Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel, is the best place to view the city skyline.
Luxury cruise lines now give their guests the luxury of more time ashore, as they add more “overnights” in marquee ports. For example, the new Viking Star, launching next year for Viking Cruises, will sail a 22-day “Catalonia to Constantinople” itinerary on March 6, 2016, offering guests overnights in Barcelona, Venice and Istanbul. And Azamara Club Cruises plans 100 such overnights globally in 2016.
What’s the draw? Luxury cruisers who’ve toured the local sights during the morning can return to the ship mid-day, enjoy lunch, grab a quick nap or relax with a spa treatment. Refreshed, they can head off the ship again in late afternoon. By then, the crowds have diminished, locals are heading out on the town, evening cultural programs are beginning and cityscapes twinkle.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
When Silver Cloud begins its Monte Carlo to Barcelona itinerary on August 5, 2016, Silversea Cruises will overnight in the principality the first night. Cunard Line will also have overnight calls in 2015. Though Monte Carlo is compact, less than one square mile in size, the palace is an uphill hike from the harbor. We’d suggest reserving a chauffeur-driven car from First-Limousine for private touring. They can design evening programs customized to the traveler’s special interests, such as ones themed around culture, gastronomy, sightseeing or wine.
Pictured: The Casino of Monte Carlo, a gambling and entertainment complex, is known for its Belle Époque architecture. Located on its west side is the Hôtel de Paris.
One helpful resource is Visit Monaco’s night-time activity page: www.visitmonaco.com/en/plan-your-stay/monaco-by-night. First-time visitors might indulge in a quintessential Monte Carlo experience by sitting at the Café de Paris’ sidewalk tables, either for a casual bistro-style dinner or just a glass of Provencal wine accompanied by an appetizer of escargot. It’s fun to check out the Lamborghinis and Ferraris dropping off VIPs at the Casino of Monte Carlo next door. We suggest strolling through this historic casino for table or slot machine play or simply admiring its lovely Belle Époque architecture.
For an elegant dinner with a view, the rooftop restaurant of the nearby Hôtel de Paris has always been popular with luxury cruisers, but the hotel is closed for renovations through January 4, 2015. After that it will be open but with ongoing construction. The four-year project is set for completion in fall 2018.
Pictured: The Ottoman Neo-Baroque-style Ortaköy Mosque is seen on the European end of the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul.
So those going ashore might instead head for the Hotel Metropole Monte Carlo, just a block up the street. Its trendy lobby bar attracts beautiful people, while sophisticated Mediterranean cuisine is served at the hotel’s Joel Robuchon restaurant. If four couples go ashore for dinner, they might reserve the “Joel Robuchon’s Table,” a gourmet experience that unfolds at a large, wooden chef’s table in front of the open kitchen.
Casual options? McCarthy’s Pub, a traditional Irish watering hole, is open from 6 p.m. until dawn with live music and a DJ. La Brasserie de Monaco, a micro-brasserie with bar and restaurant, also has a DJ or live music nightly. When it ceased making its own beer back in the early 2000s, Prince Albert stepped in to help and today Monaco’s microbrews are back.
Party animals might check out Sabor Latino, a Latin American-style club with dancing from 11 p.m. until dawn. But if, alternatively, guests have a cultural bent, they might catch a performance at Salle des Etoiles, a concert and event hall at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club, which in the past has welcomed Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra and other entertainment greats. Ballet and musical events unfold at the Grimaldi Forum.
Pictured: The Blue Mosque’s light-and-sound show can be enjoyed by luxury cruisers after dusk during summer.
Definitely, cruisers should ask their private car driver to whisk them atop the city to Place du Palais for lighted city and harbor views. Plus, the Prince’s Palace, home to Monaco’s royal family, is magnificently aglow at night.
Many ships with overnight calls, including the Silversea sailing mentioned above, don’t depart until 7 a.m. or so the following morning. But some lines have overnights with earlier departures, so travelers should be sure of the return time before they get off the ship. Multiple “Glitter & Glam of the Rivieras” itineraries operated by Windstar Cruises in 2015 will transport guests ashore in Monte Carlo after dinner for a line-hosted champagne and dessert reception at the casino. Guests then have until 1 a.m. in port to enjoy gaming and city sights.
For 2016 itineraries, Crystal Cruises spends a double overnight (two nights in a row) in Istanbul. During May 2015, Seabourn Cruise Line overnights in Istanbul at the start of a 21-day “Black Sea, Aegean and Adriatic” cruise, while Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa II sails on September 21, 2015, from Istanbul to Athens, with an overnight in Istanbul. Among other ships overnighting in the city are Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Mariner and Voyage to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey.
