The origin of all human life as well as one of the largest and most fertile land masses in the world, Africa is on many people’s must-see lists. However, with few ports on the continent capable of supporting a sizeable cruise ship, most cruise itineraries that include Africa will also visit other countries, unless on a Nile River cruise. Many people will choose to visit ports in North Africa (Cairo, Safaga) as part of a wider Africa and Middle East cruise, giving them the chance to experience an even wider range of cultures in a short period of time.
The most popular part of Africa for cruising is without a doubt Egypt and whether you stick to the coast line to see great cities like Cairo or head up the Nile to the ancient Valley of the Kings there are a great many show stopping experiences to be had on a North African cruise. The Suez Canal can also be used for easy access to the Middle East with countries like Jordan and the Emirates a natural extension on many African cruises.
On the other hand, a Nile cruise gives you the opportunity to sample all of the ancient architecture that has made Egypt great. From its earliest beginnings the entire country has relied on the waters of the River Nile, meaning that about 80% of its people live within it and almost all of ancient civilization was located near to its banks. The obvious benefit of that for cruise lovers is that you can see all of the most significant parts of the country by boat.
Other popular cruise regions in Africa include the ports around Cape Town in South Africa as well as a cluster of cruise ports in French West Africa, understandably more popular amongst French-speaking tourists. Of all of the cities of Africa, Cape Town is one of the most culturally and socially diverse as well as being one of the more European-influenced cities. The city skyline is dominated by the world-famous Table Mountain, part of Table Mountain National Park. Tourists can hike or take a cable car to the top which commands some of the most majestic views in the history of tourist snapshots – the entirety of the city below, the sea and a range of other sister mountains are visible from there. The town is also well known for its white sand beaches and, of course, the African sunshine.
Other ports near Cape Town include Durban. Durban is the busiest port town in South Africa and when you see the vast stretches of golden beaches you won’t need to wonder why. The stretch of sand that passes through the city is known as the Golden Mile and is flanked by a promenade lined with glitzy hotels and restaurants. Gambling lovers will appreciate the Suncoast Casino located on the Golden Mile itself and offering high-end gaming from slots to card tables with everything in between.
As the country continues to develop you can expect more and more ports to begin to open up as well as an increasing number of operators offering itineraries in the area. For now, the most popular cruise options will, without a doubt, remain in Northern Africa with exciting forays into the Middle East.
A little piece of Spain just off the coast of North West Africa, the Canary Islands have been popular amongst British and Spanish tourists for many years now. Most of these tend to arrive by aeroplane, however, cruising is a less common option. The reason for this is probably the fact that visiting on land is highly economical with many package holiday options on offer. Yet, this is not to say that there aren’t benefits to cruising. Visiting by boat gives you the opportunity to sample the delights of three of the main islands whilst also fitting in a bit of Spain and North Africa on some itineraries. For the opportunity to get a bit of sun sea and sand as well as see a wide range of different landscapes it’s hard to beat a Canary Island cruise if you’re travelling from the UK. Below are the three islands with cruise ports along with a description of their most important features.
Tenerife (Santa Cruz)
Tenerife is the largest of the islands and is famous for the gigantic volcano, Mount Teide, which dominates the landscape. The towns on the island couldn’t be more contrasting, from tiny villages to highly developed tourist towns the island’s architecture spans a range of different styles and eras. The most popular aspect of Tenerife is, of course, its many beaches and year-round sunshine and with more pubs and chip shops than you can shake a stick at many British tourists will feel entirely at home, only warmer.
The port town of Santa Cruz itself was founded in the 15th Century and in this town there are numerous parks, theatres and museums that are famous the world over for their cultural value. In particular, the Muesum of Nature and Man is well known for being home to the island’s Guanche mummies which are some of the best preserved ancient human bodies in the world.
