How to See 8 Iconic Sights the Right Way

by John Roberts

How to See 8 Iconic Sights the Right Way

by John Roberts

There are some places that you just can’t miss while in port, and that goes not only for you but everyone else on your cruise ship (and other ships that happen to be docking at the same time). Don’t feel like you have to miss out. For some attractions there are ways to avoid the crowds, while at others it’s worth just turning into the skid and going along for the ride with the mob. Take our advice on these eight attractions at ports around the world.

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Gondola under Rialto Bridge in Venice / iStock / bluejayphoto
A quiet canal in Venice
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1. Gondola Ride in Venice

Romantic? Hmm. Expensive and a hassle to haggle? Definitely. The official price for the gondola ride is regulated by the city (80 euros for 40 minutes), but at the main gondola pier, tourists are quoted prices well in excess of 100 euros.

Our Advice: The Grand Canal and its side canals can be incredibly busy with other gondolas crammed around you and people constantly snapping pictures from the bridges of your private ride, so it’s worth it to get away from the crowds first and find a quieter area before you choose a gondola.

Romantic? Hmm. Expensive and a hassle to haggle? Definitely. The official price for the gondola ride is regulated by the city (80 euros for 40 minutes), but at the main gondola pier, tourists are quoted prices well in excess of 100 euros.

Our Advice: The Grand Canal and its side canals can be incredibly busy with other gondolas crammed around you and people constantly snapping pictures from the bridges of your private ride, so it’s worth it to get away from the crowds first and find a quieter area before you choose a gondola.

Plane landing over Maho Beach
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2. Maho Beach in St. Maarten

Yes, it’s that beach you see all over the internet with the airplanes swooping oh-so-close to the beach during landings. Crowded, noisy, and with the constant smell of jet fumes, there’s also the idiocy of people ignoring the warnings not to get too close to the fence behind the planes as they take off on the nearby runway.

Our Advice: Some people love lying under the planes, but if what you really want is a quiet beach, you can do much better than this. Head to Simpson Bay Beach instead, a much more secluded stretch where you’ll find lots of space on the sand all to yourself.

Yes, it’s that beach you see all over the internet with the airplanes swooping oh-so-close to the beach during landings. Crowded, noisy, and with the constant smell of jet fumes, there’s also the idiocy of people ignoring the warnings not to get too close to the fence behind the planes as they take off on the nearby runway.

Our Advice: Some people love lying under the planes, but if what you really want is a quiet beach, you can do much better than this. Head to Simpson Bay Beach instead, a much more secluded stretch where you’ll find lots of space on the sand all to yourself.

Leaning Tower of Pisa
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3. Leaning Tower of Pisa

Ships that call in Livorno’s cruise port offer excursions to Pisa, about an hour away. It’s crowded, it’s hot, and all sorts of people descend upon you from the moment you enter the complex and try to sell you all kinds of things you don’t need, from sunglasses to selfie sticks. Look, there’s the tower. It’s leaning! Now, try to wedge yourself somewhere into the crowd and create a picture of yourself bracing against that leaning structure. 

Our Advice: Five minutes in, and you’re already bored with not much else to do. Take some time to get a great picture, then find a quiet place to check your email until it’s time to go back to the ship. Hopefully, you’ll get a sunny day and can stretch out on the grass, too.

Ships that call in Livorno’s cruise port offer excursions to Pisa, about an hour away. It’s crowded, it’s hot, and all sorts of people descend upon you from the moment you enter the complex and try to sell you all kinds of things you don’t need, from sunglasses to selfie sticks. Look, there’s the tower. It’s leaning! Now, try to wedge yourself somewhere into the crowd and create a picture of yourself bracing against that leaning structure. 

Our Advice: Five minutes in, and you’re already bored with not much else to do. Take some time to get a great picture, then find a quiet place to check your email until it’s time to go back to the ship. Hopefully, you’ll get a sunny day and can stretch out on the grass, too.

Atlantis in the Bahamas
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4. Atlantis Resort in Nassau

The Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas offers day passes, and cruise visitors might find this an intriguing option. But the price is steep. You pay $40 to use the beach, and when the waves are big you only get access to a man-made one. The property also is crowded with guests staying at the hotel. 

