A First Time Cruiser’s Guide to Port Canaveral
Posted on March 18, 2016
Cruising at first glance seems to be simple. Pay a fare, pack your bags, and get underway. It is a bit more complicated than that, so we’ve compiled a cruisers guide to Port Canaveral. Although the cruise lines take care of most of the logistics and paperwork involved in taking a floating city on an international voyage, there are a few things that individual cruisers have to take care of on their own. It’s when these relatively small incidentals go awry that you end up having a bad vacation, or worse, missing your cruise. First-time cruisers who may be operating on the assumption that all they have to do is walk onto a ship are the ones that this is most likely to happen to. They aren’t things to panic about, and they are worth dealing with. Cruises are amazing experiences that take in a number of ports in different countries and in between calls you stay in a comfortable stateroom with your choice of dining and entertainments. Compare this to the competition where you may be shoved into an airplane’s economy class seat or shoved into a motor coach seat for hours upon end to get to the same destinations.
The good news is that there isn’t anything to panic about.It’s fairly simple to have everything you need to be taken care of, just follow this cruiser’s guide to Port Canaveral. Ensure you have all of your travel documents, and don’t make the mistake of packing them with your luggage. Instead, carry them with you on the plane and when it’s time to board your cruise. Plan to arrive the day before your cruise and spend the night in one of our 30+ hotels near Port Canaveral whether you’re flying or driving in. If you’re planning to arrive the same day as your cruise then be aware that it puts you at risk of missing your cruise if there is a flight delay or cancelation, or if there is a traffic jam. There is usually no way of getting your money back if this happens, but travel insurance can help recoup some, or all, of what you’ve lost if it does happen.
If you’ve taken care of all the above, then all you really need to do is be aware of the particulars of your cruise line, the port you’ve chosen, and the ship you’ll be sailing on. Know that and you’ll be well informed enough to know when something can go wrong, and prepared enough to make sure that it doesn’t. Knowing some of the general information about the cruise lines will also go a long way towards ensuring that you have fun on your cruise.
Choosing the Cruise that is Right for You
You have several cruise lines to choose from. They range from budget-friendly, to luxurious, to once-in-a-lifetime extravaganzas that drain a savings account. There is also a range of cruises that each line offers from short economical hops to the Bahamas, longer Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises, ocean crossing voyages, and around the world cruises. We suggest that you plan to take a shorter voyage as your first cruise just to make sure you enjoy being on a ship. The budget lines offer upgrades that can make a short cruise as luxurious as the grand ocean passages on a liner. Sometimes—but only sometimes—upgrading this way is less expensive than booking a stateroom on a luxury cruise from the start, other times it’s vastly more expensive.
This is because most of the cruise lines have tiered pricing. Cruises are cheapest early in the year when the most space is available. As rooms fill up, the remaining space goes for a higher price. It seems pretty straightforward, except things like last minute cancelations happen. Sometimes the cruise lines have sales on this freed up space shortly before the cruise departs. Occasionally they’ll give repeat cruisers with the line a massive upgrade in order to free up the cheaper more easily sold stateroom. Also, the cheapest place to book a cruise is on a cruise. Together these loyalty rewards mean it is in the cruiser’s best interests to pick a cruise line and stick with it.
As for which line you should pick, well, that is a matter of personal preference. Each line has its own philosophy when it comes to cruising. This can—and usually does—color each cruising experience. A good question to ask yourself is whether you want your vacation to be relaxing, or an exciting adventure. All of the cruise lines have activities that appeal to both types of cruising. We’ve yet to find a ship where getting a relaxing massage wasn’t an option for instance, but some are more consistently geared toward one than the other. You may find it hard to relax when your quiet time keeps getting interrupted by a party a deck above, or below. If on the other hand you’re looking for throbbing bass line and company while you listen to it, one of the coveted aft balconies where you can be mesmerized for hours by the ship’s wake is simply not for you. There is a cruise line and a ship that will work for you no matter where you fall in the range between the two.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Cruise Lines is the world’s largest cruise line, controlling 23% of the global market. It operates a fleet of 24 ships around the world. These ships are easily distinguished by the red, white, and blue “whale’s tail” funnel. They market themselves as the “fun ships” and they do their best to live up to it.
In many ways, Carnival was the line that opened up cruising to regular people. Before Carnival, going on a cruise was a vacation for the wealthy. A lot of what we think of as cruise standards were pioneered by Carnival in its effort to bring cruising to the masses. However, they earned a reputation as the budget-friendly, low-brow, beer-and-pretzels cruise line in the process. The sorts of ships where the food is plentiful, but not very good. Their ships also take their styling cues from Vegas and have traditionally tried to outdo the city of sin. For instance, the Carnival Splendor has a pink polka dots motif that’s contrasted against black tile with neon green trim throughout. The crowds are loud on Carnival, but that might be because they’re trying to be heard over the decor.
