Many travelers write off a cruise vacation as “a boat trip to some Caribbean Islands.” While we enjoy all kinds of travel, we find cruise ships a terrific way to explore some of the world’s most unique and out-of-the-way destinations.
The world is full of interesting places that are too difficult to reach to warrant using significant vacation time and dollars to visit. As day stops on a cruise itinerary, however, we can visit these places in a relatively affordable and luxurious manner.
Via a cruise ship, we’ve visited more than 175 ports and scenic cruising destinations around the world. Here are some of our favorite “out-of-the-way” destinations that we would not have visited without a being on cruise, as it would have taken too much time and money to travel to these places on our own.
Our 11 Favorite Out-of-the-Way Places Best Explored From a Cruise Ship
1. The Polar Ice Cap is not a cruise port, but we will remember for a lifetime the day we spent on a cruise ship immersed in the creaking and cracking of the “sea ice” floating on the water’s surface 508 nautical miles from the geographical North Pole. We sailed into the Polar Ice Cap on Holland America’s Prinsendam. Read more about the Polar Ice Cap in this Destination Discovery, this close-up view, and, from our friend the Happy Alaskan, 500 Miles from the North Pole.
2. Russell and Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand One of the far-flung destinations that Captain Cook visited on his sailing explorations, the Bay of Islands is located on the northern coast of New Zealand’s North Island. This area includes the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the British Crown signed a historic agreement with Maori chiefs in 1840. Nearby Russell features a beautiful harbor, homes with white picket fences, friendly locals and delicious fish and chips, making it hard to believe the town was once known as “the Hell Hole of the Pacific.” Read more about the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
3. Gibraltar Less than three square miles in size, this British-connected territory shares a somewhat contentious border with Spain. A cable car ride to the top of “The Rock” offers stunning views and close ups with the Barbary Apes. The Rock of Gibraltar contains more than 150 caves. The natural acoustics and colored lights make Cathedral Cave worth a visit. Hike back down the Rock for a different view of Gibraltar. See a close-up view of the Barbary Apes or learn more about our visit to Gibraltar.
4. Ballstad, Lofoten Islands, Norway What first appeared to be a rather boring port became a memorable day when we got on a local bus headed for the small fishing village fishing village of Ballstad. We discovered Arctic beer, cod drying racks and a postcard-perfect view in Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Read more on our visit to Ballstad, Lofoten Islands, Norway.
5. Glacier Bay, Alaska Despite the fact the Mr. Jones was born in Alaska and spent most of his first 35 years in the state, he had never experienced the majestic glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park until we got a close-up view on board the Veendam cruise ship. Learn more about the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
6. St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands A gorgeous island in the English Channel, located 30 miles from France and 70 miles from England , Guernsey is famous for a breed of cattle, preferred tax status, and German Occupation during WWII. Guernsey’s beauty has inspired creativity through the years –Victor Hugo penned Les Misérables here while Renoir produced 15 paintings. More recently, a holiday visit inspired Mary Ann Shafter to write New York Times bestseller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Guernsey is a delightful place to hike and/or enjoy a trip around the island via public bus. Read more about Guernsey or our visit via cruise ship.
7. Brønnøysund, Norway Before arriving at the port of Brønnøysund, we sailed by Torghatten Mountain, catching a view of the natural-occurring hole running through its center. Once in port, we took a shore excursion that allowed us to hike up to the mountain and through its “hole”. There’s a local legend about the hole in the mountain, and it involves a troll and a beautiful girl…. Read about “The Hole in the Mountain.”
8. Qaqortoq, Greenland Known as the world’s largest island (if you exclude continents), 81 percent of Greenland is covered by icecap. Most Greenlanders live along the narrow strip of barren rocky coast. The compact town of Qaqortoq is easily explored during a cruise ship visit – from the sculptures that artist have chiseling into the granite rocks to the unique Arctic Café with it seal skin-covered seats inside and a car coming out of its outside wall. The Great Greenland factory produces fur garments from seal skins, all available for purchase in the gift shop. Read more on Qaqortoq, Greenland.
9. Yalta, Ukraine A fairy tale castle perched on the cliff above the Black Sea is just one of the attractions in the near Yalta. When in the land of the Crimean Mountains one must visit the Alupka Palace where Winston Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference. On the Terrace of Lions you can pick out which of the six lions reminded Churchill of politicians. Hint: it’s the lazy, sleeping one. At a nearby wine hall, visitors can taste the area’s sweet, sherry-like Massandra wines. Learn more about the Swallow’s Nest, Alupka Palace and our visit to Yalta via cruise ship.
10. Funchal, Madeira Hop on a scenic cable car ride up the mountain to Monte, and then take a hand-guided wicker toboggan ride back down. Funchal is a scenic Portuguese island known for flowers and wine. It’s outermost region of the European Union and a welcome stop on a transatlantic cruise after five or six days at sea. Read more about Funchal, Madeira.
11. Saranda, Albania A closed communist country until 1990, we found Saranda, Albania to be an eye-opening place to visit for a day. From the spectacular waterfront beach area to the Blue Eye National Park — the former private retreat of Communist leaders — to the thousands of “pill box” bunkers still dotting the countryside, Saranda is geographically close to Corfu, Greece yet stunningly different. Read more about our Saranda, Albania visit.
What’s your favorite unique cruise destination? Please share in comments.
Some other cruise posts that you might enjoy:
- Photo Friday: Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland
- How to Get an Onboard Credit For Every Cruise You Take
- Visiting Alaska by Cruise Ship? Answers to Your 6 Top Questions
- Photo Friday: Inside the Oasis of the Sea
- 12 Favorite Desserts from Cruise Vacations
- Cruising the British Isles: Onboard the Prinsendam