Whats in port: visiting cruise ports

Discovering what's in port is one of the most exciting parts of a cruise, and with countless fascinating ports of call to explore, you're probably wondering how to get the most out of each one. Read on for our top tips on disembarkation, packing your bag and enjoying the range of excursions you'll find onshore.

What's in port

The facilities and attractions will vary depending on the itinerary. What's in port also depends on the time of year, however, in most places you'll find eateries, bars, a selection of shops to buy souvenirs and a tourist information site as standard. In many ports, you may also find a beach nearby with the opportunity to enjoy kayaking, snorkelling and other water sports.

Keen to get immersed in the culture and history of the destination? Head over to a historic site or a museum, or join a guided tour for expert insight and access to hidden gems. Guided tours are also a great way to get your bearings of what's in port, so be sure to sign up as soon as you can.

Shore excursions are offered through the cruise line as well as through independent tour operators onshore. While excursions booked through independent operators may be cheaper, you'll have the peace of mind that you're with a safe, reputable company when booking through the cruise line. These shore excursions can also be booked in advance, often with fantastic savings available.

Below are the types of excursions you can expect to find in port:

  • Full-day tour - Get the most out of the destination with a tour from the moment you get onshore to the moment your ship is ready to leave. Full-day tours often include journeys to hidden gems just outside of the town or city.
  • Half-day tour - Half-day tours will show you the highlights of the destination, while still allowing you some free time to explore at your own leisure, before or after the tour.
  • Guided tour - A perfect option if you'd like an expert to show you the highlights of the destination and learn about history, culture and more.
  • Active tour - Perfect for intrepid travellers, active tours cover a range of faster-paced activities including water sports, hiking, biking, and other outdoor pursuits.
  • Sightseeing tour - Just as the name suggests, a sightseeing tour allows you to soak up the scenery, usually from the comfort of a tour bus.This is a great way to find your bearings of what's in port before exploring at your own leisure afterwards.
  • Private island excursion - Private islands open up a whole new world of action-packed excursions, hosted exclusively by the cruise line. You'll find adventurous water sports, zip lines, water parks and even roller coasters, as well as spa's, relaxing boat rides and beach parties.
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Where you'll dock

How close your port is to the town can range from a short walk away to a bus or train journey. The good news is that, when your cruise ship arrives into port, you'll find many taxis, shuttles, and guides waiting to take you to wherever you need to go, with the cost often included in your excursion fare.

Getting off the ship

If you've never cruised before, getting off the ship may seem daunting but, in reality, the process is made simple and easy by the helpful crew. Once your ship has arrived in port - usually by morning - an announcement will be made to let you know where to go to disembark and when. If you're really eager to see what's in port as soon as possible, we recommend signing up for a ship-sponsored excursion. These groups will usually disembark first, along with members of loyalty schemes.

Disembarkation will happen one of two ways:

  • Via a tender - The cruise ship will drop anchor a short distance away from the pier, and passengers will be shuttled across by small boats called tenders.
  • Via a gangway - The cruise ship will dock at a pier and passengers will exit the ship by a gangway plank.

Remember - you don't have to get off the ship if you don't want to! If what's in port doesn't appeal to you, then take advantage of the peace and quiet. Head over to your favourite activities or restaurants where you'll find less queueing and more relaxing.

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What to bring to port

There are a few essential items that you'll need to bring with you when exploring onshore. Below is a list of necessary items.

  • A photocopy of your passport
  • Your cruise card
  • Local cash and one credit card
  • A note of the ship's phone number, the cruise line contact information and your country's embassy information

Depending on what's in port, there are some optional items that you might not need, but will certainly make your onshore experience hassle free. If you're going to the beach, pack a spare towel and some flip-flops. Planning to hike in spotty weather? Bring a hat and gloves, just in case. Below are some more essentials that you might like to bring.

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • A lightweight raincoat
  • Water bottle
  • A camera with spare batteries
  • Swimsuit

For expedition cruises, we highly recommend investing in a sturdy, waterproof backpack, while for a Caribbean cruise, a large beach bag will do the trick. Also, pack the night before so you'll have time for a hearty breakfast before disembarking.

Top tips for visiting cruise ports

1. Keep your eye on the time

Perhaps the most important tip of all, ensuring you aren't late back to the ship is absolutely vital! Ship and port schedules are incredibly tight, meaning there is very little chance that your ship will be able to wait for you. Be sure to check when you're supposed to be back, and keep an eye on the time.

If you've booked an excursion through the cruise line, then the ship will wait for you.

2. Check government regulations on souvenirs

While you may be eager to bring back delicious snacks from around the world, we highly recommend double-checking government regulations on what can and can't be brought back onboard. What's in port can seem incredibly tempting, but to avoid wasting your money, stick to pre-packaged snacks, accessories, and arts and crafts. Alcohol and cigarettes must be checked in before getting back onboard, and will be stowed away until the last day of your cruise.

3. Save money and dine onboard

If you aren't fussed about where you'll be dining, why not save some pennies and head back onboard? You're free to come and go as you please (providing there are tenders still operating, of course), so if what's in port doesn't take your fancy, return to the ship for delicious, all-inclusive dining. What's more, if you've been dying to try a specialty restaurant, now's the time to do it! Many passengers will be spending as much time onshore as possible, meaning you'll have no trouble reserving a table.

4. Plan ahead

The key to getting the most out of your dream destinations is to do your research. Learn as much as you can about the ports on your itinerary, and decide whether you'd like to book a shore excursion or simply enjoy a leisurely wander. Planning ahead will make it easier to budget for each day, and balance topping up your tan on the beach with riding the waves on a jet ski. We recommend reading up on the daily programme onboard which will outline the available activities for each day.
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Excited to discover what's in port? Exploring onshore will quickly become the highlight of your cruise, and with these top tips you'll be breezing through disembarkation and on your way to enjoying a huge range of activities.