Getting to the port: Parking for cruises out of Fort Lauderdale

I was no stranger to Port Everglades, the giant cruise port just a few miles from Ft. Lauderdale airport (FLL). In fact, I’d cruised out of it many times, and I could tell you in one sentence how to get to that port from the airport: Land, pick up your bags, get in a taxi (or Lyft/Uber), go to the port. But that wouldn’t be much of a blog post, would it?

Because I’m taking some time off work right now, I was lucky enough to go on not one, not two, but three cruises out of Port Everglades in just a couple of months’ time. Rather than make three plane trips, my husband and I decided to take some time as “temporary snowbirds,” and we drove our car down to Florida. Hey, it was February and March – we wanted some warm weather!

We tried three options for parking, and the good news is that I felt like all of them were pretty good options that I would use again.

  1. Park N Fly at the Fort Lauderdale airport was a great experience. We prepaid and used a deal on my American Express card to get $15 back on our reservation. Using the lot was simple: We entered and were directed to the side of the lot where cruisers were parked, then a van shuttle picked us up right at the car and delivered us to the cruise terminal. When we came back from the cruise, we called the number we’d been given and a shuttle came to the terminal and picked us up, then dropped us right back at the car.
  2. We arrived at the Park N Go at the airport on a particularly busy day – there were 7 ships at Port Everglades, including the Royal Caribbean mega-ship Harmony of the Seas. On that day, they were using a valet-type system where you dropped off your car at a central location, then hopped on a shuttle to the appropriate cruise ship’s terminal. When we returned from our cruise, the shuttle picked us up and dropped us right off at our car, which had been parked in the lot. One quirky thing about this lot is that an area next door is populated by monkeys, which are pretty darn cute! (but don’t feed them – for your own safety!)Photo Mar 04, 8 25 51 AM.jpg
  3. On one of the cruises, we talked to some folks who sang the praises of the on-site parking at Port Everglades, so for the final of the three cruises, I decided to give it a try. The price is a little bit higher, $15/day versus $10-$13 for the other places, so it made more sense for a shorter, 5-day cruise. My experience here was a mixed bag: Our cruise ship went out of the inconveniently-placed Terminal 29, for which we had to take a shuttle to and from the midport parking garage. However, if we’d been out of one of the closer terminals (18 and 19 are especially close), this garage would have been incredibly convenient. Here you can see the Celebrity Summit docked at terminal 19 in a picture I took from the garage where I parked our car.Photo Mar 10, 10 28 48 AM

If your cruise is leaving out of Port Everglades, you can use the Cruise Terminal app (link will take you to the Apple store) to determine what terminal your cruise will be departing out of.

Majesty of the Seas Live Blog: (Bonus!) Day 6

All in all, my misadventures in travel on Day 5 turned out pretty well, considering that I never actually made it home (or even left the state of Florida, for that matter!). I had a nice room at a hotel I was familiar with, and I’d even managed to pay for it with my Hilton points, meaning I wasn’t out of pocket any additional money. I had a ticket on a direct flight home (well, almost home) on the next day, and it didn’t even leave until the reasonable hour of 11:30 am.

I was feeling pretty good…perhaps, too good? I woke up fairly early on the unexpected day 6 of my trip and packed up my things to head to the airport around 8:30. Sure, I’d be a little early, but Orlando can be a notoriously busy airport, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get there a little early. Indeed, the rash of cancellations on the previous day meant that Delta’s ticket counters were busy and the lines were a little long. I checked my bag again, feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, and went through the security line.

I had been resting comfortably in the Delta Sky Club, posting my Day 5 blog post, for about an hour when I saw the first delay on my flight. Here we go again, I thought, but fortunately for me, Day 6’s flight delays had a much happier ending than Day 5’s. While we were delayed about a half an hour in our departure, we only landed about five minutes after our scheduled arrival time.

I arrived home to a winter wonderland – the weather system that had cancelled my flights on Day 5 was still in full effect, and it snowed for most of our drive home from the airport. Even though it was cold, I was glad to be home. But that doesn’t mean I’m not counting the days until my next cruise!

Majesty of the Seas Live Blog: Day 5

Day 5 was a study in the need for (extreme) patience when we put our fate in the hands of the airlines — and mother nature.

Remember that wintry weather I mentioned on my Day 4 blog? I called Delta as soon as I was back in cell range, but didn’t have any luck getting put on earlier flights. Nevertheless, I hustled to get my bags ready and get off the ship with the “self-assist” disembarkation group, which left at 7:45 am. This is the term for when you take your own bags off the ship rather than using the ship’s luggage assistance (when they collect your bag the night before you depart and deliver it to you in the terminal building). If you have an early flight or just want to get off the ship early, self-assist is the only way to do it.

