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 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 one of them. (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.
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:
- In Fort Lauderdale, these are the best reviewed hotels near the cruise port on TripAdvisor.
- In Miami, these are the best reviewed hotels near Miami cruise port.
- For those sailing from Port Canaveral, these are the best reviewed hotels near Port Canaveral.
And, if you are considering extending your stay in Florida, either before or after your cruise, check out these great publications to help you make the most of your time:
- Lonely Planet Florida
- Miami & the Keys
- Family Guide Florida
- The Kids’ Guide to Birds of Florida: Fun Facts, Activities and 87 Cool Birds
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.
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