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Port Canaveral Overview
Port Canaveral, in the center of Florida's east coast, is not only the surfing capital of the Atlantic. It is also home to rocket and shuttle launches, the largest sea turtle nesting area in the country, the largest scallop fishery on the planet and a national refuge with more endangered species than any other.
Even with all of these superlatives, most cruise passengers associate Port Canaveral with Orlando, just 45 miles west -- and with Walt Disney World, Universal theme parks and SeaWorld so close, it would be difficult to find a cruise port anywhere that offers access to more theme parks and family-friendly tourist attractions. But, for those who've already had (or care to pass up) the Orlando experience, Port Canaveral is definitely worth a pre- or post-cruise visit.
The port bills itself as Orlando's closest beach with dolphins, manatees, loggerhead turtles and miles of pristine sand -- minus the crowds that are typical of South Florida. A mile and a half of bike paths run throughout Port Canaveral, as well as three parks, including Jetty Park where camping and fishing opportunities abound. The bustling Cove at Port Canaveral features a variety of restaurants and shops.
But, with Port Canaveral smack in the middle of what's known as Florida's 72-mile Space Coast, the premier attraction is the Kennedy Space Center, where guests can meet and talk to actual astronauts. The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, six miles from the visitors' center, houses the world's largest collection of astronaut memorabilia, as well as displays, exhibits and tributes to the heroes of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
Port Canaveral is primarily a turnaround port, so for the most part, travelers pass through the area on the way to boarding their cruises. Ships based in Port Canaveral sail itineraries that range in length from three to seven days. Considering its proximity to Orlando, it's no surprise that Disney Cruise Line's fleet homeports there, but Carnival and Royal Caribbean vessels also call Port Canaveral home. It's mostly a turnaround port, but some lines (such as NCL, Seabourn and Royal Caribbean) make regular port calls there throughout the year.
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Other U.S.A. Cruise Ports:
Baltimore • Bayonne (Cape Liberty) • Boston • Charleston • Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades) • Galveston • Honolulu • Houston • Jacksonville • Key West • Los Angeles • Miami • Mobile • New Orleans • New York (Brooklyn, Red Hook) • New York (Manhattan) • Norfolk • Orlando (Port Canaveral) • Philadelphia • Port Canaveral • Portland (Maine) • San Diego • San Francisco • Seattle • St. Louis • Tampa
A T-shirt from the massive Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach -- open 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- is a must. Other unique options include freeze-dried ice cream and other space food from the Kennedy Space Center gift shop.
English is the primary language spoken in Port Canaveral, but you're also very likely to encounter some Spanish.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the U.S. dollar. Credit cards are accepted everywhere, and ATM's are available in major hotels and at tourist attractions. On the south side of the port on George King Boulevard is a Wachovia Bank with an ATM.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at Port Canaveral. There are three terminals: Disney docks at its dedicated facility (terminal 8); other ships dock at either terminal five or terminal 10.
Port facilities are contemporary but offer no services. Jetty Park is located at the east end of the port, near the Southside terminals. It has an oceanfront beach with year-round lifeguards, a snack bar, campground, children's playground, a bait-and-tackle shop and a lighted 1,000-foot-long fishing pier. In addition, the Cove area at Port Canaveral offers waterfront dining, and Cove Marketplace offers shopping.
By Car: Driving to the port is a popular option for passengers. Secure parking is available at the pier, and most hotels offer stay-and-park packages for cruise passengers.
Renting a car is a good option, since the port is an easy 50-minute drive from Orlando International Airport. Avis, Hertz and Budget all have rental offices close to the pier. There are free shuttles at the pier for pickup, passengers can drop their cars off at the nearby rental office, and the rental companies have free shuttles to the pier.
By Taxi or Shuttle: All cruise lines offer shuttles from the airport as part of cruise packages, or they may be arranged separately. In the port area, Art's Shuttle (321-783-2112), Blue Dolphin Shuttle (321-433-0011) and Busy Traveler Transportation (800-496-7433) all offer shuttle transportation. Beasley's Limousine (321-453-3680) and Hot Rayz Limousines (321-412-2202) offer limo service. Taxis are always available at the pier.
Local transportation: If you want to stay in the area, there is limited shuttle service offered by cruise tour desks to Cocoa Beach (a small coastal city that is adjacent to the even smaller Cape Canaveral). There are also independent shuttle services that operate from the port. (The shuttle drops you across from Ron Jon's Surf Shop; the Cocoa Beach pier, with its restaurants and bars, is a solid half-mile hike north.) The shuttle also goes to Merritt Island and drops off at Wal-Mart and a local mall. It picks up every 20 minutes.
