for a fee. A continental breakfast delivered to your room costs €5.95 per delivery and is served 6:00 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. Snacks and sandwiches, ranging in price from €5.95 to €7.95, can be delivered 24 hours a day. There is also X-press pizza delivery; the €7.95 price includes a beer or soda.

The line went all-inclusive in 2017, which includes the vast majority of drinks you'll ever need, including speciality coffees plus deep discounts on bottle of wines; however, you can upgrade for 11 euro per person per day to a Gold Package which includes champagne and premium brand liquors. You can also upgrade on a day-by-day basis, not for the whole cruise.

 

Olympia has 724 cabins, spread out over Decks 2 through 7 and 9. Several cabins accommodate up to four passengers, although there are no adjoining rooms. Two cabins are accessible. Only the nine suites have balconies.

The cabins are a decent size, slightly bigger in fact than modern cruise ship cabins. After the 2014 cruise season, the line refurbished 160 inside cabins, as well as bathrooms for all inside and outside cabins, and among many other things introduced key cards (it was previously an actual key). A subsequent refurbishment saw all the remaining cabins refurbished with modern furniture, light wood panelling, flat-screen TVs and new carpets.

All cabins have the following features: Individual twin beds which can be combined into a double, two built-in wardrobes, a built-in vanity/desk with a small stool, wall-mounted mirror, two bedside tables with lamps, a wall-mounted TV with limited English channels (BBC, Bloomberg, Sky News), a hair dryer, an ice bucket and a safe. Mini-fridges are only available in the suites.

All the bathrooms are tiled, with modern square sinks, a shower stall with curtain and wall-mounted generic shampoo, shower gel and lotion dispensers. There is a cupboard below with a trash can.

Interior: There are 306 inside cabins, measuring 116 square feet, which are spread out on Decks 2 to 6. The beds are individual twins, which can be combined into a double; there's also a side backrest that can be pulled down to make the bed a sofa. Furniture includes a pullout table between the beds, a stool and built-in vanity and two built-in wardrobes. Several inside cabins have two additional pull-down beds to house families.

Oceanview: The 388 outside cabins all measure 122 square feet; 126 have a porthole, and the others have a large picture window. They can be found on Decks 2 through 6. Furniture includes a chair for the vanity and two built-in wardrobes. The compact bathrooms found in inside and outside cabins each have a toilet, sink and shower with clingy curtain.

Balcony: The only balcony cabins are suites (see below).

Minisuite: The 21 Junior Suites can be found on Deck 7, all at a spacious 242 square feet and recently refurbished, giving them a modern look and feel (some might say generic), with light-coloured wood panelling and dark green, patterned carpet. Although it's not a "true suite" with two rooms, there are two distinct areas: a sleeping and living area (with the TV in the former). The storage within the closet in the corridor of the room is extensive, considering that the ship travels such short itineraries. Furniture includes a full sofa, a glass table and two bucket chairs. The bedside tables both have small reading lamps. Smaller suitcases can fit under the high beds. The large picture window overlooks the promenade deck but the lifeboats prevent these rooms from having a view. Within the bathroom, there's a tub with shower (and a non-clinging curtain), a built-in clothesline, a sink, a toilet and storage. Each Junior Suite is named for a flower, and the cabin and bathroom decor reflect this theme.

Suite: Suites are located on Deck 9, accessed via a separate staircase at the front of the ship. They are the only cabins with balconies, which were added after Louis took over the ship. The suites have individual containers of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, as well as soap, in the bathrooms all derived from olive oil extracts. In 2017, Celestyal trialled a number of concierge-type services for suite passengers only, which will be rolled out to both ships in 2018 and will include the following perks: Priority check-in on the dedicated counter; Shoe shine service; Beverage Service (drinks included as per purchased drink package); Arranging cocktail drinks with friends (in the Suite); Early morning Tea/Coffee Service; Serving your Breakfast in your Suite as per room service menu; Complimentary Pressing Service; Daily delivery of fruits in the afternoon; Daily Delivery of Canapes before dinner; Daily Delivery of Petit Fours after dinner; One bottle of Sparkling wine on arrival complimentary; One small bottle of water per person on arrival complimentary; Serving meals in Private suite as per Restaurant Menu; and luggage packing and unpacking.

Balcony Suites: The seven balcony suites are 302 square feet. They all have double beds, as well as a pullout sofa and can accommodate three people. There is a small table and two bucket chairs. Each bathroom has a double sink and a combo full-size tub and shower, similar to what you have in a Junior Suite. Balconies are spacious enough for two loungers and a table; passengers in these rooms will feel like they have plenty of outdoor space.

Grand Suite: The two Grand Suites are 368 square feet, and are at the front of the ship. They are the only cabins that could be described as interconnecting, as there is a communal door to both, which can be locked for privacy. They both have a wall of windows overlooking the bow, with remote-controlled blinds to keep out the brilliant light. The balcony is on the side of the cabin rather than in front, and directly overlooks the open bridge (so you have a perfect view of the captain manoeuvring out of various ports). There is plenty of space for two loungers, a table and two chairs. The cabin has a queen-size bed, as well as a pullout bed in its living area. There is a lovely window seat directly beneath the window, which could easily be used as a bed area for a young child. The rest of the space below the windows is taken up by a large desk, with a multitude of drawers and a space for the mini-fridge. The walk-in wardrobe has acres of hanging and storage space, and can easily accommodate several suitcases. The marble bathroom is also larger than those in the Balcony Suites, with a full tub and separate shower, as well as twin sinks.

Accessible: The two accessible rooms are outside cabins -- one that is 290 square feet and another that's 317 square feet. They have two beds that can be moved for easier access, bathrooms with proper railings and lots of space to manoeuvre.

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