Top Cruise Ports for Water Warriors:

Choosing the Right Places to Come Ashore and Play

In this article you will find:


What Ports Are On Your Bucket List?


Three Types of Cruise Ports


2,000+ Cruise Port Options


Over-Tourism and the Curse of Cruise Ships


Seasonal Traffic and Best Cruise Months


Busiest Cruise Ports


Largest Cruise Ports


Great Cruise Port Experiences


Large Versus Small Cruise Ports


River Cruise Ports and Itineraries


Selecting Cruises for Ports and Extended Stays


Shore Excursions and Tours in Port Cities


Expedition Cruises Focus on Experiences, Not Ports

Where would you like to cruise? Do you have favorite places you’re dying to visit – a bucket list of “must visit” cruise destinations, such as Alaska, Antarctica, Norwegian Fjords, French Riviera, Bora Bora, or Australia? If your list includes countries, chances are you’ll only visit one or two ports – places that are equipped (docks, provisions, immigration/passport control) to accommodate cruise ships. 

What Ports Are On Your Bucket List?

Not all ports are similar or idyllic. No doubt you’ll discover many wonderful ports around the world, especially in Europe (Venice, Dubrovnik, Santorini), Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai), and the South Pacific (Sydney, Auckland, Bora Bora) where overnighting in port can be educational and fun, complete with exuberant nightlife and exceptional cultural experiences. You’ll also encounter less than desirable ports — busy, overcrowded, and polluted dual purpose harbors, which service both cruise ships and merchant marine ships (ever been to Bangalore, India docked near ugly heaps of coal, rusting cargo ships, and trashy waters?). Expedition cruises, which focus on environmental/nature destinations, often stop in small coastal towns and villages in remote areas. These adventure/exploration cruises tend to focus on destination experiences rather than port activities.

What about your departure and exit ports? Do you prefer starting and ending in the same port or finishing in another port? While most river cruises start and finish in different ports, many ocean cruises offer round trip itineraries starting and ending in the same port. And then there are ports of call. Do you have favorites? Are they big or small, lively or boring, standard or exotic, cheap or expensive? Can you overnight in such ports and enjoy a sunset and nightlife or does your captain have to cast off early for the next port in order to connect with tomorrow’s excursions?

When shopping for cruises, pay particular attention to the size of the ship and whether or not the cruise includes unusual ports of call. Large ships (over 100,000 gross tons or 2,500 passengers) are limited in their ability to enter and leave small but interesting ports of call. Small ships (under 70,000 gross tons or under 1,500 passengers) can access more ports than large ships. Also, check to see if your cruise ship custom-designs its own shore excursions (Windstar often does) or do they contract with local tour companies to handle such operations? 

Let’s look at some of the most important considerations when selecting cruises and their ports. Fortunately, you have many interesting port options to consider when selecting the best cruise experience for you.

Unless they are on a 3-day cruise to nowhere (since 2016 these cruises can no longer operate from U.S. ports), most cruisers will experience three types of ports:

Ports of embarkation

Ports of disembarkation

Ports of call

Many cruises offer roundtrip itineraries, which begin and end in the same port and cruise terminal. Other cruise ships may begin in one port and end in another. The same ship then reverses course and returns to the original home port. In these places, cruisers may decide to extend their port stays by arriving 2-3 days early at the embarkation port and/or ending the cruise with 2-3 extra days in the disembarkation port.

Three Types of Cruise Ports

Ports of call are port stops between the embarkation and disembarkation ports. Some cruises ships make several stops along the way. For example, while Hong Kong and Singapore are major ports of embarkation and disembarkation, popular ports of call between these two cities in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand include Hanoi, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, Sihanoukville, Koh Kood, Bangkok, and Koh Samui. Ports of call may or may not have adequate docking facilities. If not, passengers will disembark via tenders. 

Ports of embarkation/disembarkation tend to be adjacent to major cities with large airports, commercial port facilities, and a massive support/service infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, ground transportation, and parking lots. For example, the world’s largest port, Miami, handles over 5 million passengers a year through multiple cruise terminals that serve as headquarters for the three largest cruise companies – Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian (these three companies service over 70% of all cruise passengers worldwide). Just north of Miami are two other massive cruise ports — Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) and Port Canaveral (Cape Canaveral), which together handle an additional 9 million+ passengers annually.


2,000+ Cruise Port Options

Over 2,000 cruise ports function throughout the world. While most of these ports receive brief visits (a few hours or maybe overnight) from cruise ships, several ports have built large cruise terminals to handle the growing number of passengers as well as developed their tourist infrastructure to better accommodate visitors who stay longer in these ports.

Cruise ships have a major economic impact on the local hospitality industry in the 170 cities that serve as embarkation/disembarkation ports. In these cities, cruise passengers disproportionately affect the local tourist infrastructure and culture by patronizing hotels, restaurants, shops, airports, entertainment venues, tour groups, guides, and local transportation. During cruise season, the whole character of these ports may change — traffic on the main roads leading to cruise terminals may become extremely congested and enterprising merchants may engage in creative and annoying pop-up retailing. The industry’s biggest transformation came in 2020-2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic devastated many locked down cruise ports.

