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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 which we will explore in this article.

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 US guests cannot embark and disembark at different US ports as per the Passenger Vessel Services Act. 

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

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.

miami beach sail in sail away

Cruising Outside of The US

Outside of the US 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 US 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 addition 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 co-ordinate 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. If you have the option to choose, for example you just need the cruise to be a day or two shorter, trying disembarking earlier.

Muster Drills

On all cruises it is a legal requirement that guests have a muster drill when embarking a cruise ship. Having guests boarding on multiple days means that multiple muster drills must be held which is more work for the crew and can be confusing for all guests onboard. To find out more about muster drills, including what happens if you don’t attend, check out this post: What is a Muster Drill on a Cruise? Everything You Need to Know.

Family Selfie Life Jackets Muster Station

Crew, Media Guests and 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. 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 shore side 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 everyday!

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

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. It is a relatively small amount of people who can afford to do world cruises and as a result breaking it up into smaller 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.


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. 

Partial Cruises

If you are cruising outside of the US and would like to join or leave a ship early it is possible as long as permission is granted prior to the trip.
If guests are pre-approved for boarding/departure in an alternate port of call, the ship’s security staff is notified to expect the guests at the designated port. The approved guests are responsible for making all travel arrangements and will incur any additional expenses (for flights, hotels, transfers to the pier, etc.). Prepaid gratuities will be added to all approved reservations for the length of cruise. – source.
With Royal Caribbean this clearance must be submitted at least a week in advance and if you used a travel agent to book the cruise they must submit it for you. The earlier you can submit this and the more information you can give the more likely that it is for this to be approved. 

MSC Cruises

With some cruise lines like MSC Cruises guests are able to book cruises which start and end at almost any port on the itinerary. I took a seven night Mediterranean cruise with MSC onboard the MSC Meraviglia. We decided to complete the full loop and cruise for 7 days but many guests only did a partial selection of the cruise and some did seven nights but boarded in another port.

Below is a photo of me with the MSC Meraviglia.

MSC Meraviglia Toulon Mediterranean Cruise

Due to this fact MSC don’t have a traditional embarkation day and may have guests boarding three or four days out of seven. This no doubt makes it difficult for MSC to organise but it does make embarkation day easier as not all guests board at once.

It’s also possible to stay on for longer than seven nights if you would like to, the itinerary repeats every seven days but some guests do actually stay on and do the itinerary twice or more!

In the majority of Europe there aren’t the same restrictions with regards to embarking and disembarking cruises so guests are able to tailor their trips to suit them better. This flexibility is one reason why I consistent recommend MSC are one of my favourite cruise lines. To find out why, including why I recommend MSC to families, check out or recommended cruise lines page here:

Best Cruise Lines For Families (Tried & Tested, Pros & Cons!)

To Conclude:

If you are cruising outside of the US and would like to start your cruise later or end it earlier this request must be submitted to the cruise line ahead of time. This is usually not possible if cruising from the US. If you do need flexibility within your cruise itinerary consider a cruise line like MSC where guests are able to embark and disembark at almost any port.


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