Greece Tour

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<p>I would like recommendations for a tour of Greece in August 2011. I have been there a few times before (independently) but travel companion hasn't so will want to include the "must-sees" and an island cruise. Will need flexible flights as we will be visiting the island of Lesbos before or after (not included on anybody's tour as far as I know).</p> <p>Cost is a factor but not the only one. I am a satisfied "alum" of smarTours so don't need that discussion, but would like to hear from anyone who has actually taken their Spectacular Greece tour. Thanks. </p>

This is a trip report that I wrote for the OAT Classic Greece and the Greek Islands trip in 2007. Note that the itinerary might have changed and that Greece has experienced much turmoil since we were there. OAT gives the option of either including international airfare or taking the 'land/cruise' portion alone. If you take the latter, carefully monitor whether OAT charges you international travel fees even though you did not use their international travel.
Now for the trip report:
My husband and I took OAT’s Classic Greece & the Greek Islands June 13-27, 2007, and would rate our experience as good, but not excellent. As with all group travel, the itinerary, group dynamics, the guide, and world around affect travel success. We found this trip more a slow paced, large group experience than the active, small group opportunity which we normally associate with OAT. Instead of extensive walking tours, we had “orientation walks” which provided cursory overviews of areas. Few suggestions for effective independent sightseeing were offered, although there was ample time for shopping, sleeping, and swimming. Consequently, we missed important sites, such as the Agora in Athens, since we had not prepared appropriately for so much ‘unguided’ time.
Also, unlike most previous OAT trips, our group numbered 23 predominantly single women, including two with mobility issues. In addition, we occasionally merged with another OAT group on the boat. Thus as an example, rather than enjoying a fairly intimate home visit, our group numbered 17 or, when taking our ‘nature walk,’ the walking group included everyone, up to the total 48 who chose to come. However, as an organized, slower paced opportunity to visit highlights of Greece and the Greek Islands, the trip was good. I have fond memories of our time there, especially in Arachova and the Greek Islands.
Hotels were well located. The Hera in Athens was adjacent to the Plaka District and near a Metro station, the Santa Marina in Arachova and the Divani Kalambaka provided great views. However, beware of room assignments. We initially were assigned a handicap room which flooded every time we took showers in the Hera and given a parking lot view and mildewed carpet in the Santa Marina.
The small ship experience was what made this trip memorable. We were able to visit the smaller islands that cruise ships cannot and often stayed in port until well after midnight so we could enjoy the rhythm of the islands. OAT cautioned that the ships captain can, and will, change the posted itinerary. Our captain sailed more during the night hours so we could enjoy longer port time in every port on the itinerary plus even added an extra island. Now that we have seen all three OAT ships, we realize we should have selected the more streamlined M/Y Harmony G due to its larger, more extensive public facilities, especially its welcoming shaded deck. In contrast, our sailing schooner, the M/Y Panorama, had small, unshaded public areas, deck furniture in poor repair, and sails that were more decorative than functional. OAT’s ship deck plans showing double and twin rooms were not, and still are not, accurate. OAT had assured us a specific double cabin based on deck plans when we booked months in advance; however, we found it to be a twin cabin once we boarded.
Now for practical trip specifics:
Greece comes to life between 9 p.m. and midnight. If you don’t adhere to local rhythm, you will find ‘ghost towns’ in the afternoons and miss the essence of the country.
Clothing to take should include a blend of dressy casual, capris/slacks/shorts, and sundresses. I found no need for the dressy dress OAT suggested. Monasteries require long pants for men and skirts for women. They do provide wraparound skirts. Churches request that you respect their place of worship and not wear shorts inside.
Water on mainland Greece is safe to drink. We were encouraged to drink bottled water on the islands.
Guidebooks say negotiating is not accepted in Greece; however, we discovered on the mainland, Euro cash payment was usually 20% less rounded down to the next ‘easy’ number from the listed price.
Archaeological sites, such as Delphi and the Acropolis, have very slippery marble paths.
Food in Greece is very expensive, especially in comparison with the weak dollar. Budget accordingly. The kiosks in the airport will not take dollars.
Do not miss the Ancient Agora in Athens. Our OAT guide barely mentioned the significance or expanse of the area although its access is included with the tickets to the Acropolis.
4-wheel bikes, rented for 20 Euro/day including insurance and helmets, provide a fun way to explore islands, such as Paros and Naxos. Road signage is fairly well marked and drivers do share the road.
Santorini and Mykonos are pretty, but very touristy. Naxos, Paros, and Tinos islands provide more local flavor. Delos is uninhabited, but houses an incredible 5000 year old ruin. Ferries run to all these islands from Athens.
Sources for further information include the Greek national Tourism Organization, 645 Fifth Avenue, Suite 903, New York, NY 10022 or or or the Eyewitness Travel Guides for Greece.

Wanda's comment -- "However, beware of room assignments" should be especially noted. I was in Dubnovnik on a group trip (not with OAT) where the hotel listed in the brochure stated "all rooms have a sea view." There was a hotel substitution everyone in the group was given a room with a view of the parking lot. I went to the desk and asked what the difference in cost was between the room I had and similar rooms with a view. It was very little. I changed rooms and paid the extra cost. When I contacted the company and indicated they did not substitute a "equal or better" hotel, they refunded the extra that I had paid for the three nights. It wasn't that much ($110.), but made for a much better hotel experience as the Adriatic coastline is beautiful
So the lesson learned is this: If the itinerary lists a hotel, look up its website as well as reviews in, or any other hotel review website and know what to expect.