A Cruiser’s Warning: The 18 Worst Ports on the High Seas

Cruising often evokes dreams of serene seas, idyllic islands, and days filled with sun-soaked leisure. Yet, the reality of every port of call does not always match these picturesque expectations.

In a bustling tropical industrial harbor, where cruise ships are mere backdrops to the frenetic pace of commerce, lies the lesser-seen side of cruising.

Let’s go into the ports that, despite their potential, have left travelers feeling let down, as reflected in online reviews and firsthand experiences.

From the incessant buzz of industrial zones lacking the quintessential charm of a holiday retreat to visually appealing locales overshadowed by safety and cleanliness issues, this compilation of the least favorable cruise ports is an essential read for your next trip…

Worst Cruise Ports Worldwide

Samana, Dominican Republic

Samana, Dominican Republic

If you find yourself sailing the Caribbean sea, your journey might include a stop at the quaint town of Samana in the Dominican Republic. This destination often features in routes chosen by cruise companies such as Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, and Explora Journeys from MSC Cruises.

A dive into traveler feedback reveals some concerns about this destination. Safety appears to be an issue, with several visitors expressing discomfort, particularly when accompanied by youngsters. Instances where local children’s conduct has been perceived as forward have led some families to curtail their shore excursion and return to their cruise ship.

In terms of things to do, Samana might not meet the expectations of those anticipating a hub of activity. The reality on the ground has been described by some as a distinct lack of viable tourist attractions—with underdeveloped infrastructure and roads in need of repair adding to the impression of neglect. A succinct quote from one traveler referring to the area as a “crappy place” reflects the general dissatisfaction.

Despite these concerns, there is a silver lining for art enthusiasts who can discover unique local artwork amidst the hustle. That said, the aggressive sales approach and distressing sights of children begging can overshadow the shopping experience, hinting at the broader economic struggles within the town.

For the adventurous souls embarking on guided tours, the payoff has been inconsistent. Even popular nature hikes leading to waterfalls have left many disillusioned due to the less than ideal trekking conditions and scenery that didn’t quite match up to expectations.

Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau Cruise Port
Source: @marynx8

When setting sail for the balmy waters of the Bahamas, you might find yourself docking at the bustling port of Nassau, the nation’s heart. It’s a common stop on many Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean voyages. And while its familiarity might have some experienced mariners choosing to stay aboard, Nassau is reinventing the shore excursion game.

Should you opt for a taste of the local flavor, culinary tours are now a tantalizing option. Meander through the vibrant local eateries and markets to sample authentic Bahamian fare.

This new twist on sightseeing allows you to savor the island in an entirely different way, apart from the glamour of Atlantis and other vast resorts.

A stone’s throw away from where your ship nestles, discover the allure of the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. This cultural gem is nestled in a historical villa, offering a quiet retreat filled with artistic treasures.

After imbibing in visual delights, the nearby area invites you to explore charming shops where you can find handcrafted goods, luxurious chocolates, and the quintessence of the islands in the form of finely rolled cigars and rich, aromatic rum.

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monte Carlo, Monaco cruise port

Nestled within the principality of Monaco, Monte Carlo boasts a certain sheen and royal charm, thanks largely to the legacy of Princess Grace. The splendor, however, does have its complexities. When you stroll by the Grand Casino, remember there’s a dress code to heed.

Cafes may dazzle, but they do ask for a hefty price tag, which can leave you feeling more like an onlooker to its affluent lifestyle. Yet there are times when the city truly comes alive in a way that’s more accessible. Picture yourself there during the exhilaration of the Formula One Grand Prix, as race cars thunder past, creating an electrifying atmosphere.

For an adrenaline rush that you can take the wheel of, why not indulge in a thrilling drive along the French Riviera in a F430 F1 Spider Ferrari, under the guidance of an expert, no less? Excursions like these offer a taste of the fast lane and these experiences can provide a novel way to appreciate Monte Carlo’s unique character.

