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One of the busiest cruise ports in the Mediterranean, the seaside city of Barcelona is known for its iconic architecture, colourful culture, and world-class drinking and dining.
Explore Antoni Gaudí’s surreal Sagrada Família, the famous boulevard of the Ramblas, the medieval Barri Gótic, and the Museu Picasso. But there’s even more to discover in this sprawling Spanish city, an MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination: from hidden tapas bars and fabulous food markets to Europe’s biggest football stadium.
Cádiz is among the oldest settlements in Spain and one of the country’s principal ports.
On an MSC Mediterranean cruise excursion, you can visit its old town, built on a peninsula-island, and remaining much as it must have looked in those days, with grand, open squares, sailors’ alleyways and high, turreted houses.
Literally crumbling from the effect of the sea air on its soft limestone, it has a tremendous atmosphere – while slightly seedy, definitely in decline, it is nevertheless full of mystique.
The Museo de Cádiz, the province’s most important, overlooks the leafy Plaza de Mina and incorporates the archaeological museum on the ground floor with many important finds and artefacts from the city’s lengthy history. Almost irresistible, even if you don’t normally go for High Baroque, is the attraction of the huge and seriously crumbling eighteenth-century Catedral Nueva.
Cádiz is one of Spain’s top holiday cruise destinations for its cathedral, too, decorated entirely in stone, with no gold in sight, and in absolutely perfect proportions. On the edge of the Barrio del Populo, the city’s oldest quarter dating from the Middle Ages, lies the “old” or original cathedral, Santa Cruz.
This was one of the buildings severely knocked during the English assault on Cádiz in 1596, causing the thirteenth-century church to be substantially rebuilt. A fine Gothic entry portal survived, and inside there’s a magnificent seventeenth-century retablo with sculptures by Martínez Montañés. A first-century-BC Roman theatre has been excavated behind.
Much closer to us in time, instead, is the eighteenth-century mansion, Torre Tavira, with the tallest tower in the city, from where there are great views over the rooftops to the sea beyond. In addition, one of the most impressive Baroque buildings in the city, the chapel of the Hospital de las Mujeres, houses a brilliant El Greco painting.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the port capital of Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s seven Canary Islands. The city showcases incredible sights such as the Plaza de Espana, the church of St. Francis of Assisi, and the soaring white wave auditorium, the Auditorio de Tenerife. This quintessential Canary Island’s town is a colourful MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination where you can soak up the sun, dine in style, or take a dip in glittering waters.
As you arrive in Funchal on an MSC cruise, your ship will cast anchor in a bay protected by mountains rising straight up behind the port. The name, Funchal, derives from that of the fennel plant, the funcho still used today in the traditional sweets known as rebuçados de funcho, that one can find anywhere on the island of Madeira.
An excursion will take you around the town centre, to visit historic churches, from the A Sé Cathedral, with its inlaid ceiling, to the majestic Church of the Incarnation, to the church of Carmo without a vault.
Another MSC excursion will take you up to the village of Monte, from where one can admire a spectacular view of the Funchal bay. You can visit its 18th century church and the tomb of the last Austrian emperor, Charles I, and stroll around the magnificent botanic gardens. But if you like heights, there’s nothing more impressive than the Cabo Girão and its 589 metre tall cliffs, amongst the highest in the world, at the foot of which lie the cultivated lands known as Fajãs do Cabo Girão.
If you’re looking for an equipped beach during your MSC cruise, another excursion will take you to Machico. Founded in the 15th century, it hosts the oldest religious building on the island, the Capela dos Milagres, and the fortresses of São João Baptista and Nossa Senhora do Amparo built in the beginning of the 16th century.
The more lively tourist attraction is instead in Calheta, on the south-west coast. Splendid yachts cruising across the Atlantic are moored in the port and if you want to go for a swim there are two beautiful beaches of golden sand; in spite of the modern structures Calheta dates back to the mid-15th century. This is where they make the “Aguardente”, the best white rhum, and fundamental ingredient of Madeira’s typical drink, the “Poncha” .
Offering some of the best vistas in all the Caribbean, St. Maarten is the smallest inhabited island in the world shared by two nations – France in the north and the Netherlands in the south. Dubbed the true melting pot of the Caribbean, the 37-square-mile island is home to people of 47 different nationalities and more than 400 restaurants, featuring a hugely diverse variety of cuisine.