Gran Canaria (Las Palmas)
Gran Canaria has perhaps the best climate and the longest beaches of any of the Canary Islands and although the island itself is smaller, its capital of La Palma is the largest city in the archipelago. With no more than 14 days of rain every year you’re unlikely to have an un-sunny day on this island. Although it is not home to a conical volcano the island is a volcanic island and home to some of the strangest landscapes you’ve ever seen on the interior, pitted by craters and ravines. The town itself is also quite pretty, a mix of modern and older Spanish architectural styles and adorned almost everywhere with flowerbeds and palm trees.
Lanzarote, unfairly rechristened “Lanza-grotty” by Monty Python, is another Canary Island with an enviable climate and pleanty of beautiful beaches. It’s also the northernmost island making it slightly cooler than the others if blazing heat is not your thing. Similar to Gran Canaria, parts of the landscape bear the hallmarks of volcanic activity and have been described as moon-like, with sections of the film Planet of the Apes having been filmed there. Tourists can experience the bizarre nature of this topography at Timanfaya, a volcanic nature park.
The port town is Arrecife, also founded in the 15th Century and home to the ancient Castle of Gabriel. The church at Arrecife is a small but attractive building, built in the Spanish style and unlike any church many British people will have seen before. Like Tenerife, though, Lanzarote is also home to a good few pubs and clubs if religious architecture isn’t the main reason you go on holiday.
The coastline of the United States is home to a divergent array of landscapes, eco-systems, and human settlements. Just as an example, two of its most important ports are Boston and Mobile – two cities that are miles apart in every sense of the phrase. In terms of the landscape, an American cruise can take in both baking hot deserts and glaciers; cruises to Alaska have always had a particular draw for the more adventurous sort of tourist. If we were going to be technically correct then the most popular cruise ports in the USA are definitely those on the islands of Hawaii but we all knew that already. Many people, however, are beginning to rediscover the charm of homeports and (for Americans) the many benefits of not having to take a flight to your port of embarkation.
The American coastline can be roughly divided into three large stretches, namely the West Coast, East Coast and Gulf Coast. Many may be used to thinking of the country in terms of East and West but may be less familiar with the pleasures of the Gulf Coast. Ports located in this area include New Orleans, Tampa and Mobile areas which are well known for their tourist appeal, particularly New Orleans. Unfortunately, however, much of this area was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and whereas Mobile was previously one of the most popular homeports many cruise operators have (at least for now) eliminated it from their itineraries.
One popular port on the East Coast is Boston, the state capital of Masachusetts and one of the oldest cities in the whole country. It also holds an important place in American history as being one of the birthplaces of the American Revolution with Faneuil Hall in particular having served as the site of many early pro-independence speeches. The Hall receives about 25 million visitors a year making it one of America’s most popular tourist destinations.
Or for something completely different visit Miami, one of the most popular spring break destinations in the United States and home to the famous Miami Beach. The beach itself is one of the most pleasant in the country and the city is well known for its cosmopolitan look and feel, incorporating influences from the nearby Spanish-speaking countries of Cuba and Mexico.
Finally, one of the most fascinating places to visit on the American coast is without a doubt Alaska. The wildlife alone would make it worthwhile with killer whales, penguins and moose often visible from the boat itself or on one of the common wildlife-spotting excursions that many cruise companies are beginning to offer. Most of the ports in Alaska have an oddly anachronistic pioneer feel with timber homes and shops being the norm. The area also provides many opportunities to experience Native American/First Peoples culture and purchase authentic handcrafts made in these areas.
This region is home to much of Europe’s most highly acclaimed architecture in cities that have been known for centuries for their high cultural value. A Western European cruise gives you the opportunity to take in a wide variety of sights, from the ancient city states of Italy like Florence, Rome and the Vatican, known for producing some of Europe’s finest poets and artists, to the grand cathedrals and mosques of Spain and Portugal. Meanwhile, the region is also famous for its high-end boutique shopping and highly exclusive resort experiences in places like Monte-Carlo, Monaco.
Most itineraries in this region will last either one or two weeks but rarely less – you’d hardly get the chance to take anything in! In the UK, at least three ports depart on Western European cruises and these include the obvious Dover, Southampton and Harwich (London). Those who suffer from seasickness however are often advised not to sail to the Med from the UK as sailing through the Bay of Biscay (between Spain and France) can be quite choppy. Alternative ports of departure include Rome, Barcelona and Venice.
