Greek Island Ferryboats
There is good news and bad news about the Greek ferry system and finding schedules to the islands.
The good news is that the boats are improving. They are faster, cleaner and more comfortable. The bad news is they cost more to run so ticket prices are higher and finding reliable schedules more than 2 weeks in advance is still a problem.
So what is the current state of the Greek ferries? Actually its pretty good considering. Lots of new fast boats joining the fleet and old ones finally being retired or sold to some far away country that does not have the same standards and laws about how long a ship can remain in service, replacing them when they finally sink. The Blue Star Lines, NEL and Hellenic Seaways have gobbled up the lucrative (popular) routes and the other companies with their older ships have settled for the dregs and are making a go of it. There are a few boats that have reached the end of their careers and look like it but for the most part the ferry experience is a pretty good one. The new boats are not only bigger and faster but cancellations are less frequent since no ferry company wants to lose money by keeping a boat from sailing. So cancellations can only happen when the Greek Port Authority believes it is too dangerous to sail, (rare in the summer but it happens) or if a ship breaks down.
If you are planning to go to several islands
you may want to consider going to those with regular
connections to each other. What does that mean exactly? Well look at the schedules
(like in the Athens News)
and notice which islands a particular ferry goes to. Generally those are the islands you will have no trouble finding
service between. For example if you go to Mykonos you will find it easy to go to Syros and Tinos.
has daily connections to Paros
In the summer there is a daily boat between Santorini and Crete.
Sifnos has daily
boats to Milos,
Serifos and Kythnos. Rhodes
is connected daily to Patmos, Leros, Kalymnos
Lesvos has daily ferries to and from Chios. And my little island of Kea
has no daily connections to anywhere except Lavrion. If you have a week to spend on the islands pick
the one you like best and take day trips around the island and to nearby islands
or visit an island on your way back. In my opinion 'island hopping' is over-rated. You may have a richer experience by getting to know one island
in depth, than bouncing around from one port to the next.
Ferry Schedules on the Internet
How accurate are the schedules you find on the net? A few years ago the Minoan office did not even know they had a Flying Cat going to Paros until a customer called Dolphin Hellas Travel to report that he was standing in front of one that was leaving in 10 minutes. When Dolphin called Minoan to ask about it, they insisted there was none. Clearly a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing. So if the ferry companies themselves don't know then how can the schedules on the net (or anywhere) be correct.
I asked Apostolis, the owner of Aegean Thesaurus Travel in Sifnos and he said "With ferry schedules there is a simple rule. If it is static it is probably wrong." Regardless of what the written schedules and those on the net say, a travel agent when booking a hotel for a client will call the ferry company and make sure that the schedule for a particular boat for a specific day is correct before he issues the tickets. So you can go to the web and find the schedule and happily make your plans, just as long as you also call the ferry company to make sure. (Be prepared to wait on hold).
So how is it that in this modern age a simple thing like a ferry schedule can be so unsure? Well as it was explained to me, the ferry companies submit their proposed schedule for the week to the ministry 2 weeks in advance for approval. So if you are booking in January for a trip in July the schedules posted are not approved which means they can be changed. So in other words it is a 'projected' ferry schedule. If you are going to a popular island with several ferries a day then booking a ticket on-line is not such a risk. The worst that could happen is there will be a slight hassle of exchanging it for another ticket on a ferry leaving that day. But if you are going to an island that does not have daily connections to Pireaus or another island that you are planning to go to and have booked your hotel then you may have problems.
Yes we all love the ease in which we can go to a website and click on a few hotels and have an instant holiday on the Greek islands. As someone wrote to me "I have successfully booked my hotels through exped-o-locity and now I need to book my ferries". My reply was "how do you know you were successful?" Nine out of ten e-mails I get are cries for help from people who have booked hotels and now can't find the ferries to go with them or vice-versa. Do yourself a favor. Unless you have an aversion to working with someone more knowledgeable than you about a country go to www.greecetravel.com/create-an-itineraryNEW! The Athens News now has the weekly ferry schedules from Pireaus, Rafina and Lavrion so get a copy at the newstand in the airport when you arrive or at most kiosks and newstands in Athens. This won't help if you are trying to book your trip from outside of Greece but it is good to know anyway and for backpackers and those who are completely flexible it is very helpful. The Kathimerini which is inside the International Herald Tribune has the daily schedules but by the time you read it the majority of the boats have already left. You can also find them at www.athensguide.com/greek-island-ferry-schedules which I update every week.