Cruises Out of Tampa: The Pros and Cons

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Some people love cruises out of Tampa while others prefer to use an alternative cruise port. It’s all about options. If you want a convenient cruise port that is easy to reach from the airport, has free streetcar transportation and parking just steps from the cruise terminal, Tampa is the best port for you.

It is less crowded, offers a scenic departure through Tampa Bay and has plenty of attractions to keep you busy before and after your cruise.

However, if you are keen to hit the casino and duty-free shops, want to avoid the risk of choppy waters in the Gulf of Mexico and prefer a wider choice of cruise options, you should probably consider cruising out of a different port.

Here’s a full list of 14 pros and 8 cons for cruising out of Tampa. Read them all and then decide for yourself whether cruising out of Tampa is the best choice for you!

14 Pros for Tampa Cruises

Stunning views and photo ops

Cruising out of Tampa Bay provides plenty of interesting scenery as you sail down the channel and out into beautiful Tampa Bay. While other ports have a departure that reaches open waters in less than 30 minutes, when you cruise out of Tampa you get several hours of coastal scenery.

Sail past small islands, tankers, car carriers, pleasure boats, parks, waterfront hotels, Florida Aquarium and MacDill Air Force Base and take photographs of Tampa’s high-rise architecture followed by the skyline of St Petersburg before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

Sail beneath Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a majestic landmark with its sail-like supporting cables. It is over 4 miles long and the longest single span is 1200 feet.  The current contemporary cantilever bridge was completed in 1987 and carries 59,000 vehicles and around 100,000 people every day. It makes a great photo op as you sail beneath the four-lane I-275 highway, especially at sunset.

The bridge is 430 feet at its highest point. Currently the largest Oasis-class cruise ships are 236 feet in height, so there’s plenty of room for them to sail comfortably beneath. However, as cruise ships get higher and require a deeper draught, the bridge could limit the size of cruise ships sailing in and out of Tampa port in the future.

Walking distance of downtown and the Riverfront

You don’t need a car to explore the area around Tampa Bay port. Stroll along the Riverwalk enjoying the views of pleasure boats, commercial ships and cruise liners coming and going in the port. This rejuvenated waterfront area is home to the massive Florida Aquarium, voted one of the Top 3 Aquariums in America. It has a plethora of different habitats and marine life including turtles, sharks, reef fish and rays with an emphasis on conservation of the ocean.

You can also walk to Channelside Bay Plaza (shopping and dining), Tampa Bay History Center, Amalie Arena, Glazer Children’s Museum, Center for the Performing Arts and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park. History lovers will enjoy a guided tour of historic Ybor City, once the world’s largest cigar-making area.

Historic Ybor City

Ybor City is one of only two National Historic Landmarks Districts in the whole of Florida. This Historic Landmark District is just three miles from the Tampa cruise terminal. Formerly the largest cigar-making district in the world, it has brick-paved streets lined with 2,054 historic buildings although the former cigar factories have been repurposed. Take a guided walking tour, enjoy a Cuban sandwich or treat yourself to a hand-rolled Cuban cigar in this charming downtown area.  

Port cruise parking right across the street

Very few cruise ports have cruise parking within walking distance of the cruise terminals, but Tampa does! There’s no need for a shuttle or taxi from your cruise car park, just book self-parking at the cruise port and you can wheel your luggage across the street to cruise check-in.

Prices are $15 per day to park at the port cruise parking lot at 810 Channelside Drive. It is convenient and secure with 3,500 spaces, including half in the covered garage. For other parking options, check out our Tampa cruise parking guide.

Free streetcar transportation

Another excellent benefit of cruises out of Tampa is the free TECO Streetcar System. It runs around downtown Tampa daily from 7 am (8.30 am on weekends) until 11 pm (or 2 am Friday and Saturday nights) with renovated streetcars running every 15 minutes.

Stay on-board for a full tour of the area or hop on and off as you wish for shopping, restaurants, museums and hotels. It even stops right at the cruise port if you don’t want to pay for a taxi or use a hotel shuttle service.

International cuisine in over 2,000 restaurants!

Tampa has over 2,000 restaurants serving international and American cuisine from take-outs to gourmet restaurants in five star hotels on the waterfront. Whether you fancy a juicy steak or fresh seafood before embarking on your cruise out of Tampa, you’ll find plenty of choice close to the port.

Historic Ybor City has many authentic Cuban restaurants and is home to Columbia, the largest Spanish restaurant in the USA which serves delicious seafood paella in a series of historic dining rooms.

Great winter climate for cruises out of Tampa

While other US cities and airports grind to a halt when snow falls, Tampa basks in a sub-tropical climate all year round. The sunny temperatures mean you can sail out of Tampa Bay in January while waving from the deck in your summer gear. The mild winter climate also means that Tampa Airport is never closed due to snow in the busiest cruise months.

Easy to reach by road

Tampa is the northernmost cruise port in Florida, and the only one on Florida’s west coast. Served by the I-75 and I-4, it is about 150 miles closer to the northern states than Port Miami and Port Everglades cruise port so why drive further than you have to?

If you’re driving to Tampa for a cruise, it’s wise to drive down a day or two earlier in case of bad weather further north. Once you get the Sunshine State, you’ll have no more problems with ice and snow, unlike some other cruise ports.

Easy to reach by air

Tampa cruisers have a good choice of flights to Tampa International Airport (TPA) and Orlando International Airport (MCO). Depending on the time of your flight, you’ll probably need to stay overnight at a hotel near Tampa Cruise Port before departing from Tampa on your Caribbean cruise. Most hotels in Tampa offer a free airport shuttle service to pick you up.

