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.

How To Enjoy Your Half-Day In Colorful Key West Port

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesPORTS & EXCURSIONS

Does your family cruise stop at the Key West port? Get some quick tips on how to make the most of your day and enjoy this colorful island.

Key West Port | Panoramic photo of downtown streets

We stopped at the Key West port as part of a recent back-to-back Havana cruise on Majesty of the Seas. At the time that we booked our cruise, I had no knowledge about Key West. I knew it was in Florida, That’s it. And, because the Key West port is a Florida port, I assumed that this would be a stop dominated by a beach excursion. But turns out that visiting the beach was not really the top family option!

Key West has many claims to fame. It’s the southernmost point geographically of the United States. And, it’s only 90 miles away from Cuba. Which  is less than the 160+ mile distance between Key West and Miami. And, several famous writers and poets have called Key West home including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and Shel Silverstein. (If you have kids who are Judy Blume fans, let them know that she lives on the island as well!)

Key West has also served as a vacation destination for several U.S. Presidents: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Truman’s Little White House is now a popular museum and tourist attraction.

Finally, the Key West port is also known for its amazing sunsets. Unfortunately, that’s one treat we weren’t able to experience due to our ship’s late afternoon departure.

Key West Beaches

Coastline of Fort Zachary State Park in Key West Port

Based on our pre-trip research, the best beach option appeared to be the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.  Unlike several of the other beaches in the area, the beach at Fort Zachary remains in its natural state without the benefit of sand shipped in from the Caribbean. It’s a coral beach that’s rocky in texture, so some type of water shoes or flip flops are strongly recommended. The beach snorkeling there receives rave reviews. And, visitors also have the opportunity to tour the historic Civil War fort for which the park is named.

Ultimately, after weighing our options, we decided to explore the island and save our beach adventures for our stop at the Cozumel port.


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Touring The Key West Port

Key West Port | photo of direction signs on Mallory SquareOne of the best ways to enjoy your time in the Key West port is simply walking around. You can have a great time strolling around and popping in and out of shops and cafes. Notwithstanding the absence of a beach focus, the ambiance is very much laid back fun in the sun. The laid back nature of the island permeates the atmosphere like a special kind of humidity. You can almost touch it.

Some of the more popular excursions for the Key West port include two variations of a hop on/hop off bus tour. They were both roughly the same price and kids are free. But, there’s a big distinction between the routes. The Conch Train version stays in the downtown area while the Old Town Trolley version includes ½ dozen or so more stops around the island.

Figuring to get more bang for our buck, we signed up for the longer one as to see more of what there was to see. But, truthfully, much of the extra stops were just hotels or shopping centers.  It was nice to see the overall island, but there wasn’t any real hopping on or off at those extra stops. So, if you have time concerns, you won’t be missing much with the shorter versions. Also, since the Conch Train is an actual train on wheels, your kids may get an extra kick out of that.

Beware Wasting Time Getting Into Town

Our cruise ship docked at the Old Mole Pier, which is owned by the navy. The naval installation has restricted access.  So no pictures were allowed while you are on the pier. And, passengers must pass through a security checkpoint and show photo identification when returning to the pier.

It turned out to be quite the production getting from the ship to our excursion.

For the Key West port call, we decided to book our cruise excursions through the cruise line. The Old Town Trolley excursion included transportation from the ship to town where the hop on/off part started. At first, this sounds like a big benefit. Turns out, not so much. It literally took us two hours from the time we were told to meet in the ship auditorium until we actually started the tour.  Followed by another very long wait standing in the hot sun waiting for the shuttle. (We were never provided an explanation for the extremely long wait times.)

It turns out that a shuttle ride from the Old Mole Pier to town takes about 5 to 10 minutes. And, the shuttle rides into town are free. The Old Town Trolley and Conch Train vehicles are used as part of the shuttle service.

Both the Conch Train tours and the Old Trolley tours can be booked online easily, so we might have been better off doing this particular adventure as an independent excursion. We could have skipped the long wait in the auditorium and hopped on a free shuttle into town.

The Old Town Trolley

Once we got into town, the tour itself was great. The trolley passes by many of the main tourist attractions, so if you plan your time right, you can fit in several activities along with the trolley tour itself. Some of the key highlights:

  • The tour starts and ends in Mallory Square. In that same area you can also visit the Key West Aquarium, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and Truman’s Little White House.
  • The third stop is near Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famous Ernest Hemingway watering hole.
  • The next stop (#4) takes you to the popular Duval Street (see below).
  • Stop No. 5 takes you to the Bahama Village where you can stop and visit the Ernest Hemingway House.
  • Stop No. 11 takes you to the Southernmost point.

We had a very low key and relaxing day on the trolley. Everyone could enjoy open air access in the trolley, and the drivers had interesting observations to make along the way. We hopped off for walking around, seeing key sites, lunch and souvenir shopping. 

Roosters in Key West Port

One distinctive feature found in the Key West Port are wild roaming roosters. There are also wild hens with baby chicks, but the colorful roosters are quite striking and hard to miss. Key West locals refer to these proud fowl as gypsy chickens.

Our trolley tour guide provided a brief explanation about the birds. The short version is that settlers brought chickens to raise as sustenance. And, when some folks migrated to the area from Cuba they also brought roosters for cockfighting. At some point, backyard chickens became obsolete, and cockfighting was outlawed. Owners essentially released both sets of birds to fend for themselves, and they have thrived quite well.

Duval Street

The famous Duval Street is essentially the area’s main strip filled with bars, shops, restaurants and many visitors. For those who like to shop, the shoppers in our travel party found some awesome deals at the Coach factory story. It is situated right down town on Duval Street. No need to leave the beaten path to find it. And, there were countless places to pick up traditional souvenirs as well.