Ports of call also are disproportionately impacted by cruise ships and their passengers. Skagway, Alaska, for example, may be an extreme case in point but, nonetheless, it’s worth considering its seasonal fate. Its tiny population of 1,087 permanent residents experience the impact of 1.5 million visiting cruise passengers each year – usually during the peak 158-day cruise season that runs from May through September. While many local residents operate seasonal businesses geared toward cruise ship passengers, over 40 percent of merchants during the cruise season come from outside the area (many travel the annual retail merchant circuit between the Caribbean and Alaska) and engage in pop-up retailing (set up temporary shops near the cruise docks for quickly capturing the cruise shoppers as they disembark). Many permanent local shops offering higher quality products are often located 2 to 3 blocks from the docks.

Ships must manage the quick turnover of passengers in embarkation/disembarkation ports. For example, a cruise ship usually arrives the night before the next cruise or very early the morning of disembarkation. The transition is relatively quick, easy, and seamless. The cruise is over except for getting everyone onshore. Accordingly, on the last night aboard, guests are instructed to pack their bags and then go to a farewell dinner. Passengers place their large bags outside their door that evening and porters begin moving tons of luggage to the ship’s hold. An orderly disembarkation process begins in the morning. Crew says “thank you, have a nice day, and hope to see you soon” as they quickly process guests off the ship; cabins and public areas are prepared for the next group of passengers who may start boarding by 1pm. At the same time, the ship is hurriedly resupplied, refueled, and re-staffed for the next journey. The new group of arrivals are greeted warmly and perhaps directed to the buffet if their cabin is not ready to be occupied. If all goes well, the ship will most likely cast off by 5pm for the first port of call. Other ports of call will soon follow. 

Fewer than 100 ports have more than 100,000 cruise passengers visit them each year. For quick and convenient overviews of cruise ports, check out these detailed port directories and guides for surveying options and planning your next cruise destinations:

VacationsToGo Cruise Ports

2,244 Cruise Ports by Region

Guide to 1,200 Ports of Call

Cruise ports are one of the most interesting aspects of cruising. Most cruisers love to visit appealing ports, such as Venice, Naples, Santorini, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Barcelona, Lisbon, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, and New York City, but they dislike the whole embarkation/disembarkation process at their first and last ports, which often involve waiting in long lines and hassling with luggage and ground transportation. 

Many cruisers also complain about long distances (1-2 hours transfer time) between some ports and cities (Rome, Florence, Jerusalem, Hanoi, Bangkok, Yangon) and about not having enough time in interesting ports, especially when their ship departs before sundown and thus prevents passengers from experiencing local nightlife and having late night fun onshore. These cruise lines have reputations for staying late or overnighting in several popular ports of call: 

  • Azamara
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Paul Gauguin Cruises
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • SeaDream Yacht Club
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Windstar Cruises

Some of the best ports for overnight cruises in Europe include Lisbon, Venice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Haifa, Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Copenhagen, Oslo, Reykjavik, and St. Petersburg. In Asia, consider overnighting in Hong Kong, Tianjin, Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Tokyo, Kobe, and Kyoto. In South America, don’t miss out on the nightlife in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Cartagena, and Lima. In Australia, the nightlife in Sydney is well worth experiencing. In the Caribbean, some of the best overnight ports are Havana, Aruba, Santo Domingo, San Juan, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. In the United States, it’s Miami, New York, Key West, New Orleans, Galveston/Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Others also include Dublin, Richards Bay, Ibiza, and Bora Bora in their lists of favorite “must visit” overnight ports. If you enjoy onshore nightlife (dinner, show, music, drinking, dancing), consider taking cruises that include ports with interesting nightlife as well as those that stay one or two nights in these special places, which ideally are located within close proximity to the action (not a 1-2 hour trek to a remote cruise port location) . 

Over-Tourism and the Curse of Cruise Ships

One of the biggest issues with cruise ports these days is over-tourism – too many tourists and cruisers competing for limited space in port cities. Venice, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Key West, and George Town (Grand Caymans) in particular have felt the impact of over-tourism. These places are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of day-trippers visiting their shores. Overcrowding, pollution, and strained infrastructure have resulted in calls for limiting the number of tourists visiting these places. Yet, the lure of cruise ships and tourist spending, combined with opposition from the hospitality industry, temper many of these complaints. In the above example of Skagway, Alaska – 1.5 million cruise passengers converging on 1,087 local residents each year – the issue is how to better manage cruise passengers rather than lessen their positive economic impact. But keep an eye on quirky Key West, which may be the first port of call to ban large cruise ships. Unlike the classic line in the movie “Jaws” – “We need a bigger boat!” — many Key West residents feel that smaller boats would be just fine and especially nice for improving their mental health!

On the other hand, cruise passengers have their own lists of complaints about cruise ports. These include:


  • Cancelled ports
  • No docking facilities – ship-to-shore by inconvenient tenders
  • Long distance from cruise port to desired cities and sites
  • Early departures and no overnight stays
  • Crowded and chaotic streets
  • Expensive and underwhelming shore excursions
  • Shore excursions with obligatory pricey shopping stops
  • Ban items (mainly liquor) from coming aboard
  • Long lines getting off and on ship
  • Inadequate, inconvenient, and expensive local transportation
  • Cheating taxis and merchants
  • Unfriendly and lethargic locals
  • Pass credit card fees (3-5%) on to customers
  • Dual entrance fees – locals versus foreigners
  • Poor service and bad attitudes
  • Dirty streets, sites, and restaurants
  • Unsafe (traffic, drivers, pickpockets, muggings, water, food)
  • Boring places with very little to see or do

Seasonal Traffic and Best Cruise Months

Certain cruise ports are very busy during peak cruise and tourist seasons. For example, Venice hits its peak season from June to August when both vacationing ground and cruise tourists converge on (swamp) this popular city. Florida cruise ports are especially busy during the popular December through April cruise months in the Caribbean. Seattle and Vancouver, major embark/disembark centers for Alaskan cruises, become very busy during the May to September cruise season. River cruises in Europe are best planned for May through September when water levels and weather are most cooperative.