However, this is changing. The Carnival Destiny’s transformation into the Carnival Sunshine turned it into an exemplar of good taste with holdovers from its time as the Destiny, giving it just a flash of excitement. The Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades saw new dining venues that like Guy Fieri’s, which while not exactly healthy, have proven to be quite tasty. New venues like the Red Frog Rum Bar and Blue Iguana Tequila Bar have emphasized taste and style over the sheer volume of alcohol. It’s a sign of significant changes in how the line does business, and we’re interested to see how Carnival continues to redefines itself in the coming years.
If you’re interested in a thumping beat and a party crowd and don’t have all that much to spend, then Carnival is probably your best bet. They are the least expensive cruise line by far. However, you should be aware that fewer things are included with booking a stateroom, and that you can run up a bill getting these as extras. Additional add-ons tend to include less than they would on other lines. The romance packages, for instance, could use a few more roses and chocolates for the price.
Still, Carnival is an excellent and inexpensive choice for first-time cruisers. In all fairness, the line seems to be in the process of reinventing itself. Their ships are going into dry dock for the Fun Ship 2.0 program, and the line seems to be making a comprehensive effort to class itself up without raising its prices.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean is the world’s second largest cruise line. Founded in 1968 by 3 Norwegian shipping lines, Royal Caribbean has set many of the standards of modern cruising. In fact, most of what we think of as “cruising” comes from Royal Caribbean. The central atrium that is standard on most cruise ships today started on Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign class. Although medium sized by modern standards, the Sovereign class is considered to be the first mega ships in the cruise industry. With the Quantum and Oasis class ships setting new records for size and technology at present, innovation could be considered to be Royal Caribbean’s defining trait.
This is shown in the Oasis and Quantum class of ships, being engineered with things like robotic bartenders. A robotic arm that will prepare your drink order right in front of you. Onboard activities like a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, and ice skating rinks are unique to Royal Caribbean and only found aboard its Oasis and Quantum-class ships. However, even the oldest ships in Royal’s fleet have rock climbing walls. There is a distinct bend towards getting up and being active in Royal Caribbean’s onboard activities.
When Royal Caribbean and its larger rival Carnival are compared, the food is the subject most people talk about, and Royal Caribbean always wins. It isn’t gourmet cooking, but it’s the equivalent of dining out at a quality restaurant onshore. If something a little more upscale is desired, then there are quite a few specialty dining venues aboard the larger ships. The line is also trying out what it calls dynamic dining. On some ships, cruisers get the choice between traditional meal times and a more flexible schedule.
All of this does come at a price, though. While Royal Caribbean isn’t the most expensive cruise line, its prices are higher on average than its rival Carnival. It also charges more than Norwegian, the line that could be considered closest to it in activities, food, and atmosphere.
As a result, Royal Caribbean has a weird place for first-time cruisers. The size of its fleet and the range of ship sizes in that fleet means that the crown and anchor probably has exactly what you’re looking for on your cruise, no matter what that may be. The downside is that the price is something that some may balk at. If you’re willing and able to pay that price, though, it is worth it. Royal Caribbean has the most extensive perks for cruisers who repeatedly cruise with the line.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian has an odd history if you can be bothered to look it up. Founded after Royal Caribbean, but before Carnival(and the founder of Carnival was a co-founder of Norwegian Cruise Lines). The name of the line, and its ships, seems to have been a deliberate effort to get confused with Royal Caribbean, who prior to the “of the Seas” naming convention called their ships Viking or Nordic: Empress of the Seas was originally Nordic Empress for example. The line’s biggest contribution to cruising was in vastly increasing the size of cruise ships by purchasing the ocean liner S.S. France, converting it to a cruise ship, and renaming it the S.S. Norway (in spite of being founded and headquartered in Miami, Florida). For a long time, the S.S. Norway was the biggest cruise ship afloat, and it took competing cruise lines decades to build anything to match it. These days, however, Royal Caribbean has dropped its Nordic connection, and Norwegian Cruise Lines is doing their own thing.
Norwegian’s ships and amenities are an approximate match with Royal Caribbean’s as far as quality of service and amenities. Norwegian has probably an even greater emphasis on being active on board than Royal. It also has the youngest fleet, both in the age of its ships and in the age of its passengers. There is an emphasis on activities that appeal to younger adults in their 20s and 30s year. For instance, if you hear of a dance party or festival at sea, the odds are good it will be taking place on a Norwegian vessel. Of the major cruise lines, they are also the only one that allows drinking alcohol under 21. The person in question must be at least 18, be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and have that parent or guardian’s express permission to do so, and even then it only applies while the ship is in international waters.
