Have you ever been on a cruise? I am going to be honest, we haven’t.
That is, unless you count a two day boat trip around Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and the odd boaty border crossing. It has just never appealed. I can see the joys of travelling the Nile or the Norwegian fjords for myself, and I can see that island hopping is convenient, especially for those with reduced mobility. However, I do find myself wondering if you miss out on so much when you stop for a few hours and then move on, and I know that many cruise ports fall victim to the ten minute curse!
Karl and I have been to a few popular cruise spots on our travels, and I’ve picked to show you what lies beyond the port.
- Cozumel, Mexico
- Miami, USA
- La Coruna, Spain
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Naples, Italy
Firstly, What is the Ten Minute Curse?
- Take a compass (the circle drawing one, not the navigational one) and a map.
- Work out the distance you can walk in ten minutes.
- Place the point of the compass on the cruise pier and draw a semicircle.
Within this semicircle, prices will be higher, food will be worse, touts will be more persistent and a location’s personality will be distinctly dulled. Slightly bland, with a generic face designed to make cruise passengers smile. But step outside this boundary, or even better, spend a night, and you will have the chance to get under the skin of the place.
The first place to look in Cozumel is beneath your cruise ship. Cozumel is home to the most fabulous collection of diving spots. Reefs surround this diminutive island. It is surprisingly easy to forget that huge, hulking cruise ships lie just around the headland when you are suspended in incredibly clear water, watching a school of tropical fish shimmering past.
A short ferry ride from Cozumel lies the resort area of Riviera Maya. Unlike its bolder, brasher sister up the coast, Riviera Maya has a more European feel. There is a two mile walking street that is well-suited for an evening stroll. There is a huge choice of places to eat and drink, including a complete copy of the bar where the mojito was invented. Surely worth a stop just for a quick cocktail.
Venture onwards from here and you can see some of the most marvellous Inca ruins. Inland, and a coach ride away, sits one of the Wonders of the World; Chichen Itsa. These ruins could take a whole day to wander around. Down the coast is the quieter Tulum, a temple in the most striking setting, perched on a cliff above a pristine white beach. Simply divine.
City lovers take note. If you fly in, spend one night in Miami and get up early to head off to your ship, you are missing out! Miami has the most fantastic layered history, and it’s yours to discover.
The first, and most striking architecture you are bound to notice, is the art deco facades along South Beach. Built in the 1930s, these white edifices can be deciphered by visiting the Art Deco Museum or by taking one of many walking tours. Suddenly you will notice little hints everywhere.
If you are flying from Europe or further east, make the most of your jet lag and get down the to beach for sunrise. Miami beach faces directly East and makes for a stunning morning view. If you are feeling particularly restless, there is a boardwalk that runs from 22nd Street up to 47th. Enjoy a morning walk or run before the city heats up.
Little Havana is the place to go for delicious Cubanos, sandwiches stuffed with ham, pork, cheese, whatever you fancy. The large Cuban population keep the streets bumping with music and celebrations here are full of Latin rhythms.
La Coruna, Spain
La Coruna sits on the often overlooked North-Western coast of Spain, in Galicia. The town is the most fantastic walking town. In fact, the whole place takes to the streets at dusk chatting with friends, holding hands with loved ones and popping into tapas bars for a quick snack (octopus is a local delicacy). By this point in the evening, the cruise ships have left and it’s only those with a room overnight who get to join in. You may be lucky enough to be staying in a hotel with a traditional balcony, a glaeria. These are enclosed by glass and give the city its moniker “the City of Glass”.
The next day, you could visit the original Zara on the lovely shopping street (prices here are far lower than in the UK or USA), or walk along to coast for the beaches and the ancient lighthouse Torre de Hercules. This has been working as a lighthouse since the Romans built it! Or drive half an hour to Santiago de Compostela, famous as the end of el Camino Frances. Observe the pilgrims who have walked a whopping 509 miles to reach this cathedral. Every day at 12:00 a mass is held for them.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
A short walk from the cruise port in San Juan is an old fort that defended the city from sea invasion. It was built in the 18th century by the Spanish to keep control of important trading routes. A hundred years later, it was lost to the USA who added to it when they entered WWII. Unlock all these different layers as you wander around.
Gaze across the bay and you may see a huge white factory building, this is Casa Bacardi. If you jump in a cab, or take a boat from Old San Juan, you can visit this distillery. There are several different packages, but we favour the one that comes with two cocktails. The tour takes you through an interactive experience that celebrates rum. The company moved here from Havana when communism became the order of the day. It is a most excellent way to spend an afternoon!
If this hasn’t quite whet your whistle enough, stick around and have a pina colada in the country that invented them. Moreno’s spot does a huge pineapple full of the delicious cocktail. After you’ve polished off the booze, you can finish hollowing out the fruit for the rest of the evening. Sticky, sweet and fun.
Finally, if you have a few days, venture out to Vieques, Puerto Rico’s little sister island. As well as having fantastic secluded beaches, hidden at a spot called Mosquito Bay is the most magical phenomenon; a bay that glitters with bio-luminescence. You can take kayak tours out on the bay and I promise, it will be one of the most wonderful things you will ever do.
OK, so Naples itself isn’t the most amazing spot, but it surrounded by some phenomenal places so I really would urge you to take the time to get out and explore.
Around the bay of Naples, you will find Mount Vesuvius. This sleeping mound will take you just half an hour to ascend and the views across the bay are superb. People do mention the sulphurous smell, but it reminds you that you are scaling a volcano, not just a hill. From here you can see the next point of interest, the town it destroyed.
Pompeii was buried by a huge pyroclastic flow when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. This preserved the Roman town so incredibly that you can see murals on the wall, launderettes, main squares, and even terrified townspeople. It is a truly fascinating place. Let your imagination go free and get a guide to splash it with colour.
Finally, just around the headland is the town of Sorrento. This is one of the most picturesque spots along the Amalfi coast. A town perched on a cliff. I spent a week here many moons ago and it still has one of my favourite views in the world looking back towards Vesuvius. It is also possible to take a trip to the island of Capri from here, another spectacular spot.
I know we need to try a cruise one day, I’m sure we will. And if you are taking a ship from any of these places, hopefully you’ll take the time to explore them too.