Keep in mind that seasons are reversed for the southern and northern hemispheres. When it’s winter in New York City and the Arctic, it’s summer in Sydney and Antarctica. Also, hurricane season for the Caribbean runs from June 1 to November 30. 

The best times to cruise in terms of months and seasons for major cruise destinations include:


  • February – Mid-April Mexican Riviera
  • April – June Europe
  • May – September European Rivers
  • May – October Tahiti/South Pacific
  • June – August Alaska, Bermuda, the Arctic 
  • September – October Canada, New England, Europe
  • November – March Asia, Australia, South America, Antarctica
  • December – April The Caribbean, Hawaii
  • December – May The Galapagos

Busiest Cruise Ports

The world’s 25 largest cruise ports, measured by the number of passengers that pass through each year, include:

1. Port - Miami

  • Country – USA
  • 2016/2017 passengers4,980,490

2. Port - Canaveral

  • Country – USA
  • 2016/2017 passengers4,248,296

3. Port - Everglades

  • Country – USA
  • 2016/2017 passengers3,826,415

4. Port - Cozumel

  • CountryMexico
  • 2016/2017 passengers3,636,649

5. Port - Nassau

  • CountryBahamas
  • 2016/2017 passengers3,521,178

6. Port - Everglades

  • CountryChina
  • 2016/2017 passengers2,848,000

7. Port - Barcelona

  • CountrySpain
  • 2016/2017 passengers2,712,247

8. Port - Out Islands

  • CountryBahamas
  • 2016/2017 passengers2,549,803

9. Port - Civitavecchia

  • CountryItaly
  • 2016/2017 passengers2,204,336

10. Port - Balearic Islands

  • CountrySpain
  • 2016/2017 passengers2,110,663

11. Port - Galveston

  • CountryUSA
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,730,289

12. Port - George Town

  • CountryGrand Cayman
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,711,853

13. Port - St. Thomas/St. John

  • CountryUSA
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,694,008

14. Port - Philipsburg

  • CountrySint Maarten
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,668,863

15. Port - Jamaica

  • CountryJamaica
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,655,565

16. Port - New York/ New Jersey

  • CountryUSA
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,537,695

17. Port - Southampton

  • CountryUnited Kingdom
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,529,000

18. Port - Marseille

  • CountryFrance
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,487,313

19. Port - Venice

  • CountryItaly
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,427,812

20. Port - Singapore

  • CountrySingapore
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,379,753

21. Port - San Juan

  • CountryPuerto Rico
  • 2016/2017 passengers – 1,379,367

22. Port - Jeju

  • CountrySouth Korea
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,200,000

23. Port - Keelung

  • CountryTaiwan
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,064,174

24. Port - Piraeus

  • CountryGreece
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,055,559

25. Port - New Orleans

  • CountryUSA
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,048,112

23. Port - Keelung

  • CountryTaiwan
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,064,174

24. Port - Piraeus

  • CountryGreece
  • 2016/2017 passengers1,055,559
The 21 largest U.S. and Canadian ports are:

1. Port - Miami

  • 2016/2017 passengers4,980,490

2. Port - Canaveral

  • 2016/2017 passengers4,248,296

3. Port - Everglades

  • 2016/2017 passengers3,826,415

4. Port - Galveston

  • 2016/2017 passengers1,730,289

5. Port - St. Thomas/St. John

  • 2016/2017 passengers1,694,008

6. Port - New York/New Jersey

  • 2016/2017 passengers1,537,695

7. Port - New Orleans

  • 2016/2017 passengers1,048,112

8. Port - Juneau

  • 2016/2017 passengers1,004,774

9. Port - Tampa

  • 2016/2017 passengers1,000,000

10. Port - Seattle

  • 2016/2017 passengers -983,539

11. Port - Ketchikan

  • 2016/2017 passengers947,972

12. Port - Vancouver (Canada)

  • 2016/2017 passengers895,000

13. Port - Victoria (Canada)

  • 2016/2017 passengers709,042

14. Port - Los Angeles

  • 2016/2017 passengers578,668

15. Port - Palm Beach

  • 2016/2017 passengers480,000

16. Port - Boston

  • 2016/2017 passengers388,222

17. Port - Quebec (Canada)

  • 2016/2017 passengers387,678

18. Port - Halifax (Canada)

  • 2016/2017 passengers300,000

19. Port - Saint John, New Brunswick (Canada)

  • 2016/2017 passengers208,818

20. Port - Portland, Maine

  • 2016/2017 passengers172,184

21. Port - Jacksonville

  • 2016/2017 passengers170,000
Many of the largest cruise terminals, especially in the United States, are expanding their operations considerably in order to accommodate the continuing growth and transformation of the cruise industry. Several of the cruise lines have had to build new terminals and incorporate advanced technology in order to accommodate mega ships (4,500+ passengers, 180,000+ gross tons), process thousands of passengers and their luggage, and enhance the overall cruise guest experience. Large ships (both cruise and commercial, which share the same ports, will continue to drive changes in port infrastructure and facilities.

