It’s a common enough phrase, and it’s increasingly in usage in the travel business. “It’s a small world,” has applied ever since Mr Boeing and his jet-plane friends sent ever-larger numbers of people flying around the world with greater and greater rapidity.
The world has, indeed, become distinctly ‘small’ in many senses as travel has become easier and more affordable, and the same is true for most holiday brochures, which can seemingly take you anywhere and anyhow.
Incidentally, we owe the Spanish a debt for the actual phrase itself. They have been using the adage for several centuries, as ‘El mundo es un panuelo,’ which literally means ‘The world is a handkerchief,’ but has been paraphrased to the one we know today. Personally, we like the idea of world-as-hankie, if only for the notion we could keep it in our pocket for safe keeping. But we digress…
Small worldism is definitely a thing in travel terms, but not, thankfully, in the wide world of cruising. Not only does our favourite holiday type continue to come up with new ships and new style, it is still able to come up with new destinations, too.
Even in places like the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, where you could be forgiven for thinking that cruising has pretty much maxed out, there are still new corners being unveiled for the delectation of ship passengers, and, for every port that sees four, five and even six ships arrive on busy days, there are dozens more that are relatively unexplored and just waiting to be discovered.
For many years, the British Isles themselves were seen only as a place to cruise FROM, but now they are very much in vogue as a place to cruise TO, with most lines offering a summer experience of sailing around the UK to places like the Orkneys and Shetlands, the Isle of Man, Belfast and Holyhead.
By the same token, the island of Mallorca was typically only an embarkation point for cruise lines trying to avoid the crowds of Barcelona, but now it makes for a destination in its own right, with any of Azamara Club Cruises, Royal Caribbean, MSC, Costa, Norwegian, Celebrity, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Oceania, Windstar and SeaDream featuring the Balearic jewel at some stage in the summer months.
With that in mind, you might well be looking to stay one step ahead of the sea-going crowd, in which case we have five solid recommendations for visiting a port that has yet to become popular with the mainstream, and which you can still enjoy in relative authenticity.
Sweden’s second city has long held considerable appeal for tourists, and an important role as a sea port, but it is usually by-passed by most cruise ships en route to the brighter lights of Stockholm on typical Baltic voyages. Step forward the likes of Seabourn, Viking, MSC and Cunard, who all have the picture-postcard-pretty port on their radar these days. Not only is Gothenburg the home of the country’s top tourist attraction – the Liseberg amusement park – it is absolutely packed with small-scale delights, from art galleries and cafes to museums and churches, notably the iconic 203ft tower of Masthuggs Church.
Don’t Miss: The funky Haga district, with its 17th century core, cobbled streets, vintage buildings and trendy shops. This is the place to stop at a pavement café and watch the world go by, surrounded by charming architecture and historic trappings, dating back to 1648.
Asia as a region is seeing the biggest growth in general cruise terms, which means there is a whole raft of relatively undiscovered ports waiting to be explored. Chief among them might be the UNESCO World Heritage site of Penang, Malaysia’s grand colonial era gem in the north-west of the country. A city state split between the island of Penang and the mainland section of Seberang Perai, it boasts a wealth of ornate landmarks, gardens and heritage from several centuries of foreign influence, including British, Arabic and Chinese cultures, creating a wonderful mélange of East and West.
Don’t Miss: The heart of the UNESCO-branded site includes the Streets of George Town, where you can try a variety of walking tours – or even bicycle and trishaw rides – through its 230 years of fascinating history. Be sure to check out the amazing street art and food!
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Not so much a port of call as a small region nestling between the crook of Baja California and the Mexican mainland, this plankton-rich stretch of water is a wildlife-lover’s paradise. Sprinkled with small islands and very little in the way of built-up urban areas, it is very much the laid-back gentle side of the cruise world, hence it has largely been the preserve of expedition-style cruises up to recently, but is now featured by Azamara and Princess as well as luxury operators Crystal and Regent. The big lure is the sealife – masses of it – from whales and sea-lions to a stunning variety of tropical fish, which underscores why Jacques Cousteau dubbed this area “the world’s aquarium.”
Don’t Miss: The chance to swim with whale sharks and experience some of the richest sea biodiversity in the world.
Because of its long-distance travel requirements, southern Africa has not been a rich playground for the cruise world, until recent years when the luxury lines have made a habit of including South Africa on their more exotic itineraries. Some of those now include Mozambique, on the Indian Ocean, and capital city Maputo. Much of the former colonial Portuguese era may now be fading, but the modern side of Maputo is a rich mix of European and Bantu cultures, and it makes for a heady and different travel experience, full of markets and little museums, that you will struggle to fit into a day’s visit.
Don’t Miss: A guided tour to the Central Market, for an amazing range of curios and other local handicrafts, usually at excellent prices, and a dazzling array of fresh produce, some of which you might struggle to identify!
You might think that the main countries of the Med would be played out by now, with little that is new or exciting to discover. Step forward the chic port of Portoferraio, gateway to the island of Elba. It was here, in 1814, that the Treaty of Fontainebleau sent Napoleon into exile on this Italian outcrop 160 miles south of France. Trying to isolate Bony there wasn’t the best idea the Allies ever came up with, but visiting it today most definitely is for its distinctive island culture, which remains Italian but with French undertones. The countryside is wonderfully verdant and the towns all display vibrant 16th century roots, notably in the massive Medici fortifications overlooking the harbour. Each of Windstar, Regent and Oceania will take you here, too.
Don’t Miss: Napoleon’s ‘summer house,’ in the hinterland behind Portoferraio, his place of exile for just 10 months but still rich in 19th century pomp and circumstance.
Okay, those are our Top 5 for 2018, but what ports do you think deserve the ‘up-and-coming’ label. Let us know in the Comments section below.