Island hopping in Greece. Doesn’t every traveler share that dream? I’ve never really had the time to do a Greek vacation the justice I thought it deserved. But now I do. And after a summer laying low at home, waiting out the more expensive and hectic summer travel season, we headed straight out on an early Fall trip to Greece. Undoubtedly, the most common way to island hop in Greece is on a ferry, and many companies offer ferry services between the many Greek islands. For our island hopping needs, I chose the Blue Star Ferry line. And now that I’ve taken my first ferry ride from Athens to Syros, let me show you exactly what riding the Blue Star Ferry in Greece is all about.
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Why Did I Choose Blue Star?
Two reasons. First, Blue Star ferries are on the large end of the Greek ferry spectrum. Larger means slower than the smaller high speed ferry options. But I was more than willing to trade speed for comfort.
And when I say comfort, I am referring to motion sickness. Bigger and slower generally means more stability. I do get a little queasy on boats. On a recent high speed ferry ride in Malta earlier this year, I felt it. Since even the high speed ferry rides in Greece can take several hours, I wanted to do everything I could to minimize that discomfort.
The second reason I decided on riding the Blue Star Ferry was for its open deck. Most of the high speed ferries only have indoor seating, while most of the Blue Star ferries have a generous outdoor space. I wanted to sit in the open air, basking in the sunshine and sea breeze. Especially on a nearly 4 hour journey.
How Did I Book My Tickets?
This was easy. I downloaded the FerryHopper App and booked them on my phone. The App is extremely easy to use, though you can also book from their website if you would rather.
Simply put in your departure and arrival port and dates of travel. You’ll be shown every single ferry option available through all the ferry companies for that day along with the price.
Once you choose your Ferry, you will then be directed to choose the type of seat (see more on seat types later in this post).
After that, you simply put in your credit card info and purchase the tickets. There is no additional booking fee or tax. Your itinerary is stored inside the App (you are sent an email as well).
Every ferry company is a little different, but Blue Star provides an e-ticket after your purchase. You simply open up the FerryHopper App within 48 hours to 2 hours before departure, and check-in online. The e-ticket is sent to your email which can then be scanned when boarding the ferry. Simple!
The large Blue Star ferries are huge. Our ferry, called the Blue Star Paros, accommodates 1474 passengers and 240 cars. I read that if it’s not peak season, you can generally get tickets on the day of departure. That’s not how I roll though. I booked mine a week in advance.
Athens Airport to Piraeus Port
Our Greek adventure started with riding the Blue Star Ferry. After our initial flight into Athens, our plans took us directly to the Aegean island of Syros. Athens has three different ferry ports, but the most commonly used is Piraeus in the southwest part of the city. Our ferry was scheduled to depart from Piraeus at 7:30am on the morning after our arrival in Greece.
I used Booking.com to schedule a car pickup from the airport. This was cheaper, easier, and much less stressful than grabbing a taxi at the airport. With my Genius discount the cost was $52. Our driver met us in the airport arrival hall and took us directly to our hotel for that single night – the conveniently located Gallery Residence 26 (only two blocks from the ferry pier).
The next morning our ferry route would take us first south from Piraeus, and then east to the island of Syros, while passing between the islands of Kea and Kithnos. The journey was scheduled to take 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Boarding Blue Star Paros
Blue Star recommends that you arrive an hour prior to boarding. That seemed like a lot of extra time to me, so I asked the front desk person at our hotel if that was necessary (knowing that the bulk of their guests certainly get on a ferry when they check out). She suggested that 30-40 minutes prior was adequate.
It was an easy walk from our hotel to the port. We could see one of the Blue Star Ferries in the distance.
It wasn’t our ferry, but Blue Star Paros was docked adjacent. We walked it’s length to the back end.
Here, cars and passengers were loading. We simply walked up the ramp, scanned our e-tickets, and headed upstairs, first dropping of our larger bag in the ramp-level luggage storage (more on luggage storage to come).
Ferry Layout and Seating Options
As the Thorough Tripper, I very much wanted to understand what all my seating options were before I booked my ticket for riding the Blue Star Ferry. I struggled to find any of that information clearly outlined online beforehand. It’s not located on the Blue Star website anywhere that I could find, and there is a lot of discussion about it on various online travel forums without all the info I wanted.
So here is my eyewitness account of all the passenger sections on our Ferry – The Blue Star Paros
Economy seats are not assigned and are spread throughout the ferry’s three upper passenger levels.
On level 6, they are mostly located in the hallways and surrounding the indoor cafes. For some reason, these seemed very popular. I personally can’t imagine sitting in a hallway for almost 4 hours.
On level 7, the economy seats are all located outside. Most are located towards the back of the ferry in a large central covered area.
On level 8, they are located near the front of the ship in the “Sun Deck” – all surrounded by large glass windows.
Airline Seats/Numbered Seats
These are numbered and reserved seats located in 5 separate lounges spread throughout the ferry. They are called airline seats and comparable in design to airline seats -but are more comfortable than any economy airline seat. They cost only marginally more than the economy seat. On our ferry ride, economy seats cost 45 Euros, while the Airline Seats cost 50 Euros.