Great Cruise Port Experiences

Cruisers have their favorite cruise ports for each region of the world. Many cruises will spend extra days, either before or after their cruise, in their favorite port cities. But what makes a great cruise port? In general, the best cruise ports offer the following to short-term visitors:

  • Convenient ship-to-shore shuttle operations when anchored offshore (Cozumel)
  • Cool places – visually beautiful and “feel good” places (Antarctica, Alaska Inside Passage, Norwegian Fjords, South Island New Zealand, Bora Bora, Tahiti, Maui, Paris, Tokyo)
  • Quick access to city (Bermuda, Hong Kong, Monte Carlo, Valletta, Vancouver, Sydney)
  • Lots of things to see and do in limited time space (Barcelona, New York City, Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore)
  • Nearby attractions (Orlando for Port Canaveral)
  • Friendly and welcoming locals (Vancouver, Burges, Hamburg, Dublin)
  • Easy to get around, understand the place, and get back to ship (Singapore, Dublin, New York City, Barcelona, Paris, Copenhagen, Sydney)
  • Feel safe and secure (Tokyo, Singapore, New Zealand, Turks & Caicos, St. Maarten)
  • Convenient transportation and Uber to the rescue (Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Shanghai, New York City, Stockholm)
  • Encounter few touts, no rip-offs, and little nickeling-and-diming (Singapore, Tokyo, 
  • Get good value for prices (Lima, Budapest, Bangkok, Casablanca, Mumbai, Hanoi, Porto, Cape Town) 
  • Experience good quality shopping (New York City, Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles)
  • Excellent restaurant options (New Orleans, Florence, Rome, Tokyo, Paris, New York City, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore)
  • Variety of water sports and attractive beaches (Miami, Rio, Barcelona, Honolulu, Sydney, Hong Kong, Cape Town)  
  • Lively nightlife and performing arts scenes (Buenos Aires, New York City, Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, Cape Town, Ibiza, Bangkok, Auckland, Venice) 
  • Fewer tourists (Montserrat, Anguilla, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Hamburg, Tel Aviv, Singapore, Easter Island)

Cruisers report the following places to be their favorite ports — places they wouldn’t mind staying in longer and returning to in the future:

North America

  • Baltimore 
  • Boston 
  • Charleston
  • Galveston
  • Jacksonville 
  • Key West
  • Long Beach 
  • Miami 
  • Mobile 
  • New Orleans 
  • New York City 
  • Port Canaveral (Cape Canaveral) 
  • Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale)
  • San Diego 
  • San Francisco 
  • Seattle 
  • Tampa
  • Vancouver 


While the busiest Caribbean ports are Cozumel (4.7 million annually), CocoCay (RCL’s private Bahamian island hosts 3.6 million annually), Nassau (3.5 million annually), and George Town (Grand Cayman – 1.9 million annually), cruise passengers report the following Western and Eastern Caribbean ports to be their favorites:


  • Belize City  (Belize)
  • CocoCay (RCL private island, The Bahamas)
  • Costa Maya (Mexico)
  • Cozumel (Mexico)
  • Falmouth (Jamaica)
  • George Town (Grand Cayman)
  • Harvest Caye  (Belize)
  • Havana (Cuba)
  • Key West, Florida
  • Kralendijk (Bonaire) 
  • Labadee (RCL private island, Haiti)
  • Montego Bay (Jamaica)
  • Nassau (Bahamas)
  • Ocho Rios (Jamaica)
  • Oranjestad (Aruba)
  • Playa del Carmen (Mexico)
  • Progreso (Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico)
  • Puerto Costa Maya (Mexico)
  • Roatan (Bay Islands, Honduras)


  • Basseterre (St. Kitts)
  • Bridgetown (Barbados)
  • Castries (St. Lucia)
  • Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
  • Fort-de-France  (Martinique)
  • Grand Tur (Turks & Caicos)
  • Gustavia (St. Barth)
  • Philipsburg (St. Maarten)
  • Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic)
  • San Juan (Puerto Rico)
  • St. John’s (Antigua)
  • Tortola (British Virgin Islands)

Central America

  • Colon (Panama)
  • Panama Canal (Panama)
  • Puerto Limon (Costa Rica — Caribbean)
  • Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala)
  • Puntarenas (Costa Rica — Pacific)

South America 

  • Buenos Aires (Argentina)
  • Callao (Peru)
  • Cartagena (Colombia)
  • Galapagos (Ecuador)
  • Manaus (Brazil)
  • Montevideo (Uruguay)
  • Punta Arenas (Chile)
  • Rio de Janeiro (Argentina)
  • Ushuaia (Argentina)
  • Valparaiso (Chile)


  • Juneau
  • Ketchikan
  • Sitka
  • Skagway
  • Whittier

Northern Europe

  • Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
  • Dublin (Ireland)
  • Edinburgh (Scotland)
  • Flam (Norway)
  • Geiranger (Norway)
  • Honningsvag (Norway)
  • Oslo (Sweden)
  • St. Petersburg (Russia)
  • Stockholm (Sweden) 
  • Tallinn (Estonia)

