Exotic cruise ports crisscross the globe, but there are plenty of impressive port cities within the United States alone. While your departure port won't make or break your trip, a good homeport can certainly set the tone for the rest of your cruise. North American cruisers are lucky to have dozens of homeports to cruise from that suit their vacation needs. (A cruise port is considered a homeport if cruise ships regularly depart or arrive from that location.)
We rounded up the best homeports from across North America so you can plan your next cruise knowing you've picked the perfect jumping-off point.
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Best Homeport for Alaska Cruises
Positioned on the West Coast with easy access to the 49th State, Seattle is an all-around excellent port city and made the 2016 Editors' Picks list for best U.S. homeport. Sure, there are ports within the state of Alaska from which you can explore the Last Frontier, but if you're traveling from any of the Lower 48, a flight to and from Seattle is likely to be cheaper than an open-jaw fare (one-way) to or from Alaska. (Cruises from Seattle are more likely to be round trip.) Also, in a typical season, seven cruise lines sail to Alaska from Seattle, so there's plenty of choice in ships and itineraries. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (parent company of Norwegian, Oceania and Regent) is currently in a 15-year agreement with the Port of Seattle, which includes a multimillion-dollar expansion of the facilities.
Best Homeport for Caribbean Cruises
This is a tough one -- both PortMiami and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale offer warm-weather getaways to islands in every part of the Caribbean. But, only one port is currently offering long-awaited cruises to Cuba, and that cruise port is Miami -- Carnival Corporation's Fathom cruise line sails from Miami to the once-prohibited island. Before you even board the ship, you will feel Cuban (and Caribbean) influences throughout the Magic City. From the cuisine to the neighborhoods, Miami is bustling with its own Cuban flavor. Apart from that hot-ticket itinerary, you can take a short cruise to Jamaica; a weeklong cruise to Honduras, Belize and Mexico; or even a 22-night sailing through the Eastern and Western Caribbean with stops in Tortola, St. Lucia, Key West and Cozumel. Choice is not lacking.
Photo: Jorg Hackemann/Shutterstock
Best Homeport for Canada/New England Cruises
When you envision autumn in New England, what do you see? If you're like us it's cobblestone streets, historic buildings and seafood chowder -- plenty of it. Boston fits the bill for a charming port of embarkation or for a post-cruise stay, especially during the crisp fall months. Cruise lines such as Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn agree -- they all have ships that run sailings along the East Coast and up to Canada from August through October, leaving the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal at Cruiseport Boston. No trip to Beantown is complete without a jaunt down the Freedom Trail to check out sites like the Paul Revere House. Luckily, Boston is pretty walkable; a stroll from the cruise port to tourist areas like the aquarium is about 40 minutes.
Photo: Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock.com
Best Homeport for Easy Embarkation
Embarkation at Vancouver's Canada Place cruise terminal is generally quick and painless. Connected to the Pan Pacific Vancouver hotel, the facilities are easy to access for those who prefer to arrive in port a day or two early. The city is a cinch to navigate, even for the most directionally challenged, and most of the highlights -- Stanley Park, the Seawall, Granville Island and Gastown -- are within walking distance or accessible via a short cab ride. To the benefit of cruisers, our neighbor to the north sustains the cliche that Canadians are generally pretty friendly -- we found port officials and civilians alike to be extremely helpful in navigating the process of getting to the cruise terminal and boarding the ship.
Photo: Canada Place Corporation
Best Homeport for Families
Port Canaveral (Orlando)
When it comes to in-port services, Port Canaveral takes the cake. On property, visitors will find spots to camp, fish, shop, eat and lie on the beach. There's even a seven-story Exploration Tower, which houses an observation deck, a theater, educational exhibits and a gift shop. Plus, it's a great place to watch ships arrive and depart. And, let's address the elephant (er, mouse) in the room: The Port Canaveral cruise terminal is just an hour's drive away from Walt Disney World in Orlando. A stay at the park is a simple trip before or after your cruise; many Disney cruises even offer packages including your sailing and a visit to Disney World. For all these reasons, traveling with little ones or a multigenerational group is made easier, plus there are plenty of other nearby activities and accommodations.
