Cruise passengers often miss out on evening attractions in ports, but there’s now a trend towards late-night and even overnight stays.
On a typical cruise, a ship spends a day in port, with passengers back on board by late afternoon and sailing away as the sun sizzles into the sea. Goodbye tapas bars and evening strolls, evening concerts and cultural events, and the pleasure of illuminated monuments and moonlit meandering.
Cities after dark have seldom been part of the cruise experience, but that is changing as cruise lines increasingly look to adding both late-night departures and overnight stays to port schedules. In its 2016-17 cruise season, for example, Celebrity Cruises offered 86 overnights and four double overnights. This season, that has rocketed to 236 overnights in 55 cities, with 31 double overnights in 10 ports.
Many cruise lines are supplying passengers with a more rounded port experience that includes time after sunset. Azamara Club Cruises has introduced at least one AzAmazing Evening on every sailing, Princess Cruises has launched a More Ashore program, and Celebrity Cruises has Evenings Around the World, all of which offer the likes of theatre or concert performances, restaurant visits and other evening activities.
The trend is accelerating in river cruising, too. Crystal River Cruises has two overnight stays on its new seven-day Danube cruises from this year – in Passau, Vienna or Budapest – and also overnights in cities such as Amsterdam, Koblenz, Cologne and Basel on the Rhine River.
The range of ports in which night owls and the adventurous can spend an evening is impressive. Oceania Cruises lingers in Benoa (Bali), Hong Kong, Yangon, Jerusalem and Venice, among many other destinations; Celebrity overnights in ports such as Cartagena, Cozumel and Barbados on some 40 different Caribbean cruises; Silversea lingers in Halong Bay and Ho Chi Minh City. Celebrity Cruises overnights in party-mad, late-night destinations such as Barcelona and Ibiza, and closer to home has introduced overnights in Hobart and Tauranga.
Viking Cruises features overnight stays in departure and arrival ports such as Bergen, Barcelona, Civitavecchia (Rome), New York and this year adds Mumbai and Bangkok. When its ships dock overnight at Greenwich in London, passengers can opt for an evening tour that takes in floodlit icons such as the Houses of Parliament and a light-twinkled ride on the London Eye. Alternatively, you could just go ashore independently and take in a West End show or hit the nightclubs – a refreshing change from just floating off into the sunset for an evening at sea.
Azamara has a particularly comprehensive overnight selection thanks to its ethos of ”destination immersion”. On some itineraries, half its port calls are made overnight. Across the 250 ports on its recently announced 2019 itineraries, there are 94 overnight and 145 late-night stays. Among them, new cruises to Cuba spend the night in Havana – a chance to salsa the evening away – and other Caribbean ports such as Cozumel in Mexico and Caldera in Costa Rica.
Port overnights aren’t just about evening enjoyment. They’re also being rolled out in response to passenger frustration at not being able to see culture-dense cities in a single day. As a result, ports such as Barcelona, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Rio, Shanghai, Singapore and Venice now see ships docking overnight to allow for two full days of exploration. Celebrity Cruises started offering a triple whammy in St Petersburg from last year. The double overnight provides reasonable time to take in the considerable attractions of the Russian port, as well as summer palaces in the surrounds and evening excursions to classic concerts or ballet.
Silversea, Azamara and Seabourn Cruise Line are among companies that take the concept further, offering mid-journey excursions that include hotel nights, with passengers often re-joining the cruise at its next port of call. This allows for exploration of major inland attractions otherwise missed on ocean-going cruises. Cunard, for example, has excursions to the Great Wall and Terracotta Amy out of Hong Kong, while Royal Caribbean International has multi-day excursions in destinations such as Greece, Thailand, Guatemala and New Zealand. No need for ships that pass in the night. If you care to linger longer, there should be a cruise for you.