Taking a cruise to a new destination is one of the highlights of any cruise vacation. Along with all the hustle and bustle that comes with a busy port day, cruisers have plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.
When it comes to a port day on your cruise, don’t make these 10 mistakes. Photo of 3 cruise ships in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo Credit: Cruise Fever)
In this article we will mention some of the biggest blunders we see travelers make at a long-awaited port of call.
From decisions made while still on the ship to oversights made on land, we’re going to cover some important ‘port day’ topics to make your cruise as memorable as possible.
1. Failing to research a port of call ahead of time
FOMO, the fear of missing out, is a very real thing, but so is ROMO, the regret of missing out. I’ve seen it happen countless times on a cruise when a couple comes back on the ship and tells stories of an amazing excursion or activity that their listeners didn’t even know existed at the port.
Doing plenty of research ahead of time for each port is a crucial part of the pre-cruise planning process. You should at least be aware of the main attractions at each port, even if you’re not going to visit all of them.
You don’t have to be an expert on each port of call, but having a solid grasp of the main highlights at each location will help give you a plan of action for seeing the things you’re most interested in. And in turn, you can avoid regret. After all, this might be your only chance to see a certain port of call. Make the most of it.
2. Trying to do too much (excursion overload)
This is the other side of the coin of not doing enough research on a port. Some travelers simply want to do it all. But remember, a cruise vacation is more like a sampler than a main course when it comes to visiting new places. You only have a limited amount of time to visit the port and surrounding area. This could be anywhere from 6 to 8 hours.
Trying to do too much will not only burn you out; it will force you to rush at each stop along the way instead of enjoying the experience.
Many new cruisers are not realistic with their time and try to pack too much into the small window of a port day. Avoid this mistake by prioritizing the things you MUST do at the port and having further down the list the things that would be nice if you have time.
If you book an excursion through the cruise line you will typically see the amount of time each excursion will take.
3. Not bringing enough cash
I always recommend bringing some cash with you when in port. Sure, a cruise ship is a cashless society, but off the ship is a whole other story. You can use your credit card but for a few reasons mentioned below you should definitely have some cash on you as well. You can read a recent article I wrote on why it’s a good idea to have cash on a cruise and how much you should have here.
Having cash with you in a port of call will make it easier to take public transportation, including local taxi services, and it will also enable you to leave tips along the way.
Cash will also be a more ‘secure’ way to buy souvenirs and goods if visiting a port of call known for issues with credit card scams.
Some local restaurants in foreign ports will not even have credit card processors so cash will be key.
Related: Cash on a cruise: how much to bring
4. Getting ripped off with a bad exchange-rate
The worst places to get a good exchange rate are usually tourist-heavy areas like airports, hotels, and popular attractions. They often have high fees, commissions, or poor conversion rates at currency exchange services targeting tourists. Remote or less developed areas may also have limited options and unfavorable rates.
To get better rates, it’s best to avoid these places and consider using reputable banks, authorized exchange offices, or ATMs to withdraw local currency. I’ve used ATMs at foreign ports of call quite frequently and it’s one of the most convenient ways to get local currency although it’s not without risk. I did have my account information compromised when using an ATM in Cozumel, Mexico when on a cruise before.
5. Not leaving enough time to get back to the ship
On any cruise, you should always pay attention not only to how long it will take to get back to the ship, but also to the actual ‘ship time’ that the captain uses for “all aboard” time.
Cruisers make this mistake when in port on a regular basis. There’s a reason it’s a favorite past-time for passengers on the lido deck to watch ‘pier-runners’ attempt to make it back to the ship on time. It happens way too often.
Puerto Plata cruise port. Dominican Republic. Photo credit: Joni – stock.adobe.com
Be mindful of excursions that are an hour or more away from the ship. Any delay during your excursion will just put more pressure on your return to the ship. If your excursion is booked through the cruise line the ship will wait for you even if there is a delay, so that’s one caveat for booking 3rd party excursions, even if you do score a great deal. The cost of meeting back up with your ship later on will not be pretty.
If you want to do some shopping right near the port I recommend doing this after any planned activities so you’re right near the ship when it’s time to head back.
6. Not understanding the weather for the location
This goes along with the planning part of your cruise. Don’t make the mistake of completely disregarding the weather for a certain area. I remember visiting Iceland on a cruise and being unprepared for just how cold it was. Sure, I knew it would be cold, but the wind was another factor I didn’t plan for.
Some areas are known for getting more rain during a certain part of the year. Pack along some ponchos or make sure you have a plan B in case it rains during your visit.
Knowing the weather will also help you plan what to pack and wear during your stop at each port of call, so again it goes back to planning and knowing each stop on your itinerary.
7. Leaving some essential items back at the cabin
Disembarking on a mega ship can be a hassle, so you don’t want to have to do it twice because you forgot something back at the cabin. Make sure you have everything you need for the day, so you don’t make this common mistake.
Some ports will only require your cruise card to get back on the ship, but I still like to bring some ID on top of this just in case. Having a copy of your passport won’t hurt in these situations either, but you should know if everyone in your group needs their passports when getting off the ship. If you miss your ship or are detained for some reason you will want to have them on you.
You’ll also want to bring comfortable shoes for walking (you will do more walking than you may think), sunblock, towels, and some bug repellent. That last one is important in some locations as the bugs can really ruin a vacation if you’re not prepared.
I also like to bring some water with me, which you’re allowed to take off the ship.
8. Trying to take food off the ship
This is a big no-no for certain types of foods. Sure, you have a vast supply of food on the ship and you might be tempted to grab a few meals for the road. But trying to take fruit or vegetables off the ship will land you a big fine if you’re found out.
Foods you CAN typically bring off the ship include snacks and foods still in their packaging like granola bars, chips, and pretzels.
Foods like meats, sandwiches, and even some baked goods are better left on the ship. This is a mistake you don’t want to make.
9. Waiting too long to get off the ship (or not long enough)
You should try to be among the first to get off the ship or just wait until the crowds have dissipated. There’s usually a peak time of passengers trying to disembark the ship all at once. This is usually from 9:00am to 10:00am but could vary depending on your cruise.
You will just spend more time waiting if you go during these busy times. I know some cruisers who like to wait for the crowds to leave before they make their way to the gangway. This also allows them to enjoy a mostly empty pool and buffet.
Waiting too long to get off the ship may mean dealing with more crowds and longer waits.
If you have an excursion during these peek hours, you can still get off the ship early and do some shopping near the port until your excursion begins if you want to avoid any bottlenecks.
10. Staying on the ship
As mentioned previously, when your cruise ship pulls up to a port of call it might be your only chance to check out what the destination has to offer. Even if it’s a port I’ve been to a dozen times, I still like to get off the ship and find something new. There’s always a new place to visit, a new place to eat at, or a new area I’ve not tried before.
Lately, more cruise ports have been enhancing their ports and adding more features. So even if you think you know everything there is to know about a port, chances are you would be surprised. Sure, you can have a more empty ship to yourself if you stay onboard. But I recommend getting off the ship for at least an hour or so and find something unexpected.
Bottom line and a couple extras
A few other mistakes cruisers make involve being unaware of local laws in a foreign port. Wearing camouflage in some ports of call in the Caribbean will land you in hot water with local authorities. Also, don’t be afraid to try local transportation if you want a more affordable way to see the sites around a port of call. I loved using the local bus system when cruising to Bermuda, and it allowed me to interact with local residents and ask questions about their amazing homeland.
The main thing is to roll with the punches on your port day. Things will not go exactly according to plan. You will make mistakes along the way, but learn from them and follow the basics that we recommend in this article.