Just as in my last experience at Port Canaveral, I was off the ship quickly and on a shuttle to the airport around 8 am. When I arrived at 9 am, I asked again about earlier flights, but nothing was available. I decided I had no choice but to hope for the best. I checked my bag, went through security, and settled in at the Delta Sky Club, a perk I get from my American Express Platinum card (while its annual fee is rather pricey, this card certainly has some advantages for frequent travelers like myself).

It started innocuously, with a 20-minute delay to my first flight (Orlando to Atlanta). But as time wore on, the situation worsened quickly. First, the flight was delayed for 90 minutes, as was my connecting flight from Atlanta home to Greensboro; then the delay went to over two hours. I had a small bit of hope that I might make it as far as Atlanta when they actually boarded our flight (about an hour after we were originally scheduled to depart), but that hope was short lived.

Through a long sequence of events (that would make this post infinitely long if I detailed them all), my flight from Orlando to Atlanta was cancelled. I jumped on my phone and hustled to find a hotel room in Orlando for the night; fortunately, I was able to get a room at the same DoubleTree we’d stayed at when we came for our Majesty cruise in August. With the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to sleep in the airport, I was able to rest much easier while I waited in line (for quite some time) to find out what flights I’d been reassigned to.

Here’s where the story has a funny ending, albeit a happy one. You see, I live right in between two airports – Raleigh-Durham (RDU) and Greensboro (GSO). It’s about equidistant to drive to both, but for this trip I’d chosen Greensboro. Well, when Delta reassigned my flights, they had me routed from Orlando to RDU to Detroit and then back to GSO! Fortunately, I was able to talk to an agent and they easily changed my schedule to the first flight only (Orlando-RDU), and I talked the hubby into coming to pick me up at RDU since my car was parked at GSO. (This was very nice of him, seeing as how I’d left him at home while I went on this cruise by myself!)

As a bonus, I looked at the boarding pass the agent handed me for my flight the next day – and I had been put into first class! What a treat!

So while I thought that Day 5 would be the last day of my vacation, it turned out that the travel gods had another plan for me. So here I am in a hotel room in Florida, while it snows back home – I’m a little disappointed to miss the snow, and not looking forward to clearing off my car (parked in a surface lot and not a garage, sigh) when I get home. But I do remember that ultimately, I will get home – even if it’s a day later than I’d intended. I just wish I’d remember to pack an extra pair of underwear….

Majesty of the Seas Live Blog: Day 4

How did it get to be the last day of the cruise already?? Day 4 was our day at sea, and so I took advantage and slept in…until almost 8 am. Woohoo!

I had signed up for the brunch and galley tour at 11 am, so my morning was pretty much taken up with writing the previous day’s blog post and ingesting large amounts of coffee. (You may have noticed that none of my posts have mentioned breakfast – I’m currently on an eating plan called intermittent fasting, where I only drink black coffee and water until noon each day. It’s been a surprisingly easy “diet” to follow on a cruise!)

I showed up around five minutes to 11 for the galley tour, which met in one of the dining rooms. I was surprised to see almost a hundred other people waiting as well – apparently this event is very popular! The event cost $30 per person and included a tour of the galley areas along with unlimited champagne/mimosas, followed by a sit-down brunch (and the continuation of said mimosas). I maayyyy have had a few mimosas, which made sitting down to edit and post the blog entry I’d written earlier a bit of a challenge!

I enjoyed most of the afternoon having some down time in my cabin. At this point, I must sound like a really lame, boring person, but I can promise you (and people will vouch for this) that’s not true! I’m what you might call an extroverted introvert, and while I enjoyed chatting with people throughout this cruise (something that’s a lot easier when you’re cruising solo, I found), I also really enjoyed the opportunities to be quiet by myself, reading a book or checking Twitter.

After dinner, I stopped in the casino to play some video poker before catching the production show for the evening. I won a big hand and was up by $20, hurray! But then I came back later and lost it all back again…I’m beginning to see a trend here. The show was a little disappointing, so I left early to go back to my room and pack up, then go to bed.

It was on Day 4 that I started to get an indication that my flights home might be affected by some wintry weather. The forecast looked increasingly dire as the day went on, so I set my alarm for 6 am (about the time I figured we’d have cell service in anticipation of our 7 am arrival) so I could call the airline to try to get on earlier flights, and to make sure that I’d be on the very first shuttle from the port back to the airport just in case an earlier flight was available.

My last night at sea ended with the motion of the ship gently rocking me to sleep. I’m really going to miss this….

