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. 


Click here to subscribe


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.


Click here to subscribe


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


This post may contain affiliate links. Visit our Disclosures Page for more information.


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.


Follow Our Pinterest Board For All The Best Cruise Tips!

PIN


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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What To Pack For A Cruise: The Helpful List You Need

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesCRUISE TIPS, Packing

Cast your cruise packing worries aside! This list for families has what to pack for a cruise with kids without missing essentials or overpacking.

What to pack for a cruise | photo of family luggage waiting in foyer


If you’re new to the wonderful world of family cruising, questions about what to pack for a cruise are likely lurking somewhere in the back (or front) of your mind. Whether it’s making sure that you don’t forget anything, or wanting to make the most efficient use of space in your luggage and stateroom. Even if you’ve done it a few times, you may be curious in comparing notes for ideas on what could be done differently.

Over the past 10+ years, we’ve been on dozens of cruises with kids and most of them have been to warm weather destinations. And, at this point, our basic packing list is fairly settled. With maybe the occasional tweak depending on what activities we plan to do.  So, whether you’re planning a 7 day Caribbean cruise or a 14+ day cruise of the South Pacific, the following tips and checklist will have you ready to go in no time. Read on to find out exactly what you should consider packing for your next family cruise. (We’ve also compiled this information into a handy family checklist. See below.) 

What To Pack For A Cruise: Basic Clothing

Something that you should keep in mind if you are new to cruising is that you will probably use more clothes than usual because you will likely be changing more than once a day (for at least some if not all of your cruise days). You will have a wide range of fun activities to choose from, many of which have different clothing and/or footwear requirements. Even if you plan on spending most of your time on the beach or at the pool, you will probably change clothes for dinner after washing off that chlorine or saltwater.

Depending on the size of your travel party, packing for multiple wardrobe changes can quickly expand your suitcase count. You can streamline this by making a plan for doing laundry. Check out our post on doing laundry on a cruise ship for more information.

Everyone has their own style of dress and preferences for dressing their children. So it’s not that helpful to try and set out a detailed itemized list. In this instance, one size does not fit all.  Instead, here are some general rules of thumb to use for planning purposes and selecting which wardrobe items you want to pack.

* Casual day outfits

Plan to pack one outfit for each day of your cruise for each person in your family. These would be your everyday items such as shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sundresses, etc.

If you are planning to work out, include exercise clothes as well. Depending on the size of your ship, you will have access to some kind of track for walking or jogging. And, you will also likely find a complete on-board fitness gym with modern equipment. The ship may also offer fitness classes as part of the amenities. Potentially for an additional fee.

* Evening outfits

Plan to pack an evening outfit for each night of cruise of your cruise as well. Although many cruise lines have flexible dress codes these days, generally there will still be some basic rules about clothing in the main dining room – particularly for adults. How strictly these are enforced varies widely. But generally, the younger the child the lesser the expectations. And the expectations change depending on the venue and time of day. For the buffet, you can pretty much wear what you want. For speciality dining, people tend to dress much more nicely. And, for all venues, if you dine on the earlier side, things are much lower key.

Appropriate evening attire for non-formal nights would include items such as collared shirt and long pants, skirts, dresses, blouses, dressy tank tops. For kids, you can easily plan on respectable shorts or jeans. Some of the items that you pack for your casual days can serve double duty in the evening.

Scroll down for more information on what to pack specifically for formal nights.

* Pajamas

However many pajamas that you usually go through in a week at home should be fine on the ship. But bring extra pajamas if you have kids in diapers or who are still accident prone.

* Underwear

Include appropriate regular underwear for each family member. And throw in a few extra to account for wardrobe changes.

* Accessories

Include whatever accessories are consistent with your personal style. Items such as scarfs, handbag, casual jewelry, etc. And, you should include for each person, a lightweight jacket/poncho that can be tucked away for rainy days or cooler nights.


Subscribe for free checklist!


Cruise Packing For Formal Nights

You can check in advance as to how many formal nights your cruise will have, but assume 2 for a 7 night cruise. Your participation is optional. But if you plan to opt out, then you should plan to dine in a venue where it’s not being observed – like the buffet, pool area, or room service. That said, you should really consider doing at least one. It can be more fun than you think, and it’s a great way to get some nice family photos. (There will be photographers set up throughout the ship and walking through the dining room. No obligation to actually purchase.)