The Mediterranean

The seven busiest cruise ports in the Mediterranean are:

  1. Barcelona (3.1 million)
  2. Balearic Islands (2.6 million)
  3. Rome/Civitavecchia (2.6 million)
  4. Genoa/Savona (2.0 million)
  5. Marseille (1.9 million) 
  6. Naples/Salero (1.5 million)
  7. Piraeus (1.1 million)

The most popular Mediterranean ports also tend to be the busiest ports – places where there are lots of things to see and do:

  • Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera — Spain)
  • Barcelona (Spain)
  • Marseille (France)
  • Monte Carlo (Monaco) 
  • Piraeus (Greece)
  • Rome/Civitavecchia (Italy)
  • Santorini (Greece)
  • Venice (Italy)

Several other Mediterranean ports, including small ones, are also very popular cruise stops:

  • Ajaccio (France)
  • Antibes (France Corsica (France)
  • Cannes (France)
  • Elba (Italy)
  • Florence/Pisa (Livorno, Italy) 
  • Gibraltar 
  • Genoa (Italy)
  • Ibiza (Spain)
  • La Spezia (Italy)
  • Le Lavandou (France)
  • Lisbon (Portugal) 
  • Palamos (Spain)
  • Porto (Portugal)
  • Portofarraio (Italy)
  • Portofino (Italy)
  • Portovenere (Italy)
  • St. Tropez (France)
  • Sanary-Sur-Mer (France)
  • Valencia (Spain)
  • Valletta (Malta)
  • Villefranche-sur-Mer (France)

Middle East

  • Abu Dhabi ( UAE)
  • Aqaba (Jordan)
  • Doha (Qatar)
  • Dubai (UAE)
  • Haifa (Israel)
  • Istanbul (Turkey)
  • Jerusalem (Israel)
  • Muscat (Oman)


  • Accra (Ghana)
  • Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire)
  • Agadir (Morocco)
  • Alexandria (Egypt)
  • Cape Town (South Africa)
  • Casablanca (Morocco)
  • Dakar (Senegal)
  • Maputo (Mozambique)
  • Mombasa (Kenya)
  • Port Elizabeth (South Africa)
  • Port Said (Egypt)
  • St. Denis (Reunion Island)
  • Stone Town (Zanzibar Island, Tanzania)
  • Tenerife (Canary Islands)
  • Toamasina (Madagascar) 
  • Victoria (Seychelles)


  • Bali (Indonesia)
  • Bangkok (Thailand)
  • Colombo (Sri Lanka)
  • Danang (Vietnam)
  • Goa (India)
  • Hanoi (Vietnam)
  • Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Incheon (South Korea)
  • Keelung (Taiwan)
  • Kobe (Japan)
  • Langkawi (Malaysia)
  • Male (Maldives)
  • Manila (Philippines)
  • Mumbai (India)
  • Phuket (Thailand)
  • Sapporo (Japan)
  • Singapore
  • Shanghai (China)
  • Sihanoukville (Cambodia)
  • Tianjin (China)
  • Tokyo (Japan)
  • Yangon (Myanmar)

South Pacific/Australia/New Zealand

  • Auckland (New Zealand)
  • Bora Bora (French Polynesia)
  • Isle of  Pines (New Caledonia)
  • Lautoka (Fiji)
  • Pape’ete (Tahiti)
  • Sydney (Australia)
  • Vava’u (Tonga)

Large Versus Small Cruise Ports

The large 3,500+ passenger ships (1,000+ feet in length) are only able to visit ports that have docks and other infrastructure to handle very big ships. Mega-ships, such as Royal Caribbean’s Voyager- and Genesis-class ships, can only embark/disembark from a few major U.S. ports, such as Miami, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, New York City, Bayonne (NJ), New Orleans, Galveston, Los Angeles, and Seattle. 

While primarily oriented toward Caribbean ports (Royal Caribbean frequents its private islands in the Bahamas and Haiti), the mega-ships can now visit several European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Australian ports:


  • Basseterre (St. Kitts)
  • Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
  • CocoCay (RCL private island, The Bahamas)
  • Cozumel (Mexico)
  • Falmouth (Jamaica)
  • Labadee (RCL private island, Haiti)
  • Nassau (The Bahamas)      
  • Philipsburg (St. Maarten)
  • Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic)                  
  • St. John’s (Antigua/Barbuda)
  • San Juan (Puerto Rico)


  • Barcelona (Spain)
  • Cannes (France)
  • Florence/Pisa (Livorno, Italy) 
  • Marseilla (France)
  • Naples (Italy)
  • Palermo (Italy)
  • Palma de Mallorca (Spain)
  • Rome/Civitavecchia (Italy)
  • Savona (Italy)
  • Southampton (United Kingdom)


  • Abu Dhabi (UAE)
  • Doha (Qatar)
  • Dubai (UAE)
  • Haifa (Israel)


  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Shanghai (China)
  • Singapore
  • Tianjin (Beijing, China)


  • Sydney

If port docking facilities cannot accommodate ships, the cruise ship drops anchor and shuttles passengers to shore by tenders, which carry from 30 to 120 passengers each (the large tenders in Cozumel can take 200+ passengers each) – a very laborious and time consuming process.

