Having worked up quite an appetite walking around the harbor, we were ready for a big dinner in the Princess Grill that night. We arrived around 8 P.M. and we were shown to Table 137, a two-top in a corner by the window that offered great views of the sunset as well as of our fellow diners. Most of the people dining in our section were older couples who were celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or a second honeymoon. We saw many of the same people each night and we loved seeing what they would wear. Even though there were two formal nights on this cruise where it is mandatory for guests to dress up after 6 P.M. in most of the public spaces onboard, many of the Princess Grill and Queens Grill passengers liked to dress up every night.
Men often wore tuxedos or white dinner jackets, while women wore gowns, sequin dresses, or tailored suits. Jewelry that was probably kept in box at home and only brought out for special occasions was proudly flaunted around the necks, wrists, ears, and fingers of the women on board. Diamonds may be a girls best friend, bust so are sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and other precious and semi-precious gems.
Every evening aboard ship, there was a reason to celebrate. We were traveling to some of the most beautiful places in Europe and meeting won- derful people. No matter what trials and tribulations we as individuals may have experienced, or were experiencing in our lives, this was a time to enjoy life, get to know some new people, or just spend time with someone special, free to laugh, love, and savor this very special time on one of the world’s most incredible ocean liners.
Sailing through the night on a southwesterly course, we arrived the next morning in Santorini, Greece. This world-famous destination, promoted with photos in magazines and on social media everywhere, provides visitors with picture-perfect vistas and the iconic architecture of whitewashed houses with blue shutters, and blue-domed buildings that overlook the sea.
The Queen Victoria was anchored in the caldera that was created around 1,600 B.C.E. when a huge volcanic eruption destroyed at least half of this once-circular island. The blast was so powerful that it created a caldera three times the size of the one in Krakatoa (thought to be the most devastating volcanic eruption in modern history). Add to this the theory that Santorini is the home of the lost civilization of Atlantis, and you have more than enough myth, legend, and natural beauty to attract visitors from around the world.
Like most of the people on our ship, we had never been to Santorini. We had seen the stunning photos, but we knew very little about this popular destination. It was the sort of place we dreamt about spending a few months every year in seclusion in a hilltop villa overlooking the sea as we wrote our screenplays and novels.
As cruise passengers with only a few hours to explore a small section of the island, our experience was quite different from that of our imagination. The water between the ship and the shore was choppy, which made entering the tender a little tricky. With the help of the experienced crew, we made the short ride to the tiny port of Skala without incident, or an upset stomach. Once on shore, we had three options to take us to the town of Fira, which lies 1,000 feet up at the rim of the caldera. 1. A cable car that takes about three minutes to reach the top and costs four euros each way. 2. You can walk the zigzag pathway that takes about 45 minutes, but be prepared for a moderately strenuous hike and scorching heat in the summer months. 3. There are many donkeys available to ride up and back, but the cruise line strongly advises against this method for the welfare of the animals.
On arrival at the summit, be prepared for a bit of a shock. Because this is where all the passengers from the cruise ships come to get a taste of Santorini, the narrow streets are lined with souvenir shops and thronged with tourists. We spent a total of 20 minutes walking around the crowded town, sweating from the heat, and looking for a place to relax over a coffee. We eventual gave up and decided to head back down via the cable car. Little did we know that the wait would be 45-minutes to an hour in the scorching sun!
As we slowly got closer to boarding, one of the crew members from our ship asked if he could join us in the line. If he had to wait an hour for the next cable car he would be late for work. As we waited together in the line, he told us about his family in the Philippines and his six-month-old son that had never seen his father. He was looking forward to returning home for a visit soon, and he was planning on spending three months there before his next cruise assignment.
As the cable car descended toward the port below, the incredible panorama of the caldera and ships made us understand why so many people would want to journey here. We also knew that if we were ever to return to Santorini, it would only happen if we could rent the villa of our dreams.
Have you ever had a fantasy that involved naked male athletes? Then our next stop is just what you’ve been waiting for. The port of Katakolon, Greece is a scenic seaside town with a variety of small jewelry stores, gifts shops, cafés, and a popular local beach. The rea- son most cruise ships dock here, however, is because this is the gateway to ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Greek Games.
The Queen Victoria will help you arrange a half-day excursion, or you can prearrange to have a local guide pick you up at the ship, drive you the 40-minutes to Olympia, and share with you this amazing part of Greek and world history.
Once there, standing among the massive columns, you can visualize yourself next to the magnificent temples and testosterone-filled gymnasiums competing naked with the other runners, wrestlers, discus throwers, and chariot drivers as Plato, Aristotle, Nero, and Alexander the Great cheer you on.
More than three million people visit this site each year, which includes the Archaeological Museum of Olympia where they have assembled a collection of statues and sculptures that once adorned these ancient structures.
Before or after your tour, as you travel through the valleys of the western Peloponnese region, where strawberries, watermelons, and tomatoes grow in profusion, make sure to stop at the Domaine Mercouri winery, about two miles from where the ship is docked, and sample some of their delightful vintages as you relax in the shade of centuries-old cypress trees.
Back in Katakolon, you can wander through the town and pick up some gifts for you friends and family back home. During our visit, they were offering big discounts if you paid with cash. Unique gifts, apparel, and jewelry are on offer, and the people we met had a great sense of humor and made us feel like old friends. After buying a silver and turquoise necklace emblazoned with the Greek symbol of eternal life, the owner of the shop offered to buy us an Ouzo in New York when he was there. “Just stop by my cousin’s restaurant, Estiatorio Milos in Manhattan, and tell them Nick sent you!”
The joy of cruising this part of the world grew even more intense as we sailed from Greece to Italy that evening and throughout the next day. In celebration of the 175th anniversary of Cunard Line, a 175 Ball was held in the Queen Room that night. The theme was “Black, Red and Gold,” and the passengers did not disappoint when it came to their fashion choices. Red seemed to be the color of choice for many of the women, and a few men, with golden accessories, black ties, and black designer shoes complementing the night’s dazzling couture.
While the orchestra played popular hits from various decades, couples took to the dance floor to show off their best moves and dexterity. Dancing is something that people everywhere enjoy doing, and this was one night that people were happy to shed their inhibitions and let loose. Watching a couple who had to be in their 80s spinning around, laughing, and having a wonderful time together, you realize that it is never too late in life for love, romance, and having a good time.