Can you be a world traveler and a homebody at the same time? Not really, but nearby cruise departure ports make it easy to meld these disparate lifestyles in the most delightful way. Cruise departure ports in the Northeast are percolating with the world’s most alluring ships – everything from stately liners like Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, which promises transatlantic crossings as well as epic voyages circumnavigating the globe to Carnival’s lavish “Fun Ships” that readily turn long weekends into opportunities for exploration.
And finding their floating doorsteps couldn’t be easier. Skip the pricey, time-consuming plane travel and simply drive to the cruise terminal. Forgo the stress of counting and weighing suitcases, too, because ships don’t impose luggage fees. Then, walk up the gangway, unpack once and let the parade of interesting places unfold. The boat becomes your mobile lair, a familiar touchstone while you delight in a few new experiences.
Northeast cruise departure ports
Our area boasts four cruise departure ports – one in Boston, one in Bayonne, N.J., (Cape Liberty) and two in New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn). New York’s Manhattan terminal stands out as the busiest, serving more than a million passengers annually. Not surprisingly, the iconic sail-away from Manhattan ranks as a rite-of-passage for travelers and never fails to unwind like a cinematographer’s dream. Ships glide down the Hudson River alongside a humming city stacked with skyscrapers, passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty before ducking under the Verrazzano Bridge and hitting the open ocean.
Manhattan, Brooklyn and Cape Liberty host cruise ships year-round, while Boston has seasonal appeal from April through November. Popular round-trip itineraries head north along the sea-bitten coastlines of Canada and New England, south to the sun-kissed Caribbean or Bermuda, and east toward Europe’s countless treasures.
Homeport cruises make impromptu escapes effortless. Plus, flexible travelers can scout last-minute deals. Neophytes get the opportunity to test their sea legs without making a major investment, while avid cruisers can parlay savings into a longer itinerary or even an extra voyage. Since all major lines sail from our cruise departure ports, it’s also worth noting homeport cruises present the perfect opportunity to sample different seafaring styles, especially upscale options that might be within reach considering the resources spared getting to the ship.
Onboard amenities abound
No doubt homeport cruising ups the ante on an already value-packed vacation that includes transportation, lodging, dining and onboard entertainment. And when it comes to the latter, don’t be afraid to think big and then go even bigger. Boats bobbing in our drive-to ports tout everything from ice-skating rinks (Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas) and go-kart tracks (Norwegian Bliss) to bumper cars and sky-diving simulators (both on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas). Anthem also sports a glass observation pod that dangles passengers above the ocean. Dubbed North Star, it holds the Guinness World Record for “Highest Viewing Deck on a Cruise Ship.” You’ll find seafaring outposts of America’s Test Kitchen on Holland America ships and Canyon Ranch spas aboard boats from Oceania and Celebrity. Want more? The Queen Mary 2 actually totes a planetarium! And Disney Magic has Captain Mickey at the helm with all his famous friends.
Savor creations from celebrity chef Curtis Stone in the main dining rooms aboard Regal and Caribbean Princess or bite into some “real deal” BBQ on Carnival Sunrise, where Food Network star Guy Fieri has crafted menus for Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse. For a tech-savvy culinary extravaganza, complete with a tiny animated chef that will treat your plate like an artist’s palette, Celebrity Summit’s Qsine restaurant beckons. Plus, Anthem enlists bionic bartenders to mix the perfect nightcap.
Ships that sail from Boston
Itinerary developments include more departures from Boston, which also has started attracting newer vessels such as Norwegian Gem. Gem sails to Canada and New England as well as the Caribbean, but mostly offers seven-night cruises to the blushing beaches of Bermuda. Holland America maintains a strong Beantown presence as well, with three ships set to dock in the city. Supplementing the expected itineraries, Zuiderdam proposes a 35-day round-trip “Voyage of the Vikings” that highlights Iceland and Norway.
New Jersey cruises
Cape Liberty homeports ships from Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, namely the recently refurbished Celebrity Summit as well as Adventure of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. Summit’s enhancements include dreamy cashmere mattresses, private retreats for suite guests and a marketplace-inspired lido buffet. The ship delivers the most comprehensive round-trip cruises to Canada and New England from our area. Summit also boasts an Independence Day cruise with an overnight in Boston on the Fourth of July and in Halifax on Canada’s birthday.
With its year-round deployment in Cape Liberty, Anthem is a great go-to ship that brings a bit of everything to the table for frequent cruisers. Its Florida and Bahamas itinerary visits Royal Caribbean’s private island, CocoCay, which is scheduled to complete a major makeover in May (think overwater bungalows, helium balloon rides, the Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool and North America’s tallest waterslide). Looking further ahead, in 2020 Cape Liberty will homeport Oasis of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world.
Big Apple departures
NCL gets credit for initiating the Big Apple homeport trend with the year-round deployment of its then-new ship, Norwegian Dawn, to Manhattan in 2003. This year a refurbished Dawn returns along with five additional NCL ships, including Norwegian Bliss, the line’s newest. (Next year, the yet-to-debut Norwegian Encore, complete with an Atlantis-themed laser tag arena and a stage production of the Tony-winning Broadway show Kinky Boots, spends time homeporting in Manhattan as well.) That’s quite a commitment, and it pays off with diverse itineraries. For island-lovers, NCL’s 14-day Caribbean voyages can’t be beat. The itineraries string together a chain of sublime tropical outposts, from lush Saint Lucia to arid Aruba. Enjoy swimming with velvety stingrays atop a sandbar in Grand Cayman or roaming Old San Juan’s cobbled lanes in Puerto Rico.
Other noteworthy departures from Manhattan include a series of long-weekend getaways to Bermuda and a 14-day cruise with a partial transit of the Panama Canal, all aboard Carnival Sunrise (formerly Triumph), which earns its new name this spring following a radical overhaul. Disney sails from Manhattan, too, proposing spooky “Halloween on the High Seas” voyages to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Canada. For something decidedly more adult, Oceania’s Insignia delivers an upscale taste of Bermuda via a smaller ship. The week-long itinerary splits time between the capital of Hamilton and quaint St. George, two ports bigger ships can’t squeeze into. Aside from pink-sand beaches, you’ll find Bermuda contains more green golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Although it’s been open for more than a decade, Brooklyn ranks as the newest cruise departure port in our area. Ships from Cunard and Princess homeport there, which makes it the place to embark on a bucket-list transatlantic journey aboard QM2. You can sail eastbound and westbound to complete the loop or opt for an itinerary that incorporate a few ports in Europe before returning. Caribbean Princess also promises a buzz-worthy new itinerary, a 16-day voyage visiting Canada and Greenland.
Just thinking about the possibilities makes me root, root, root for the homeports!