Majesty of the Seas Live Blog: Day 1

The first day of my cruise started early, so it wasn’t surprising that a nap was involved later in the day….

My travel plans took me out on the 6 am flight from Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad Airport, our ‘local’ airport and one of my favorite to fly out of because of its small size and convenience. I left the house just before 4 am and was sitting at my gate around 5 am – and the airport is 45 minutes’ drive from our house! My travel to Orlando via Atlanta was uneventful and I collected my bag.

Based on my good experience the last time, I booked a round-trip shuttle to Port Canaveral with GO Port Canaveral. When I traveled with the hubby in August, an Uber had made more sense and was much more convenient since we were staying at a hotel the night before, and not coming straight from the airport. But with just one of me, a $15 shuttle vs. a $46 Uber was an easy decision.

The trickiest thing about finding the shuttle was that the GO pickup is at terminal A, and my bags had come into the baggage claim at terminal B. After a bit of poking around, I finally decided the best way was to come back up to the main (ground) level and cross the airport from B to A at that level. Once I found the location, I checked in with an attendant and waited about ten minutes for the bus to arrive. We were loaded promptly, and a friendly driver took us straight to the terminal in Port Canaveral – easy peasy!

I arrived at the terminal around noon and looked longingly at the place where the line split for Diamond-level Crown and Anchor members and above – and sadly took a left to go in the line for “everyone else.” (But not for long! Taking this solo cruise will bump me up to Diamond level with the double points I’ll receive for traveling solo and paying double the fare.)

Even though the original security screening line was long, it moved quickly, and my check-in was a breeze. In no time at all, I was on the ship! Not wanting to brave the crowds in the Windjammer with my rollaboard suitcase in tow, I grabbed a couple of sandwiches from Caffe Lattitudes and settled down in the Schooner Bar to wait until the rooms were open at 1 pm.

Once my room was available, I dropped off my suitcase and took a few pictures of the room. I’m very happy with the cabin, an oceanview this time, although I noted that it has many of the same quirks as our inside room in August, though not quite so exaggerated. The window really makes a big improvement in letting in natural light, as well.

I took a bit of a wander around the ship, but that 3 am wakeup time was starting to weigh on me. Noting that the Windjammer closed at 2:45 pm, I took a quick nap around 2 pm and woke up about 2:30 to head for a mid-afternoon salad. After my snack, it was time for the muster (safety) drill, and then for sail away! I enjoyed a lovely sail away on Majesty’s series of back decks, which are a bit labrynthine but offer a lot of different perspectives. Afterwards, I popped in on the sail-away party on the pool deck and had my traditional Miami Vice, and I might have joined in on a Cupid Shuffle or two.

I had signed up for the 6 pm dinner seating, so there wasn’t much time to dilly dally after our 4 pm sail away. I headed back to the room and noticed I had a message from the Shore Excursions desk about the beach bed I’d rented in CocoCay (day 2 of our cruise). More info in my blog post to come about that experience, but long story short, I wound up standing in line at the shore excursions desk for about 30 minutes on my way to dinner. Fortunately, I’d brought a glass of wine, and there was a good band playing in the Centrum, so it could have been worse.

Dinner took a little over an hour and a half, so I decided to skip the 7:30 show and wait for the 9:30 one instead. I spent some time looking through the shops and eventually made my way to the casino, where I had a little bit of luck on the slot machines. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure that I would still be awake at 9:30! But fortunately, the first-night energy of the ship (combined with that lucky pull on the slot machine) kept me energized enough. The show started with a rendition of my favorite Christmas song – which seemed even better after two Cosmos at the casino bar! – and after a brief announcement from the cruise director, the comedian came on stage.

Now, no offense to this guy, or the countless other guys I’ve seen doing stand-up comedy on cruise ships, but I’ve found that cruise ship comedians are pretty mediocre bunch.* The only show I’ve really enjoyed was the late-night adult show by Cruise Director Graham Seymour during our Rhapsody cruise in November 2017, but comedy is pretty specific to a person, so maybe it’s just me. I heard plenty of people laughing in the show on the first night, but it wasn’t  really working for me, so I decided to head back to my room.

It didn’t take long after I made it back to the cabin before my PJs were on, teeth were brushed, and I was in dreamland. Before I went to sleep, I set my alarm for 6:30 am so I could be up for the sunrise. Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who likes to get up early on a cruise! (As you’ll see in the post for Day 2, I actually woke up before that alarm even went off.) And the great thing about cruising by myself is that I can do that and not have to worry about bothering anyone. Perfect!

*I don’t want to get controversial, but maybe the mediocrity is due to the fact that by and large, these comedians are all…guys? Maybe one of these cruise lines should be the one to discover the next great female comedian. Who’s with me??

