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Jacksonville offers a great blend of outdoor appeal. It's got terrific beaches -- in fact, some 21 miles worth begins just a dozen miles from downtown. Other attractions include golf courses and hiking and cycling trails. The city's cultural scene is vibrant. Jacksonville is also a great family destination because so many of its attractions are kid-friendly.
And, finally, Jacksonville (and surrounding areas like St. Augustine) boasts something that few Florida ports of call can -- there's a lot of nearby history.
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A “Don't Give Up the Ship!” t-shirt from Adams Class Naval Ship Museum Store (904-647-5177) in Jacksonville Landing.
Or a dual-logo golf shirt from TPC Sawgrass Golf Shop for you or the duffer in your life. If you're style-challenged, enlist one of their personal shoppers to help. (110 Championship Way, Ponte Vedra Beach; 904-273-3235)
English is spoken.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the U.S. dollar, and ATM's are readily available.
Where You're Docked
Ships currently dock at Jaxport's Dames Point Cruise Terminal (9810 August Drive), although the city is looking to build a new cruise port. Dames Point is about a 15-minute drive from downtown, and even closer to the airport.
You'll need a car for this port, but within a very short drive are fast-food places and nearby Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park is a good place to roam among the oak trees and Civil War relics, if you have extra time on your hands.
Parking: There is a parking lot that lies adjacent to the Dames Point terminal and parking fees are on the Web site (www.jaxport.com). As an option, those who plan to spend a pre-cruise night or two in the city should check out hotels that offer cruise packages which include free or discounted parking for the length of your cruise and transfers to the cruise terminal.
Taxis: Taxis line up at the cruise pier.
Rental Cars: Because Jacksonville and its neighboring sites-to-see are so spread out -- at 840 square miles, Jacksonville is geographically the largest city in the continental U.S. -- this is a good place to have a car handy. Budget, Avis and Hertz are among companies with rental facilities at the airport.
Watch Out For
As with any big city -- and Jacksonville is very large geographically -- use common sense to keep safe. Don't flash valuables or walk around alone at night. Locals suggest avoiding the northwestern area of the city at night.
Jacksonville's riverfront. The St. John's River divides the city in two and along both edges are restaurants and hotels. Jacksonville Landing, on the riverfront, is full of boutiques and shops. Water taxis operate along the river so it's easy to access either side.
Key museums in Jacksonville include the Museum of Science & History, which has a planetarium and numerous hands-on displays (good choice for kids). Open Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. (1025 Museum Circle; 904-396-6674)
Also visit Museum of Contemporary Art/Jacksonville where the collection mostly showcases post-1950s art. Its ArtExplorium Loft is an interactive spot families may enjoy. Open Tuesday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Thursdays until 8 p.m., Saturday - Sunday noon - 4 p.m. (333 North Laura Street; 904-366-6911)
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is a destination for casual as well as serious art lovers. It's located in a former estate and has an Old Masters and a German porcelain collection as well as beautiful gardens, right on the river, and a new and really fun interactive children's area where adults and kids can create take-home works of art. Open Tuesday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Wednesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday noon - 5 p.m. (829 Riverside Avenue; 904-356-6857)
Ritz Theatre and Museum teaches African American history and boasts both an art gallery and theatre for music, film and drama presentations. Box office hours are Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Museum open Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. (829 North Davis Street; 904-632-5555)
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is another terrific family destination. It's particularly known for its collection of rare waterfowl, though the African birds and mammals are pretty nifty too. The Range of the Jaguar features jaguars and other Central American creatures like tree sloths and poison arrow frogs, in an area done up to look like Mayan ruins. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (370 Zoo Parkway; 904-757-4463)
Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island is Florida's only existing cotton plantation. Visitors can tour the late-18th-century planter's house and slave quarters. To get there, take the St. Johns River ferry at Mayport; it leaves every half-hour. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (11676 Palmetto Avenue; 904-251-3537)
There are many, many golf courses in and around Jacksonville. Aficionados may want to check out the World Golf Hall of Fame -- which contains golf courses, an academy, an IMAX theater and golf-related exhibits. Open Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday noon – 6 p.m. (One World Golf Place, St. Augustine; 904-940-4123)
For More: Virtual Tourist's Things to Do in Jacksonville
Been There, Done That
Fort Caroline National Memorial is one of Jacksonville's classic historic sites, a park that commemorates the first French effort to establish a permanent colony in North America. The original fort was built in the 1560s; it's now a replica. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (12713 Fort Caroline Road, daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.)
The city's Riverside/Avondale is a historic neighborhood and a good place to find interesting shops, galleries and restaurants. Another good shopping option is the San Marco Square, designed to evoke Venice.