Local Taxis: Cocoa Beach Taxi (321-783-1299) offers service.
Watch Out For
If you are lucky, you might be in town for a rocket launch. However, it's hard to plan ahead, due to the frequency of delays because of weather and technical problems. Check with hotels or the Kennedy Space Center for a schedule of space launches.
Orlando Theme Parks! If your ship is in port for at least 8 to 10 hours (or if you're overnighting), one of the major appeals of Port Canaveral's location is its proximity to Orlando attractions, including the Universal Studios Orlando theme park, Universal's Islands of Adventure, Sea World Orlando and Walt Disney World Resort.
On Merritt Island, you'll find the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The NASA-owned refuge is home to more endangered species -- such as the Western Indian manatee, Southern bald eagle and Atlantic loggerhead turtle -- than any other refuge in the United States. Visitors can take advantage of a seven-mile auto tour route along Black Point Drive, four hiking trails ranging from 1/4 mile to 5 miles in length, a manatee observation deck and boating and canoeing.
Also on Merritt Island is the Kennedy Space Center (open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.). There are more than enough attractions to fill a full day, but the highlights can be done in half a day if time is short. The maximum access pass allows admission for two consecutive days and also includes admission to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame; its realistic astronaut training simulators allow guests to feel the pressure of four times the force of gravity, take a virtual moonwalk and ride a rover across Mars.
Astronaut Encounter, the center's meet-and-greet program, is held several times daily. The program consists of Q&A sessions, mission briefings and personal stories of space travel, as told by those who have flown in space. There are also opportunities for autographs and photographs with the astronauts.
The Space Center has had a $160-million makeover that includes in the addition of the $60-million Shuttle Launch Experience -- the centerpiece of a plan to create a one-of-a-kind space adventure that simulates liftoff, solid rocket booster separation, the effects of G forces and weightlessness.
For a low-key beach day, Cocoa Beach, about a 15-minute drive south from Port Canaveral, features a blend of family-friendly activities -- and lots of honky-tonk bars. The center of the action is the Cocoa Beach Pier (401 Meade Avenue, Cocoa Beach), established in 1962. It's a Space Coast historic landmark, featuring four restaurants, four tropical bars, some small boutiques, fishing (rods available for rent) and fantastic views. There's live entertainment daily. It's a favorite spot for watching shuttle launches.
About a half-mile hike south is the Ron Jon Surf Shop (Cocoa Beach at the intersection of Highway 520 and A1A); it's a fantastic destination for more than just surf gear -- check out bathing suits, casual wear, sunglasses, sandals, flip-flops and even home accessories. Open 24 hours, the store is massive -- spread out over a half-million feet on two floors.
Been There, Done That
Space Coast Nature Tours' (451 Marina Road, Dock A, Slip 23, Titusville; 321-267-4551) 90-minute tours operate at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily. Try a cruise on the electric-powered, 49-seat Skimmer to assure a quiet cruise on the Indian River Lagoon, where manatees and dolphins play. Overhead, there are soaring eagles, pelicans, egrets and other birds. You can also enjoy river views of NASA's massive shuttle assembly building and the towering launch pads.
Island Boat Lines (321-454-7414) offers two-hour, daily eco-tours (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) on pontoon boats. Also featured are Sunday trips (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) through the Locks of Port Canaveral, offering up-close views of cruise and naval ships, a submarine base, Space Lab and U.S. Coast Guard Station.
American Police Hall of Fame & Museum (6350 Horizon Drive, Titusville; 321-264-0911) is just west of the gates to the Kennedy Space Center and across from the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can sit in an electric chair or check out crime scenes and exhibits of infamous crimes throughout history. Children can take a peek at the Robocop and police uniform dress-up area, visit a badge-making station and sit on a real police motorcycle. Helicopter tours also depart from the site.
Established in the 1800's in the center of the famed Indian River citrus region, historic Cocoa Village offers a taste of old Florida. Many of the buildings, including the 1924 Cocoa Village Playhouse, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places; the 1885 S. F. Travis Hardware Store is actually the oldest business on the Atlantic Coast -- from Jacksonville to Key West -- and is still operated by the original family. A variety of boutiques and shops lines the streets of the five-block district. Dolphins often show off their leaping skills, just off the boardwalk that hangs over the river. Note: Cocoa Village is not located in Cocoa Beach.
