If you’ve taken a Caribbean cruise, odds are that it started with a trip to Florida and a sailaway from Miami, Port Canaveral or the like. But there’s another option, and one that can be more convenient and decidedly different: cruising from New York. That’s what I did on my current cruise.
In fact, I chose this cruise on the Norwegian Gem partly because it sailed from New York, for two reasons. First, it’s a little cheaper to fly from Toronto to New York than to Florida. Second, it’s a great excuse to spend some time in New York City.
Flying in the day before my cruise, I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering through the brilliant New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, browsing the outdoor market at nearby Bryant Park, and checking out the Christmas decorations at Rockefeller Center. Then dinner with friends at Joe Allen, a quirky theatre district restaurant that made its name celebrating Broadway’s flops instead of its hits.
The next morning, after a spin around Lincoln Center and a walk in Central Park, I was ready to meet my ship. Some cruises leave from Port Liberty, across the river in New Jersey, but mine was sailing from the Manhattan Cruise Center — which, as it says, is right in midtown Manhattan. In fact, it’s almost next door to the dock where you might have taken a Circle Line harbour cruise.
I had booked the Watson Hotel, on the west side of Manhattan, in order to be close to the port. So when it was time to go, I simply rolled my bag out the front door and walked. It took a little longer than I expected, since the passenger entrance is at 48th Street rather than 52nd Street, as the map suggested. But still, I was there in 15 minutes. A cab from LaGuardia or Kennedy Airport would take much longer. But it is possible to reach the port by subway: the nearest stop is 50th Street.
I had heard some bad things about chaotic scenes at the New York cruise port, but recent reports indicate the situation has improved. And they seem to be right: the lineup to check in was long, even though I arrived early, but it was really no worse than I’ve experienced at any other cruise dock around the world.
And then I walked through the raised passageways leading to the ship, and I was aboard the Norwegian Gem. I’ll be posting a detailed look at the ship later, but as I took my first look around, what struck me was how different it was to be standing in the outdoor cafe of a Caribbean cruiser looking at the Manhattan skyline.
It seemed incongruous, especially when I looked over the pool and water slide to see the towers of downtown New York in the background (photo at top). Just as odd was the sight of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum next door, with a Concorde jet on the apron and a real submarine at the dock.
But as we sailed out in the evening, we got full value from another perk that comes with cruising from New York: a brilliant view of the Manhattan skyline, lit up against the dark sky. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building stood out like beacons, and later, the Statue of Liberty waved goodbye as we sailed off into the North Atlantic and out of the northern winter.
Our escape would not be a quick one, however. New York is a long way from the Caribbean, and while we left Manhattan on Tuesday evening, we wouldn’t arrive in Antigua, our first port of call, until Saturday morning. Before that, there was some bumpy North Atlantic sailing for a day or so before the air warmed and the seas got calm. Still, Caribbean, here we come.