7 Simple Reasons You’ll Want To Skip That Drinks Package

Posted on2 CommentsCategoriesBudget, CRUISE PLANNING, CRUISE TIPS

Trying to figure out whether that snazzy beverage package the cruise line offers will actually be a good deal for your family? It sounds enticing: Pay one flat rate for the privilege of consuming all of the drinks you can stomache. It’s certainly convenient! But will it offer you good value and save money? Read on to find out what you need to know to figure out if this is a good deal for your family. And, learn seven reasons why it actually may not be right for you.

Cruise Drinks Package | photo of 3 cruisers enjoying beverages

We have 3 sections to help your decision making:
    • The basics of a cruise drinks package.
    • The 7 reasons to skip a drinks package.
    • Some additional money-saving tips for beverages.

(An earlier version of this Post was first published on 6/19/2018.)


The Basics on Cruise Line Beverages

Before you can figure out whether a beverage package would be good deal for your family, you need to know what beverages you already paid for in your cruise price. 

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Beverages Included In Basic Cruise Fare

Generally, the basic drinks included in your cruise fare will include milk, some juices, hot chocolate, and regular coffee and tea (i.e, not specialty beverages like lattes, cappuccinos or chai). You will also find some self serve fountain-style drinks at the buffet. Basically non-carbonated drinks like juice or juice based drinks like punch (not sodas). And, of course, you should also be able to get regular non-bottled water. Everything else beyond these basics will incur an additional charge.

What’s Included in a Drinks Package?

Different cruise lines offer a variety of drinks packages that cover different combinations of alcoholic and/or non-alcoholic drinks. The specifics of what’s included in any given package will vary. But, you should generally be aware that not all alcoholic drinks receive the same treatment.  Nor do all non-alcoholic beverages.

The alcohol packages may draw distinctions based on beer and wine vs. hard liquor and cocktails. Or, they may place a cap on the dollar value of an individual drink covered by the package. Or, both.

Similarly, a drinks package for non-alcoholic beverages may draw distinctions based on type of beverage. E.g., bottled water (and/or brand of water), specialty coffees, fresh juices and soda, energy drinks, or mock-tails. A specific cruise line’s drinks package may include all of these items or only a small subset. So, if you have a preference for premium liquor and cocktails vs. beer and wine, or specialty coffees (e.g., lattes) and bottled water, you should determine whether your favorites are covered.

Rules For Drink Packages

Some basic rules generally apply for all cruise lines.

  • A drinks package is per person, not per family or stateroom. Only the person for whom the drinks package is purchased is allowed to consume beverages under the package. People will often try to dance around this rule with varying degrees of success. But don’t count on being able to do so, or you will likely be frustrated. And, your privileges may be revoked altogether. 
  • A drinks package applies only to beverages purchased on board the ship (and, depending on the cruise line, on a private island). 
  • A drinks package will typically exclude room service and in-room mini bars.

7 Reasons To Skip The Drinks Package

If one or more of the following seven reasons applies to you, you will likely spend less money overall if you skip the drinks package.

1. You Drink Few Beverages After Breakfast.

Most of the beverages that folks usually drink at breakfast will be free. The most notable exception would potentially be fresh squeezed juice. So, with that point in mind, you should assess how many drinks outside of breakfast you will likely consume each day. Use this broad rule of thumb: If you are unlikely to drink 5 or more additional beverages while on the ship, then you will probably not break even on a drinks package.  

Do The Math.

Cruise Drinks Packages | photo of family enjoying meal

Typically, cruise lines quote drinks packages as a “daily” charge. But, they only sell packages based on the entire length of your cruise. Not by the day. So, you pay a flat fee based on the total number of days of the cruise, regardless of how many sea days or port days are available. You can’t pick and choose which days you want to include or exclude from the package.

So, for instance, a package on a 7-day cruise that is touted at $50/day for unlimited beverages will cost $350 for one person. Generally, a drinks package that include various alcohol combinations will range from $55 to $79 per day, and a non-alcoholic drinks package will range from $18 to $25. In this context, a non-alcoholic package means something more than just soda and juice. Many cruise lines will also offer a soda package for less. More like $8-$10 per day. But this will typically not include bottled water.

Regardless of the package, the cruise line will also assess an additional surcharge for gratuities of 15-18%. So if you buy a drinks package advertised at $50 per day, you would be charged a lump sum of $350 + 18% (or $413) for each person who buys a package.

When deciding whether a package had value to you, assume the prices for individual drinks will be similar to what you would pay at a hotel resort. So, for instance, about $3 to $6 for non-alcoholic drinks and about $8-12 for alcohol. Keep in mind that the same daily rate applies whether it is a sea day or a port day.

Update for 2019:

Some cruise lines have increased prices for their beverage packages for 2019. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian provide two notable examples. Under Royal Caribbean’s new pricing scheme, prices for the deluxe beverage packages will range from $74 to $84 per day (including required gratuity).  So the total cost for two adults in a cabin who get deluxe packages will start at $1,040 for a 7 day cruise. Also, folks buying the soda package will now pay $12.99 per day (plus gratuity). As for Norwegian, the price of its Ultimate beverage package rises up to $99 a day plus a 20% gratuity. So the total cost for two adults in a cabin will be $1,660 for a 7 day cruise. But, Norwegian continues to offer an inexpensive soda package for about $6 per day.

You can find more information about 2019 pricing on the Travel Market Report website.

Will you drink five or more beverages after breakfast?

Let’s apply that rule of thumb. Let’s say after breakfast, you are likely only to have a beverage at lunch, another one or two at dinner, and perhaps one more at some other point during the day. Then, you would probably be better served paying a la carte. This is particularly true if you will be spending lots of time off the ship.  (See #3 below.)

Conversely, let’s say you know that in addition to beer at lunch and wine at dinner, you will likely consume several specialty coffees over the course of the day, have a cocktail or two by the pool, and indulge in a couple of drinks after hours in the casino. You will probably get full value out of a drinks package.

2. You Should Probably Skip The Drinks Package If You Are Primarily Interested In Non-Alcoholic Drinks.

Cruise Drinks Package - two kids drinking smoothiesIf you are only interested in a non-alcoholic drinks package, you are unlikely to get full value for your purchase. First, some cruise lines don’t even offer a separate non-alcoholic drinks package. In which case, you would be paying the same price for a package whether you are ordering smoothies and speciality coffees or ordering Mai Tais and scotch on the rocks. 

For cruise lines that offer non-alcoholic versions of a drink package, you need to pay close attention to what is actually included. Does it include items such as bottled water, smoothies, shakes or specialty coffees? And how about mock-tails (cocktails without actual alcohol)? Or, does it only include soda and other carbonated beverages?

For example, Carnival’s main drinks package (Cheers!) covers all different kinds of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This includes smoothies, specialty coffees, sodas etc. But, the only non-alcoholic package available is the Bottomless Bubbles program which covers only sodas and juice. So if you will primarily be drinking smoothies and cappuccinos, then you will not save money buying this package.

Non-alcoholic drinks typically run about $3-5 each. Daily prices for most non-alcohol packages or soda packages run about $8-15 per day. So you, or the package holder, would need to drink 3-5 beverages each day to break even. This may be easy to do if the package covers all non-alcoholic beverages. Less easy if it only covers soda. (Note, Carnival actually offers a discounted price for kids on the Bottomless Bubbles program – $4.95 daily + 15% gratuity).

3. Skip It If You are Sailing a Port Heavy Itinerary.

Cruise Drinks Package - photo of in port waterfront cafeIf you are on a port heavy itinerary and plan to actually leave the ship,  you will not have access to your drinks package for large sections of each day. So, on a port heavy vacation where you plan to be out and about, you would need to calculate how many beverages you are likely to consume in late afternoon and into the evening. (Assuming that you drink typical breakfast beverages.)  Will you be drinking  more than 3-5 each and every day? If not, then you are literally leaving money at the table. Plus, you will have to pay out of pocket for any beverages you want while off the ship.

