Most people associate Florida with cruises, but put all the various cruise lines together and you find hundreds of cruise ships sailing from US ports from Seattle to Boston. After the Florida ports of Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Port Canaveral and Tampa, cities in other states with the cruise departures include Galveston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Charleston (SC), Baltimore, New York and more. Also, don’t forget Alaska and Hawaii, which help round out our list of great American cruises.
A cruise ship that is regularly stationed at any one city is said to be “home-ported” there. Simply checking the cruise schedule for the New York Port Authority shows 23 different cruise departures from that area in the next 12 months alone. There are three different cruise terminals near “the city;” Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Bayonne, New Jersey, where Manhattan is right across the Hudson River.
Most are seven-day cruises, but there are also great American cruises from three to 30-days. Here is a quick rundown of available itineraries from certain port cities:
Most Alaska cruises are 7-days. You can cruise between Alaska and either Seattle or Vancouver. Some cruises are one-way, so you fly the other direction. Others are roundtrip cruises which sail two days to reach Alaska, spend three days there, and then take two days to return.” The most popular attractions in Alaska include the wildlife; whales, dolphins, eagles and bears, or watching the majestic glaciers slowly peel off and drop large sheets of ice into the ocean.
In my opinion there is only one “best” Hawaii cruise; Pride of America (operated by Norwegian Cruise Line). It is the only ship home-ported in Honolulu, so you fly in and out. It sails from Honolulu; spends two days in Maui, two days on the Big Island, and two days in Kauai. I recommend flying in a few days early to book a hotel and really see Oahu.
Other cruise lines sail to Hawaii from California, which requires four full days at sea just to arrive. You then spend six or seven more days seeing the Islands before you fly home from Honolulu. There are advantages to both types of cruises, but you see more of Hawaii by taking Pride of America.
Most seven-day Mexico cruises feature the “Mexican Riviera” ports of call on the West Coast; Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Most sail from Los Angeles, some from San Diego. Cabo is a clean, modern and safe city, isolated at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. But both Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan have experienced times of concern for tourism safety. Right now both of these ports are considered safe, but the State Department occasionally issues warnings.
In Puerto Vallarta the ships dock near a beautiful beach where you can relax and dine at the many beautiful hotels with no cost of admission. Mazatlan has had more allegations of danger to tourists, but has lately taken steps to mitigate the problems. Shorter (3 or 4-day) Mexico cruises usually sail to the California island of Catalina and then to Ensenada, just 50 miles south of Tijuana.
4. Panama Canal
Panama Canal cruises usually require 14-days to cover the distance from Los Angeles to Miami (or wherever the cruise ends). One of seven wonders of the modern world, you spend a full day transiting the Canal while an historian relates every detail of your experience. There are four locks, two up with Gatun Lake in the middle, and then two locks to return to sea level.
“Trans-canal” cruise usually have fewer ports of call because of time constraints, but common stops include Acapulco, Cartagena Columbia, Costa Rica or Grand Cayman.
5. Western Caribbean
Starting in the Gulf of Mexico are the homeports of Galveston, New Orleans and Tampa. These cruises sail to Central America ports like Belize, with one of the world’s biggest barrier reefs, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico where you can see Mayan ruins, or Costa Rica with its crocodiles, capuchin monkeys, toucans and McCaw parrots four feet tall. Other ports include Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Jamaica. These are all excellent ports for snorkeling or diving.
6. Southern Caribbean
The “lesser Antilles” islands of the Southern Caribbean include Barbados, Curacao, Martinique and St. Lucia. These are the “spice islands” where you can buy fresh nutmeg and delicious vanilla beans. The people are as warm and gentle as the idyllic water at the beaches.
7. Eastern Caribbean
Eastern Caribbean cruises usually sail from Miami, Ft Lauderdale or Port Canaveral. Ports include Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, and St. John – best known for duty-free shopping. Stock up on rum, Cuban-style cigars, electronics, cameras and linens. Most ships also stop at Nassau (Bahamas) on the way home. Buy a day-pass to Atlantis, one of the biggest all-inclusive resorts in the world. They are not cheap, expect to pay about $120 for full access, but it is worth it.
Bermuda is a singular island due east of North Carolina. It is only 20 square miles yet has 65,000 inhabitants. Cruises sail two days to arrive and then stay for three nights. The island is known for golf, shopping for traditional British goods and mopeds (which are notoriously dangerous). The colorful villages and the local police in their Bermuda shorts make for priceless pictures.
9. New York City
Cruise from the East coast go south in the winter, but in the summer tend go north to Newport, Rhode Island, home of the “summer cottages” of the Astor and Vanderbilt families, to Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax (Nova Scotia) and even as far as Quebec. These are wonderful cruises for picturesque lighthouses on the Bay of Fundy and freshly steamed lobsters. These summer cruises are a perfect and affordable way to escape the hot city.
Pick Your Cruise
Naturally, there is some overlap in homeports and itineraries on these great American cruises. Consult a travel agent to find the best cruise for you. Don’t forget travel insurance for your cruise! The worst vacation is the one you missed because something unexpected happened.
Paul Motter is the editor of Cruisemates.com an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.