How to travel like a local

Itinerary teams are continually developing new excursions to immerse passengers in the local traditions and cultures of the destinations they visit during cruise calls. Richard Humphreys highlights some of the cultural experiences on offer in ports and destinations worldwide

How to travel like a local

MSC Rights

On a MSC cruise to Falmouth, Jamaica, passengers can enjoy an authentic bamboo rafting experience, including a visit to Martha Brae, a village founded in 1762 by a plantation owner

By Richard Humphreys |

While forecasting cruise trends for 2024, MSC Cruises said guests are “no longer content” with just visiting well-known tourist attractions and are instead seeking to “experience destinations in a way that reflects the local lifestyle”. In addition, they want more time onshore to experience destinations “like a local” and explore in an “authentic and leisurely” way. Travellers are also demonstrating a “heightened eagerness” to explore diverse cultures and experience new destinations. 

Recognising this shift in attitudes, the cruise line has adapted its experiences accordingly. For example, on MSC Bellissima’s cruises from Tokyo, Japan, to Busan, South Korea, passengers can go on excursions to Gamcheon, to see what life in a typical Korean village is like and sample local delicacies, such as bulgogi and bibimbap. 

Explora Journeys, MSC Group’s luxury brand, is taking a similar approach. For instance, as part of a cruise in the Caribbean and Central America, guests will be able to take ‘The Indigenous Arhuaco Discovery Journey’ to visit two indigenous villages in Colombia and immerse themselves in traditions of the Arhuaco people. They will be able to sample the cuisine, participate in a traditional ceremony and meditation, and discover the art of ‘mochila’ weaving. 

“At every destination, Explora Journeys will provide inspiring opportunities for guests to discover authentic cultural, historical, and culinary delights from an extraordinary perspective,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Group’s cruise division. 

In its State of the Cruise Industry Outlook 2023 report, Cruise Lines International Association highlighted that multiple cruise lines are offering more immersive cruise travel opportunities and sustainable tour experiences for guests, while also scheduling longer and overnight calls in certain ports.  

Celestyal Cruises uses the tagline ‘Authentic Excursions’ for its Greek sailings, which include excursions that enable guests to learn more about the country’s food, culture and history. Meanwhile, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ 2024 ‘In Search of the Northern Lights’ sailings will allow guests to experience the Sami culture when they call in at Alta, Norway, so they can learn how the country’s indigenous people live and thrive. Azamara Cruises, which is well known for its ‘Destination Immersion’ itineraries, will offer numerous immersive experiences during a five-month world voyage that will take guests to the ‘Wonders of the World’. 

In this special feature, CFR showcases some of the authentic and immersive experiences on offer for cruise guests in ports and destinations around the world 

Orkney, UK  

Cruise guests have multiple opportunities to immerse themselves in local life and culture during a day call in Orkney. In the morning, they can head west to delve into the Orcadian past by visiting the tidal island of Brough of Birsay to see its neolithic history or learning about Orkney’s agricultural history at the Kirbuster Farm Museum. In addition, they can visit Orkney’s two shopping locations in Stromness and Kirkwall, both of which are stocked with local produce, or head to Orkney’s distilleries. One of these is the Noust at Scapa, which has the best view over Scapa Flow. Finally, to end the day, guests can head to the east of Orkney, across the Churchill Barriers to see the Italian Chapel. 

Orkney Scotland

Bruce Fleet

Orkney is an archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland

Harlingen, Netherlands 

Harlingen is one of the oldest seaports in the Netherlands, dating back to 1300. This small Dutch city of canals, warehouses and old inner harbours stands as a monument to the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ of shipping. To get to Harlingen, ships (of up to 160 metres) pass through the Wadden Sea, which has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2009. It has been described as one of the most beautiful nature reserves of the northern hemisphere and ‘Europe’s Great Barrier Reef’. Harlingen offers various experiences for cruise guests, including historic walking tours, riding Zodiacs through canals, and checking out great feats of engineering and the natural surroundings. 

Port of HaminaKotka, Finland  

For some cruise passengers, the opportunity to rest in nature or lose themselves and undertake adrenaline-inducing activities is much needed. The Kymijoki River provides activities for thrill-seekers, including whitewater rafting. This natural environment is the perfect setting for an exhilarating ride down the rapids, as the raft navigates the twists and turns of the river, allowing guests to take in the scenery. After the ride, cruise guests can refresh themselves with a sauna bath or a swim before they head out to find a local snack. 

