Fun in Port Canaveral

July 10, 2006


Contrary to what most people think, cruisers sailing from Port Canaveral do have a choice of things to see and do before (or after) departure other than visiting the nearby Orlando theme parks. An economic-impact study released last year by the Canaveral Port Authority found that cruise ship passengers spent about $13 million in the area on lodging, restaurants, entertainment, transportation and shopping.

First on the list of places to visit has to be the Kennedy Space Center, just minutes from the port. From NASA's earliest manned missions to the crews of today's Space Shuttle, heroic astronauts have lived and trained here, but you don't have to be an astronaut to explore the place. You can tour the center and see the marvels of America's space program--from the Space Shuttle Launch Pads to an up-close view of an actual moon rocket. The Center opens every day at 9 a.m. except December 25 and certain launch days. For more information, phone 321-452-2121 or visit the website:

Also be sure to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame, located just west of the Space Center. There you can suit up, strap down, and blast off on more than two dozen hands-on activities and simulators in an interactive wing. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Christmas. Admission: $13.95 adults, $9.95 children.

For those who can't get enough gambling during their cruise, Port Canaveral is home to two casino ships. Sterling Casino's Ambassador II is considered the world's largest. Sailing twice daily, it has more than 1,000 slot machines, 50 table games, and five cocktail lounges. It also offers a continuous complimentary deli buffet, live Las Vegas-style entertainment, free cocktail service while gaming, plus free parking. Cruises are twice daily, from 11a.m.-4 p.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight. There is no charge to sail but reservations are required. (800-ROLL-7-11)

SunCruz Casinos (800-474-DICE) also features live entertainment, buffet, free boarding and free cocktails while gaming.

Cocoa Beach is less than five minutes from the port, and a fun place to visit is the Cocoa Beach Pier. In addition to tropical gift and souvenir shops and an arcade, there are several good restaurants--Atlantic Ocean Grille, named "Best Restaurant With A View" by 'Florida Today' Newspaper for seven consecutive years; The Boardwalk, home of the famous Friday night "Boardwalk Bash," where locals gather to enjoy ocean breezes and live entertainment; and the famous Mai Tiki Bar that boasts "No Bar Goes This Far," located at Pier's end, 800 feet over the ocean, making it a spectacular spot to view a Florida sunset.

Fishing is also allowed from the pier, and instructions, live bait, tackle rental, food, and beverages are available.

For delicious local seafood, check out Rusty's Seafood & Oyster Bar in Cape Canaveral and the delightful Sunset Waterfront Cafe & Bar in Cocoa Beach. A fun restaurant is the Lone Cabbage, Highway 520 in nearby Cocoa, serving up alligator and frog legs, catfish, fantail shrimp and more.

Several deep sea fishing excursions are available. A popular boat is the 85-foot Lydia Yacht "Miss Cape Canaveral", which sails every day from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Coast Guard approved for 100 people, the boat provides customers with fishing licenses, rods, bait, hot breakfast and lunch. It's at the Cove in Port Canaveral; call 321-783-5274 for reservations or visit the website,

Children will enjoy a 90-minute private guided tour on an airboat (A-Awesome Airboat Ride, 407-568-7601) where they can see alligators, eagles and other Florida wildlife up close. Jungle Adventures (407-568-2885) offers daily wildlife shows and a tour of a primitive Native American village.

Merritt Island Square, on the Causeway between Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island, is only moments from the port and considered the premiere shopping center on the Space Coast. There are 13 restaurants, 12 theaters, and 100 specialty shops open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday - Saturday, and Sunday noon- 6 p.m.

There are plenty of hotels in the area, including the Radisson Resort located right at Port Canaveral (321-784-0000), Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront (321-799-0003), and Days Inn Oceanfront (321-784-2550).

Day-stay Hotel at the Orlando Airport:

With nine cruise ships calling it home, Port Canaveral, Florida is now the second busiest cruise port in the world. Latest figures available report 4.6 million passengers passed through the six terminals in 2004, and the number has grown steadily since.