There is so much variety in the region that you are likely to want to choose a cruise that makes sure to visit the things you want to see – cruises that focus on Western Mediterranean beaches will have very different priorities than those that aim to provide an edifying cultural experience. Cruises are offered all year round although the cheaper (and cooler) months are in late Autumn and early Spring.
Top 5 Western European Cruise Excursions
Rome – All of it
The Eternal City, the Capital of Italy and of Roman Catholicism, has so much to offer architecturally, artistically and culturally. For starters there’s St Peter’s Square where the Pope will appear every Wednesday that he is in Rome to give audience and a papal blessing to all that are present. Within the square is St Peter’s Basilica, one of the oldest and greatest Christian churches in the world and allegedly the burial place of St Peter himself. Then there’s the Closseum, the Trevi Fountain and all the different piazzas that make Rome what it is.
Montserrat Monastery and the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Two different but equally grand examples of church architecture, Santa Maria de Montserrat is a beautiful ancient complex set in the hills surrounding Barcelona and from which the views of the surrounding country are incredible. Meanwhile, in Barcelona itself is one of the most famous church buildings in the world, Gaudi’s nouveau Gothic Sagrada Familia. Nothing could be more of a contrast and yet both buildings are incredibly important in their own way.
Play a Hand at Monte Carlo Casino
Monte Carlo is a town within the principality of Monaco and it is home to one of the most famous and luxurious gambling dens in the world – the Monte Carlo Casino. Founded to help save the ruling family of Monte Carlo from bankruptcy it is one of the most elegant casino buildings in the world. Vegas it most certainly is not. James Bond fans may recognise the casino for having served as a backdrop to many famous scenes.
Visit Pompeii (near Naples) a City Frozen in Time
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 the inhabitants of Pompeii were quickly drowned in volcanic ash and preserved, in their houses, in exactly
the positions they were standing in as they perished. This means that Pompeii has provided us with a unique glimpse into the lives of citizens of the Roman Empire with many of their everyday artefacts being well preserved within the deluge of ash. This is also one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions bringing in over 2.5 million people a year.
The Western Caribbean is far less well-known for cruise tourism than the Eastern side, not least because it is home to far fewer islands. On the other hand, the islands that are there are amongst the largest and most famous with Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba amongst them. Western Caribbean cruises also commonly include a few stops in Central America to give you maximum bang for your buck. Some of
the beautiful Central American countries that you can see include Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. Overall, the most common ports of call include a few in Mexico (Cozumel and Costa Maya most commonly); Ochos Rios, Jamaica; Belize City, Belize; Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands etc.
Ochos Rios, in Jamaica, is frequently voted amongst the most beautiful places on earth and its famous Dunn’s River waterfalls are amongst the island’s most popular tourist attractions. Their shallow gradient means that you can walk straight up the waterfall itself, usually whilst holding hands in a human chain for safety – a once in a lifetime experience. Heading west, Belize City is one of the biggest transport hubs in the region and home to the fascinating Eco-Museum, with the building itself being made largely out of recycled materials and the Belize City Zoo.
Common ports of departure include Tampa and New Orleans, or anything else in the Gulf of Mexico, which are convenient for either long or very short cruises to this part of the Caribbean. Longer, more adventurous itineraries may even take you on a trip through the Panama Canal and out the other end to some Pacific ports in Mexico or the US. It’s the variety of ports that makes a good Western Caribbean itinerary most memorable and at their best they contain a good mix of Caribbean, Central American, and Pacific ports. Occasionally, however, you will find some Western Caribbean cruises advertised which do not actually feature any Caribbean island ports – this is not a problem as there are so many other ports and destinations to visit on your cruise.
The Southern Caribbean is a difficult-to-define region, partly overlapping with the Eastern Caribbean, and containing a number of Dutch, British and French islands. Many of the islands in the Southern Caribbean are smaller and less extensively developed for tourism, the upside of which being you get a better look at nature and a more authentic cultural experience.
