You can’t go to Greece without visiting the Greek islands and one of the most convenient ways to get around the islands is to take ferries. Getting around by ferry takes some getting used to but these tips can help.
Booking ahead or buying at the port?
As one of the primary modes of transportation in the Greek islands, the ferries are coming and going constantly and you’ll have a lot of options. Some ferries are faster than others, some more expensive than others. You can browse all your travel options using the largest online Greek ferry database. Here you’ll find ferry schedules from other major ports in Europe to Greece as well as ferries around the Greek islands. If you do buy your tickets online beforehand, you’ll probably have the option to pick them up at a ticket office in Greece or have them mailed. If you are having them mailed, make sure there is enough time for your tickets to arrive before you depart on your trip. Otherwise, make sure you know exactly when and where you need to pick up your tickets.
If you decide to buy your tickets at the last minute, you run the risk of not being able to get on a ferry that is sold out. So if your itinerary is very fixed or you have to be somewhere at a certain time, you should probably just reserve your tickets ahead of time. The risk of ticket unavailability is higher (almost certain) during peak summer season in July and August. However, during most times of the year, you should be fine to pick them up last minute as there are dozens of companies that shuttle passengers to and from all the islands. The advantage of not pre-buying the ticket is that if something happens related to your specific ferry, like the route is temporarily halted for bad weather or there is a strike, you don’t have to go through the trouble of re-booking your ticket or potentially losing your money altogether.
Be mindful of your ports
Whether you’re taking a cab or public transportation to get to the ports, be mindful of where you need to go. For instance, Athens has three ports: Piraeus, Rafina, and Lavrion. If you have your ferry ticket already, double check to make sure you are going to the departure right port. If you don’t have your ticket and you intend to buy it at the port, make sure you are going to the port that has the route and timetable that you are looking for.
Timetables are… flexible
One thing you’ll quickly learn about the Greek islands is that the people there are not in a hurry to do anything. Unless you’re on the very first ferry of the day, you might find that ferries regularly leave 30 minutes to one hour after their scheduled time. We found this out first hand in Santorini on the way to Ios. We arrived 20 minutes before our departure time and after not seeing our ferry company anywhere in sight past our departure time, assumed it had left early without us on it. We nervously asked the server at a restaurant at the port who told us our ferry had not yet arrived and pointed out where it would be docking when it did. He suggested we sit down for a drink while we waited. We did and our ferry didn’t show up until an hour after its scheduled departure time.
If this happens to you and you’ve checked and double checked your ticket and you’re starting to worry, don’t. Ask someone around. They’ll either help you or point you to someone who can. Your ferry is probably just running on Greek island time. That being said, even though you can’t hold them to adhere to their timetables, you can’t get away with being late and missing your ferry. Always assume the ferry will be on time, but be prepared to relax in the port while you wait in case it’s not.
If you want even more peace of mind, it may help to confirm your pre-booked tickets when you arrive in Greece. As per the small print, anything booked ahead of time is subject to change and if your route was changed or altered, you may not have been notified.
You may get seasick
I’ve been on cruises, sailboats, airboats, yachts, and I’ve never been seasick. Until the second I stepped foot on a Greek ferry. Even if you’re not prone to seasickness, there’s a first time for everything, especially on the high-speed ferries in the Greek islands. They get you there faster but the bouncing on open ocean waves will also get your food to come up faster. On the ferry, you will likely be enclosed in a giant open space with several hundred other people. If you’re prone to seasickness, and even if you think you aren’t, try to sit near a window. Looking out into the ocean will reduce the likelihood that you will get sick. Fair warning though, the ferries get packed and there will probably be a huge line (read: mob) of people getting into the ferry. Don’t rely on getting a window seat because you may not get one unless you show up several hours before your ferry and you’re first in line. Come prepared with Dramamine in case you do start to feel bad. I was stuck on a five-hour trip from Athens to Santorini with nothing but a puke bag and a tiny bathroom that could double as a port-a-potty if you took it out of the boat. Don’t be like me; be prepared and bring something that will make you feel better.
Lugging around luggage on the ferries
Getting around the Greek islands is already cumbersome enough without carrying around a ton of stuff. On the ferries, this will be especially evident. For one, the ferries get really full, probably to unsafe capacities. There are people and bags everywhere. You won’t be able to keep your luggage with you in a neat little overhead compartment or under your seat. You’ll probably just it dump in the pile of bags on top of the life jacket compartments or in front of the fire exit doors. As careful as you may be with your stuff, there’s probably 10 people coming in right after you that couldn’t care less what’s in your duffel and will throw their heavy rollerboards on your bag. So make sure you have valuables or fragile items with you. This also makes a case for consolidating your luggage into as few bags as possible. You don’t want to go digging through piles of bags to find all of yours which may have been separated.
If you’re reading this and thinking that Greek ferries are pretty awful, you’re not wrong. Take it easy, anyway, you’ll be lying on the sandy beaches of the Greek islands soon and that makes it worth it.