Besides all the landmarks, cityscapes and marine life that cruising affords us the opportunity to see, there are glorious gardens to wander, as well. Botanical garden excursions can be stand-alone tours of the gardens or might be packaged with other attractions and driving tours. Either way, the opportunity to spend time surrounded by and learning about the horticulture of a destination can be a pleasant break from an otherwise hectic cruise schedule.
Most botanical garden shore excursions involve an extensive amount of walking and could include stairs or inclines. Good walking shoes are advised, as is appropriate outerwear like rain gear for enjoying the outdoor areas. In tropical locales, insect repellant is a must, and you might want to bring drinking water where it is allowed.
We went in search of the world's most famous botanical gardens you can visit by cruise ship, as well as a few you might not know about. Here's our list.
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- Horticus Botanicus in Amsterdam
- Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC
- Allerton and McBryde Botanical Gardens in Kauai
- Vallarta Botanical Gardens in Puerto Vallarta
- Schonbrunn Palace Gardens in Vienna
- St. George Village Botanical Garden in St. Croix
- The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney
- Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London
- Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
Horticus Botanicus in Amsterdam
When you think of Amsterdam, it is natural to think of flowers. In addition to seasonal attractions dedicated to all things tulip, there is a year-round way to explore the botanical wonders of the Netherlands: Horticus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe and includes three greenhouses in addition to the outdoor gardens.
Here, you will find everything from carnivorous plants to a centuries-old Eastern Cape giant cycad. The outdoor gardens include areas featuring the symmetrical architecture of the Romantic era as well as informal gardens with ponds fringed with rhododendrons.
Horticus is easily accessible from both the Amsterdam river cruise port and the passenger terminal for ocean cruises via either taxi or public transportation. Walking distance is approximately 1.5 miles from either port.
Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC
Excursions to Butchart Gardens are easily arranged, either through your cruise line or independently. The garden includes 55 acres and an amazing 26 greenhouses. Highlights include the Rose Garden, complete with a rose-covered arch; a lush Japanese Garden; spectacular fountains and even high tea, if your schedule permits.
Discussions on the Cruise Critic message boards tend to revolve around whether or not there is enough time spent in the gardens on most excursions, so look for an excursion that spends more than an hour or two.
Also worth considering is the possibility of visiting the gardens as a day trip pre- or post-cruise from Vancouver; Victoria is a port of call on Alaska cruises and many embark or debark in Vancouver.
Allerton and McBryde Botanical Gardens in Kauai
Did you know that there is a National Tropical Botanic Garden? It's a nonprofit network of five botanical gardens, with locations in Hawaii and Florida. In Kauai, cruise excursions usually combine two of the gardens, Allerton and McBryde botanical gardens, into one tour.
Allerton was once a sugar plantation and is now home to important tropical species, including rainforest trees, bamboo, fruit trees and bronze art. At McBryde, you travel to the extensive gardens via a coastal shuttle, where you might get a glimpse of dolphins or whales splashing in the waves. The collection includes the largest assemblage of living native Hawaiian plants in existence.
Vallarta Botanical Gardens in Puerto Vallarta
Looking for a spot where you can enjoy the tropical beauty of Puerto Vallarta plus a delicious meal, complete with fresh fruit margaritas? The trip to Vallarta Botanical Gardens takes you along the rugged coastline south of the city before the road ventures inland toward the foothills.
The gardens were once named as one of the 10 best gardens in North America by USA Today. The lush native plantings, a kaleidoscope of butterflies and memorable food and drink at the Restaurant La Hacienda de Oro make this garden excursion one worth taking.
Schonbrunn Palace Gardens in Vienna
Vienna is popular among river cruiser on the Rhine, but the Austrian gardens behind the palace are sometimes overlooked. The highlight of the gardens is the Great Palm House, which together with the palace are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The original structure of the Palm House was the largest glasshouse in the world when it opened in 1882. It was destroyed by multiple bombings in 1945, though today's reconstructed version has more than 45,000 sheets of glass, housing both native and exotic plants.
Outdoor areas include the formal Privy Garden, a maze and multiple fountains and ponds.
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St. George Village Botanical Garden in St. Croix
The St. George Village Botanical Garden, also known as The Botanical Garden of the Virgin Islands, is home to more than 1,500 plant varieties, including bromeliads, succulents, orchids and ferns on the USVI island of St. Croix.
Cruise excursions to the garden are often paired with other activities and driving tours, allowing you to enjoy more of what the island has to offer while indulging your love of tropical plants. The garden hosts yoga and guided meditation on Tuesdays and Thursdays, making it a peaceful retreat from the crowds, if your ship docks on those days.
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia presents an easy opportunity to explore the botanical diversity of the continent and beyond. Garden shore excursions are common on many of the ships that call in Sydney.
Depending on where your ship docks, you might be within walking distance of the gardens -- from the Overseas Passenger Terminal, it's less than a 15-minute walk. Smaller ships that can sail beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge often dock at White Bay Cruise Terminal, in which case you can take a ferry from White Bay to the Circular Quay and then walk to the gardens.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are home to more than 4,000 trees and almost 9,000 plant species set on 74 acres. You can choose to explore Aboriginal heritage, stand in awe of the largest interior green wall in the Southern Hemisphere or wander the Palace Rose Gardens.
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is a must-do botanical garden excursion when your cruise includes a trip to London. This UNESCO World Heritage garden has more than 50,000 living plants. From carnivorous species to the Great Pagoda to the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew has plenty to see and do.
The challenge is in getting there and back if your ship does not offer it as an excursion: From the Greenwich cruise terminal, the gardens are roughly an hour by car and just over an hour by rail.
Among the top things to see that make the journey worth the trouble is the world's largest Victorian glasshouse, known as the Temperate House, the Bamboo Garden and the Palm House. There are multiple options for meals at the Kew, including afternoon tea, simplifying an extended day in the gardens before making the trek back to the ship.
Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
A visit by cruise ship to the city-state of Singapore allows not one, but two fabulous gardens, each with a charm of their own. A brief visit to the older, more traditional Singapore Botanic Gardens might be included in your ship's city tour, but a more focused excursion provides additional time to explore attractions like the National Orchid Garden, the fascinating Ginger Garden or the 49 specimens of dwarf trees in the Bonsai Garden.
Words like "stunning" and "spectacular" are often used to describe the lights of the OCBC Skyway, which is a pedestrian bridge beneath the canopies of the oft-photographed modern art "super trees" in the Gardens by the Bay. With multiple climate-controlled domes, the gardens offer a respite from Singapore's tropical heat. Its close proximity to the Marina Bay Cruise Terminal make this an ideal garden to visit on your own, if time permits.