Islands like Curacao and Aruba, for instance, are known for having a slower pace of life than on many of the other Caribbean islands. Curacao, especially, and Bonaire are known for having amongst the best snorkelling and SCUBA in the Caribbean and the world. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, St Barts is well-known for being one of the most luxurious and exclusive destinations in the islands.
Amongst the larger islands that fall into this region are Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. Barbados is popular amongst British cruise operators and is often nicknamed the “little Britain” of the Caribbean. Pretend you’re in a sunnier version of the British isles by visiting Barbados’ smaller version of Nelson’s column or attending a cricket match at the Kensington Oval.
Trinidad and Tobago, two of the least developed Caribbean islands even though the biggest part of their economy is fuelled by oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, the country is the original birthplace of many things we associated with the Caribbean such as steel drums, Calypso music and limbo. In particular, these two islands are known for having one of the biggest and best carnivals in the Caribbean just before Lent.
The most common port of departure is San Juan in Puerto Rico although in the past decade its popularity has slowly declined as a port for Southern Caribbean cruises. Since then, longer cruises have become more popular with departures from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale more common and even a number of options from New York. If you are travelling from the UK or the Netherlands there are a few options for you to avoid flying altogether by travelling from your home country .
This region is everything in the Mediterranean Sea that is east of the east cost of Italy, including Greece, Turkey and bits of the Ukraine and Russia. The three most famous ports in this part of the world are probably Athens (Piraeus), Venice and Istanbul which each have so much to offer in terms of the three different ancient traditions of architecture and strands of European and Asian culture. Some cruise itineraries will choose to travel solely or mainly through the Eastern Mediterranean but may also include ports from the Western half of the Sea, such as Rome and Barcelona.
Croatia and the Baltic states are increasingly popular as cruise destinations
And you can also expect to see more ships calling at Montenegro (Kotor) in the future as well as more frequent stops to Croatia and the Ukraine. Most itineraries visiting the region will attempt to create an experience which allows cruisers to sample some of the history of the region without skimping on the many beautiful beaches of the Adriatic. However, if you would prefer to focus on one or the other this is definitely possible and there are many more laid back cruises which focus almost exclusively on the Greek islands like Corfu.
If, on the other hand, you’ve ever wanted to see the Parthenon (a sight that overwhelmed Sigmund Freud when he first visited) or learn more about Greek history from the National Archaeological Museum then most cruises will give you that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Meanwhile in Istanbul, experience the famous architectural wonders of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia or shop in the stalls of the centuries-old Grand Bazaar.
Less well known, perhaps, is the walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia with the famous city walls that made it one of the most impressive fortifications of Medieval Europe. The city as a whole has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and there’s plenty to see within: two monasteries, an ancient synagogue and some of Europe’s finest cafes.
The region is hot all year round and there are lines operating there during all seasons. The high season Summer is too hot for all but the most die-hard sun-lovers and many people prefer both the climate and the prices of the Autumn and the Spring. This is probably the best time for the majority of people to take a cruise to the region with the reduced sea traffic also helping to make it a better experience.
Taking in both the Antarctic and the Amazon, few regions can boast of being able to show you more of the world’s most spectacular landscapes than South America. For those more interested in the human geography of the region, there are few more cosmopolitan cities in the world than the capitals of some of these nations. Meanwhile, other areas preserve remnants of some of the world’s oldest cultures – the Mayans, the Incas and the Aztec amongst them.
[styledbox type=”general shaded” align=”center”]The main reason for coming to South America on a cruise is that you want a far more authentic, natural experience than a Caribbean island cruise generally offers. You will not find as many up-scale resorts in this region but you will get far more opportunities to glimpse unspoilt landscapes and meet people who live in isolated regions of the planet. [/styledbox]
The Two Major South American Itineraries for Cruise Ships
1. The Amazon
For cruises that tour the Amazon region of South America most will depart from a port called Manaus, the most populous city of the Amazonas. To get there, your cruise company will generally fly you out from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Alternatively, if you chose to book a cruise that took in both the Caribbean and the Amazon then you will avoid flights altogether. Most cruises will end at either Rio or Buneos Aires calling at smaller ports in Brazil, Argentina and occasionally Uruguay along the way.