Prince Rupert, Canada

Prince Rupert Cruise Port

In the midst of the breathtaking Alaskan cruise routes, Prince Rupert in British Columbia often emerges as a common, yet somewhat underwhelming stopover. This small town, frequently found on the itineraries of many cruise ships, offers an experience that is often described as “simple” and “uninspiring” by travelers.

The downtown area of Prince Rupert, characterized by its straightforward layout, features a modest selection of shops, where the most notable establishments are chains like Safeway and Seven-Eleven.

Described by some as “skidrowish,” the town’s aesthetics are plain, lacking the frills and charms found in more popular cruise destinations.

When it comes to shopping and activities, Prince Rupert presents a quieter scene, especially in the evenings as many shops close early. This can be a stark contrast for those accustomed to the lively ambiance of bustling cruise ports.

The principal local excursion available is the Prince Rupert City Highlights and Museum tour. This includes a scenic drive around the town with a brief stop at the museum, which often concludes quicker than advertised.

Despite its seeming lack of allure, Prince Rupert serves a strategic role in cruise itineraries. Due to maritime laws like the Jones Act and Passenger Vessel Services Act in the U.S., which require ships to dock at a foreign terminal when traveling between American ports, Prince Rupert becomes a necessary stopover.

Additionally, it serves as a practical point for cruise ships to refuel, restock, and rotate crew members.

Understanding Prince Rupert’s role in your cruise itinerary can add a layer of appreciation for the complexities of maritime travel. While it may not be the highlight of your cruise, this stopover is a reminder of the logistical necessities that shape your journey through the majestic Alaskan routes.

Santa Marta, Colombia

Santa Marta, Colombia Cruise Port

Santa Marta, a port frequently visited by cruise lines such as Windstar Cruises, Explora Journeys, Silversea, and Seabourn, stands as a gateway to the lush Tayrona National Natural Park. While the park offers a lush, adventurous escape, the urban charm of Santa Marta itself may fall short of expectations.

Primarily a commercial hub, Santa Marta’s skyline is marked by industrial elements, including coal deposits, creating a stark contrast to the idyllic Caribbean image many travelers anticipate.

The port area is utilitarian, offering limited options for leisurely exploration. Visitors often describe the city’s aesthetic as “unappealing” and note cleanliness issues.

The presence of enthusiastic street vendors adds to the bustling atmosphere, though their fervor can sometimes be overwhelming. Safety is a key concern, with many travelers advising caution regarding personal belongings.

For those seeking to experience the area’s beauty while avoiding the urban congestion, organized excursions are highly recommended.

These trips, especially to Tayrona National Natural Park, allow visitors to bypass the less appealing aspects of the port and dive into the natural splendor and tranquility that lies beyond.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Ocho Rios Jamaica  Cruise Port
Source: @isaacocho

Venturing to Ocho Rios? On your initial jaunt, you’ll likely scale the iconic Dunn’s River Falls or seek thrills at Mystic Mountain’s adventure haven.

For those returning, the options might not seem as clear-cut, especially if structured tours or physical exertions aren’t your preference.

Desiring a more laid-back activity? Let the rhythm of reggae lead you to Bob Marley’s Mausoleum at Nine Mile, tucked within the serene Saint Ann Parish.

Transportation is available right from your cruise terminal, setting the stage for a melodious escape that honors Jamaica’s legendary artist.

Santos, Brazil

When your cruise anchors in Santos, you might be tempted to visit Sao Paulo—a buzzing metropolis beckoning from nearby. As much as a hundred cruise ships stop by Santos annually, hinting at a busy hub. Yet, travellers suggest making use of the port only as a passageway to Sao Paulo’s vibrant scenes.

Navigating from the ship to Santos city can feel like a maze. An industrial heart means you’ll likely hop onto a shuttle to the terminal, followed by a bus ride enveloped in the city’s bustle. Patience will be your companion, as traffic often swallows up a good chunk of the journey.