Cruises out of Tampa are close to Orlando

Why not combine your cruise out of Tampa with a visit to Orlando? Enjoy visiting your favorite theme parks or head to the Florida Mall, the upscale Mall at Millennia or Orlando International Premium Outlets for some great deals as part of your cruise-and-stay vacation.

Great live entertainment

Book tickets to watch Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey, see a top UFC fight, watch a Cirque du Soleil performance or get seats to a live concert – all the big names come to Tampa’s Amalie Arena!

Combine cruise with beach

If you want a head start on your suntan before cruising out of Tampa, some of the best beaches in the USA are less than 30 minutes’ drive from Tampa cruise port. Tempted?

Good choice of affordable hotels

Book one of Tampa’s hotels with a free airport shuttle service and transfer right from the airport to your air-conditioned room without paying a penny. From there, if you stay in the downtown district you can explore, dine and sightsee using the free TECO Streetcar. When it’s time to head to the cruise port, most hotels offer a shuttle service for guests and their luggage.

8 Cons against Cruises out of Tampa

Limited choice of cruise lines out of Tampa

The Port of Tampa Bay is currently limited to just three cruise lines: Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). Celebrity Cruises will be making Tampa the home port for Celebrity Constellation from 2020.

However, this limited choice means Tampa cruise port is much less crowded and busy than Miami, the “cruise capital of the world”. PortMiami is home to over 20 cruise lines and serves at least 60 different passenger ships. If you want choice, consider cruises from Miami, but if you want easy uncrowded access to a smaller port, think about cruising from Tampa.

Poor services at the Tampa cruise terminal

Tampa has fewer services at the port when it comes to bars, restaurants and coffee shops. You will find a good choice within walking distance of the port, but the actual terminals only offer seating and restrooms. For this reason, don’t want to arrive too early for cruises out of Tampa and be left hanging around waiting to check in and board.

Personal safety issues

The Port of Tampa Bay is much older than other cruise ports and is in a less desirable area near the downtown district. You should take sensible precautions after dark. Avoid dark streets, leave valuables in your hotel safe and use public transport.

Less time in the casino with cruises out of Tampa

Due to US gaming rules, cruise ship casinos cannot open until they are in international waters. If you are departing from the port of Tampa Bay, that could mean a delay of several hours before the slot machines and gaming tables can open for business. If you’re a cruise gambler, that could be a serious disadvantage to cruising out of Tampa.

Duty-free shopping delays

Cruises generally offer duty-free shopping in their on-board shops. However, they cannot offer duty-free shopping until they are in international waters. If you are sailing out of a cruise port on East Coast USA, international Atlantic waters start just three miles offshore.

You can be hitting the on-board boutiques and duty-free shops before Miami is even out of sight. However, on the Gulf of Mexico, international waters are nine miles offshore. This means a longer delay until the shops are legally allowed to open for business.

Added sales tax

Another issue with the delay in reaching international waters on Tampa cruises is sales tax on drinks. Once the cruise ship is in international waters, sales tax is not added to those pricey cocktails, icy beers and bottles of wine. However, as you set sail from Tampa port you will no doubt want to toast the start of your cruise with a drink or two. Sales tax will be added to drinks until you reach international waters, adding 6-7% to your bar bill.

Hurricane season

Most cruise ships out of Tampa relocate to Alaska or the Mediterranean ports during the summer season. This not only meets the demand for summer cruises from these temperate ports, it also avoids the hurricane season which lasts from June 1st to November 30th each year. The peak months for hurricanes are late August through October. If a hurricane is likely to affect your cruise, you may be delayed or your itinerary may be changed.

Related: How a Hurricane Could Affect Your Cruise

Choppy seas in the Gulf of Mexico

Once you leave the sheltered waters of Tampa Bay, the Gulf of Mexico can have rough seas. If you suffer from seasickness, you may prefer to sail out of one of the cruise ports on Florida’s East Coast and hit the calm Caribbean a little sooner.

FAQs about Cruises out of Tampa

Where should I stay when cruising from Tampa?

There are several hotels just along the Tampa Riverwalk and less than a mile from the cruise port. Other budget hotels in downtown Tampa are served by the free TECO streetcar system. Whatever you budget, you’ll find all you need to know in this comprehensive article 17 Ideal Hotels Near Tampa Cruise Port.

How far is Tampa cruise port from airport?

Tampa International Airport is 9 miles northwest of Tampa Bay cruise port. The journey by taxi takes less than 20 minutes and the flat rate from the airport to the cruise port (or vice versa) is $28.

What’s the best thing to do near the Tampa cruise port?

Tampa cruise port has several top attractions within easy walking distance. Take a tour of historic Ybor City nearby. Learn the history of the cigar-making industry and browse the shops, museums and Cuban restaurants.

You can walk to the incredible Florida Aquarium (2 minutes) or stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk to Channelside Bay Plaza (shopping and dining), Tampa Bay History Center, Amalie Arena, Glazer Children’s Museum, Center for the Performing Arts and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.

Gillian Birch
Gillian Birch
Gillian Birch is a full-time travel writer and author of 12 travel books. British educated with a diploma in journalism she has traveled the world, writing about her experiences with wonderful clarity and eyewitness detail. She uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many cruise experiences around the Caribbean, Mediterranean, trans-Atlantic, Norwegian Fjords, Panama Canal and South America including Cape Horn. Find out more about us here.


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