Key West has lots of bars. As the tour drivers like to say, it has more bars than beaches. We were there during the middle of the day with kids, so that wasn’t really part of our itinerary. But it is possible to hit some of the more famous spots as part of the bus tour.

The Southernmost Point

The island of Key West is literally the southernmost point of the United States. And, there’s a special marker commemorating it (a very large cement buoy).  This is also one of the places you can hop off the trolley and explore. Lots of people like to stop there and take a picture. There was quite a crowd and a line of people waiting to do so. The wait to take an actual up close and personal picture with the marker is about 1-1 ½ hours. So, if you want to do that, you may want to go there first, and then continue with the rest of your day.

Getting Back To The Ship

Something else to be mindful of is the issue of crowds getting back to the ship. The trolleys used for the Trolley Tour are also used to shuttle people back to the Mole pier.  Late in the day, as more people were trying to head back to ship, there was a very large crowd waiting at the final trolley stop in Mallory Square. Not everyone could fit and most folks had to wait for next buses. By the time our bus pulled up, there were seats for 5 people. But there were about 45-50 people actually waiting.

Popular Activities For Key West Port That We Ended Up Not Doing:

Based on advance research, two kid-friendly attractions stood out: The Key West Aquarium and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum. Because of time constraints and the logistical delays referenced above, we weren’t able to fit either of those in. So we’ll have to save them for a future trip. But here are a couple first hand accounts which show why you should consider including these on your agenda.

Closing Thoughts:

We found the Key West port to be a delightful island to spend a relaxing sun-filled day. Although a handful of beach options exist, you will likely find more engaging entertainment roaming through town.

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15 Things Families Should Know For An Amazing Havana Cruise

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesCaribbean, CRUISE PLANNING, Itineraries, PORTS & EXCURSIONS

Over the past few years, the opportunities for regular Americans to travel to Cuba have greatly expanded. And, one of the easiest ways to visit is by sailing a cruise that stops at the Havana cruise port. Booking a cruise can certainly simplify your travel planning, but read on a for few tips to make sure that your family gets the most out of this experience.

We recently sailed on a family cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas.  The absolute highlights of the trip were our visits to the Havana cruise port! For years, I wanted to visit Cuba, but I was never  eligible to go. So once it became possible for Americans to sail on cruises that stopped in Cuba, that shot to the top of my wish list. And this year, we were finally able to pull it off.

Visiting The Havana Cruise Port

Let me preface this by saying, we had a fabulous time. Everyone in our travel party ultimately enjoyed the cruise (even the family members who were forced to arrive without any luggage due to flight mishaps). And we would all do it again.

Here are 15 things that families planning a cruise to Havana should know – some good, some fair, and some watch outs. 

1. Consider Booking Back-To-Back Cruises With Stops At The Havana Cruise Port.

At the time that we looked at booking a cruise to Cuba, the only ones we saw had relatively short itineraries of 4 or 5 days. But we usually plan our summer vacation around a 7 day cruise, so we really wanted something longer.  What we ended up doing was putting together a back-to-back itinerary. We booked a 4 night and a 5 night cruise on the same ship. We kept the same staterooms, so we still had the benefit of only unpacking once. Both legs of the cruise sailed roundtrip out of Tampa. So, for the combined 9 day itinerary, we had two different stops in Havana, plus stop in the ports of Key West and Cozumel. Also, one of the Havana stops was an overnight stop which added additional variety to the itinerary.

The original prices when we booked were very affordable compared to other Caribbean itineraries. And, we saved money booking ocean view rooms. Plus, on two occasions after we booked, our cruise specialist was able to help us take advantage of subsequent price reductions. So, overall, it was a great deal!

2. The Actual Visa Requirements and Travel Restrictions Can Be Confusing.

Americans need two important documents when sailing to Cuba. First, there’s the actual visa needed to enter the country. You can purchase those on board from the cruise line.  It was $75 per person and charged to our shipboard accounts.

In addition to a visa, Americans (or those subject to U.S jurisdiction),  must also comply with government regulations that restrict travel to Cuba. You cannot travel as a general tourist. (So, no bopping off to the beach.) Rather, you must fall within one of 12 recognized categories. If you are traveling by cruise ship, you will complete a certification at embarkation that identifies which bucket your trip falls into.

Also, we opted to purchase travel insurance, so we also had to complete a different version of a certification before we ever left home. Our travel insurance carrier required that we fax in copies a few months before we sailed. Interestingly, the version provided by the travel insurance company had much more descriptive detail as to the categories of authorized travel.

The Key Categories 

Cruise ship passengers will most likely fall under one of two categories. Either the “people to people” category or the “support the Cuban people” category.  The “people to people” category essentially requires that you participate in a tour sponsored by an authorized entity. Some of the confusion about this category likely stems from the fact that the requirements changed relatively recently, in 2017. So some of the information floating around online is no longer valid. In particular, any references you see to an ability to “self certify” under the “people to people” category is out of date.

If you book an excursion with the cruise line, you will be in full compliance with the “people to people” category.

But, you can still be in compliance even if you make excursion arrangements outside of your cruise line. The most likely applicable category would be the “support of the Cuban people” category. (This is a relevant excerpt from the certificate provided by our travel insurance company.)

Support for the Cuban people (31 C.F.R. § 515.574). […] I certify that my schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule. I also certify that the activities are of recognized human rights organization; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; or individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.

You can find more information about what “support for the Cuban people” means here at §515.574.  But be aware that pure leisure activities — such as a day at the beach — do not qualify.

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