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5 Reasons Why San Diego is Our New Favorite Cruise Port

5 Reasons Why San Diego is Our New Favorite Cruise Port

Pursuitist - 5-Star Luxury

Less is much, much more, when it came to selecting our pick for the latest, greatest North American cruise port: San Diego. Surprised? We were, too, but a wealth of impressive reasons has persuaded us that the most pleasant Southern California city on the Pacific is poised to steal the crown from Miami/Fort Lauderdale, the busy gateway to the Caribbean.

Getting There is a Breeze

Florida has long been North America’s king of cruises, with more departures from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando cruise ports than all other US states combined. Which, naturally, leads to insanely crowded airports, overbooked flights, high hotel prices, and massive, impersonal port terminals. By contrast, San Diego is nirvana. The city’s multi-cultural history, Mission Bay and Coronado Island resorts, and world-famous attractions all make San Diego one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations. A short ride from downtown, San Diego International Airport is only the third busiest airport in California (hallelujah for that) yet it serves 500 flights at day from just about everywhere including non-stop passenger flights from 76 destinations in six countries. Top carriers include United, American, Delta, British Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and bargain-priced Alaska and Southwest. Aviation fans love that San Diego’s aviation history began on the site of the San Diego Airport in 1927, when Charles Lindbergh started his famous record-breaking transatlantic flight here.

Lots of Sunshine, No Hurricanes

As Ron Burgundy hilariously made clear in “Anchorman,” San Diego is famous for having the most consistently pleasant weather in the country. And that means that it has no off-season. November to February, San Diego is slightly less warm and there’s a higher chance of rain (though California continues to experience years of drought). On the other hand, flights and cruises are never threatened by hurricanes — they just don’t happen in San Diego. Plus, winter is whale-watching season! A great perk for the small price of packing a jacket. No wonder San Diego is popular with so many cruise lines, namely HAL, Disney Oceania, Norwegian, Princess, Silversea, and more.

More Destinations, More Variety

Florida certainly has lots of cruise choices — but nearly all lead to the Caribbean. We love white sand beaches as much as anyone, but when you drop anchor at one island paradise after another, itineraries tend to be repetitive, appealing to just one type of cruiser: beach lovers. Or rather, beach lovers who don’t mind the humidity. 

San Diego’s the departure point for cruises with beaches, too — particularly in low-humidity California, Hawaii, Mexico — three distinctly different cultural experiences for every type of cruiser, plus a diverse array of destinations including the best of the Pacific Coast, island hopping in Hawaii, and trans-Pacific voyages to the land Down Under. “More than half of the Holland America Line fleet will visit Port of San Diego this season departing on cruises that reach as far as Australia, making it one of our most vital homeports,” said Beth Bodensteiner, chief commercial officer for Holland America Line.

San Diego has been a California West Coast homeport for 150-year-old Holland America Line since the 1990s, and this season alone six medium-sized HAL ships will bring nearly 65,000 guests to San Diego. Guests can choose to cruise to or from San Diego on Volendam, Eurodam, Koningsdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam and Zaandam to Mexico, Hawaii, the Pacific Coast, Panama Canal and South Pacific.

Many of Holland America Line’s longer voyages out of San Diego are part of the premium line’s homeport initiative that invites passengers to see the world from a departure point just a short flight or drive away. The current West Coast sailing season began October 2 when Volendam departed on a 51-day Tales of the South Pacific Legendary Voyage with 20 island calls and three overnights stays. On January 3, 2024, Volendam will depart on the 94-day Grand Australia and New Zealand Voyage that circumnavigates the continent of Australia on an itinerary roundtrip from San Diego. No grueling 15-24 hour flight required.

Engaging Entertainment, Onboard and Off

Theoretically at least, there’s only so much time you can spend lounging by the ship pool, playing pickle ball and basketball, luxuriating with spa treatments, bar-hopping, and dining at a variety of ship restaurants and cafes. That never gets old, but make sure to make time to take advantage of cultural experiences on cruises shipping off from San Diego.  

My first Holland America sailing on the Nieuw Amsterdam, for instance, wowed me for its truly excellent entertainment options from R&B, rock, pop and more in various onboard music clubs, to stunning classical and dance performances on the World Stage. Thanks to HAL’s ongoing partnership with Lincoln Center — the world’s leading center for the performing arts — music virtuosos perform classics and twists on contemporary favorites. BBC Earth’s incredible wildlife footage fills the big screen as musicians play a live soundtrack. An all-star band from Beale Street commands the stage of B.B. King Blues Club, while the Rolling Stones Rock Room and Billboard Onboard entertainment programs complete the concert bill. 

When it comes to cultural vacations, HAL’s shore excursions in Mexico have it all: vibrant cultural heritage, ancient ruins, wildlife encounters, natural splendors from arid deserts to balmy rain forests, and revelatory food experiences, as the country is recognized by UNESCO for its preservation of age-old culinary techniques. Hawaii and South Pacific trips offer volcanos, luaus, snorkeling with sea turtles, helicopter and submarine adventures, waterfalls, and rain forests, and culinary outings in partnership with Food & Wine Magazine.    

Not Just Mind Blowing: Mind Expanding 

Cruises from San Diego offer a growing number of bucket list experiences, like sailing south to Central America to transverse the world’s greatest man-engineered shortcut — the awe-inspiring Panama Canal, perhaps the world’s greatest maritime marvel. And going beyond the expected, HAL’s 2024 season features two special Solar Eclipse cruises departing San Diego on March 30 and April 5, respectively, for unique itineraries that place the ship in a prime viewing area to see the total eclipse on April 8, 2024. The 22-day Solar Eclipse & Circle Hawaii cruise also features special guest Adam Burgesser, UCSD Professor of Astronomy, who will join guests on Koningsdam to share insights on the celestial spectacle.