To set up customized touring with a private car and driver, we recommend Nurdan’s United Travel Services, a destination management firm, for its strong customer focus and expert private guides. So what’s open in the evening to see? Through 7 p.m., Monday to Saturday, visitors might walk with their guide through the Grand Bazaar, which dates back to the late 1400s. Yes, it’s touristy, but for first-time city visitors it’s a “must see” for its ornate ceilings and labyrinth of shops numbering in the thousands.
Pictured: Cunard line and Silversea Cruises will have overnight calls in the principality of Monte Carlo in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
While it’s fun to look, travelers who choose to buy should bargain vigorously. Tip? We suggest saving a bit of money and instead buying Turkish souvenirs at the nearby Egyptian or Spice Market, also open through early evening. Originally, it just sold spices and oils and today it still offers those, plus dried fruit, olives, caviar and cheeses, as well as souvenirs.
A private limousine driver/guide can offer travelers the best vantage points to see the illuminated Topkapi Palace, the former primary residence of the Ottoman empires, which has an imposing hilltop locale, as well as Sultan Ahmet Camii (known to Westerners as the Blue Mosque), Hagia Sophia or Dolmabahce Palace. After dusk during summer, luxury cruisers might witness the Blue Mosque’s sound-and-light show; Turkish, English, French and German versions are on different nights.
It’s also lovely to arrange an evening visit to Hagia Sophia after the structure has officially closed. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum, it’s intriguing to explore this Byzantine architectural gem in a more intimate way—without the daytime crowd of tourists—with a private guide.
We also suggest a quick early- evening visit to the hauntingly beautiful Basilica Cistern. Usually open through 8 p.m., it’s a huge underground cavern dating to the late Roman era, eerily lighted and still partially filled with water. Several tall columns support the cistern’s cathedral-like ceiling; many of them came from old Roman temples like Didyma’s Temple of Apollo. So travelers might spot a Medusa head for a column base, for example.
Foodies on a private tour can arrange to have a customized Turkish dining experience, including visiting a traditional “simit” bakery, grilling one’s own kebabs at a barbecue restaurant, sampling Turkish tapas at a “meyhane” or even joining a Turkish family for a home-cooked meal. Visitors might also drink tea, play board games with locals or smoke a shisha pipe.
If clients want to simply dine out, Istanbul has myriad choices. With dark mahogany décor and white tablecloths, Borsa has been an Istanbul stand-out since 1927; we suggest ordering the “iskender kebap” or roasted lamb slices over pita bread. For an international wine list and Japanese/international cuisine, visitors should head to the Sunset Grill & Bar within Istanbul’s wealthy Ulus neighborhood. It has a spacious outdoor terrace with nighttime views of the illuminated Bosphorus Bridge.
Evening activities in the city are outlined in Time Out Istanbul, an English-language publication. For a truly quirky activity, cruisers might book a private one- or two-hour belly dancing lesson at Sultana’s, a top belly dancing venue. Evening professional belly dancing shows also attract cruisers.
Club hoppers can explore the Beyoğlu area on the European side or Kadiköy across the water in Asia. That said, getting into Istanbul’s hottest clubs often requires excessive tipping and knowing someone, so ask the limo company or cruise line concierge in advance for assistance.
Overnighting at Singapore on its February 5, 2016, voyage from Singapore to Hong Kong is Oceania Cruises’ Nautica. What’s to do? Cruisers can stroll through historic Chinatown, catch a free light-and-sound show at several points throughout the city or hop on a bumboat for waterfront views while cruising along the Singapore River. Bargain hunters might browse for casual clothes, costume jewelry, electronics and souvenirs at the Night Market on Bugis Street.
For VIP private arrangements throughout Asia, Ruth Turpin, owner, Cruises Etc., Fort Worth, TX, and a Virtuoso luxury travel advisor, suggests using A&K Hong Kong. In Singapore, A&K will arrange night-time private touring options led by expert local guides. For upscale shopping, travelers might head to the Hilton Hotel’s two-level shopping arcade with such designer and luxury brands as Lanvin, Rolex, Donna Karan, Christofle, Mulberry, Marni, Jil Sander, Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten and Stella McCartney. The boutiques are open until 7:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Fans of CK Calvin Klein and Emporio Armani will find those designer brand boutiques at Forum, The Shopping Mall. Antiques, regional artifacts and a wide selection of Persian, Pakistani and Afghani carpets are sold at Tanglin Mall on Orchard Road; it also has tailoring shops for custom-made clothing.
How about a “conversation piece” purchase? Ferragamo has created a men’s tie with a tasteful design incorporating the Merlion, Singapore’s symbol—an imaginary creature with a lion’s head and fish’s body. Visitors often pick up several for gifts, as these ties are only sold by Ferragamo at its three Singapore stores.
