Twenty years ago, anyone interested in taking a cruise who wanted to avoid flying had extremely limited choices. The primary option was driving to Florida. But as demand for other ports and places of embarkation grew, along with the effects of (first) 9/11 and (second) hassles of air travel, cruise lines made a major push to develop alternatives. Today, Homeland Cruising is an integral part of the cruise industry.

During the earlier days of the cruise industry, ships normally departed from the Florida ports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Port Canaveral then became a player, thanks to Premier Cruise Lines innovative Big Red Boat concept, which is really credited for developing Port Canaveral and making it a convenient option for Orlando visitors. The Port of New York was another seasonal option, and a few cities in California such as the Port of Los Angeles rounded out the choices.

Even before 9/11, cruise lines were viewing the development of alternative ports as a way to expand their markets. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) took the lead. A veteran when it comes to pioneering in the cruise industry, NCL can be credited with developing the homeland cruising concept which it aggressively launched in late 2001, focusing on offering more round-trip cruises out of new cities in the U.S. In 2001, for instance, NCL sailed from six ports, but by 2003 they were sailing out of 16 ports located in the U.S. and Canada.

By 2003 most major ports in the U.S. showed strong increases in ship tonnage, with important growth seen in ports not usually considered as major cruise hubs.

A cruise port overlooked for years by cruise lines that has seen resurgence in interest is Seattle. For years, cruise lines have used Vancouver for Alaskan cruises and bypassed Seattle, even though Seattle had a good location and major airport. Many even used the Seattle Airport over the Vancouver Airport for their flights and then transported cruise passengers to Vancouver via motorcoach shuttle, which could easily take four hours. Back then the drawback to using Seattle was the distance factor. Slower sailing ships could not feasibly sail to destinations in Alaska if they departed from Seattle, but that has since changed. NCL was the first to rethink using Seattle for Alaskan cruises and now other cruise lines, including Celebrity, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises all have ships departing from Seattle to Alaska.

For more details on cruise line options and homeland cruising, visit and check out our guide to planning a cruise for your group.