It’s “wave season.” That means from January-March every year, cruise lines and cruise distributors offer their cheapest rates in an effort to get people to book their cruises early in the year. Cheap cruises–we’ll take it! Here are some cruise ports that will take your breath away from the deck of the ship as you glide into port.
Port of Venice, Italy
Venice’s grand canal at night. Courtesy of Kosala Bandara.
By land or sea, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities you’ll ever see. People visit Venice to see the canals, to eat the food, to experience the culture and learn some history, before it all sinks beneath the Adriatic Sea. But what visitors don’t necessarily expect is how the water weaving between each and every block plays with the light. In the daytime, the blue of the canals contrasts the color of the architecture, making its orange hue even more vibrant. At night, the lights play on the water, dancing and illuminating the canals to the point that almost becomes a second light source. The best time of day, though, is twilight. That time of day when the sun has dipped below the horizon but it’s not quite dark yet. A purple hue falls over the city and envelopes everything in a way you can’t experience anywhere else. Plan a cruise that docks just as the sun sets to experience the magic.
Port Vell, Barcelona, Spain
A view of Port Vell in Barcelona from Montjuïc. Courtesy of David Merrett.
Continuing around from Italy and through the Mediterranean, is Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Barcelona is steeped in history that remains visible today and is evident as soon as your cruise ship begins making its approach toward Barcelona’s Port Vell (that means “old port” in Catalan). If you can peel your eyes away from the beautifully blue Mediterranean waters and palm trees gently blowing in the sea breeze (and maybe a few topless women on a beach nearby, because, well, this is Europe), you’ll be taken aback by Barcelona’s architecture. To your right as you approach the port, you’ll see the outlines of Antoin Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, the famed yet unfinished church that’s been under construction for decades. To your left, you’ll see the ancient fort perched atop Montjuïc, which served as a lookout for invaders from the sea. The ship will dock at the base of La Rambla, one of the most vibrant and well-known boulevards in the city. When you step onto that Barcelona soil, your adventure really begins.
Port Santorini, Greece
Santorini port. Courtesy of Shane Gorski.
The whitewashed buildings stand out starkly against the vibrant blue of the sky and sea as you approach the Grecian island by way of the Aegean Sea. Tales of Greek monsters are nowhere near your mind as you sail toward Santorini, but you wonder if maybe this is Mt. Olympus because only the gods could tread somewhere this beautiful. The crescent-shaped island is southeast of Greece’s mainland and is the remnants of a volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest dwellers. As you approach the island’s main port, Athinias, you’ll see the remnants of the centuries-old eruption in the dark, steep cliffs holding up the white towns and villages.
Papeete port, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Tahitian palm with the island of Moorea in the background. Courtesy of Lori Branham.
You may feel as though you’re a castaway finally washing ashore in Tahiti after the hundreds of remote miles you traveled through the South Pacific to arrive. But at least you’ve arrived to paradise. The largest in the Windward group of French Polynesian islands, Tahiti is an explosion of green among the vast blue, with mountains jutting upward and palm trees framing the port. Tiki huts line long docks jutting out into the pristine waters. The island is centered on volcanic mountains, and is famous for its black sand beaches, formed with bits of lava fragments. Much of Tahiti’s beauty also lies beneath its waters. Farming for the Tahitian black pearl is a huge part of the countries economy, and coral reefs surrounding the island teem with colorful wildlife.
Misty Fjords port of call, Alaska
Misty Fjords, Alaska. Courtesy of Andrew Malone.
Although there are dozens of ports of call in Alaska (and most Alaskan cruises hit several per trip), Misty Fjords is not to be missed. The cruise ship is dwarfed by the rising, snow-capped mountains seemingly enveloping the fjord on all sides. A fjord is a narrow inlet lined with steep cliffs that was formed by a glacier. And this one will take your breath away. There are 1,000-foot waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs, pristine lakes and low-hanging mist in this remote section of the Alaskan panhandle. While you are awe-inspired from the landscape, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as bald eagles, grizzly bears and moose peeking out toward the ship.
Kona Port, Kailua Kona, Hawaii
Kailua-Kona after sunset, with volcanic rocks on the beach in the foreground. Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy.
There are about 150 distinct ecosystems throughout the Hawaiian islands, and you’ll be able to see a slew of them as you cruise into the port in Kona. Ships use the port at Kailua Kona, on the western side of the Hawaiian island. The Kona Coast has been distinguished by recent lava flows that continue to build on top of each other. Lush vegetation grows in over the flows as time goes by, making it possible to go from lush vegetation to a landscape of barren, hardened lava just by turning a corner. Some beaches also feature black sand. Whales are likely to be seen on cruises traveling now through April.
Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. Courtesy of O Palsson.
For being the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik offers some surprising small town charm. Nordic settlers founded the town that has grown up along the pristine Atlantic coastline in 874. Iceland seems to have a little bit of everything, as far as geologic formations go, and cruising into Reykjavik will give you an introductory taste. There are inlets and peninsulas, straits and islands, mountains and glaciers. There are volcanoes and hot springs, ice fields and thermal pools, all engulfed in a bubbling yet sophisticated culture gathered around fresh seafood. Iceland offers snapshots of landscapes that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, and Reykjavik is the beautiful gateway. Make sure you look up at night for a potential glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.
Story by Ally Marotti