That said, if you do get a package that includes bottled water, you will at least have the option to carry the bottles of water with you when you leave the ship. Sometimes the cruise ship will even have a station set up as you exit the ship where you can pick up bottles on your way out. Those that don’t have a package can still pick up bottles too, but they will be charged to their ship board account.

What about private islands?

You should also be mindful of whether the cruise line you are sailing extends drinks package privileges to its private island. Not all cruise lines do. So, for instance, if you are sailing on Carnival, Holland America, or Princess, the drinks package applies only to the ship. But, if you are sailing Royal Caribbean or Celebrity, your drink privileges also apply to Labadee and Coco Cay. And, as for Norwegian Cruises, at last report, its Ultimate Beverage Package could be used on its private island in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. It could not, however, be used at the Belize private island of Harvest Caye.

4. Consider Skipping It, If All Adults Must Purchase Same Packages.

Many cruise lines now require that all adults in a stateroom purchase the same package, if any package is to be purchased. Presumably to cut down on folks trying to game the system. Thus, if one adult buys the full alcoholic package, any other adults traveling in the same cabin must also purchase one. So, unless both/all adults are going to consume more than 3-5 drinks each day, then on a per cabin price, you will not get full value for your money.

5. Skip The Drinks Package If You Primarily Drink Water.

Cruise Drinks Package - photo of woman drinking from bottled waterIf you are happy drinking tap water. You don’t need a drink package. If you prefer bottle water and that is mostly what you drink, some cruise lines offer a bottled water package. Basically, you can buy a certain number of large bottles for a set price. The bottles will be delivered to your cabin at the start of your cruise.

If a water package is not offered, you may be forced to buy a premium package to get the bottled water you want. That is unlikely to save money over a la cart pricing.

Also, you should check your cruise line policies on bringing your own water on board. If it is permitted, and you have time to stop at a store before embarkation, then stock up and bring your own water. (Bottles of water are heavy and subject to breaking – so not a great plan to try and fly with it.)

Check out the “money saving tips” section below for tips on making the most of free water and complimentary beverages.

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6. You primarily drink coffee based beverages.

Cruise Drinks Package - woman drinking coffeeBasic coffee and tea are free. But specialty coffees like lattes are a premium. And, they are usually not included in the basic non-alcoholic package price for cruise lines that have a separate package. If you have to upgrade from a basic package, you will have to drink quite a number of lattes and cappuccinos to come close to breaking even.

That said, some cruise lines offer some type of coffee card option. For a set price, you receive a card that entitles you to 10  or 15 coffees of your choice. For coffee lovers, this can be a great deal. Plus, when this option is offered as an actual card, it is not tied to a specific cruiser. So more than one person can enjoy specialty coffees using the same card. 

7. Skip The Package If You Can Be Satisfied With The BYOB  Allowance.

You may have the option to bring on board your own limited quantity of non-alcoholic and/or alcoholic beverages. This depends on which cruise line you sail. This could include limited amounts of sodas, beers, and bottles of wines. The types and amounts vary by cruise line, and some cruise lines will charge you a corkage fee for opening your wine at a restaurant. You should check with your specific cruise line for the most updated limits, but by way of example:

