Every cruise vacationer has a favorite port of call. For some it's posh St. Bart's in the Eastern Caribbean or St. Tropez in the Western Mediterranean. Others value the culture of Barcelona or the Nordic history of Copenhagen. These destinations are common port calls for most major cruise ships, but there a handful of emerging ports around the globe that are getting the attention of both cruise lines and travelers looking for something a little different. Check out these five lesser-known, but up-and-coming ports...
1. Cartagena, Colombia
This South American port on the Caribbean Sea receives nearly 200 cruise calls a year, up from less than two dozen a decade ago. Port improvements and promotional support from the government have attracted some big cruise lines to call, such as Royal Caribbean International and Pullmantur.
What to see: San Felipe de Barajas Castle
Along with the historic city of Cartagena itself, the 16th century castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built as a defense fortress, the castle offers panoramic views of the city and a maze of intriguing tunnels underneath. Admission is about $5.
2. Harwich, England
This quaint and ancient port city on England's southeast coast dates from the 12th century. It's a jumping off point for British Isles cruises, Norwegian fjord cruises and even sailings to Iceland. In the last few years, two cruise lines have made this a home port during the summer season – Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.
What to see: Bobbits Hole Nature Reserve
A wildlife protection area, the reserve features woodlands and a lake, and is home to a wealth of birdlife, such as seabirds and kingfishers. Pack a picnic lunch. There's no admission fee.
3. Saint John, New Brunswick
Located on the edge of the Bay of Fundy, on Canada's southeastern Atlantic coast, this community recently constructed a second cruise terminal and expanded its docking facilities so that three large cruise ships can dock at the same time. The port plays host to Carnival Cruise Lines, Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line as they cruise between French-Canadian cities and New York or Boston.
What to see: Barbours General Store
Step back in time with a visit to the city's 18th century General Store that's been revamped into a tearoom, museum, and shop. The building is a former chicken coop! Open June to October, it's a vintage experience and there's no admission charge.
4. Holyhead, North Wales
This town is best known as a ferry port between the U.K. and Ireland, but in recent years it’s caught the attention of cruise lines that operate smaller ships, such as Crystal Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. It doesn't typically attract big ships – yet.
What to see: Holyhead Maritime Museum
Housed in a 19th century lifeboat station, the museum's collection of exhibits illustrate the maritime history of the region. Military buffs will want to venture next door to view a permanent display called 'Holyhead at War.' The exhibit is mounted in a World War II air raid shelter. The museum charges about $5 per adult; a family pass costs around $12.
5. Galway, Ireland
This city on Ireland's west coast has big plans for a new cruise port. City and regional governments are working on a $70 million redevelopment of Galway's waterfront in the hopes of convincing some major cruise lines to call or establish home port in the city in coming years.
What to see: The city with Galway Tours
For about $13, visitors can enjoy a walking tour of Galway, including the city walls that date back to the 13th century, a memorial park named after President John F. Kennedy, and the medieval Lynch's Castle.