Cruise lines are recognising the value of longer stays in port, writes Louise Goldsbury.
When the Azamara Quest spends three days in Charleston this December, en route from Florida to the Caribbean, a jazz party is planned on the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, where cruise passengers will be free to dance on the flight deck while enjoying complimentary cocktails. And when the ship stays until midnight at Kusadasi, Turkey, guests will be taken to the Roman ruins of Ephesus after the daytime tourists have left for a classical concert under the stars.
Such evening activities in memorable locations are increasingly offered by cruise lines during extended port visits.
Rather than passing in the night, ships are staying longer. Azamara Club Cruises has the most comprehensive program, with late-night or overnight stays at more than half of all ports on its various itineraries.
Azamara executive Edie Bornstein says these “bespoke, authentic experiences” are included in the fare but passengers can skip the organised tours and find their own fun.
“It makes sense in places like Ibiza, which doesn’t come alive until much later,” Bornstein says.
“Or if you’re like me, in somewhere like Capri, it’s nice to go for a stroll and people-watch from a cafe with a glass of wine.”
Silversea is another luxury line designing itineraries with multiple days spent in one port. On a cruise in Vietnam this year, when the Silver Shadow-docked for two nights in Ho Chi Minh City, most passengers went ashore to dine and a few adventurers disappeared on the back of motorbikes for a food tour.
Those remaining on the ship enjoyed an outdoor dinner party around the ship’s pool. In Ha Long Bay, a few days earlier, passengers had 30 hours to explore the limestone islets by junk or kayak, or browse the markets and sample local cuisine. One group took a road trip to Hanoi, other couples went off independently, rejoining the ship the next day.
According to Steve Odell, Silversea’s president of Europe and Asia-Pacific operations, the trend to stay longer in selected ports is more than a passing fad.
“I believe we will look at increasing overnights and late stays in port, because the luxury customer demands more time to do more things,” he says.
The list of “overnighting” ports is growing. St Petersburg, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Bora Bora, Cape Town, Dubai, Honolulu, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Sorrento, Venice, Istanbul, Athens, Auckland and Sydney are among the most popular. The newest nightspot on the block is Yangon, Burma.
In Russia, Silversea includes three-day days of tours from St Petersburg. Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal, Carnival, Princess, Oceania Cruises and the Norwegian Cruise Line also extend the time their ships spend docked in this diverse city.
During overnight stays, passengers can stay out until dawn or longer, as long as they make it back to the gangway half an hour before departure, which could be as late as 6pm. In some ports, the gates may be locked at night by the local authorities or the captain may request passengers return by a certain time because of weather conditions that could require an earlier departure.
Another option, particularly in places where the cruise terminal is a long way from main city sights, is to book a hotel room for the night.
Bangkok is one destination where it pays to get a room. Big ships dock at a container port two hours’ drive south of the city, so staying in town avoids a four-hour round trip.
It also allows passengers more time to see the Grand Palace, golden temples and khlongs (canals) bustling with boats and floating markets, followed by a Thai meal and late-night drinks on a rooftop bar.
In Beijing, the day can be spent at the Great Wall of China, followed by sunset cocktails at the bar on the top floor of the Shangri-La, watching the city lights coming on.
The morning wake-up offers the chance to walk through Beihai Park to see seniors practising tai chi and playing board games.
In Hong Kong, after a day of shopping, it can be disappointing to have to leave before seeing the laser show on Victoria Harbour, especially when viewed from The Peninsula Hotel’s Felix bar.
And in Buenos Aires, it seems criminal not to savour a steak and malbec while watching dancers perform the tango.
European cities are also ideal for after-dark exploring, when tourist numbers thin out. In Barcelona, the locals start to surface at about 10pm.
In Venice, a night-time gondola ride can be especially romantic.
In the Americas, NCL and Royal Caribbean ships spend multiple days in port in Bermuda and some Carnival ships dock overnight in Nassau so passengers can explore longer on shore. Australians flying to Los Angeles can board the Disney Wonder, spend a day at sea, then have two days in San Francisco.
River cruise lines are masters of the night, with most vessels spending the first night or two in the departing port, partly to allow for passengers flying in late from overseas. The benefit for the early arrivals includes more time to explore a city. For example, APT’s Rhine, Rhone and Moselle- Barcelona to Paris river cruising itinerary includes several nights in Barcelona and several nights in Paris. Amsterdam, Budapest and Vienna are also leisurely, lingering points for river cruising.
So, which is the world’s most requested port for extended stays?
Sydney, according to the cruise lines’ itinerary planners. This summer, five ships are settling in for two-night stays at the Circular Quay or White Bay terminals.
Another 20 ships will have one-night stands.
The writer was a guest of Silversea.
WHERE TO STAY
The Peninsula, Hong Kong
The hotel as jaw-dropping views of Victoria Harbour, and rooms have free Wi-Fi. peninsula.com.
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Shaped like an ocean liner, this resort is crowned by a rooftop garden and 150-metre infinity pool, with the world's largest atrium casino, seven restaurants, ice-skating rink, theatres and shops. marinabaysands.com.
Royal Orchid Sheraton, Bangkok
All rooms face the Chao Phraya River, and a free shuttle service is provided to the Skytrain. royalorchidsheraton.com.
Hotel Arlecchino, Venice
A mid-range option with an unbeatable location. hotelarlecchino.com.
Ciragan Palace, Istanbul
On the Bosphorus, this exquisite hotel is housed in a former palace. kempinski.com.