The main draw of the Amazon itineraries are the jungle excursions put on by the various operators. Options will sometimes include mountain hiking, canoeing or wildlife safaris. Rio de Janeiro is also an immensely popular port of call for its vibrant big city atmosphere.
2. Around Cape Horn
This popular cruise travels from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile. On these cruises there are occasionally stops in the Antarctic and even if not there are plenty of opportunities to meet penguins and killer whales. Common ports of call include Puerto Madryn, a town founded by Welsh settlers in a region where (reportedly) a few Welsh speakers still remain. This region is Patagonia and you will notice it from your boat as a vast stretch of desert on Argentina’s coast. Some cruises also choose to stop at Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. This itinerary is great if you’d like the opportunity to see an array of different geographies as well as a broad range of temperatures, from the sub-tropical to the sub-Antarctic!
Nowhere on earth says paradise more than the South Pacific, an area of over 8 million square kilometres with over 7,500 islands. Over 500 of these islands are populated and home to a diverse range of cultures and ecologies but, most famously of all, are the white sand and palm trees of countries such as Vanuatu, Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa and the Marshall Islands. Cruising is a particularly good way to see this region due to the short distance between islands and high cost of staying on land. This gives you the opportunity to see a range of Pacific Islander cultures and geographies without breaking the bank.
The South Pacific is divided into three inhabited regions, namely Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Most cruise trips will stay within one or two of these three regions so it is worth knowing the differences between them before you have to choose. Polynesia is home mostly to volcanic islands such as Hawaii, Tonga and Samoa and parts of it still bear the influence of French rule.
Melanesia includes Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and the culture of these Melanesian nations bears little relation to that of Polynesia. Fijian mats and tapa cloth are amongst the crafts that are practised here and nowhere else. Micronesia, meanwhile, is named after the fact that the islands are mostly tiny. The most popular island for tourists to Micronesia is Guam, an American possession with many opportunities to spend your dollars in American stores like K-Mart.
Most Popular Shore Excursions
Find What Inspired Paul Gauguin in Tahiti
The famous French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin created much of his best work on Tahitian subjects and spent a great deal of time on the island, attempting to escape the artifice and conventionality of Europe. On the island you can find the Paul Gauguin Museum as well as many examples of unspoilt nature including beaches and mountainous jungles.
Feed the Sharks in Bora Bora
Bora Bora is an overseas collectivity of France and famous for having some of the best shark and manta ray feeding opportunities in Polynesia. Less adventurous tourists could try an Aqua Safari Helmet Dive which involves walking around on the floor of one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons with a large diving helmet on. This means you get many of the benefits of diving but without needing any experience with SCUBA equipment.
Nadi is Fiji’s third largest conurbation and home to a large Indo-Fijian population. The area is, as such, a unique cultural fusion of the two and the most important landmark in the town is the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple. The building itself is extremely colourful and provides an excellent photo opportunity within what is all round a charming city.
See the 6-feet Long Eels on Huahine
Regarded as sacred by the local people, one of the more popular attractions are the magnificent 6-foot long eels that you can see from a bridge in Huahine. It’s possible to feed the eels yourself with mackerel which provides excellent photo opportunities. Another important tourist site is the Fa’ahia archaeological site which preserves many fossils of now-extinct bird species from the local area.
Without a doubt, the Eastern Caribbean is the most popular part of the most popular cruising region in the world. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a cruise line which does not offer any itinerary in the area. But what’s the reason for this popularity? Of course, like many other parts of the Caribbean (and the world) there is the sun, sea and sand that many cruise lovers expect.
The extra something, however, is the way it has been developed – it’s the luxurious resort hotels, high-end duty-free shopping and a small army of well-trained tour guides to take you around all of the historic sites. The thing that makes a trip to the Eastern Caribbean unforgettable is the fact that a whole industry has sprung up to satisfy your every need over the course of your stay.
