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Norfolk (Photo:jiawangkun/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Erica Silverstein
Cruise Critic Senior Editor

Port of Norfolk

Norfolk, a city with a storied maritime history, is located at the junction of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean in southeastern Virginia. Its cruise terminal is located in the city center, so you can step off your ship and walk right into downtown or over to some of its waterfront attractions.

Shore excursions will focus on day trips to historical places, such as the living museums of Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown Settlement, and the Revolutionary War battlefields at Jamestown. While these attractions are certainly worthwhile, you don't need to head out of Norfolk or even take a tour to have a fun day in port.

Norfolk is an important naval town, and the Nauticus museum right at the cruise port will let you explore the past with a tour of the USS Wisconsin and the present with a visit to its science and technology center. General Douglas MacArthur is buried here, and visitors can pay homage at his memorial or get some retail therapy at the large shopping mall that bears his name.

You'll also find Norfolk steeped in Colonial American history. The sights on the Cannonball Trail are well marked, and take you through 400 years of Norfolk history. Tour lovely historic homes in the Ghent neighborhood.

Culture vultures will be pleased to discover Norfolk's lively arts scene, which includes the Virginia Opera and Chrysler Museum. Dining-wise you'll find everything from down-home country cooking to fine cuisine. There's a zoo, botanical garden, minor league baseball team and a beach close by.

Norfolk hosts many festivals year-round, most at Town Point Park, including the big Harborfest in June, a waterfront celebration with tall ships, fireworks, music and lots of partying.

Shore Excursions

About Norfolk


Pro

Norfolk is rich in maritime history, arts and culture; area attractions include historic Williamsburg and Jamestown

Con

Gnarly traffic makes getting to Virginia Beach unpleasant in high season

Bottom Line

Norfolk is a convenient embark port for Virginians, and an interesting and historic port of call on coastal cruises


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Port Facilities

Norfolk Cruise Port Address:

1 Waterside Drive, Norfolk, VA 23150

Ships use Norfolk's Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center, which is located walking distance from downtown. Parking for embarking passengers is available downtown via Cedar Grove Parking, located on Monticello Avenue between Virginia Beach Boulevard and Princess Anne Road. Complimentary shuttles provide transportation from the Cedar Grove facility to Half Moone.

Parking lots closer to the terminal might offer overnight parking, but will be more expensive; check before you go as many are closed to cruisers. Alternatively, look for "stay, park and cruise" deals at area hotels; the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel sometimes offers one.

The Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center does not have any amenities worth noting. However, the cruise ship pier is adjacent to Nauticus is a maritime-focused science and technology center, which includes the Battleship Wisconsin. There's a gift shop and small cafe in the lobby of the Nauticus, if you need to grab something before embarkation begins.

Good to Know

The port is used mainly by Carnival as a seasonal homeport for cruises to the Bahamas and Cuba cruises; a handful of other ships make one-off port stops here on repositioning cruises.

Traffic around the port can get hairy on cruise ship turnaround days, especially if there's a festival on at the adjacent Town Point Park. Plan accordingly, and consider getting dropped off or picked up a short walk from the terminal.

Getting Around

On Foot: Many of Norfolk's best-known attractions -- including Nauticus, downtown and the Waterside District -- are within walking distance of the pier.

By Taxi: Taxis are available at the pier if you want to venture further, say to the artsy area known as Ghent. You can also use Lyft and Uber here to get a ride where you need to go.

By Bus: Hampton Roads Transit bus service, light rail and ferries link destinations in the greater area. The MacArthur Square stop is an easy walk from the cruise terminal.

By Car: For excursions beyond the downtown area, a car is necessary. There is a Hertz office downtown and an Enterprise in the Neon District, but they are offices and not lots, so you'll need to reserve in advance, and they'll have a car waiting for you.

