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What Actually Happens When You Miss The Cruise Ship?

We have all seen videos of “Pier Runners.” Poor, unfortunate guests who miss the departure time for their ship leaving port, and are left standing on the quayside! 

And what happens if you never make it to your ship in the first place?– flight delays, roadworks, unforeseen circumstances – what will happen then? 

In this article, we look at what actually happens when you “miss the boat” – and what you can do to prevent this from happening to you!

Missing Your Ship After a Day In Port

Whether or not your ship will wait for late passengers depends on a number of things. These include

  • Port regulations and how strict the cruise ship schedule is
  • Tides
  • How many passengers are missing
  • Whether the passengers are on a cruise line excursion
  • How the captain feels on the day! Some Captains may be more forgiving than others…

If you go on a cruise ship excursion, the ship is far more likely to wait for you.  If it can’t, the cruise line should take financial and logistical responsibility for getting you to another port to meet up with your ship. 

Cruise lines certainly play on this – advising you to always book excursions with them to avoid “missing the boat.”

Personally, I rarely take cruise line excursions.  I sometimes book my own excursion privately with a local company, but I always make sure that excursion would get me back to port at least a couple of hours before the ship leaves. 

I hate to be late and would find it extremely stressful if I thought we didn’t have ample time to allow for unforeseen circumstances.  Check reviews for excursion providers and make sure they have a good punctuality record!  If you have any doubts, don’t book it!

If You Know You Are Running Late

It is only sensible to take phone numbers and a mobile/cell phone with you when you explore ports.  On the ship’s daily schedule there are often phone numbers for the ship, the port agent and the cruise lines customer service department. 

For example, let them know if your train is running late and you are going to be 15 minutes late back to the ship – there is no guarantee that they will wait for you, but if they know what is going on, there is more chance that they will try and be accommodating. 

If you just don’t turn up on time and don’t make contact they may be more inclined to just leave without you.

What To Do If The Ship Has Left Without You

Most cruise lines have port agents stationed in the port area to assist if your ship has left without you.

In cases when cruisers are late returning to the vessel, the ship’s crew will often have been into your cabin and removed essential items – passports, mobile/cell phones and medication.  These will be left with the port agent. The port agent can help you with contacting your ship and making ongoing travel arrangements

You will either have to either meet the ship in a subsequent port or travel home.

Your cruise line, travel agent or travel insurance provider might be able to help you make the plans or otherwise, you’ll have to make arrangements on your own.  You will be responsible for any costs incurred.

You may be able to claim some costs back from your travel insurance, but that depends on your individual policy and the level of cover it gives.

If All Else Fails, Contact Your Country’s Embassy

If you find yourself without proper identification, you can’t get through to your ship or cruise line, or you don’t speak the local language to ask for help, call your country’s Embassy closest to the port you’re visiting. (or show the address to a taxi driver who can take you there.)

Embassy staff can help you plan your next steps and potentially put you in contact with someone who can help you to reach your ship or return home.

Travelling to the Ship’s Next Port Of Call

Even in cases where it is logistically easy to get to a ship’s next port of call, you may not be legally allowed to board the vessel at that port.

Some countries, including the United States, have “cabotage” laws that restrict the number of ports where foreign-flagged vessels such as cruise ships can pick up and drop off passengers. 

In the United States, for instance, the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 says foreign vessels, such as cruise ships, can’t transport passengers from one U.S. port to another U.S. port, either directly or by way of a nearby foreign port (defined as ports in North and Central America, Bermuda or most Caribbean islands). The Act does not apply to sailings that begin and end in the same U.S. port, provided the sailings include at least one stop at any foreign port. It also has an exception for trips between two different U.S. ports that include a stop at a distant foreign port.

What that means, in practice, is that a cruise line cannot let you join a ship at a U.S. port (such as Port Canaveral, Florida) if you later will be disembarking at a different U.S. port — say, New York or Miami — unless a visit to a distant port such as Aruba is on the itinerary. This is a rule that can severely limit your options if you want to join a ship part-way through a cruise.

Retrieve Your Belongings If You Are Not Going To Re-Board The Ship

If you decide to return home or decide it is logistically difficult to rejoin the ship at the next port, you will have to make arrangements to retrieve your luggage.

The cruise line can usually have everything shipped to you, but this is unlikely to be cheap.

Sensible Precautions To Take When Disembarking At A Port.

  • Set an alarm that allows you plenty of time to make your way back to the ship is the best way to avoid missing the leaving time.
  • Be aware that local time and ships time may vary
  • When you leave the ship, there is normally a prominent notice that states the “all aboard “time.  Take notice of this, or take a photo of it so that you can check back if necessary.
  • Take photocopies of passports, driver’s licenses (both sides) and credit cards (both sides) ashore with you (if you’re not taking the actual cards )
  • Take phone numbers for your ship and port agents that are often found listed on the daily schedules you’ll receive onboard each day. Also, save your cruise line’s customer service department to your phone. Other useful phone numbers could include your travel agent, and the local Embassy for your county. Better not to keep them in a rucksack in case they are stolen, maybe put them in a pocket or somewhere more secure.

What Happens If You Are Delayed And Never Make It On To The Ship In The First Place?

You will need to claim on your travel insurance.  Always take out travel insurance before a holiday to make sure they are covered for any incidents.  Make sure you have insurance that specifically includes cruise travel.

Cruise Travel Insurance – Why You Need it and How to Get It: (Step by Step Illustrated Guide)

If you have to return home then your flights back will not be refunded – nor will you get any compensation for any portion of the cruise that you missed.  Cruise lines generally do not offer refunds or future cruise credits for passengers who miss a cruise due to travel delays. This includes partial refunds for missed days if you join a cruise a day or two late.

The only exception here is that some lines may offer at least a partial refund if you miss a cruise due to a documented emergency. But they do this on a case-by-case basis, and you can’t count on it.

The Bottom Line

It’s not going to be easy to salvage your trip if you are late for your cruise departure. My advice is to always travel to the port of departure at least a day in advance of a cruise to avoid the risk – and stress – of missing your cruise altogether!  

It is always YOUR responsibility to make sure you make it to the ship in plenty of time.  The cruise line cannot be held responsible if you don’t make it to the cruise terminal in time, or don’t make it back after a port stop!

(I have personal experience of nearly missing my cruise!  A few years ago we booked a Christmas cruise, from Barcelona.  At that time I only lived an hour from the airport, and we made sure we left early in the morning with plenty of time for delays.

Unfortunately, the car engine blew up on the way to the airport and we had to be rescued and rushed to the airport by family!  We caught the plane “by the skin of our teeth” as it were!

It would have caused all sorts of problems if we hadn’t made it on to our flight.  With it being Christmas, most other flights were fully booked – or extremely expensive!  We had a couple of days in Barcelona before the cruise, but there was no guarantee we could have even got to Barcelona at all….)

Before You Go

Find out whether you would be better to buy the cruise lines travel insurance, or research and buy your own directly from the Insurance company here:

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

Should you book your next cruise directly from the cruise line, or use a travel agent? Find out the pros and cons here:

Is It Best To Use a Travel Agent or Book Directly With The Cruise Line? (Money-Saving Hints and Tips For Booking, and Much More…)

Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources

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