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Don’t miss your ship.  It’s the number one rule of taking a cruise and being in a foreign port. 

And in my 15 years of taking cruises, there is one common reason some passengers don’t make it back to the ship on time.

Don’t let your ship sail away with out you. We explain the biggest reason people miss their ship.Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Yes, it happens more often than you might think.  After recent news of a group of cruise passengers missing their ship in Africa, it put some fear in potential cruise goers.

The group spent tens of thousands of dollars to reunite with their ship, and the story was plastered all over every cruise news website for a week straight.

But why do some cruise passengers not get back to their ship on time?    There are a few reasons for this but one big one we will mention below.

The captain of a cruise ship sincerely wants everyone to be on board before the ship sails off to the next port of call.  But it’s not fair to all the other passengers to show up late to the next port or run into extra schedule conflicts because a few passengers didn’t show up.

By the way, it’s not the end of the world if you do get back to the cruise port too late.  We’ve talked about what happens when you miss your cruise ship before if you’d like to check it out.

 In this article we will look at the biggest reason this happens in the first place.

Looking at the wrong time

Always stay on ship time.   It might sound strange, but cruise ships will often keep a different time from the port of call they are visiting.

The captain usually makes an announcement about local time versus ship time to remind you to stay on ship time for departure.

But on every cruise, there are inevitably a few passengers who forget.  They might use their phone as a watch, forgetting that their phone will switch to local time automatically.

So, when the ship sails away at 4pm but their phone says it’s only 3pm and they have plenty of time… well, we end up with disappointed passengers at the end of an empty pier.

For this reason, I will often use a regular watch (not a smart watch) and keep it on ship time for the duration of the cruise.

Read more: Drive or fly: 8 question to ask before you plan your cruise travel

Underestimating local port traffic

Here’s a helpful cruise tip.  Ask your cabin steward about local traffic.  Especially in more popular ports of call the crew will know all too well what traffic is like around the area. 

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After all, if they miss the ship, it’s a pretty big deal and could cost them their job.  And because crew members often get familiar with ports of call as they have time to get off the ship and explore, you can benefit from their experiences.

You might look at a map and see that a local beach is only 5 miles away.  But with backed up traffic at rush hour when you’re supposed to get back to the ship, it could take 30-45 minutes.

Other issues with public transportation, taxis, or rental car trouble could also delay the expected time to get back.

Underestimating traffic is a major reason some passengers fail to get back on the ship in time.

But it’s not the biggest reason.

Read more: 10 biggest mistakes cruisers make on port days

Booking 3rd party excursions far from port

From what I have seen, this is the number one culprit for people missing their ship. 

They see an amazing cruise excursion that they can book for 50% off the cruise line price.  Sure, it’s 2 hours from the port of call, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not?

You can definitely save money by booking excursions outside of the cruise line.  But remember the one problem.  A cruise ship will not wait for you if your excursion runs late and you booked through a 3rd party.

If you book an excursion through the cruise line, they will wait for you even if it runs late and will be in communication with the tour operators the entire time.

My recommendation: if you do decide to book an independent excursion, make sure it’s close by the port and that it ends well before it’s time for your ship to set sail.

Final Thoughts

These aren’t the only reasons people miss their ship.  They are just the big ones.

A few other reasons could include health emergencies, accidents, or just losing track of time while doing some souvenir shopping.  Also, some have the attitude, “Oh, they’ll wait for us so no need to hurry back,” which is not correct.

The truth of the matter is that with 4,000 + passengers on a ship, it could seem like a small miracle that even 99% make it back in time.

And for those who do make it back in time, it has become a cruisers ritual to watch the “pier runners” trying to make it onto the ship as passengers cheer them on from the lido deck above.

Some cruisers will miss their ship from day one as well.  I always recommend people fly into the departure port a day ahead of time.  This makes the whole day a lot less stressful and gives you a buffer should a flight be delayed.

Read more: 7 reasons you should never fly on cruise day

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