When the munchies hit, authentic regional food awaits at the hawker centers of Tiong Bahru, Esplanade, Maxwell Road or Changi Village. Boasting multiple fresh-foods stalls under one roof, these are best described as a cross between street-food trolleys and regular restaurants. Travelers may leave a small tissue pack or other inexpensive personal item on a table to reserve it, order at one of the stalls, give the table number and wait for the food to be delivered, paying in cash.
We enjoy the centers’ Hainanese chicken rice and Peranakan food, but other options include nasi lemak, laksa, rojak, beef kway teow and fish-head curry, as well as Indian and Malay dishes. Worried about food safety? Singapore has very strict health requirements for food vendors so the hawker centers are a good way to savor ethnic dishes.
For nighttime city views from above, the Singapore Flyer is the world’s largest observation wheel (even bigger than the London Eye); its hour-long evening dining experience has full-butler dinner service with two rotations in the sky.
Pure foodies should reserve a table at Restaurant Andre, cited in San Pellegrino’s annual awards for “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014.” Chef-owner Andre Chiang also won the “Chef’s Choice Award” for his French cuisine with a fusion approach. His “octa-philosophy” menu offers eight plated dishes that reflect the concepts of “Unique, Pure, Texture, Memory, Salt, South, Artisan and Terroir.”
When the sun sets, cruisers often order a Singapore Sling, the signature orange-red cocktail invented at Raffles Hotel Singapore. This sweet, punch-like concoction consists of gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, Benedictine, grenadine, pineapple juice, lemon juice and bitters. Hint: Given the high demand, many city bars fill Singapore Sling orders from a pre-mix so ask for a “shaken” version; many bartenders will oblige.
For wild action, travelers might head to the Singapore Zoo’s nighttime safari experience with moonglow lighting and Himalayan foothill, Southeast Asian rainforest and Indian subcontinent habitats. Cruisers will board an open safari tram and look for animals in the dark; it’s a hoot when critters are spotted right next to the tram.
Venice, Italy: Many upscale vessels such as Azamara Journey overnight in Venice, so guests experience two different city personalities—one by day, another by night. “I like to think of Venice as the ‘real world’ Walt Disney World,” says Diana Hechler, president, D Tours Travel, Larchmont, NY, an Ensemble Travel agency specializing in concierge-style personal service and exclusive travel. “It’s very touristy, but so what? It’s one of the places you have to see in your life.”
Pictured: Diana Hechler, president, D Tours Travel, at the Palazzo Reale in Genoa, Italy.
She arranges private tours for her best customers through Jeremy Ross at J and J Services Italy in Milan. For example, travelers might take a late afternoon private tour of the Basilica of San Marco, much more intimate than touring with hordes of daytime visitors; the basilica’s private entrance typically opens at 5 p.m. for private tours.
Visitors also might enjoy a tour to a private palazzo (Venetian mansion) along the Grand Canal. “The setting is beautiful, the views wonderful and a lot of these palazzos have gorgeous frescoes by well-known artists,” Hechler stresses. Visitors typically enter from a private entrance and receive an intimate guided tour by a family member or staffer who can explain what they’re seeing—everything from period furniture to art, artifacts and architectural features. Then travelers often have cocktails in an elegant drawing room or on the water-view terrace.
Those with a passion for art, history or another themed topic can also find specialty private tours, including “Daily Life in Renaissance Venice,” “Art and Architecture” or, if they start a bit earlier in the afternoon, a Venetian Lagoon ecology/water system tour. Describing these as “themed tours for thinking people,” Hechler makes those personalized VIP arrangements with Context Travel of Philadelphia.
In early evening, travelers definitely should visit the Rialto Bridge, lingering for water views and photos. At about 8 p.m., they might dine at Osteria Da Fiore, a Venetian-style restaurant operated by Mara and Maurizio Martin. With both interior and al fresco dining, the restaurant specializes in raw-fish dishes, Venetian cakes and a selection of 300 Italian wine labels plus vintages from France and Austria.
For dinner with a majestic Grand Canal view, Hechler suggests the rooftop Restaurant Terrazza Danieli at the Hotel Danieli, a Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel. À la carte entrees might include red snapper with red sage, escarole, black olives, capers, violet potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and crispy bread, or alternatively, veal tournedos with carrot and ginger flan, peaches, foie gras and passito wine jelly. A six-course tasting menu is also available.
Yes, Venice can be touristy, she says, but emphasizes that it also can be breathtakingly beautiful. “Quite honestly, there’s nothing like a gondola ride down the Grand Canal to see the piazzas all lit up,” Hechler says. “It’s soulful, absolutely exquisite at night, you just want to bottle it and take it home.”
At the end of the evening, Hechler tells her customers to meander back to the Piazza San Marco’s cafés, sip on an aperitif or a glass of wine and enjoy the live music. “It’s one of the most glorious public spaces in the world, and at nighttime it will fill your soul,” she says.