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Top Presidents' Day Ports With Links to the Past

February 14, 2014 By: Susan Young

Pride of America Purser's desk // Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Pride of America Purser's desk // Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

When it comes to U.S. Presidential history, you can learn about it in surprising ways on a cruise vacation. In honor of Presidents' Day, Travel Agent collected a few examples to show how cruisers can explore the history, culture, family life or careers of some U.S. Presidents.

George Washington: What was the only foreign country ever visited by U.S. President George Washington? It’s not Great Britain or Canada. It’s not France. It’s Barbados, today a popular port of call and an embarkation/disembarkation port for southern Caribbean itineraries.

In 1751, Lawrence Washington, the future president’s half-brother who was suffering with tuberculosis, decided to journey to Barbados, a southern Caribbean island with a reputation for treating lung issues. George Washington accompanied him.

Barbados // Photo by Susan J. Young
Barbados // Photo by Susan J. Young

Unfortunately, the trip did little to improve Lawrence Washington’s condition. Worse yet, George Washington, then 19, contracted smallpox, but fortunately he recovered and returned to the U.S. after about six weeks on the island. However, during his time there he learned about sugar cane production and agricultural lessons that he took home to Mount Vernon, VA.

He also explored Barbados’ forts and military structures. When he returned to Virginia, he was even more interested in pursuing a military career. And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, cruise visitors might tour the George Washington House (, also called Bush Hill House.

It’s the place where the Washington brothers resided in Barbados during their brief time on the island and the only place the future president ever lived outside of the U.S. For more information, visit


Thomas Jefferson: In 1784, two years after his wife died in childbirth, a despondent Thomas Jefferson went to Paris, seeking a change of scenery to improve his outlook on life. In addition, Benjamin Franklin, who had admirably represented the U.S. government in Paris, was elderly and too frail to continue in that role.

Jefferson headed across the Atlantic, became incredibly popular during his five years in Paris as the U.S. Ambassador and learned much about diplomacy and international affairs, not to mention fashion, music, theater and wine. Jefferson often appeared at government offices within Versailles Palace and knew the rich and famous including Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI.

His daughter Martha attended a French school for girls, the Abbaye de Panthemont, still in operation today. During his time in the City of Lights, Jefferson also had a romantic relationship with Maria Cosway, a married English painter and musician.

Cruise ships typically offer organized tours of Paris’ most familiar sights, but most also offer independent transfers, giving guests a chance to explore on their own. So why not take a self-guided walking tour of the Jeffersonian sites?

Many of the landscapes and buildings from Jefferson's era still exist. This helpful online site provides walking tour details:

Pride of America // Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Pride of America // Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Barack Obama: Cruisers who’d like to visit Hawaii, where Barack Obama grew up, can easily get into the island culture and lifestyle by booking a voyage on Pride of America, operated by Norwegian Cruise Line ( In 2013, the ship received a $30 million update, including the addition of new suites.

RELATED: Pride of America Is Newly Refreshed

Just about everything on Pride of America seems a touch Presidential – from the Americana décor to Jefferson’s Bistro, from the S.S. America library to the atrium’s stately décor with carpeting that boasts a Presidential seal. Even the hull artwork (as shown in the photo above) is decidedly patriotic.

Pride of America also visits the major islands including Oahu, Maui and Kauai, plus guests may visit Molokai on a shore excursion. Port time is extensive, as the U.S.-flagged vessel is the only large cruise ship able to stay entirely within Hawaii over the course of a week; several small U.S.-flagged vessels can do the same.

All foreign-flagged ships must have at least one foreign port call, per the Jones Act, so most other big ship cruises originate from the U.S. West Coast with a port call in Canada or Mexico and many sea days.

Hawaii's Tourism Authority has created a "Barack Obama's Hawaii" page on its website; the pages outlines sites or activities associated with or liked by the current President. Visit

Andrew Jackson: Andrew Jackson was the only U.S. President who served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. A victory in 1815 against the British outside New Orleans gave Jackson the national recognition needed to run for president.

For cruisers embarking a cruise ship at New Orleans, a pre- or post-cruise stay offers the chance to visit the site of Jackson's victory, Chalmette Battlefield. He won the Battle of New Orleans with an eclectic group of compatriots – free African-Americans, Louisiana militia, Tennessee and Kentucky riflemen and, yes, even, pirates including the famous Jean Lafitte.

Today, “Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve,” operated by the U.S. National Park Service, includes six different sites within Louisiana including the Chalmette Battlefield, home to an antebellum mansion. (

One of the easiest ways to visit Chalmette is by taking a 2.5 hour afternoon cruise on the Creole Queen, ( This authentic paddlewheeler sails from New Orleans’ Riverwalk Canal Street dock, close to the Hilton Hotel. It costs $27 for adult, $13 for those 6-12 and younger children are admitted free.

Little White House in Key West, Florida // Photo by Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau
Little White House in Key West, Florida // Photo by Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

Harry Truman: When Harry Truman needed to get away and relax, he headed for Key West, FL. Today, a popular activity for cruisers visiting on a port call is to tour the Harry S. Truman Little White House ( in this southernmost place in the United States.

This historic site was the winter White House of America from 1946 to 1952, but it actually has been used by six American presidents before and after Truman's era as well.

