When you’re underway on a Navy ship, there is nothing quite like a port visit. It’s a chance to get a little downtime, de-stress, and have a few drinks. You actually get to leave the ship and experience the local culture in all it’s awesomeness. It’s the reason that a lot of people enlist in the military in the first place. “Join the Navy, see the world.” I wanted to share a few of my favorites from over the years.
To be honest, I haven’t had a huge number of port visits. I’ve deployed three times and had countless smaller underways, but there are a ton of sailors that have more time at sea (including my younger brother). All of my deployments have been from the East coast and destined for the Persian Gulf. These type of deployments normally involve 1 or 2 quick stops in the Mediterranean and then straight through the Suez Canal, and mine were no exception. I’m hoping that, in the future, my deployments will be from the West coast, so I can experience the Australian and Asian ports as well.
It’s worth mentioning that you don’t necessarily look for the same things in a port visit that you do for a family vacation. There are normally 2 things that I try to accomplish during a port visit. First, as a history buff, I like to experience some of my destination’s past. I love touring Roman ruins and old castles. Second, I like to find some downtime and relax. Whereas family vacations sometimes become an effort to fit everything in, port visits sometimes become an effort to leave things out.
Here’s a list of the places that I’ve pulled into on ships. You’ll see that the list isn’t huge, but there’s a pretty good variety. In the Med, I’ve been to Rota* (Spain), Toulon (France), Agusta Bay (Sicily) (x2), Crete (x2), Malta, Haifa (Israel), and Marmaris (Turkey). In the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf, I’ve been to the Seychelles, Jebel Ali/Dubai (x2), and Bahrain (x ~15). On my first ship, we made a month long trip to the Caribbean where we visited Guantanamo Bay and St. Maarten. I also spent three weeks ashore in Djibouti, but that was for mission planning. I may have missed one or two, but I think that’s all of them.
Without further ado, my 3 favorite port visits (in reverse order) are:
3. St. Maarten – This place is really a tropical paradise in the Caribbean. Half the island is owned by the Dutch while the other half is owned by the French. We pulled in on the Dutch side, took an absolutely terrifying cab ride (now that I think about it, every cab ride I’ve taken outside of the U.S. has been terrifying) across the hills over to the French side where we had a great wardroom party at a bungalow that was rented out. I also remember walking along the pier and having to pay $4 for a bottle of water when I could get a beer for $1. St. Maarten is probably most famous for it’s horrifying airport that requires the planes to make their approach directly over a crowded beach.
2. Malta – Malta is an island in the Med that has basically been conquered by pretty much anyone that had the time. As a result, there is an enormous amount of history that is easy to explore. Mdina (spelled correctly) is a walled-medieval town where you can walk around and really feel the history. Watching old-fashioned glass blowing there may have been the highlight of the entire trip (with the possible exception of sitting in a Scottish bar and watching a Maltese Elvis impersonator sing Johnny Cash songs).
1. Marmaris, Turkey – This was, without a doubt, my favorite port. The first day, my friend and I wandered though the market. I bought some very high quality leather jackets for the entire family. For dinner, I ate some sort of meat (goat???) on a stick that was absolutely awesome.
On the second day, we rented a taxi boat out for the entire day. We paid the owner/driver $200 (split between 8 people) to just take us around the awesome bay and show us to some of the islands. We rode around the lagoon all day, jumping in the water whenever we felt like it, and pulling into island restaurants whenever we were hungry. I had also burned several cd’s the night before to play on the boat’s sound system, including Bon Jovi’s greatest hits (possibly the most powerful tool on earth). It was a lot of fun, and it was without a doubt my favorite port visit.
In case anyone cares, my least favorite port visit was the Seychelles, but that’s probably a topic for another post. I would, however, highly recommend visiting any of the above 3 places.
* Rota is actually west of the Straight of Gibraltar and therefore, technically, outside of the Mediterranian.