Take a Cruise Without Getting On an Airplane
How to make the experience even easier at five of what are being touted as "drive-up ports."
This month, the port unveils a new 80,000-square-foot cruise terminal that includes exhibits on Virginia maritime history (757/664-1000, cruisenorfolk.org).
Cruise Lines: Carnival, Royal Caribbean.
Where Ships Go: Royal Caribbean sails to Bermuda from April to July; Carnival goes to Bermuda and the Bahamas in June and October only.
Transportation & Parking: Free Norfolk Electric Transit buses (757/222-6100, gohrt.com) run regularly between several downtown stops and the Cedar Grove parking lot, where another free shuttle connects to the port. Parking at Cedar Grove is $10 a day, and since spots are always available, prepaid parking isn't offered.
Lodging/Parking Deal: A package from the Radisson Hotel Norfolk combines a one-night stay, breakfast for two, parking for the duration of your cruise, and transportation to and from the cruise terminal (700 Monticello Ave., 800/333-3333, radisson-norfolk.com, from $189).
In the Area: D'Art Center features the work of 50 resident artists in five galleries, and visitors often have opportunities to meet the artists (208 E. Main St., 757/625-4211, d-artcenter.org, free). The Hampton Roads Naval Museum hosts exhibits on the area's naval history and is the entryway for self-guided tours into the bowels of one of the Navy's largest battleships, the USS Wisconsin (One Waterside Dr., 757/322-2987, hrnm.navy.mil, free).
Cape Liberty Cruise Port opened with seasonal sailings in 2004 and has a year-round schedule beginning this spring (201/823-3737, cruiseliberty.com).
Cruise Lines: Celebrity, Royal Caribbean.
Where Ships Go: Both cruise to Bermuda and the Caribbean (Royal Caribbean goes year-round) and make trips to Canada and New England in summer and fall.
Transportation & Parking: NJ Transit's Light Rail (which connects to New York City-bound PATH trains in Jersey City) stops in Bayonne at 34th Street, two miles (or an $8 cab ride) from the port. The parking lot at the port costs $15 a day; prepaid parking is available.
Lodging/Parking Deal: No nearby hotels offer free parking for guests. However, the Ramada Limited (65 Tonnelle Ave., 201/432-6100, ramada.com, from $106) works with a nearby parking lot that charges $7 a day (801 Pavonia Ave.). The lot is a two-minute walk from the PATH's Journal Square stop.
In the Area: Jersey City's Liberty Science Center reopens in July after a $104 million renovation, with new exhibits such as one on the science and construction of skyscrapers (251 Phillip St., 201/200-1000, lsc.org, $3). Liberty State Park, which surrounds the science center, has fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline; it's also the departure point for ferries bound for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (201/435-9499, state.nj.us, $11.50).
Pay Ahead for Parking: While most terminals offer ample parking space, prepaid parking guarantees you a spot.
Check In Online: All major cruise lines make it easy to print out boarding passes and fill out emergency contact info and immigration forms in advance. You can also sign up online ahead of time for shore excursions and spa treatments.
Drop Off Bags First: Before parking, leave your bags with porters at the pier, if possible. Just be sure to first attach to your luggage the special tags that come with your cruise tickets. That way, you can walk or hop a shuttle to the terminal sans heavy bags.
Don't Arrive Too Early: Chances are, previous passengers will still be leaving the ship, making for congestion. The port is less hectic at the embarkation time listed on your ticket.
Join the Club: Membership in the cruise line's frequent-guest club tells the company you're a special customer, even if this is your first cruise with its ships. After a few cruises with the line, you'll be eligible for the shorter lines with priority check-in.
Bring Your Passport: Americans cruising from the U.S. to the non-U.S. Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada aren't required to have passports until January 2008. But if you've got one, bring it. There's likely to be confusion at foreign ports, and having your passport will only help. Also, if for some reason you have to fly home from a foreign airport, you'll need a passport.