Small cruise ships under 1,000 passengers tend to be favored by seniors. These ships include ports of call that are not easily accessible by large ships. For example, in Thailand large cruise ships must moor at the main port in Laem Chabang, a nothing port located 80 miles east of Bangkok (a two-hour drive); but smaller cruise ships (under 700 passengers) can navigate Bangkok’s main river, the Chao Phraya, and moor at Klong Toey Port, which is located immediately south of bustling downtown Bangkok. Several other ports (Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seattle) also maintain two port locations that can accommodate different sized cruise ships. With more than 500 cruise ships stopping in Venice each year, its port is a good example of a wide range of ship sizes converging on the city — from small luxury yachts and small cruise ships to intermediate and large-sized (but not yet mega) cruise ships. On the other hand, a disproportionate number of small luxury ships depart from the port of Athens (Piraeus), Greece.

If you’re interested in visiting smaller cruise ports, which also have fewer tourists and are more relaxing and charming, consider the port itineraries of the smaller luxury ships and yachts, such as Windstar, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, SeaDream Yacht Club, Ponant, Crystal, and Star Clippers. In many of their ports, they’re the only ship in town. Windstar, SeaDream, and Silversea, for example, occasionally visit Montserrat, one of the least visited Caribbean ports (gets only 8,000 tourists a year). Seabourn offers two seven-day cruises to the delightful Greek ports of Agios Nikolaos, Rhodes, Mykonos, Nafplion, Patmos, Thira (Santorini), and Spetsai as well as Limassol and Paphos on Cyprus. The list of small and charming ports goes on and on with the unique itineraries of these small cruise ships

River Cruise Ports and Itineraries

Since most inland river cruises are destination intensive, they make several stops between an embarkation port and a disembarkation port. After cruising in one direction, the cruise ship reverses course and goes the other direction on a repeat cruise. Some river cruises do round trips from the embarkation port. For example, Europe’s popular Paris to Normandy Seine River cruise begins in Paris and ends in Paris but stops along the way in Vernon, Les Andelys, Caudebec, Rouen, and Conflans. One popular Danube River cruise starts in Budapest, Hungary and ends in Nuremberg, Germany, but stops in Bratislava, Vienna, Dumstein, Passau, and Regenburg. An Egyptian Nile River cruise will include Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. A Mekong River cruise includes Ho Chi Minh City, Cai Be, Tan Chau, Phnom Penh, Oknhatey, Angkor Ban, and Siem Reap aswell as a connecting flight to Hanoi. The Irrawaddy River cruise in Myanmar includes Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Amarapura, and Bagan. An Amazon River cruise may start in Manaus, Brazil or Lima, Peru. For good overviews of river cruise options, including itineraries and ports for hundreds of river cruises, visit and

Some of the most popular embarkation points and stops for river cruises include the following:

Europe (RIVERS: Bordeaux Waterways, Danube, Dnieper, Dordogne, Douro, Dutch and Belgian Waterways, Elbe, Garonne, Guadalquivir, Loire, Main, Moselle, Odor, Po, Rhine, Rhone, Saone, Seine, Thames )

  • Amsterdam
  • Avignon
  • Baden-Baden
  • Basel
  • Bratislava
  • Bucharest
  • Budapest
  • Burges
  • Cologne
  • Dresden
  • Frankfurt
  • Lisbon
  • Lyon
  • Mannheim
  • Marseille
  • Munich
  • Nuremberg
  • Paris
  • Passau
  • Porto
  • Prague (connect)
  • Regensburg
  • Strasbourg
  • Vienna
  • Zurich

Russia (Volga River)

  • Goritsy
  • Kizhi Island
  • Kuzino
  • Mandrogy
  • Moscow
  • St. Petersburg
  • Uglich
  • Yaroslav

Egypt (The Nile)

  • Aswan
  • Cairo
  • Luzor

North America (RIVERS: Columbia, Cumberland, Hudson, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, St. Johns, Tennessee, Tolomato)

  • Charleston, SC
  • Chattanooga, TN
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Louisville, KY
  • Memphis, TN
  • Nashville, TN
  • New Orleans, LA
  • New York City, NY
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • St. Louis, MO
  • St. Paul, MN
  • Savannah, GA
  • Spokane, WA
  • Vancouver, WA
  • Vicksburg, MS

China (Yangtze River)

  • Chongqing
  • Guilin
  • Shanghai
  • Yichang

Southeast Asia (Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers)

  • Bangkok
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Luang Prabang
  • Mandalay
  • Pagan
  • Phnom Penh 
  • Siem Reap
  • Yangon

India (Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers)

  • Cochin
  • Delhi
  • Kolkata
  • Mumbai
  • Varana

South America (Amazon River)

  • Iquitos (Nauta, Peru)
  • Manaus (Brazil)  

South Africa/Botswana/Zimbabwe (Chobe River)

  • Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria (South Africa)
  • Chobe National Park (Botswana)
  • Kasane (Botswana)
  • Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe)