Turku, Finland  

For those visiting Turku, one of the best ways to start the day is by taking a slow walk in the city while the fog is still lingering over the Aura River and Turku Castle. Visitors will end up in the local food hall where they can sample freshly baked rye bread before carrying on to the market square. Visitors can continue to explore Turku by going to many of the local museums or taking a bike ride to Ruissalo, an island in the Archipelago Sea and a district of Turku, home to one of Finland’s largest oak forests. 

Turku Finland

Jemin Sormunen

The city of Turku on the southwest coast of Finland straddles the Aura River

Tarragona, Spain  

While in Tarragona, cruise passengers can visit the ancient city’s Unesco-listed Roman ruins before walking through Reus and seeing modernist buildings like Casa Navás and the Gaudí Centre. Other highlights include the Vila-seca’ beach, castles and cellars, and PortAventura World, which features the new Uncharted attraction. If time allows, guests can venture to the Poblet Monastery, sample a local vermouth or visit Museu Casteller de Catalunya in Valls. This curated experience blends history, architecture, coastal charm and adventures, offering a taste of Tarragona’s cultural richness and diverse attractions. 

Lanzarote, Spain 

Cruise guests can begin a day in Lanzarote with a sunrise stroll along its volcanic landscapes heading towards Los Jameos del Agua, which is 25 kilometres from the cruise port of Arrecife. Here visitors will find the art, culture and tourism centre, created by Spanish artists and sculptor César Manrique, which is the first place of its kind built inside a volcanic tunnel. Another must-see is Cueva de los Verdes, a cave and tunnel system created around 3,000 years ago by lava flows erupting from the nearby volcano Monte Corona. Following a five-hour excursion in the caves, the locals recommend having some tapas in Charco Vivo, a restaurant near the port with a typical Canarian ambience. 

Valencia, Spain  

The Valencia Fallas spring festival is celebrated in March and was added to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2016. The Fallas are 800 satirical sculptures up to 40 metres high, which are set on fire all together on the night of San José on 19 March. If they are not visiting in March, travellers can instead learn about the traditional Valencian Fallas costume and its relationship with the Silk Road, as well as the artistic process of creating the Fallas sculptures by visiting the two Fallas museums. They can also participate in a workshop and build a small sculpture that can be taken back to the cruise ship as a souvenir. 


Passengers looking to spend a perfect day in Malta can start with a sunrise walk through Valletta’s streets, which are rich with history. They can then indulge in a traditional Maltese breakfast at a local cafe before exploring the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, or board a boat to the Blue Lagoon for crystal-clear waters and relaxation. In the afternoon, guests can sample Malta’s seafood in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, or explore the medieval charm of Mdina, ‘the Silent City of Malta’, before visiting the Hypogeum, an ancient underground temple. Guests can conclude the day by enjoying Maltese cuisine and panoramic views of the Mediterranean at a seaside restaurant in Sliema.


Malta is located between Sicily and the North African coast in the Mediterranean

Dubrovnik, Croatia  

To begin an authentic day in Dubrovnik, cruise travellers should stroll through Old Town’s cobbled streets and take in the medieval architecture while sipping a cappuccino. Visitors can then climb the ancient city walls for panoramic views over the Adriatic Sea and sail to Lokrum Island to explore the botanical garden, ruins of the nineteenth-century Fort Royal Castle and the Dead Sea. Afterwards, they can dive into local culture at the bustling Gundulić Square market where they can savour a seafood feast paired with local wines. Finally, visitors can immerse themselves in history at Rector’s Palace and end the day by taking in long-range vistas during a sunset cable car ride. 

Thessaloniki, Greece  

Visitors to Thessaloniki can walk from the port to the city centre to immerse themselves in a rich blend of history and culture by exploring more than 15 Unesco World Heritage Sites, including the centre’s museums. They can also discover the city’s 2,500-year-old history through its monuments, enjoy a taste of Thessaloniki’s renowned gastronomy at local restaurants, and engage with knowledgeable guides during tours to sites like the tomb of Philip II in Vergina and Mount Olympus. Cruise guests can end the day with a leisurely walk back to the port, savouring the blend of Western and Eastern influences. 