Upon setting foot in Santos, some visitors voice concerns regarding their safety and the overall appeal of the town, hinting it may not hit the charming checklist.

While the recommended stopover by the cruise—a local shopping center—might fall short of exciting, it also might not reflect the colorful tapestry that is Brazil’s culture.

Perhaps venturing out of Sao Paulo on a guided tour could spice up your visit? Some experiences, however, seem to miss the mark, leading adventurers through less-than-polished neighborhoods and not quite capturing the area’s best side.

It’s worth considering your options, weighing the cost against experiences that truly resonate with the Brazilian spirit.

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, a frequent stop for Eastern Caribbean cruises by Aida, Marella, and Seabourn, presents a mixed bag of experiences. As the bustling capital of the Dominican Republic, home to over a million residents, the city grapples with safety concerns.

Visitors are often advised to remain vigilant against theft and to travel in groups for added security. The visible presence of security personnel around the port, while initially reassuring, tends to emphasize the need for caution rather than alleviate it.

Cleanliness, or the lack thereof, is another point of contention in Santo Domingo. The port area, often criticized for its maintenance, can leave a negative first impression with litter scattered in the water and on the streets, raising health and environmental concerns.

The immediate vicinity of the port lacks facilities and attractions, which might leave visitors yearning for more engaging activities unless they venture deeper into the city or join organized excursions.

However, these excursions themselves are a gamble. Tour organization can be hit or miss, with some tourists finding the beaches underwhelming or the travel distances to activity sites disappointingly long.

Despite these drawbacks, Santo Domingo does hold hidden treasures like “Los Tres Ojos” park, a stunning natural limestone cave that offers a glimpse into the city’s potential beauty.

These highlights, though often overshadowed by the city’s less favorable aspects, suggest that an experience in Santo Domingo can greatly vary and might turn out to be unexpectedly rewarding for the adventurous traveler.

Agadir, Morocco

Agadir, a bustling industrial port in Morocco, presents a set of challenges for cruise ship passengers looking to explore. The city center, not within comfortable walking distance from the port, requires reliance on transportation.

For navigating the area, it’s advisable to use the shuttle service or hire a taxi, though be prepared to negotiate fares for a full-day hire. For safety, it’s recommended to opt for secure transportation methods rather than walking from the port.

The local markets, particularly the vibrant souk, offer a chance to delve into Moroccan market culture. However, be aware that the souk is closed on Mondays and brace yourself for aggressive sales tactics.

Vigilance over personal belongings is essential in these bustling areas.

Compared to the polished allure of Casablanca, Agadir might seem rough around the edges. The city’s vibe is marred by visible poverty and instances of begging, which can be off-putting for some visitors.

In terms of urban aesthetics, certain areas of Agadir may appear unkempt or even hostile. Staying within tourist-friendly zones is advisable to avoid less pleasant parts of the city.

Additionally, budgeting for transportation and other expenses is important to ensure a value-filled visit without unwelcome surprises.

Despite these drawbacks, Agadir still offers a unique window into Moroccan life. Its traditional markets and cultural experiences can provide a rich and authentic encounter with the local lifestyle.

Being aware of these nuances will help you make the most of your stay in this distinctive Moroccan port city.

Salvador De Bahia, Brazil

Salvador De Bahia, Brazil Cruise Port

Salvador De Bahia, a historic Brazilian city and a regular stop for MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises, offers a unique experience that diverges from the typical Brazilian vibrancy. Visitors disembarking here are often greeted with a less than ideal first impression, as the city’s charm is challenged by litter-filled streets and widespread graffiti.

This unfortunate sense of neglect can be jarring for those expecting the clean, picturesque scenes often associated with Brazilian locales.

The city’s aesthetics are further diminished by structures in various states of disrepair, some showing signs of mold and decay, clouding the historical beauty Salvador De Bahia is known for.