Sample Allowances
      • Carnival: For non-alcoholic beverages, guests can bring up to 12 cans or cartons (bottles are not permitted) at embarkation. This includes water as well as soda, juices, milk, etc. Guests can also bring on up to 12 cans or cartons of non-alcoholic beverages from ports of calls. Alcoholic beverages, however, will be placed in storage. Each guest can bring one 750 ml bottle of wine or champagne. No beer or hard liquor. The ship charges a $15 corkage fee for opening wine in a restaurant.
      • Royal Caribbean:  Two bottles (750 ml) of wine or champagne per stateroom. No other beverages permitted. A corkage fee of $15 applies to bottles opened in public areas. (UPDATE: Although Royal Caribbean has not yet updated the relevant page on its website, it is being reported at the Royal Caribbean Blog that the cruise line is updated its policy effective 9/1/2018 to allow passengers to carry on 12 bottles of water or non-alcoholic beverages in their hand luggage.)
      • Norwegian: Guests may bring bottles of wine or champagne only. No other beverages. All bottles are subject to a per bottle corkage fee regardless of where consumed – $15 for 750ml bottles and $30 for 1500ml Magnum.
      • Celebrity: Guests may bring up to two bottles per stateroom. Corkage fee of $25 per bottle applies if consumed outside of stateroom.
      • Holland America:  Guests may bring one bottle of wine or champagne. No corkage fee if consumed in stateroom. Additional bottles may be brought for an $18 corkage fee, regardless of where consumed.

These BYOB allowances for alcohol typically only apply at embarkation. The crew will confiscate any alcohol purchased while you are in port after sailing. They will store it until the end of your cruise. (Note that a harsher rule applies if you try to bring on or sneak on excess alcohol at embarkation. It will usually not be returned to you if found and confiscated.)

Cruise Drinks Package -Waitress holding a dish of sangria glasses

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Other Money-Saving Tips

Look For Narrower Beverage Deals. 

Something else to consider is whether the cruise line offers a smaller deal that will better accommodate your needs. For instance, a water package. You buy a certain number of bottles of water in advance. Or, a coffee card for a set number of specialty coffees. 

And, on the alcoholic side, some cruise lines also offer narrower packages for bottles of beer or wine. For instance, Celebrity offers a Taste of the Vineyard package where you can select three, five, or seven bottles of wine at various price points. Holland America offers a Cellar Masters package. You get five bottles of wine and other perks. Princess offers a beer package where you get five bottles of certain beers at a discounted price. (Princess also offers a similar discount package for canned sodas.)

Maximize The Free Beverages.

Another option to consider is bringing along a box or two of flavor enhancers for water. Non-bottled water is free. Flavor enhancers come in a wide variety of flavors. You can easily pick up some that appeal to you and/or your kids and then mix them with the complimentary water.  Either in the cup provided, or in your own water bottles brought from home. This can substantially expand your beverage options without substantially adding to your costs.

Also, make use of the in-room refrigerator. If there isn’t room for you to include your own stuff, see if you can get the cabin attendant to clear it out. If you are sailing with kids, this request is usually easier to get accommodated. Mention that you need to be able to store milk. (This works better if your kids actually drink milk.) Then when you are at the buffet pick up extra cartons at breakfast or other meals to take back to your room.

Likewise, if you have brought extra water bottles, you can fill them up with juice or punch from the self-serve area and store those for later as well.

Investigate Potential Options to Prorate.

Some cruise lines will allow you to purchase a beverage package in the middle of your cruise for a prorated price.  For instance, both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity offer this option. (Similarly, Princess permits refunds on packages until the third day of sailing.)

So, if you are unsure about whether a package is right for you, you could wait.  See how much you actually drink on the first day or two. Then purchase a package for the remainder of the cruise. But there is usually a cut-off past which you no longer have this option. Anywhere from 2 to 4 days prior to the end of the cruise. So depending on where the port days and sea days fall in your itinerary, this may or may not make much sense for you.

Watch For Pre-Boarding Sales on Drinks Package.

If a beverage package interests you, then definitely watch for discounted sales online. You should receive an email about such specials several weeks (or months) before sailing. Such discounts can be substantial – e.g., 30% – for some of the more expensive premium packages.

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Closing Thoughts:

No question that a drinks package can be extremely convenient. Pay once before you even board and then don’t worry about it again. But, if you are seeking price savings and value, you should pause to do some basic math. Follow this rule of thumb to help your assessment. If you are unlikely to drink more than 4 or 5 beverages after breakfast, you should probably skip it.

If, however, you are content with the idea that you may ultimately be paying for convenience, then no worries. Likewise, you may want the freedom to experiment with a variety of cocktails without feeling compelled to finish them. If so, bottoms up!


