16 Reasons You Should Cruise from the Port of Tampa

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The Port of Tampa is the fastest-growing cruise port in Florida, handling over one million passengers every year. So what makes cruisers choose to cruise out of Tampa rather than one of the larger and more popular ports on Florida’s east coast? We offer 16 good reasons why you should consider taking your next cruise from the Port of Tampa Bay.

1. Location – Close to Everywhere!

Many cruisers drive to Florida from the northern states for their cruise. If you check the map, you’ll see that Tampa Bay cruise port is the northernmost port in Florida, making that long drive south a little shorter.

For example, from Atlanta, GA

  • Tampa Bay cruise port is just 465 miles
  • Port of Miami is 663 miles
  • Port Everglades is 645 miles
  • Port Canaveral is 490 miles

Why drive further than you have to?

2. Easy Access by Road and Air

Wherever you are traveling from, Tampa cruise port is very easy to reach by road or air. The port is very well served by a network of Interstate highways.

From the north/south

The I-75 runs north-south from the Canada/US border all the way down to Naples, Southwest Florida. It is easy to reach Tampa from the I-75 via the I-275. Just take Exit 228 on the I-75 and the I-275 will take you within a couple of miles of Tampa Bay Port and downtown.

From the east

The I-4 runs east-west, connecting Tampa with Orlando and Florida’s east coast at Daytona Beach.

From the airport

For those flying to Florida for their cruise departure, Tampa International Airport handles domestic and international flights from all over the USA and beyond. The airport is 9 miles northwest of the 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.

3. Less Crowds and Congestion

Tampa Bay Port has three cruise terminals and a total of seven berths for cruise ships. However, it rarely has more than one or two cruise ships in port at any one time. This makes it much easier and quieter to drive to the port, find easy access to cruise parking, and find a taxi to take you to and from the port, if necessary.

When you disembark from your cruise, you can make a quick escape from the city (if you want to) with cruise parking lots just across the street and the Interstate a mere 5 minutes away.

Fewer people and less congestion make cruise check-in and disembarkation a more pleasant experience for everyone, especially families with young children, the elderly, and those who are not familiar with cruising. A smaller, less crowded port ensures a top quality cruise experience, ensuring you get personal service and attention from port and cruise staff.

4. Good Choice of Cruise Companies

Currently Tampa cruise port offers Caribbean cruises with Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) with Celebrity Cruises making Tampa the home port for Celebrity Constellation from 2020. Each cruise line has several cruise ships, providing a good choice of cruises ranging from short weekend cruises to 7-night Caribbean cruises and longer.

5. Smaller Cruise Ships

Many of the cruise ships sailing out of Tampa cruise port are smaller and older than the modern mega-ships currently being launched. However, they are just as comfortable and luxurious inside, including updated staterooms and elegant restaurants.

Many people prefer the smaller ships as they are easier to get around with slightly fewer decks to get lost on! While larger ships offer skydiving and surf rider pools, most cruisers are more than happy with the regular activities and entertainment. Even the smaller ships have Broadway-style shows, movies on the pool deck, live musical entertainment and fantastic food.

Smaller cruise ships carrying around 2,000 passengers make it easier to get to know people as you tend to bump into the same faces at restaurants and activities. It’s a more personal experience and you get to know the crew better too.

6. Easy Cruise Parking

Few ports offer onsite cruise parking as close as the official cruise parking lot at Tampa Bay Port. It is just across the street from the cruise terminals, making it easy to drop passengers and then park, or to walk the short distance from the car park to the ship with your luggage.

With prices from just $5.97 a day for off-site cruise parking, or $15 a day for the onsite port parking lot, Tampa cruise parking is very competitively priced. Why pay more?

Also Read: Choices for Tampa cruise parking here

7. Sail Beneath the Sunshine Skyway

Cruises departing from other cruise ports generally sail out of port and quickly out of sight of land in a very short time. Cruises out of Tampa Bay cruise terminals are far more scenic. Take your SailAway cocktail up on deck, take a seat and watch the sights go by as you sail slowly out of Tampa Bay. There are plenty of pleasure boats, tankers, car carriers, cargo, container ships and other cruise ships to wave to as you pass by. It’s fascinating!

As you sail smoothly out towards the Gulf of Mexico you’ll pass the City of St Petersburg on the right and the popular resort of Bradenton on the left. The main landmark to look out for is the famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Sunshine Skyway
Sunshine Skyway

The current cantilever bridge was completed in 1987 and carries over 59,000 vehicles and an estimated 100,000 people every day. The contemporary design with its sail-like supporting cables makes a great photo op as you sail beneath the huge spans of this 4.14 mile-long bridge, especially at sunset.

The bridge is 430 feet high at its highest point. Just in case you were wondering, today’s mega-ships can’t sail under the bridge as the clearance height is only 180 feet. That means you’ll never be able to sail the larger newer ships out of Tampa. However, the smaller vessels can be just as good and possibly even better!

8. Huge Choice of Tampa Attractions Pre- and Post-Cruise

Tampa is one of the most historic and diverse cities in Florida, especially around the downtown area. With a mixture of historic and modern architecture and a vibrant culture of Cuban, European and American influences, it has a fusion of cuisines and attractions.

Close to Tampa Bay Port is the lovely Riverwalk, a 2.6-mile waterfront area of urban parks, hip bars, chic restaurants and luxury hotels. Neighboring Ybor City Historic District was once the cigar-making capital of the world. Take a guided walking tour and learn about the historic homes and factories that have since been repurposed as shops, night clubs and bars.

