Naturally, there are some amazing coral reefs for snorkeling and diving and pristine beaches (my favorite is Whitehaven Beach). Upon arrival, you’ll instantly see why this is one of the best tropical islands in the world — and why over half a million people visit a year. One of the most popular way to see the islands is via a multi-day sailing tour (which is what I did when I visited). It was an amazing experience — especially diving! Prices start around 450 AUD for multi-day sailing tours.
The Seychelles’ towering beach boulders are a mainstay on computer desktops, but they’re more than merely aesthetic — they also fascinate geologists, who have identified the Seychelles as the only mid-ocean islands formed of granite. Other superlatives: The archipelago is the oldest on the planet, and it has the cleanest air. Naturally, celebrities flock here; if you want to vacation a la British royalty, stay on North Island, where Prince William and Kate Middleton spent their 2011 honeymoon.
A complicating factor is that of origin-destination control ("O&D control"). Someone purchasing a ticket from Melbourne to Sydney (as an example) for A$200 is competing with someone else who wants to fly Melbourne to Los Angeles through Sydney on the same flight, and who is willing to pay A$1400. Should the airline prefer the $1400 passenger, or the $200 passenger plus a possible Sydney-Los Angeles passenger willing to pay $1300? Airlines have to make hundreds of thousands of similar pricing decisions daily.
You seem to have your heart set on Zakynthos but I have to say it’s not a good use of time for a sort-of overrated payoff. Your time is much better spent (in my opinion) seeing another Greek island in the cyclades (maybe taking a ferry to Naxos or Paros sitting outside on the deck drinking a bottle of wine) rather than taking a bus and connecting flights. Zakynthos and Santorini/Mykonos are on opposite sides of the country and the only way from one to the other is by flying (or some combination of bus and ferry). So, my recommendation is to consider spending those Zakynthos days in Naxos, Paros, Milos, or some other Cycladic island.
Glad to see you mentioned the Cook Islands – my husband and I went to Rarotonga for a week in 2008 and fell in love with it – can’t wait to someday bring our kids back there – they would love it, too! Very few people have actually heard of the Cooks, or know where they are, and while I like the “secrecy” of it, I wish more people would visit! Currently there are only 1-2 flights/week from the US – makes planning trips there a bit tougher!We only took a day trip to Aitutaki because of time, but it was probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Glad to see you agree!
Crete, Santorini, and Naxos look quite doable within the 12-day block, but Crete’s beaches are scattered throughout a very LARGE island, Santorini really only has Kamari and Perissá (and some southern coast bays) and Naxos does have nice places to swim. If you choose only to visit those three islands in your relatively short time, you will do well.