Sailing from Port Canaveral on a cruise? You are definitely not alone. Millions of passengers board ships in the port that head from the Bahamas to the Caribbean to Mexico. In fact, it’s right behind the Port of Miami as the titleholder of the world’s busiest cruise port.
If you’ve never sailed from the area before, then you might be wondering what to expect when you cruise out of Port Canaveral. As a bustling — and fast-growing — port complex, there is a lot for you to know before you head to your ship.
From what to do, to where to park, to navigating the port, we have all the ins and outs of important details to know regarding the central Florida port.
The Port is Among the Busiest in the World for Cruise Traffic
There’s no doubt that Miami gets the headlines — and the most traffic — with about 5 million cruise passengers each year. But many people don’t realize that Port Canaveral is just behind that in passenger volume, with roughly 4.5 million passengers going through the port each year. In other words, cruise days can get busy (including some days with five or more ships in port).
The good news is that the port area is large and the terminals are spaced out so that it doesn’t feel like chaos on cruise day. Still, you want to allow plenty of time to reach your ship and be familiar with the area (or have a driver take you to the ship) so that you don’t lose your way.
Parking Is $17 Per Day at the Port
Given the location of the port, many people choose to drive into Port Canaveral for their cruise. If you are one of the many that do this, then you can park your car at the port as you sail. But be warned — the cost is $17 per day to park at the port. It’s convenient and only a few steps from the cruise ship. That said, a one-week cruise will see you spend about $150 in parking fees alone. Fortunately, there are some cheaper options for parking your car while you cruise which we will explain below.
Hotels Offer Park and Cruise Packages
Want to park your car but don’t want to pay the $17 per day that it costs at the port? You’re in luck. There are several ways to save some of your hard-earned cash on parking fees. If you plan to stay in the Cape Canaveral area the night before your cruise (always a smart idea) then there are many hotels that cater to cruise passengers with park & cruise specials. With these deals, you simply stay a night before your cruise and they let you park your car for little or no extra money. In total you can save a hundred bucks in parking with these deals. Click here for a full list of Port Canaveral hotels with cruise parking.
Disabled Passengers Can Get Free Parking
Are you a disabled passenger? If so, you might be able to get your parking at Port Canaveral for absolutely free. As part of Florida laws, if you are a disabled passenger and you have modifications to your automobile — such as ramps or hand controls — then you are likely eligible for free parking at the port. As well, those with a Florida Toll Exemption Permit or Florida Disabled Veteran license plates can also receive free parking. Simply give the port a call (321-783-7831) to get all the details before you arrive.
Independent Lots Offer Cheaper Parking Options
Finally, if you don’t plan to stay at a hotel and you don’t qualify for free parking, you can still save big on parking at Port Canaveral. Independent lots have sprung up around the port, offering parking for as little as $40 per week. These rates can save you a ton of money on your parking fees, which you can either save or put towards more fun on your cruise. To see more about where to park for a Port Canaveral cruise, click here.
Many Hotels Offer Cruise Port & Airport Shuttles
Flying into the area for your cruise? The Orlando airport is about 45 minutes away from Port Canaveral, meaning that you either have to pay a decent amount for transportation to the cruise ship or you have to rent a car and deal with parking.
The good news? There are hotels in the area that know many cruise passengers fly in and they offer both a shuttle between the hotel and the airport and a shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port. In other words, you don’t need to worry about finding outside transportation to get to Port Canaveral and your ship. For a full list of these hotels with shuttles, see our article here.
There’s Lots of Good Food Near the Port
The port complex has boomed in recent years and there are a number of waterfront spots to sit down, have a drink, a bite to eat, and watch the ships pass by. Most of the food is typical beach bar fare — including seafood, burgers, etc. That said, the views and atmosphere are unbeatable. Grills, Fishlips, and Gator’s Dockside are all popular hangouts to enjoy the scenery.
Check the Exploration Tower for Great Views
A relatively new feature of the port is the Exploration Tower. It’s an interactive experience with exhibits on each floor, topped with a viewing platform so that you can look out onto the port. The admission cost is $6.50 for adults, but the view is priceless. As the tallest point in the area (other than atop a cruise ship), it’s hard to beat. There are discounts available for children and seniors.
The Beach is Just Two Minutes Away
Florida is famous for its beaches and one of the most popular in the state is just minutes away from the cruise port. Cocoa Beach stretches for miles from the cruise port to points south, and is a great spot to swim, sun, and have fun in the sand. If driving you can find beach access at regular intervals down the coast. Jetty Park right near Port Canaveral is actually close enough to walk. If you want to spend some time on a beach right before or after your cruise, it’s easy to do that sailing from Port Canaveral.
Port Canaveral Is About 45 Minutes From Orlando
Headed into Orlando for your cruise? Or maybe your cruise has a stop in Port Canaveral and you’re thinking of headed into the city for Disney, Universal, or any number of other things to do. Either way, you should know that it takes about 45 minutes to get to Orlando and about an hour to get to the Universal/Disney area. Luckily a number of transportation options are available to get you back and forth. Still, you should keep the distance in mind when planning your schedule to reach the ship.
Driving Port Canaveral Can Get Confusing
While there is a ton of signage directing you where to go at the port, we couldn’t help but be a bit confused on where exactly to go. The roads of the port turn and twist to steer traffic in and out of the port, to loading and drop-off zones and parking garages. Add in thousands of people trying to get to their ship and the activity makes things all the more confusing. Our advice? Take a look at the map of the port and it’s helpful if one person helps you navigate to the correct spot while the other pays attention to the road. And allow yourself a few extra minutes to get to the port on time.
Naming of the Area Can Get Confusing (Port Canaveral, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach)
Don’t feel silly if you have trouble figuring out exactly what an area is called. There’s Port Canaveral, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach — and they all seem to be used interchangeably. Truth is, many of the spots in the area can be called by any name. For the record, Port Canaveral is the actual port area, which sits on Cape Canaveral. Cocoa is the name of a town just inland, while the beach area near the port is known as Cocoa Beach. Cocoa Beach is also part of Cape Canaveral.
Have more questions about sailing from Port Canaveral? Let us know in the comments below.