Cruises are gaining in popularity as a method of travel and the Southeast has many ports of debarkation. Each offers different cruise lines for different budgets and age ranges, as well as activities for your pre and post-cruise stay. Florida has the monopoly on cruise terminals due to its coastline and proximity to the Caribbean and Mexico, but there are ports more convenient to other states as well. Here is a short guide to the South’s best cruise ports, as well as where to eat, sleep and what to do.
Miami is easily one of the busiest ports in the country and certainly the busiest in the South. Every cruise line imaginable passes through here and with good reason. It may be at the southernmost point of Florida, but there’s plenty for visitors to do while they’re here before and after, including soaking up rays on South Beach and shopping on Ocean Drive.
- Companies: Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Celebrity, Costa, MSC, Oceania, Crystal, Azamara
- What to Do: Villa Vizcaya, Wynwood Walls, The Wolfsonian
- Where to Eat: Islas Canarias, Yardbird Southern Table, Pubbelly
- Where to Stay: The Freehand Miami, Viceroy Miami, JW Marriott Marquis Miami
- See Also: Weekend Guide to Miami
Port Canaveral is the closest port to Orlando and its accompanying theme parks, as well as Cocoa Beach and the Kennedy Space Center area. You can plan your trip to Walt Disney World before hopping on a Disney cruise. The area also has lots of outdoor activities, like kayaking with manatees and visiting the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.
- Companies: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney
- What to Do: Kayaking with A Day Away, East Coast Paddle, Kennedy Space Center
- Where to Eat: River Rocks Restaurant, TJ’s Full Belly Deli, Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster
- Where to Stay: Cocoa Beach Suites, Four Points by Sheraton, Inn at Cocoa Beach
Tampa has lots of cruises to offer and much more things to do than many people realize. Its most notable attraction is Busch Gardens, which has dozens of roller coasters and thrill rides. The International Plaza area has the best shopping and restaurants, as does the downtown area near the Tampa Theatre.
- Companies: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland America
- What to Do: Florida Aquarium, Busch Gardens, Weeki Wachee Springs
- Where to Eat: The Pub, Samaria Cafe, Bar Louie, Bern’s Steak House
- Where to Stay: Best Western Bay Harbor Hotel, Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, Westin Tampa Harbor Island
Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Fort Lauderdale is like Venice, surrounded by water, so its fitting that it would be an important cruise terminal. Not only does it host the big brands of ocean liners, but also smaller cruises and ferries to the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands.
- Companies: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, Holland America, Silversea
- What to Do: SEA Experience snorkeling, Sawgrass Recreation Park, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art
- Where to Eat: The Tipsy Boar, Canyon Southwest Cafe, Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill
- Where to Stay: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Alhambra Beach Resort, W Fort Lauderdale
Credit: Bill Lollar
Although Jacksonville has a smaller port, is the most accessible to most of the South’s Atlantic coast. The city has thriving nightlife, as well as cultural attractions and state parks.
- Companies: Carnival
- What to Do: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, Little Talbot Island State Park
- Where to Eat: The French Pantry, Maple Street Biscuit Company, Mojo Bar-B-Que
- Where to Stay: Hotel Indigo Jacksonville, Omni Jacksonville, Fairfield Inn & Suites
You’ll be sure to “let the good times roll” if you’re spending time in New Orleans before or after your cruise. Enjoy the city’s rich history, delicious food and great hospitality. You can even take a river cruise on an old fashioned paddle boat before spending a week on board another ship.
- Companies: Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean
- What to Do: Mardi Gras World, National World War II Museum, Lafayette Cemetery
- Where to Eat: Cafe du Monde, Praline Connection, Cake Cafe and Bakery, Johnny’s Po Boys
- Where to Stay: Omni Royal Orleans, Hotel Monteleone
- See: Weekend Guide to New Orleans
Charleston is the area’s newest cruise terminal, which has been controversial to put it lightly. Cruises depart near the City Market, making it easy to see the sights of the city while you’re waiting for your boarding time or once you get off the boat. Just be sure to eat in one of the city’s highly rated restaurants during your stay.
- Companies: Carnival
- What to Do: Charleston City Market, Charleston Museum, Firefly Distillery
- Where to Eat: Husk, Bowen’s Island Restaurant, Poe’s Tavern, Fleet Landing, The Glass Onion
- Where to Stay: Charleston Not So Hostel, Embassy Suites
- See: Weekend Guide to Charleston