The term port of call is commonly used to describe any place you visit in succession. Whether it's the dentist and then the doctor's office. You can use the term port of call to describe where you have visited. In the travel industry, however, you use the term port of call to describe a place where you disembark a ship. Port of call is a term you will often hear on a cruise from the place your ship docks. At the beginning and end of a cruise and every port or island, you visit while on the cruise.
It's helpful to familiarize yourself with the ports of call on your cruise adventure. You might want to disembark and explore a new location. But you're not required to get off the ship at a port of call. In fact, you're welcome to stay on the ship and enjoy any of the activities offered on board. The other passengers may get off the boat to explore. The choice is yours, but it's wise to educate yourself on the ports of call on your next cruise vacation.
What is a Port of Call?
It's a place where a ship docks. In the cruise industry, it's any place your boat stops to allow you get off the ship and enjoy a new culture. For example, a Bahamas cruise that stops in Nassau considers Nassau a port of call. If you book a Caribbean cruise, you can choose from ports of call such as Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands, Mexico, and more. Any port your ship uses to dock so you may disembark and explore a new country or territory.
The ports of call you visit on your cruise depend on the cruise line you choose. They also depend on the cruise you go on. If you want to visit ports of call in Italy, you'll book a European cruise vacation. A Hawaiian cruise is ideal for those who wish to visit ports of call in Hawaii. You can visit ports in Alaska and Canada and often Washington on an Alaskan cruise. Ships dock all over the world so you and other passengers can explore the world one step at a time.
When you visit these countries, you'll need your passport and the card your ship issues when you board.
You must know what's offered at each cruise port, what to expect. And the safety measures in place in any foreign country. Most cruise ships stop at each port for a day at a time. But some ships dock at certain ports overnight and allow you more time to explore. You then move from one port to another so you can visit more than one country or city. Depending on the location and length of your cruise.
One more thing you'll want to know before you board your ship is if your cruise line will stop at its own private island. Most major cruise lines do have a private island near the Bahamas. Your ship might stop at a port like this to allow you to enjoy more shore excursions and time on the beach.
Frequently Asked Questions
It may be you're a first-time cruiser or a repeat vacationer. You may have a few questions about the ports or the disembarkation process. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about ports of call for your reference.
How do I get off and back on a ship?
Your cruise director and/or the captain of your ship will make an announcement when it's time to get off the boat. You're not required to leave the ship, but it's important you listen to this announcement. So you know where to go and what to bring. Most cruise lines provide each passenger with a daily activity calendar that outlines what you need to take with you. Be sure to read this when your stateroom attendant leaves it for you.
The ship provides a gangway for you to get on and off the boat. And you should ask for assistance getting on and off the boat with a wheelchair or if you have other mobility issues. There are ship employees at the gangway to help process you on and off the boat. They also help you remember what you must have on hand.
What do I bring with me?
You must have your cruise ID card. It's given to you when you check in to your cruise on the first day. It's also your onboard payment method, so you should always have it on you. You must also have your identification with you whether it's your driver's license and a birth certificate or passport.
If you booked a shore excursion, you must know what you need to take part. Some excursions require you wear certain items of clothing or shoes. You should also bring cash and a credit card, but keep it in different places securely on your person. This way, in case you lose a bag, you will still have a way to pay.
What do I do there?
It depends on where you are and what you want to do. Every port is different, but there are always shore excursions and activities you can enjoy. You can book shore excursions with a travel agent, online or through your cruise direction at guest services when you board your ship. Keep in mind, though; most cruise lines charge less for excursions when you book them before departure if you're looking to save money.
Get to know your port before getting off the ship. There might be activities you want to enjoy that don't require you to book an excursion. Private islands owned by cruise lines, for example, allow you to use their beach without booking any excursions. You should always educate yourself about how to stay safe in port, and never wear your jewelry or carry expensive items with you.
There are always independent excursions and activities available in ports of call that are not ship sponsored. They are typically less expensive than ship sponsored activities, but you must research each company and be sure you are working with a reputable and safe company.
Can I bring things back onto the ship with me?
If you go shopping, you can bring your purchases on board with you. You must declare items you purchase in port before your return home. Some items, however, are strictly prohibited. Cruise ships do not permit plants, animals, and certain foods on ships due to the potential spread of disease. Anything illegal must remain off the ship. If you have questions, anyone at guest services can discuss your purchases with you.
What happens if I'm late returning to the ship?
It depends on the situation. If your cruise-sponsored excursion is running late, your cruise ship will wait for you to return to the boat. You lose track of time or forget to return, you might find yourself left at a port without a way home. If this happens, it's up to you to get to the next port so you can get back on the boat or fly home. You're responsible for the cost of travel if this occurs.
Sometimes a ship can wait. It depends on whether the spot in which the ship is docked is needed for another cruise liner, if the ship's schedule is tight, and if the ships crew and the port crew are in the mood to allow the ship to wait. If you are left behind, contact the cruise line immediately. They will not pay for you to meet the cruise elsewhere, but they can offer suggestions how you can get to the ship, and they will help you get your belongings off the ship when you arrive home.
Planning - Tips, Activities, and More
You can check out available cruise tours, excursions, and activities at every port your ship visits prior to booking your cruise. You can book them with the cruise or separately prior to departure online, with a travel agent, or over the phone with the cruise line. One of the most important tips for booking excursions in ports of call is they are almost always cheaper in advance.
Always pack correctly. Check with the cruise line to see what kind of clothing, shoes, or other items you need for a specific excursion. You might need hiking shoes or pants for certain activities, but you might be fine with a swimsuit and flip-flops on another excursion.
If you wait to book your excursions when you're on the ship, you'll typically pay more for each one. You also risk being unable to take part because excursions are fully booked, or you cannot book a time that works for you. The most important advice is to book in advance.
The activities available on your ship differ from boat to boat and location to location. Every port is different; though, you can expect many of the same excursions in the Caribbean while you're at almost every island.
Check the ship's activities list before booking a cruise to ensure you find what you want to do. Common excursions might include:
Conclusion on Port of Call
Cruise lines do not require you to get off the ship at any port of call. Many people prefer to stay on the boat so they can enjoy the pools when they are less crowded. They can also book spa services for less and enjoy onboard activities while everyone else is away. Always look at each port of call to see what's available. Also, look to see if you might want to take part in some of the activities offered, whether it be on your own or through the ship. Practice travel safety and always return to the ship on time.
Featured Image: CC0 Public Domain via Canva, with text, banner, and logo added.