Aerial view of downtown Tampa at sunset

Best Things to Do in Tampa Before or After Your Cruise

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If you are looking for what to do before a cruise in Tampa, we have that covered for you. More than 1.1 million fellow cruisers passed through the port of Tampa in 2023, further shoring up Tampa’s status as a desirable destination and port of departure for your next cruise vacation.

Tampa is home to eight ships from five different cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Margaritaville at Sea, all offering a mix of 4 to 14-day cruise itineraries throughout the Caribbean. So you’ll have no problem finding an itinerary that fits every cruiser’s desire.

People sitting in lawn chairs at sunset eating and drinking with strand lights above them.
(Photo: Sparkman Wharf)

Tampa is a bustling city with many fantastic restaurants, bars, and green spaces, all while maintaining its laid-back coastal lifestyle. You are sure to find something to do in downtown Tampa before boarding your cruise.

The Port of Tampa, where all of the cruise lines dock, is centrally located to downtown and will offer easy access to lots of restaurants, entertainment, and attractions for all ages of cruisers within a short walk. Making it, in my opinion, one of the best ports in the US.

What to do Before a Cruise in Tampa

Hang Out at Sparkman Wharf

Sparkman Wharf is a vibrant part of Tampa’s downtown waterfront, which has seen massive development in the last few years. It offers dining, a biergarten, a green space and recreational lawn with live music, obvious waterfront views, and the occasional Norwegian cruise line ship docked alongside its pier.

The dining at Sparkman Wharf is mostly quick service, with local restaurants operating out of repurposed ocean containers in the dining yard, which is unique to Sparkman Wharf. There are also a couple of full-service restaurants, the main one being a Mexican restaurant.

For the fun-seeking group looking to burn a couple of hours before boarding or the group needing to entertain some kiddos, you can find yourself a lane at Splitsville bowling, grab some drinks and food, and relax with your ship in sight.

Visit the Florida Aquarium

The Florida Aquarium is right next door to the port of Tampa and a short three—to five-minute walk from the main terminal building. It is almost 250,000 square feet, has several native and global exhibits, and offers an outdoor splash pad for kids. This is one of the best aquariums I have been to in a very long time.

They also offer luggage storage with the purchase of a general admission ticket, which can be purchased online.

Outside of the Florida aquarium looking towards the stingray sculpture.
(Photo: The Florida Aquarium)

Explore Water Street Tampa

Water Street in Downtown Tampa is a walkable dining and shopping district a few minutes from the Port of Tampa and Channelside District, where Sparkman Wharf and the Port are located.

At Water Street Tampa, you can find restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops all dotted along a single walkable street. If you happen to be departing on the third Sunday of the month, then you can catch the market at Water Street, which runs from 10 AM to 3 PM and offers lots of goodies from local vendors, farmers, and more.

Standing on the sidewalk of Water Street Tampa looking towards a dining patio for a restaurant.
(Photo: Water Street Tampa)

Board the SS American Victory

For all the history buffs and families with kids who love to explore, you can walk over to the SS American Victory, which is docked amongst the cruise ships at the Port of Tampa, and relive WWII history. The SS American Victory ship is 1 of only 4 fully operational WWII ships in the country. It offers you the unique ability to explore all nine decks of the warship and more.

Aerial view of the SS American Victory a World War Three battle ship in Tampa port.
(Photo: SS American Victory)

Insider Tip:

I recommend going to Sparkman Wharf, which is close to the cruise terminal, and dining at JoToro or Edison’s Swigamajig. You can also grab a drink and relax in the Biergarten or the lawn. It is very easy to enjoy a meal and drinks and kill a couple of hours here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How far is Busch Gardens from the Tampa cruise terminal?  Busch Gardens to the Tampa cruise terminal is about 25-30 minutes by car; depending on the time of day and traffic on 275, it can be much worse. I would not recommend this unless you have at least 6 hours to burn before boarding your cruise. 1.5 hours of drive time and about 4.5 hours of park time figured in.

How far is Tampa Airport from the cruise terminal? The Tampa International Airport (TPA) is about 20 minutes from the cruise terminal. The easiest route is normally to take I-275 N to downtown Tampa.

Wrapping Up Your Afternoon in Tampa

Fantastic weather, plenty of fun and unique places to hang out, eat, and drink, or venture to one of the local attractions, and all of this in such proximity to the port make Tampa one of the best Ports for cruisers to experience before or after their trip.

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