The Best Ports & Destinations for Short Cruises

Ocean Drive street sign underneath blue skies and palm trees
Be open to discovering a new way of life while on a short cruise | Author: Roland Denes

Time is a precious commodity and there just never seems to be enough of it. A quick weekend getaway is a perfect stress-buster but sometimes the thought of searching travel options, comparing prices and planning a vacation only seems to add to the strain. Delay the urge no more because the answer may well be a short cruise vacation. A 3 night stay aboard a cruise ship offers a free and easy getaway option that can seamlessly fit into today’s busy lifestyles, yet it still takes some planning to maximize the limited time at sea, and pick the best cruise destination for your interests. 

What makes a port or destination great for short cruises?

The best departure ports and cruise destinations for short cruises offer accessibility, easy transfers, and great amenities. Before you book your next 3-night cruise, keep the following criteria in mind for your cruise departure port or destinations:

  • Port access: No matter how beautiful the port itself is, or how many attractions and amenities there are, if it’s difficult to get there it can really ruin your vacation atmosphere before it starts. The best cruise ports offer seamless airport transfers, parking, and plenty of hotels nearby.

  • Attractions & amenities: If you’re flying to your cruise port, don’t forget to budget a little extra time and money for pre- and post-cruise experiences. The best ports boast a bevy of nearby hotspots so you can start your vacation early, or keep it going even after you disembark.

  • Shore excursions: The top short cruise destinations offer plenty of onshore activities, sights, and culture. Many are already hugely popular, so they’re well equipped to offer a perfect day of water sports, exploring, shopping, snorkeling, and more!

What will you do at the cruise destination or port?

Another important factor to consider when choosing your short cruise is what your ideal destination or departure looks like. Are you hoping for a sunny beach with crystal clear waters where you can lounge and relax with a book? Do you prefer to explore colonial architecture or tour vibrant cities? Looking forward to spending a day or an afternoon under the sea with a snorkeling excursion? Or are you more excited about exciting nightlife and party hotspots?

When it comes to your departure port, are you looking forward to spending a few extra hours or even an extra day exploring, or do you prefer quick and efficient transfers? Regardless of whether you’re looking for a low-stress lounge day before getting back to the grind or a swift and easy return to real life, these top cruise ports can (and do) deliver.

Best cruise ports for short cruises

When it comes to the best cruise departure ports for short cruises, few states can compare to Florida. From flashy ports that are destinations in themselves to romantic ports laced with canals, to ports a short drive from adrenaline-pumping theme parks, Florida’s ports are world-renowned for their efficiency, beauty, and accessibility. 

Of course, while the sunshine state might be king of Caribbean cruises, California also boasts wonderful west coast ports. Explore the stunning Mexican Riviera from sunny southern California - and be sure to pencil in some beach time before or after your cruise, or a tasty tour of some of the state’s best food and drink. 

Here are the best cruise ports to kick off your next short cruise.

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Port Miami

The world’s cruising capital is the obvious choice to start a long weekend afloat. It is one of the world’s best cruise ports and features eight cruise terminals (and still growing) which are home to up to 20 different cruise lines offering many great cruises from Miami. All the major cruise lines offering short sailings have a Miami base including Royal Caribbean International, NCL, Carnival Cruise Line and Disney. Each terminal is well equipped with waiting areas, airport-style check-in and baggage handling.

  • Port access: Port Miami is just 8 miles from Miami International Airport. Taxi, shuttle bus or private transfers can drop-off passengers directly outside each respective cruise terminal. There are ample overnight parking slots but they are relatively expensive.

  • Short cruise destinations: Key West; Nassau, Bahamas; Cozumel, Mexico; Havana, Cuba

  • Pre- and post-cruise: Miami of course needs no introduction as a vacation hotspot in its own right. Spend a few hours (or better still overnight if time allows) exploring South Beach and Ocean Drive, or start your long weekend getaway with a suitably Caribbean island flavor in Miami’s bustling Little Havana district.

The port of Miami with many cruise ships from different cruise lines docked in the port
With an easy port access, many great destinations and cruise lines, the Miami port is perfect to start your short cruise. | Author: zopalic

Port Everglades

Just up the coast from Miami, Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades is one of the best cruise ports in America with 10 lines based there seasonally or year-round. Each of the nine cruise terminals has ample seating and restrooms, snack and beverage machines and free Wi-Fi.

  • Port access: Getting to the port is a breeze; it’s just four miles from either the city center or the airport. Parking lots are limited and traffic can get heavy during peak embarkation times. But keep in mind taxis are ubiquitous and inexpensive and many hotels on Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood beaches provide a free shuttle service. All guests access the port via a security checkpoint and are required to show a valid government-issued photo ID.

  • Short cruise destinations: Key West; Nassau and Freeport, Bahamas; Cozumel, Mexico

  • Pre- and post-cruise: Fort Lauderdale is another popular sunshine getaway destination that deserves a little post-cruise exploration. After some beach time take a saunter down swanky Las Olas Boulevard for top class shopping, al fresco snacking or to browse the numerous art galleries. Then find out why the city earned the nickname “Venice of America” with a trip along the waterways.

Port Canaveral

Florida’s fastest-growing port is 45 miles east of Orlando and attracts a high number of cruise-and-stay travelers. The sprawling complex of Port Canaveral is home to about 10 cruise lines including Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruises, offering mostly Caribbean sailings including many Bahamas short cruises. It features The Cove restaurant and retail area with a range of al fresco dining, drinking and live music, as well as the Exploration Tower with observation decks, a sandy beach, and playground.

