A Key West Guide for Cruise Ship Passengers

A Cruise Ship in Key West at Sunset. Photo by Steven Lamp.
A Cruise Ship in Key West at Sunset. Photo by Steven Lamp.
About Key West and the Ports

The 2 x 4 mile island of Key West is a Caribbean island that you can get to without all of the hassles of a passport. This makes Key West a popular vacation destination for many Americans. But Key West is also a popular cruise ship destination with Carnival, Disney, Celebrity, and several other lines that make regular stops to the island. There are three docks that the cruise ships can port at: the Outer Mole, Pier B, and Mallory Square. The latter two are located near the Westin Resort, so disembarking and starting to enjoy your time in Key West is immediate and easy. But if your ship is docking at the Outer Mole you may want to allot for extra time to disembark; this port is located on Navy property so the access to this area is restricted and passengers must go through a security checkpoint and then catch a shuttle to get to and from the cruise ship which runs about every ten minutes.

Activities, Attractions and How to Spend the Day

The cruise lines all have shore excursions that they offer, and some such as the Pub Crawl are great activities only offered by the cruise lines. However, you should really shop around for activities like water sports excursions as the cruise lines sometimes add huge service fees onto the normal price that the vendors actually charge. Of course, booking directly through the cruise line does offer that extra convenience, so if you do not mind paying for that feature, go for it! And activities like quality fishing charters are not even offered by the cruise lines, so this should be done in advance of the cruise directly with a reputable charter company such as Dream Catcher Charters. Before booking your activities though, make sure that you have the correct information regarding when your ship will be in port. You can visit our Key West cruise ship calendar, but this schedule is subject to change, so be sure to double check all of the details with your cruise line directly.

Because cruise ships are in port for a limited amount of time, you will need to plan your Key West activities carefully. Some people just want to visit the Duval Street area and relax with a beer or a pina colada at a popular bar like Sloppy Joe’s. Other people are more interested in the island’s rich cultural history, and there are many museums that dot the island for these folks to enjoy. Artists will probably prefer to visit some of the amazing art galleries that call Key West home. Shoppers will have fun walking around the downtown area and visiting stores like Coach and Kino’s. The adventure seeker would probably enjoy a water sports activity such as a snorkel excursion or a wave runner tour. And the sportsman will want to go fishing which is one of the most popular activities for visitors to Key West to partake in as the island boasts some world class fishing both inshore and offshore.

If you are only interested in seeing as much as you can I suggest hopping on the Old Town Trolley which takes you on a narrated tour of the island while also allowing you to hop on and off at different attractions. And if you are planning on visit Key West again on a separate vacation this will give you a lay out of the land and help you to plan for that.

With art galleries, bars and museums, you should probably make a list of the ones that you are most interested in seeing and start visiting the locations one by one in order of importance to you until you run out of time.

Activities should be reserved in advance as many venders do sell out, especially during our busy season (December through July) and during special events such as Lobsterfest, Bike Week, and Fantasy Fest.  When you do reserve these activities, make sure that the timing of the activity meshes with the timing you will be in port. Typically, there is enough time for one or possibly two excursion while in port. Shorter excursions like a wave runner tour or a parasail ride last about 90 to 120 minutes. But fishing and snorkeling charters run about four hours which is generally pushing the limits of your time on the island.

Getting Around

As I mentioned before, the island of Key West is very small, so getting around does not present much of a problem. For many sights and activities you will be within a twenty minute walk away, if you don’t get sidetracked by some of the sights and shops that is! If this distance is too long for you to walk or the heat starts getting to you though you can always catch one of the many pedi cabs that you will see peddling around looking for a fare. For some excursions that depart on the other side of the island known as New Town, you will need to get transportation. Luckily, taxis are very easy to come by on the island. The main companies are Key Lime Taxi, Friendly Cab, and Five Sixes Taxi.

So, hopefully now you have some insight about coming to Key West via a cruise ship and how to spend your time. But, feel free to Email Me if you have any questions!

To see what is happening on Key West during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about other things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

And before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West, be sure to read my restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog as well as our previous restaurant reviews. However, with all of the food you can enjoy on the ship, this may not be a high priority while here. 🙂

Island Genn
Key West Concierge

About the author: Island Genn

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