🛳 All Aboard: The One with All the Sailaways
One of the best things about traveling on a cruise ship is the opportunity to see places from a unique vantage point. Sailing into and out of some of the world’s most picturesque ports offers a perspective that you would otherwise never get to experience.
Maneuvering a floating city through a narrow inlet is an impressive technological feat. Our ships average 78,000 tons. And given how much food they serve in the all-you-can-eat buffet, you can pretty much double that. So needless to say, the ship has to move very slowly. But that’s good for us, because it gives you time to really enjoy the scenery. And by moving forward or aft, port side or starboard, on deck or midship, you can enjoy it from several different angles.
Ship Tip: The top deck does not always offer the best perspective. Watching it from eye level on the promenade deck (Around Deck 7) is sometimes more impressive. You get a true sense of scale (and you give your overlooking-the-world-God-complex a rest!)
Here’s a list of the Top 10 Sailaways in the world:
In my humble (yet expert) opinion, Venice is by far the best port in the world to sail into and out of. The gentle curves of the canal, the iconic gothic architecture and the romantic color tones are unlike any other city on earth. I come from L.A. where I’m quite convinced the traffic is actually caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel because the architecture is so boring, so the beauty of Venice takes my breath away.
The ship is taller than the city itself, so going through the canal feels like sailing into Lilliput and all the Lilliputians come out to see the commotion. The ship has to go right through the heart of Venice—past St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, Santa Maria Cathedral and the world famous Grand Canal. Everything was so captivating that it took all of my willpower to keep from hailing the nearest gondola and jumping overboard.
And the good news is that it’s equally memorable no matter what the weather is like. When it’s sunny, the light illuminates the façades like a painting. Under rainy skies, the fresh puddles reflect the light from the streetlamps. It’s the theme of light and water that make Venice the most romantic city in the world. For me, 16th-century Venice is “La Belle Epoque.”
Like Aussies, the Sydney sailaway is tons of fun (and one of the longest at nearly an hour!) Sailing from the lesser-known White Bay Cruise Terminal, you get to do a few extra wheelies in front of downtown before even making it to Circular Quay.
What makes this an epic sail-away is that after sailing past the big scary clown of Luna Park, the ship blares its horn and goes right underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge–with a clearance of less than 9 feet (3m)!! And more often than not, there’s a group of lucky climbers on top of the bridge who wave down at us. (Thankfully, nobody has yet to jump onto the ship from there to try to get a free cruise—although, if they made that jump successfully, they would definitely be entitled to one!)
Coming off the high from the near-miss with the bridge, we go right past the iconic Sydney Opera House. I’ve done this during the day, at night, in the sun, and in the rain—and it never gets old. And it’s still only half over! For the remainder of the sail-away, there’s battleships, seaside parks, sailboats, and gorgeous cliffs.
Hot tip: If you look behind the ship, you’ll see the sun setting right behind the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Hot tip #2: It’s twice as fun if you’ve watched Finding Nemo first!
NEW YORK CITY, USA
The New York skyline is so tall that we may as well have been sailing in a dinghy. And it’s so famous that it can feel like there’s a little déja vu going on. But its reputation for energy is well-founded—I could feel it from all the way across the Hudson.
A 360* view from the top deck gives you all of New York’s greatest landmarks in one enormous view: the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and of course, the new Freedom Tower. We were even sailing over the exact spot where Captain Sully heroically landed Flight 1549.
To be honest, as a West Coast girl, I kind of always thought New York to be a teeny bit snobbish. But sailing along the island of Manhattan, I can see that they had a right to be. New York is bad ass! It’s technology, ingenuity, power, beauty and history all rolled up into one 22.8 square mile piece of land. And it didn’t hurt that we docked right next door to the U.S.S. Intrepid. As a movie buff, everything from “King Kong” to “You’ve Got Mail” went through my head. The New York vibe is infectious and I could feel it before we’d even arrived.
BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
Prepare yourself for the most vibrant, colorful sail-away on the planet. Think of a rainbow on steroids. The tall peak of Mont Otemanu overlooks the coral reef whose turquoise waters are so clear and vibrant, you can see straight through to the bottom. It’s an interesting mixture of uber-luxury (resort overwater bungalows) and authentic island life (locals riding scooters). And it’s also a tender port where the locals like to ride their little catamarans in the wake of the tenders like dolphins. You can see the exact spot where the open ocean meets the coral reef because the turquoise water slams into a wall of dark blue water. Then you sail directly into the sunset, which is always blood orange on the horizon. Bora Bora is paradise paradise.
Ironically, from far away, Santorini kinda looks like a big, black rock that’s covered in bird droppings. Of course, that could not be further from the truth. The beautifully white-washed city dazzles on the mountaintop in the sunlight. Sailing right into the volcanic caldera, you get a sense of how small it really is, but it’s this overlapping of buildings and people that creates the tight-knit, family culture that Greece is renown for.
The limestone heritage of Malta makes this is a truly unique sailaway. At dusk, it reflects the sunlight turning the city into a golden fortress. On top of the Saluting Battery sits 8 cannons. To punctuate our departure, they fire off the cannons as we sail by, which sends a resounding boom bouncing off of the limestone city. I’m quite sure this is a tourist attraction and not a genuine attempt to blow us out of the water. Either way, it is quite stunning.
Perhaps it’s because of its fame of being Titanic’s last port of call on April 11, 1912 that Cobh celebrates a cruise liner’s departure as if it were Mardi Gras. The quaintness of the town completely belies their party spirit. Literally hundreds—probably everybody in town—came out to see us off! Bands played music, choirs sang songs, children danced the Irish jig on the pier, and many waved posters and flags. They screamed and cheered as we pulled away from the dock and didn’t stop until we were well on our way. The people are as colorful as the town itself.
Istanbul is known as the port where Asia and Europe collide and its impressive skyline truly evokes that diversity. There are just as many catholic churches and domes to be seen as mosques. All of the spires from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are truly wondrous to behold from a distance. And if you have really good auditory perception, you can probably hear the evening call to prayer echo throughout the city. And if you have super-human olfactory senses, you may even still smell the spices from the Spice Market. A sailaway for the senses!
PORT CHALMERS, NEW ZEALAND
This sailaway from the Otago Peninsula is one of the most scenic in terms of natural landscape and wildlife. Everything about Port Chalmers is reminiscent of the Scottish highlands— from the old-fashioned town to the rolling green hills, to the livestock. There are more sheep grazing on the hillsides than there are passengers grazing in the buffet. Keeping an eye out for wildlife is essential for this sailaway! I have seen penguins, fur seals, dolphins, and albatross all patrolling this beautiful bay, almost like they don’t want to leave. Who can blame them?
Ushuaia (Beagle Channel), Argentina
Ushuaia is regarded as the southernmost city in the entire world, so naturally, it’s also the coldest! But for the landscape you get to see on the way in, it’s definitely worth it. The seaway to get into Ushuaia is called the Beagle Channel and it is littered with glaciers on both sides. Bright white in sunlight and Windex-blue under the clouds, the glaciers are a spectacular vision. Depending on the time of year, some are even melting, so you get the added benefit of a waterfall pouring out of a glacier. Then coming into the town itself, the towering snow-capped mountains surround you as far as the eye can see. This sail-away from the gateway of Antarctica is the kind that should be viewed in silence (although, teeth chattering is acceptable).
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA
This is a short but incredible all-in-one sail-away. You get a fantastically unique view of the beautiful San Francisco skyline, go past Alcatraz, and sail right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Skyscrapers, prisons and the Golden Gate Bridge—it doesn’t get much more American than that.
The architecture is so innovative that it pushes the boundaries of modern physics; it’s quite astounding to see from the ocean. And on the way out, there are literally hundreds of cargo ships anchored outside the harbor waiting their turn to go in. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was a live-action game of Battleship.