Safety is a considerable concern, with an increased risk of petty crimes such as theft, especially in crowded marketplaces where the intensity of the crowd can escalate.

Begging and aggressive solicitation, particularly from street performers, is a common occurrence, contrasting sharply with the warm hospitality Brazil is famed for. This aggressive panhandling may come as a surprise to visitors expecting more genial interactions.

Guided excursions within Salvador often mirror these pervasive issues, highlighting areas that are poorly maintained.

The signs of socioeconomic hardship are evident throughout the city, with visible homelessness and disrepair contributing to a somber tone during your visit.

Despite these challenges, Salvador De Bahia remains a city steeped in rich history and culture. With adequate preparation and awareness, visitors can still uncover the unique stories and character intrinsic to Salvador de Bahia, experiencing the deeper layers of this historic Brazilian city.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville, Cambodia Cruise Port

Sihanoukville, a frequent stop for cruise ships like Seabourn and Oceania Cruises, often leaves visitors feeling underwhelmed, presenting a stark contrast to the serene beauty expected of Southeast Asia.

The city is undergoing significant transformation, moving away from its origins as a charming fishing village to become a bustling urban center, largely due to intense development and the construction of new casinos.

Environmental issues further mar the experience in Sihanoukville. The local beaches, once pristine, now struggle with pollution problems. Visitors often find themselves disheartened by the sight of plastic waste and even raw sewage contaminating the waters.

The beachfront, saddled with litter and unpleasant odors, is a far cry from the clean and tranquil seaside retreats one might anticipate in this region.

The experience of exploring Sihanoukville can also be hampered by the persistent taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who aggressively seek out tourists. This overbearing attention often makes it challenging for visitors to explore the area peacefully and at their own pace.

Adding to the inconvenience, a Cambodian visa is mandatory for all cruise passengers, regardless of whether they choose to disembark.

This requirement imposes an additional cost that can feel unnecessary, especially for those who decide not to explore the city. Furthermore, the shuttle services from the port, necessary for reaching the main areas of interest, come with their own set of fees.

Given the current state of the port and the city, these expenses may seem unjustified.

Despite its potential, Sihanoukville currently struggles to offer the rewarding and picturesque experience typically sought by cruise guests in Southeast Asia.

Manzanillo, Mexico

Manzanillo, Mexico Cruise Port

Manzanillo, a frequent stop for cruises by Norwegian, Princess, or Holland America, often leaves guests yearning for more captivating activities and sights. Its proximity to the port does little to enhance its appeal, as entertainment options and attractions for individual exploration are notably sparse.

The reality of Manzanillo is a far cry from the picturesque coastal town visitors might anticipate; instead, its predominantly commercial atmosphere, driven by shipping activities, creates a bustling and less traditional vacation environment.

The city’s ambiance can be jarring for those expecting a tranquil seaside escape. Beaches suitable for sunbathing and swimming are not immediately accessible; reaching them requires a substantial taxi ride, often at steep fares.

This lack of convenient beach access is a significant drawback for those looking to enjoy Mexico’s famed coastal beauty.

Security in Manzanillo is another concern for visitors. The port security’s severe appearance, combined with the aloofness encountered from some locals, can dampen the warm, welcoming experience found in other destinations.

Furthermore, even organized excursions often fail to live up to expectations. Visitors might find themselves on lengthy bus rides to less-than-impressive sightseeing locations, coupled with mediocre dining experiences and tour guides who fall short of providing a memorable experience.

Halifax, Canada

Halifax, Canada cruise port

While you’re in Halifax, the charm of this cozy maritime hub won’t escape you. With less than 300,000 residents, it presents a refreshing small-town vibe.

After a scenic drive to Peggy’s Cove, you’ve likely savored delicious lobster while capturing the perfect photograph of the iconic lighthouse.

While the area’s allure is unmistakable, you might find that additional maritime destinations offer a new twist.

