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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” .
When you arrive in Barbados on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise, begin your exploration with the capital, Bridgetown. There are many attractions in this small Caribbean city, but by all means pause to admire its many colonial buildings, the Parliament Building and the statue of Lord Nelson standing in what is currently called the National Heroes Square.
Barbados has retained somewhat of a British feel, with its place names, cricket, horse-racing and polo, Anglican parish churches and even a hilly district known as Scotland. But the Britishness can be exaggerated, for this is a distinctly West Indian country, covered by a patch-work of sugarcane fields and dotted with tiny rum shops.
The Garrison Historic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with magnificent 18th- and 19th-century buildings, is a must-see stop, featuring one of the world’s finest collection of cannons. It also includes the George Washington House, where the American patriot spent six weeks of his life.
The current St. John’s Church, in the eastern parish of the same name, is the fifth reconstruction of the oldest local church, in Barbadian Gothic style. Perched on a cliff 800 feet above the sea, it dates back to 1836. Its interior hosts a sculpture by 18th-century British artist Richard Westmacott, while its churchyard contains the tomb of Ferdinando Paleologus, a direct descendant of the brother of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor.
Book an MSC excursion to discover the island’s history at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society in the St. Michael neighbourhood. And tour Sunbury Plantation House, located in the tranquil St. Philip countryside. Dating back to 1650, it’s a living monument to plantation life and a bygone era.
Harrison’s Cave, in St. Thomas district, is a wonder of nature with its stalactites, stalagmites, streams, lakes and waterfalls. In one of the caverns, the play of light on the rocks is so in-tense that it has been nicknamed “The Crystal Room”.
For some fun at the beach, head to Pirates Cove, one of the best beaches on Barbados. Featuring palm trees and chickee huts, white sand and crystal-clear water, it’s the perfect place to relax, just a stone’s throw from Bridgetown.
If you’re brave enough to dive into the deep, set out on an MSC excursion inside a real submarine, the Atlantis, to explore the coral reef and discover the beauty that the depths reveal.
Thanks in large part to its French and West Indian influences, Martinique, a lush mountainous island in the Lesser Antilles with its dormant Mount Pelée volcano in the backdrop, exudes a cosmopolitan flair with a sophisticated culinary and cultural scene that draws travellers not only to its natural wonders, beautiful bays and beaches, but also to its heart at Fort-de-France, the capital. While French is the official language, most islanders also speak Antillean Creole. As part of the European Union, the island uses the euro as its currency.
When you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in Fort-de-France, you immediately notice the island’s steep hills, colourful colonial architecture, ornate balconies and tropical flowers. Book an MSC excursion to the Balata Cathedral, a miniature replica of the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, Paris, which offers a spectacular view of Fort-de-France and the bay.
Before Martinique came to be known by its current name, it was once called Madinina, the island of flowers. At Balata Botanical Gardens, discover 300 types of palm trees, take in views from the garden’s suspension bridge and enjoy the tropical flowers in bloom across 16 acres of lush landscape.
Or try the island’s best rum distilleries. MSC excursions will take you to the Depaz Distillery, in business since 1651, or the St. James Rum Distillery & Museum, where you will learn about the process of making rum and taste the traditional Rhum Agricole, made by using freshly squeezed sugarcane juice rather than the conventional molasses.
Afterwards, visit the ruins of the theatre in St. Pierre, the former cultural capital of Martinique that was tragically destroyed by the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée. The modern-day town of St. Pierre is France’s 101st “City of Art and History.”
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.
Port Canaveral, a departure port of an MSC Caribbean and Antilles Cruise, is located just 45 miles east of Orlando and is known for its Space Coast.
On the Merritt Island peninsula you can discover the phenomenal Kennedy Space Center. Here the NASA’s space vehicles are developed, tested and blasted into orbit. Set up a bit like an Orlando theme park, the vast Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will enthrall anyone with the slightest interest in space exploration, with everything from enormous rockets and the history of the moon landings, to IMAX movies and a space shuttle launch simulation on offer.
Many of the visitors who flock here are surprised to find that the land from which rockets are launched is also the home of sizeable Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge framed by several miles of rough coastline.