Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Planning for the Greek Islands: Part Three

Here is Part One of this series
Here is Part Two of this series

One of the reasons for writing this series is to demonstrate how easy it can be to coordinate your own trip to popular destinations without a travel agent. The resources available online today are amazing.

We thought the hard part was over when we secured frequent-flier tickets from Chicago to Santorini, Greece. Nope. The hard part was choosing lodging for our trip. What's nice about Santorini and Mykonos is the fact that most of the lodging falls in the category of bed and breakfast or small boutique hotel. What's an issue is picking one. They all look alike!!!! White walls, blue accents, overlooking the water. Virtually all hotels offer free breakfast (including Greek yogurt) and wifi. We had no idea where to start and how to figure out what was important for us to look for (since all we knew about our destination was that it was indeed a Greek Island - the only requirement for this trip).

The original plan was to spend a few nights in Santorini, ferry over to Mykonos for a few nights, then fly back to Santorini and on back towards Chicago. We even booked two hotels. Then we found out the ferry didn't leave the day we wanted out of Santorini. After some scrambling to book ferry tickets (a May ferry was filling up in December) we ended up switching the agenda. We settled on one night in the town of Fira (Santorini) with access to the ferry dock, then take off for Mykonos, and then finally fly back for our remaining days in Oia (Santorini).
For our lodging research we turned to a very trusted helper: We started our search in the town of Oia (Santorini). This was the place to watch sunsets so we wanted to get a decent cliff side hotel. We entered our dates and started filtering by user ratings and price. More prices were listed on the site in December compared to now (March) since rooms are booking up by now. The first few were a bit out of budget but hotel #6 was reasonable. So we dove into Ikies - Traditional Houses....

Reviews were excellent, mostly 5's with a large sample size.

Photos looked nice.

Lots of restaurants within a very short walk.

Once we decided to consider Hotel Ikies, we went to their website. An English version was available and we found it very easy to navigate. Lots of images and information about the property. They had their own booking engine (which seems to be used by many Greek hotels) that allowed us to see which houses (room) were available and at what price. When a room was selected another page appeared with more information about the room and several room specific photos. This made it very easy for us to discuss the options and book the right room.

Sample Dates

We followed a similar process for Mykonos. We narrowed down to two properties and then took a Facebook break. Coincidentally, a post from Conde Nast Traveler came through Dave's feed and had a familiar photo accompanying the article:

That helped to make our decision. The Mykonos Grand website functioned similar to the Ikies site. They used the same booking engine. We picked our room category, booked, and promptly got a return confirmation.

One hotel charged a 30% deposit and the other one did not. We made sure we used our credit card that had no foreign transaction fees since all charges would be in Euros. It was easy to cancel the reservation when we had to shift dates due to the ferry schedule - there was a "cancel" link in the booking confirmation email. We clicked it, received cancellation confirmation email, and re-booked again under the new dates.

We didn't spend too much time researching our Fira hotel. We were staying there one night and picked from selections that were close to the ferry terminal. We picked Anteliz Suites based on Tripadvisor ratings, price, and proximity to ferry and town.

We still need to find a hotel in Vienna for our overnight layover as well as figure out what there is to do in Santorini and Mykonos.

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