Cruise from Miami – the essential guide

The port of Miami is home to the busiest passenger cruise terminals in the world. It is the main gateway for cruise travelers exploring the Caribbean, the Bahamas, South America and beyond for many years.

With en enviable location in southern Florida, Miami is one of 3 major cruise ports in Florida. And it is so much more than just your departure point. Stay at least a few days and soak up the Sunshine State.

Located in the state of Florida, Miami is outdoor living, great nightlife, busy restaurants, numerous shopping opporutnities and endless great beaches. And there is direct access to the port both from Miami International Airport and from the heart of the city via a short highway link.

The holiday hotspot of Miami

Over 20 different cruise lines offer cruises starting in the Port of Miami, there are 55 cruise ships using the port. So you can only imagine the number of cruise passengers in and out of the port every day of the year.

Check your cruise ticket to ensure you know which of the nine terminals (yes 9!) your cruise ship uses. See below for more information on how to get to your cruise port and find the right cruise terminal.

A cruise from Miami means that you can take the opportunity to spend time in the city before you start your vacation. The average time a cruise guest spends in Miami before a cruise is just 3 days. But you can see and do a lot within this time. So pack your beachwear and follow our suggested 3 day guide below.

Miami – the heat, the traffic and then the beach

The most common question we get regarding staying in Miami is about location. Do you stay on the beach or in the city? The good news is that they are easily accessible to one another, so staying in one location will never rule out spending time in the other.

Most cruise guests choose a beach location. And not just famous South Beach. A little further north of Miami beach is north beach, Surfside and Sunny Isles. Hotels here will be slightly less expensive. Bal Harbour is an exclusive shopping and nightlife area that will command higher prices in their hotels.

Further afield there are the famous Keys and plenty of islands around Miami to explore. If you have set your heart of visiting The Keys whilst you are in Florida, then be prepared for a 2-day trip and we recommend that you overnight on Key West to make the most of your day. It’s just too far to drive there and back in one day.

How to get from Miami International Airport to downtown Miami or Miami Beach

Miami International Airport (MIA) is located 2216km/10 miles east of South Beach and 11km/7 miles northeast of downtown Miami. Transfer time by taxi or uber is around 25 minutes depending on traffic and where your hotel is located.

Taxi

Taxicabs are locationed outside the baggage collection areas. Taxi operate on a metered basis or flat rate. The price of your journey to the beach, to downtown or to the port is listed on the window of the taxi and is a fixed charge. You can paid card or cash. There is no need to pre-book a taxi, there are plenty available.

It is important you go to the designated taxi stand. These are the official taxis. You will see uniformed airport employees who are there to help and guide you. If you have not booked a private transfer than avoid accepting rides from unsoliciated people inside the terminal. Head for the offical transport areas outside of your arrivals lounge.

Lyft, Uber and Wingz

Download the app and use your favorite transport service, all serviced at the airport.

The MIA Mover

The MIA Mover is a free, elevated train that connects you from Miami International Airport to what is called the Miami Intermodal Center (MIC). This is Miami central station. At this center you find all the links for ground transportation including rental car agencies, buses and Tri Rail.

Maimi Beach Bus

From Miami central station there is a Miami Beach bus that runs every 30 minutes. The comfortable bus goes to Miami Beach (41st Street to South Pointe Drive) and costs around $3 per person. There are luggage racks to place your suitcases. Buy your tickets at the station before you get onboard.

Tri-Rail

Also from Miami central station there is a good rail link which connects Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with a number of stops that include Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale Airport and downtown Fort Lauderdale.This is the Tri-Rail service. For around $5 you can travel from Miami airport to Fort Lauderdale in just 40 minutes. This is a great money-saver compared to the price of a taxi or Uber.

Car Rentals

The car rental center is at the Miami Intermodal Center. Get the MIA Mover from the airport to the MIC. The MIA Mover is free of charge and clearly signposted at Miami Airport. Once you arrival at the MIC the car rental agencies are clearly marked.

