Common advice among experienced cruisers is to recommend arriving at your cruise departure port a day early. While an added expense, the peace of mind that comes from avoiding potential problems like missed or delayed flights are worth the extra cost.
My side of the family was already in FL to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family so we made the couple hour drive to Port Canaveral the night before the cruise. K’s family drove down from NC, also the day before the cruise, but had a much longer drive around nine hours or so.
As you enter Cocoa Beach, you can see Port Canaveral in the distance. If there are ships in port, they are very obvious due to their size so add to the excitement factor.
La Quinta Inn Cocoa Beach – Where We Stayed
There are several hotels close to Port Canaveral that cater to cruisers but we decided on the Cocoa Beach La Quinta Inn on North Atlantic Avenue. The hotel is a little further away than most but it best met our needs for a price we liked (~$100). Our primary goal was to find somewhere clean and cheap to stay for the night with parking during the cruise and a shuttle to the port.
(Photo Credit: S. Crews)
Late in the afternoon during check in, we were given two adjacent, but not connecting, rooms. The room was your standard mid-range hotel room, nothing extra special.
Pros for staying at this hotel were the price, roomy for 4 people in a room, fridge, continental breakfast, across the street from the beach, free cruise shuttle for 2 people per room ($8 each way for each additional person), and free parking for 1 car per room for the duration of the cruise (the biggest perk and money saver).
Cons were the small bathroom, distance from the port though it didn’t matter much since we had shuttle transportation, and a musty smell in the room due to the air conditioner being left off when the room is not occupied to conserve energy.
At check in, we had to sign up for the “free” shuttle to the port. Due to plans we had for the morning of the cruise to meet up with friends before departing, the front desk was kind enough to check about scheduling the shuttle to pick us up later than the usual time. We received a call later in the evening to confirm the shuttle would indeed be able to accommodate our group at the later time.
In general, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the hotel, as in nothing made it stand out but that wasn’t the goal. It served it’s purpose: a place to sleep, shower, eat, park, and ride so no complaints and I would recommend it if you are looking for something basic.
Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill – Where We Ate
For dinner, we ventured a few miles back toward the Port Canaveral waterway to eat at Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill. The place was recommended by other cruisers to eat at. We arrived after dark but since the restaurant is located on the waterway, during the day you are able to watch the cruise ships sailing in and out!
We were a larger group of 8 so got to sit in a large corner booth. In honor of being near the ocean, I ordered seafood — mahi mahi fish tacos. It was some of the most fresh and tasty fish tacos I’ve ever had. K also ordered the fish tacos but with seared tuna. Both were quite delicious and I’m not usually a seared tuna person but I think I liked them slightly better than my mahi mahi! Fish tacos – recommended.
Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shop – Where We Shopped
A couple of people in our group wanted to look for a new swimsuit and Cocoa Beach is definitely a beach town full of many beach shops. Perhaps one of the most famous is the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shop which is conveniently open 24 hours!
The two story mega surf shop comes complete with a water garden in the middle of the first story. The shop also does not lack for choices so can make for a lengthy shopping trip, as we soon discovered.
Swimsuits and sunglasses were eventually purchased by those in need.
Then we headed back to the hotel for the night and round robin showers — one of the downsides to four people in one room with one shower. But, it does help save more money more quickly for our next cruise!
Bad Hair Day for a Good Cause – Why I Nearly Panicked
The day before the cruise I decided to donate my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. This was not the first time I’ve donated my hair but this was the shortest my hair would be post donation. I’ve always had and liked longer hair so I was unprepared for what would happen the first time I attempted to style my much shorter hairdo after the salon visit.
When I woke up with puffy mushroom hair, I didn’t know how to tame it no matter how hard I tried. I desperately needed a flat iron for my hair. I panicked because I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. After many attempts, I did manage to wrangle it into two french braids. But, another last minute shopping trip was at the very top of my list before we left on the cruise.
(Photo Credit: S. Crews)
Cocoa Walmart Supercenter – Where We Shopped More
We made a quick trip in to Walmart the morning of the cruise for last minute necessities. Almost everyone needed at least one thing.
I needed a hair straightener. K’s grandmother needed a new memory card for her camera. My parents bought an iron and a pack of miniature water bottles. Unbeknownst to my parents at the time was that both their items are not allowed to be brought on board! I discovered the iron on the way back to the hotel so I saved them that embarrassment and advised them the water would most likely be ok but there was a chance it might be confiscated. Long story, short, the water was not confiscated.
Whew, I think all of our last minute crises were now averted so we were finally ready to go on a cruise.
Cruise & Space Shuttle – How We Got Transported
Since we had made arrangements the previous night to have the shuttle pick us up later than the usual time, upon our return to the hotel, we thought we had just enough time to finish packing our belongings for departure. Except we soon found out the shuttle had arrived a little earlier than we anticipated so the relaxed last minute item gathering became a scramble so the shuttle would not leave without us.
There was some confusion about who and how we should pay for the third and fourth person in each hotel room but with the help of the shuttle driver and front desk, we got it sorted out. Each of us was given a return ticket to get on the shuttle at the port to ride back to the hotel and our cars after the cruise.
Once on the shuttle out front of the hotel, we noticed there were also other passengers on board going to Kennedy Space Center. I’m not sure how much the shuttle cost them or if it was free but our stop at the cruise port was first.
The shuttle was able to drop us off right in front of the porters at the cruise port and then the real cruise fun could begin.