Need help planning a cruise vacation with kids? Download our free Quick Start Guide now!

Or, for more detailed guidance on planning an awesome family cruise, check out Elaine’s book, The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids (available in print and digital at Amazon).








Now Ride Your Wave To Awesome Savings On 2019 Family Cruise Deals

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesBudget, Cruise Choices, Cruise News
3-D illustration of puppet on raft seeking best family cruise deals

Wave season has arrived!  Now that the holidays are firmly behind us, it is a great time to start planning your next family cruise.

“Wave Season” typically runs from January through March. During this period, cruise lines present some of their most aggressive offers for the upcoming year. These are promotions that are available for sailings throughout the year, but the special discounts and perks accrue for booking during the wave season offer period. While the actual discounted cruise fares may not be the absolute least expensive for the entire year, the discounted fares plus a variety of valuable perks can make for some excellent family cruise deals.  Read on to find what 2019 has to offer.

For tips on saving money on cruises year round, visit Try These Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars.

Current Family Cruise Deals for Wave Season 2019

We have rounded up the current wave season promotions being offered by the major cruise lines.  So, start looking for your family cruise deals here.  Although numerous luxury cruise lines and river cruise lines are also offering wave season promotions, this round-up focuses on the larger cruise lines that are typically the most family friendly.

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Carnival has three basic promotions: Early Saver Sale, Pack & Go Sale, and the Onboard Credit Sale. The Early Saver Sale offers $50 deposits for bookings through April 2021. The Pack & Go Sale offers discounts up to 25% off on select sailings between now and May, 2019. And, the Onboard Credit Sale offers $50 onboard credit on sailings through spring 2019.

Also, Carnival is offering a More=Merrier deal that ends January 11, 2018.  You can save additional money on rooms with 3 or more guests on select sailings through spring 2018.

You can find Carnival promotions here.


Celebrity offers the Sale Beyond Event 

This promotion offers discounts on all staterooms plus additional free perks for families booking oceanview cabins and above. Savings start at $100 per cabin for inside staterooms and go up to $400 per cabin for suites. Also, additional passengers in a cabin receive 50% discounted fares.

Families booking oceanview or verandah staterooms can make two selections from the perk menu. Suite bookings earn four selections.

The perk menu includes choices of a drinks package, wifi package, prepaid gratuities, and $150 per person of on board credit. If you opt for a nonrefundable deposit, you’ll receive an extra perk selection. savings of up to $150 per person for the first two passengers in a cabin. The amount varies based on cabin category. 

Offer is available through January 31.  And, offer valid on travel from Feb. 1, 2019 to May 11, 2020.


For its Wave Season promotion, Disney offers a 50% discount on deposits on select cruises 4 nights or longer.  This offer is valid through February 15, 2019 for cruises departing between June 22, 2019 and May 30, 2020.  Find more information on this Disney promotions here.  (So, this particular promotion won’t actually save money ultimately, but it reduces your immediate out-of-pocket costs.)

While not necessarily Wave Season promotions, families can also currently find discounted family cruise deals on specific sailings of select itineraries:

  • Up to 25% off designated Caribbean sailings between now and April. More information here.
  • The website mousesavers.com reports additional special deals for specific sailings & specific stateroom categories.  More information available here.
Holland America

For Wave Season, Holland America offers its Why Not Now? promotion.

This offer applies to more than 500 sailings of select 2019 and 2020 departures. It includes stateroom upgrades, discounts on shore excursions, up to $1000 in air credit, and reduced deposits of $99 (restrictions apply). 

This promotion ends February 28, 2019.  

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises currently offers its All-In promotion. Guests booking this promotion receive unlimited drinks and free wifi on Caribbean itineraries. The cruise line also offers reduced deposits of $99 per person. 

This offer expires March 31, 2019.

Be sure to check out our review of MSC Seaside!