To truly immerse yourself in local culture, consider exploring outside the city limits where Nova Scotia’s wine and craft beer offerings blossom.

An excursion through the Annapolis Valley, renowned for its vineyards, could introduce you to some exquisite local flavors that are tough to find beyond provincial borders.

Manama, Bahrain

Manama, Bahrain CRUISE PORT

As you set your sights on the skyline of Manama, the silhouette of the World Trade Center building carves a striking presence against the backdrop of this island nation.

Bahrain, a hidden gem nestled off the coast of Saudi Arabia, opens its arms to explorers of the seas. Yet, you might find yourself asking what treasures Bahrain holds beyond its glossy exterior.

While here, a peek into history awaits at the Bahrain National Museum or amidst the ancient walls of Qal’at al-Bahrain, a testament to the Dilmun civilization and a proud UNESCO World Heritage Site. These two sites alone can captivate you for hours, but they mark just a snippet of what Bahrain has to offer.

If a spiritual connection is what you seek, keep in mind that not all sanctuaries welcome travelers during your visit.

Similarly, the roar of engines at the local racetrack may be absent during your stopover. But don’t let your heart be troubled if these experiences elude you.

Consider venturing further afield on another Arabian Gulf cruise to experience the serene beauty and rich culture of Oman, should the winds call you back to these waters.

Brest, France

Brest, located in France, presents a unique experience for cruise ship visitors, particularly those arriving on lines that may not typically focus on tourism-driven ports.

Known for its strong maritime tradition and industrial focus, Brest operates primarily as a working port, engaged in shipping activities rather than catering to tourists.

This aspect significantly influences the visitor experience, as the port lacks the usual array of tourist attractions found in more popular cruise destinations.

The city’s distance from the cruise port adds to the challenge, with shuttle services often having pick-up points far from central locations.

This makes it difficult for visitors to spontaneously explore the city and access its key focal points. Attractions around the port are limited, requiring either a rental car or reliance on public transportation to reach more engaging sights.

Moreover, the local ambiance in Brest might differ from the warmth and hospitality typically associated with French towns. Visitors have reported a more reserved atmosphere, which might contrast with expectations of a friendly and welcoming environment.

For those planning to visit Brest, it’s advisable to conduct thorough research before arrival. This includes looking into local customs, understanding scheduled holidays that might affect the availability of attractions or services, and preparing to navigate transportation independently.

Having a solid plan and knowing your transportation options, such as rental cars or public transit routes, can make a significant difference in the enjoyment of your visit.

Docking in Brest requires an adjustment of expectations. It’s not a typical tourist town overflowing with attractions, but rather a place where exploration requires a bit more effort.

Planning ahead and embracing the unique character of Brest can help uncover the hidden gems of this maritime city, allowing visitors to make the most of their experience in this distinct French port.

Alotau, Papua New Guinea

Alotau, Papua New Guinea Cruise Port

Alotau, a port in Papua New Guinea, offers a raw and authentic glimpse into the life and culture of this unique region, despite not fitting the typical image of postcard perfection.

The town, while charming in its own right, may initially disappoint visitors with the presence of litter and a lack of pristine cleanliness. However, those willing to look beyond these imperfections will discover the true essence of Alotau.

The port town’s infrastructure reflects its status as a developing region. The local marketplaces are simple and unpretentious, giving visitors a sense of the everyday life of its residents.

The roads in Alotau can be a challenge, often uneven and testing the durability of footwear. Visitors should come prepared for these rugged conditions and the high humidity typical of the area.

The spirit and culture of Alotau, however, are its true treasures. Engaging with the local community reveals a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

The people of Alotau are eager to share their stories and cultural heritage, making interactions with them a highlight of any visit. Participating in native village tours and enjoying traditional performances provide a deep dive into the cultural richness of the region, turning what might seem like an ordinary stop into an extraordinary experience.

Visitors to Alotau should adjust their expectations, setting aside any desires for luxury and instead anticipating a genuine encounter with the culture and people of Papua New Guinea.