The area is home to the Lesser Antilles which include independent island nations like Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad & Tobago as well as a number of territories of the UK, France and the Netherlands. It’s possible to tailor your cruise to take in as much or as little of this as you want to see with cruise deals of every known length available through the various providers, from weekend breaks to 14 days and above.
Where do these cruises typically depart from?
The most popular ports of departure are Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, convenient for those who will need to take a plane to a port as well as pleasant, sunny places to visit in themselves. However, there are also plenty of ports along the east coast which depart for the Eastern Caribbean including three in New York: Manhattan, Cape Liberty and Red Hook. Those travelling from Europe needn’t necessarily fly out, either, with cruises departing from many ports in the UK and on the continent.
Which are the most popular ports in this region?
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
With some of the best duty-free shopping in the Caribbean it is perhaps no wonder that St. Thomas is one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. The great majority of Eastern Caribbean cruises will call here and the island’s tourist industry is highly developed. Magens Beach, near the port, is also one of the most famous in the Caribbean with a long stretch of white sand and a history which allegedly involves Sir Francis Drake.
This one is getting more popular all the time and the shopping opportunities are always expanding. The island skyline is perforated by picturesque mountains and the beaches, as with all of these countries, are more than worth a visit. One of the benefits of travelling to St Maarten is that the Dutch territory of St Maarten and the French territory of Saint Martin co-exist on the same island in a curious melange of European cultures. Famously, the French side also has a couple of nudist beaches for the more adventurous cruisers.
Nassau is the capital and largest city in the Bahamas and it is notable for its mix of British colonial and West African influences as well as enormous Vegas-style casinos and world-famous resort hotels. The area is also surrounded by wildlife including dolphins, swordfish and flying fish. It’s pretty close to the coast of Florida and is likely to be your first port of call on many Eastern Caribbean cruises.
When is the high season in the Eastern Caribbean?
High season is from December to April which means many people will take a cruise in the region to flee winter in their home country. The less popular, and cheaper, time to travel is the rest of the year when it is slightly warmer and there are occasional storms or hurricanes. If you’re prepared to take the risk, however, you could stand to save a huge amount on the cost of your cruise overall and due to the proximity of the region to the equator the heat difference is not actually all that pronounced.
Taking a cruise around the British and Irish archipelago as well as Western Europe gives you the opportunity to see more capitals of world culture, great historical cities, than almost any other cruise possible. Furthermore, it’s not just good for city trips; and as every Briton knows, the country is also home to a diverse selection of natural eco-systems and landscapes for the nature buffs and hill walkers amongst us.
Could a cruise around Britain & Western Europe be cheaper than other transport?
By travelling around these countries on a cruise ship instead of by train, plane or automobile you stand to save hundreds of pounds in travelling costs to see exactly the same sites. The public transport in Western Europe is some of the most expensive in the world and few cruises can provide as economical an experience when compared to other ways of getting around between the same areas.
The most common itineraries are between 10 and 14 days long and really it takes this much to see everything you want to see in this region. However, 3-5 day cruises are becoming increasingly popular as a way of having a long-weekend-break departing from the UK.
Where do these cruises typically embark from?
The largest ports in the region are in the UK and either Dover or Southampton are the most common ports of embarkation and disembarkation. Smaller ships may leave from other less common ports although this does not necessarily mean that those ports will be less well known. The smallest ships, for instance, may be able to leave from a spot on the river Thames in London. Many cruises, when starting or ending on Continental Europe, will do so from either Copenhagen or Lisbon.
What sorts of itineraries are available?
One of the more popular types of sea cruise would be cruises that tout the Scottish Islands, particularly the Hebrides which include the islands of Skye, Islay, Jura and Lewis. Many of these are famous for their whiskies making this a perfect trip for a whiskey lover. The main operator of these is Hebridean Princess Cruises.
Then there are the river cruises which tour continental Western Europe which offer the ability to visit a far greater variety of countries in a shorter period of time. The boats, however, are a little bit smaller and this may not suit everyone. Even smaller are the many canal barges which offer cruises in the region which are particularly famous for their tours of French towns and villages.