Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 23, 2021
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Port Pleasures

All aboard! Cruise to the world's 15 most magnificent ports of call

When I set out to determine the world's most popular cruise ports for DOCTOR'S REVIEW's 15th Anniversary Issue, I quickly realized that if you ask a ship's captain about his favourite ports you'll get one response, and if you ask a savvy traveller you'll get another. So I dove into the project with one important criterion in mind: Each port must be able to nurture the thrill of a lifetime -- be it a sight or experience or immersion in nature or history -- which doctors and their partners or families could encounter in a single day, either independently or on a guided shore excursion.

But I needed some help, so I went directly to the source. Three experts, influential in planning itineraries for world cruises, willingly shared the results of their companies' passenger surveys.

Crystal Cruises's Michael Norton noted: "On sea days, passengers expect programs that enhance the itinerary. In port, they want intense culture and adventure. They collect exotic, out-of-the-way places like trophies. Been there, done that -- that's the attitude we're up against."

Holland America's Bill Pedlar put relatively nearby destinations in perspective next to the world's magnificent but more distant ports: "First-time cruisers thrill to stand on deck as the ship circles in Alaska's Glacier Bay. And in the Caribbean, they love the leisurely day on Half Moon Cay [the cruise line's private island]. They say it exceeds their wildest dreams -- powder-white beaches, water sports and hiking trails on an idyllic isle."

Peter Cox of Cunard Line, which encompasses the Queen Elizabeth II, Seabourn, Royal Viking Sun and the twin Sea Goddesses, noted that passengers are delighted by the small, yacht-like Seabourn's exclusively orchestrated itineraries "in the small Portofinos of the world, as well as in larger ports known for outstanding monuments. In St. Petersburg: a private opening of the Hermitage followed by a champagne and Russian caviar reception. In the Norwegian fjords: fishing on a private boat north of the Arctic Circle, followed by an island barbecue under the midnight sun. In Rome: a private opening of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel... Without the crowds, passengers can lie on the floor and see the ceiling as Michelangelo did."

A navigator's perspective came from the captain's bridge. Captain Halle Thon Gunderson of Cunard's Royal Viking Sun named the world's most beautiful harbours to sail into: "Sydney, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm, Vancouver, Quebec City, San Francisco. And on a small ship, to sail through London under the Tower Bridge."

While the experts basically concurred on prime ports of call, they also named a few lesser-known places of enduring delight: The Galapagos, for their pristine nature and spectacular flora and fauna. Osaka, for its lovely avenues and gentle Japanese landscapes. Cairns, for its access to the Great Barrier Reef. New Zealand and Norway, for their enchanting fjords at opposite ends of the globe. Vietnam, for its treks into the Mekong Delta. The Amazon River, for its lush jungle adventures. Edinburgh, for its historic stature and access to Scotland's subtropical gardens. Bordeaux, for its vineyards and wine châteaux.

The experts also paid tribute to those ports that allow access to some of the world's most awesome sights, but are reputedly unsafe: Alexandria, for Cairo, the pyramids and the Sphinx; Mombasa, for wild game safaris into the heart of Kenya; Rio de Janeiro, for its vibrant Carnival.

So without further ado, here's what the experts had to say about the world's top 15 ports of call.

"Tops by a long shot. One of the most beautiful ports to approach, with the Coathanger Bridge, the Opera House and the picturesque city skyline."

Best sights: Browse around the harbour and historic Rocks area, the notorious 19th-century convicts' district that has been restored to house cafés, galleries and boutiques. View the rare abundance of exotic and primeval species in the Botanical Gardens. See the National Art Gallery's excellent collection of Aboriginal art. Take in a performance of the Aboriginal Tjabukai Dancers.

Best excursions: Take a harbour cruise to the Koala Sanctuary or the Taronga Zoo, a haven for marsupials.

Best buys: Akubra hats, didgeridoos and boomerangs.

"St. Petersburg tops the list in Northern Europe."

Best sights: See the breathtaking stash of art in the Hermitage Museum in the Winter Palace. Visit the majestic St. Isaac's Cathedral, and the Peter & Paul Fortress containing the tombs of the Romanov monarchs.

Best excursions: Tour Petrodvorets (also called Peterhof), the 300-year-old Imperial summer residence of Peter the Great, which is surrounded by lavish gardens and 129 lyrical fountains. Visit Catherine the Great's opulent summer palaces at Pushkin and Pavlovsk.

Best buys: Lacquer boxes decorated with Russian fairy tales, nesting Matrushka dolls.


"One of the world's most dazzling, romantic cities. With its baroque architecture and pretty bridges over narrow canals, it's truly the 'Queen of the Sea'."

Best sights: Browse around Piazza San Marco, the Basilica and the Doge's Palace, once the official residence of Venice's rulers, which now houses works by Tintoretto and Veronese.

Best excursions: Cruise the canals in a gondola or vaporetto (water taxi). Hop off en route to see the contemporary art collection at the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery, tour the 16th-century Jewish Ghetto or relax on sunny Lido Beach.

Best buy: Venetian glass.

"As you sail into the harbour, you're met by a stunning jumble of visions: skyscrapers ring a bay full of Chinese junks, sampans and yachts."