Tampa: Getting to the Port

I had read that it was pretty convenient to get to the Port of Tampa from the airport, and a quick Google mapping seemed to confirm this to be true. But there was a wrinkle in my plans: Due to our same-day travel and tight connection, we’d be carrying our bags on the plane with us, which meant I couldn’t pack my usual 2 bottles of wine for the cruise. (What a first-world problem, right?)

Fortunately, a fellow travel blogger was kind enough to alert me to the presence of a Publix grocery store fairly near to the cruise port. (Thanks, Michael!) It’s not quite walking-distance close, so we took an Uber from the airport to the Publix, where we picked up our two bottles of wine as well as a snack (as we’d now been traveling since very early in the morning) and rested a bit before taking a second Uber to the cruise terminal.

Tampa’s port area is pretty spread out, and so it’s important here (honestly, this is a good idea at many larger ports) to take a look at your cruise documents and look for the specific terminal you’ll be departing out of. You can access the Cruise Docs online at the cruise line’s website, or if you book with a travel agent, he or she will usually send you your documents before the cruise.

It was only a short Uber ride from Publix to Terminal 2, where we boarded Empress of the Seas. It was time for our Cuba adventure to begin!

Flying in on the day of the cruise (aka knowing when to break your own rules)

Ever since I started cruising with my mom, over 20 years ago, I’ve always held fast to one rule: Always fly in to your port city the day before your cruise. Airlines and weather are unpredictable, and it’s always better to give yourself a cushion where something can go wrong and you’ll still make it to your cruise on time.

But when I booked our last-minute cruise to Cuba, I was faced with a dilemma: Flights on the day before our sail date were considerably more expensive, adding to an already expensive last-minute plane fare, and that fare increase would have added to the cost of a hotel room to make our last-minute deal not so much of a deal at all. So I took a deep breath and broke my cardinal rule of cruising: Always fly in the day before your cruise.

I booked us on flights that left first thing in the morning on the day our cruise was scheduled to sail. To make my sins even worse, I had no choice but to book us on a connecting flight through Delta’s hub of Atlanta, with a connection time of less than one hour. Yikes!

It wasn’t all bad. I had done some research to check that there were two connecting flights that would have (theoretically) gotten us to Tampa in time to make the cruise. Flying through an airline’s hub airport will usually give you this kind of option as a backup. I’d done some research and learned that Tampa’s port was relatively easy to get to from the airport, so I figured that a same-day fly-in would be less difficult here.

In the end, our flights went smoothly and we made it to Tampa with plenty of time to get to the port – we even had time to stop at a grocery store so I could pick up a couple of bottles of wine to take with us. I even felt brave enough to schedule our next cruise’s flights on the same day the cruise sailed (though I did opt for a nonstop flight, which significantly helped put my mind at ease in the lead-up to our cruise).

As I always say to my writing students, you have to know the rules before you can break them. In general, I think I’ll stick to my oldest rule of cruising: Always fly in the day before your cruise. But now, I feel like I have a little better of an idea now about when I can break that rule.

When your big ship ports in a small town

Each night when we get the next day’s Cruise Compass, I start by reading the description of our next port of call. When I saw the description of Astoria, I was a little taken aback. In fact, I had to read it aloud to my husband to make sure I wasn’t overthinking (as an academic, I’m prone to doing that).

“Tell me if this doesn’t sound like the most depressing thing you’ve heard,” I said, before reading the description of Astoria:

“Astoria has served as a port of entry for over a century and remains the trading center for the lower Columbia basin, although it has long since been eclipsed by Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington as an economic hub of the Pacific Northwest. Astoria’s economy centered on fishing, fish processing, and lumber. IN 1945, about 30 canneries could be found along the Columbia; however, in 1974 Bumblebee Seafood moved its headquarters out of Astoria, and gradually reduced its presence until 1980 when the company closed its last Astoria cannery. The timber industry likewise declined; Astoria Plywood Mill, the city’s largest employer, closed in 1989, and the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway discontinued service in 1996.”

Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive, but I thought this description of Astoria as a has-been canning and lumber town was a little too bleak. It’s not inaccurate by any means, and the city has had a hard way to go for many years. In fact, the introduction of cruise ship tourism, along with the push to get land-based visitors, has played a major role in Astoria’s economy in the last few years. (Maybe that’s part of the reason why we found everyone to be so friendly and helpful! Although from my years of living in Oregon, I think the people there are just generally nice.)

