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Want to Board a Cruise at a Port of Call? Here’s When You Can

If you are considering a cruise you may be wondering if you can board at a port of call rather than the embarkation port.

This depends on a number of factors – and the cruise line, and where the ship is sailing.

Can You Board a Cruise at A Port of Call?

It is usually not possible to board a cruise ship at a port of call.

In a few circumstances, the cruise lines may give passengers pre-approved permission but this isn’t common.

If the cruise takes place in the United States, guests cannot embark and disembark at different US ports because of the “Passenger Vessel Services” Act. 

This act prohibits commercial vessels like cruise ships from allowing passengers to board at one U.S. port and debark at another U.S. port.

Outside of the U.S., there aren’t the same legal restrictions – but there are still a number of reasons why a cruise line would not want guests to embark and disembark at different ports.

It May be Itinerary Dependant – Passenger Vessel Services Act

The biggest factor affecting if you can board a cruise at a port of call is the destination of the cruise.

In the US there is an act called the Passenger Vessel Services Act, this act means that if a passenger embarks in a US port and takes a cruise which visits foreign ports they must disembark in the same US port.

If a passenger did embark in one US port, for example, the second port of a cruise and then disembarked in another US port the cruise line may be fined.

There are some exceptions to this such as cruises visiting Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands but generally speaking, cruise lines do not want you to embark and disembark in different ports.

The Passenger Services Act doesn’t say anything about embarking or disembarking in a foreign port so it may be possible to do this in some circumstances.

Cruising Outside Of The United States

Outside of the United States, there aren’t similar laws governing where passengers must embark and disembark.

Italy and Norway do have their own versions but these aren’t quite the same as the U.S. rules. If you are in doubt, speak to your cruise line or travel agent.

That said there are still a number of reasons why a cruise line would want guests to all embark and disembark in the same port:

Immigration Checks

  • At any embarkation port, there needs to be immigration and security for guests to go through.
  • There also needs to be facilities to allow the guests to check in on land.
  • Many ports simply do not have this infrastructure or the cruise line may not want to pay additional staff to work and carry out these duties.
  • It’s much easier for the cruise line to have all guests embarking on the same day because then they only have one set of port check-in agents to organise.

It’s More Work For The Cruise Line

  • It’s no surprise that it is more work for the cruise line to try and coordinate guests joining in different ports.
  • Logistically speaking this creates a lot of problems for the cruise lines such as transporting luggage and making sure that the cabin is cleaned and ready at a certain time.
  • Disembarking early is usually easier for the cruise line than embarking later as checking out of a cruise is a much simpler process than checking in.

Muster Drills

On all cruises, it is a legal requirement that guests have a Muster Drill when embarking on a cruise ship.

Having guests boarding on multiple days means that multiple muster drills must be held most days, which is more work for the crew and can be confusing for all guests already onboard.

Having said that the Italian Cruise lines Costa and MSC manage these daily Musters very well.

Find out everything you need to know about cruise ship Muster Drills here:

What is a Muster Drill on a Cruise? Everything You Need to Know (REVIEW of Traditional and Virtual Muster Drills)

MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises

With some European cruise lines like MSC and Costa guests are able to book cruises which start and end at almost any port on the itinerary.

This can be very convenient, for example, if flights are cheaper to Marseilles than Barcelona, you can get on in Marseilles.

I have taken two, seven-night Mediterranean cruises onboard MSC Meraviglia.

On both, we decided to complete the full loop and cruise for 7 days. Many other guests only did a partial selection of the cruise others did seven nights but boarded in another port to us.

MSC Meraviglia Toulon Mediterranean Cruise
Below is a photo of me with the MSC Meraviglia.

When I sailed onboard Costa Smeralda, guests also got on and off at every port.

I found one great advantage of this. On the day we disembarked in Barcelona, our flight home wasn’t until the evening.

I spoke to the “English Speaking Rep” that Costa has onboard every ship, and she told me I was able to stay onboard until 4 p.m. on disembarkation day. This saved me from having to hang about at the airport for hours.

I had never disembarked a ship so late before. As long as we got off before the ship sailed away to its next destination, Costa were happy

Find out all about that memorable cruise here:

World Cruises

On some particularly long cruises such as world cruises, there may be multiple embarkation and disembarkation days.

For example, if a full world cruise is four months long these will often be broken up into partial cruises. You may complete half a world cruise or possibly a quarter.

These are relatively easy for the cruise line to organise and it helps to ensure that the world cruise is full.

Really, only a small amount of people can afford to take a world cruise – so breaking the cruise up into shorter sections makes good business sense.

Even if a world cruise is split into four parts this still leaves cruises with much longer durations than your typical 7-night cruise.

For this reason, the logistical problems of having guests board mid-way through the cruise are minimal.

singapore gardens port guide

Crew, Media Guests and Cruise Ship Entertainers

If you are boarding a cruise ship as a member of the crew, a guest or a member of the entertainment team you may be able to do so in another port.

Entertainers often move from one ship in the fleet to another ship, doing a few shows here and a few shows there.

I took a Princess cruise as part of a “Press Trip” and on that cruise, we joined at a port which wasn’t the embarkation port and disembarked at a port which wasn’t the disembarkation port.

There were only 5 of us joining the ship so the ship was able to accommodate us.

We had our luggage scanned using the onboard scanners instead of shoreside scanners and we checked in at reception onboard.

Disembarking was strange because we actually disembarked in a Tender Port – so had to take our suitcases with us on the tender. That isn’t something that you do every day!

Crew usually join cruise ships throughout the cruise and this isn’t a problem.

Find out all about my Press Trip on Royal Princess below:

What Happens if You Miss The Ship?

One reason why you may wish to board a ship at another port of call is if you miss the cruise ship.

Generally speaking, if you do miss a cruise ship your best option would be to head to the next port and board there.

Depending on the reason why you missed the ship, you may be able to claim this on your travel insurance or the travel agency may cover you if you booked as part of a package.

If you are cruising outside of the US this approach will usually work fine. If you are cruising in the US because of the act mentioned above you can’t simply change your embarkation or disembarkation port. 

Find out about this in more detail in the article below:

What Actually Happens When You Miss The Cruise Ship?

Before You Go:

If you do miss your ship, it is important to have good, cruise-specific travel insurance. Find out why here:

5 Cruise Nightmares Caused by Not Having The Correct Travel Insurance (Real-Life Examples)

Find out if it is better to take out the cruise line insurance policy, or organise your own here:

Should You Buy Your Travel Insurance Through The Cruise Line or Directly from an Insurance Company?

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