Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Wed September 30 2015

Opinion Home | Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

  • Amber Nolan | September 30, 2015 1:00 AM ET

    5 Favorite Close-to-Home Cruise Ship Ports

    5 Favorite Close-to-Home Cruise Ship Ports

    PHOTO: Key West. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

    Every cruise port offers a different experience for passengers that can leave lasting memories behind. As an avid cruiser, I have visited many ports around the globe, but these are my favorite close-to-home ports that larger cruise ships call on.

    Juneau, Alaska

    Alaska’s capital city can only be accessed by air or by sea, and offers convenience, beauty and plethora of unique outdoor attractions. Cruise ships line up at the pier in the heart of downtown — making it easy to explore right from the ship.

    Juneau is perhaps one of the coziest capitals in America and feels like a small frontier town. Besides the candy shops, swinging door saloons (like the ever popular Red Dog Saloon), Juneau has several natural attractions.

    For starters, it is located in a rainforest with hiking trails that begin right in city center, winding past waterfalls and old gold mine shafts. Whale watching cruises, scenic flights, dogsledding, zip lining and glaciers round out the list of popular excursions in the city.

    St. Maarten/St. Martin

    Split in two by the Dutch and French, St. Maarten/St. Martin is a tropical slice of Europe infused with island flavor. The monster-sized port in Phillipsburg has a built-up tourism center with shops and restaurants, but visitors can also explore further into the city and stroll along the boardwalk lined with vendors.

    Take in the spectacle (and some photos) of the famous low-flying airliners soaring over beachgoers next to the airport, also providing a blast of sand on takeoff. Rent a car or ATV and cruise around the entire island, stopping at hidden coves or — on St. Martin — a clothing-optional beach. The village of Marigot boasts darling French cafes with outdoor seating, local markets and gorgeous views.

    Bar Harbor, Maine

    The experience of this iconic coastal New England port left me wanting to pack up and move to Maine. Adjacent to Acadia National Park with small, wooded islands serving as a backdrop, Bar Harbor is a peaceful setting that is even more stunning during fall.

    The cruise ship’s tender pier is perched in the center of town, where fresh lobster rolls are served at waterfront harbor restaurants. Shops here are more genuine and though you’ll still find the typical souvenir stores, there’s also an abundance of local art studios, woodworking shops, homemade jams, candies and baked goods.

    Key West, Florida

    Also known as the Conch Republic, Key West is a laid-back hub for creative individuals as well as those looking for a party. Cruises dock right next to Mallory Square where the famous sunset celebration takes place.

    Passengers can easily explore both the Historic Seaport and Duval Street, the famous strip lined with bars, restaurants and plenty of live music. Renting bicycles for the day is also an excellent way to see the city.

    But getting out on the water is a must.

    A fishing boat charter might land you the big one, or try Clearly Unique charters for clear-bottom kayak and snorkeling trips. I fell in love with Key West right away, and I actually did pack up and move there.

    Freeport, Bahamas

    Freeport gets a bad reputation because of the cruise port’s remote location in an area surrounded by industrial factories. It makes my list because Grand Bahama Island is one of the best places to rent a car (or scooter) and go off on an adventure.

    Right off the bat, the first fun challenge is remembering to drive on the left, followed by deciding which little isolated beach shack to saddle up at. The island is lined with idyllic, hidden restaurants that serve up conch fritters and Bahama Mamas.

    Walk up from the sand to find your seat under swaying palm trees — there’s usually only a handful of patrons. In addition, Grand Bahama has outstanding diving opportunities and is developing as an ecotourism hot spot, with Lucayan National Park topping the list of gorgeous locales.


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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