Selecting Cruises for Ports and Extended Stays

Many cruisers love to select cruise ships by their port destinations. Planning extended stays in embarkation/disembarkation ports, they may decide on a 3-7-3 plan — spend the first 3 days in the embarkation port, 7 days onboard a cruise ship, and the final 3 days onshore at the disembarkation port. While your booking agent can help you identify the ports and cruise ships that best fit this plan, you also can easily sleuth such a trip before contacting your agent. One of the best sources for such planning is VacationsToGo. You’ll need to first register before using this excellent site. In addition to including details on each cruise ship, the website has two port search sections (departure ports and ports of call) that can be paired with hundreds of cruise ships, dates, and regions. For example, if you’re interested in spending your initial 3 days in Barcelona and then boarding a ship for a 7-day cruise of the Mediterranean, and disembarking in Rome where you’ll spend your final 3 days, here are 12 results you get when searching the VacationsToGo site for a June to August 2022 sailing and reserving a balcony cabin (the same cruise ships do back-to-back reverse trips – Rome to Barcelona):
You can also check out the ports of call for each of these ships. For example, Viking Sky includes stops in Montpellier (France), Marseille, Monte Carlo, and Florence/Pisa. Regal Princess includes Gibraltar, Marseille, Genoa, and Florence/Pisa (Livorno) in its ports of call. Celebrity Edge visits Valencia and Ibiza (Spain), Portofino (Italy), Ajaccio and Corsica (France), and La Spezia (Italy). Seabourn Sojourn goes to Menorca, Balearic Islands (Spain), Le Lavandou (France), Monte Carlo (Monaco), St. Tropez, Bastia, and Corsica (France), and Portovenere (Italy). Windstar’s Wind Surf visits Palamos (Spain), Sanary-Sur-Mer (France), Monte Carlo, Cannes (France), Portofino (Italy), Portofarraio (Italy), Elba (Italy). Most of the fifty-three 7-day cruises out of Barcelona during June, July, and August of 2022 stop in Rome (Civitavecchia), but they return to Barcelona on the seventh day.

By doing this preliminary planning of cruise ships and ports, you’ll be better prepared to ask detailed questions of your booking agent who should be helpful in handling ground arrangements (hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and transportation) in both Barcelona and Rome. The agent may find special hotel and transportation offers linked to your cruise company/reservation – but the agent must contact the cruise line representative to uncover such specials (these are proprietary specials).

Selecting Cruises for Ports and Extended Stays

For many cruise lines, their shore excursions are major profit centers rivaling the ship’s other lucrative onboard enterprises — spa, casino, wi-fi, drink packages, photographers, shops, and specialty restaurants. Some seasoned cruisers consider ship-sponsored shore excursions to be one of the biggest rip-offs (next to drinks and wi-fi) and red flags in the cruise business. Except for the all-inclusive Regent Seven Seas, most cruise lines charge extra for their sponsored shore excursions, which is a sweet monopoly for the cruise ship. How they organize and sponsor these shore excursions will differ from one cruise line to another. Some tours are outstanding and reasonably priced whereas others may be underwhelming and overpriced. You need to do your research on cruise line-sponsored shore excursions as well as be prepared (your Plan B) with alternative shore plans. Above all, do not feel you’re a captive of the cruise ship when it’s time to go ashore. You have many tour and activity options – from independent to sponsored — and the freedom to do nothing if you so choose to sit this one out. Indeed, there is competition to keep the ship honest, but the competition is onshore, and it is usually initiated by enterprising cruise guests who are looking for value and who are rightfully suspicious of cruise ship monopolies.

For a directory to cruise ship shore excursions, which also functions as a middleman, visit Two other useful websites for surveying shore excursions, city tours, and day activities in ports of call are and And don’t forget to check your cruise ship website, which should summarize your shore excursion options.

Many ship-sponsored excursions can cost twice as much as comparable ones offered by reputable local tour groups. And ship tours are not necessarily better than the local tours, although cruise ships claim they “vet” their vendors, whatever that entails. The cruise tours also seem to come with a hard sell and a scare – passengers are given many reasons why it’s wise to sign up for ship tours. Ships urge passengers to pre-book excursions before boarding and thus save money on already overpriced tours. They further scare passengers with warnings that the ship tours will get you back to the ship on time for departure whereas outside tour groups may not! They also may block tour representatives from meeting you at the ship (you’ll need to walk outside the gates to meet your representative – stay in contact by smart-phone text, email, and/or voice). Thus, paying the over-priced ship rate becomes an expensive form of you’ll-get-back-to-the-ship-on-time insurance. Getting back to the ship on time is not a problem for experienced local tour groups that are used to working with independent-minded cruise passengers.

No ships guarantee the quality of their tours, although you may be able to complain to someone onboard should you have a bad tour experience. Many cruise ships contract-out their tours to local tour operators who are responsible for providing ground transportation (often an army of big buses) and tour guides. Invariably these groups find “extra time” to take passengers on a “shopping stop” near the end of the tour – usually an overpriced tourist emporium that pays the guides and driver commissions or a “stop fee” for delivering a busload of tourists to their well organized and credit card-friendly shopping center. Cruise ships also can arrange “private tours” – basically a very expensive private car and driver/guide for two to four people (you can do much better on your own).     

However, some cruise lines offer signature tours and experiences that are designed to reflect the cruise ship’s specialty and its focus on unique customer experiences and exciting cruise stories. These may or may not take place onshore. For example, the following cruise lines offer chef-led shopping tours to the local fresh food markets: Oceania, Seabourn, Viking, and Windstar. If you’re lucky, your group will purchase huge fresh fish that will appear in one of your ship’s restaurants – probably the center-piece fish on the buffet — that evening. Other ships, such as Paul Gauguin, offer scuba diving tours and experiences. The high-end exploration luxury yachts Scenic Eclipse and Seabourn Ventura also do fascinating submarine tours using their onboard submarines that can dive more than 650 feet below the surface; Scenic Eclipse also comes equipped with two helicopters for touring its surrounding areas (Antarctica, the Arctic, the Baltics and Fjords, Maritime Canada, and more).

