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CRUISE: Double your pleasure

SD cruise ships

The right choice of port to begin or end your cruise can give you two vacations for the time and cost of one.

Even if you’ve never left sight of land in your life, you already know that all cruise ships are not created equal.

Well, neither are all cruise ports.

At some port cities, there isn’t much to do other than board the ship at the start of the cruise or leave town once your cruise ends — in both instances, as soon as possible. No disrespect to Bayonne, NJ or Long Beach, CA, but neither is likely to leap to your mind while planning your next vacation.

What about New York City? Miami? New Orleans? San Francisco? Vancouver? That’s more like it, yes? Or maybe London. Paris, perhaps? Rome. Barcelona. Rio de Janeiro. Shanghai. Now, you’re on point, and the point is this:

TWO VACATIONS FOR ONE
When the departure or termination port for your cruise happens to be one of the world’s more attractive and popular travel destinations in its own right, that’s your chance to effectively double up on your vacation fun.

So rather than stressing yourself out trying to time your flight arrivals or departures to get you into town just in time to board your cruise ship or leave just enough time to get back to the airport for the flight home, try this instead:

Arrive a day or two before your ship sails, or stay a day or two after the cruise ends.

So many cruise travelers treat their departure or return ports as an afterthought in their vacation plans, if they think of it at all. and considering the places that a lot of the world’s cruise ships call home port, that’s kind of a shame. Some of the world’s major cruise ports just happen to double as some of the world’s great cities, with a nearly endless number of delightful things to do/see/experience.

If you told your family and friends that you were going to spend your entire vacation in San Francisco or the NOLA or Hong Kong, no one would think you were crazy. If anything, they might be a bit envious.

Want to really see them turn rainforest green? Tell them you’re going to spend a few days in one of those cities…just before or after your cruise.

LOVE YOUR PORT
Two days before a week-long sail last years across the northern Mediterranean, I spent a couple of days in Barcelona, which happened to be the departure port. Spent a third day after returning there before flying home.

Within hours of arrival, even at the height of the summer heat and the tourist season, I fell head-over-carry-on in love with the city and its proud, friendly people. Had the cruise line cancelled the sailing and compelled me to spend the entire week in Barcelona, I would’ve shed nary a tear.

I could say the same of a dozen different cruise ports around the world, and I’ll bet you could, too.

With a little careful planning and budgeting, spending a few extra days in your port city need not break your vacation budget. In fact, when you consider how cost-effective the cruise part of your trip will be, the combination of cruise and port stay could actually cost you the same as, or even slightly less than, spending your entire vacation on land

With a little imagination and planning, even less likely vacation destinations like a Bayonne or a Long Beach can work in your favor. Being off the tourist radar can make a town less expensive than its more glamorous neighbors, and thus a bargain base for exploring those pricier travel hotspots.

MORE FUN, LESS STRESS
There’s another benefit to a short pre-cruise or post-cruise port stay, one that’s perhaps best measured not as much in dollars as in blood pressure readings.

Cruise travel should be to be fun and relaxing, but for more than a few cruise travelers, the start or end of a cruise vacation is anything but. They’ve driven themselves crazy trying to time their flight arrivals to get into port just in time to board the ship. Often, they’re among the last to board, arriving just before the gangway is withdrawn.

Those same cruise passengers will also be the ones who see scrambling to be among the first to leave the vessel when the cruise ends, desperate to round up their bags and grab the first cab to the airport. Let the least little thing delay their departure, and their stress levels go into orbit.

This is a vacation?

If you arrive in town a few days early, you can explore the city and environs, then arrive at the dock relaxed and in plenty of time to board. At cruise’s end, you don’t have to worry about the mad, crowded dash to leave the ship. You’re not joining that mad dash to the airport. You’re going to your hotel. Drop your bags. Do a little exploring at your leisure. No bum-rushing the airport for you.

The cruise lines themselves play right into this strategy. Most cruises leave in the afternoon, so you can take your time checking out of your hotel, have a leisurely breakfast, maybe even see one last sight before heading to the port a little after noon to check into your cabin in time for your mid-afternoon departure.

It works the same way when it’s time to leave the ship. Since your cruise is likely to end in the early morning, you can check in to your land-based lodging and have the whole day to enjoy ashore. Fly home the following day after a fun day ashore…and a good night’s sleep.

Now that’s a vacation.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.

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