With 72 miles of Atlantic shore, the area boasts some of the state's most spectacular beaches. From Port Canaveral, south to Sebastian Inlet State Park, are more than 35 miles of public beaches. Just about any eastward turn off of State Road A1A will provide access to the beach, but beach parks offer restrooms, showers and picnic pavilions. Jetty Park, at the east end of Port Canaveral, has year-round lifeguards, beach wheelchairs, a snack bar, a bait-and-tackle shop and a 1,000-foot-long fishing pier. Several side streets in Cocoa Beach have metered parking and dune crossovers to the beach.
Best for Seclusion: Canaveral National Seashore stretches for 23 miles and is completely undeveloped. There are even great views of the space shuttle launch pads.
Best for Families: At Lori Wilson Park (1500 N. Atlantic Avenue, Cocoa Beach; 321-455-1380), there are concessions, hiking and nature trails, a wide expanse of beach, fishing and swimming.
Best for an Active Day: At Sebastian Inlet State Park (9700 S. S.R. A1A, Melbourne Beach; 321-984-4852), there's a beach, bike trails, boat tours, canoeing, fishing, kayak rentals, scuba-diving and snorkeling.
Along A1A, near the port, are a number of typical chain restaurants for a quick lunch or snack. But, what people look for when dining in the Port Canaveral area is fresh seafood.
Overlooking the Port: Grill's Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar (505 Glen Cheek Drive, Cape Canaveral; 321-868-2226) offers fresh seafood and exotic drinks in the waterside setting overlooking the port and its cruise ships.
At Cocoa Beach: Coconuts on the Beach (2 Minutemen Causeway, Cocoa Beach; 321-784-1422) is famous for its parties, award-winning clam chowder and fresh Florida seafood caught by the local fishing fleet. Or, try Atlantic Ocean Grill on the pier (401 Meade Avenue, Cocoa Beach; 321-783-7549) and Oh Shucks Raw Bar (321-783-7549) -- ocean seafood and terrific views are house specialties.
For Shrimp Lovers: Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant (1475 Garden Street, Titusville; 321-268-5000) is famous for its shrimp and has been serving all types of seafood since 1983.
Close to the Port: The Residence Inn by Marriott, Country Inn & Suites and The Radisson Resort at the Port are closest to the port and are clustered together in Cape Canaveral. In particular, the Radisson (8701 Astronaut Boulevad, Cape Canaveral; 321-784-0000) offers a large, heated pool, an on-site Avis rental facility and complimentary shuttle service to the port. It is the closest hotel to the port and offers stay-and-park packages.
Best for Families: Holiday Inn Cocoa Beach Resort (1300 N. Atlantic Avenue, Cocoa Beach; 800-20-OASIS) is the area's biggest resort and has a large, heated pool and separate children's pool, complete with a pirate ship. It's on the beach and has tennis and basketball courts and exercise facilities. It offers stay-and-park packages for cruise passengers with shuttles to the port, as well as day-visits in connection with ships that are in port for a day.
Another Good Choice: Ron Jon Resort (1000 Shorewood Drive, Cape Canaveral; 321-784-4922) offers one-, two- and three-bedroom villas; a lazy river ride; a water slide; a large, heated pool; a movie theater and basketball and tennis courts.
Convenient to the Airport: Wingate by Wyndham at the Orlando International Airport (5750 Hazeltine National Drive, Orlando; 800-228-1000) offers free shuttle service to and from the airport, which is great for cruisers who do not rent cars before their sailings. The hotel also offers complimentary continental breakfast and 24-hour coffee, cappuccino, juice and a mini-store with snacks. There are four family-style restaurants within walking distance, too.
Staying in Touch
Hotels have business centers with Internet access, and most have Wi-Fi access. One mile south of the port is the Cape Canaveral Public Library (201 Polk Avenue; 321-868-1101), which offers free Internet access.
As Port Canaveral is primarily the point of embarkation and/or debarkation, most ships do not offer an extensive list of shore excursions. (You're more likely to find pre- and post-cruise add-ons.) However, ships that do visit Port Canaveral as a port of call may offer shore tours such as:
Best Educational Option: The Kennedy Space Center tour offers an overview of the famed space facility that includes viewings of shuttle launching pads and launch areas. More specific tours are also offered and include an "Astronaut Training Experience," which includes an orientation, simulator, training exercise and mission briefing.
For Families: The Disney Parks Package is a full-day package that includes roundtrip transportation and admission to one of Disney's theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom or Disney-MGM Studios). Universal's Isands of Adventure features a trip through themed islands. Universal Studios Orlando takes you behind the scenes of a working movie studio, and SeaWorld Orlando is a 200-plus-acre spot for up-close animal encounters.
Note: Cruise ships may offer transfer-only options for those who've bought their own park tickets.
For More Information
On the Web: www.space-coast.com
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The Independent Traveler: Florida Exchange
--Updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief