I wanted to like Melissani Cave, located on the Greek island of Kefalonia. The Costa Cruise excursion brochure said that our guide would lead a select few down a tunnel and into a subterranean world, where a wooden boat would be waiting on the shore of an underground lake. It sounded like some secret adventure far away from the majority of Costa’s passengers, and it was paired with a winery tour, so I booked it.
One of the cons of taking a cruise is that you are at the mercy of the cruise line’s schedule. You can’t beat the crowds at your destination by avoiding peak hours. There’s no hope of capturing the coveted morning or sunset light (which is a big deal for photographers). You explore when you’re in port, and there are only a few hours to do it. Still, I hoped for a good photo opportunity.
An hour after disembarking from the ship in Argostoli, my bus kicked up gravel in the Melissani Cave parking lot. A line of other tourists, maybe 100 deep, already snaked around souvenir shops.
The Costa Cruise tour guide gave each of its passengers a playing card. This was our admission ticket into the cave. So I grabbed my card and got in line, inching forward under the hot Kefalonia sun as sweat trickled down my neck and back.
Eventually, I made it to the entrance of a dark tunnel, and at the end of it was the proverbial light. Standing on tip-toe, I caught a glimpse of the underground lake over the shoulders of other tourists. Its teal blue waters reflected light from a hole in the cave’s partially collapsed ceiling (done in by a 1953 earthquake).
I arrived at the dock, immediately overtaken by the unobstructed view, but there was no time for pictures. An singing oarsman took my hand and hurried me aboard along with 10 others. Soon, we’d be rowing over those clear waters and on our way to stalactites and hidden caverns. Great! Lots of photo opportunities! That sense of mystery and excitement returned for a moment…
And only a moment.
Smashed against the oarlock, each rotation of the paddle hit me in the head. Not that I had to endure if for long. The whole boat ride was over 10 minutes – if I’m being generous. It wasn’t enough time to enjoy the cave or even really document it on camera. The oarsman passed around a tip bucket and shooed us away and back up the dark tunnel to buy souvenirs.
I’m not sure it was worth the hour drive from Argostoli.
If I were to return to Kefalonia, it wouldn’t be on a cruise line. And I wouldn’t waste time at tourist traps in the middle of the afternoon. I’d fly in and rent a car. From ancient city walls, fortresses, monasteries, and wineries, there seems to be plenty to do on that island if a traveler has the time to enjoy it. Seems like it’s worth a second chance (especially if a trip to Robola vineyards is included).