Cruise virgin Emily Leary embarks on Thomson’s Ancient Wonders itinerary and discovers treasures old and new

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia at Sultanahmet Square. Image credit: Alan Copson / AWL Images.

We’re sitting on our private deck, watching the sun set in a pink-tinged sky over the Turkish mountains as we head back to the port that will see us begin our journey home, filled with mixed emotions at the thought of leaving the ship that has been our home for the past seven days. Our cruise has been full of unforgettable experiences: the spice-scented Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, the ancient beauty of Athens, the bustling charm of Heraklion and the awe-inspiring ruins of Ephesus. Part of me wants to stow away.

My sister and I boarded Thomson Celebration for our girls’ getaway beneath clear skies, and within moments of unpacking made our way up on to the deck to enjoy a deliciously cool drink on the bright, open deck overlooking the elegant, palm and yacht-lined port of Marmaris, the starting point for our Ancient Wonders journey.

As first-time cruisers, every part of the experience was new and exciting to us and we spent the first evening and the following day at sea exploring the ship, getting to know the dos and don’ts of cruise life, and chatting to fellow passengers.

Delicious Turkish meze is the perfect end to a Kusadasi adventure.

The atmosphere on board is calm and friendly, the staff impeccable and always on hand to help. Unsure what to expect of cruise life, we were relieved to find we felt immediately at ease.

We were quickly taken with the variety of food and adored the convenience of dropping into the clean and well-staffed Lido Restaurant; we piled our plates high with salad, trying to go a little easier on the generous selection of cheeses, meats, pastas and bakes.

Most passengers seemed to opt for the Lido, but there were plenty of other options on board, including a more traditional restaurant offering five-course meals, and a deck-based dining area offering steak under the stars with a romantic feel.

By far the dining highlight of the trip was formal night, where we donned our little black dresses and ate at the Captain’s table.

Athens offers vast collections of archaeological remains.

The five-course meal was superb and the vegetarian options well thought out and perfectly seasoned. I couldn’t fault a single dish. Two of our fellow diners revealed a significant wedding anniversary and before we knew it, live musicians came to the table to serenade them and present them with celebratory cake. It was a beautiful moment, and I was surprised to discover that such is cruise life you can form a strong sense of community with fellow passengers in a short space of time.

Before we set sail, the idea of spending a fair portion of the holiday at sea before reaching any ports seemed uninspiring. I adore exploring new places for the first time and so was itching to start our excursions. I couldn’t imagine finding anything to do on board. I was wrong.

There are pools, a coffee shop, internet café, library and if you like traditional entertainment – from musicals, to discos, to Zumba classes, to live bands, movie screenings, live quiz shows, quiet jazz lounges, roulette tables or karaokeThomson Celebration will have something to offer from morning until night.