When booking a numbered airline seat, you are asked to choose your lounge, though beyond that you cannot chose your exact seat. This is what the lounges on the Blue Star Paros are like…
Lounges AK1 and AK2
These are located on level 6. As you can see in the photo, they are adjacent to a hallway. Each is located on opposite sides of the ferry.
This lounge is located in the center of level 6. It is larger and noisier than the other lounges.
Lounges AK4 and AK5
These are located on level 7. They are more isolated than the other lounges, so they were much quieter. Though these were clearly the best choice in my opinion, they weren’t nearly as full as the others. I’m guessing that those unfamiliar with the process aren’t sure which lounge to book, so they choose a lounge closer to the top of the list.
On our trip, a business class ticket cost 20 Euros more than Economy. The Business class section is at the front of level 6. It was not very crowded on our journey. Looking inside, I personally do not feel it was worth 20 Euros extra, which is probably why there weren’t very many passengers in there.
There were also a section of private cabins on our Blue Star Ferry, which include beds. These are located on Level 7. For longer journeys, such as those back and forth from Athens to Santorini, I’m sure these would be great. The cabins can also be selected when booking through FerryHopper. I did notice they were mostly sold out already when I booked my tickets a week in advance.
So, Where Did We Sit?
With my limited pre-trip knowledge, I booked our seats in AK2. For only 5 Euro more, it made sense to have the option for a comfy seat, given that we would certainly be tired after a long travel day, a short night, and an early morning wake-up in Piraeus.
But, an airline seat booking doesn’t require that you spend your whole trip in your assigned lounge. Airline seat tickets allow for full access to all the economy areas as well. Mrs. TT spent the journey recover-sleeping in her airline seat. I spent my journey wandering around the ferry, most of it outside.
Having now learned all about the ferry, I booked PK5 for our return journey. Much more private and quiet.
We don’t travel super light, given that Mrs TT works while we travel. She has one piece of luggage specifically dedicated to work necessities and computer equipment, and a second larger piece for the rest of her things. So consequently, I always think about luggage logistics on our journeys. Here’s what I found while riding the Blue Star Ferry
Immediately upon entering the ferry, there is an area lined with a few racks for larger bags. It’s not secure storage, but access to these lower decks is blocked off after departure. We entered the ship about 40 minutes prior to departure and most of the racks were already full, though we did get the last spot on an upper shelf for our big piece.
Different sections are labeled for different islands along the ferry’s full multi-stop itinerary. Our ferry stopped at Mykonos after dropping us off at Syros. Guess which island is more popular….
There is no dedicated luggage storage with an economy seat. You keep your smaller pieces of luggage with you.
Some of the airline seats lounge have dedicated racks. I had been under the impression that all the lounges did. Yet another reason I booked an airline seat. However this is what I found.
AK1 and 2
No dedicated racks. But our roller bags did fit under the seats in front of us. Even if Mrs TT had not slept and joined me on the outside decks, I would have been comfortable leaving them there (locked) while taking our backpacks outside with us.
AK3 has a dedicated area in the back for luggage storage. It’s not nearly big enough for all the potential passengers in the lounge, but it wasn’t full when I passed through just prior to departure.
AK4 and 5
A small luggage rack in the back, though only a few bags could fit there.
Thoughts About the Ride
Schedule – We left exactly on schedule at 7:30. We arrived in Syros 15 minutes beyond our 11:15 scheduled arrival time. Consequently, the entire journey lasted 4 hours
The Deck – As mentioned above already, I spent most of my time outside. I did shift from area to area depending on sun, shade, wind, water spray, and temperature. It all changed constantly depending on our direction and location.
Motion – There were times when there was a little more “motion” than I’d hoped. And during those times, I did get a little queasy. Traditionally in those situations, if I find an open spot and look at the horizon, I’m fine. I spent those times at the back of the boat on the outside deck with its commanding view out across the sea. Consequently, I’m very happy I didn’t take one of the high speed ferries.
Food – There is a burger restaurant and two cafes serving pre-made sandwiches, pastries, coffee, etc. I had some jet-lag nausea, and with the mild motion queasiness on top of that, I didn’t try any of the food. A piece of advice – the lines for coffee were long when we boarded. There are several coffee shops and bakeries lining the road across from the port. Consider getting your breakfast there first and bringing it on board with you.
Connectivity – I had a good cellular connection for almost all of the journey on Greece’s Cosmote network through my T-Mobile International Pass. Wifi was available for purchase starting at 3 Euros for the most basic plan.
Scenes Along the Way
Disembarking in Syros
As we approached Ermoupoli – the port city of Syros – an announcement was made and the doors to the lower decks were unlocked and opened. We went downstairs, collected our large bag, and along with lots of people, watched the large back ramp slowly descend. Once it did, we simply walked out onto the Syros ferry pier – the end to our first experience riding the Blue Star Ferry.
If you love reading about public transportation (I mean…who doesn’t?), then be sure to check out my post on Using Public Transportation in Kyoto Japan. Or my look at Getting From Kotor to Dubrovnik and using Kotor’s chaotic bus system.
If you want to read about an entirely different kind of ferry altogether, then check out my post on Riding the Pletna Boat to Bled Island Slovenia
And to read about our subsequent adventures in the Greek Islands, check out the other posts in my Greece series.