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As part of a series on long weekend getaways, we’re showing you how to make the most of your summer Fridays, school breaks and the season’s extra-long days. Check back every week for inspired itineraries and easy escapes.
After years of flying around the world to hop on cruise ships, I recently took a weekend sailing out of my hometown that was nothing short of a revelation.
Thursday afternoon, I tossed a few outfits and a swimsuit into a bag, hopped in a cab and was boarding the Carnival Horizon out of Manhattan’s west side terminal in less than an hour. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I was in my swimsuit eating fish tacos by the pool under the blazing summer sun — and on my way to Bermuda to lay out on pink sand beaches and snorkel around the shipwrecks. (Heck, without fear of having to check luggage, I had even been able to pack a giant bottle of sunscreen.)
But best of all, I disembarked first thing Monday morning, early enough to be at my desk before my first meeting of the week. It was easily the most low-effort vacation I’d ever taken — no flight required! — and one of the better values, too.
Fortunately, there are a lot of cruises out of these so-called “homeports” — cities where the vast majority of the cruises are from the drive market. Sure, plenty of these people have further to go than the 20-minute cab ride across town, but they still save all that airfare money and get to board in mere hours from when they leave home.
And while short sailings used to be only offered on a line’s oldest vessels — for condensed, cheap getaways that were all about drinking and partying — now you’ll find newer ships on offer and (with the resulting uptick in price) more diverse crowds. After all, many people use these less expensive, less time-consuming trips to try out cruising for the first time. That said, you’re most likely to find options on the biggest cruise ships; the most upscale lines rarely have sailings of less than a week. Read on for six of our favorite short sailings from a variety of US ports that you can try on your next long weekend.
A 4-night cruise to Bermuda with Carnival
Ship: Carnival Horizon
Departs from: New York City
This is the cruise I took, and it’s on Carnival’s newest ship, which was just christened in May. These sailings are offered in July, August and September, and you can take advantage of the ship’s specially designed Family Harbor cabins (ideal for families with small children) or the Havana cabins, which have a more elegant colonial-inspired design, hammock chairs on the terraces and a shared palapa-topped pool space that is reserved for guests in these rooms all day long. In between sea days — during which you can relax in a hot tub, stretch out on a heated lounger in the spa or play pool on deck — you get a full day in Bermuda. Carnival also offers three-day sailings out of Miami and Port Canaveral (the port associated with Orlando) and four-day sailings from Jacksonville, Florida to the Bahamas. Cruisers can also opt for a four-day Western Caribbean cruise from Tampa, New Orleans or Galveston. From $559 per person.
A 3-night Bahamas cruise with Royal Caribbean
Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas
Departs from: Miami
While the ship isn’t the line’s newest, Mariner of the Seas just came out of dry dock from an extensive $120 million revitalization. Now, you can sip fruity drinks in the line’s first Polynesian-style tiki bar, play virtual reality games or compete on racing waterslides. And with less distance to travel, this weekender sails out of Miami and spends one day in Nassau and another on the line’s Bahamian island of CocoCay. Best of all, CocoCay is also being refreshed and will debut exciting new features in September, including the Caribbean’s largest wave pool (complete with a swim-up bar and partially submerged lounge chairs), 13 water slides and a 1,600-foot zip line. From $299 per person.
A 3-night all-inclusive cruise with Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Sun
Departs from: Port Canaveral or Miami
On many of this ship’s short itineraries, Norwegian Cruise Line offers an unlimited open-bar, so you can drink all the mojitos you like as you sail from Port Canaveral (less than an hour from Orlando) or Miami to the Bahamas and back. This particular itinerary includes a day at the line’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay, making this budget-friendly line the only one to offer all-inclusive sailings to the Bahamas. On Great Stirrup Cay, water sports include snorkeling and jet skiing, and there are oceanfront cabanas for rent. The all-inclusive policy onboard extends to the private island and Great Stirrup Cay has bars serving up umbrella drinks and cold brews all day long. Norwegian was one of the first lines to focus on homeporting, and today the line also offers four-day Bermuda sailings from New York (without the open bar) on one of their newer ships, the Norwegian Getaway; and four-day Western Caribbean sailings from Miami (also, sadly, without the open bar) on the Norwegian Dawn. From $309 per person.
A 4-night cruise to Cuba with Carnival
Ship: Carnival Paradise
Departs from: Tampa
In August and September, Carnival is running cruises to Cuba with an overnight stay in Havana, meaning you can depart from Florida on Thursday night, check Cuba off the bucket list, and be back in town by Monday morning. During your day at sea, you can elbow up to the tequila bar, splash around at the onboard waterpark or (for something more mellow) escape to the adults-only Serenity retreat, complete with hammocks, an exclusive bar and plush sun beds. And because you have all night in Cuba, you can even check out the famous Tropicana cabaret show — and there’s plenty of time to sample the island’s famous rum and cigars. From $404 per person.
A 4-night West Coast sailing with Princess Cruises
Ship: Ruby Princess
Departs from: Los Angeles
Princess offers a variety of short sailings ranging from one to five-days in length along the West Coast on a few different ships, including this four-day sailing that calls on Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. This particular itinerary departs includes a full day at sea and, unlike many others, is round-trip. (Travelers return to Los Angeles by Monday at 6:15am.) Princess also offers five-day West Coast sailings that include a call in San Francisco as well as several three-day West Coast cruises on the Golden Princess and Emerald Princess. These trips have no ports at all, and are a great way for West Coasters to sample what it’s like to be at sea. From $524 per person.
A 4-night Bahamas sailing with Celebrity Cruises
Ship: Celebrity Infinity
Departs from: Fort Lauderdale
Unfortunately, this short cruise with the more upscale line, Celebrity Cruises, doesn’t set sail until November — but it will be worth the wait. The Celebrity Infinity (which received a makeover in 2015) features a Canyon Ranch SpaClub and boasts a guest to staff ratio of approximately 2:1. On this sailing, the Celebrity Infinity calls in Key West before cruising to Nassau, with a day at sea in the middle. Like the Carnival Horizon sailing I enjoyed from New York City, travelers return to Florida by 7:00a.m. on Monday morning. This ship also sails several five-night Western Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale in November and December with calls in Cozumel instead of Nassau and an extra day at sea. From $279 per person.
Feature image by Shutterstock.
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