Norwegian Cruises

Throughout the year Norwegian offers variations on its Free at Sea promotion.  It is currently promoting “New Year. Big Savings” and offering a selection of 6 different perk offers including free airfare or air credits for select cruises.

On designated sailings, guests may choose from a list of 6 perk offers. The number of your selections varies based on stateroom category. Available perks include: Unlimited Open Bar; Specialty Dining Package; 250-Minute Internet Package; $50 USD Per Port Shore Excursion Credits; 3rd & 4th Guest Sail Free (select sailings); and Roundtrip Air (opportunity for free or reduced flights).  Promotion valid through January 27, 2019.  (The deadline for this offer has been extended a couple of times.)

Find out more about Norwegian’s promotions here.


Princess has two different promotions running: the Exclusively Caribbean Sale (for Spring 2019 through Fall 2019 sailings) and the All Aboard! Sale (for Summer 2019 through Spring 2020 sailings).

In the Exclusively Caribbean Sale, guests can save up to 40% off of select sailings, stateroom location upgrades, and reduced rates of $99 for the third and fourth passengers in a cabin. This promotion ends January 31, 2019.

In the All Aboard! Sale promotion, guests receive up to $900 in onboard credit per stateroom (amount varies based on length of itinerary and stateroom category).  And, everyone in the cabin (up to 4) receives one night free specialty dining.   Offer ends February 28, 2019. 

Royal Caribbean

This Wave Season Royal Caribbean offers its Explore More Sale.

Cruises booked in January receive 60% off cruise fare of second guest and up to $300 in instant savings.  This offer ends January 27.

Find out more information on Royal Caribbean promotions.

More Tips on Finding the Best Family Cruise Deals

As you start checking out different websites for promotions, you may wonder how you should figure out what’s a good deal or not.  For insights on evaluating different deals, check out this article on cruisecritic.com:

3 Ways to Make the Most of Wave Season Cruise Deals

This article provides great tips on how to objectively evaluate specific wave season promotions, and determine what may be right for your family.  In addition, it provides tips on comparing apples to apples when looking at specific fares and itineraries.  And, it also flags special issues to look for in the fine print of individual offers.

For more reading on getting the best family cruise deals check out:

9 Tips for Getting the Best ‘Wave Season’ Cruise Deals  

And, for more tips on saving money on family cruises more generally, check out Try These Top Ways To Stretch Your Family Cruise Dollars.

 Download our one-page 2018/2019 Family Cruise Packing Checklist!

Want more detailed guidance on planning an awesome family cruise?  Check out Elaine’s book, The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids (available in print and digital at Amazon).

Graphic for Family Cruise Deals 2019

6 Useful Tips You Need To Know On Florida Cruise Ports

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesCRUISE PLANNING, CRUISE TIPS, Disembarkation, Embarkation, PORTS & EXCURSIONS

Florida cruise ports are the busiest cruise ports in the world. Find out what you need to know to save time, money and aggravation.

Florida Cruise Ports | photo of cruise ships in Miami port

Florida has some of the busiest cruise ports in the world. More passengers sail out of Florida cruise ports than anywhere else in the world. Florida has six different cruise ports. If you are going on a Caribbean cruise, odds are real high your sailing will depart from Florida. (But, Florida cruise ports also host ships sailing to other parts of the world.)  Here are some key tips that you should know to help you save money, time and aggravation.

1. Check Flights To Cities Other Than Your Actual Port City For Better Value. 

Of Florida’s six separate cruise ports, three receive the lion’s share of traffic. The Florida cruise ports that handle the most cruise passengers each year are Miami, Port Canaveral (Orlando) and Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale). Collectively, these three ports see more than 12.5 million cruise passengers each year.

Each of these Florida cruise ports has at least one major airport within an hour’s drive. But sometimes the most obvious airport may not actually be your best option for kicking off your cruise. Depending on where you live, the price for air tickets may be cheaper if you fly to a nearby city and drive the remaining distance. You can often find affordable shuttle services to cover that distance. Or, you may find that taking a car service or renting a car still yields overall cheaper travel costs. Also, if you investigate options at other Florida airports, you may find more convenient travel times to fit your schedule.

