Skip to Content

How Long Do Cruise Ships Stay In Port? (My Experiences of Short Stays to Multi-Day Stays)

If you’re planning a cruise, you may be wondering how long you’ll get to spend in each port of call.

The amount of time a cruise ship spends in port can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the itinerary, the size of the ship, and the port’s facilities.

I’ve been on cruises where we have stayed in port for only 4 hours, and other times for 3 days.

How Long Do Cruise Ships Stay in Port on Average?

The average time for a cruise ship to spend in port is around 8-9 hours. It is most common for ships to dock early in the morning and sail away late afternoon. Some stays will be as little as 4 hours or as long as 3 days.

It is quite a slick and well-organised operation. It is not uncommon to see lines of coaches/buses already waiting on the dockside when you arrive – ready to whisk those who have booked shore excursions off to some exciting destination!

costa smeralda

Maximizing Your Time in Port

I personally, would be happy to go on a cruise just to try out a new, exciting ship! For most travellers though, the most exciting part of a cruise is exploring new places when they dock.

As there is only a limited time in each port, it’s best to plan ahead to make the most of your time.

Factors Affecting Port Time

  • The distance to the next destination. If a ship has a long journey to its next destination, it may need to leave port earlier in order to make sure it arrives on time.
  • The availability of transportation, tours, and attractions may also have an effect. If a port doesn’t have much to offer in terms of things to do, the ship may not stay as long. If, however, there are lots of popular sights to see, the ship may stay longer to allow passengers more time to explore.
  • Docking fees are another consideration. Docking fees are usually charged per day, starting at midnight. If a ship wants to stay longer in port, it must pay additional fees.
  • There are also additional logistical considerations – such as harbour pilot and tug schedules that most cruise passengers wouldn’t ever think of. The ship may need Tug Boats to help them dock or leave a harbour, so the ship may be dependent on Tug Boat Captains.
Fred Olsen Bolette

Typical Port Times for Popular Destinations

The time a ship spends in port can vary depending on the destination and the cruise line.

In summary:

DestinationPort Times
CaribbeanTypically 8 am to 5 pm or 6 pm, or later in some ports,
AlaskaUp to 12 hours or more, with some ports leaving early.
MediterraneanVaries widely, with some ports staying until 8 pm or overnight, others leaving at 4 pm or earlier.
BalticUp to 12 hours or more, some ports leaving as early as 2 pm.
Canary Islands, Madeira and The AzoresUsually one full day, from around 8 am to 5 pm.

In more detail:

  • Caribbean
    In the Caribbean, most ports of call are visited for a full day, typically from 8 am to 5 pm or 6 pm. In some ports, like Cozumel and Nassau, the ship may stay until 10 pm or later.
msc seaview top deck pool deck
  • Alaska
    Cruises to Alaska often feature longer port times, with some ports visited for up to 12 hours or more. However, some ports, such as Ketchikan and Juneau, may have shorter hours, with ships leaving as early as 2 pm. 
  • Mediterranean
    In the Mediterranean, port times can vary widely. Some ports, such as Barcelona and Rome, may have long hours. Ships may stay until 8 pm, or sometimes overnight. Other ports, such as Mykonos and Santorini, may have shorter hours, with ships leaving at 4 pm or earlier.
  • Baltic
    Cruises often feature longer port times, with some ports visited for up to 12 hours or more. The longer times are due to the fact that many of the ports are historic cities with a lot to see and do. When I stayed in St Petersburg in Russia, we stayed for two full days. Helsinki and Stockholm may have shorter hours, with ships leaving as early as 2 pm. It’s also worth also noting that the cruise terminal in Stockholm is some distance from the city, so factor that in when deciding on your plans.
  • Canary Islands, Madeira and The Azores
    Usually, the ships will spend one full day at these islands, arriving at around 8 am and leaving around 5 pm.

What’s the Shortest Port Stay I’ve experienced?

When on a Celeystal cruise around the Greek Islands we had 2 port stops per day!

One day we left port at 11.30 am in the morning so only had 4 hours in port.

On my Fred Olsen “Northern Lights” cruise, we had one stop in Alesund, Norway where we left at 1 pm in the afternoon.

What’s the Longest Stay I’ve Had in a Port?

I sailed to Bermuda with Norwegian Cruise Lines and we were docked by the historic dockyard for three whole days.

We were able to use the ship as a base from which we went out and about and explored the islands.

norwegian prima new york city

It is quite common to spend two days in Barcelona, Amsterdam or Nice.

Can You Find Out In Advance How Long You Will Have?

You can’t always bank on being at a port for a set period of time. When you book the cruise it may say the actual time of departure, or it might just say “Early PM.”

