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Your Cruise Itinerary

Going Ashore

Early morning arrival in Venice

by Linda Coffman

Unless a ship is doing a trans-Atlantic crossing or "cruise to nowhere," it will eventually arrive in a port of call.

To satisfy the greatest number of passengers, cruise lines scour the globe to create itineraries that include a wealth of activities—everything from snorkeling to major city sightseeing. 

After unpacking and settling in, a cruise ship becomes a carefree mode of transportation—as well as a floating resort—moving between numerous destinations with ease. While it's only possible to enjoy sea days on a cruise vacation (and they can be relaxing to the point of decadence), days ashore in a variety of ports offer the opportunity to explore new places, learn about different cultures, and just have fun. A mix of sea days for relaxation and port days to explore is sublime.

Port Time
Passengers interested in spending as much time in port as possible should select their cruise itinerary carefully. When researching a cruise, one of the first things to do is evaluate the schedule to determine whether a particular ship spends enough time in port to see the places that are the most appealing.

If a ship arrives in port at 8am, passengers will probably be able to leave the vessel within a half hour or so. However, the ship must "clear" before anyone goes ashore. In other words, local officials come aboard to make sure all paperwork is in order and, in some cases, to examine passengers' passports. Depending on the port of call, this can be a very brief or drawn-out procedure. There's really no way to anticipate how long it will take, particularly if fellow passengers hold up the process by not reporting to immigration officials as required.

When vessels call on ports where they cannot dock, passengers on scheduled shore excursions are usually the first to go ashore in the ship's tenders. Everyone else queues for a numbered "tender ticket" (first-come, first-served) and then waits to be called for a boat to shore.

Keep in mind that passengers are required to be back on board the vessel at least a half-hour before scheduled departure. In a perfect world, an 8am to 4pm port call is realistically a maximum of seven hours ashore.

While a day, or even a half-day, might be all the time needed to explore a tiny tropical island or a small town in Alaska, there are other destinations that demand more. Two examples are Venice, Italy and St. Petersburg, Russia. It just is not possible to experience Venice in a day and, although most cruise ships spend two days in St. Petersburg, seeing the most fascinating sights can be a mad blur of rushing from one place to another to take it all in. 

Overnight port calls offer an attractive bonusthe ability to dine ashore, attend a show, or take in the nightlife. This is especially desirable in South America where a tango show is a must-see in Buenos Aires, Argentina, or where sightseeing opportunities are some distance from the port city, such as a day trip to Seville, 80 miles from the pier in Cádiz, Spain. Options for overnight port stays are generally broader on luxury cruise lines that sail to far flung worldwide destinations and some segments of world cruises feature overnight port stays. In the Caribbean, some ships overnight or have late night departures in Cozumel and Aruba, which allows passengers to sample the clubs. A rare late night sailing from Key West is a sublime treat for viewing the legendary sunset.

Days Ashore
Port days are unique. Whether the ship sails past St. Mark's Square to tie up at Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice or anchors offshore at Grand Cayman, there is a different rhythm to days spent ashore.

What is there to do and how should you do it? Cruise lines offer a dizzying variety of shore excursions. Passengers in the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, and South Pacific find choices that include numerous "soft adventure" tours, while those on Canada/New England, European, and other far-flung itineraries often find a wealth of historic and cultural destinations at their fingertips. Many passengers want to go it alone and plan independent touring. Either way, there are many options to consider while in the planning stages...

Shore Excursions vs. Independent Touring

How to Read an Excursion Description — What are you getting?

"Ship Time" vs. "Island Time" — What's that all about?


More Info on Ports of Call

Stay Safe in Ports of Call Getting away from it all shouldn't mean getting into trouble.

Identifying Yourself If you haven't done it already, isn't it about time to get a passport?


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