Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

I took a photo of a couple having dinner at a bar on the back of a cruise ship recently. There’s soft light on the table. They’re framed by the sea and mountains in the distance, bathed in the pinks and purples of a dusky sunset on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

It could hardly be more romantic. Except for the two enormous cargo ships dominating the background.


I’ve always been amazed that the cruise vacation so often has to exist in an industrial landscape. The luxury cruise seems so incongruous in many of the ports it must frequent.

The examples from this recent cruise include our departure from Caldera, in Costa Rica, and the first two ports of call: Acajutla, in El Salvador, and Puerto Quetzal, in Guatemala.

The vista in Acajutla is of oil tanks, sugar warehouses and other commodity processing facilities. In Puerto Quetzal, there is a passenger terminal, but it was occupied by the Norwegian Jewel, so our ship was docked where bananas and sugar are loaded.

I used to think this was awful, especially for a vacation that purports to be a luxury experience. It is what it is, of course. Cargo ships vastly outnumber cruise ships, and only a few ports have the wherewithal to build dedicated passenger facilities and the niceties that go with them.

But I’m not sure that these cargo ports don’t add a certain romance of their own to a cruise — the sense that you’re visiting someplace so out of the way that you have to put up with some rough edges to see it.

That said, I think I really do prefer sailing out of Government Cut in Miami watching the Miami Vice mansions and the skyline of South Beach glide by while I sail out to sea.

Or leaving Seattle with the marina full of sailboats next to the pier.

I recently departed from the Los Angeles port at San Pedro. It’s about as industrial as you can get. Containers stacked as far as the eye can see, with big cranes for loading them onto the ships and orange sodium lights illuminating the scene.

It was interesting in its way. But make mine Miami.


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