Come for the cruise, stay for the city.
Cruises are immensely popular activities for group travelers because of their built-in vacation-like atmosphere, relatively low cost and high potential for sightseeing. But between steep airline ticket prices and the logistical chaos of getting a group onboard before the ship departs, cruising can also be stressful.
Group travel planners can extend their trips and the fun by staying in cruise port cities, from an extra day or so to several days before or after the cruise. This can also save them (and their travelers) money on airfare and minimize the stress of arriving and departing the city on the day the ship docks.
Check out these domestic cruise port cities where what’s on land is just as interesting as what awaits at sea.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Thanks to its year-round warm temperatures and the 3,000-plus hours of sunshine it enjoys annually, Fort Lauderdale is a vacation destination unto itself. It’s also home to a major cruise port, Port Everglades. Most major cruise lines offer itineraries departing from Fort Lauderdale, including those sailing on some of the largest ships in the world. But the city is equally worthy of exploring before or after a cruise for some fun in the sun.
In addition to exploring Fort Lauderdale’s 24 miles of beaches, there are several ways to get to know the city better, including a comedic Segway tour complete with fun facts and photo ops. To appreciate the area’s surrounding nature, groups can take an airboat tour through the Everglades or visit the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, which has 35 acres of gardens. For a diverse shopping and dining experience, groups can head to Las Olas Boulevard, a high-end shopping district, or Sawgrass Mills, which has more than 350 shops.
Fishing is a popular sport in Fort Lauderdale, and this is reflected in the city’s culinary scene. Waterfront dining is a staple of the city, and groups can enjoy fresh-caught seafood right on the water at restaurants like Shooter Waterfront, 15th Street Fisheries, and GG’s Waterfront Bar and Grill. Groups can also explore Fort Lauderdale’s rooftop bars, cafes, and for a sweet treat, Jaxon’s Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant.
With major cruise lines such as Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian and several river-cruising companies docking in the Port of New Orleans, it’s no surprise plenty of cruising travelers will find themselves spending time in the Big Easy. New Orleans and Company, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, offers pre- and post-cruise itinerary packages that feature deals and discounts for groups.
One popular activity for groups to get an overview of the city is through New Orleans City Bus Tours. They can also swing by the French Market District, which has been one of the city’s biggest culture centers for over 200 years. Groups can spend an entire afternoon in this hub for shopping and dining. They can also stop at the newly renovated Audubon Aquarium and the National World War II Museum. For hands-on fun, they can take a group cooking class.
New Orleans has a wealth of cafés and restaurants ideal for a group visit. For lighter fare, a trip to Café du Monde for a chicory coffee and beignet is a must. But for a scrumptious dinner at an establishment with fresh seafood and Creole influence peppering the menu, groups can head to the French Quarter to Tujague’s or Antoine’s. Another popular choice is Bourbon House, found on the famous Bourbon Street.
Portland’s Maine State Pier and Ocean Gateway Terminal are home to ships from large cruise operators like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, as well as smaller and luxury lines like Viking, Oceania Cruises and Windstar. In addition to cruising the Great Lakes or the Atlantic, spending a few days exploring historic coastal Maine is a must.
Several tours give groups the lay of the land, including the Maine Brews Cruise, which gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at the breweries, wineries and distilleries in the area. Maine Day Ventures offers culinary and historic walking tours, while Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours offers sightseeing tours by trolley or chartered boat. Other noteworthy attractions include the Victoria Mansion, Maine Historical Society and one of Maine’s many coastal lighthouses.
Maine is known for its fresh seafood, and Portland gives groups plenty of chances to enjoy views of Portland Harbor with fresh lobster. They can head to restaurants such as Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room, Portland Lobster Company, The Porthole and Dimillo’s on the Water. They can also get a taste of small-batch ales and pub food at Gritty’s Portland Brew Pub.
Cruises to Alaska or along the West Coast frequently depart from Seattle, with over 1 million passengers setting sail from this port city annually. There’s plenty to do in the city whether groups only have half a day or want to extend their stay by a couple days.
Multiple tour companies offer a range of ways to explore the city’s most iconic sights. Bus tours, historic walking tours and self-guided tours let groups see the city’s subterranean streets, waterways and landmarks, such as the Space Needle and the Seattle Great Wheel. A food tour with Eat Seattle is a great way to get acquainted with Seattle’s diverse culinary scene.
Notable attractions for art lovers include the Seattle Art Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The Museum of Pop Culture, the Museum of Flight, and the Museum of History and Industry make great stops for history buffs.
Coffee culture is big in Seattle, and groups can head to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room to see where the massive coffee chain started. Seattle’s cuisine is nothing if not diverse, with a blend of soul food, seafood and Asian cuisine restaurants for groups to try, as well as brewpubs and wineries.
Thanks to major cruise lines like Disney, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian departing from the Port of Galveston, this historic island city 50 miles south of Houston is highly frequented by travelers.
Galveston’s 32 miles of beaches are a major draw, and groups will love a leisurely afternoon on the beach or a trip to the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, which features rides, games and carnival food. Groups can also head to Moody Gardens, a 242-acre entertainment complex with an aquarium, replica rainforest biome with animals and the Discovery Museum. Moody Gardens also has theaters, a golf course and a lazy river. The city’s historic Strand and Post Office District offer opportunities to see Victorian architecture while shopping and dining.
Galveston has a variety of group-friendly restaurants that impress. At the Moody Gardens Hotel, groups will find Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks, which is known for dishes such as shrimp de Jonghe and lobster bisque. Hearsay on the Strand is known for craft cocktails and its chic décor, while Fisherman’s Wharf offers harbor views and some of the freshest seafood in Galveston. For German fare that can be enjoyed on a rooftop terrace or indoor beer garden, groups can try Stuttgarden Tavern.
Cruise lines like Disney, Holland America, Princess, Norwegian and Celebrity dock at the Port of San Diego for voyages to incredible destinations in the South Pacific, Central America and South America. This port city offers visitors plenty of attractions and activities to enjoy in Southern California.
When in San Diego, groups can spot the beautiful wildlife of the Pacific with San Diego Whale Watch, a whale watching excursion off the coast that may also include sightings of seals, sea lions, birds and dolphins. December through April is Gray Whale season, while Blue Whale season is June through October.
So Diego Tours offers themed tours of the city, ranging from the Tequila, Tacos and Tombstones Tour in Old Town to the Brothels, Bites and Booze Tour in the Gaslamp. For a narrated tour of the city, groups can check out Old Town Trolley Tours. Other group-friendly attractions include the San Diego Zoo, home to more than 650 species of animals, and the Birch Aquarium.
For fresh sushi and delightful cocktails under a cherry blossom or in a speakeasy setting, groups can head to Cloak and Petal, a chic restaurant in Little Italy. For a 180-degree view of downtown with their meal, Mister A’s is a newly renovated fine-dining restaurant. For an eclectic meal of tacos, margaritas and Mexican-style beers, Puesto is a trendy choice with indoor and outdoor seating.