One of the perks of working for a cruise line is that you get to visit some amazing destinations. While some ships only visit two ports during a cruise, others travel to four or five. You could spend your entire six to eight months onboard visiting only a couple of places, or be lucky enough to see more.
What You Get to See
The itinerary you get is completely up to the company. You are placed on ships where there are vacancies. You could either be stuck on a ship with a bleak itinerary or see some incredible ports of call. And, even if your ship visits some great ports, there is no guarantee that you would be able to get off the ship and experience them because you may have to work.
In total, I spent three contracts on board and another six years off the ships based in Cozumel, Mexico. Here is a short view of a few of the ports I got to visit during my time onboard.
The homeport is where the cruise ship docks to load supplies, offload passengers and receive new guests. This is the craziest day for crew members. The guests disembark and two hours later the new guests are coming on board and everything should be reset and ready to go. It’s quite literally a time-warp. One moment, everything is a mess. Guests are scattered through every corridor waiting to be called for disembarkation. Everything is closing and crew members are rushing to clean up and reset everything back to starting positions.
Outside most ports, you will find a crew center where you can shop for basic snacks and supplies, get calling cards, and use the internet. Usually, there are also shuttles to take crew members to shopping centers or malls.
In my case, the home ports were always in the US. During the three contracts, I got to visit Miami, Port Canaveral, Galveston, Tampa, Los Angeles, and New York.
Welcome to Miami
Bayside marketplace is by far the place to go when you are docked in Miami. Crew members can take a shuttle from the port to downtown Miami. From there you can walk around and find just about anything you could possibly need or want. There are coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores, and pharmacies, to name just a few. I even found a music store where I bought a guitar that I used to take up to the crew bar after work.
Port Canaveral, Florida
As with Miami, there was a shuttle that would take the crew to a shopping mall. The best part was the “European Corner” at one of the mall entrances. They had the most amazing food, friendly service, phones, and Wi-Fi.
I was also lucky enough to go on an excursion to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center. We took a tour through the grounds and enjoyed an Imax movie about Orion’s belt.
One of my favorite home ports is Galveston. There is a certain kind of charm about the place. Right next to the port was a seafood restaurant and across the street, a Starbucks. You could comfortably walk through the streets, but if you needed to go to Walmart, you had to catch the city bus. The bus had a route with many stops along the way where it picked up or dropped off people. Once you get to Walmart, you could visit a few restaurants just down the road.
One thing I loved about Tampa is that you didn’t need a bus to get to most places. Just outside the port, is a street filled with clothing stores. A few blocks away is the crew center and you can even visit the aquarium in your time off.
I didn’t get out much in LA, but there were a few things to do right at the port. Walking from the ship to the cruise terminal, you find a charming crew center with snacks from all over the world. There was also the legendary Queen Mary cruise ship which you could visit during your time off.
I only had one opportunity to get out in New York. At first, I wanted to walk to Central Park. But along the way, I realized that I had no idea where I was going, so decided to head into the center of the city instead. My New York moment was when I saw the steam coming up from the subway.
Other Ports of Call
Freeport may not seem very charming at first. The pier where the ship docked was fairly plain with only a few market stalls next to the pier. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Freeport during dry dock. We had the opportunity to head out a little further to Port Lucaya and discovered a great restaurant with Conch fritters and beer. Freeport also has some gorgeous, white, sandy beaches with clear water.
Nassau, Grand Bahama
Nassau is a port you tend to see a lot when traveling from Miami or Port Canaveral. It’s a beautiful, historical island to visit. They also have some of the most beautiful beaches, great restaurants, and a few historical places you can visit close to the port. You can also go to Atlantis resort which has pools, small hiking trails, and a great aquarium.
I loved going to the public beach which is about 20 minutes’ walk from the pier. On your way back to the ship, there’s a little local takeaway restaurant that makes the best Conch burgers. We also visited the Casino and went on a catamaran trip while docked in Nassau.
When the ship was docked overnight, we used to go to a club called “Bamboo” where we would dance the night away.
When in Nassau, it is best to stick to the touristy places. You don’t want to head too far into the island, as it’s not one of the safest places to be.
I only had one opportunity to see Ensenada. A few crew members took a taxi to downtown where we did some shopping and had a team meal in a local restaurant.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja California
If there’s one place I would love to see more of, it’s Cabo San Lucas. We dropped anchor here during our Panama crossing cruise. As photographers, we would always be the first off the ship. We took a tender boat from the ship to the dock and spent a few hours photographing the guests there.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t more time to explore after work. But, just interacting with some of the locals on the pier, and seeing the beautiful setting was enough to make me want to see more. The highlight of the day was seeing the sunset over the legendary Arch of Cabo San Lucas.
Puerta Vallarta, Mexico
Another one of our Panama crossing ports was a short stop in Puerta Vallarta. I got to take a boat trip with some of the guests. We cruised along for a few hours and saw some incredibly beautiful and serene scenery… and a few crocodiles.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
After Puerta Vallarta, we stopped on the shores of Puntarenas in Costa Rica. Unlike the typical white, sandy beaches, Puntarenas had glittery, black sands lining the beach. After passing through the market, there are a few locals hanging out in the parks. There’s also a lineup of beach restaurants all along the shore. We spent our whole day there swimming and eating.
You could feel the buzz of excitement as the ship crossed through the Panama Canal after docking along the West coast of the US and Mexico and sailing on the open sea. We were now at the mercy of pilots to guide our 70,000+ ton cruise ship through the canal.
The ship would enter a section, water levels were raised until it could carry the ship, and then the gates opened as we were pulled through the canal. The entire process took at least eight hours and only a select few crew members could leave the ship during the crossing.
Out of all the ports on the Panama Crossing cruise, Cartagena is the one I wanted to see the most. Unfortunately, I had to work all morning and by the time we got off duty, we didn’t have much time to explore. But, I wasn’t going to pass by this opportunity.
A couple of friends and I headed out and had a total of 40 minutes to explore. We got into a taxi and told him to show us as much as he can in the time that we had. Our driver was amazing! He drove all around Cartegena, stopped for souvenirs and sight-seeing and didn’t stop talking the whole time. We couldn’t have wished for a better tour guide.
My day in Aruba was, yet again another short day out. That day, I just wanted to spend some time alone. Where most guests and crew members turned left as they exited the ship, I went the other way. After about a five minute walk, I found a beach. The water was crystal clear, still, and shallow. I swam a bit and then just enjoyed the quiet of the deserted beach.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
In Ocho Rios, I headed out with a few friends. We took a taxi to a waterfall and spend the day jumping from the waterfall and swimming in its icy waters. Afterward, we enjoyed lunch and a few cocktails at a restaurant overlooking the port.
Docking in Halifax was like docking in another world. There’s a certain charm about this coastal city. The architecture was completely different than any other place I’ve visited and it had a serene feel. I spent my time in Halifax just walking through the streets and taking in the sights.
Progresso, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Progresso is not one of my favorite destinations, but still, one to mention. It is incredibly hot and there is not too much to see close to the port. If you head into downtown, you will find that life carries on as usual outside the tourist areas. Mostly, guests go on day trips to visit Chichen Itza when they dock in Progresso. Seeing a road sign with Mayan ruins on it was the only unusual thing I saw there.
Cruising Into The Sunset
As you can see, most crew members spend their time shopping, eating, or enjoying the beaches when they get a chance to get off the ships.
These are only a few of the ports I visited during my time working for a cruise liner. Other destinations include Cozumel, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Half Moon Cay, and San Juan. Surely, if I stayed on board, I would have seen many more incredible destinations, but this list ticks off a few on the bucket list already.
Have you ever traveled on a Cruise ship? What was your favorite port? Please comment and remember to follow me on Instagram @onkeytravel.