The more simple your travel plans are, the better your vacation will be. If you want to 'island hop' your agent may find it difficult making connections and finding hotels if you are planning to visit too many islands, especially during August or going from one island chain to another.
Take advantage of the island-hopping packages and island combinations offered by Dolphin Hellas and Fantasy Travel on their websites. If you know which islands you want to visit and they are among the following: Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, Paros and Naxos, then these packages will save you money and aggravation since the hotels and ferries are all synchronized and ready to go. These are not package tours. They are individual trips for familes and couples or even large groups and can be customized to suit your needs while you work one on one with an agent.
In August when it is the busiest your best bet is to pick the island you most want to go to and spend the time exploring that island or do day trips to nearby islands. In the end you will find this a much more rewarding holiday then packing up every few days to go to a new island and just skimming the surface of what there is to see and do.
If you want to see a lot of islands then do a cruise. My suggestion is to go to Athens for the first night and the last 2 nights, with an island or cruise in between.
See www.greecetravel.com/islands and that will tell you what island you can get to from another.There are also links to more info on each island.
Also...many people use the agencies as their own private information services, asking for ferry schedules, bus schedules or to gather information they can use to book the trip on their own or through a friend who is a travel agent. Remember that the purpose of a travel agency is to make money so that it can continue to exist. If you are not serious about booking then don't bother them. It is selfish and it keeps the agents from helping other people.
As for last minute bookings, if you wait not only will you not get what you want but there is a good possibility the agent will choose not to help you. The reason? Why throw together a package at the last minute and jeapordize the work they are doing with the clients who contacted the agents well in advance. So if you are looking for last minute help either
Whatever you do don't call from the airport and expect to be welcomed with open arms if you have not worked with them in advance on your itinerary. And if you just show up at the office expect to wait your turn.
The Minoan Lines ferry company has bought up all the other ferry companies and as of this writing has still not released the summer schedules. That means that everyone who has booked more than one island has their travel folder sitting on some agents desk so he can finish it when he finally gets the schedule. Keep that in mind when you make your plans. Getting to one island from Athens is easy. It's getting to the next island where it gets complicated, at least until Minoan gets its act together.
Don't bother the agents by asking for ferry schedules. The ones from Athens are at www.greecetravel.com.ferryboats and nobody has the schedules between the islands more than a week in advance and if they do they are probably wrong.
Avoid the temptation of booking the hotels on the islands who offer special internet rates. This is a plan to cut out the travel agents so the hotel can make more money. The money you save is very little and the risk of having to spend more money is a big one. The reason is because the hotels will happily book you and in fact overbook the hotel. That is because there is a possibility you won't be able to get to the hotel, especially if you are booking your hotels on several islands and counting on there being connecting ferries between them. Since as of this writing the ferry schedules have not been released and even the travel agents have to call the ferry companies to find out what the schedule will be for a particular day, it will be very difficult for you to know for sure that there is a ferry from Island A to Island B when you have hotel reservations. If you don't get to the hotel you still have to pay for it. Plus you will need to go back and find a hotel on island A if you can't leave. If you book with a travel agency in Athens then it is their responsibility to know that you can get to the hotel you are booked at. If they make a mistake on the ferries then it is not your fault and you can't be penalized. They will pay for any mistakes they make which is why they are very careful not to make mistakes.
Also....hotels do overbook. If you have booked on your own over the internet you are probably at the top of the list of people who will lose their rooms in a crunch. Think about it. They won't deny a room to the client from the Greek travel agent because then the agency may never send them another. They probably won't deny a room to a Greek who has booked by phone from Athens because who knows who his friends are and what can happen. But the individual traveler who has booked a couple nights through the internet is not likely to create too many problems. They may help you find something else but if you are traveling in July and August there may not be anything else.
Some agencies have an allotment of rooms in some of the most popular hotels. This means they buy the rooms for the season before the season begins and can offer them at very low rates as incentive to book with them. You can save lots of money like this. Usually these are the hotels featured on the agencies website. But even if they can't get you a reduced rate at the hotel you want, they may be able to book that hotel at a rate as good or better then you have found elsewhere and then get you a bargain rate at your hotel in Athens or elsewhere.
If you just want a hotel for a night or two in Athens you are better off booking it yourself. But if you need a hotel in the islands then book your Athens hotels with the same agency because he may have some discounts that he will give to you for Athens in order to be able to book your island hotels too. Plus he can book your ferries. (For hotels in Athens see www.athensguide.com/hotels)
If you are booking Sifnos and Lesvos use the agents on those islands or the individual hotels. Many of the hotels that are listed individually on my website are booked through an agency unless they can help you with ferry information and then you can book directly. Some like the Villa Mathios in Santorini have an in-house agency so not only can they book your ferries but they can book your hotel on other islands.
Try to avoid booking part of the trip yourself and then contacting the agent to fill in the gaps for you. Let them book the whole thing. If you are clear about what you want tell them. If not then leave it up to them and chances are excellent that you will be very happy with what you get. Remember that it is their job to make people happy.
Some people use my website and then hand the info over to their local travel agent and asks them to book the trip for them. What they don't realize is that they now know more than their local travel agent does. A local agent who does not specialize in Greece has only the most basic knowledge of the country and is in no position to help you if you are in a jam. I get e-mails every day from travel agents in the states asking for help because they are in over their heads. I have found the Travel Agents who I believe are the most reliable in Athens. If you have taken my advice about other things in my websites then trust me on this and you will return from your holiday a very happy person.
My final piece of advice: Do a cruise or a package even if you are not the type who goes for cruises and packages, especially in July and August. Why? Because it keeps things simpler for you and the agent, there will be less complications and just as much fun. If you want to go off the beaten path go to Greece anytime but June, July and August. Every path is beaten those months and the ones that are not you probably won't find on the internet or an agent who will book it. Agents love to book Santorini and Mykonos because not only is it easier for them, but the quality of the tourism is high there and that translates into customer satisfaction.
My Recommended Agents and their specialites:
Dolphin Hellas: Based in Athens. Specializing in the Greek Islands, Athens, Cruises, individual and groups. Discounts up to 50% on cruises. Discounted rates on hotels in the islands and Athens too. Everyone speaks English like it is their first language. Many compliments from customers. Kiki Zikou is a travel agent superstar.
Fantasy Travel: Athens based experts on the Cyclades (Mykonos, Santirni, Paros, Naxos etc) plus Crete and Rhodes. Same great discounts on cruises as Dolphin and buy rooms in advance in some of the best hotels so they have great rates. One block from Syntagma Square. Great multi-lingual staff. Very professional and organized. They may have rooms in a particular hotel when even the hotel says it is full.
Aegean Thesaurus: Based in Sifnos but super Hi-Tech agency can book anything in Greece from the islands to the mainland and cruises. Lakis Dimopoulos is the owner, former student of philosophy whose father was one of the most reknown travel agents in Greece. For Sifnos and surrounding islands nobody does a better job.
Sappho Travel: Specializing in Lesvos. Can also book Chios and Athens hotels, ferries and flights to Lesvos. Small but very efficient agency.
These are my comments. To read what customers have said see www.greektravel.com/testimonials
Be sure to read Travel Agents: Endangered Species