• Alexandros Vrailas

Zakynthos Tour Boats

Zakynthos has been, as you now know, one of the two Greek islands in which I go to every summer with my family. It is among the most popular islands on the Ionian Sea along with Kefalonia, Lefkada or Corfu, and is on average the fourth most visited Greek island during the summer. Zakynthos is known for its popular crystal blue beaches (and notably the famous Navagion Beach), water caves, the traditional music called 'cantades', for the famous Greek poets Dionisios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos (with two Zante Ferries ships bearing their names) and for its patron Saint, Agios Dionisios, whose namesake church decorates the island's beautiful and lively port. Also, with a variety of restaurants, hotels, clubs and amusement parks that are compliant to both Greek and foreign tourists, Zakynthos surely offers many options for the latter to explore and to enjoy time on the island.

There is, however, another popular touristic activity that is being held daily during the high summer season (from late May to late September) and which involves one of my biggest passions: the Greek coastal service. Indeed, it is frequent for tourists to do a day-long trip around the entire island with small passenger boats, which offers them the chance to explore the blue caves, the Navagion Beach, the small island of Marathonisi (known as the 'Turtle Island' and located near the beach of Laganas, itself located in the Southern part of Zakynthos), or, on some occasions, other Ionian Islands such as Kefalonia, Ithaca or Lefkada. In 2016, there was a total of nine small tour boats making such trips, only six of which I was able to capture and to take pictures. All of them are extremely modern and reliable, have large passenger capacities and provide comfortable accommodation and entertainment throughout their respective trips. This blog post is dedicated to these six ships, whose historical information is already mentioned in the site's Gallery section, but I will provide a bit more information regarding their companies and their services. The ships are: the DELFINI and the MENIA MARIA I of Voutirakos Cruises, the DIMOSTHENIS and the DIMOSTHENIS K of Top Cruiser, the IKAROS PALACE of Seven Islands Cruises and the ANNOULA II of TUI Zakynthos.

DELFINI:

The tour boat DELFINI was built in 2001 in Greece, for Zakynthos-based company Voutirakos Cruises, which operates daily cruises around Zakynthos and in small neighbouring islands. She replaced her older fleetmate, also named DELFINI (from which her hull was actually built), and entered service in her company's one-day cruises around Zakynthos, while also making some stops in Marathonisi. She is the flagship of Voutirakos Cruises, and her amenities include outdoor bars and water slides (which she acquired in 2010).

She is actually the only Zakynthos tour boat on which I have traveled. Indeed, I had done an around-the-island trip with her back in 2009 with my family, while also stopping at Marathonisi for half-an-hour.

The beautiful red-hulled DELFINI preparing to enter the port of Zakynthos, having completed her daily around-the-island cruise.

The DELFINI preparing to enter the port of Zakynthos.

The DELFINI having just entered the port of Zakynthos. Unlike the other tour boats, she and her fleetmates dock in the main port pier (where the ferries also dock), in contrast to a smaller pier, located in the Eastern section of the port, where all other tour boats depart for their respective cruises.

The DELFINI having just entered the port of Zakynthos and heading for the Voutirakos Cruises docking area.

The DELFINI seen from my hotel in Argassi, returning to the port of Zakynthos after an around-the-island cruise.

MENIA MARIA I:

By far the most original ship of the tour boat lineup, the pirate-themed cruise ship MENIA MARIA I was built in Greece in 2002, for the company Athos Cruises, for service on the Ormos Panagias-Agion Oros line. She stayed there until 2011, the year during which she was sold to Zakynthos-based company Voutirakos Cruises. She has since been operating on daily cruises around the island of Zakynthos, while also making some crossings to the island of Marathonisi, and sometimes in Kefalonia. She also serves as a floating restaurant and bar during evenings. All her cruises are pirate-themed, which makes her quite an impressive ship in the region.

Though she seems to be coming from three centuries ago, the ship is extremely modern and is an excellent option for tourists who want to have an entertaining cruise, combining both the past (as Zakynthos was known to be a popular place among Turkish and Venetian pirates back in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries) and the present. Two similar ships exist in Greek waters, both of whom also bore the name MENIA MARIA and operate or have operated for Athos Cruises. Indeed, the MENIA MARIA III still operates under Athos Cruises (the original company of all three MENIA MARIAs) on the Ormos Panagias-Agion Oros line, while the ex-MENIA MARIA II operates for the company Cretan Daily Cruises under the name BLACK PEARL on the Chania-Almyrida-Marathi-Loutraki line, as part of cruises around the Cretan Souda Bay since 2010. Furthermore, another ship named MENIA MARIA operated for Athos Cruises from 1997 to 2004, even though she was regular passenger boat and not a pirate-themed cruise ship. Today she operates as the PORTO GRAMVOUSA for Cretan Daily Cruises on the Kissamos-Gramvousa-Balos line.

The MENIA MARIA I in the port of Zakynthos, in the departure point of all Voutirakos Cruises ships.

The MENIA MARIA I seen in the port of Zakynthos.

Voutirakos Cruises is a company owned by the Voutirakos family, and has operated cruises around Zakynthos since 1987. Indeed, 2016 marked the company's thirtieth season on the Ionian Sea. Apart from the DELFINI and the MENIA MARIA I, it also owns the small passenger raft SETI (built in 1996), and the much modern small high speed craft STAVROULA V and ATHANASIOS V, built in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Both high speed ships are very similar to the passenger boats owned by Dakoutros Speed or by the Santorini Boatmen Union in Santorini, although I was unfortunately unable to find them in order to take pictures of them.

