By Georgina Cruz
Established in the 19th century when Henry Flagler extended his East Coast Railroad to Miami and started collecting dockage fees, the Port of Miami, the first port in history to serve one million passengers annually in 1976, is often referred to as the "Cruise Capital of the World" as more than four million passengers pass through its terminals annually (4,150,000 passengers in 2010). Passengers usually have all manner of sailings to choose from, on typically 18 ships or more sailing out of this embarkation/disembarkation port annually. Available cruises include three-, four-, five-, seven-, eight-, nine-, 10-, 11-day and longer voyages.
Cruise itineraries sail primarily to the Caribbean, but passengers are able to choose voyages to South America, Trans-Panama Canal to the Mexican Riviera, Trans-Atlantic to Europe and to other destinations from the Port of Miami as well.
Departures from the Port of Miami are scenic, with the backdrop of the Miami skyline with its skyscrapers, and barrier islands and beaches, and adding to the popularity of the port are varied nearby attractions that entice passengers to spend time in Miami pre- and post-cruise.
Nearby Attractions: Passengers who only have a few hours in Miami before or after their cruise have the Bayside Marketplace, moments away from the piers at 401 Biscayne Boulevard, and boasting a variety of shops and restaurants. The waterfront Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Boulevard, is a nice 32-acre space to spend an hour or so after shopping. It has a small sandy beach and various memorials including one to the Challenger astronauts. The South Beach Art Deco district (SoBe), extending from 6th to 23rd Streets between Ocean and Lenox Avenues at the southern tip of Miami Beach, is a popular option. It is less than a half hour away from the port by taxi and encompasses Art Deco-style architecture from the 1920s-1930s, shops, cafés and, of course, the beach – both the cafés and the beach are great places to spend a few hours people-watching. Shoppers may wish to head to Lincoln Road, an outdoor shopping promenade at Lincoln Road and 17th Street. Visitors can pick up maps and information at the Welcome Center run by the Miami Design Preservation League at 1001 Ocean Drive.
Other nearby attractions include the Miami Seaquarium, 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, with aquaria, animal exhibits and marine mammal shows; Jungle Island, with animal exhibits including a rare albino alligator and exotic birds at 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail; the Venetian Pool, an 825,000-gallon public swimming pool sculpted from a rock quarry and fed by artesian wells at 2701 DeSoto Boulevard in Coral Gables; Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, with 83 lush acres at 10901 Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables; Miracle Mile with shops and restaurants on Coral Way between Southwest 37th and Southwest 42nd Avenues in Coral Gables; Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, magnate James Deering's 1910s Renaissance-style mansion with 70 rooms and a vast collection of art in Coconut Grove and the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park with beaches and the Cape Florida Lighthouse dating from 1845 at 1200 South Crandon Boulevard on Key Biscayne.
Cruise passengers who wish to sample some of Miami's international flavors can head for Little Havana ("La Pequeña Habana"), a Hispanic neighborhood in Miami where Cubans fleeing Castro's Communist Cuba settled and established businesses beginning in the 1960s. Centered around Southwest 8th Street ("Calle Ocho" as the locals call that thoroughfare) primarily between 14th and 18th Avenues. Restaurants serve traditional Cuban sandwiches (with pork, ham and Swiss cheese), black bean soup, plantains and other dishes you can wash down with a mojito. One of the most popular Cuban restaurants is Versailles, 3555 Southwest 8th Street, where nobody leaves without tasting the "pastelitos" (pastries) and the "café cubano" (potent Cuban coffee served in tiny cups). Visitors can watch cigars being rolled at factories on Southwest 8th Street near 11th Avenue; and at Domino Park (officially Maximo Gomez Park at the corner of Southwest 8th Street and 15th Avenue), guayabera-clad (safari-style shirts) men play dominoes into the evening.
Little Haiti ("La Petite Haiti") is another of Miami's international neighborhoods centered between 85th Street and 36th Street, I-95 and Biscayne Boulevard. Visitors find shops, galleries and restaurants serving Creole and Caribbean dishes. The neighborhood is easy to combine with a visit to the Miami Design District with its art galleries, restaurants and showrooms between Northeast 41 Street and Northeast 36th Street, Miami Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard.
Excursions Sold Onboard Ships: Post-cruise passengers departing late afternoon or evening flights are usually offered optional tours to the Everglades and South Beach/Lincoln Road shopping.
Nearby Hotels: Most hotel chains are represented in Miami so chances are very good that your favorite chain has a property convenient to the Port of Miami. A popular lodging choice is The Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Boulevard, with an imposing tower inspired in Seville's Giralda Tower and a spectacular swimming pool. It is located in the heart of Coral Gables and dating to the 1920s. Visit www.biltmorehotel.com.
Good Restaurants For Lunch: Passengers with just a few hours pre- or post-cruise may wish to try the cafes at Bayside Marketplace or singer Gloria Estefan's Bongos Cuban Café in downtown Miami, at 601 Biscayne Boulevard, next to the American Airlines Arena and overlooking the Port of Miami.
Cruise Lines That Sail From The Port Of Miami: Ships that you will be able to see, or sail on, at the Port of Miami include those from Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Norwegian, Oceania, and Royal Caribbean International.
Transportation/Parking: Taxis are plentiful to take travelers from the Miami Airport to the Port of Miami in minutes (fare is about $20-$25). Cruise lines generally provide free bus transportation from the airport to the pier on embarkation/disembarkation days if you purchased your air tickets through them; and for a fee if you purchased your air independently. Parking facilities are available at the port in front of cruise terminals for passengers who drive in. Cost is $20 per day.
Additional Information: Visit www.miami-dade.gov/portofmiami for details on the Port of Miami and for tourist information on Miami, log on to www.miamiandbeaches.com.
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