Port of Call: What to Do Before or After Your Cruise
By Julie Landry Laviolette
Heading to Florida for a cruise vacation? Before or after you set sail, be sure to check out the adventures that await you near your cruise port.
Each of the Sunshine State’s five cruise ports are situated in the midst of world-class beaches, natural reserves, upscale shopping and historic sites.
Here are some top sightseeing picks by port:
Port of Jacksonville (Jacksonville)
Jacksonville Landing – Stroll along the St. John's River and explore charming eateries, shops and pulsing nightlife. Catch a water taxi to explore boutiques and cafés on both sides of the river.
Museums – Check out the Museum of Science & History, which offers a planetarium and kid-friendly interactive displays. Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art/Jacksonville’s changing exhibits, or stroll through the lush landscaping at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens – Take a walking safari and see 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 plant varieties.
Kingsley Plantation – Take the St. John’s River ferry to visit an 1800s cotton plantation on Fort George Island.
St. Augustine – About 35 miles south of the port, see St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers. There you’ll find narrow streets of historic sites and touristy shops. Stop by the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a 16th-century Spanish fort, the oldest in the continental U.S.
Port Canaveral (Cape Canaveral)
Kennedy Space Center – The heart of the Space Coast, this attraction boasts the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, larger-than-life exhibits of rockets, simulation rides and meet-and-greets with astronauts.
Theme parks – Just 45 miles west, you’ll find thrill rides, entertaining shows and fun for all ages at family-friendly tourist attractions like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Nature - The Canaveral National Seashore offers a tranquil stretch of beach, and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge features a seven-mile driving tour, hiking trails and fishing and hunting options.
Cocoa Beach – A favorite beach for the surfing crowd, this area features the Cocoa Beach Pier, an historic landmark with restaurants, bars and, of course, fishing. Just down a stretch is the massive Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world’s largest surf shop. Open 24 hours a day, it is stocked full of fun beach and tropical sportswear and water toys.
Daytona International Speedway – Home to the Daytona 500 and NASCAR events, this speedway offers tours and exhibits for racing fans.
Port of Tampa Bay (Tampa)
Florida Aquarium – Enjoy a peek under the sea at thousands of species in wetlands, beach and coral reef exhibits. Set in the Channelside Bay Plaza, it’s just a short walk from the terminal and home to a variety of shopping and waterfront dining.
Busch Gardens – Get your thrills on with gasp-inducing roller coasters and Tampa’s largest zoo, where you can experience a monorail ride or safari through the Serengeti Plain.
Henry B. Plant Museum - Inside the expansive, Victorian-era Tampa Bay Hotel, find opulent displays of European furnishings and art. Across the river, the Tampa Museum of Art boasts an eclectic collection of contemporary art and historic artifacts.
Ybor City – Get a taste of Cuban culture and buy a hand-rolled cigar in this Latin district. The Ybor City State Museum offers one-hour tours of the Cigar Worker's House Museum (La Casita).
Salvador Dali Museum – Immerse yourself in the world's most comprehensive collection of works by the iconic Spanish master.
Nature - Moccasin Lake Nature Park, in nearby Clearwater, has 51 acres of trails and boardwalks, with bird-watching tours. In St. Petersburg, see the 100-year-old Sunken Gardens’ lush collection of more than 50,000 tropical flowers and plants.
Beaches - Fort Lauderdale beach offers a nice stretch of sand, lined with upscale hotels and casual eateries. Hollywood Beach offers a taste of old Florida, with a “Broadwalk” paved strip along the ocean where you can rent a bicycle or have an ice cream cone.
Canals – Called the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale is lined with canals and multi-million dollar estates that can be seen viawater taxi or by sightseeing cruise.
Shopping - Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale is an upscale strip of boutiques and quaint cafes where people watching is at a premium. Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, a massive outlet mall, boasts more than 350 designer shops with discounted prices. Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach offers 500+ vendors in a covered venue.
Gambling - Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino features live thoroughbred racing, slots and gaming tables in the midst of an entertainment complex. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood offers gambling in a resort setting.
Golf - The area boasts more than 40 golf courses, from ritzy private clubs to public courses with low green fees.
South Beach Art Deco district – View a stretch of historic, pastel-colored hotels and eateries along Ocean Drive. At night, the neon-tinged buildings give you that iconic “South Beach” look, and ritzy nightlife reigns. Across the street and a short walk away is the wide, flat expanse of South Beach. Check out Lincoln Road for serious shopping.
Venetian Pool – Take a dip in a 1923 spring-filled pool carved out of a coral rock quarry in a lush, tropical setting. While you’re in the Coral Gables area, stop by the majestic Biltmore Hotel, a classic Mediterranean-style hotel with an ornate lobby and lovely pool area.
Everglades National Park – Take a boat or tram tour of this natural habitat, home to alligators and endangered species.
Little Havana – See the heart of Cuban culture on Calle Ocho, the main drag, where you will find old-time cigar rollers, Latin cuisine and quaint shops.
Key Biscayne – Take a dip at Crandon Park’s beaches, see manatees and aquatic life at Miami Seaquarium or see the lighthouse or enjoy kayaking at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.