If you plan to dress-up for formal night, include the following for each person:

  • Suit or better for men/boys – don’t forget the dress shirts.
  • Cocktail-style dress or better for women/girls
  • Ties (men/boys)
  • Appropriate evening accessories – jewelry, purse, etc.
  • Specialty underwear (if necessary)
  • Trouser socks/hosiery (as necessary)

You should also note that some cruise lines have the option for renting formal as well. But this should be arranged in advance.

Cruise Packing: Shoes 

If your schedule of activities will include any variety, you’re going to need to pack more than one pair of shoes. So your itemized list of what to pack for a cruise should factor that in. Consider packing the following sets of shoes for each person:

  • comfortable walking around shoes
  • closed toe shoes (some activities may require)
  • shoes for beach/pool (flip flops, water sandals, etc.)
  • formal night shoes
  • dressy/casual shoes (for non-formal nights)
  • shoes for gym/track (if applicable)

So, as an example, for each child, I usually end up packing a pair of all purpose “active” sandals that can be worn all day, including evenings; a pair of water sandals/shoes; and a pair of dress shoes.

Cruise Packing | photo of mom and daughter packing for vacation

Cruise Packing: Beach/Pool

If you’re sailing on a warm weather cruise, then you will likely be spending some quality time at the beach and/or pool. So when deciding what to pack for a cruise, don’t forget these key items for water fun.

  • Swimsuits (recommend 3 – 1 wet, 1 drying, 1 extra in case you end up doing the beach and the pool int same day, and don’t want to crawl back into a wet suit.
  • Swimsuit cover-up
  • Floaties/swim vest (for kids) 
  • Sand toys (for beach )
  • Goggles
  • Hat

Related Content:  6 Items To Absolutely Include On Your Family’s Caribbean Cruise 

Cruise Packing: Sundries/Toiletries

You will likely have some very basic toiletries in your cabin. This will include hand soap and some version of something called shampoo. And, possibly something that can be used for body wash. It is unlikely that these items will be of the quality that you usually use and like. (If you are in a suite or a concierge level cabin, you will have more items and nicer quality.) Your list of what to pack for a cruise should include your own favorite toiletries.

Although you will also have the option to purchase items through the on-board shops, these will likely be very expensive and can often run out. So pack the following items that can be shared among family members:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Travel-size lotion
  • Sanitary products
  • Favorite medications
  • Travel-size hand sanitizer
  • Small laundry soap (if don’t want to use onboard laundry service) 
  • Wrinkle away spray
  • Preferred shower gel
  • Shower cap
  • Shaving items
  • toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Preferred shampoo/conditioner
  • Non-perishable snacks (for travel days and/or shore excursions)

Cruise Packing: Electronics/Gear

In deciding what to pack for a cruise, these items are all optional. But, they’re highly recommended useful items for your cruise packing.

  • Day pack/beach bag (something to use during port calls)
  • Outlet expander (read more about this must have cruise accessory
  • Tablets (fully loaded)
  • Extra batteries for anything important
  • Extra headphones
  • Camera (if not using smart phone)
  • A watch/timepiece that won’t auto set (so can remain on “ship time”)
  • A watch/timepiece for kids that are self-signers, or who are allowed to navigate ship independently (so they know when to meet you)

What To Pack For A Cruise: Organization

There are several items that you can pack to help make your cruise ship room more comfortable and make the most of the space available to you. So consider including these items when deciding what to pack for your cruise.

  • Magnets – clip/clamp style
  • Back of the door shoe organizer – for the bathroom to store toiletries and other small items
  • Hanging closet organizer
  • Lanyards with ID card holders (available on-board, but not cheap)
  • Laundry bags

What to pack for a cruise| photo of mom and baby packing

What To Pack For A Cruise With Babies/Toddlers 

Depending on which cruise line you are sailing, you may be able to get some of  your basic baby gear on board and cut down on your cruise packing. You should also check out our post on essential items to pack when cruising with a baby and our Resource Page for going on a cruise with a baby.

  • Foldable compact umbrella stroller
  • Bottle brush
  • Small bottle of dish soap
  • Portable bottle sanitizer (not required; water in bathroom should get hot enough)
  • Extra baby food or formula 
  • An abundance of diapers (add a few more than you think you’ll need)
  • Extra wipes
  • Favorite OTC medications
  • Favorite non-perishable snacks

 


Would you like this information about what to pack for your cruise in a handy checklist? 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).


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.


Click here to subscribe


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.


This post may contain affiliate links. Visit our Disclosures Page for more information.


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.