Travel

Cruise Port Review: Heraklion Crete and the Birthplace of Zeus

We don’t have many nautical miles under our belt but we know enough to say that Caribbean ports are generally easier to navigate on foot than European ones. I’m sure there’s a logical reason for that, namely that you will be greeted by sleepy beaches and/or walkable beach towns vs. bustling industrial hubs, but it came as a startling surprise to us as we cruised on the Carnival Vista from Barcelona to Athens this past spring.

During our 2nd port of call, I eagerly ran off the Vista after we came to rest in Livorno (the gateway to Florence & Pisa) to go for a run in Italy only to find a guard and a gate and barbed wire and a wagging Italian finger telling me to turn my American self around and go back to the ship. D’oh.

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The scene was different in Heraklion, a port on the north side of Crete in Greece, which was helpful because I booked a rental car in town so that we could explore the island independent of a cruise excursion. Why you might ask? I’ll get to that in a second, but I’ll give you a hint: Zeus!

Cruise Port Review Heraklion Crete Greece Birthplace of Zeus

Leaving the port in Heraklion Crete is a breeze and with the town just a short 5-10 minute walk away along the sea, you should absolutely explore a bit of Heraklion while docked in Crete.

Hertz, my preferred rental car company, has an office on the picturesque Heraklion main drag (of which I amazingly have no pictures) extending from the water uphill through the small downtown but Avis Rental Car is the closest to the cruise ships. Located smack dab in the middle of the port’s parking lot, the Avis office is maybe a 200 yard walk from the cruise terminal through the car park to reach your access point from which you and your family will be able to explore Crete on your own.

Did I mention that you should explore Crete on your own? Yeah, that’s something you need to look at when in Crete because the roads are great and the country is a beaut.

Cruise Port Review Heraklion Crete Greece Birthplace of Zeus

We wanted a car to explore after discovering the legend of the Zeus birthplace: spoiler alert, it’s on Crete! After renting an Avis car for the day, and opting for the portable Vodafone WiFi unit (easy to use and fast as a bullet!) so we wouldn’t get lost since none of us can read Greek, we drove inland to Psychro ‘Dikteon Andron‘ Cave where legend has it the most famous Greek God of all, Zeus, was born.

The drive to the Zeus cave from the Heraklion port took less than 2 hours and was very scenic, especially as we got within 10 minutes of the cave. That’s when we found a charming little ceramics gift shop and a cafe with ice cream. Yum.

Cruise Port Review Herkalion Crete Greece Birthplace of Zeus

Cruise Port Review Herkalion Crete Greece Birthplace of Zeus

Once parked at the cave site (this will cost you a couple of Euro), you and your family will make the climb up a series of sloping switchbacks on the mountain in the Mount Dicte range. There are donkey rides available for 5 Euro each way for those who can’t or don’t want to walk up to the cave entrance, or back down. Once at the top, you’ll pay 6 Euro per adult (kids are free, no credit cards accepted so MAKE SURE YOU HAVE CASH ON YOU BEFORE YOU START CLIMBING!).

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Cruise Port Review Heraklion Crete Greece Birthplace of Zeus

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The cave is impressive with tons of stalagmites and stalactites — which ones rise and which come down from the roof I still can’t keep straight — and it was a treat to stand in the cave where Zeus was born. My little Greek mythology lovers were not happy about the hot climb up the mountain (or the steep steps down into the cave) but once inside the cool dark cave they were 110% happy to have put in the effort to be there. I mean, that’s an awesome story to regale your school mates with back at home! What other kid in their class has been to the Cave of Zeus?!

On the way back to the port, we took a different route because 1) I hate backtracking along the same exact roads and 2) we wanted to grab a bite to eat and see the water in . There, we found a cute, simple the bistro, the name of which will forever be a mystery to us, but I had this AMAZING gyro while the girls had massive sweet pancake crepes.

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Cruise Port Review Heraklion Crete Greece Birthplace of Zeus

Heraklion is a darling little port with many fun and relaxing excursion options but I urge you and your family to rent a car and explore Crete on your own. Whether you visit the Cave of Zeus if your choice but Crete is a fun and easy country to drive around, get lost and make unique vacation memories.

*Thanks again to Carnival for having us on the Vista and taking us to these amazing ports of call.

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2 Comments

  1. We did not use a car in Crete — the bus system was amazing. Our adventures on foot and by public transit were amazing. Knossos was a lifelong dream for me, so I pretty much found every step of our adventure there to be thrilling! I love that both you and I were able to take our girls to that amazing place!

  2. I’m generally all about public transport but with a cruise and a hard deadline to be back board, I need to be in complete control of the schedule, route and such. Crete was indeed lovely — we want to return as part of a Greek Islands holiday.

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