This port town may be rough around the edges, but it compensates with a rich personality and the opportunity for meaningful cultural encounters. Embracing the unexpected and the simplicity of Alotau allows for a truly enchanting experience in this quaint hub of the Milne Bay Province.

Le Harve, France

Le Harve, France Cruise Port

Le Havre, located in France’s Normandy region, is a common stop for many cruise lines navigating Western European routes. However, it often fails to deliver the quintessential French experience that many cruise passengers anticipate.

This bustling port city, known more for its commercial and maritime significance than for tourism, presents a stark contrast to the romantic and historical charm typically associated with French destinations.

Upon disembarking in Le Havre, visitors are greeted by a cityscape that bears the marks of its post-World War II reconstruction. The modernist architecture, led by Auguste Perret, while recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, may not appeal to those seeking the picturesque, old-world elegance of France.

The extensive use of concrete and the functional design of buildings can come across as cold and uninviting, especially compared to the more opulent and historic architecture found in other French cities.

The city’s layout further complicates the visitor experience. Le Havre’s attractions, such as its beach, art museum, and shopping areas, are spread out, making them less accessible for cruise passengers who have limited time. Public transport options are available, but they may not be as convenient or intuitive for tourists.

In terms of ambiance, Le Havre can sometimes feel detached and business-like, lacking the cozy, welcoming vibe that is often sought after in smaller French towns. While the locals are generally polite, the warmth and hospitality that characterize many tourist-centric destinations in France might be less pronounced here.

For those visiting Le Havre, it’s advisable to plan ahead and perhaps consider organized excursions to nearby attractions, such as the charming town of Honfleur or the historic D-Day beaches. These destinations offer a more traditional French experience and can be accessed via a short drive or tour from Le Havre.

Le Havre, with its unique character and modernist flair, might not be the worst cruise port for those who appreciate 20th-century architecture and urban design.

However, for those seeking the classic French allure, it may leave something to be desired. Understanding the city’s history and architectural significance can enhance the visit, but it’s a destination that requires a bit of research and planning to truly appreciate.

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico CRUISE PORT

Cozumel, a popular Caribbean cruise destination off the coast of Mexico, often frequented by major cruise lines, presents a mixed experience for visitors. While it’s renowned for its beautiful coral reefs and water activities, some aspects of the port can leave travelers wanting more from their experience.

Upon arrival, guests often face the overwhelming presence of tourist-centric commerce. The port area is densely packed with souvenir shops, aggressive salespeople, and a multitude of excursion offers, which can be daunting for those seeking a more authentic or relaxed experience.

The commercial atmosphere often overshadows the island’s natural beauty and cultural richness, making it challenging for visitors to experience the true essence of Cozumel.

The city’s main areas, heavily tailored to tourists, sometimes lack the authentic Mexican charm and culture one might expect. Many visitors find that the restaurants, shops, and attractions near the port are geared more towards international tourists, with prices reflecting this target audience.

This commercialization can detract from the genuine Cozumel experience and can be off-putting for those seeking to immerse themselves in the local culture.

In terms of the natural environment, while Cozumel is home to stunning beaches and marine life, access to these more pristine areas often requires transportation away from the main port area. The beaches near the port can be crowded, with limited space and facilities, pushing visitors to seek more secluded spots further away.

Safety and navigation can also be concerns for visitors. The bustling nature of the port area, combined with the constant flow of tourists and traffic, can make exploration on foot less enjoyable. Visitors are advised to be cautious and aware of their surroundings, especially when venturing outside the tourist zones.

For a more fulfilling experience in Cozumel, it’s recommended to venture beyond the immediate port area. Exploring the island’s less commercialized parts, diving into its renowned coral reefs, or even taking a short trip to the less crowded eastern side can reveal the true beauty of Cozumel.

While the port itself may not offer the most authentic experience, the island has much to offer for those willing to explore a bit further.

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