Bodrum, Turkey  

As Bodrum comes into view, the first sight cruise passengers encounter is the castle, which was built in 1402 by the Knights of St John. They can also see the castle when they go on a seaside walk towards the cobblestone streets of Bodrum, where they are greeted by vibrant colours of traditional crafts and lively street performers. If they venture further inland, they will find streets leading to bustling markets and authentic eateries serving Mediterranean-Aegean cuisine, offering a taste of the city’s culinary heritage. While in Bodrum, travellers can explore one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. 


Bodrum is a port city located on Turkey’s southwestern coast

La Goulette, Tunisia  

Once cruise ships dock at the port of Tunis in La Goulette, passengers can set off and explore the city’s history and culture. They begin their journey by walking through the ancient Medina of Tunis, a Unesco World Heritage Site, where the palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains give a glimpse into this destination, before visitors move on to explore Carthage’s ruins. La Goulette’s local cuisine can be sampled at a bustling souk, where there are plenty of aromatic spices and traditional dishes on offer. Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque cliffside village, is a nice way to end a trip because it offers panoramic views of the Mediterranean. 

Port of Kyoto, Japan  

A 40-minute drive from the Port of Kyoto is Amanohashidate, one of three scenic spots that comprise ‘The Views of Japan’. Literally, Amanohashidate means ‘bridge to the heavens’ and was chosen as the name for the 3.6-kilometre-long sandbar because it looks like a bridge leading up into the sky from various lookout points. The sandbar, which is filled with around 8,000 Japanese pine trees, can be viewed from lookout points at either end and visitors are able to walk or cycle across it, take a ferry ride alongside it, or swim at the beach. The traditional way to observe Amanohashidate is to stand facing away and gaze back through one’s legs in the ‘matanozoki’ pose. 

Kaohsiung, Taiwan 

Taiwan is a hub for cruise lines in East Asia. One of its well-known cruise terminals is Port of Kaohsiung, which plays a vital role in giving an inviting first impression for passengers arriving in Taiwan. The Kaohsiung Port Cruise Terminal opened in March 2023. The building’s 3D-curved surfaces create a streamlined appearance similar to that of a whale and is capable of accommodating the world’s largest 250,000gt cruise ships. Since opening, the terminal has also been described as a “museum” by some travellers. From the port, cruise passengers can go on authentic excursions to Lotus Pond, Kaohsiung Confucius Temple, Cijin Island, Cheng Ching Lake, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, the city of Tainan, and immerse in the traditional culture at sites such as Chihkan Tower and Koxinga Shrine. 

Prince Edward Island, Canada 

Experience PEI is a leader of experiential tourism on the island, focusing on trips that provide a genuine connection to the location and a learning experience. The operator’s ‘Fun with Falcons’ activity gives people the chance to watch a falcon in full flight – something most people have never seen. During this experience, master falconer Peter shares his knowledge about the birds and, if the conditions are right, visitors can watch as he trains the birds to fly free and return to a lure at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Even if conditions don’t allow for flying, visitors can don the falconer’s glove and hold a falcon. 

Thunder Bay, Canada  

Cruise ship passengers visiting Thunder Bay, a city on Lake Superior in northwestern Ontario, can try a variety of experiences. Some options include Fort William Historical Park, a living history site and world’s largest fur trade post; Thunder Bay Art Gallery, which features one of Canada’s largest collections of indigenous woodland art; and the Thunder Bay Museum, which tells the story of the city from its earliest origins to today. Another important attraction is Kakabeka Falls, the second highest waterfall in Ontario. Before leaving, travellers should take a walk through the Waterfront District and enjoy the culinary scene, public art installations or a harbour sailing tour. They can go to the ship-side visitor information cabin for inspiration for self-guided excursions. 

Thunder Bay Canada

Situated in northwestern Ontario, Thunder Bay is a city on Lake Superior

Milwaukee, USA  

Milwaukee was named as one of the 25 best places to travel to in 2023 by National Geographic in its annual ‘Best of the World’ list. One way to start the day is with a trip to any of Milwaukee’s famous museums, including the Pabst Mansion, Discovery World or the Harley Davidson Museum. Alternatively, cruise visitors can sample the diverse cuisine at the Milwaukee Public Market, which offers a variety of Wisconsin’s classic dishes. Visitors can also walk along the Lake Michigan waterfront, a location for Milwaukee’s festivals throughout the summer. Testament to its nickname ‘the Brew City’, Milwaukee also has dozens of craft breweries located throughout the city.