By Bike: Norfolk is bike friendly with waterfront trails (like the Elizabeth River Trail) and plenty of bike parking downtown. Pace Bike Share offers a bike-sharing program; download the app if you want to rent bikes to explore the city.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency is the U.S. dollar. There are ATMs scattered throughout downtown Norfolk, including directly across from the cruise terminal on Boush Street.

Language

English is spoken in Norfolk, often with a friendly Southern lilt.

Food and Drink

Norfolk is located on the Chesapeake Bay, so seafood is the thing to eat here. Coastal Virginia specialties include She Crab Soup (a cream-based soup with sherry and large chunks of crab meat) and Virginia oysters (either on the half shell or baked as in Oysters Rockefeller). Seasonal local fish include rockfish, red snapper, flounder and softshell crabs.

The quintessential summer drink of nearby Virginia Beach is the orange crush (a mix of orange juice, triplesec, vodka and sprite), and you'll find it on some Norfolk cocktail lists, as well.

Because Norfolk's naval facilities bring in people from all over, you'll find restaurants touting cuisines from all over, too. Local food has a southern twist, but is not traditionally Southern cooking. Many of the upscale restaurants are chef-owned.

Granby Street, just steps from the cruise pier and running through downtown, is restaurant row, and you'll find every imaginable food style and plenty of bars here. If you want to venture farther along the water, the historic Freemason District offers restaurants in historic buildings. You can also bike along the water to the Chelsea section of Ghent to hit up local breweries.

Waterside District: Across Town Point Park from the cruise ship pier is the Waterside District, a dining and nightlife area set right on the river. Whatever you're hungry for, you'll likely find at one of the 10-plus eateries, including the Blue Moon Taphouse, Guy Fieri's Smokehouse, Luk Fu pan-Asian restaurant and Cogan's Pizza. (333 Waterside Drive; 757-426-7433)

Saltine: Why not eat seafood when you're by the sea? Just steps from the port, Saltine serves a locally sourced menu of shellfish and seafood, with a raw bar and live Maine lobsters. Try a Virginia blue crab cake, shrimp and grits, or beer-battered fish and chips. Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close; Saturday brunch is served 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (100 East Main Street; 757-763-6280)

219 Bistro: Granby Street is chockablock with restaurants, but if you're overwhelmed by choice, stop into 219 Bistro for lunch, dinner or weekend brunch. Enjoy a mix of options from land and sea, including crab cake, duck breast and avocado toast. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until close; Sunday, 10 a.m. until close; weekend brunch served until 3 p.m. (219 Granby Street; 757-416-6219)

No Frill Bar and Grill: Located in the Ghent neighborhood, this restaurant has an energetic vibe with its bright art and varied menu of soups, salads and sandwiches (plus brunch, kids' food and gluten-free menus). Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. -- until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch is served 10 a.m. to3 p.m. (806 Spotswood Avenue; 757-627-4262)

Luna Maya: Another Ghent go-to, this sisters-owned restaurant has long been a favorite for Mexican and Latin food. Fill up on authentic tacos, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas in an allergy-friendly environment. The venue is peanut free; offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu items; and will accommodate other food restrictions as best they can. Best for folks staying in Norfolk pre- or post-cruise as it's dinner only. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. (2010 Colley Avenue; 757-622-6986)

Doumar's: One fabulous not-to-be-missed experience is at this retro drive-in, opened in 1904 and still offering curbside service and carhops. The ice cream is served in handmade waffle cones, and the burgers and barbecue are also tasty. Stop in on your way to the zoo. Open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until after midnight. (1919 Monticello Avenue; 757-627-4163)

Shopping

Shopping fanatics should head to Norfolk's premier mall -- MacArthur Mall -- right downtown and featuring about 140 stores (including more than 50 not found anywhere else in the area) anchored by Nordstrom's and Dillard's, movie theaters and restaurants. Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday noon to 6 p.m. (300 Monticello Avenue; 757-627-6000)

Even closer to the ship, the Selden Market is located in an historic building, but offers modern shopping concepts (including monthly pop-ups) and restaurants. Shops open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Restaurant hours vary. (208 E. Main Street)