Best Homeport for Exploration
The Port of San Francisco is in the heart of the city. Walking the Embarcadero, where the cruise port is located, you're positioned along the picturesque waterfront and also nearby many of the city's appealing attractions and neighborhoods. Check out Lombard Street, with its wacky hairpin turns, the historic Cable Car Museum or the Cupid's Span statue. There's also Fisherman's Wharf, the Exploratorium and the Ferry Building. Haight-Ashbury, where hippie culture supposedly got its start, is a 20-minute drive away. Even more of a bonus, after departing on your ship you get a great sail-away under the Golden Gate Bridge.
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Best Homeport for Choice of River and Ocean Cruises
We cheated on this one a little. At this time, New Orleans is the only U.S. city with a cruise port that serves both river cruise lines and oceangoing cruise ships. Enjoy a stay in the Big Easy before or after your cruise -- either to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, or up the Mississippi River. Carnival, Norwegian and luxury cruise line Crystal, all set sail for Mexico and the Caribbean from New Orleans. Alongside them, American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Company deploy paddle wheelers along the Mississippi to ports like Baton Rouge and Vicksburg. The homeport shows no signs of slowing for either ocean cruise ships or riverboats. New Orleans has signed an agreement with Cuba that opens the way for future cruises, and Viking River Cruises has said it plans to sail Mississippi voyages within the next few years. On the other side of the Mississippi, new river cruise line, French America Line, has debuted river itineraries from Gretna, a town outside of New Orleans.
Photo: Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock.com
Best Homeport for Overall Cruise Line Variety
Again, while Port Everglades hosts an impressive number of cruise passengers each year, Miami can't be beat when it comes to sheer quantity of cruise ships. If you're looking for a homeport that provides a variety of sailing experiences departing from the same place, no one comes close to PortMiami. The port hosts about 42 cruise ships from 18 cruise lines; if you've considered sailing a specific cruise line, chances are, they have a ship here. The port has such a strong reputation that Virgin Voyages, the maritime brainchild of mogul Richard Branson, is scheduled to homeport there in 2020.
Photo: Roman Stetsyk/Shutterstock.com
Best Homeport for Sail-away
New York (Manhattan/Red Hook)
The New York/New Jersey rivalry for claim to Lady Liberty has raged on since she was installed, and we don't want to take sides. All we know is cruising around the Statue of Liberty with the Manhattan skyline in the background is a spectacular sail-away every cruiser should experience. It might be more pleasant watching the wake on deck in the summer than during the cold East Coast winters (ships sail from these ports year-round), but either way, watching the glittering Big Apple dissolve into the distance is worth any weather. You can get this view sailing from the port of Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey, or the Manhattan Cruise Terminal in New York -- for that matter, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook also affords a view along the Upper Bay down the Hudson River.
Photo: captdave/Cruise Critic Fourms
Best Drive-to Homeport
This category might seem subjective, depending on where you are driving from, but the Port of Galveston serves the entire state of Texas, nearby Louisiana and landlocked states such as Arkansas and Oklahoma. It also boasts about six cruise ships sailing regularly or seasonally every year. The Port of Baltimore is also a good drive-to homeport, serving cruise markets in nearly seven states, but there are only two cruise ships homeported there at this time. Additionally, there's so much to do in Galveston without leaving the immediate cruise port area -- shops, restaurants and bars abound along the pier. The only downside to Galveston is that public transportation could be better -- that's why having a car during your stay is a benefit to getting around before or after your cruise.
Photo: Port of Galveston
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks It's the permutations (size, view, location, amenities and price, for example) of the four basic cabin types that can make choosing difficult. In addition to knowing your cabin options, you need to know yourself: Do you tend to get seasick? Do you prefer to nest peaceably on your balcony rather than hanging with the crowd around the pool area? Conversely, is your idea of a stateroom simply a place to flop into bed at 1 a.m. -- no fancy notions necessary? Are there certain amenities you are willing to splurge on, or can you simply not justify paying for unnecessary perks? The answers will help guide you toward selecting the best stateroom for your money. If you're feeling overwhelmed by choice, we'll help you get started with this guide to choosing the best cruise cabins for you and your travel party.