If you're anything like us, you love to seek out hidden gems while cruising -- you know, those beaches with perfect water, white sand and hardly a soul around or restaurants where only the locals hang out because the food is actually authentic. While every cruise port offers a chance to explore off the beaten path, some make it a little easier.
Here are 12 "secret" oceangoing cruise ports (in no particular order) that keep you away from the crowds. Note: Smaller ports are most often visited by luxury or expedition cruise lines, which come with a higher price point.
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- Cap-aux-Meules, Quebec, Canada
- Syros, Greece
- Rostock (Warnemunde), Germany
- Petersburg, Alaska
- Quepos, Costa Rica
- Cesme, Turkey
- Koh Kood, Thailand
- La Paz, Mexico
- Molde, Norway
- Ilhabela, Brazil
- Kaikoura, New Zealand
1. AnguillaLegend has it that Anguilla is home to the original Fountain of Youth. The reality is this island, roughly 10 nautical miles from St. Maarten, is one of the Caribbean's best-kept cruising secrets.Visit the port of call on a luxury, small-ship itinerary or book a day tour from St. Maarten/Martin. Regardless of how you get there, you're sure to enjoy a slower pace -- even if you're on a quest for longevity.How to Get There: Anguilla is visited mainly by SeaDream Yacht Club, with occasional calls from Silversea and Star Clippers. St. Maarten, on the other hand, sees cruise ships from big names like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America and Princess Cruises.
2. Cap-aux-Meules, Quebec, CanadaFrom its bustling town center to its bucolic countryside, Cap-aux-Meules -- one of Quebec's Magdalen Islands -- offers something for everyone, without the crowds of the mainland.Spend a day exploring the restaurants and shops along Main Street, or go on a nature walk to soak up the island's vibrant landscape of red sandstone cliffs, green rolling hills and deep-blue water.How to Get There: Seabourn, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, and Ponant offer Cap-aux-Meules as a port of call on Canada and New England itineraries.
3. Syros, GreeceYou can't miss the iconic Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos when sailing the Aegean Sea, but if your itinerary includes a stop in Syros, look forward to a respite from the masses.The picturesque port city of Ermoupoli welcomes visitors with quaint streets dotted with family-owned restaurants and shops selling locally handcrafted goods -- without the long lines (or higher prices) of more trafficked islands.How to Get There: You'll see Syros as a stop on many luxury cruise itineraries, with lines like Oceania Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar and Ponant.
4. Rostock (Warnemunde), GermanyYes, Germany has beaches, and the port of Warnemunde -- a district within the larger port city of Rostock -- is home to some of them. Even more surprising is how this historic fishing village has managed to retain its quaintness and charm despite being within close proximity of major cities like Berlin and Hamburg.In fact, it's to cities like Berlin that many passengers book tours when they call on Warnemunde/Rostock. If your heart isn't set on leaving, we suggest taking advantage of the town's unassuming beauty, relaxed vibe and lack of tourist swaths.How to Get There: Since the port of Warnemunde primarily serves river cruises, oceangoing lines technically must dock in Rostock. Among the lines that regularly visit are Holland America, MSC Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, Oceania, Costa, Regent Seven Seas, Cunard, Seabourn, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, and Norwegian. Silversea and Disney Cruise Line offer more limited options.
5. Petersburg, AlaskaOften dubbed "Alaska's Little Norway," Petersburg is a small island community that offers a slice of the past. The descendants of Norwegian immigrants who founded this town more than 100 years ago continue to live off the sea.Delicious salmon and other seafood are plentiful, as are opportunities to relish the island's natural beauty and history, free from the crowds.How to Get There: This off-the-beaten-path Alaskan port tends to draw small luxury and expedition ships. Cruise lines with scheduled stops in Petersburg include Silversea, Windstar, Lindblad, UnCruise Adventures, American Cruise Lines and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.
6. Quepos, Costa RicaThrow away any notion you might have that all cruise terminals are overcrowded tourist traps, before you arrive in Quepos. This town on Costa Rica's Pacific coast immediately welcomes visitors with a marina so peaceful, you can hear the sounds of the palm leaves blow in the wind.While you will notice some establishments along the harbor geared toward cruisers, it's still easy to find more authentic restaurants, shops and other attractions here, as well as in town only a short walk away.How to Get There: Only a few cruise lines' Costa Rica and Panama Canal itineraries include a stop in Quepos. Those that have scheduled calls are Holland America, Windstar and Ponant.
7. Cesme, TurkeyWith cobblestone streets lined with shops and cafes, an enchanting castle, seemingly untouched beaches and everything it has to offer, Cesme might sound overrun with visitors on vacation. But it remains one of the greatest hidden gems along Turkey's coastline.Wander the streets blooming with bougainvillea, catch rays on the uncrowded sands, soak up sea breezes and views from the promenade, or skip on over to the nearby (equally charming) village of Alacati.How to Get There: Seabourn is currently the only cruise line offering cruises to Cesme.
8. Koh Kood, ThailandDoes Koh Kood have the best beaches in Thailand? That is a question some travelers ask themselves after reading claims made by those who have visited this "secret" paradise. While the photos are certainly alluring, only one who steps foot on Koh Kood's shores will get a taste of its unspoiled nature, which could be attributed to the fact that it's not the most easily accessible island -- unless, of course, you're on a cruise.How to Get There: Koh Kood is a port of call on Asia cruise itineraries offered by Seabourn, Silversea and Hapag-Lloyd.
9. La Paz, MexicoNestled on the shimmering Sea of Cortez, the Mexican Riviera town of La Paz takes visitors deeper into the country's culture than many other ports along the west coast -- and to cruisers' delight, it isn't nearly as crowded as nearby ports like Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta.La Paz lives up to its Spanish translation of "peace," with some of the world's best snorkeling and scuba diving sites providing adventure seekers an escape from the hustle and bustle. Pastel-colored, Spanish Colonial homes, a gorgeous waterfront and beaches further add to its appeal.How to Get There: Holland America and Princess, which regularly sail the Mexican Riviera, tend to include La Paz on longer itineraries. You'll also find the port of call on Windstar, Lindblad and Cruise & Maritime Voyages sailings, with limited options on Regent Seven Seas.
10. Molde, NorwayBeyond the Norwegian fjords' geological beauty, villages like Molde provide a glimpse into local life without the herds of sightseers you're likely to encounter in bigger cities like Oslo and Bergen.This hidden gem on the Baltic Sea is no secret to locals, but you won't find too many crowds of outsiders. That means more rose gardens, jazz clubs and breathtaking views for you.How to Get There: Several cruise lines visit Molde on Northern Europe (particularly Norwegian fjords and Baltic Sea) itineraries. Among them are Holland America, MSC, Viking, Azamara, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Hurtigruten and Costa.
11. Ilhabela, BrazilBrazilians from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo seek their R&R in the archipelago of Ilhabela. It's here that the few cruisers lucky enough to visit can share the wealth of dreamy beaches, waterfalls, tropical rainforest, volcanic peaks and plethora of wildlife.Ships call on the main island of Ilhabela, which literally means "beautiful island," anchoring off its coast and taking passengers to its coastline via a small tender boat.How to Get There: You can cruise to Ilhabela with Princess, Holland America, Celebrity Cruises, MSC, Silversea, Seabourn, Azamara, Scenic, Hapag-Lloyd and Costa.
12. Kaikoura, New ZealandNature-lovers will have their fill of adventures in Kaikoura, a coastal village on New Zealand's South Island that is revered for its whale watching (which has a high success rate, to boot).Even better: It's considered a hidden gem, even among Kiwis, with no overcrowding; the lines that do call spread out their visits, so no more than one ship is in port at a time. Wide-open hiking trails and chill cafes serving up mouthwatering crawfish? Count us in.How to Get There: Among the cruise lines that visit Kaikoura are Holland America, Princess, Azamara, Silversea and Seabourn.