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Our experience with taking the ferries in Greece was overall positive. It was an enjoyable and comfortable alternative to flying as you can walk around and admire the gorgeous sea.
We also found it fun to eat Greek pastries on board on some of the trips. It was also nice to be able to walk around and the atmosphere on the ferries is quite “chatty” as no one is confined to their seats.
The downsides of travelling by ferry are at boarding when you are dealing with massive crowds and when you get off and need to hustle to get a taxi, catch the right bus, or find your car rental location. And, of course, one last downside is if you get travel sick on boats like me and the girls, so bring enough travel sickness tablets to cover all your journeys keeping in mind the tablets wear out after about 3-4 hours.
Would I take the ferries again? Definitely! It was a nice alternative to flying.
My 2 Cents if you have small kids and babies
While it is great to be able to let your children walk around on the ferry during the trip, I feel that the chaos before and after the ferry negates these positives. If you have toddlers and babies, and you want to take the ferry than I would take a Blue Star ferry with cabin from Athens and then choose to fly to the other islands. Of course, it depends on the islands as some don’t have airports. But boarding in Athens was calm and easy and if you are able to book a pick up service at your arrival port, it will make everything a lot smoother. Also, the Blue Star ferries are bigger and slower, so less bumpy. They have outside decks with plenty of tables and chairs. It will take longer, but the views are stunning. Unfortunately, some routes are simply not covered by them, so you will need to take the smaller, faster ferries between some of the other islands.
READ > Oia, Santorini with Kids
We booked all our ferries ahead of time. While I read several posts and advice about how it isn’t always necessary to book ahead of time, for peace of mind, we booked all our ferries with assigned seating ahead of time. It’s also important to book if you are going during the high season. Depending on the ferry there are different levels of seating, we booked the standard seat. This is not the cheapest, but we wanted to make sure that we weren’t left frantically searching for 5 seats together. Also, while we bought our tickets online we still had to pick up our tickets at the port.
Our longest journey was from Athens to Mykonos-- which was 5 hours. We decided to book a cabin and it was worth it for us as the kids were able to relax on the beds and we had our own bathroom. I also gave our kids and myself travel sickness medicine. I still spent a good deal of time though outside on the sunny deck with the salty wind and sea spray whipping my hair everywhere to calm my travel sickness.
We read beforehand that the food on the ferry was pricey and not great. However, we boarded our first ferry before 7 am in the morning. We only had snack food. Luckily, we found the pricing on the ferry was the same as other cafes in Athens and the pastries were all hot, fresh and delicious. Our kids loved the spanokopita (cheese and spinach pies). They also had other food on offer such as sandwiches, hot dogs wrapped in pastry, chips, and candy bars. The big ferries will also have fast food and restaurant options- especially during high season. As you get to the low-season, some of the restaurants may be closed, but there is always a snack bar/cafe.
We booked everything ahead of time with Blue Star Ferry (Athens-Mykonos) and SeaJets Ferry (Mykonos-Santorini and Santorini-Crete). All our trips went smoothly despite it feeling chaotic on boarding. Our first ferry was from Athens where we boarded the large Blue Star ferry at 7am. It was our easiest ferry departure as it wasn’t crowded and a staff member showed us to our cabin. The worst boarding was in Mykonos as it was a massive crowd of people. Santorini port had one docking area that funneled us into a line that entered the ferry, but it had other docks that did not have this.
Because I’m short (and I was holding onto two kids), I couldn’t fully capture the sheer size of the crowd getting onto the ferry. Hold onto your kids hands tightly, because even though most people are polite you can easily become separated as everyone is pushing forward with their suitcases. As soon as you enter the ferry, you are directed by staff where to leave your luggage. Some ferries have more than one stop, so you will need to leave your luggage in the appropriate location. There are plenty of staff around. Once your luggage is stowed, and by stowed I mean it could be left standing alongside a hundred other suitcases, then you and hundreds of other people are directed to the staircases upwards. It is a slow process and the ferry will most likely have left the port before you get up on deck. There is no access to the car/suitcase deck while you are travelling, so take all important baby and kid supplies with you.
We booked seats on all our ferries. However, once you are in the ferry it can become a little bit of a free for all. Even though we had booked seats on SeaJets ferry we were told with a wave of the hand by staff to sit down where ever. If you get on the ferry early this is not a problem; however, if you are last to get on your seats might be occupied. There are enough seats for everyone who has booked, but you may not find enough seats together.
If you are having difficulties, contact the staff to help you out, but if you see empty seats take those first. If you book more expensive seats (business/first class) this becomes a non-issue as those are located in separate section and staff constantly check tickets for people entering those areas. However, the business class seats while in a quieter and less crowded area, did not look like they were worth the cost. Our seats were all very comfortable.
READ > Mykanos with kids
Getting off the Ferry
You will be told when your ferry is approaching the port, this is not like an airplane, so you will need to go downstairs to where the cars and suitcases are as soon as they mention this. Keep the kids close as this is another chaotic time- again most people are nice, but it’s crowded and everyone is in a rush and searching for their bags. The ramp on and off the ferry is a bit bumpy so it can get a little awkward if you are juggling too many things and little people.
Ferry Tracker- Where’s our ferry?
Type in the ferry company and the name of your ferry and you can get live updates. This tool helps you get on your feet and heading towards your ferry dock.
The only time this won’t work is when they have a replaced the ferry for your particular trip. This happened to us, so double check with ferry staff when you get to the port. Also, ferries can be delayed with no notice. There are bathrooms, shade, and food (kiosks and/or restaurants) at all the ports, so the basics are covered to keep you relatively comfortable while you wait.
The other issue with ferries in Greece is that the time-table and ferries may change. So, you may have booked seats in Ferry A but when it is replaced by another ferry, your booked seats may have changed a bit. When we arrived at the port in Santorini a staff from one of the local restaurants informed us that there had been changes to one of the ferries. Our seats were adjusted for the ferry at the ticket office. When you arrive at the port, go to the ticket office and check your ferry and timetable. And, if you a rather forward random person from a restaurant starts asking you about what ferry you are taking don’t assume the worst- say, “Thank you. I’ll head to the ticket office.” :-)
Taking different types of transport when you travel with your family can be exciting and stressful. Hopefully, these tips have helped you make the decision that is best for your family.
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