One thing I did notice, however, was that the small town of Astoria (pop. 9800) did have a bit of a logistics problem with the arrival of a fairly large cruise ship like Explorer of the Seas (3100 passengers). The port is off-set slightly from the downtown, necessitating that passengers either walk a mile along a waterfront pathway or take a shuttle bus ($6 roundtrip). Since the hubby’s bad back limits us from walking long distances, the shuttle bus it was.

However, there were over 3000 of us – and not nearly enough shuttle buses; though I give the town props for trying earnestly, the system in place just couldn’t accommodate the demand. (In fact, Astoria has set up an extensive “cruise host” program to assist passengers in touring the city, and we found these folks to be wonderfully helpful.) But when we disembarked the ship first thing in the morning, we found long lines for the shuttle buses and decided to re-board the ship and try again later (we eventually wound up taking the bus around noon with very little wait).

As cruise lines expand their itineraries and port in more towns like Astoria, it’s increasingly likely that this situation – big ship in a little town – will be a part of your cruise experience. My advice is to plan your day accordingly to avoid the logjam of passengers at the beginning of the day: Have a late, leisurely breakfast; use the opportunity to sleep in; maybe even hit the fitness center in the morning. If you shift your shore time to the second half of the day, you’ll have far less competition for the resources like shuttle buses that can be a bit pinched in these kind of ports.

Getting to the port: Seattle Terminal 91

Warning: If you have a friend who lives in Seattle, you might NOT want to ask her to drive you to the cruise port in Seattle. Unless she’s a good friend (fortunately, mine was!).

There are two ports in Seattle; Royal Caribbean and Celebrity both leave from Terminal 91. (We were in port along with the Celebrity Solstice.) You’ll use this port if you’re on any cruise line other than Norwegian Cruise Lines, which departs from the more centrally located Pier 66.

As I mentioned, my friend offered to drive us to the cruise port. After a quick stop to buy two bottles of wine to take on our cruise, we followed the fairly straightforward Google Maps directions to the port. That’s when it got a little…annoying.

We arrived a little before 1 pm for a 4 pm departure and frankly, I thought maybe we were late enough to avoid the majority of the day’s traffic. I was wrong, but not necessarily for the reason I expected. See, the person who designed the traffic flow at this terminal must not have been thinking about have two large cruise ships’ worth of passengers arriving at the same time: Right smack in the middle of the flow of traffic is a cross walk through which every arriving passenger must walk!

Yep, that’s right: The cars trying to enter to drop people off – taxis, Ubers, private cars, Lyfts – all have to stop for pedestrians to walk across the road. Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a backup, and the whole drop off process took a good 15-20 minutes, a lot of which was spent sitting around.

So my take away to you is this: When you arrive at the Terminal 91 drop off, expect that you’ll be slowed down, maybe to the tune of 15-30 minutes. And if you’re going to have someone drive you, maybe ask a person you don’t really like? 😉

Port Canaveral: Getting There (And Back)

To be honest, I’d avoided booking cruises from Port Canaveral in the past due to the distance between the airport and the cruise port (about 45 miles, according to Google Maps). I’ve been spoiled by cruising out of Fort Lauderdale (less than 5 miles from the cruise port!) and Miami, and sometimes San Juan.

But I’d been hearing a lot about Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas – some good things, and some bad – which offers 3- and 4-night cruises out of Port Canaveral. Finally, my curiosity was piqued. So I booked my husband and I on a 3-night Bahamas cruise, and off we went.

We flew into Orlando the night before the cruise – something I always recommend, if you can swing it – and stayed at the Hilton Doubletree by the Orlando Airport. A free shuttle (you just need to call the front desk when you arrive) from the airport made this a perfect spot for us, especially since we arrived into Orlando late.

In the morning, we used Uber to get to the cruise port. We left around 11:30 am on a Friday, and with little traffic we made the 45-mile trip in just about 45 minutes. Our fare, adjusted for tolls, was $46.98. This was definitely a quick and convenient option, as taking a standard cruise port shuttle would have required that we go back to the airport in order to pick up the shuttle.

One word of advice about Uber (and its counterpart, Lyft): These companies use a system called dynamic pricing, which means that prices for rides aren’t fixed and may change at any minute. For instance, when I checked the app to determine return fares once we landed in Port Canaveral, I was quoted fares nearly twice as much – probably because the return of two cruise ships increased the local demand for these services dramatically.

Fortunately, we had already booked our return transport on GO Port Canaveral’s shuttle service, which I found through doing some online research before the cruise. Price-wise, this option saved us a little money – we paid a total of $29.90 for two people. The shuttle buses (large tour-style ones) were comfortable and – importantly – well air-conditioned, and the staff made the process nearly painless (well, except for the pain of leaving behind vacation and going back to reality).