Port Canaveral, located right by Cape Canaveral, is practically synonymous with “cruise port.” It is, in fact, one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. If you are taking a cruise to the Caribbean or the Bahamas on Carnival, Disney, or Royal Caribbean, there is a good chance you’ll be leaving from Port Canaveral. And if you do find yourself at Port Canaveral for a cruise, you might have some down time to explore the area before or after your cruise. For this reason, we have compiled some information about what you can see and do before leaving on a cruise from Port Canaveral.
In contrast to several popular cruise ports, Port Canaveral is only used by three cruise lines: Carnival, Disney, and Royal Caribbean. Carnival operates five ships from the port, Disney operates three, and Royal Caribbean two, so a total of 10 cruise ships sail from Port Canaveral. (By way of comparison, 42 vessels belonging to eight major cruise lines operate out of the Port of Fort Lauderdale.) However, what makes Port Canaveral such a hotbed for cruise activity is that the three cruise lines that use the port offer cruises to the Bahamas, the Eastern Caribbean, and the Western Caribbean all year long. Every single month of the year, there are at least a dozen cruises (and often many more) to each of these popular cruise locations. Plenty of ports service ships that offer more or less the same cruises all year, but Port Canaveral stands out because of its relentlessly uniform cruise offerings. A Caribbean and Bahamian cruise is always departing or arriving to the port.
Unlike many of the port cities we have written about (e.g., Boston or Baltimore), Port Canaveral is not a port city at all. It is, of course, just a port. Thus, there isn’t a tremendous amount to do in the immediate vicinity of the port or even in the town Cape Canaveral, which is just south of the port, right across the small bay that the port surrounds. If you only have a few hours to kill before or after a cruise, however, you’ll definitely want to stay near the port and perhaps just hang out on the beach. This is easy enough, as Jetty Park is on the northern edge of Cape Canaveral, so you can easily get to the park’s nice beach from the port.
However, if you have a little more time on your hands (a day or more) before or after your cruise, there are plenty of places worth checking out in the area surrounding Port Canaveral; not surprisingly, a lot of these places are related to NASA. For instance, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which among other things has the largest collection of astronaut memorabilia in the world, is about 20 miles away, and the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit is right up the road from the Space Center. People travel to Florida from all over the country to tour these places, and you could easily visit both in a day if you can spare the time before or after your cruise. If you have kids with you on your cruise vacation, you might also consider checking out one of the major theme parks that are near the port. Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and SeaWorld Orlando are all easy to get to from Port Canaveral, largely because there are cheap shuttles between the port and the parks. Even though all the theme parks are in close proximity to one another, you should only try to visit one in a day, especially since it takes about an hour to get from the port to one of the parks. However, if you have multiple free days, you should consider checking out more than one park, for which there are ticket packages.
You’ll only be able to see the major tourist destinations around Port Canaveral if you have a day or more to spare. Although the NASA-related attractions and the theme parks are fairly close to port, you’ll still need a solid day to properly check them out (and to justify the entrance fees). So, if you can manage to build an extra day or two into your cruise vacation, we recommend doing so. However, if you are short on time, you can still enjoy your free time at the port by visiting a beach in the area, like the one at Jetty Park. Lying on the beach may not be as exciting as riding roller coasters, but a few hours on the beach is never a bad thing, so you’ll probably enjoy your time at Port Canaveral, regardless of how much of it you have.