How to Avoid Missing the Ship

miss the cruise ship what do
Have your day at the beach, but set an alarm on your phone so that don't lose track of the time. - Photo by Noel Powell / ThinkStock

Missing the ship at a port of call can really derail your cruise vacation — and it’s much more common than you might think. (Don’t believe us? Check out our coundtown of the Top 10 funniest 'Pier Runner' videos.)

If you’re concerned about missing the ship because of a delayed flight, don’t worry — airlines communicate with cruise ships, so arrangements can be made for the ship to wait or passengers to meet it in the next port. Missing the ship in a port visit is more of a problem.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent being stranded in a port, but you have to do all of them as preventive measures before you walk down the gangway for the day. Here, how to make sure you’re not the one left behind:

1. Know what time your ship is departing.

ship in port

Always double check departure times before you leave the dock. - Photo by karamysh

Each day, the cruise ship’s staff gets on the public announcement system to inform passengers that the ship has arrived in port and that they can go ashore. These announcements typically also include what time you have to be back onboard. If you don’t hear that, ask the crew at the gangway or check your daily schedule — you won’t want to head into town without that information, especially since it sometimes changes from the original times listed on your booking documents.


2. Allot extra time.

traffic rome port cruise ship

Give yourself extra time in busy, urban ports. - Photo by

Things happen: Cabs hit traffic, buses don’t show up, and lines form in shops that make checking out longer than you might expect. By building in a cushion, you protect yourself from anxiety as the sail-away time approaches.


3. Book shore excursions intelligently.

shore excursion alaska royal caribbean

Booking independently may be slightly cheaper at times, but is it really worth the risk? - Photo by Royal Caribbean

Want to tour a sight that’s fairly far from the port, or separated by volatile traffic? This is not the time to go off on your own. Book the cruise line’s shore excursion and, if there are any delays, the ship will wait for the group. Go on your own, and it’s your responsibility to get back to the dock in time.


4. Bring identification with you anytime you leave the ship.


Your passport should never leave your side while in port. - Photo by Yungsho Chao 

This is important — and crucial if you’re traveling overseas. Stranded in a foreign country is one thing, but stranded with no identification is another. Airports require you to have this information to pass through security. Depending on the distance to the next destination, you may need to book a last-minute flight, so bring your passport — rather than your driver’s license — if you would need to travel independently to the next port.


5. Keep a credit card with you.

credit card

It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. - Photo by kunertus

The cruise line is not financially responsible for getting passengers to the next port if they miss the ship. Your travel to the subsequent port, or home, is on your dime, as are any necessary hotel stays and meals you accrue in the process. Don’t get off the ship without a credit card that provides adequate funds to book a plane ticket if necessary.


6. Carry important documents.

fun times ship document

Bring your ship schedule with you. Towel animal optional. - Photo by

It can be hard to memorize what ports the ship will stop at, in what order, and at what time — especially for longer voyages. Bring a printed version of the itinerary with you whenever you leave the ship. It will have all of the information listed so you can find alternate forms of transportation. In addition, you’ll want to carry the ship’s daily schedule with you since that, too, will have important information, such as contact details for the cruise line’s agent in the port.


7. Devise an emergency game plan.

ship leaving

Once you see this, it's already too late. - Photo by Iakov Kalinin 

If you do miss the ship, go into the cruise terminal and talk with the port agents, who are in contact with both shipboard and shoreside personnel. They can help you decide the best way to meet your ship, and start to pave the way for rejoining your cruise, which will be already in progress without you.

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Have you ever missed your ship at a port of call?

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