  • Port access: Major cruise lines offer pre-booked shuttles from Orlando but these are expensive and can significantly add to the cost of a budget short cruise vacation. Independent shuttle service operators are much more affordable. Some local Space Coast hotels offer free transportation to the port.

  • Short cruise destinations: Key West; Nassau and Freeport, Bahamas

  • Pre- and post-cruise: As the world’s theme park capital, nearby Orlando is an obvious lure to combine with a short weekend cruise, although you’ll need a few days to fully do it justice. For a short one-night extension to 3 day cruises, the attractions of Florida’s Space Coast like the Kennedy Space Center or glimpse nesting turtles and manatees in the wild are nice to explore.

A Disney cruise ship docking on the Port Canaveral waiting to embark on a short cruise
Combining your short cruise with some activities near the Port Canaveral, you can extend your vacation a bit more. | Author: JamesHills

Long Beach

Carnival Cruise Line is the main tenant at Long Beach offering short cruises to Baja Mexico and longer week-long sailings on the Mexican Riviera. Just a few miles from Port of Los Angeles, the Long Beach cruise terminal is unmistakable. It is housed in a large white dome in the shadow of the iconic Queen Mary ocean liner, which is docked permanently there. There is a luggage drop-off point and porters available.

  • Port access: Public transit is available from both Los Angeles International Airport and the Long Beach Airport connecting at Long Beach Transit Gallery with a free shuttle bus to the port. Ride sharing and taxis are available from both airports.

  • Short Cruise destinations: Catalina Island and Ensenada, Baja Mexico

  • Pre- and post-cruise: The bright lights and Hollywood glamor of LA are just a ride away but Long Beach itself also has its own unique appeal if you have just a few hours to spare. Kick back on the wide expanse of fine white sand at City Beach or Alamitos Beach, or spend a couple of hours admiring the exotic marine life of the Aquarium of The Pacific. Want to extend the cruise experience for just one more night? Why not overnight on the Queen Mary, just a stroll from the terminal. This iconic ship harks back to the golden age of transatlantic ocean travel, and offers elegant staterooms exuding timeless elegance. If you have a penchant for the paranormal, book Stateroom B340 – reputedly one of America’s most haunted rooms. Room amenities even include an Ouija board.

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Best cruise destinations for short cruises

There is a world of new sights and experiences right on America’s doorstep that deserve exploring even of on a quick getaway. There is nothing quite like waking up in new ports of call, offering the promise of a day of surprises ahead. It is extremely tempting to stay onboard and treat your trip as a cruise to nowhere but the lure of foreign shores is hard to resist.  

The Bahamas remains the top-ranked weekend cruise destination, served from several Florida ports with short-but sweet quick getaways starting from just two days. There is the added bonus on some sailings of port calls at the cruise lines’ own private islands. With its colourful history of swashbuckling piracy, stunning coastal scenery and vibrant beach party scene, it’s the perfect weekend port of call. Short cruises to the Mexican ports of Cozumel and Ensenada each offer contrasting cultural immersion shore excursions as well as fine cuisine and adventurous activities in and out of the water. These are the best cruise port destinations to get your fix of fun and sun.


The sprawling island nation is the best cruise destination from Florida ports in terms of popularity. The big multi-ship lines all operate frequent weekend cruises to the Bahamas, which often include an additional call at their own private islands in the archipelago. It is definitely worth investing in these slightly longer cruises as you get an extra day ashore. However this is an altogether more relaxing experience amid pristine tropical nature.

  • What to see and do ashore: There is never sufficient time to do it all during a shore excursion, but Nassau’s appealing colonial era buildings and shopping at the livewire Straw Market is a definite highlight on a Bahamas quick getaway. Combine it which some quality beach time and snorkelling pristine reefs, or go deeper to swim with sharks. Freeport is also a gateway to engaging natural landscapes including the caves and mangrove swamps of the Lucayan National Park and sublime snorkeling at Deadman’s Reef.
A beach on the Bahamas with green blooming plants and clear blue water.
Cruising to the Bahamas, you will have a short getaway with exciting culture and beautiful beaches. | Author: Gregory Culmer


Cozumel is one of the busiest cruise ports in the region with weekly short cruise itineraries from Florida ports as well as New Orleans and Galveston, Texas. A Cozumel 3 night cruise is ideal for travelers keen to immerse in local life and explore safely at their own leisure. Cozumel is fairly compact yet has a wealth of appealing attractions.

  • What to see and do ashore: Cozumel offers a compelling introduction to Mexican culture through its vibrant food scene with culinary focused tours and tastings highly popular shore excursions. The waterfront district is a relaxed place to explore local flavors including its famed chocolate goodies. The island’s San Gervasio Maya ruins is also a must visit if time allows.

Ensenada, Baja Mexico

Ensenada, the one-time capital of old Baja, serves up something a little different than the usual ports of call to the Caribbean. This north western corner of Mexico has a long wine growing heritage and allied to its famed regional cuisine, attracts a high number of food and wine lovers. Many Ensenada weekend cruises also call at Catalina Island.

  • What to see and do ashore: Beyond the limits of this bustling port city there are ample natural attractions to explore on horseback desert trails or in off-road buggies. La Bufadora blowhole is one of the most popular excursions, which can be combined with a kayak tour of the coastline. Ensenada is also known for its legendary surf spots.
The beach of ensenada with palm trees during sunset
If you are a food and wine lover, a short cruise to Ensenada is the perfect vacation for you. | Author: Matthew Hicks

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