Charleston magnolia plantation bridge Lisa Frame

Bridge on Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC photo courtesy Lisa Frame.

When taking cruises from Charleston, South Carolina, what specific details do you need to know?

Many people choose to book a cruise out of Charleston because it is more easily driveable from their home destination than Florida cruise ports.

Others might find special flight rates flying in to Charleston airport or other nearby airports compared to Orlando or Miami flights.


DestinationReviewCharleston is about 3.5 hours driving time from Charlotte, 9 hours from DC and 4.5 hours from Atlanta. And since the Carnival Fantasy embarks from noon-4pm for most itineraries the driving option can be less expensive because you won’t need to book a hotel if you drive in on same day.

7 Things to Know about Cruising from Charleston:

1. How many cruising options are there out of Charleston?

The Carnival Fantasy is the only large cruising ship option and it sails year-round to either the Bahamas or the Eastern Caribbean. The American Cruise Lines runs a small ship cruise on the intercoastal waterways between Charleston and Jacksonville, Florida. It runs in the spring months and from November-December. Another option out of Charleston are local Harbor Tours and Dinner Cruises.

2When Cruising out of Charleston where do you park and is it safe?

Charleston Home on the Battery Lisa Frame

Charleston Home on the Battery courtesy Lisa Frame

According to a representative from Carnival (and friends I’ve asked who’ve sailed out of the Port of Charleston)— Guests sailing can safely park their vehicles at the cruise terminal’s parking. The cost as of November 2014 is $17/D\day with a free shuttle bus to/from the departure terminal. Passengers with personal vehicles or dropped off by friends enter Union Pier Terminal through Gate 2 at the intersection of Concord and Laurens Streets. Passengers in taxis or company limos/shuttles enter at Union Pier Main Gate.

3. How early should you arrive in Charleston? The day before? Or is day of OK?

For Carnival Fantasy it’s up to each guest, boarding normally doesn’t start before 11am and staterooms aren’t normally ready until about 1pm. Guests who may be flying in for their cruise can either fly the day of the cruise (only do this if you are confident your flight will land early enough–the ship doesn’t wait for anyone) or the day before depending on flight schedules.People tell me they were better when they arrived before noon as far as parking. Plan to get there as early as possible and eat lunch on the ship on the day of departure. Then head to your room to unpack. That gives the staff enough time to ensure your room is ready and deliver your bags.

4. If arriving the day before where should you stay the night and are there shuttles from hotels?

There are a number of hotels in Charleston that are close to the cruise terminal. Not all hotels offer shuttle service to the terminal and guests should look into that before booking anything. Several hotels listed on the CVB Charleston site mention both FREE PARKING during your cruise after staying one night with them as well as free round trip shuttle to port.

5. What is there to do near the port?

Charleston Angel Oak Tree Lisa Frame

The angel oak tree courtesy Lisa Frame

There’s plenty to see and do in Charleston, including a number of tourist and historical attractions. You might want to give yourself an extra day at the beginning or end of your cruise itinerary to explore Charleston!

A short list to get you started:

  • Did someone say coconut cake?
  • Visit the aquarium.
  • Go on a carriage or walking tour—there are haunted tours as well!
  • Walk through the slave market
  • Shop on King Street
  • Dine at Hymans, Magnolias, Husk, Peninsula Grill, Fig, SNOB, Poogan’s Porch whew!
  • Local plantations and historic homes including: Aiken-Rhett House, Drayton Hall, Nathaniel Russell map of port of charlestonHouse, Magnolia Plantation, Boone Hall, Middleton Place
  • Isle of Palms & Sullivan’s Island (across the Ravenal Bridge, through Mount Pleasant)
  • Fort Moultrie
  • Angel Oak on Johns Island
  • Folly Beach is where the locals go to surf/hang out
  • Fort Sumter—Where the Civil War Began

6. Is the area surrounding the port safe? Walkable? Kid friendly?

See the list above: Charleston is a walkable and a family friendly city with plenty to see and do. Both a waterfront park and an aquarium are within one mile of the port.

7. What’s the one thing you need to know about cruising out of Charleston, South Carolina?

My local friend who has cruised out of Charleston several times said this: “If you want to start enjoying the perks of the ship before leaving port embark as soon as you can.  If you want to be able to walk on the ship without all the lines then get on the ship towards the end of the embarking period.”

Charleston Fantasy Arrival courtesy Carnival Media

Carnival Fantasy docked in Port of Charleston photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines.

Several of my friends who have traveled to and taken cruises out of Charleston before all agree, the port area is safe and walking around Charleston is definitely worth planning to spend extra time!

Sarah Ricks, Philadelphia TravelingMom says: “On every visit to Charleston, I am again struck by the friendly service. And that unpretentious hospitality is another draw for a lovely walkable city with great food.”

Disclosure: Carissa Rogers and her family have been invited to ride the Carnival Fantasy out of Charleston. She will be reporting on her family’s first time cruising experience. If you have any tips for cruising with teens, PLEASE share!