Top attractions in Tampa include the Florida Aquarium and the Glazer Children’s Museum, both just a short walk from the cruise terminals. Tampa Lowry Park Zoo, Adventure Island water park, the Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa Museum of Art and Busch Gardens amusement park are all in the Tampa Area. Why not stay a few days before and after your cruise and enjoy the local sights?

9. Excellent Tampa Hotels for Cruisers

There are dozens of hotels near Tampa cruise port covering every budget and taste. Check out our pick of the best hotels near Tampa cruise port that offer a shuttle service to and from the cruise terminals. You’ll also find a good choice of hotels offering free cruise parking with Stay and Cruise packages.

10. Getting Around Tampa Free!

Few port cities can compete with Tampa when it comes to public transportation. The TECO Trolley runs continuously around the city, connecting hotels and downtown with Ybor City Historic District, the cruise ports and the waterfront. What’s more, this service is free!

Hop aboard a historic streetcar for a fun 25-minute tour of the city sights or get on and off as you wish. It runs from 7 am to 11 pm Monday to Thursdays, and until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays. The Sunday service is 8.30 to 11 pm.

11. Attend World-Class Sports Events in Tampa

Tampa has a thriving sports culture with first-class stadiums that are home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (National Football League), Tampa Bay Lightning (National Hockey League), Tampa Bay Rays (Major League Basketball) and many other sports teams. Get tickets to a match or attend one of many concerts and events that are hosted in the stadiums and arenas.

12. Native Tampa Wildlife

Have you ever seen manatees, alligators or pelicans in their native habitat? A visit to Tampa offers a wide range of native Florida wildlife and migratory birds, especially in the winter months. 

The TECO Manatee Viewing Center makes it easy to see manatees that head into Tampa Bay in search of warmer water during the cold winter months. They gather in their hundreds around the warm water outlet at Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. The center also has a half-mile Loop Trail through native Florida greenery along with a boardwalk and wildlife observation tower.

There are many places to see alligators basking in the sunshine around Tampa. Visit the Myakka River State Park, Lettuce Lake Park or Hillsborough River State Park and see them lying beside the trails or keeping a watchful eye while semi-submerged. Make sure you keep a safe distance and never feed or annoy them or you could face a hefty fine.

13. Tampa Beaches

Although Tampa Bay does not have any sandy beaches, there are several beautiful white sandy beaches and resorts along the Gulf Coast. Why not extend your cruise from Tampa with a few days of sand and sunshine at one of the nearby resorts?

Clearwater, Florida
Clearwater, Florida

St Pete Beach is a popular resort on the offshore barrier island just 40 minutes’ drive from Tampa Bay cruise port. Further north, Madeira Beach and Clearwater are a similar distance away. To the south of Tampa Bay, you’ll find Bradenton, Sarasota and Siesta Key offering upscale shopping, cultural attractions and miles of award-winning beaches. 

14. Proximity to Orlando

Orlando, Florida is an international attraction with its many theme parks, shopping malls and amazing attractions. Tampa cruise port is just 84 miles west of this vacation mecca, making it the perfect choice for a two-center vacation combining Orlando attractions with a relaxing Caribbean cruise.

15. Sunny Tampa Climate

Tampa has a year-round sunny climate making it ideal as a home port for cruisers. Temperatures rarely drop below 52°F, even at night. During the main cruise season, from November through April, Tampa has dry sunny weather making it perfect for cruising. The highways and Tampa International Airport are never affected by ice and snow, so cruises always sail on time.

16. Cosmopolitan Cuisine

With its close connections with the Cuban cigar-making industry, Tampa’s past was heavily influenced by Cuban immigrants who brought their own culture and cuisine. If you’ve never eaten a Cuban Sandwich stuffed with ham, salami, roast pork, mustard and cheese then Tampa is the place to find an authentic deli serving the best.

Another popular hot snack in this fishing mecca is a Grouper Sandwich. Lightly battered and served in a roll with lettuce and condiments, it’s delicious!

For a real treat try Florida Stone Crab. The claws are commercially harvested in Stone Crab season, which runs from October 15 to May 15 each year. This allows the crabs to regenerate their claws during the summer, making them sustainable.

Tampa seafood is so highly regarded that even local Japanese sushi restaurants have invented a Tampa Roll. Perfect for seafood lovers, the sushi features fried grouper, seaweed (nori) and mayo. Yum!

Now you’ve discovered that Tampa cruise port is convenient, quieter, cultural, affordable and brimming with attractions, why not take a cruise from Tampa cruise port and enjoy all the benefits!

Tampa Cruise Terminal: Everything You Need to Know!

FAQs on Cruises from Tampa

Which cruise lines depart from Tampa?

Currently Tampa Bay Port serves ships from three cruise lines: Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). From 2020, Celebrity Cruises plans to make Tampa the home port for the Celebrity Constellation.

When should I arrive for my cruise from Tampa?

The official cruise information issued by Tampa Cruise Port suggests that passengers should arrive at least 90 minutes before departure time. This allows ample time to clear security and complete the check-in process.

How popular is the Port of Tampa?

The Port of Tampa Bay is the fastest-growing cruise port in Florida. It currently handles just over one million cruise passengers each year and had 233 calls by cruise ships in 2018. However, this is far below the figures for Port of Miami, which handles 4.33 million cruise passengers every year and is the world’s busiest cruise port. Future development currently underway is likely to see the Port of Tampa handle more cruise ships in the future. 

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