Nearby St. Augustine, about 30 miles from downtown Jacksonville, was founded sometime around 1565 by Spanish adventurers, and lays claim to being America's "oldest city." It's got quite a vital historic district -- much has been beautifully restored -- but does edge awfully close to downright touristy with a lot of trinket shops and t-shirt boutiques. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument dates to 1695 and is the best preserved example of a Spanish fort in the U.S. Beyond the history, St. Augustine has some interesting beaches and the Anastasia State Park, a protected bird sanctuary/park, is a great place to spend an afternoon.
Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, 35 miles northeast of Jacksonville, has a charming historic district, with Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Victorian and Italianate architectural eras well represented. Fernandina Beach also has lots of cute boutiques and restaurants. Other sites to see on the island itself include Fort Clinch State Park, built after the War of 1812. The park is more than just a historic attraction; it has a great beach and nature trails and lots of restored buildings. Horseback riding is available on Main Beach.
On the waterfront, the River City Brewing Company serves fresh seafood, steaks, pasta and has daily chef's specials. Open Monday - Saturday for lunch 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and dinner 5 – 10 p.m., and Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (835 Museum Circle Drive; 904-398-2299)
Another option is bb's, an urban-bistro, offers salads, seafood, pizzas, sandwiches, fresh seafood, steaks, chops and pasta. Note: free Wi-Fi and special Foursquare deals. Open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – midnight, opening soon for Sunday brunch. (1019 Hendricks Avenue; 904-306-0100)
The specialties at Benny's Steak & Seafood are pretty self-explanatory. Open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. (The Jacksonville Landing, 2 Independent Drive #175; 904-301-1014)
In the city's historic San Marco district, gourmands should make a beeline to Bistro Aix for chef Tom Gray's award-winning Mediterranean and French-inspired cuisine, a lively bistro atmosphere and surprisingly reasonable prices. Open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-9 p.m. (1440 San Marco Boulevard; 904-398-1949)
At Jacksonville Beach, Joe's Crab Shack boasts such specials as Samuel Adams Steampot and The Bean Town Bake, and even has a gluten-free menu. Open daily 11 a.m. – midnight. (6 Beach Boulevard; 904-249-6160).
Best active beach: Jacksonville Beach is the go-to beach for families and action-oriented folk. There's a boardwalk with all manner of beachy-type shops and food stalls and there are places to rent various types of water sports equipment.
Best quiet beach: Head to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island.
Best laid-back beach: Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park in Mayport is low-key, but still has facilities and snack bars.
On the Waterfront: One Ocean Resort Hotel and Spa, formerly Sea Turtle Inn, a favorite of author John Grisham, who put it in his book "The Brethren." (One Ocean Boulevard; 904-249-7402/800-874-6000)
On The Riverfront: These in-town hotels are notable for proximity to all of the river front attractions, and offer special pre- and post-cruise packages: Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront, formerly Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront, has a cruise package with complimentary self parking for duration of cruise, complimentary late check-out (until 2 p.m.) and complimentary breakfast for two. Transportation to port available at discounted rate. (1201 Riverplace Blvd.; package: 904-396-8845/904-398-8800/800-398-8808)
Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, formerly Adam's Mark Jacksonville, offers a cruise package on select dates with request offer code SHIP. (225 East Coastline Drive; 904-588-1234)
Wyndham Jacksonville Riverwalk is in the center of the historic San Marco entertainment district. (1515 Prudential Drive; 904-396-5100)
In the Historic Riverside District: The Inn at Oak Street is a luxury B&B. (2114 Oak Street; 904-379-5525)
Family-Friendly: The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island makes the cut because of its funky packages. (4750 Amelia Island Parkway; 904-277-1100)
Sawgrass Marriott on Point Vedre Beach also offers special packages -- and plenty of on-site diversions. (1000 PGA Tour Blvd.; 800-457-4653)
For Romance: Elizabeth Pointe Lodge evokes a Nantucket feel and is on Amelia Island on the ocean. (98 South Fletcher Ave.; 904-277-4851/800-772-3359)
Also on Amelia Island is The Fairbanks House, a lovely inn with rooms in the main mansion or private cottages. (227 S. 7th Street; 904-277-0500/888-891-9880)
Budget-Conscious Choices: Best Western Mayport Inn & Suites is an all-around good pick. (2389 Mayport Road, Atlantic Beach; 904-435-3500/866-355-3116)
As is Holiday Inn Baymeadows. (9150 Baymeadows Road; 904-737-1700)
Staying in Touch
Several Panera Bread locations have free Wi-Fi. (4403 Roosevelt Blvd./ 4720 Town Crossing Drive/ 13271 City Station Drive/ 9301 Atlantic Blvd.)
Jacksonville Landing is a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Starbucks has a location near Jacksonville Landing (2 Independent Drive) and downtown (11 E. Forsyth Street).
For More Information
On the Web: www.visitjacksonville.com.
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-- updated by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor.