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Charleston (Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Charleston

I'm going back to Charleston, back where I belong. I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace. --Rhett Butler, "Gone With the Wind"

The Holy City, Charleston, is so named for the skyline of steeples seen by ships' passengers as they enter Charleston harbor. The view was there before the American Revolution, during the Civil War, and you'll see the same today as your ship arrives or departs. Charleston has endured much over the centuries, but the city also has thrived and prospered. Pirates, wars, disease, hurricanes, earthquakes and, most frequently, fires have left their mark on the city and the region known as the Lowcountry, as have the unique individuals and personalities that have shaped the centuries there -- and left us the Charleston we know today.

Today's Charleston is a treasure trove, a unique blend of architecture and history, art and culture. Visit the Old Exchange Building, and see the history of the city and that of the port. Look at Rainbow Row to see how individual buildings have become part of a city landmark. Turn down any corner, and discover quiet alleys and cobbled streets where the past is always present. The air can be thick with scent -- tea olive, jessamine, magnolia; camellias and azaleas burst forth with color, each in their season. It's hard to get lost -- sooner or later, you'll end up at either the Ashley or Cooper River. Walk the Battery, with planters' mansions behind you, and gaze across the harbor at Fort Sumter, where the tragedy of the Civil War began. Stroll the neighborhoods, and begin to understand why Charlestonians are proud of what has been preserved and maintained. They're eager to share it and will go out of their way to help visitors, which explains why Charleston has been named the "Most Polite" city in America several years in a row.

Bring your camera, your appetite and a shopping bag. The city is overwhelmingly picturesque, and you'll find yourself stopping over and over for that perfect photo, that intriguing view. Dine well and often in this city where, in years gone by, residents ate only at home; now, the city is a foodie haven where dining out has become a never-ending adventure. The Saturday Farmers' Market is always crowded, and an annual Food & Wine Festival has been introduced. And, make sure to set yourself to shopping mode. National chains do exist, but it's what's local that really counts. The must-have items are handwoven sweetgrass baskets; they're expensive, yes, but you're buying centuries of tradition. Look for antiques, silver, jewelry and art of every kind. (No, it's not legally required to have an art gallery on every block ... it just seems that way.)

Take your time, and don't try to do everything; you'll be coming back.

About Charleston


Pro

The ship terminal is located in the heart of a colorful and historic city fit for strolling

Con

Beware of "free tours" that are really bait for a timeshare talk

Bottom Line

Southern charm is abundant among Charleston's polite and well-preserved neighborhoods


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Where You're Docked

Charleston Cruise Port Address:
32 Washington Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401

The passenger terminal couldn't be more convenient; it's within strolling distance of everything. The facility itself isn't the most visually appealing, but plans to improve the area have been stalled in court for years by locals who argue that visiting cruise ships detract from the serenity of the city. Secure, patrolled parking is available for a per-day fee; an open public garage, about two to three blocks away, also offers daily parking.

Good to Know

Watch out for young people trying to sell palmetto roses, made from the fronds of the local trees. Yes, they are cute and make nice souvenirs, but the sellers will remind you of Caribbean beach vendors. Practice the word "no." Also, there's no such thing as a flat sidewalk; public restrooms only exist in the Market, parking garages and near the waterfront park; and, oh yes, those "free tours" being offered at booths and storefronts are come-ons for timeshares.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

U.S. dollars are used, and ATM's are readily available; credit cards may not be accepted by individual vendors in the Market or by the city's famed basket makers.

Language

It's English, with a twist. Charlestonians speak in warm, languid voices that make a drawl seem fast, and African Americans of Gullah/Geechee descent still use the words of another time, softened by the centuries.

Shopping

This city is known for its handmade sweetgrass baskets, benne wafers, stone-ground grits, antique silver and furniture, as well as paintings and watercolors by accomplished local artists. You may want to peruse the area before making any purchases, though, as several vendors offer similar products at varying prices. Some will even offer discounts, so it doesn't hurt to shop around before committing.


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