Sometimes your itinerary calls for your ship to act as a stationary hotel, either by resting in the embarkation port for the first night of the cruise or overnighting mid-cruise. This lets you venture out and make the most of a night in a great city by people-watching, dining locally and taking in a performance. This isn't the time to nickel-and-dime; yes, dinner and shows onboard are "free," but an overnight call is your only chance to experience authentic after-hours attractions in your destination with no curfew.
Yet wandering around a foreign city in the dark can be intimidating, and many avid cruisers are unused to touring at night. The two biggest questions on their minds are:
What should I do? Dinner and a show is an unbeatable combo, or enjoy a city's club scene and scenic nighttime views from rooftop bars. Depending on the port, some lines offer evening excursions, which take on a completely different flavor than daytime excursions; think tango show in Buenos Aires or a dinner at Istanbul's Kiz Kulesi (Maiden's Tower) Restaurant, which is located on the Bosporus and dates back 2,500 years.
How do I get around? Cabs are the obvious choice but note that different cities have different rules for hiring taxis; in some cities, you can only find a ride at a designated taxi stand or with the assistance of a helpful hotel bellman. Far-flung and exotic need not spell difficulty: For example, Singapore is one of the world's easiest places to hail cabs, while water taxis in Venice are pricy, and catching the last vaporetto (water bus) back to port might mean being forced to stand elbow-to-elbow with other night owls.
All in all, a round trip car service, with the fee arranged before you fly off to your embarkation port -- or at the port itself -- gives you peace of mind. This is especially true if the forecast calls for rain, when cabs suddenly get scarce. (Rarely are a city's premier attractions within walking distance of the ship, and ports aren't always located in the safest or most well-lit neighborhoods.)
To give you some ideas for great ways to spend your late-night hours in port, here's a late-afternoon-to-evening guide to some of the most popular overnight ports on five continents.
Updated January 8, 2020
Venice's traghetti (stripped-down old gondolas that ferry passengers across the canal) provide an inexpensive way to get the gondola experience; the boats are accessible from seven different locations. Note: Traghetti are available during daylight hours and there is no official timetable.
Cross over from Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) to serene Dorsoduro to visit the renowned Peggy Guggenheim Collection (open until 6 p.m., closed on Tuesdays). Once back in San Marco's, Cafe Florian is a must. A Venetian institution, it dates from 1720 and holds the title as Venice's oldest coffeehouse. Be warned that it will set you back between 6 and 18 euros for an espresso or specialty coffee, but it's worth it to soak up the elegant and historic atmosphere.
If you only have one night and want to dine canalside but avoid tourist traps, family-owned da Rafaelle is a great choice. Located just a few short blocks from Piazza San Marco, the restaurant is also a stone's throw from the S.M. Giglio vaparetto station. Make sure you reserve early to score a waterside table on the balcony, and feast on pasta, crostini, scampi and polenta.
Piazza San Marco is known for its dueling orchestras. Stroll the square to hear the sounds of the quartets, or have a seat within earshot, and enjoy a gelato or aperitif. For more highbrow entertainment, the spectacular La Fenice opera house features performances of "La Traviata," "Madama Butterfly," "The Barber of Seville" and the like, and tickets can be booked online in advance.
Wandering along the colorful chophouses in Chinatown would be entertainment enough, but luckily one of Singapore's oldest and finest Hindu temples is also located there. Sri Mariamman, which has evening hours (6 to 9 p.m.), is composed of six tiers of deities and other figures. Inside, discover a multigenerational scene of serene worship and incense.
A visit to Singapore wouldn't be complete without sampling the varieties of the Singapore Sling, which is synonymous with the Raffles Hotel. Note: The hotel is currently closed for restoration and is due to reopen mid-2018. Until then, the legendary cocktail is being served at a pop-up Long Bar next to the Raffles gift shop.
Afterward, pick up souvenirs at the Bugis Street night market, which is open until 10 p.m. Walk around the edge of the bay to take photos of the famous Merlion fountain, cross the bridge and end your night at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Singapore's national performing arts complex. Check listings for tours of Broadway shows like "West Side Story."