Currently sailing from the port are Carnival's Fantasy, Glory, Sensation, and Elation; Disney's Magic and Wonder, and Royal Caribbean International's Sovereign of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, and Grandeur of the Seas.

The nearest airport is Orlando International, which is only 55 miles from the port, but, unfortunately, many returning passengers arrive there with hours to wait until time for their flight home. However, instead of being bored in the waiting areas all day, there is an oasis to be found, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, located right in the heart of the terminal, which offers a "Day-Use Cruise Special."

For $89.00, up to four people can check into the hotel and have a private room and bath for an entire day. They can relax and enjoy the roof-top swimming pool with its sweeping view of the airport runways, the fully-equipped health spa, take a nap, have a shower and order room service if they wish.

And with little or no food offered on flights these days, another popular feature is the hotel restaurant's "Food to Fly," prepared to order to take onboard. The full menu is offered, such as fresh Caesar salad, Cuban sandwiches, signature soup, Cajun chowder, and a variety of desserts.

For those who wish to spend a few days in Orlando to visit the theme parks before or after a cruise, AAA has a summer promotion at the hotel giving 10% off the rate (which is based on the date of request and runs from $169 and up) and includes breakfast for two adults and two children. The breakfast buffet otherwise costs $13.50 and serves everything from scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, breakfast potatoes, fresh fruit to homemade pastries, lox and bagels.

Round-trip transportation to the theme parks is also available: To Disney, Universal Studios or Seaworld, the price is $48 for one person, $32 for two, $22 for three, $18 for four, and $14 for five or more people.

Round-trip to Port Canaveral is $40 per person.

For hotel reservations, call 407-825-1234 or

For transportation from Orlando to Port Canaveral:

Orlando Ride (, 888-311-4227) will pick up anywhere in Orlando and offers rates for vans: 1-5 persons $70 one-way, $140 round-trip; 1-7 persons, $85 one-way, $160 round-trip; 1-10 persons, $105 one-way, $200 round-trip. Limos: $125 one-way for up to 10 people and $245 round-trip.

Top One Tours offers round-trip service between Orlando International and any Disney hotel, or central Florida including Port Canaveral starting at just $80.

Mears Transportation ( contracts with Carnival and Disney for $15 per person one way and $30 per person round-trip, including children over 3. They begin pickups at the Orlando airport at 10 a.m. and continue until 2:30 p.m. Returns--8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Limousines, Limo Bus, Motor Coaches, Mini Buses, Passenger Vans & Town Car for individuals, families & large. Orlando to Port Canaveral as a specialty. Also all central Florida attractions and anywhere within the state of Florida. (407) 996-7171 or (866) 214-7888.

Also, Alpha Omega Transportation (, 352-243-7199) has a basic price of $20 one way, $30 round-trip.

Some of these companies will only pick up from the Orlando airport and select hotels, so it is best to inquire first.

Currently sailing from Port Canaveral are Carnival Cruise Lines' Elation and Fantasy on four and five-night cruises. Carnival Sensation on 3 and 4 day cruises, Disney's Magic and Wonder on 3 and 4-day cruises (and some 7-day cruises), and Royal Caribbean International's Sovereign of the Seas on 4-night cruises, and Carnival's newer, larger Carnival Glory, and Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas, for weeklong Caribbean cruises.

Port Canaveral is 55 miles east of Orlando, and only 11 miles east of I-95 (Exit 77-A) via the Beeline Expressway. There are six cruise terminals, with two more on the drawing board. Parking fees are $8 per day for vehicles up to 20 feet in length and $16 per day for vehicles more than 20 feet. Credit cards are accepted. There is handicapped parking but the same fee is charged.

For additional information on Port Canaveral, visit or call 1-877-FUN-PORT and ask for a "Twice the Fun" package.

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