Many people you like to visit Greece ride a ferry at one time or another. Taking a ferry can be a fun experience or a frustrating one.
There are some vital things to know that will make traveling on ferries easy and enjoyable.
Types of Ferries
Ferries come in all shapes and sizes. Some are not too much different than cruiseships while others hardly look sea-worthy. Prices between two destinations (on the same type of SHIPS) are always the same but the services offered on each line can be drastically different. All ferries are new, clean, and offer decent services. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are old, run-down ferries.
Catamarans offer faster service than normal ferries. The larger catamarans are air-conditioned and fast. The smaller catamarans are slower and are extremely bumpy in choppy seas. The fares for catamarans are generally the same as for hydrofoils.
Hydrofoils(iptamena delfinia) are known in Greece as "Dolphins" and the largest company is called Hellas Flying Dolphins. Hydrofoils can be up to twice as fast as ferries but are also twice the price. The hydrofoils do not take cars or motorbikes and normally operate only during high season. The ride can be extremely bumpy in rough seas and not necessarily smooth when the seas are calm. A further downside is that they are prone to cancellation in rough seas or high winds.
Four classes of service are available on the ferries. First class includes a private lounge with a dedicated bar or restaurant and private cabins for overnight trips. Second class sometimes has a dedicated lounge and smaller cabins for long hauls. Tourist class generally provides a seat inside a smoky lounge with a bar or restaurant. Third class or deck class is the cheapest way to travel. You are allowed access to the deck and sometimes an inside lounge.
Almost all travel agents or providers by internet in Greece sell ferry tickets. In fact, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of travel agent offices lining the streets on the way to the port. All ferry agents have access to the same reservation system so it does not matter if you buy your ticket downtown or at the port. Likewise, all travel agents are required to sell the tickets at the same price. What the travel agents don't tell you is that they might sell tickets for only one or two lines. So if there is a ferry leaving in one hour that you would like to catch but it is not on a line that a particular travel agents sells, you will not know about that ferry. This leads to the annoying need to visit several travel agents to make sure you get the times and schedules for all of the available ferry lines. The other option is to pay a visit to the port police or in larger ports to the main ticketing office. Here you will be able to obtain a list of all of the ferries leaving, their destinations, and times. But if you're not near the port or if it's a long way to go, your best option is to simply visit a few different travel agents until the whole picture is clear.
Arriving and Departing
The lines to get on a ferry can stretch for miles in large ports. The associated traffic jams can be equally large. If you're planning on taking your car on a ferry you are well advised to arrive several hours in advance. In addition to the cars, mopeds, motorcycles, and trucks getting onto ferries are the swarms of people. Screaming kids, slow moving elderly people, dogs, cats, and everyone in between push to get on board. The scene is not much different than a three ring circus, all orchestrated by the ferry personnel and port police.
At large ports, finding your ferry can often be a challenge in itself. The name of the boat is painted in large English letters on the back and side of the boat and also on your ticket. It is not uncommon for three different port police to tell you to go three different directions to find your ferry. Leave yourself plenty of time and patience. At smaller ports, where there are only one or two berths, the task is much easier and the crowds much lighter. Outside of the high season, June to August, the chaos is not quite as high.
Your ticket will normally be taken as you enter the ferry. Retain your stub throughout your journey as it shows the class you have paid for and sometimes your seat number or cabin number. After your ticket is taken you will normally climb the stairs to the decks reserved for passengers. Here, people will jockey for position. As most of the classes do not have assigned seating, the rush to get on board is followed by the rush to get a good seat. In the summer this means outside in a sunny spot on the deck or on the air conditioned inside with a good view out to sea. The inside lounges are almost always smoky, loud, and a bit on the dirty side. The snack bar food is not the best, although the longer haul ferries tend to have better cafeteria food at fairly reasonable prices.
If you are on a ferry that makes several stops make sure to listen for your port. Beware that in some cases you are expected to know which stop is yours, as announcements are not always made over the loud speaker.
At smaller ports in villages or on the islands, the ferry will not stop for very long. Cars and trucks will change position, people will enter and exit simultaneously, and then the ferry will be gone. At large and small ports alike, no one waits for those who are late.