World's top cruise ports

2013-05-29 16:00
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Weaving through decorative Madeira

This Portuguese island's prettiness strikes you front and centre as you wind your way through its narrow streets and bustling markets. To do Madeira itself justice you'll need more than a day, but here are a few things to try in the port of Funchal.

When you’re on board your cruise ship, everything - and we mean everything from accommodation, entertainment and food - is spectacularly taken care of. The hardest thing you need to do is decide on a sit-down or buffet dinner for the evening and whether to do cocktail-infused sunbathing or a decadent spa treatment beforehand.

The next benefit would be that kid-on-Christmas-eve anticipation that comes with going to sleep and waking up in a new destination, ready for an adventure.

While it is exciting, it’s unbelievable how quickly time flies when you’re in a new city for only a day. One adrenalin rush you can do without is having to hot-foot it back to the ship, realising it’s about to set sail for the next exotic destination in less than half-an-hour.

Our advice, familiarise yourself with your port of call beforehand and if you don’t take an organised excursion, plan well so you maximise your time in the destination.

It's also important to remember that while you might be sailing in on a luxury ocean liner or cruise ship, your port is also part of a greater working docks. In some instances it is easy enough to walk to the areas of interest but often to make the most of your stop you will need to either be bussed into the areas worth visiting or hire a car to go exploring on your own.

We take a look at seven ports across the world that feature regularly on the itineraries of the most popular cruise lines and ships.

1. Miami, Florida

This is known as the cruise capital of the world as it is visited by almost every cruise line in operation. An estimated 18 cruise ships and more than 4 million passengers leave from Port Miami and it is the departure destination of choice for cruises to the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Mexico.

Make a point of checking out the art-deco district of South Beach. Shopping should undoubtedly be high on your to-do list, as is a visit to its famous beach strip. Miami Beach is one of its most popular attractions. Hire a car and take a drive to discover its rich history. A guided tour to the River of Grass lets you enjoy a 40-minute airboat ride at the Glades where you can watch alligator wrestling.

You will also get to see the Bohemian village of Coconut Grove and Brickell Avenue, the financial heart of Miami, is also worth a short stop.

One of Miami's most famous attractions. (Shutterstock)

2. Southampton, United Kingdom

Southampton is undoubtedly one of the world's most famed ports as it served as the launching point of the Mayflower and the Titanic. These days it's one of the busiest passenger ports with dedicated cruise liner terminals that help to make it super-efficient.

Points of interest include the Southampton Maritime Museum, which chronicles the port's history and its significant role as a port for ocean liners, the most famous of course being the Titanic. Check out the "Titanic Voices", where you can hear the story of the tragic voyage in the words of survivors and those touched by the tragedy.

Check out the city's thriving art scene and a visit to the City Art Gallery is also worthwhile as is a guided tour of Old Southampton and a walk along the medieval town wall.

3. Barcelona, Spain

With a 2000-year-old history thanks to the like of Christopher Columbus, the port of Barcelona hosts many Mediterranean cruise itineraries. Cruisers couldn't ask for a better sightseeing destination at either end of a voyage.

Referred to as the 'Paris of Spain', Barcelona is located in the north-eastern part of the country, 90 miles south of the French border. Beach lovers should head to it most popular beach, Barceloneta. For the heart of the city head on through the Las Ramblas walkway where you can find some of its best restaurants, bars and cafés. It bustles with sidewalk entertainment that adds to the experience.

Art fanatics need to explore the Picasso gallery, home to over 2 000 pieces of the famous abstract artist's work. For those wanting a spectacular view of Barcelona, head to The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.  A must visit is the Cathedral Antoni Gaudí's unfinished Segrada Familiar with eight soaring spires and a spectacular main façade, it has been deemed a true architectural masterpiece.

4. Madeira, Portugal

Madeira is one of the prettiest ports you'll encounter, with its line harbour practically in the centre of the town. It's a beautiful mixture of the medieval and modern. It is also easily comparable to Cape Town as it lies in a natural amphitheatre, facing the blue Atlantic with a backdrop of dramatic mountains. Once you've disembarked the cafés, restaurants and cultural attractions are a short bus ride away.

This city is pretty famous for its flowers and of course its wine. You can see how it is made first hand at the Adegas de Sao Francisco but the many authentic wine shops dotted through the town are more than willing to give you a crash course and tasting on this famous Madeira export.

There are a number of beautiful garden sites worth visiting including the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, The Jardim Botanixa and the Quinta de Palheiro Ferreiro. It's a good idea to take a cable ride up from the seafront to the top of Monte and then make use of the Toboggan basket rides all the way down.

Another worthwhile stop is the Mercados Dos Lavradores open-roofed market with stalls selling lots of fresh produce and authentic items.

The Queen Mary Two and the Aida docked in Funchal. (Selene Brophy)

5. Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau is a typical island paradise with tropical tree-lined city centre. The beaches are spectacular and visitors are spoilt with vibrant Vegas style casinos, duty free shopping, boutiques and a colourful mix of colonial architecture and historic landmarks. For those who do not know, Nassau has a tumultuous past. First a notorious home base for pirates it was then contested by England, France and Spain - the Spanish in fact burned it to the ground on three separate occasions.

For a true marine-life experience visit Atlantis Dolphin Cay - one of the largest dolphin habitats in the world. Another marine highlight is a swim with stingray adventure. Otherwise relax on the beaches of BlackBeard's Cay, a semi-private island. Get into the island's swashbuckling past on an exciting pirates and dungeons tour of Fort Charlotte and the Pirates of Nassau Museum. And you haven't quite seen the Bahamas if you skip a glass-bottomed boat tour.

6. Venice, Italy

The canals of Venice, that interconnect 117 islands within the Venetian Lagoon, set this city apart. Established more than 1 000 years ago by seafarers and Roman refugees, it continues to be the heart of Italian culture.

St Mark's Basilica, built to enshrine St Mark's body in the 9th century is probably at the top of the attractions list for most. Its edifice was rebuilt in the 11th century and the interior is clad in wonderful mosaics and holds statues, icons and its famous horses, brought to St Mark's after the 4th Crusade in 1204.

Whilst here take an iconic gondola ride to the Doge's Palace or the Bridge of Sighs, linking the palace to the state prisons.

Europe's floating city. (Shutterstock)

7. Cozumel, Mexico

This Caribbean island off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, close to the Yucatán Channel, gives you the opportunity to explore the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tulúm. The site was occupied as far back as 600 AD and the pyramid-shaped El Castillo, which dominates the city from atop a forty-foot cliff is quite a spectacular site.

The nearby Temple of the Descending God provides equally excellent insight into the architecture of the Mayan people, who gained considerable achievements in the arts and sciences, only to decline and vanish for no apparent reason.

Other attractions worth considering are the Underwater world of Chankanaab, the Chankanaab National Marine Park or simply relax on the Playa Mia Beach or escape to the secluded beauty of your own private beach paradise, Passion Island.

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