The island also has two capitals: Philipsburg on the Dutch side, and Marigot in the French part. Once you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in St. Maarten, explore how the two cultures have blended their very distinct characters on one of our MSC excursions.
Your St. Maarten cruise will dock in Philipsburg, founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch Navy. Philipsburg, with its pastel-coloured West Indian houses, is known for its duty-free shopping along Front Street, the Great Salt Pond, which once made the island literally “worth its salt,” and attracted the attention of the French, and Fort Willem, built in 1801, with mag-nificent views of the bay and the surrounding islands.
From there, several MSC excursions take you on a hilly drive to the French side of the island to experience Marigot. Originally a fishing village on a swamp for which it was named, Marigot became the capital during the reign of Louis XVI. Fort Louis, which overlooks Marigot Bay and Anguilla, was built in the late 18th century to protect the town’s warehouses of salt, coffee, sugar cane and especially rum from the English. Today, Marigot showcases quaint colourful gingerbread-like houses, tasty sidewalk bistros and a waterfront market selling fruit and vegetables, spices, local meats and fresh fish from Creole huts worth exploring.
For something special, spend the day on the Dutch side of the island at the restored sugar planta-tion at Rockland Estate. Take in a history lesson at the Emilio Wilson Museum or a nature hike and 360-degree views from Sentry Hill. Participate in a hands-on cooking demonstration of authentic local cuisines with lunch at Emilio’s restaurant, in an exclusive Martha Stewart excursion curated for MSC Cruises.
Also at Rockland Estate, thrill seekers can book other MSC excursions on the Flying Dutchman, a fast and furious zip line ride that will have you whizzing down the line at speeds of up to 56 mph (90 km) per hour. Then take the Pirate Sky Ride cable car back up the top to the Crow’s Nest where several platforms encircling the mountain afford panoramic views of the neighbouring islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Barthélemy and Anguilla. Then plunge down the mountain on a Schooner Ride inner tube along a specially designed track.
To experience one of the island’s hottest spots and most popular attractions, visit the famous Maho Beach, also called Airplane Beach. Don’t get too comfortable, though. This is because you watch as planes pass only a short distance above your head as they land and take off from Princess Juli-ana Airport’s short runway next door.
As you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, it’s easy to see why pirates took refuge here among the hidden coves and sheltered bays, lush green mountains and powder-white sandy beaches.
Today, its beauty continues to draw attention; Road Town, BVI’s capital, is a haven for yacht chartering, upscale tourism and offshore finance. You recognize Dutch and English colonial influences from a bygone era dominated by large sugarcane plantations built on the backs of enslaved African labour. Main Street, Road Town’s main shopping district, features several historical landmarks including the Post Office, built in the mid-1800s, St. George’s Anglican Church, Britannic Hall and the Virgin Islands’ Folk Museum. Despite being a British protectorate, the U.S. dollar is used as Tortola’s main currency.
The best way to discover Tortola is on an MSC excursion. Take a panoramic island bus tour through Road Town and the charming districts of Long Trench and Fahie Hill. Then drive along the dramatic north shoreline to beautiful Cane Garden Bay, where you can take a dip in the inviting, clear water and gaze at the anchored boats that prize this placid bay. Along the way, get your fill of Instagram-worthy vistas of the surrounding islands.
Feeling more adventurous? Book a 4×4 island tour on a safari-style Land Rover to experience the island’s verdant terrain and magnificent views that are well off the beaten track. Enjoy a snorkelling trip on the southern tip of the BVI archipelago at nearby Norman Island, said to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic “Treasure Island” novel. Or let an MSC excursion take you on a pleasant boat ride to the nearby island of Virgin Gorda to visit the stunning beach area known as The Baths, one of the BVI’s most popular sights. Amid the natural beauty, swim, snorkel and see colourful fish, or simply explore the unusual geological formations comprising huge, sea-sculpted granite boulders that line the beach and form tidal pools, tunnels, caves, arches and scenic grottoes.
