If you’ve ever cruised from the United States of America – particularly if you’ve been more than once – you would know it can offer four very different cruise experiences to travellers sailing from all four corners of the country.
Whether you’re seeking glaciers and serene wildlife, autumn colours, tropical islands or a party on the beach, it would take at least four separate cruises (or one extremely long one) to really give you the best of each. Like the rest of the world though, each of these four corners of the US are at their peak at certain times of the year.
Some can barely be accessed outside of these times, while others are generally quite pleasant year-round. Let’s take a look at each.
Best time to go: May – August, although ships can also be found here in April and August.
There is a fairly narrow window each year for cruising in the far north-west of the USA, but hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of travellers make the journey up to Alaska during this time.
Alaska provides one of the most scenic and naturally beautiful regions of the world to see by sea. With so little development across much of the state, a cruise is the best way to see it if you like getting outside of the major cities and accessing some of the smaller towns and regional centres. Cruises regularly call in the capital Anchorage, with other frequently visited ports including Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, just to name a few.
Many ships also take passengers into the Inside Passage – one of the world’s best waterways for admiring the landscapes.
There are several ports from which you can set off on an Alaskan cruise. If you wish, fly all the way in and set sail from Anchorage, but most people tend to head off from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco. The odd voyage may also be found leaving from Los Angeles. There are also some opportunities on much smaller ships – usually expedition vessels – which may depart from ports in Oregon or outside Vancouver.
Best time to go: May through late October.
Another corner of the USA which flourishes during the warmer months but also experiences freezing cold winters – conditions not conducive to enjoyable cruising. The busiest time of the season here is late in the year, as the expansive forests and rural pastures turn a yellowish brown with the changing of the season, and as autumn takes hold, the sight of miles of falling leaves draws thousands of cruise travellers from all around the world.
Most cruises venturing into this part of the world leave from New York City, however Boston and Montreal also serve as a good point to begin a cruise. If you happen to time your voyage correctly, you can also enjoy these scenes on a Trans-Atlantic voyage with Cunard, as most itineraries will cross from London and cruise down the New England coastline.
Scenery dominates much of a cruise itinerary if you’re sailing here, as you’ll visit ports such as Halifax, Nova Scotia; St John, Charlottetown and Portland, Maine among others. There are great photo opportunities as many ships cruise the Gulf of St Lawrence and Saguenay Fjord.
Best time to go: September through January
While not in Alaska, many of the ships waiting out the winter instead head for the sunnier shores in the south. And while many will continue through the Panama Canal and across to the Caribbean for the winter, some will instead base themselves in Los Angeles or Galveston, Texas and offer itineraries to Mexico and the Western Caribbean.
Depending on which side of the canal you’re cruising, itineraries will offer a different look at the Latin America / Central America region. Norwegian Cruise Line is very active in this part of the world, with multiple ships visiting ports such as Cozumel, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and many more.
The Mexican Riviera is always a haven of activity into which a cruise is a perfect way to see it. Rarely will you find a port missing a party atmosphere, with no music playing and a broad smile on the faces of the locals as they welcome you to their homeland.
Best time to go: Year-round, however the cooler months are November through February.
The Caribbean is quite literally built for cruising. Scenic picturesque islands – one after another – greet passengers on almost a daily basis and make for the perfect beach holiday. That’s why millions of Americans and travellers from all over the world make the trip into this corner of the country for a cruise each year.
It’s also such an expansive area, with many different countries spaced all over the region, meaning it’s impossible to see everything in one go. Due to its popularity, dozens of cruise ships can be found here during the peak winter season, while it’s slightly quieter in summer. Depending on where you’re going, you can see countries including Bermuda, the Bahamas, St Maarten, St Lucia, Martinique, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Grenada and many more.
Many of the major cruise lines also own and operate their own private islands in the Caribbean. These finely tuned destinations are almost always exclusive to that cruise line (or a sister brand) and are fully set up to maximise a guest’s enjoyment. Most of them adopt a similar cashless system to the ship itself, meaning you can leave your wallet onboard and charge all of your island purchases directly to your ship account via your room key.
Best time to go: Year-round.
America’s 50th state practically sits in a bubble of its own. Enjoying perfect weather nearly year-round, with a calm, cool breeze for much of that, a relaxed lifestyle and an eternally positive holiday atmosphere, Hawaii seems like the Pacific Ocean’s answer to the Caribbean.
Yet despite this and despite frequent visits by others, Hawaii features only one cruise ship based in the ‘Islands of Aloha’ throughout the year. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America sets sail every Saturday on its week-long lap of the four main Hawaiian islands – visiting Maui, Kona, Hilo and Kauai as well as cruising the Napali Coast.
Hawaii’s seemingly perfect weather means it is a pleasant experience to cruise here anytime through the year, so there’s no need to carefully plan your visit to maximise the temperature and the conditions. Pride of America is a very modern ship, having recently been refurbished (as of mid-2016) to feature the latest of the Norwegian Cruise Line experience.
If you’re looking for an alternative way to cruise Hawaii without beginning or ending your holiday here, many ships based on the west coast of the US also visit Hawaii, so it’s easy to set sail from Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco (or even sometimes Vancouver).
If you have the available time, you can even cruise to Hawaii from Australia by joining one of many repositioning voyages on the many international ships which spend the summer in Australia and head back to North America during our winter. These depart in March and April and usually run for around three weeks, so you’ll also need a one-way airfare to get home.