If you do exercise your option to fly to an alternative airport for your cruise, make sure that you make prior arrangements for a ride to take you from the airport to the other city.

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port in Miami

More than five million passengers each year start their cruises from the Miami cruise port, making it the busiest cruise port in the world. Indeed, it has been dubbed the “Cruise Capital of the World.” In addition to very popular Caribbean itineraries, you can also sail on cruises stopping throughout Latin America, and you’ll also find cruises departing for Europe.

If you fly into the Miami International Airport, the distance to the Miami cruise port is 10 Miles (about 18 minutes).  The distance to the Miami port from the Orlando airport is 230 miles (or approximately 3 1/2 hours). And, the distance to the Miami cruise port from the Fort Lauderdale airport is 30 miles (about 45 minutes). 

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port in Fort Lauderdale

If you fly into Fort Lauderdale, the distance to Port Everglades is 6 miles (about 15-20 minutes). and the distance from Miami Airport to Port Everglades is 31 miles (about 40-45 minutes).  The distance from Orlando to Port Everglades is 215 miles (or approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes).

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port Near Orlando

If you fly into Orlando, the distance to Port Canaveral is 46 miles (or approximately 42 minutes). Three other commercial airports service the area near Port Canaveral. Melbourne International Airport (about 26 miles), Orlando Sanford International Airport (about 64 miles), and Daytona Beach International Airport (about 74 miles).  

Miami Airport to Port Canaveral is 220 miles (about 3 hours and 15 minutes). And, the distance to Port Canaveral from Fort Lauderdale is 196 miles (just under 3 hours). The Tampa airport also provides another viable option. The distance from the Tampa International Airport to Port Canaveral is 136 miles (about 2 hours 15 minutes).

Reaching The Florida Cruise Port in Tampa

What about Tampa? The Tampa cruise terminal is less busier than its sister cruise ports. For one thing, because of logistics, the largest cruise ships can’t sail from that port. But nevertheless, in 2018, traffic for the Tampa cruise port hit over 1 million passengers for the first time.

The distance from the Tampa airport to the Tampa cruise port is 10 miles (about 20 minutes). The distance from the Orlando International Airport to the Tampa cruise terminal is 86 miles (about 1 hour and 30 minutes).

As for the other two major Florida cruise ports, flying into Tampa does not provide much of a viable option, unless you really have as one of your goals exploring more of the state of Florida. The distance from Tampa International Airport to Port Everglades is just under 4 hours and the distance to Miami is about 4 hours and 15 minutes.

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Smaller Florida Cruise Ports

And, to complete the list, we should also mention that Florida hosts two smaller cruise ports with much more limited service. Carnival Cruise lines currently has one ship that sails from the Jacksonville cruise port. And, the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line sails short two night cruises from the Palm Beach cruise port to the Bahamas.

The Jacksonville Airport is about 12 miles (20 minutes) from the Jacksonville cruise port. The closest alternative city would be Orlando, where the airport is about 2 1/2 hours away from the Jacksonville port. Likewise, the Palm Beach International Airport is about 12 miles (20 minutes) to the Palm Beach cruise port. But, since it is much farther south than Jacksonville, it is also readily accessible from Miami, which is about an 1 1/2 hour drive, and Fort Lauderdale, which is about an hour and 10 minutes.

2. You Can Save Money By Skipping The Hotel.

Conventional wisdom says that you should arrive at least a day before your cruise departure date, if you will be flying into your embarkation city. And this is clearly sound advice. However, in many circumstances, it can also be reasonable to make a different choice.

Depending on where you live, it is entirely possible to fly into and out of Florida on the same day as your embarkation and disembarkation dates with ample time to spare. One big advantage of doing so is saving money on hotel. We have done this many times.  However, this is not for the faint of heart.