Best sights: Tour the historic Chinese neighbourhoods, Jade Market, Bird Market and Tea House Museum.

Best excursions: Ferry to Kowloon. Tour Victoria Peak, Repulse Bay. Spend a sunny morning touring the Mai Po Marsh, Asia's prime bird sanctuary.

Best buys: chinoiserie, jade, pearls, miniature tea pots, name-brand watches.

"This may very well be the world's most exquisite port. You sail into a breathtaking blue harbour framed by dark Table Mountain."

Best sights: Browse around the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Area, and historic Cape Town.

Best excursions: Ride the cable car to Table Mountain plateau. Indulge in a tour of South Africa's wine country. Follow the Cape of Good Hope Garden Route.

Best buys: African artifacts, diamonds.

"Buenos Aires should never be missed, with its beautiful harbour, rich rococo architecture and cosmopolitan flair."

Best sights: Take the guided city tour from the old Italian district to fashionable artists' quarters to the presidential palace where Juan and Evita Peron waved from the balcony.

Best excursions: Take a day trip to spectacular Iguassu Falls, which are wider and higher than Niagara and Victoria Falls. Go horseback riding at a gaucho farm. At night, go dancing in a tango club.

Best buy: leather goods.

"The perfect Asian port: cosmopolitan, contemporary, cultured and safe."

Best sights: Browse around the ethnic enclaves of Little India and Chinatown. See the collection of rare orchids in the Botanical Gardens and the exotic species in Jurong Bird Park.

Best excursion: Drink in the ambience at Raffles Bar with a Singapore Sling.

Best buys: chinoiserie, pearls.

"Sail up the Thames to the Tower Bridge and you've sailed into the heart of English culture and history, and, arguably, one of the world's finest cities."

Best sights: Tour the Tower of London. If it's your first trip to London, join a city tour of the historic sights, including Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Piccadilly Circus. Visit the Victoria & Albert Gallery, the Tate Gallery and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Best excursions: Join a countryside tour to Windsor Castle; the Cotswolds, Stonehenge and Bath; Oxford; Stratford-upon-Avon, or Sandringham.

Best buys: china, British Isles woolens, Bespoke suits.

"Civitivecchia is a dull industrialized port more than an hour from Rome, but passengers don't mind the drive because it's the route to their dreams of the Eternal City."

Best sights: The Forum, the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel and the Borghese Gallery.

Best excursion: First timers to Rome may find it easiest to join a guided tour of Ancient, Imperial and Modern Rome.

Best buys: Pricey designer goods or fabulous knock-offs, notably leather bags and briefcases.

"Everyone is awed by Beijing, the cultural heart of modern and ancient China. But it's two hours from the ports of Xingang or Tianjin, so it's worthwhile to stay overnight."

Best sights: Imperial China's Forbidden City, home to 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties; the serene Temple of Heaven; Tiananmen Square.

Best excursions: Day trip to the 2500-year-old Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, and the lakeside Imperial Summer Palace.

Best buys: chinoiserie, porcelain, watercolour paintings.

"Truly one of the world's greatest ports. It's the crossroad of Europe and Asia, the cradle of civilization. Founded by the Greeks in 660 BC, it was capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires."

Best sights: Tour the city's architectural treasures: the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace with its dazzling Sultan's cache. Browse around the Grand Bazaar.

Best excursions: Cruise the ancient trade route of the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.

Best buys: rugs, brassware, tapestries.

"Both ports lead to the treasures of Israel and Petra. People are deeply inspired by their unforgettable experiences here, in the cradle of Christian, Muslim and Hebrew faiths."

Best sights: Tour the historic Christian, Muslim and Hebrew quarters in Jerusalem.

Best excursions: Day trip to Bethlehem, Nazareth. Cruise the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, Mount of the Beatitudes, Tiberias. Drive the Negev Desert to Masada. Visit Petra in Jordan.

Best buys: silver, ancient desert glass, ritual artifacts for all faiths.

"Stockholm is extremely popular. People love cruising the Swedish archipelago of tiny isles toward this lovely, cosmopolitan city built across islands joined by pretty canals."

Best sights: Tour the historic Gamla Stan (old town). Visit the Royal Palace and the City Hall with its "Nobel Prize" hall.

Best excursions: Cruise to 18th-century Drottningholm Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with exquisite baroque and rococo furnishings and surrounded by lavish gardens. Go fishing in the fjords.

Best buys: Swedish modern glass, stainless steel and silver artifacts, wool sweaters.

"People are dazzled by the spectacular scenery."

Best sights: Stand on deck as the ship floats past the glaciers.

Best excursions: From Juneau, go salmon fishing, canoeing or kayaking in the inlets of Glacier Bay. Go flightseeing over the glaciers.

Best buy: Native North American Indian and Eskimo art.

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
"The world may have more romantic, secluded and lusher isles, but St. Thomas always rates tops for having the best duty-free shopping in the Caribbean."

Best sights: The island's historic architecture, found just uphill from the harbour. Visit the old churches, synagogue and sugar mill.

Best excursions: Lounge around on Megans Bay beach. View the underwater world on the Atlantic Submarine. Golf at Mahogany Run.

Best buys: jewellery, watches, linens, liquor.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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