Cruising takes us to exciting and picturesque cruise ship ports around the world. Whether they feature nature’s masterpieces or something manmade in vibrant colours, our favourite cruise destinations are each a photographer’s paradise.
What we love about cruising is the variety in destinations, the one time unpack, the culinary delights, and the opportunity to make the journey part of the fun. On the flip side, we never have enough time to explore in a port city, we overeat, and the cruise ships in port are an eyesore in an often stunning area.
We’ve sailed with seven different lines, visited over 65 cruise port cities on six continents, and taken two repositioning cruises. The map below highlights our favourite scenic cruise destinations. More detail is provided for each below.
Our favourite cruise ship ports on a map
Be inspired …
Tips for getting the most out of cruise ship ports
Our time onshore has ranged from only five hours in Juneau (Alaska) and Aruba (Caribbean) to two days in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Regardless of how much time we have, the idea is to optimize it. The four main choices:
1. Shore excursions sponsored by the ship
Cruise excursions are easy. They are best for passengers who like everything organized for them. Each cruise itinerary offers a number of optional excursions for each port.
Advantages: simplicity, guaranteed not to miss the ship, and a refund if the port or tour cancels.
Disadvantages: often larger tour group size and higher costs.
2. Independent group tours
Independent tours are perfect for passengers who prefer a more personal experience, want to save money, and are willing to put forth a bit of effort to find the best tours. These local tours offer the same, similar, or additional options to the ship’s excursions (sometimes the same guarantees) and often carry an endorsement by larger companies like Viator (a TripAdvisor company) or Get Your Guide.
Advantages: usually smaller groups and lower cost.
Disadvantages: need to arrange your own tour (often as easy as an online form) and the potential loss if the ship cancels a port.
3. Private tours
Private tours are for people who want full flexibility in any port. We love private tours and either book them in advance or negotiate and hire a driver/guide at the port. We seek local guides with a high level of knowledge of the things that interest us. Our current go-to company is Tours-by-Locals.
While private tours cost more, we have always found it worth the money.
Advantages: independence, flexibility, and freedom of choice.
Disadvantage: higher costs.
4. Do it yourself
Depending on what we want to do at a port, we often simply walk off the ship and go our own way, either on foot or using public transportation.
Advantages: flexibility, freedom, and low cost.
Disadvantages: lack of history and sometimes unexpected language difficulties.
Packing for your cruise
We are believers in packing light, even for a cruise, and having everything we need. Here are the secrets to packing light for a cruise in detail, or sign up for our news and we will send you our all-new Ultimate Cruise Packing List:
Booking your cruise
When we are looking for the best price, we always start with Cruise Direct. They offer great pricing, as well as last-minute cruise ship specials. Check Cruise Direct for current deals.
Whether you are a first-time cruiser or a regular sailor, don’t miss these 25 tips for cruising.
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Which of these cruise ship ports will you visit?
Don’t miss our recommended destinations for charter cruising or our favourite land destinations.
I visited some of these ports, but I’m still way behind you. Didn’t realize that Kauai is on the big cruise ships’ route. I thought there were only small, local ships cruising between the islands.
Hi Rhonda – what a great selection … I’d love to go through the Panama Canal and to see Skagway … but I’d be happy visiting the others too! Actually Sydney and Auckland would stand out for the family connections … lovely to see them all though – cheers Hilary
You’ve traveled so many places.
Great ports – I’d love to visit any of them!
Wow! You’ve been to some amazing places. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos and practical advice for people considering cruising. I’ve only been on a couple (Alaska and the Bahamas) and would like to try more in the future.
I love cruising, but I’ve only been to 5-6 of these ports.
WHAT A SUPER FUN POST! I’ve never had a cruise port bucket list before, but I definitely do now! Thanks for your research and sharing info about all of these! Gorgeous!
We did a Mediterrean cruise and none of the ports were anywhere near as picturesque as these
wow there are so many amazingly beautiful ports out there , my absolute favorite was the one in the French Polynesia
Wow, a great post, thanks for sharing. I’d love to sail through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship so now this is on my bucket list. It was lovely looking at your photos, we’ve been to many of these places. Singapore was a favourite cruise destination of ours also.
I’ve yet to do a cruise, but you’re inspiring me to try one after reading your post! Tahiti looks like a fabulous port as does Paraty in Brazil. Maybe one day…!
This looks like it would be so very amazing. I have so many places that are on my travel bucket list and now this is part of it!
Wow, I thought I was a seasoned cruiser, but you’ve got me beat! I love your list and makes me want to hop on a ship. We almost always book independent tours and have never had any issues in doing so.
So many places to see, so little time! Thanks for the share.
I’ve been to a few of these, but most of them were not on cruises (like Ephesus and Istanbul). I’d love to do more of these places though, and I’d especially love to do a Panama Canal crossing just to experience it.
You’ve chosen some beautiful spots there, especially Flam, which is spectacular. If I could squeeze in one more, I’d add Stockholm. You sail through the archipelago there for hours on arriving and departing, seeing people heading in small boats to their weekend cabins on the islands. i had severe lifestyle envy!
Mama Maggie's Kitchen
Wow! These are all wonderful places to stop by. Thanks for sharing!
Havent been to any of these. Such an amazing list of picture-perfect shorelines. need to explore these.
This is a great list of places and are all on my dream travel destination list! Thanks for sharing -Sondra Barker
I think it’s so wonderful that you get to travel like you do. I imagine it’s a wonderful adventure and you sure do have some great photos for memories. We have never been on a cruise. If we go on one though, I’d like to go to Cuba.
oh wooowwwww!!! These are gorgeous!!! I would love to visit each and every one of these ports especially the Mexico one, amazing.
So many great spots I dont know which to choose. I have always wanted to visit Hawaii. Love this post it really helps when choosing a destination.
Ryan K Biddulph
Oh my goodness; Tahiti looks stunning. WOW. I never cruis-ed but when in Savusavu, we saw folks on a cruise anchoring in the bay and flowing into town by the boat load, being ferried in. Even though no proper port existed it has to be one of the prettiest stops on earth. Super list!
So many places to go and things to see. We always booked our tours through the cruise line so we didn’t need to worry about missing the ships departure.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. ♥
I’ve never been in a cruise before, although I’ve been to Bali. I can imagine it is an awesome adventure with all the activities you can do on board.
I have done cruise once but really love to try again in the near future. I won’t mind going back to Ephesus, Turkey with cruise.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
I’ve been to one of the places you listed! And we got there by ferry boat.
Norway would be my first choice.
So many beautiful ports! It’s difficult to choose. It seems that the Ephesus ruins in Turkey are a very interesting place to visit. Short excursions from the ship seem like a great option.
What a lovely collection of photographs! All of those ports are quite picturesque. We’ve yet to do a cruise but it’s great to see what we have to look forward to!