Today the island is crescent-shaped around the caldera, but was once a solid mass and called Thira. In about 1500 BC, the volcanic island exploded and 32 square miles of it sank over 1,000 feet into the ocean. Scientists say the explosion was the worst in history. The volcano was last active in the early 1950's. Santorini is one of the most popular places to visit in Greece, and its popularity is well-deserved. Pictures just don't do it justice; the island is spectacular and its look demonstrates the massive power of volcanoes.
I've been to Santorini twice before and took a tour each time, so this time we decided to do Santorini "on our own". The cruise director warned all of us on the ship that doing Santorini independently would mean that we would have to either take the cable car from the bottom of the cliff to the island above (4 euros each way), ride a donkey (5 euros each way), or walk the 800+ steps (set about 5-10 feet apart) up the long and winding donkey trail and have to dodge both the donkeys and the donkey poo. Obviously, mom and I, along with thousands of others, chose the cable car. We got our tender passes (cruise ships use local boats as tenders) and were off the ship by 9:45.
The wait to ride the cable car was only 1 hour and 5 minutes (I timed it); we had been told it sometimes got up to almost 2 hours. Local authorities claim they can ride 700 people per hour, but we had six cruise ships anchored in the caldera. Lucky for us, it wasn't too hot and we had interesting folks to chat with on both sides of us. Anyone who doesn't like to stand for long periods should definitely take a tour. The ship had four, all of which began with a bus ride from another tender docking point in the caldera. Only one of the tours used the bus port on the return. The others all required people to ride the cable car back down from Fira and take the tender back to the ship. I've done the tours to Oia and the winery and both were excellent. The island is much more than just the dramatic caldera and the white-washed buildings along its rim.
Reaching the top of the caldera and the town of Fira by about 11:15 am, mom and I walked a little before finding a small cafe overlooking the caldera. One of the best views ever. Reminded us of the many other places we've had a drink, snack, or meal with great views, and mom and I reminisced a little while taking in the view. After a leisurely beer, we explored the city some and found the bus station that would take us to Oia, the picturesque artist's colony at the tip of the island. It's quieter than Fira, and the white sugar cube houses and other buildings are splayed down the cliffs. Along with the blue-domed churches, Oia is a photographer's and artist's mecca. The bus station was packed and looked pretty busy. Not wanting to subject either one of us to standing in a hot bus for the 20+-minute ride to Oia (and back), followed by another hour wait for the cable car back down to the tender, we decided to pass on the ride to Oia. We had both been there before, so I have photos. We decided to just spend more time shopping/exploring in Fira.
The line was only 40 minutes long for the ride back down to the ship. We got back onboard; ate a very late lunch, and read our books and took naps. All that standing in line wore us out! I've learned my lesson and will either do a shore excursion from the ship or wait and go into town later in the day the next time I am in Santorini.
We were invited to a "frequent cruiser" cocktail party with the captain and hotel director (and about 100 other people), so attended it in the Crow's Nest observation lounge before dinner. Sat with a nice couple from Philadelphia who were 2 of the 300 who had been on the previous cruise. They had gotten a very good deal on booking back-to-back cruises with Holland America.
Dinner was a little later--about 8:00 pm in the main dining room. Even with random seating we ended up with two women who are travel writers--one lives in Bend, Oregon, and the other near Vancouver, BC. They own an online magazine called WAVE Journey (Women Adventure Vacations and Experiences), and have been in business since 2005. We enjoyed meeting them and comparing notes on the cruise and ports of call.
After dinner, mom and I dashed off to the show. It was a young Irish woman singer/comedian, Siobhan Phillips. She had a marvelous contralto voice, sounding much like Cher. But, when she spoke, a very strong Irish accent came out (and not nearly as deep a voice). Siobhan was very funny, and her show was a good mix of music and comedy. She had a fun, self-deprecating sense of humor, and her deep voice didn't match her looks or speaking voice at all.
Back to the cabin by 11:30 and to bed by midnight. The next day would be a full day at sea, arriving in Catania, Sicily early the next morning.