If you're considering a cruise, the port city might not seem like a particularly important consideration. If you live very close to a port, it's really not. But if you have to travel to the port city, you might be spending at least a day or two at each end of your trip.
If that's the case, you want the time spent in your port city to be a pleasant part of your vacation and not some crummy purgatory.
A bad port isn't likely to completely ruin your vacation, but a good port can really enhance it. You don't want to spend any of your precious vacation time doing anything but having a great time in a great place.
Best Port for Family Vacations: Port Canaveral
You and your family can make multiple vacations out of one if you're leaving from Port Canaveral because it's located just an hour from Orlando, the home of Disney World. If anyone in your family is a space junkie, the port is just 17 miles from the Kennedy Space Center.
If you prefer to stay closer to home, Port Canaveral offers lots to do, including fishing, shopping, a beach, bike paths, and plenty of restaurants for dining out. There's also Exploration Tower, a seven-story structure filled with interactive exhibits meant to teach visitors various aspects of the port's history.
Best Port for Alaska Cruises: Port of Seattle
You can do an Alaskan cruise from an Alaskan port, but flying to Alaska can get pricey. You're likely to have to include a layover, something I always try to avoid when traveling to cut down on stress and aggravation. You'll probably find it cheaper to fly to Seattle instead, and there will be more direct flights available.
Plus, Seattle is a great city to explore, whether you're catching a cruise from there or for any other reason.
Best Port to See the Caribbean: Port of Miami
If you've spent months shivering well north of the Mason-Dixon line and are looking for a warm getaway, a Caribbean cruise is ideal. While you can take a Caribbean cruise from plenty of port cities that are just as cold as the city you're trying to escape, instead, head to the Port of Miami, and get a jump start on the warm weather. This port serves islands all over the Caribbean. You'll also get a jump start on Caribbean life as Miami has many little neighborhoods and enclaves that are heavily influenced by the Caribbean immigrants who call them home.
Best Port to Explore: Port of San Francisco
Ports are generally better placed than airports. Ports are usually fairly close to a city's downtown, and, if not, there is often plenty to do nearby. Airports, on the other hand, are nearly always in the middle of nowhere.
The Port of San Francisco sits on maybe the best real estate of any port on this list. It's right in one of the nicest areas of the city, Embarcadero. Before you board the ship you can do things like wend your way along Lombard Street, perhaps the curviest street in America, make a stop (see what I did there?) at the Cable Car Museum, and explore Fisherman's Wharf.
If you want to pay homage to the flower children of the 1960s, Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of the Peace and Love movement, is just 20 minutes away. Groovy.
Best Port for River Travel: New Orleans
New Orleans is unique for many reasons, but for cruise purposes it's unique because it's the only American city with a port that houses ships doing river and ocean-bound cruises. You can cruise the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Caribbean Sea.
Frankly, New Orleans is such a great vacation destination that you'll probably fall in love and cancel the cruise so you can spend the whole trip in the city. Explore the French Quarter, the Garden District, hunt ghosts and vampires, eat shrimp and grits, and stroll anywhere you please with an adult beverage in hand. It's perfectly legal there as long as the drink isn't in a glass container.
Worst Ports for Congestion: Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach
These ports are among the busiest in the world. Not with tourists and cruise ships but with freight of all kinds from all over the world. These ports are huge commercial areas, and, as such, are not particularly charming to look at. They look like the industrial ports, loaded with cranes and shipping containers.
Add to that an uptick in recent years in cruise ships coming and going from these ports after a few years of downturn, and it's no wonder these ports are so heavily congested, meaning it's not always easy to travel in and out of them.
Port with the Worst History: Port of Texas City
The Port of Texas City is ranked 14th in America as measured by total tons of trade that flows through and, by the same metric, ranked 87th in the world. The port also has the sad distinction of being the site of one of the worst industrial accidents in American history.
In 1947 there was an explosion on board one of the ships sitting in port, and the resulting fire spread to nearby boats and factories. Much of the port burned down, more than 500 people lost their lives, more than 4,000 suffered injuries, and in today's dollars, there was more than half a billion dollars in damage. America can't allow a port to remain closed as it impacts the economy in a profound way, so the port was rebuilt and reopened quickly.
Pick a Port
Americans don't get a lot of paid vacation, some of us don't get any at all. That means the vacation we do get, we have to make the most of. A bad port isn't likely to completely ruin your vacation, but a good port can really enhance it. You don't want to spend any of your precious vacation time doing anything but having a great time in a great place.
So grab the right credit card for travel, pack your bags, and pick a port. Bon, voyage!