Over the past 15 years and 99 nights I have spent at sea (at the time of writing) I’ve visited a good few ports of call. But last year, I think I found my most favourite cruise port– ever! (I’ll tell you where it is and why in a moment).
What exactly makes a great port of call?
There are lots of things that might make a port of call enjoyable for you on your cruise. You may have a different set of criteria; however thought I’d share mine with you.
So, drumroll please…. my favourite port call is …. Flam.
But first, here’s the criteria on which I personally judge a good port of call.
I expect this is going to be an important aspect for a lot of people, not just myself. Is the port safe enough to walk around without feeling that you need to keep a constant eye on your valuables? Are there likely to be cultural or language barriers which you will need assistance from a local tour guide to help you stay safe? Is it straightforward to get off the ship to the main port attractions without the need to walk across busy roads or have to travel through industrialised areas either on foot or by shuttle bus?
When we’re travelling independently and not booked on a ship’s shore excursion, this can be a really important factor for us. It’s become even more important over recent years when travelling with kids. When you all feel safe in a port, it helps you to enjoy and relax a bit more – which is what holiday is all about.
This is another important factor for me. When you arrive at your port of call, can you get to main attractions or the centre of the port without the need to wait for a tender, or shuttle bus? Can you just wander off the ship or is there going to be some amount of queueing involved to get off and back on the ship (either for the shuttle bus or the tender)? Can you get back to the ship quickly if you need to without much hassle or delay?
This aspect can be important if the port you are visiting is quite expensive and you’re on a tight budget, so you’d prefer to have lunch back on the ship. It can also be helpful if you’ve forgotten the something or you want to pop back and collect that extra camera battery or phone charger.
When travelling with kids it can also be an important factor as you can return to the safety of the ship (and the kids clubs) if the mini cruisers you’re travelling with start to get overtired without much trouble or delay. Ports which are highly accessible also tend to allow you to explore without the need to book onto expensive, guided excursions or tours.
Value for money
If you’re anything like me, you always want to ensure your budget stretches as far as possible without cutting back on the enjoyment factor. So a port of call which offers value for money (or even better, free) activities is always a bonus.
Are there plenty of free or low-cost things to do whilst in port? for example; scenic walks, free to visit museums, clean and safe beaches, children’s parks, are there free toilets? Or do you feel that you have to pay to enjoy anything? Are there plenty of good value bars and restaurants available? Additionally when you do have to pay something such as a meal or an activity, does it present good value for money or do you feel that you are paying the ‘tourist premium’?
Variety is the spice of life. So, is there plenty to do at port?
This is not so much about the volume of activities on offer, but more about a good range of different activities for all ages to get involved in – from quiet places to just sit and people watch with a nice glass of something, to more adventurous activities such as kayaking or snorkelling (for example) – or perhaps just something in between such as a good selection interesting places to wander around and shop for souvenirs?
A port which has a wide appeal in terms of a range of activities is likely to suit cruise passengers of all ages and this can be particularly important if you are travelling with multiple generations, tastes and preferences.
I’ll get straight to the point – is the port picturesque? Or are you docked in a more industrialised port with very little on offer – either scenically or activity-wise? Does the port offer the ‘wow factor’? Are there plenty of photo opportunities? Will you get that ‘highlight of the cruise’ photo to post on social media and make family and friends instantly jealous and want a book on a cruise?
I’ll get straight to the point once again; this is the REAL test of whether it’s a good port of call: Would you return and visit for longer on a land-based holiday (gasp!)?
So those are my main criteria when judging how good a port of call is. Having some criteria can be useful especially if you plan to do a lot of cruising or keep a travel journal as it can be a good way of deciding which itineraries will suit you best when deciding on your next cruise.
So why Flam?
For me, Flam scores highly on all of the criteria above.
It’s easily accessible, one of the safest places I felt when exploring at port and its achingly picturesque (in all weathers). There’s plenty to do; for example you can hire eco-cars or hop on the Flam Railway to explore a little bit further from port. Alternatively, you can just wander around the charming shops, bars and bakeries to hunt for souvenirs (and pick up some refreshments on the way). There are also plenty of scenic walks to take jaw droppingly gorgeous photos and a kid’s park a stone’s throw from where the ship is berthed.
I’d certainly return to Flam again for a longer holiday (and it’s good to know there are plenty of accommodation options available too). So it definitely hits the ‘golden buzzer’ in terms of ports of call – I’d definitely be prepared to spend some of my future holiday time here instead of on a cruise ship.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I visited Flam on a recent Norwegian Fjords Cruise A922 with P&O Cruises