Rookie Wednesday: Will a cruise ship leave port without you if your shore excursion is late? What do you do if you “miss the boat”?

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RenesPoints Rookie

Welcome to a regular feature on the Renés Points blog. This blog series covers in a “rookie” way either a Delta or travel related theme and attempts to break down to a basic level each topic. You can read up on all the previous posts HERE. Now on to this featured topic.

First things first, yes, I know, a cruise ship is a ship not a boat as I have been told many times by “frequent floater” MJ on Travel that you can put a boat on a ship but never a ship on a boat. But for my post title the expression is not “miss the ship”. With that out of the way, on to the rest of the story.

Hello ride to next port?

What you are seeing above is an airstrip on a tiny Caribbean island. It is right next door to where we were docked on the NCL Dawn this past February. It so happens that as it was time to depart announcements over the PA were asking 8 people to check in at guest services as they had not had their sea cards scanned in (your sea card is you room key and card for billing anything onboard as well as when you depart or re-board the ship).

I later asked the captain (he was Swedish, btw) if all 8 made it back onboard and he told me 2 of them did not and will have to fly to the port where we were going in a few days (missing another port along the way for some reason). That was going to be expensive because they would have to pay for their own hotel nights as well as one-way air to catch up with the ship. Talk about adding to the cost of your vacation in a bad way.

So to answer the question in the title of this post, YES a ship will depart without you and you will be on your own (yet another reason for yearly travel insurance btw). But are there ways to avoid this? Yes!

From NCL Jade

The above is a shot from the NCL Jade in port at Jamaica. We waited well over an hour past scheduled departure time because one of the ship booked excursions was late in returning guests to the ship. This is a big reason to pay the often 2x as high fee to book excursions onboard vs. just going ashore and finding a tour or even using sites like Expedia etc. to book whatever.

What should you do if you find your ship has sailed without you? First you panic like these folks did as they were caught on video watching the ship depart without them! What next, once realty has sunk in? Well hopefully you, in advance, took steps to protect yourself. This piece from is a good one to review. The highlights I recommend are this:

  • Carry yearly travel insurance
  • Have copies of your passport in your phone and somewhere digitally safe
  • You and your +1 each have a credit card with you onshore
  • Carry enough cash for an emergency
  • Enlist the cruise port ship folks for help if you are stuck

The latter matters because this happens more times than you think and while this may be your first nightmare scenario it is not their first rodeo. Worst case situation, this costs you a bunch of $$$ but it will be OK in the end.

So the ultimate question then – have I personally booked off ship excursions? You bet and I have no issues doing so but I always leave a buffer of several hours before the ship is due to depart. The only time I have ever been one of the last folks onboard was when I was on a ship sponsored tour so I had no reason to panic that time! – René



  1. If it is a ship sponsored shore excursion I am 99.999% certain you would not be responsible for the costs to get to the next port…or that the ship would even leave without you for that matter. If of course it’s something you arranged yourself then yeah you are on your own.

    Having said that, I never did the way price overinflated ship sponsored excusions, but I didn’t ever cut it close either.

  2. Will never forget the Princess cruise when late older women were hoisted up the side of the ship on a rope ladder. We knew them and never let them live it down.

  3. My mom was booked on a Carnival cruise out of Rome once. Her flight to Rome got delayed overnight in Miami and she got to Rome in time to see her ship sail away. Lucky for her, I insisted she buy travel insurance before she left which covered her for the 2 days it took for her to catch up to the ship.

  4. I mostly use either or and just leave enough buffer time – the savings and personalization (& no buses) are worth the minimal risk of missing the ship.

  5. I understand that sometimes the ship has to sail due to sea currents. Of course the cruise line picks up the tab if it’s their excursions but not 100% guaranteed you’ll make the ship.

  6. I believe Viator has a guarantee that they’ll pay all expenses to get you to the next port in the event the ship leaves without you.

    I’ve also read that as long as the ship has continual updates on your status, most cruise companies will wait a reasonable period of time before leaving.

  7. We’ve always built in a solid safety cushion if doing a self booked excursion. The responsibility to be on board at departure time is obviously (I would hope) on the traveler.
    My only gripe with holding the ship if 5-6 people are late due to a ship sponsored excursion is that those same 3 or 4000 other passengers get to cool their heels burning cruise time they’ve paid for waiting for the bird watchers to get back.
    Dining schedules get screwed up, casinos can’t open as scheduled, performances are delayed (these are all mostly tied to being underway and a certain number of miles offshore).
    The fairness meter says this is a raw deal for the folks who got back on time.

  8. Booking excursions with the cruise company is 99.9% insurance.
    Every cruise I’ve been on has waited for those folks.

    But driving a rental car to visit the Normand beaches, I once got left behind in Le Havre and had to find my way to Southampton England by 8am the next morning. Watching the ship’s stacks start moving as I approached the Le Havre harbor was a scary sight. But all’s well that ends well. In fact, solving the problem was one of the best excursions I’ve ever taken.

  9. A cruise ship will leave port without you if your shore excursion is late. Clear?

  10. We are at 23 cruises so far and never booked, to my knowledge, a ship’s excursion. We always do our own booked tours. Once we had a land and sea tour in Saint Lucia. The sea part was on a small boat in rough seas coming back to the ship. We climbed a ladder next to the ship and made it by 20 minutes. In Guatemala, we took a small private boat so far out into the sea we could no longer see the ship, and the seas so rough the anchor was bouncing off the floor of the boat. Lesson learned is to ask the tour operator what the backup plan is if their primary boat, van, etc. fails. Also, if you are doing a hard activity where there is some danger of being hurt, think twice. We have learned that low key tours in good vehicles in busy places is best if doing on our own and be very careful about anything that involves a private boat. We have seen more than once the ship leaving people stranded on the dock with big shopping bags. We try on a 2 hour rule to be back on board. We do have annual insurance but not sure if it covers our stupidity.

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