Established in 1953, this deep-water port on the Atlantic coast of Central Florida, less than an hour's drive from Orlando (about 54 miles from Orlando International Airport), offers a variety of cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean including three-, four- five- and seven-day itineraries. Primarily a turnaround facility (as opposed to a port of call), Port Canaveral serves as homeport for ships from such lines as Carnival, Disney (no surprise there, given the port's proximity to Walt Disney World) and Royal Caribbean. And the port is apparently confident of its future: In fall of 2010, Port Canaveral inked $42 million financing for expansion, including a new cruise terminal scheduled to open in summer of 2012 and slated to be added to its six existing ones.
Nearby Attractions: Downtown Orlando with its multiple dining, shopping and cultural attributes and Orlando's parks (Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove and Aquatica) are, of course, top draws. Another top attraction, nearer to the port on Florida's "Space Coast," is Kennedy Space Center on State Road 405, on Merritt Island. Here visitors can enjoy such features and attractions as the Shuttle Launch Experience, IMAX films, tours and hands-on space-related exhibits, meet a real astronaut and watch rocket launches. Kennedy Space Center has been selected to house and display the space shuttle Atlantis upon retirement of the space-shuttle program. A new $100-million, 65,000-sq. ft. home for the real flown orbiter will be built at the Shuttle Plaza at the main Visitor Complex, near the Shuttle Launch Experience attraction at Kennedy Space Center with groundbreaking scheduled to take place in 2012 and a grand opening slated for 2013. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, six miles west of the Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Center (included in Kennedy Space Center admission), houses a large collection of space memorabilia. Kennedy Space Center general admission is $43 for adults, $33 for children. Visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com. Passengers who only have a few hours and would like to catch some rays can opt for Jetty Park at the east end of the port, near its south terminals. It offers a beach, snack bar, and playground. Other sun and sand options include Cocoa Beach, a coastal town about 15 minutes away from the port. Attractions here include the Cocoa Beach Pier -- a Space Coast landmark since 1962. Located at 401 Meade Avenue, it offers restaurants, bars, fishing (rods available for rent) and shops, including a bait shop.
Other attractions include the Merritt Island Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. These pristine areas provide a home for manatees, bald eagles, loggerhead turtles and other creatures. Visitors can take advantage of an auto trail and hiking trails to explore as well as enjoy a manatee observation deck and canoeing.
Excursions Sold Onboard Ships: Since Port Canaveral is primarily a turnaround port as opposed to a port of call, most cruise ships offer a pre- and post-cruise packages to the theme parks and Kennedy Space Center. Shore excursions offerings are generally post-cruise for passengers who are booked on late afternoon or evening flights and include trips (or just transfers, if passengers already have park tickets) to Orlando's theme parks (usually to Walt Disney World, Universal's Universal Studios or Islands of Adventures and SeaWorld Orlando).
Nearby Hotels: Among chains represented, convenient to the port, are the Residence Inn by Marriott, Radisson and Country Inn & Suites. On Cocoa Beach, the International Palms Resort, 1300 North Atlantic Avenue (800-206-2747) formerly a Holiday Inn is a popular choice. Shuttles from the International Palms Resort to the port are available for $5 per person (guests should inquire at the resort).
Good Restaurants For Lunch: Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar, 505 Glen Check Drive, offers fresh seafood one of the specialties is fish tacos--with a side of views of the port and cruise ships. In Cocoa Beach, the Atlantic Ocean Grille is another great choice for fresh seafood and steaks, on the aforementioned Cocoa Beach Pier, jutting 500 feet over the Atlantic Ocean.
Cruise Lines That Sail From Port Canaveral: Ships that you will be able to see and/or sail on include those of Carnival, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean.Transportation/Parking At The Port: Passengers who buy air tickets through the cruise lines generally receive free transfers from the airport to the port on embarkation/disembarkation day. Cruise lines also offer nominal free airport/pier transfers to passengers who bought air tickets independently. Various companies offer transportation to and from the port including Busy Traveler Transportation (800-496-7433, www.abusytraveler.com). Taxis are always available at the port.
Secure parking facilities (under 24-hour surveillance) are available at the port. Fees are $15 per night (oversize vehicles, $26 per night). Short-term parking for passengers who are being dropped off and picked up by relatives or friends is free for the first hour.
Additional Information: Visit www.portcanaveral.org and www.space-coast.com.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times