Soft, white sand, aquamarine water, beautiful bodies: Miami boasts some of the best beaches in America. Serene Key Biscayne appeals to families, solitude-seekers and those who don't mind driving a bit. South Beach entices with its Art Deco architecture, windy coastal park and beach concessions (rent chairs and umbrellas) that stay open until 6 p.m.
Identical twin chefs, Nicola and Fabrizio Carro, from the Piedmont region of Italy, serve up flawless Northern Italian cuisine in Quattro Gastronomia Italiana. Standouts in this Lincoln Road hot spot include the caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, classic Milanese veal cutlet and the homemade tagliolini with Maine lobster. Leave yourself enough time to wander and people-watch on pedestrian-only Lincoln Road, with its nightclubs, outdoor cafes and Books & Books, South Beach's literary treasure.
Have a nightcap on Ocean Drive, where cafe after cafe entertains international crowds with live Gypsy Kings-style music. Alternatively, head to the nightly dinner and show at Mango's in South Beach, which recreates a Caribbean and South American carnival atmosphere.
The Recoleta is one of the city's best barrios (neighborhoods) for exploring. The shopping is exceptional (Fendi, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Cartier), the architecture ornately Parisian.
Buenos Aires is justifiably proud of its beef, and La Cabana, established in 1935, is one of the city's finest steakhouses, serving up prime cuts of Kobe beef, steak tartare and beef carpaccio, as well as local delicacies like chorizo blossoms, veal sweetbreads and empanadas.
Started in the late 1880s when scores of European immigrants sought their fortune in Buenos Aires, tango runs through the city's veins. Showcasing tango's beginnings to the present day, the Piazzolla Tango dinner show is on every night and includes a dance class.
To fully appreciate the spirit of Sydney-siders, catch some rays and watch the surfers at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Then experience the one-of-a-kind Bondi Icebergs Club, which is both an athletic and culinary destination. Take a dip in the ocean-fed lap pools, and grab a steam bath and a workout, or a brew and a meal.
Perched over the waves and the pools, the Bistro, the Unsinkable Bar and the Sundeck Bar offer fresh seafood like grilled barramundi fillet, fettuccini with chili prawns and the Icebergs Seafood Platter for Two, which boasts beer-battered flathead, squid, mussels in tomato, garlic and chilli, and half-shell scallops with melted cheese.
Iconic for its architecture, which evokes pristine white sails or shells (depending on one's perspective), the Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its performers include Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company, the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. "Aida" and "La Boheme" are perennial opera favorites and tickets can be booked online.
Built in 1856 as a warehouse for the Royal Navy, with one clock telling the time and the other giving the time of the next high tide, the Clocktower Mall in Hamilton, Bermuda, is now a premier shopping destination with shops and art galleries. Take a break at the adjoining Anchor Restaurant, Bar and Lounge, where dockyard workers used to eat their lunch in the 1800s and try dishes such as Bermuda fish chowder.
Savour the sunset over the famous pink sands with a cocktail at the 1609 Bar at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, named after the year that shipwrecked Sea Venture sailors settled the island. Try a Dark 'n' Stormy, made with Bermuda's own Gosling's Black Seal Rum and ginger beer.
If your ship is overnighting on a Wednesday, don't miss the Harbor Night celebration that takes place every Wednesday (May through September) on Front Street. The island's longest running and largest street festival features stalls filled with local art and crafts, food vendors and traditional Gombey dancers performing to the rhythmic beat of drums. Shops and restaurants stay open until late at night.
Cruise ships dock at Kahului on the north side of Maui, the second largest Hawaiian island. Stop by the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, the main shopping and entertainment destination in that area. It's also the transit hub for bus services around the island, where you can catch a ride to popular Lahaina. A one-hour ride away on the west side of the island, Lahaina was the historic capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845, and now offers shops, restaurants and tour providers selling sunset cruises and other activities.
No evening visit to Maui is complete without embracing the friendly "aloha" spirit at a luau. This traditional Hawaiian party features music, rhythmic hula and dramatic fire knife dancing, and a meal of local dishes including kalua pig cooked in an underground oven. Popular shows include the Myths of Maui Luau at the oceanfront Royal Lahaina Resort, and Drums of the Pacific at the Hyatt Regency. Alternatively, for something a little quieter, visit one of the many laid-back tiki bars on the beach and sip a mai tai as the sun goes down.