It is legal, but it is still far more of a risk than other cruise lines are willing to take. This boldness is what gives Norwegian ships their character.
Like Carnival, the Norwegian ships have a reputation as party barges. However, it is more like a nightclub or European discotheque than Carnival, whose direct equivalent is probably a sailing Vegas casino. Onboard a Norwegian ship you’ll find other prime-of-life adult friendly activities like rope climbing courses, sports decks, and water parks. The last of which is something that Royal Caribbean ships have distinctly lacked.
The price point is normally less than Royal Caribbean and more than Carnival. A feature that is also friendly to the 20 to 30-year-old set who are often just starting to be able to afford to take vacations.
Disney Cruise Lines
We’ve said this before but Disney Cruise Lines isn’t like the other cruise lines. It doesn’t have a large fleet. Only 4 ships at present, and although it has just announced two new ships, their completion will bring the total up to a paltry 6. They aren’t in the running for largest for the largest ships in the world either. They don’t even break into the top 5 as a far as size goes. In terms of global coverage, Disney only has one real homeport, Port Canaveral. Not surprising as it is the port closest to Orlando and Disney World. Overseas, Alaska, and Pacific Coast cruises are done by a single traveling ship.
Having said that, they are some of the most gorgeous ships in the world, and Disney Cruise Line is regularly a top pick amongst cruise passengers and professionals.
Their philosophy is all about family cruises. With a heavy emphasis on combining a cruise with a theme park vacation. Unsurprisingly, because they are Disney Cruise Lines. The ships were built with this in mind and have many innovations that make cruising with family, especially young children, easier. The split bathrooms—which proved to be hated on the Norwegian Epic—were a Disney innovation that still works very well for them. Each stateroom has a tub for washing the youngest kids and is larger than the industry standard. The line also has meet and greets with Disney characters, which includes Star Wars and characters from Marvel comics, something that holds definite appeal for young children.
Other ages aren’t left out either. Tweens and teens each has their own clubs on board. Adults have their own swimming areas, the spa, and fine dining at Palo and Remy’s. Every part of the ship, and every service on the ship has Disney’s signature attention to detail on it. If you haven’t had experience with Disney’s theme parks before then it is a little tough to explain, but what it boils down to is that if you find a hidden area and think to look into it, a Disney Imagineer probably thought that might happen and put something charming there for you to find.
To take a cruise on a Disney ship is to experience the best that cruising has to offer. It is also very expensive. Disney has the most expensive cruises that sail out of Port Canaveral by a large margin. A 3 day Bahama cruise is over a thousand dollars on a Disney ship. For comparison, a 14-day transatlantic cruise from Port Canaveral on Norwegian in a balcony stateroom is less.
Is a Disney Cruise worth it? If you really love taking to the sea, then yes it is just to spend time on such a gorgeous and luxurious ship. If you’re a first-time cruiser, then we can’t really recommend it. The amenities and service are amazing, and they do justify the price. However, if you aren’t sure that cruising is for you, then there are much less expensive ways of getting your feet wet.
Guide to Port Canaveral Cruises
Port Canaveral is the second busiest cruise port in the world, after Miami. Of the top three cruise ports Miami, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, it is the friendliest to first-time cruisers. The other two are part of the Miami metropolitan area, which has over 5 million people. The sheer number of people in the area can make getting to the cruise terminals a challenge. The traffic in both ports can make getting out to sea, once you’ve boarded your ship, a challenge. Once you return, customs can be quite strict, not to mention busy, for reasons that are probably obvious.
In contrast, the Port Canaveral area is easier to get around, both on land before your cruise and once you are onboard the ship. There is a road, the 528 Beachline Expressway, that is a direct shot from Orlando International Airport to Port Canaveral, and we do mean direct. Both the airport and the seaport are a single turn off of 528. If arriving by car, Port Canaveral is easily reached from by turning off Interstate 95 by the same road. The Port is also geographically convenient to ports of call as far north and east as Bermuda, and as far to the west as Cozumel on the Mexican coast. Effectively, the entire Caribbean Sea is within a day or two’s sailing time of Port Canaveral. Meaning a 7-day cruise out of the port can call at most of the ports you would like to visit.
Port Canaveral is great departure port for a first-time cruiser. It has a choice of lines and ships that sail frequently. That mean you have a choice of cruises and itineraries that work with your schedule without the hassle involved in Miami or Port Everglades.
You will want to plan to arrive a day early. This is in order to make sure that even if there is a delay in your travel like a flight delay or cancellation, or a road closure you will still make it to the cruise on the day of embarkation. Trying to arrive the morning your cruise departs leaves you open to missing your cruise. None of the cruise lines offer compensation if you have to cancel that close to your sail away date.