Blessed with some of the oldest buildings in the Western Hemisphere, San Juan, Puerto Rico’s cap-ital, is romantically charming with its bright pastel Spanish colonial facades, wrought-iron balconies abloom with flowers, narrow cobblestone streets and beloved park squares. Once you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise at the port, explore Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan), a UNESCO World Heritage district, widely renowned for the fortresses of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristóbal.
The old town occupies the headland of a 2.5-mile-long island (connected by bridge to the mainland) that shelters San Juan Bay, for centuries a key port in the New World. It was originally known as Puerto Rico, or “rich port,” because its location made it the perfect stop for shipping.
Several MSC excursions offer walking tours that let you soak up amazing views of San Juan, while making cultural discoveries of a lifetime. Wander through the old town along the Paseo de la Princesa, San Juan’s oldest tree-lined avenue; head up its southern city wall, La Muralla, which until the late 19th century encircled all of Old San Juan with sandstone; and tour the 16th-century fortress of El Morro, with its six different lines of defence.
Take a coffee-tasting walking tour to explore Puerto Rico’s rich coffee culture, and learn how the island’s rich volcanic soil and climate have contributed to the rise of coffee as one of its main crops. Taste a delicious cup of freshly brewed Puerto Rican café con leche, learn about the island’s historical ties with the caffeine-rich beverage, and explore how coffee and the church are connected on this MSC excursion through the streets of Old San Juan.
Or savour San Juan’s culinary delights, in a Martha Stewart excursion curated exclusively for MSC that will have you tasting local cuisine and drinks at five destinations along the route through the fortified colonial city. From Puerto Rican fritters at historic El Convento Hotel, to chocolate tasting at a fourth-generation chocolatier, you won’t want to miss this tour, which ends at La Casita de Rones for a rum lesson and a piña colada, the national drink of Puerto Rico.
With more than 80% of the world’s rum coming from Puerto Rico, delve deeper into the spirit on an MSC excursion to Casa Bacardí in the town of Cataño. Discover the story behind Bacardí’s legendary cocktails, sniff the products on display and learn about the rum-making process including wood barrelling, ageing and finishing. For the grand finale, enjoy a fascinating mixology show.
Nature lovers will not want to miss a visit to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. territory and one of Puerto Rico’s finest spots of natural beauty. Marvel at its small horsetail waterfalls, giant ferns and tropical hardwoods.
For an enchanting experience, kayak into the enchanting bioluminescent bay at Laguna Grande of Fajardo on another MSC excursion. Under the blanket of the night sky and the lighthouse of Fajardo, paddle through the water and watch it glow with the bioluminescence of millions and millions of tiny organisms.
Miami is called the gateway to the Americas, and it’s indeed a very glamourous global city to explore at the start or end of an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise. Home to many cultures, the city of Miami sizzles with flavours from the Americas, beginning with Cuba and the Little Havana neighbourhood – one of the most historically significant places, while Wynwood is famous for its wall art and Puerto Rican history.
Across Biscayne Bay lies the city of Miami Beach, home to the world-famous South Beach. An MSC-arranged guided private tour opens up a world of possibilities for you: enjoy the beach, take in the city’s Art Deco architecture and enjoy a drink on legendary Ocean Drive, where you can people watch, and perhaps spot a celebrity. If time permits, take a stroll on artsy Lincoln Road packed with street side cafes and shops.
Facing the MSC Cruises port in downtown Miami is Bayside Marketplace – a lively commercial centre that is a staging area for boat tours of Miami. Seeing the city from the water, with its impressive skyline and waterfront mansions, is an experience in itself. The downtown area also boasts the dazzling Performing Arts Centre, the Museum of Science, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (known as the PAMM), scenic Bayfront Park and the arena where the 3-time NBA champion Miami Heat basketball team plays.
Miami is renowned for its shopping. Hop on a tour to see the major city sights followed by retail therapy at one of Miami’s largest and newest shopping malls: Dolphin Mall. With more than 240 retail outlets, you’re bound to need a bit of room in your luggage for your purchases. Luckily, there are several luggage stores at the mall to fill that need.
Head west past the city into untamed wilderness on an MSC excursion into the Everglades. At this national park where water is the central feature, unlike any other in North America, nature enthusiasts can hop on an airboat tour through the swampland and waterways to spot alligators and a variety of birds.