Hotel Shuttle Buses

Check with your hotel if they offer a free shuttle bus ride from the airport. All hotel shuttle buses are now picking up passenger from outside of baggage claim areas in arrivals. Look for your designated zone and check with the driver that you are on the right bus before climbing aboard.

Where to stay before you cruise from Miami

A stay in Miami means a beach vacation. And you have hundreds of good hotels to choose between. We have a list of tried and tested hotels in Miami and on Miami Beach that we recommend, read on then pick the one that suits you best.

Hotels close to Miami International Airport 

Many cruise travelers just want a place to stay at the airport, especially if the flight arrives late or they have visited Miami before and are just interested in a place to stay then transferring directly to the port in time to board the cruise ship. It is also a good way to find a hotel if you are on a tighter budget. Airport hotels are less expensive than those located in the city. The many transport options from Miami central station will give you easy access to and from the beach and the city for sightseeing.

Our recommendation for hotels close to the airport are:

  • E.B Hotel Miami – A great option for a good quality hotel. There are free shuttles bus to and from the hotel and rooms are a good size, modern and comfortable. Try out the rooftop cafe with excellent views over the Miami skyline.

    The hotel does not offer a shuttle to the cruise port but the friendly service team will book you a taxi, just ask at reception.
  • Comfort Inn Airport North – This is a basic hotel situated just 5 minutes from the airport. Expect a comfortable bed, free wifi and even breakfast included in your rate. There is a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel (5 minutes) and from the hotel to the port making this a good choice as a more budget friendly alternative.

    If you do want to get to downtown or Miami Beach an Uber ride will set you back around $20.

Hotels in downtown Miami popular with cruise guests

Many like to stay downtown for obvious reasons. If you are only in town for a few days you want to fit in as much as possible, and that means having the major shopping, restaurants and sights on your doorstep. 

Many travellers choose to stay either in the Bayside area or in Brickell neighborhood.

Bayside also happens to have some of the hotels which are closest to the port, as there are no hotels right in the port. Bayside is lively, right on the water, and has a great choice of restaurants at Bayside Marketplace.

Brickell is said to be one of the safer area of downtown Miami with plenty of visiting tourists and therefore a multitude of hotels on offer.

Popular hotels with cruise guests include:

  • InterContinental Miami
  • JW Marriott Marquis Miami
  • Kimpton Epic Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton
  • Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay

Hotels in famous Miami Beach

The most popular hotels in Miami Beach for cruise guests are:

  • Kimpton Palomar South Beach
  • Fontainebleau Miami Beach
  • Pestana Miami Southbeach
  • The Palms Hotel & Spa
  • Dorchester
  • Loews Miami Beach
  • 1 Hotel South Beach
  • The Confidante Miami Beach
  • Hilton Cabana Miami Beach
  • The Betsy South Beach
  • Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel
  • The Shepley Hotel

How to get around the city

Uber and taxis work well anyway in Miami, but can be expensive if you are trying to stick to a budget before you start your cruise vacation.

There is a Miami Beach Trolley which visitors tend to forget about, but we can highly recommend. It runs everyday of the week. There are 4 different loops to choose between to get you around and it really is a great way to find your way around. And best of all it’s free of charge.

3 great ways to see the best of Miami before boarding your cruise ship

Two days in Miami will allow you to explore the city a then still have a day to venture further afield with a rental car to visit, for example, Key Largo, Sawgrass Mills or Everglades National Park.  

Day 1: Downtown, Bayside, Biscayne Bay & Coconut Grove

Use Miami’s Trolleys to get around easily in Miami and around Miami beaches – it’s free to ride!

Start with by exploring downtown Miami and the adjoining Brickell neighborhood. You can also use the Metromover which is a free elevated train ride. There are numerous art venues and museums in this area and the American Airlines Arena – now known as the FTX Arean – which is home to Miami Heat. If you are wanting to catch an NBA game you will need to book tickets early, long before you arrive.

Start with the shops at Brickell city center and make your way towards Bayside Marketplace. Ride the observation wheel here for fantastic panoramic views of Biscayne Bay.

