There’s no rule that says you have to get off the ship when you arrive at a port of call on a cruise.  The port city makes money from port fees even if you decide to hang out on the lido deck all day.

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Cozumel, Mexico with Carnival Celebration, Carnival Breeze, and Harmony of the Seas in port. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

People who don’t cruise have a hard time understanding why you would book a cruise to a certain destination only to treat the ship itself as a destination.

But sometimes you’re better off just staying on the ship that’s already been paid for. 

On the other hand, you could miss out on some amazing cultural experiences and shore excursions if you do opt to stay poolside. 

How do you know when you should have a port day and when you should just hang around the ship?

In this article I’ll walk you through some things to consider when trying to make this all-important vacation decision.

1. You Have Spa and Thermal Suite Access

Thermal suite on Carnival Celebration (Photo Credit: Cruise Fever)

Some cruise lines are notorious for selling too many slots for the thermal suite.   This can make the spa especially crowded on sea days.

But when the ship is in port you will have a lot more elbow room.

If you already paid for this luxurious amenity, you might as well make the most of it.  Spending time on a heated tile lounger, in a scented sauna, or in a therapy pool is much more relaxing when most everyone else is off the ship.

This point also applies if you have rented a cabana on the ship or have paid for special access to an exclusive area of the vessel.

2. You Want Ship Amenities Without the Crowds

Celebrity Ascent’s resort deck pool. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Whether your ship has an amazing water park or vast assortment of swimming pools, you can have more of these ship amenities to yourself when the ship is at a port of call.

In fact you won’t have much of a line at all for the ship’s zipline, Flowrider, roller coaster, bumper cars, or any other adventure you want to have on board.

Of course, it will depend how popular the port is too.  I’ve noticed more people staying on the ship in ports like Nassau and Jamaica.

We recently asked our readers for their favorite and least favorite ports in the Caribbean and the results were telling as to which ports they would rather skip.

3. You’re Already Wiped Out

Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

On my first cruise I was on a mission to do it all.  I entered every contest, tried to see every show, and did as much as I could in every port. 

Now that I’ve been on 50+ cruises, I know better.  Cruises, especially 2-week cruises, can be exhausting if you don’t pace yourself.

If you’re already tired from a previous port of call or just need a day to catch up on rest, don’t feel bad about just staying on the ship all day.

On most port days you will end up doing a lot of walking.  It’s a great time to reach your step goal for the day. 

But you probably won’t enjoy the port as much as you should if you’re getting off the ship with that glazed-over look on your face.

4. You’re on a Limited Budget

Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Even mainstream cruise lines offer quite a bit of freebies on board.  Once you get off the ship there are no more free meals and transportation. 

If you are on a strict budget and don’t want to spend an extra penny on your cruise, enjoy all the free stuff your cruise ship has to offer and stay on the vessel.  At least get a few pictures of the port from the ship though.

That being said, you can still get off the ship and walk around for free.  It’s not like you’re charged admission.

But once you get in cruise mode it’s easy to forget how the little things add up quickly after you’re off the ship.  A couple of taxi rides, a few local meals, a souvenir or two, and a can’t-miss tour of a historical building and your budget is blown to bits.

5. You’re Bored with the Port

Carnival Celebration and Allure of the Seas docked in Costa Maya. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

In my opinion, you should always check out a port for yourself if it’s your first time to that region of the world. 

It doesn’t matter what other people have said about it.  See it for yourself. 

But what if you’ve been to that same cruise port over and over?  If you can’t get excited about getting off the ship and exploring a port city, you’re already not in the frame of mind to have a great port day.

Especially if any of the other points in this article apply, if this last point applies to you it sounds like you’re about to have an epic ship day!

Another tip

Just because you’ve been to a cruise port before don’t assume you’ve seen it all or everything is exactly the same as it was before (sounds like I’m contradicting myself I know).

Also, don’t assume because you read 1,000 reviews about a port that there isn’t something there you would absolutely love to see or do.

I met a couple on this one cruise who opted to stay on the ship in Cozumel. However, when they learned about an incredible shore excursion another couple raved about, they couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret – the classic vacation FOMO hit them hard.

Final Thoughts

For me, I always like to get off the ship, even if it’s just for half an hour or so.  There’s always something I hadn’t noticed before.  I also like to get pictures of the ship in port, so there’s the “working as a cruise journalist for Cruise Fever” aspect as well.

The important thing is not to lose your sense of adventure in your cruise travels.  I know some ports of call have become very “touristy” and that can ruin the authentic vibe we all want in an exotic location.

But local vendors also rely on cruise passengers.   And when more locations want cruise traffic, the more options we have for cruise destinations.

Read more: 5 favorite and least favorite ports of call in the Caribbean and Bahamas

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