The Case for Planning a City Break Before Your Cruise

Are you sailing on a cruise from a nearby homeport?  If not, you are likely flying to Europe or another distant destination to join your cruise ship. Why not extend your vacation for a couple of days and enjoy the city?

If you are sailing from a homeport, you can drive (or be driven) to the pier on the day of your cruise. If you live in New York and are sailing from Southampton, you will be flying to London. It is prudent to arrive a day or two early because although deplaning and boarding a bus to your ship sounds good in theory, there are too many risks like flight delays. You do not want to cut it too close and miss your ship.

Let us consider the example of flying to London, spending two nights and getting down to Southampton. My wife and I did the same thing in early January when we sailed Cunard’s Queen Victoria on the first leg of her 98-night world cruise. London will be our example, but most of the principles are valid for any major capital, port or financial center city.

  1. Getting into town. If you are like us, you want to avoid “hand me your wallet” type experiences whenever possible. Taking a taxi from Heathrow into Central London will cost a fortune. There is always lots of traffic. The Heathrow Express train runs about 25 GBP ($30 USD at $1.20 to 1 GBP as of 2/17/23) The TFL Rail, formerly known as Heathrow Connect or the Piccadilly Line on the Underground cost about 5.50 GBP.  We have been taking the Piccadilly line with our luggage for years.
  2. Staying in town. London vies for the unenviable title of most expensive city in the world. Depending on the year, sometimes Moscow or Tokyo “win.” The good news is there are plenty of hotels at lots of price points. We stayed at the Marriott Kensington. As an example, the weekend rate for Friday Feb 17th through Monday, February 19th averages 178 GBP per night or about $213/night. If you belong to your favorite hotel’s loyalty program, you might get breakfast or executive lounge access as a perk.
  3. Theater. London’s West End is famous in the same way as Broadway in New York. Times Square has its famous TKTS outlet for discounted same day theater tickets. London has it’s equivalent, the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. We have used it many times and been happy with the seats. Try not to book theater tickets for the evening of the day you arrive because you will sleep through the show.
  4. Shopping. Samuel Johnson famously said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” There is plenty to tempt you. Harrods could be considered a “museum of shopping” especially when you discover the fine jewelry department. Harvey Nichols, located nearby, is a trendier store. Marks & Spencer is a more practically priced department store. Unlike back home, many European department stores have supermarkets in the basement, which they call food halls. This is ideal if you are thinking of picnicking in your hotel room. For some reason, champagne seems to be cheaper in England than in the US. Also, the stores logoed reusable shopping bags make great status symbols back home.
  5. Fine dining. The city you choose will have world-class restaurants. The Michelin Guide, which can be accessed online, makes this research easy. London has 66 of them! New York has 73. You will be enjoying fine food on your cruise, but it’s helpful to have a frame of reference fresh in your mind before you board the ship.
  6. Getting to the pier. You do not want to get this wrong. A taxi might run your 200+ GBP because it’s 79 miles away. FYI: After seeing countless Poirot episodes and films, I showed up at Waterloo station ready to take “the boat train” to Southampton, only to discover they probably stopped running in the 1950’s. UK rail strikes are happening at the moment, so we opted for the National Express bus service. It’s the UK equivalent of Greyhound. It ran under 10 GBP and took about an hour and 45 minutes. The driver loaded our luggage. Taxis were not hard to find in Southampton.

There is much more you can do in the great capital cities of the world. You can have a great time without spending a bundle. You will join your ship totally relaxed and ready to have a great time.

Ed. Notes: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world. Browse Cruise Ships and Cruise Lines

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Cover photo: Crowded South Miami Beach on a Sunday in winter ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews




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