Sure the idea of a cruise appeals to you -- the convenience, the security and all those cushy amenities -- but you may be worried about the port experience. Can you possibly really see a place in just a day?
Some cruise lines are pro-actively mitigating the issue by staying put in more port for longer periods of time, as much as two or three days. In certain ports, the luxury lines are also offering the option of overland excursions that include transportation and hotel stays. For example, on a recent cruise aboard the Crystal Symphony from Hong Kong to Singapore, a group of passengers left the ship mid-way through in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to explore the temples of Angkor Wat. They joined the ship three days later in Bangkok. The price was $1,955 per person; and of course there's no refund for the days not on board the ship.
Similar options are also offered in places like India, where passengers can take a flight in-land to the Taj Mahal from the port of Mumbai, for an overnight excursion, or sign up for a three-day journey that departs Cochin and has passengers joining the ship three days later in Mumbai. In South Africa, some itineraries have guests disembarking in Richard's Bay to spend a few days on safari before returning to the ship in Cape Town. Other overnight inland tour options are available to cities like Paris and Moscow, and to legendary sites like Machu Picchu. Many cost thousands of dollars per person.
Generally, overland tours are offered on longer itineraries, often world cruises, and are geared to guests who are willing to spend the extra dough to see something not easily accessible from the coast.
"People do the overland excursions because they go to places they want to see, but that they don't want to make a special trip to see later," says Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas. He says Regent offers them as a matter of guest satisfaction since they make less money on the overland tours compared to regular day tours.
But even when overland hotel packages aren't part of the mix and passengers are returning to the ship at the end of each day, more and more itineraries on small luxury ships as well as the more mainstream megas, are including multi-day stays in classic ports like Venice, St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Sydney and Quebec City.
Aside from the ports' attractions justifying a longer stay, from the game parks accessible from Cape Town to the sights of Rio de Janeiro, Conroy points out the distance to the major attractions is also a factor in determining the length of time a ship is in port. For example, Bangkok is a two-hour drive from the port, Laem Chabang. In Egypt, the temples of Luxor are hours away from the port of Safaga. Arrival times are also are a factor. If a ship only gets into port in the afternoon, it's obviously optimal to dock overnight so passengers have enough time to explore.
Though long port stays are generally offered on longer itineraries in exotic Asian, African and European locales, there are exceptions. SeaDream Yacht Club, a small-ship luxury line that offers mostly weeklong itineraries in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, stays until 11pm or later in more than 50 ports, from St. Tropez to Ibiza, Amalfi, Venice, Santorini, Rhodes, Dubrovnik, St. Lucia and St. Barts.
The line's itineraries are built around clusters of islands -- like the British Virgin Islands, Grenadines or Greek Isles -- or regions like the Croatian coast. That way, there's no need to cruise great distances over the course of a week and more time to just hang out in port.
Budget sailing ship line, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, also offers late-night stays in a handful of Caribbean ports. Cruises to Bermuda are another exception, routinely docking in Hamilton or St. George's for two- and three-day stretches.
"Many of the charming ports we visit are lovely during the day, but they are almost more fun in the evenings when these small towns take on a totally different atmosphere which most big-ship passengers rarely get to experience," says SeaDream Yacht Club Spokesman Ernie Beyl.
Beyl points out that while staying in port late offers guests the opportunity to go ashore to sample the local restaurants and bar scene, it's also a chance to enjoy the onboard experience from a different perspective. There's nothing quite like dining out on deck with the twinkling lights of Positano or Monte Carlo providing the stunning backdrop.
"Longer stays are about giving the guests what they want when they want it," says Conroy.
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