William Howard Taft, the first president to visit the site back in December 1912,  was en route to inspect the construction of the Panama Canal. This sub-tropical retreat was a place where Presidents could relax and get away. Truman used it as a respite from the growing Cold War tensions.

The structure was built in 1890 by the U.S. Navy. Today, visitors can take a house tour and view Truman-era furnishings. It's also pleasant to stroll the one-acre botanical gardens, surrounded by an original 1890 wrought iron fence.

General Ullysses S. Grant's statue is atop a ridge at the Vicksburg National Battlefield Historical Park // Photo courtesy of the Vicksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Ulysses S. Grant: River cruises on the Mississippi often call at Vicksburg, MS, site of a famous siege by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who later became a U.S. President. Highly popular on a Vicksburg port call is a guided tour of the Vicksburg National Battlefield Historical Park, operated by the U.S. National Park Service.

Great American Steamboat Company ( offers a premium motorcoach tour that travels the 16-mile road within the park. Guests view many of the park's 1,300 markers and monuments.

Stops are made at the Visitor’s Center; the USS Cairo and Museum; the Illinois State Monument, the largest of the 27 state monuments; and the National Cemetery. Cost for the four-hour tour is $59.

For all the Civil War era options, contact the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau at

This campaign button is part of the collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
This campaign button is part of the collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. 

John F. Kennedy: Those sailing from Boston, MA, or visiting on a cruise ship port call might learn more about the Kennedy family and the former president at The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum ( at Columbia Point in Boston.

Permanent exhibits for visitors to peruse include the Campaign Trail, Briefing Room, Space Race, Attorney General's Office, Oval Office, First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and the Kennedy Family. For a virtual museum tour that provides a good look at what’s to see and do, check out

One of the most unusual features of the library is its extensive collection of Ernest Hemingway documents and papers and it now offers, in print form, 2,500 digital scans of the materials housed at Hemingway's former Cuban estate, Finca Vigia. The material has never been previously seen outside of Cuba and includes letters, passports, telegrams, bar bills, household accounts  and even a notebook of hurricane observations.

Ronald Reagan star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame // Photo by Simon Arlott via Flickr
Photo by Simon Arlott via Flickr

Ronald Reagan: On a cruise embarking or ending in Los Angeles, CA, many cruisers opt for a pre- and post-stay. Some wish to see Hollywood and its movie-making sites. A popular option is to look at the Hollywood Walk of Fame (, honoring famous movie and television stars.

Among those "stars" on Hollywood sidewalks is one for U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who formerly was an actor and president of the Screen Actor's Guild. Cruisers exploring the walk will find his big star on the south side of the 6300 block of Hollywood Boulevard.

For a bit more insight into Reagan’s acting career, readers might check out this Los Angeles Times story:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: While Sochi, Russia on the Black Sea takes center stage this week with the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, another Black Sea port – Yalta, Ukraine – is the place to find World War II history and memories of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Famed as Russia Tsar Nicholas II’s last vacation home before he and his family were killed during the Russian Revolution, the Livadia Palace gamed fame in World War II as a place where Allied leaders – Josef Stalin of Russia, Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom and Roosevelt met.

Livadia Palace // Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr
Livadia Palace // Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr

Built in neo-Renaissance style, Livadia is constructed from white Crimean granite. The American delegation including President Roosevelt stayed in the palace apartments. In its meeting hall, the trio of Allied leaders talked about governance of Europe once the war was over.

Voyages to Antiquity’s ( itineraries that include a Yalta port call feature an “included” tour to both Livadia and the Chekhov house. Cruisers may walk past the hall where those World War II meetings took place.

Since this was the Romanov family vacation home, it’s also possible to view the family’s private chapel. Stunning views of Yalta and the Black Sea from the palace are an added bonus.

Photo by George Bush Presidential Library
Photo by George Bush Presidential Library

George H.W. Bush: Travelers booked on a Princess Cruises ( or Norwegian Cruise Line ship sailing from Houston, TX, or on many other cruise lines from Galveston, TX, might stay a few days pre- or post-cruise to tour Houston.

Among the local attractions is the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum ( in College Station, TX. The core exhibit space tells a story about the life and times of George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States.

During the tour, visitors will see replicas of his Camp David Office and the White House press room. They’ll also receive a briefing on the Gulf War in the situation room. Many temporary exhibits also rotate throughout the year in the Ansary Gallery of American History.

Photo by Destination DC
Photo by Destination DC

The above sites are just a few that reflect Presidential history or artifacts that are accessible for cruise ship passengers. Above all, though, there’s no place like Washington D.C. for exploring Presidential history.

Just an hour’s drive from the Port of Baltimore, the nation’s capital make a great pre- or post-cruise stay. Here cruisers might tour the White House, and visit large monuments to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, among others.

First ladies’ inaugural gowns are also on display at the Museum of American History (

Have you visited a favorite "Presidential" site that's easily accessible for cruise ship passengers, either on a port call or pre- or post-cruise stay? If so, let us on our Facebook page.


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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | February 14, 2014
Cruise passengers often say "the destination" is the main reason they cruise. As our nation celebrates Presidents' Day on Monday, Feb. 17, Travel Agent looks at a few places to find U.S. Presidential history either on a port call or at an embarkation port.