The DELFINI preparing to join her Voutirakos Cruises fleetmate MENIA MARIA I in the port of Zakynthos.

The two largest ships of Voutirakos Cruises, the MENIA MARIA I and the DELFINI, seen together in the port of Zakynthos, shortly before their morning departures for their respective cruises.

The MENIA MARIA I and the DELFINI, two completely different ships, together in the port of Zakynthos.

DIMOSTHENIS K:

The largest passenger boat in Zakynthos, the DIMOSTHENIS K was built in Greece in 1994, as the first ship for newly-established Zakynthos-based tour company Top Cruiser. She was the first tour boat on the island to feature three passenger decks, a yacht-like appearance, as well as a swimming pool. The ship has been the flagship of Top Cruiser ever since her delivery, and mainly competes against the DELFINI. She operates tours and daily cruises around Zakynthos, while also occasionally making stops in the small island of Marathonisi.

The DIMOSTHENIS K seen from my hotel in Argassi, heading towards the Eastern Zakynthos beaches during an afternoon cruise.

The DIMOSTHENIS K in the passenger tour boat pier in the port of Zakynthos.

DIMOSTHENIS:

Though her name is confusing as it is shared with that of her older fleetmate, the DIMOSTHENIS is still a distinguishable ship in Zakynthos. She was built in 1999 in Greece for company Top Cruiser, five years after the delivery of her fleetmate, the DIMOSTHENIS K. The ship operates daily cruises around Zakynthos, while also occasionally making stops in Marathonisi.

The beautiful DIMOSTHENIS seen from my hotel in Argassi, on her way back to the port of Zakynthos after having performed a cruise around the island.

The DIMOSTHENIS leaving the port of Zakynthos for a morning cruise.

The DIMOSTHENIS having just exited the port of Zakynthos in order to start her morning cruise around the island and to Marathonisi.

The two ships of Top Cruiser, the similarly named DIMOSTHENIS and DIMOSTHENIS K, together in Zakynthos.

The Top Cruiser ships, the DIMOSTHENIS and the DIMOSTHENIS K, together in Zakynthos. On the right of the DIMOSTHENIS K (the ship with the blue hull) is the ship PANAGIA ATHONITISSA of the now-defunct Actipis Cruises, which has ceased operations due to economic difficulties since 2011.

IKAROS PALACE: The small tour boat IKAROS PALACE was built in Greece in 1999 as the IKAROS for the Petychakis family. She was deployed on the Kefalonia-Ithaca-Skorpios-Meganisi-Lefkada line as a daily cruise boat. She was transferred to Seven Islands Cruises in 2003, and in 2004 she was renamed IKAROS PALACE. Following the delivery of her new fleetmate, the MAKEDONIA PALACE, in 2007, the IKAROS PALACE was transferred to Zakynthos. She has since been operating as a tour boat, making trips around the entire island while also stopping by the small island of Marathonisi She is the fastest tour boat of her kind (tour yacht) on the Ionian Sea.

Though she underwent the same naming process as the similarly-named former Minoan Lines ferry IKARUS PALACE (now operating as the CRUISE SMERALDA for Italian giants Grimaldi Lines), which spent the first years of her career under the name IAKRUS (as the passenger boat began her career under the name IKAROS), the two ships have no relation nor connection within their companies. Her younger fleetmate, the MAKEDONIA PALACE, is currently undergoing a major conversion in Perama, in which she has been lengthened and has acquired a new bow. Her main competitor, the EPTANISOS of the Kefalonia-based Kontogiorgis Cruises (operating on the same line as the MAKEDONIA PALACE) is also undergoing the exact same conversion.

The IKAROS PALACE leaving the port of Zakynthos for an afternoon cruise.

The fast IKAROS PALACE of Seven Islands Cruises leaving Zakynthos for an afternoon cruise around the island. Her hull features the word 'VIP', which is a reference to her occasional VIP cruises.

The beautiful and fast IKAROS PALACE leaving the port of Zakynthos.

The IKAROS PALACE resting in the port of Zakynthos, in the passenger boat pier.

ANNOULA II:

The small passenger tour boat ANNOULA II was built in Greece in 1992, after a two-year delay in her construction. She is a sister ship of the ELENA F of Elena F Shipping (which operates on the Piraeus-Salamina line), although their designs differ largely. Ever since her delivery, she has been operating during the summer in Zakynthos, operating in daily cruises around the island and to the islet of Marathonisi. She was extensively refitted in 1995, increasing her passenger capacity by 70%. In 2009 the ship was preparing to operate on the Piraeus-Salamina line, but this eventually did not happen and the ship remained in her daily Zakynthos summer service.

The ANNOULA II resting in the port of Zakynthos, having completed her morning around-the-island cruise.

The ANNOULA II seen from my hotel in Argassi, as she leaves the port of Zakynthos in order to perform a cruise around the island and to Marathonisi.

The ANNOULA II resting in the port of Zakynthos.

Just like the Salamina passenger boats, despite their small size, these ships play an extremely important role in providing tourists an unforgettable experience when they discover the entirety of the island as well as its most popular locations. Some of them occasionally provide a touristic connection of Zakynthos with other Ionian Islands as well, something which is rarely being performed by ferries, except for the ones arriving from Italian ports such as Bari and Brindisi.

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