The times will be confirmed on the day. Look for notices around the ship, in the daily schedule or by the gangway so that you can plan ahead.

Your Port Stop May Be Cancelled at the Last Minute!

  • You can never rely on getting to port at all. If you were due to tender to the port and the weather isn’t suitable they will cancel the port stop. Small lifeboats and rough seas are not a good combination!
  • If your ship is due to dock in the harbour, and there are high winds or inclement weather, it may not be possible for the ship to dock at all.

In these situations, you will usually just get another sea day instead.

In some cases, like the cruise I recently took on Azamara Onward, we went to a different port and country entirely!

It is easier to find berths for a smaller cruise ship like the ones Azamara have, rather than a mega ship like the Costa Smeralda or Wonder of the Seas!

If your port stop is cancelled, check your cruise insurance.

You may have “Missed Port Cover” on your cruise holiday insurance. This will allow you to claim back money for port stops missed.

If you are American and have paid port taxes, you may get those reimbursed.

To find out more about claiming from your cruise travel insurance, read the article below:

Do You Get Compensation For Missed Cruise Ports?

How to Make The Most Of Your Time in Port

As your time in port is often limited, it’s important to make the most out of it.

Research the port in advance and make a list of the top attractions you want to see. This will help you focus your time and make sure you don’t miss anything.

Consider booking shore excursions through the cruise line. It can be a great way to make the most of your time in port and ensure you see all the highlights, but this can be an expensive option. No point in booking a cruise line excursion to do something that is easily done by yourself.

For example, cruise ships offer excursions to the Aquarium in Genoa – but your ship might be docked right by it!

Be aware of the amount of time you have in each port. I always check and double-check the final boarding time as I leave the ship. It is normally written on a board by the gangway. Leave yourself plenty of extra time in case anything were to go wrong.

The length of time a cruise ship stays in port can vary depending on the itinerary. If your cruise ship is in port for two days, it may be worth travelling further afield on that first day. You will have plenty of time to get back then. We recently did this on our Azamara cruise stop in Nice, France. On the first day, we took a train to the nearby Country of Monaco. It was great!

Consider using trains, trams or buses or booking a private tour to get around. Taxis can be expensive, and traffic can be heavy in some ports. Public transportation can be a cost-effective option (particularly in Europe where in some places public transport is subsidized.

In the UK public transport tends to be less efficient and more expensive!)

Private tours can offer a more personalized experience and allow you to see more sights in a shorter amount of time.

Always keep an eye on the time and don’t get carried away with shopping or dining.

Missing your cruise ship’s departure time can be a very costly mistake! Most cruise ships require all passengers to be on board no fewer than one to two hours before the scheduled departure time – but running late can be a stressful experience.

We have all seen those videos of “Pier Runners.”

azamara onward ship port

To find out what actually happens when you miss your ship, read the article below:

What Actually Happens When You Miss The Cruise Ship?

Other Things to Take Into Account:

anthem of the seas in norway

When planning your day in port, there are a few other things to consider:

  • The distance the ship docks from the centre of the city. Although the ship’s itinerary may say it stops in Marseille, for example, you might find that you are docked in an industrial port nowhere near the town. It is around a four-mile walk to the Marseille city centre.
  • If you are sailing with a smaller, more luxurious line, like Viking or Azamara, they have the best docks in more central areas. If you are sailing with a mainstream cruise line, like Costa, MSC, NCL or RCI, you may find yourself a long way from where you need to be.
  • Does your cruise line provide a shuttle bus to the town centre, and if so, is it chargeable? Again, more upmarket cruise lines like Azamara will provide a free shuttle bus. Costa and MSC will, but will charge per person for using it. This can add up to quite an amount if you are travelling as a family.

Do your research! In some places the Port Authority will lay on a free shuttle bus, so you don’t have to pay to use the cruise line shuttle.

This is the case in Marseille or Copenhagen – but the cruise lines won’t tell you this!

Conclusion

The amount of time a cruise ship spends in port varies depending on the itinerary and cruise line. On average, a ship will spend about eight hours in port during its stops, but some stops may be shorter or longer.

It is essential to check the time your ship will be leaving and make sure to return to the ship in plenty of time.

While some ships may wait a short period of time for late passengers, there is no guarantee that they will – or can. Being left behind can be a costly and stressful experience!

The amount of time spent in port may not necessarily be long enough to fully explore the destination.

Prioritise the things you would most like to see or visit.

I like to see port stops as a “taster” of what different countries and towns have to offer. If I particularly like one, I can make plans to return for a longer stay at another time!

Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources

Book a Cruise
Get Travel Insurance
Emma Cruises Shop
My Favourite Bags – Mia Tui

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide