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The best way to see a city is often when you are leaving it - by sea.
The best way to see a city is often when you are leaving or arriving at it - by sea, writes Mal Chenu.
It will come as no surprise that one of the world's most exquisite cities is also a stunning Sail Away port. Appreciating the grandeur of the city they call La Serenissima (the most serene) from a high deck over a glass of prosecco as the speakers belt out Luciano Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma is a treasure to savour. Ships usually cruise along the Giudecca Canal and pass close to Piazza San Marco and its eponymous Basilica and Doge's Palace. It's surreal and sublime at once. Campaigns to protect the fragile Venetian canals from larger cruise ships are ongoing so this epic Sail Away venue may not be around forever.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, US
The home of Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix and Starbucks is also a busy port, even though the city isn't actually on the coast. Seattle is located between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and Sail Aways from Bell Street Pier and Smith Cove in Elliott Bay head north through Puget Sound. Most cruises out of Seattle head to Alaska and the port mainly operates in summer. With imposing Mount Rainier in the distance, ships pass the unique cityscape featuring the 184-metre high Space Needle and after the historic neighbourhoods and lush parks fade from view, the natural glory of Puget Sound with its islands, orcas and distant green mountains is with you for hours. In the galley, the ship's chefs are probably preparing fresh-caught Chinook salmon and Olympia oysters for dinner.
Mosques and museums, minarets and markets – including the sprawling Grand Bazaar – make this churning, vibrant city one of the world's great Sail Away ports. Istanbul sits astride Asia and Europe and is an enthralling product of melded cultures and 2000 years of fascinating history. Cruise ships mingle with ferries and the call to prayer as they wind their way past the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace and along the Bosphorus towards either the Mediterranean Sea or the Black Sea. Don't miss the Museum of Modern Art, located next to the dock.
Whether you spend your pre-cruise eating, shopping (both major terminals have extensive malls) or exploring the cultural melting pot, Hong Kong is a sensory delight. Surrounded by a concrete canyon of skyscrapers and the oft-cloud-tipped Victoria Peak, energetic Victoria Harbour should first be explored at sea level on a traditional junk, Star Ferry or harbour cruise tour. Departing cruise ship passengers enjoy a distinctive view of the inimitable skyline, coupled – if the timing is right – with the vivid evening laser show. Start your pre-cruise relaxation in the largest rooftop garden in Hong Kong at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
SKAGWAY, ALASKA, USA
There's gold in them thar hills. Or at least there was before the gold rush in the late 1800s and the vintage Scenic Railway up to the summit of White Pass is a reminder of those rootin' tootin' days. This steep and unforgettable pre-departure excursion takes in mountains, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels and part of the original Klondike Trail of '98. Cruise ships leaving the frontier town of Skagway pass through the glassy waters of the Inside Passage, where wide bays, narrow channels, towering forests and fjords are constant companions. And tomorrow we sail into Glacier Bay National Park.
Of course, Australia's great natural harbour makes the cut. Sail Aways from Sydney are generally in the evening, just as less fortunate souls are heading into traffic rather than sipping something tropical from a large plastic fish and bopping to Cold Chisel. OK, so some Sydney Sail Aways prefer champagne and canapes but all feature that jealousy-inducing, call-to-fun horn blast that echoes across the harbour. Cruising past the Opera House at sail height offers a peerless perspective, as does the view from the top deck as you pass under the Bridge if you're coming from White Bay Cruise Terminal. The slow run to the Heads passes Fort Denison, Kirribilli House, Admiralty House, comely coves and multimillion-dollar real estate. Bon voyage, mates.