Each year CruiseCritic surveys the best cruise ship shore excursions based on a survey of its readers. In 2019, the following cruise ships were identified as the best for shore excursions (many of these excursions were custom-designed by the cruise line for their guests):

  1. Silver Galapagos
  2. Paul Gauguin
  3. Viking Star
  4. Viking Sky
  5. Carnival Valor
  6. L’Austral
  7. Seven Seas Mariner
  8. Carnival Splendor
  9. Viking Sea
  10. Viking Sun
  11. Carnival Glory
  12. Le Soleal
  13. Carnival Triumph
  14. Carnival Breeze
  15. Silver Shadow
  16. Carnival Conquest
  17. Carnival Dream
  18. Harmony of the Seas
  19. Liberty of the Seas
  20. Viking Orion
  21. Allure of the Seas
  22. Coral Princess
  23. Seven Seas Explorer
  24. Grandeur of the Seas
  25. MSC Sinfonia
  26. Seven Seas Voyager
  27. Pacific Princess
  28. Zuiderdam
  29. Oosterdam
  30. Silver Spirit
  31. Westerdam
  32. Marella Discovery
  33. Marella Discovery 2
  34. Marella Dream
  35. Marella Explorer

You can easily do generic local tours on your own and without the hassle of boarding large buses that make you feel like a tourist. You can “shop around” on your own for excellent local tours and private guides in cruise ports. One of the best places to start is your booking agent or the Internet. Let you agent know you would prefer a small group or private tour. You can also search for “best tour companies” in particular ports. TripAdvisor is usually good at giving excellent tour and restaurant recommendations along with user reviews. One of the largest tour groups found in many port cities is Viator. You can explore their tour options online for your particular ports and dates and, again, survey your options on and

Many cruisers have also taken advantage of CruiseCritic’s popular Roll Call program. Roll Call enables you to meet fellow cruisers before boarding and arrange private tours with new-found cruise mates. If you’re interested in exploring this free meet-up option, you are well advised to look up your particular cruise on Roll Call and regularly monitor it in order to identify fellow passengers who may be interested in meeting you onboard and perhaps joining you in organizing a shore excursion. Several cruise ships recognize Roll Call as an important group and thus make space available for Roll Call guests who want to meet-and-greet soon after boarding.  You also may want to use Roll Call prior to booking your cruise – meet some like-minded people you may be traveling with on your next cruise. 

Another alternative is to travel independently in a port city – taking taxis, Ubers, and public transportation and walking a great deal with a map or GPS in hand. Be sure your smart phone has these useful apps for navigating unfamiliar places abroad:  Google Maps, Citymapper, Waze, and HERE WeGo. For the curious and adventuresome, exploring independently is an interesting way to see elements of a place. These ports are especially easy to navigate on your own: Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai, Shanghai, New York City, Stockholm, and most small ports with a population under 200,000

But if you want more than a do-it-yourself tour on very limited time, consider using a local travel company that can custom-design an interesting tour for you and perhaps a couple of friends that is quick, easy, and cost effective.  

Expedition Cruises Focus on Experiences, Not Ports

If you decide to join the growing number for expedition cruisers, ports will not be an important concern since these ships begin and end their adventure in the same small port and then stop along coastal towns, villages, and other out-of-the-way ports. Hurtigruten, for example, explores Alaska, Antarctica, the Arctic, Norway, British Isles, Northwest Passage, South America, Costa Rica, Panama, and a few other destinations with its fleet of 17 ships. In several of its remote cruises, Hurtigruten stops in small towns and villages every night, such as Quqortoq, Kvanefjord, Maniltsoq, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, Evighedsfjord, Nuuk, and Ivittuut in Greenland. In Alaska, Hurtigruten visits Anchorage, Haines, Sitka, Petersburg, and Wrangell. Large port stops for Hurtigruten would be Norway’s second and third largest cities – Bergen (280,000 population) and Trondheim (185,000 population). Lindbald Expeditions fleet of 15 ships includes many small ports and islands in the Galapagos, the Amazon, Antarctica, the Arctic, Greenland, Patagonia, Pacific Northwest, South Pacific, Russian Far East, Costa Rica, and Panama. Quark Expeditions‘ 8 ships, including 2 icebreakers, specialize in the Antarctica and the Arctic. UnCruise Adventures’ 9 ships focus on Alaska, Columbia and Snake Rivers, Pacific Northwest, Galapagos, Hawaiian Island, Sea of Cortez, Costa Rica, and Panama. Most expedition cruises visit places along the way (islands, bays, glaciers, rain forests, penguin and walrus colonies, whale habitats), but getting to and from these places may be by tenders and zodiacs since pristine areas may not have port facilities, especially docks and piers. You’ll go on shore the old-fashioned way – by boat. 

Expedition cruises are designed for unique water and environmental experiences – the ultimate “roughing it gently” water warrior experiences for luxury cruisers in search of both adventure and comfort. For an overview of expedition cruises and the various companies that offer alternative experiences, see our other section on Top Expedition and Luxury Yacht Cruises: Discover the Exciting World of Active Edutainment