While the major ports farther south — especially Miami — get most of the headlines, don’t be fooled. Port Canaveral, located about 45 minutes east of Orlando, is among the busiest departure ports in America. Depending on the year, it is either second or third in number of passengers, battling with Port Everglades for the distinction.
And if you have never sailed from Port Canaveral, it’s understandable that you might feel a little intimidated by all the cars, people, and ships. While the port is laid out so that it’s easy to navigate, it can still get busy on cruise day.
In addition, many passengers fly into the Orlando area and aren’t familiar with things like how to get to the cruise ships, where to park, eat, and much more.
If you have a cruise on the horizon that sails from Port Canaveral, here are 12 tips to help you save money, be less stressed, and have a better vacation.
Staying at a Hotel? Look For One With a Shuttle
Given the distance between Orlando and Port Canaveral (about 45 minutes to an hour from the airport), many people decide to stay the night before their cruise in a hotel near the port. If you decide to do this, look for hotels with shuttles. Given the competition for your spending, many hotels offer perks like shuttles to entice you to book with them. In fact, some even offer transportation from the airport. You can view our list of hotels with shuttles here. It’s an easy way to get back and forth from the cruise ship.
Keep in Mind the Distance When Booking Flights
If you are flying in for your cruise, then be sure to keep in mind that Port Canaveral is a considerable distance from the closest major airport. The Orlando airport is the nearest airport and a straight shot from the cruise port. Still, you should anticipate it taking an hour to get between the two points. The good news? There are a number of transportation options — including affordable shuttles — that can get you to the cruise port from the airport and vice versa.
Like Watching Ships? Have a Drink and a Bite While Ship-Watching
Located right near the port are a couple of restaurants perfect for watching the cruise ships. The spots include Grills and Fishlips. The restaurants are your classic beach fare — burgers, seafood, beer, and cocktails — and offer large decks perfect for hanging out. If you have some time before you board your ship, they offer a neat place to sit and have a drink and a bite while viewing the ships nearby.
Save on Parking With Off-Site Lots
Parking at the port is extremely convenient, but it will cost you. Rates are $17 per day. For seven days of parking you’ll spend nearly $120. Luckily, there are a number of independent lots located within a few minutes of the port that are considerably cheaper. Your options run about $10 per day, which is a considerable discount off parking at the port. As well, these independent lots offer free shuttles to the port, so you can get right to your ship conveniently.
Have an Idea of the Port Layout Ahead of Time
As we mentioned, Port Canaveral serves millions of passengers annually and is among the busiest ports in America. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a general idea of the layout before you head to the port. Below we’ve labeled a map to help you in navigating the port:
Check In Later in the Day to Breeze Through
These days some cruise lines (like Carnival) are offering staggered check-in where passengers have a 30-minute check-in window. This is to help spread crowds through the entire boarding time. If, however, you are free to board at anytime, then it’s a smart move to check-in later. Many passengers like to be among the first to board the ship, leading to a traffic jam when boarding starts. But as the day progresses, the crowds get thinner, making it quick and easy to get through security and check-in with only a few minutes of your time.
The Port Area Offers a Lot to Do
If you think Port Canaveral is just a spot to catch a cruise ship, think again. The area around the port offers a lot to do. Things you can enjoy include Kennedy Space Center, nearby Cocoa Beach, as well as a ton of tourist activities from food to amusements. Many people spend their entire vacation visiting the area, so there’s plenty for you to do for a day or two before your cruise.
Check Out NASA as you Sail Away
As your ship heads out to sea, on your left you’ll see the launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center. The large building in the distance with the American flag is the Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s the tallest building in the United States outside of an urban area and it’s where rockets and the Space Shuttle are readied for flight from nearby launch pads. It’s a neat piece of history that you can get a great view of from the cruise ship.
Know Your Transportation Options
Shuttles, taxis, rental cars, private cars, Uber, Lyft… there are any number of ways to get yourself from Orlando to Port Canaveral. Still, different modes of transport can be best for you depending on your specific situation. If you want to go cheap, then independent shuttles are usually your best bet. If you like having freedom to explore, then you may want to rent a car. If you want a private ride, then a taxi or rideshare is a good option. You can read more about your transportation options (including price estimates) here.
Pay Attention to the Road Signs If Driving to the Port
Are you driving to the port? If so, pay attention to the road signs to get where you need to be. The electronic signs will tell you where to exit for your ship. And if you miss your exit? Don’t worry, you can continue down the main highway and turn around when it’s convenient. There’s only one main road in and out of the port area, so it’s hard to get lost.
Forget Something? There is a Publix and Walmart Nearby
Don’t stress if you need last-minute items for your cruise or simply forgot something that you wanted to pack (see our packing list here). About 15 minutes away from the terminals is a Walmart where you can stock up on things you need. There is also a Publix just down the road in Cocoa Beach. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in one of those two stores, you probably don’t need it!
Want to Head to Disney or Universal? There Are Car Rentals Available
Some cruises actually stop in Port Canaveral as a port of call on their itinerary. The main draw to the area are the theme parks in Orlando. If you are one of these passengers wanting to go visit Disney or Universal for the day, there are car rental agencies near the port. Brands include National, Hertz, and Budget — making it convenient to get a set of wheels and head into Orlando.
Have more tips for sailing from Port Canaveral? Let us know in the comments below.