Cruise from Miami – the essential guide

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

With an enviable location in southern Florida, Miami is one of three major cruise ports in Florida. And it is so much more than just your departure point.

Miami is synonymous with outdoor living, great nightlife, busy restaurants, numerous shopping opportunities, and endless beaches.

The holiday hotspot of Miami

Over 20 cruise lines offer cruises starting in Miami, and 55 cruise ships use the port. So you can only imagine the number of cruise passengers in and out of the port every year.

Check your cruise ticket to ensure you know which of the nine terminals your cruise ship uses. See below for more information on getting to the cruise port and finding the correct terminal.

A cruise from Miami means you get the opportunity to spend time in the city before you start your cruise vacation. The average time spent in Miami before a cruise is just three 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 the beach

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

Most cruise guests choose a beach location. And not just famous South Beach. North beach, Surfside, and Sunny Isles are a bit further north of Miami beach. Hotels here will be slightly less expensive.

Or choose Bal Harbour for an exclusive shopping and nightlife area that will command a higher price than the hotels.

Further afield, there are the famous Keys and plenty of islands around Miami to explore. If you have set your heart on visiting The Keys while in Florida, then be prepared for a 2-day trip, and we recommend that you overnight in 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 situated 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.

Taxi

Taxicabs are outside the baggage collection areas. A journey to the beach, downtown, or the port is listed on the taxi window and is a fixed charge. You can pay by card or cash. There is no need to pre-book a taxi, as plenty are available.

Go to the designated taxi stand to find 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, avoid accepting rides from unsolicited people inside the terminal. Head for the official 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 connecting you from Miami International Airport to the Miami Intermodal Center (MIC). 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, a Miami Beach bus 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 for your suitcases. Buy your ticket at the station before you get on board.

Tri-Rail

Also, a good rail link from Miami central station connects Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach with several stops, including 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 signposted at Miami Airport. Once you arrive at the MIC, car rental agencies are easy to find.

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 passengers outside baggage claim areas. Look for your designated zone and check with the driver that you are on the right bus before climbing aboard.

Where to stay before your cruise from Miami

A stay in Miami means a beach vacation. And you have hundreds of good hotels to choose from. 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 want a place to stay at the airport. Especially if the flight arrives late at night or they have visited Miami before and are just interested in a place to stay before boarding the cruise ship the next day.

It is also an excellent way to stick to a tighter budget, as airport hotels are less expensive than those in the city.

Our recommendations for hotels close to the airport are:

  • E.B. Hotel Miami – An excellent option for a good quality hotel. There are free shuttles bus to and from the hotel, and the 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; ask reception.
  • Comfort Inn Airport North – This is a basic hotel just 5 minutes from the airport. Expect a comfortable bed, free wifi, and even breakfast included in your rate. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle from the airport to the cruise port. It is a good choice as a budget-friendly alternative.

    If you want to get to downtown or Miami Beach, an Uber ride will cost around $20.

Hotels in downtown Miami popular with cruise guests

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

We recommend either the Bayside area or the Brickell neighborhood.

Bayside also has some hotels located closest to the port, as there are no hotels in the port itself. It’s a lively spot on the water, with a great choice of restaurants at Bayside Marketplace.

Brickell is said to be one of the safer areas of downtown Miami with plenty of visiting tourists and many 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

Miami Beach hotels

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 anywhere in Miami but can be expensive.

There is a Miami Beach Trolley that visitors tend to forget about, but we can highly recommend it. It runs every day of the week. There are four loops to choose between to get you around. And best of all, it’s free of charge.

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

Two days in Miami will allow you to explore the city and 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 quickly in Miami and around Miami beaches – it’s free to ride!

Start by exploring downtown Miami and the adjoining Brickell neighborhood. You can also use the Metromover, a free elevated train ride.

This area has numerous art venues and museums, and the American Airlines Arena – now known as the FTX Arean – is home to Miami Heat. If you want to catch an NBA game, you must 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, Coconut Grove. This stunning bay front community has a farmer’s market, art galleries, restaurants, and shopping. Visit the Dinner Key Marina area and enjoy a walk around the bay.

Coconut Grove is home to the beautiful Vizcaya Museum and Gardens with its Mediterranean landscape and majestic mansion. Viator does 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 an 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 north to south, ending at South Beach.

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

A guided tour takes you along Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Ocean Drive between 5th and 23rd street, where you’ll find most of the 800 art deco buildings. It is fascinating to hear the history and stories behind how this district became what it is today.

At the very least, visit the welcome center and the museum to learn about the styles of Art Deco. Lummus Park is an excellent place to sit and look at the Art Deco skyline. If you’re an art lover, you will see Miami in a 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, fashion designer Gianni Versace’s home. This beautiful mansion is now a hotel and restaurant.

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 Stone Crab. For casual indoor and outdoor dining, head across 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 alligators in the Everglades.

Key Largo – the first of the beautiful Florida Keys

Key Largo is 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 authentic island living.

There is a fabulous dolphin encounter program, nature trails, and water sports to enjoy. Snorkel the coral reefs or take a glass bottom boat tour at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. You can even rent canoes or kayaks here. As you are driving on U.S. 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 alligators in their natural environment

When driving from Miami, the most accessible place to stop and experience an airboat ride in the Everglades is Gator Park along the Tamiami Trail.

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

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

The park has eateries, toilet facilities, and a souvenir shop. It is exposed and can get sweltering in the Florida sun. Remember to pack a backpack with sunscreen, a long-armed t-shirt, a hat, and a water bottle!

How to get to the Port of Miami

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

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

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

If you 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 big-name car rental companies such as Hertz, Enterprise, and Sixt have locations downtown, not that far from the port, and a free shuttle bus service to and from the port.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.