You can minimize potential problems if you can book nonstop flights. Trying to switch plans en route adds more opportunities for things to go wrong. And, you should try to take the earliest flight that’s practical. If your flight is scheduled to land at least 4 hours before boarding for the ship closes, that provides a nice buffer.

Although we have done this many times without incident, we have some travel companions on a recent cruise out of Tampa who weren’t quite so lucky. This family flew from their home state in the middle of the country on a flight itinerary that required one change of planes. If everything had gone according to plan, they would have arrived in Tampa several hours before the ship was scheduled to depart. But, several things went awry including weather delays, mechanical problems, and a plane rerouting. They ended up taking 3 different planes that day and stopping in two cities along the way. While they ultimately made it the ship before sail away, they did so without any luggage. They did persevere and have a wonderful time, but this does provide a cautionary tale.

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3. When Booking A Hotel, Stick Close To The Port.

If booking a hotel, choose one close to the port (rather than the airport or mid-city).

In the ideal world, you will have plenty of time to get from any hotel in town to the port. But, in reality, lots of unexpected and uncontrollable things happen. Like construction, traffic delays, and road hazards. Or a pre-embarkation shopping trip that goes awry. It is much better to have a shorter distance to cover on embarkation day.

Each of the major Florida cruise port cities have excellent hotel options:

4. Pre-Arrange Rides To Avoid Taxi Lines And Excessive Waiting.

You can save a lot of frustration and aggravation if you pre-arrange rides to the cruise port, particularly if you are arriving from the airport. This is actually a great embarkation tip for almost any embarkation city, not just the cruise ports in Florida.  This allows you to start off with a more relaxing vacation. Rather than standing in a line, in the heat, with cranky kids, waiting for a taxi that’s the right size for your party.

5. Don’t Assume That Guys Offering “Taxi” Service Mean Private Rides.

Here’s a disembarkation tip that is particularly relevant for Florida cruise ports. If you have not pre-arranged a ride to the airport, either through the cruise line or a third party service, you will step outside looking for a taxi. Now in many large cities, you will often find legitimate car service guys hanging around asking people if they want rides because something happened to their original fare. If you step outside and get approached by someone who otherwise looks legitimate, be sure to ask if it is a private ride or a group taxi. Often times, the term “taxi” may be used loosely, and it’s actually a shuttle van.

We missed a plane with this mistake. We had done the early morning walk off the ship so that we could catch an early flight in Miami. They loaded all of our luggage into the cargo trailer. We stepped into a van and there was already one guy in it. That was fine since we were all going to the airport. But what we did not realize was that the driver would proceed to drive by several other terminals looking for additional fares. And, since we weren’t full, the driver made a whole other loop around the port for a second try.

Turns out that the guy who first approached us worked for a shuttle company. And the shuttle company had someone stationed at each terminal to solicit folks and hustle them into the van. Although this team of folks was moving rather efficiently, it still added an extra 20-30 minutes that we hadn’t expected.

6. Porters At Disembarkation Ports Won’t Wait With You Once You Exit The Terminal.

This is something that may not be obvious to everyone. It certainly wasn’t obvious to me at first. When you are leaving your cruise ship, there will usually be porters with luggage carts running around to help you collect your luggage from the discharge area.  (They work for tips.) They will wait with you in line and walk with you through customs. The porters will walk you all the way to curbside pick up or the taxi line. But they will not continue to wait with you once you have stepped foot outside the terminal. They will deposit your luggage at the curb and return inside.

So why is this worth mentioning? If you have a significant amount of luggage, it is yet another reason to arrange for a ride ahead of time. You don’t want to have to struggle with your luggage through a long taxi line (without the benefit of a cart); nor is it ideal to have your luggage deposited near the front of the line to wait for you – when you are dozens of people deep in the line. The terminal areas in the major Florida cruise ports are very busy, and it is not a comfortable feeling to have all of your luggage beyond arm’s reach.


Florida provides great opportunities for kicking off your fun-filled family vacation. And, incorporating these simple steps in your advanced planning will help you sail off and return smoothly.