Port of Los Angeles, USA  

Nearly 200 cruises will depart from the Port of Los Angeles in 2024. Cruise guests can enjoy a host of year-round LA Waterfront events and attractions, including the Battleship USS Iowa Museum, the Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles marketplace, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Los Angeles Maritime Museum and historic downtown San Pedro. The free, 25-minute loop San Pedro Red Car Trolley provides an easy way to make stops to enjoy the area’s authentic variety of restaurants, bars and shops. Also, the first phase of the $150 million West Harbor visitor destination will open in 2025. 

Port of San Diego, USA 

Adventure, relaxation and more awaits cruise passengers a few steps from the Port of San Diego. The experience begins with a stroll along the Embarcadero and San Diego Bay and continues to Seaport Village, a lively waterfront destination, which is home to more than 50 shops and a variety of eateries, ranging from gourmet to local fare. Travellers can visit Louisiana Charlies for authentic Cajun cuisine or discover local favourites such as Crack Taco Shop, Cork and Batter, coastal cuisine at Shorebird, or enjoy upscale farm-to-table fresh dining at Malibu Farm. 

San Diego California

Known for its beaches, parks and warm climate, San Diego is located on the Pacific coast of California

Port of Seattle, USA  

When arriving in Seattle, cruise guests can begin their day with the aroma of baked pastry and a sip of locally roasted espresso. After this, they can take a walk and find fresh flowers and farmers stalls at the Pike Place Market where orange-clad fishmongers call out the day’s catch. Visitors can also head up the Space Needle, which is 520 feet high and has floor–to-ceiling glass to see the ‘Emerald City’ at their feet. As sunset washes over the Olympic Mountains, which are visible from the city, passengers can catch the last ferry across the bay back to their island retreat, where their next adventure can begin. 

Tortola, British Virgin Islands  

Tortola is the largest island of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and has several white-sand beaches, including Cane Garden Bay and Smuggler’s Cove. On BVI’s smallest island, Jost Van Dyke, cruise guests can become beachcombers while the Caribbean sun beats down, before tasting the flavours of the islands at the beach bars. Finally, they can return to the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park to explore its bustling charm before boarding the ship. 

Trinidad and Tobago  

Trinidad and Tobago as a cruise destination offers diverse activities for cruise guests to enjoy. While Tobago is the most popular of the two Caribbean islands, Trinidad is full of nature, history and great food. Having both islands as a single itinerary offers several advantages, including operational cost savings for cruise lines. Tobago has the largest Brain Coral in the world, the oldest established rainforest in the western hemisphere and a Buccoo Reef. Trinidad has a lush tropical rainforest, 600 species of butterflies and is home of hummingbirds, as well as steelpans, carnival and calypso. Cruise guests can also visit Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Asa Wright Nature Centre, Mount Saint Benedict and Maracas Beach.  

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago is the most southernly island country in the Caribbean


Set sail to Jamaica and enjoy one of the island’s five ports. Start in Montego Bay with a morning at the beach, then stroll up the famous Hip Strip. In Ocho Rios, climb waterfalls and savour jerk chicken. While Falmouth offers historic explorations and preserved houses, Port Royal Pier is a short walk from some of Jamaica’s museums and art walks, and Port Antonio offers beautiful scenery and community connections. Visitors can experience Jamaican life through artisan markets, traditional foods and various attractions, before closing the day with reggae rhythms at a local bar. 

Falkland Islands  

The Falklands archipelago has two main islands, East and West Falkland. The islands have an unpolluted environment teeming with nature and wildlife, white-sand beaches and plenty of open space perfect for walking and hiking experiences. The first stop is likely to be the capital, Stanley, on East Falkland. It is a perfect location to learn about the islands’ history and heritage. For travellers more interested in wildlife, there are local tour providers on hand to take them on a tour to Gypsy Cove and Yorke Bay or further afield to Volunteer Point – home to the largest colony of king penguins in the Falklands. 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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