Are there any hotels in Tampa that offer park and cruise rates? Do any of the car rental companies have free shuttle service to the ships? If not, what is the best way to get the cruise ship if one flies into Tampa a few days early?
There's a Hyatt in downtown Tampa that I believe does the park and cruise thing but don't quote me on that.
A cab fare from any hotel downtown or even the Hilton Garden Inn in Ybor City would be really cheap as the port is right there in downtown.
Carnival Liberty - May 2009
Carnival Inspiration - October 2008
RockChick is right, and I've been told that the following hotels also offer what you're looking for. Holiday Inn Express - Rocky Point, Hampton Inn Tampa/ Ybor City, or perhaps LaQuinta Inn on West Spruce Street, Tampa. I've personally never checked any of these to see exactly what they offer. The Ybor City area is VERY close to the port, and the Rocky Point area is water front, on old Tampa Bay. LaQuinta Inn on W. Spruce St. is a very good central area, with lots of shopping, and good restaurants, so any of them should be O.K. Like RockChick says, cab fare to the port from any of these should be very reasonable. I don't know much about the rental car agencies but I'd certainly ask them. If you have to park at the port, it'll be $12 a day, or perhaps by then more. Parking is in a secured indoor garage, which they lock up when the ship sails.
Have a GREAT cruise.