Our Advice: If you want the full resort experience, upgrade to the water park access, which allows you to use all of the pools, the aquarium, and the lazy river. Sure, it’s expensive — the total price is $139 for adults and $80 for kids, but in terms of close-to-the-ship and easy, this is as good as it gets. 

The Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas offers day passes, and cruise visitors might find this an intriguing option. But the price is steep. You pay $40 to use the beach, and when the waves are big you only get access to a man-made one. The property also is crowded with guests staying at the hotel. 

Our Advice: If you want the full resort experience, upgrade to the water park access, which allows you to use all of the pools, the aquarium, and the lazy river. Sure, it’s expensive — the total price is $139 for adults and $80 for kids, but in terms of close-to-the-ship and easy, this is as good as it gets. 

Stingrays in Grand Cayman
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5. Stingray City Sandbar in Grand Cayman

The shallow area of two to four feet of water is packed with humans as well as stingrays, the gentle creatures related to sharks. If you’re OK with hordes of screaming and shrieking people who are freaked out by being close to sea life, then go ahead and join the crowds. 

Our Advice: Choose to go on a snorkel or dive adventure away from the main sandbar if you want a better interaction of feeding, petting, and swimming with the fascinating stingrays. And remember, even when it’s crowded, it’s still super cool to feel a stingray sidle right up to your leg. 

The shallow area of two to four feet of water is packed with humans as well as stingrays, the gentle creatures related to sharks. If you’re OK with hordes of screaming and shrieking people who are freaked out by being close to sea life, then go ahead and join the crowds. 

Our Advice: Choose to go on a snorkel or dive adventure away from the main sandbar if you want a better interaction of feeding, petting, and swimming with the fascinating stingrays. And remember, even when it’s crowded, it’s still super cool to feel a stingray sidle right up to your leg. 

Sunset in Oia, Santorini
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6. Oia on Santorini

Thousands of people jam every nook, cranny, and alleyway to watch sunsets from this Greek town. This hilltop village is undeniably gorgeous, with its whitewashed buildings perched above the stunning caldera. But navigating the masses, especially when cruise ships are at port, renders the site intolerable. Shopping at the charming stores is impossible, and the queue for a ride on the popular cable car is insufferably long.

Our Advice: Honestly, the best alternative is to go to the other town. 

Thousands of people jam every nook, cranny, and alleyway to watch sunsets from this Greek town. This hilltop village is undeniably gorgeous, with its whitewashed buildings perched above the stunning caldera. But navigating the masses, especially when cruise ships are at port, renders the site intolerable. Shopping at the charming stores is impossible, and the queue for a ride on the popular cable car is insufferably long.

Our Advice: Honestly, the best alternative is to go to the other town. 

Empire State Building's observation deck
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7. Empire State Building in New York City

It’s such an iconic building that you might think you can’t resist. But don’t say we didn’t warn you. The lines snake endlessly from one waiting area to the next, cutting into your time to actually enjoy the view.

Our Advice: Buy VIP timed tickets online in advance and skip the line entirely. Problem solved. Or, get timed tickets to Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Center) instead, which allows you to see the Empire State Building and is the better choice if you’re in town during the fall, when Central Park’s foliage is spectacular.

It’s such an iconic building that you might think you can’t resist. But don’t say we didn’t warn you. The lines snake endlessly from one waiting area to the next, cutting into your time to actually enjoy the view.

Our Advice: Buy VIP timed tickets online in advance and skip the line entirely. Problem solved. Or, get timed tickets to Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Center) instead, which allows you to see the Empire State Building and is the better choice if you’re in town during the fall, when Central Park’s foliage is spectacular.

Dunn's River Falls
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8. Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

What a pretty setting this would be if not for the hundreds of people slogging slowly through the jungle, slipping and sliding on the rocks, marching hand-in-hand trying not to fall over. Hardly an ideal way to enjoy the majesty of the falls. Not to mention the gauntlet of pushy vendors hounding you from one end of the park to the other.

Our Advice: Look for sailings when only one ship is in Ocho Rios — and any other major port — when you’re in town. 

What a pretty setting this would be if not for the hundreds of people slogging slowly through the jungle, slipping and sliding on the rocks, marching hand-in-hand trying not to fall over. Hardly an ideal way to enjoy the majesty of the falls. Not to mention the gauntlet of pushy vendors hounding you from one end of the park to the other.

Our Advice: Look for sailings when only one ship is in Ocho Rios — and any other major port — when you’re in town. 

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