As a gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America, Port Miami services approximately four million passengers each year and is hailed as the “cruise capital of the world”.
Having never holidayed at sea before, I’ve opted for a sail and stay itinerary, allowing me time to discover Wynwood, Miami’s “pulsating heart of creativity”.
I wander through a yard where buildings are covered in graffiti art; the brainchild of the late real estate developer Tony Goldman, who realised properties in Wynwood lacked windows, providing a blank canvas for artists.
One of the most striking artworks is an image of Goldman alongside other ‘visionaries’, including Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and the Dalai Lama.
Of course, aesthetic pleasures are nothing new in Miami. The city’s famous art deco architecture has been wowing visitors for decades, with many of the best buildings found in South Beach, built after a 1926 hurricane destroyed the area.
The Versace mansion in South Beach is believed to be the third most photographed house in America - after the White House and Elvis Presley’s Graceland. The building was bought by fashion designer Gianni Versace in the early Nineties, before he spent millions on lavish upgrades. In 1997, the Italian was shot dead on the steps of the mansion, which is now run as a luxury hotel.
It is one of a number of South Beach hotels known for their celebrity links. The Tides, for example, boasts Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio as past guests, while The Carlyle featured in the opening of Eighties TV series Miami Vice. Meanwhile, the Cardozo Hotel in South Beach is owned by singer Gloria Estefan and featured in the Hollywood film There’s Something About Mary.
I’m staying at two hotels: the Epic Hotel in the heart of downtown Miami, and the Grand Beach Hotel in Miami Beach, which offers an incredible view of the luxury homes on Millionaire’s Row.
But celebrities don’t just visit Miami for the art and glamour. The area’s wildlife is also a key attraction like the popular Everglades Alligator Farm. With dozens of alligators in their grounds, a show allowing guests to hold a variety of snakes and an airboat ride with 360-degree spins, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Having spent four days exploring Miami, I’m ready to board the MSC Divina - one of the cruise company’s newest ships, which will carry more than 4,000 passengers to the Caribbean.
The diverse range of ages and nationalities on board quickly banishes any preconception that cruising only appeals to an older generation.
My first impressions suggest that elegance is a key feature for a ship which boasts actress Sophia Loren as its godmother.
Diners looking for a change from the buffet can choose from six restaurants, including Galaxy, which converts to a nightclub later in the evening.
The ship’s drinking spots include a sports bar and a cigar lounge, where guests can smoke indoors.
A vast range of spa treatments are on offer for guests looking for relaxation, while yoga and dance sessions prove popular with passengers in the outdoor pool area.
I join a young lively crowd for a “sail away” party at the outdoor Garden Bar, with DJs playing dance music on deck. I’m also amazed to discover that it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button by getting behind the wheel of Formula One car onboard the ship.
The F1 simulator is a life-sized replica, which moves and shakes as guests test their driving skills on a computer-generated racing circuit. It’s great fun for youngsters - and any older guests who are young at heart.
After a day at sea, we arrive at Falmouth, Jamaica, for a brief taste of the Caribbean.
MSC offers a range of excursions, from riding dune buggies to swimming with dolphins, but I jump at the chance to go jungle river tubing. On the way to the Martha Brae River, Jamaican bus driver John offers a quick lesson in the local lingo, with “Yeah, man” and “No problem” the key phrases to learn.
One of the guides, nicknamed “Paparazzi”, is on hand to take photos as each guest jumps in a rubber ring before floating downstream.
Once again, I’m not sure what to make of the scene in front of me; I never imagined I’d enjoy myself so much on a cruise, with many fellow passengers even a similar age to me.
From risque art and tactile lemurs to wild aquatic adventures, this has certainly been a trip for new awakenings.