INSIDER TRAVEL SECRETS
Cruise Ports Secrets I Wish I'd Known Before My Last Vacation
A year's worth of cruise data reveals the most visited cruise ports on earth. Fortunately, there are hidden attractions to be enjoyed in each one of them. Here's how you can follow the wisdom of the cruising crowds—without having to spend all of your time with them.
#5 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Known for offshore banking, the Cayman Islands have a natural side beyond the shops of George Town. Grand Cayman is one of the few places where you can see the world's most endangered iguana, the blue iguana, and thousands of tourists converge on Stingray City to watch the sea animals. Seven Mile Beach offers an uninterrupted view of the Caribbean that seems like a postcard come to life.
Secret: If you like Jimmy Buffet music, catch the Grand Cayman's resident beach bum, the Barefoot Man (in real life, George Nowak). He plays most Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Reef Resort on the island's East End. If you don't have time to catch a show, pick up a CD for $16 in one of the souvenir shops in George Town.
#6 San Juan, Puerto Rico
It's hard to escape history in Puerto Rico; its capital, San Juan, dates back to the 16th century. The immense San Felipe del Morro fortress anchors Old San Juan and Ponce de Leon, the island's first governor, is buried at the Cathedral of San Juan. If you venture off into the countryside, you'll find beaches, rain forests and a bioluminescent bay where you can kayak.
Secret: Puerto Rico's cuisine is infused with unique Latin flavors that you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the Caribbean. Why not spend a few hours learning how to duplicate the recipes at home? Flavors of San Juan teaches you how to make either tapas or Puerto Rican food in two-hour group classes that include a full meal and a recipe book that you can bring home. SanJuanfoodtours.com, advanced reservations required, $98 per person for a 2-hour group class
#7 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
Although technically in the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Caribbean, the island chain of Turks & Caicos has the glorious, talcum-powder-soft sand beaches and turquoise skies that make the region famous. While luxury vacationers flock to Providenciales and celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Christie Brinkley, and Keith Richards have homes on Parrot Cay, Grand Turk has become the country's main cruising center, with a large terminal and new shops.
Secret: If you love stamps (or love someone who does), make a stop at the Philatelic Bureau, located on Church Folly street. The island is known for its colorful and unusual issues, which are prized by collectors.
#8 Juneau, Alaska
An Inside Passage cruise appears on many bucket lists, and no wonder. The state's scenery, particularly its magnificent glacier- and wildlife-viewing opportunities, are unparalleled. Surrounded by mountains and the sea, Juneau, the state's capital, is accessible only by water or air. Nature is all around you: Look for bears fishing in the streams near Mendenhall Glacier, and eagles nesting on the slopes of Mount Roberts.
Secret: Once you get out of downtown, cruise ship crowds disappear, or at least it feels that way; Alaska's vastness has a way of making people seem insignificant. With hiking trails and a stone labyrinth garden, the Shrine of St. Therese, on a peninsula about a 20-minute drive from Juneau (take a taxi), is a reflective place to commune with nature. Visitors often spot seals, whales, and otters nearby.
#9 Roatan, Honduras
The Bay Islands, which lie about an hour north of the Honduras mainland, have become a major attraction for cruise ships, which come for the area's colorful fish and clear, warm waters. Roatan has become the center of commercial development for the islands, and you'll find countless opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and interacting with marine life such as grouper, moray eels, turtles, and rays.
Secret: Give your tastebuds a charge with a jam and jelly tasting at Marble Hill Farms on the East End of the island. Sample flavors include hibiscus jelly, mutton pepper jelly (made with chili cabro, this one has quite a kick) and island plum jelly made from fruit grown on the property. You'll need to take a taxi to get to The Farm; once you're there, have spiny lobster for lunch at their restaurant, the Crow's Nest.