Hop back on the trolley (for maps and schedule visit the website here) and head towards our favorite neighborhood in Miami, and that is Coconut Grove. This stunning bay front community has farmers markets, art galleries, restaurants and shopping. Visit the area surrounding Dinner Key Marina and enjoy a walk around the open bay.

Coconut Grove is home to the beautiful Vizcaya Museum and Gardens with its Mediterranean landscape and majestic mansion. Viator do some excellent guided tours here, alternatively you can buy entrance tickets directly on their website.

Day 2: Miami Beach, South Beach & shopping on Collins Avenue

Enjoy one of the world’s most famous beaches. Miami Beach is its own island, joined to the mainland of south Florida by bridges.

The Miami Beach boardwalk stretches 40 blocks, all the way from 5 to 46th Street. The best way to enjoy the boardwalk and get to know this wonderful area is by using the free Miami trolley or renting a bicycle. Start early and bike your way north to south, ending at South Beach.

Once in South Beach, we really recommend having a tour of the Art Deco district, especially along Ocean Drive, with a knowledgeable local guide.

You’ll be taken along Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive between 5th and 23rd street where most of the 800 art deco buildings are located.  Hearing the history and stories behind how this district became what it is today is fascinating. At the very least visit the welcome center and the museum to learn about the styles of Art Deco. Lummus Park is a good place to sit and look at the Art Deco skyline. If you’re an art lover you will see Miami in a whole new light. 

After lunch – try authentic Cuban flavors at Havana Vieja South Beach – enjoy the endless shopping along Collins Avenue, Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive. Don’t forget to visit the Villa Casa Casuarina, which was fashion designer Gianni Versace’s home in Miami. This beautiful mansion is now a hotel and restaurant and well worth.

Options for dining and nightlife are endless. A few noteworthy venues include the Mango Tropical Cafe, LIV nightclub at Fontainebleau Hotel and even their restaurant Scarpetta, and Joe’s Stonecrab. For casual indoor and outdoor dining head over the Rickenbacker Causeway to Key Biscayne and visit The Rusty Pelican.

Day 3: Key Largo or Everglades National Park

Rent a car and get out in nature. Choose to swim with dolphins in Key Largo or feed the aligators in the Everglades.

Key Largo – the first of the beautiful Florida Keys

Key Largo is located just a one hour drive from Miami, and is the first in the long chain of islands making up the Florida Keys. A visit here is certainly doable in one day. Rent a car – there are numerous car rental offices on Miami Beach or downtown Miami – and start early.

The drive itself is fantastic. You will quickly be a world away from the city, out into what feels like true island living.

There is a fabulous dolphin encounter program, nature trails and water sports to enjoy. Snorkel the coral reefs or do a glass bottom boat tour at the John Pennenkamp Coral Reef State Park. You can even rent canoes or kayaks here. As you are driving on US 1 to Key Largo, look for the entrance to the park at Mile Marker 102.5. Book your activity online here.

Everglades National Park – see aligators in their natural environment

The easiest place to stop and experience an airboat ride in the Everglades when driving from Miami is at Gator Park along the Tamiami Trail.

We recommend that you purchase tickets online before you get there on the website. Your ticket will include entrance to the park, and airboat ride and a wildlife show.

Alternatively, if you want to visit the Everglades but prefer not to rent a car and drive, contact Viator. There offer some great Air Boat tours including transport to and from Miami.

There are eateries, toilet facilities and a souvenir shop inside the park. The park is exposed and it can get really hot in the Florida sun. Remember to pack a backpack with sunscreen, long armed t-shirt, a hat and a water bottle!

How to get to the Port of Miami

The Port of Miami is located very close to downtown Miami and Miami Beach, however you cannot walk there.

If you hotel does not offer a shuttle bus service for your cruise from Miami, we recommend a taxi or Uber. The ride will not take more than around 20 minutes (assuming good traffic conditions).

It certainly is the most convenient way to get to your cruise terminal, considering you also have your cruise packing and luggage to carry.

If have have opted to rent a car during your stay before your Miami cruise, note that there is no car rental station at the cruise port. Most of the big name car rental companies such as Hertz, Enterprise and Sixt have locations downtown, not that far from the port and a shuttle bus service to and from the port.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..