Ten of the most stunning ports to cruise into
30 October 2015
Unless you're a full-time cruiser (we can all dream), you probably haven't sailed into most (or even half) of the ports around the world – some so picturesque that even ship captains who see them regularly are still moved by their beauty.
Royal Caribbean quizzed their captains (who know a lot… Royal Caribbean International sails to 260 destinations around the world) and asked them to name their cruise port favourites.
So pack your camera, grab your swimmers (and a down jacket) and make sure your phone alarm works, as you'll need to make the most of cruising both in and out of these stunning locations.
In no particular order, here are 10 of the best ports in the world.
Cruise port: Circular Quay, Sydney Harbour, Australia
Cruise lines to travel here include: Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: This one is easy and anyone lucky enough to call Australia home has probably been here just once or twice. Explorer of the Seas' captain Rick Sullivan has visited Sydney a few times (when he was skipping Rhapsody of the Seas) and says that Sydney is "the most iconic harbour in the world". Cruise specialist and editor Joanna Hall wholeheartedly agrees: "Admittedly it's my home port, but I never fail to get butterflies in my stomach cruising into or out of Sydney... particularly on a summer morning at dawn with the sun rising behind the Opera House sails. It's hard to beat".
Cruise port: Kotor, Montenegro
Cruise lines to travel here include: Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Silversea Cruises.
Why it's so good: Lonely Planet's 2016 Best in Travel book has named Kotor as the best city in the world, stating it's a "dramatically beautiful town… wedged between brooding mountains and a moody corner of the bay" on its website.
Cruising into Kotor is the best way to soak up the magical essence of a medieval town jammed in a mountain valley and for New Zealand-based broadcaster Mike Yardley the remarkable fortification walls are a highlight: "Encircling Kotor on St. John's Hill, they are skillfully crafted into the natural steep slopes of the hill and date back to when Kotor fell under the Venetian Republic," he says. It's this mix of natural and man-made that has the captains captivated. "[It's] completely different in terms of view and environment," says Vision of the Seas' captain Lis Lauritzen.
Cruise port: Stockholm archipelago, Sweden
Cruise lines to travel here include: Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: Close to 30,000 islands make up the Stockholm archipelago and cruising into this ravishing expanse of land and sea offers a unique perspective to this special part of Sweden. In fact, nowhere else in the world can you find so many islands in such close proximity to each other. During summer Sweden's sailing community come out to play and a daytime arrival offers guests the opportunity to watch the locals enjoying their little slice of heaven. Grandeur of the Seas' captain Espen Been recommends guests take note of the cute "homes [that] look like doll's houses". Early morning or nighttime arrivals offer a completely different vibe – a chance to witness a captivating tapestry of water, land and – if lucky – the magical northern lights.
Cruise port: Island of Moorea, French Polynesia
Cruise lines to travel here include: Paul Gauguin Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises.
Why it's so good: A popular port stop for Australians, the Island of Moorea is a delightful synthesis of vivid blues and greens – and sailing towards the heart-shaped atoll is a charming way to get right into the sand, surf and sea vibe. For the Royal Caribbean captains it was the "beautiful green, jagged volcanic mountains" that helped it make the list, and of course there's that anticipation that comes with nearing an island paradise chockers with white-sand beaches and soaring mountain peaks. "I've been fortunate enough to cruise here twice and both times exotic Moorea's dramatic landscape hasn't fail to captivate," says Joanna. "I have hundreds of photos".
Cruise port: The Hubbard Glacier, Alaska
Cruise lines to travel here include: Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: A number of Royal Caribbean captains flagged the Hubbard Glacier – Alaska's most active glacier – as one cruise port that should be on everyone's must-visit list. Sailing up to the glacier you see huge chunks of ice ejected into the water, like ice cubes bobbing about in the world's largest gin and tonic. Voyager of the Seas' captain Sindre Borsheim says the view is "different every time as the colours vary with the light", while Radiance of the Seas' captain Juan Caranti comments "when a piece of ice falls into the ocean it makes an extraordinary roar, like a thunderstorm". Anyone who has cruised into this long river of ice agrees and a common reaction is stunned silence.
Cruise port: Vesuvius, Naples, Italy
Cruise lines to travel here include: Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: According to Royal Caribbean captains, Naples is one of the best ports in the world – and not just because of the promise of great pizza. A number of captains cite the view of Mount Vesuvius towering over Naples as an unforgettable vista (sunrise is an ideal time to snap that perfect Instagram shot). "The port [also] feels like real Italy," says Nichola West, editor of family blog globalmousetravels.com. "Pretty much as soon as you're off the ship you're in authentic Italy… not another tourist town".
Cruise port: Geiranger Fjord, Norway
Cruise lines to travel here include: Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Hurtigruten, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: Type 'Geiranger Fjord images' into any search engine and it will quickly become evident that this is one of those cruise ports you'll be talking about for years to come. It's where the best parts of the natural worlds meet – the azure sea, snow-topped peaks, cascading waterfalls and plenty of greenery. It's easy to see why Grandeur of the Seas' captain Espen Been says it's one of his favourite ports: "[It's] where the mountains meet the sea and the snow from the surrounding tops is mirrored. It seems like everything is blooming".
Cruise port: Vancouver, Canada
Cruise lines to travel here include: Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: According to Explorer of the Seas' captain Rick Sullivan, sailing under the First Narrows Bridge into Vancouver harbour looking at the city against the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains is a definite climax. With its abundance of parks and gardens, Vancouver is considered to be one of the prettiest cities in North America – and the port is reflective of what's on offer. On land things just get better. Melbourne-based journalist Tricia Welsh explains that the port stop makes for an easy and fun shore excursion: "Free shuttle buses whisk guests from the waterfront to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain for spectacular city views".
Cruise port: Golfo di Poeti, La Spezia, Italy
Cruise lines to travel here include: Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, P&O Cruises, Regent Seven Sea Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Why it's so good: Golfo di Poeti translates to Gulf of Poets, so it's no surprise then that this stretch of quaint villages and dramatic cliffs has inspired eminent poets such as Lord Byron. La Spezia is the port stop (one of Italy's commercial harbours with plenty of Art Nouveau architecture to check out and seafood to sample), but it's the cruise in and out that the Royal Caribbean captains rate as "enchanting".
Cruise port: Nice, France
Cruise lines to travel here include: Celebrity Cruises, Ponant, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Silversea Cruises.
Why it's so good: Who hasn't dreamed of long Champagne-filled summers in the French Riviera? Well, cruising in you can at least observe the glamorous Frenchies do their oh-so-stylish thing. Adventure of the Seas' captain Tomas Busto says his favourite time to sail into Nice is throughout the month of April because "the mountains are still snow-capped, but the beaches are welcoming sunbathers".