Visiting exotic ports of call can be the highlight of any cruise, but not all cruise port experiences are always pleasant. By understanding what to avoid in port during a cruise, passengers can enjoy exploring their vacation destinations safely, comfortably and confidently.

Top 8 Problems You Can Avoid In A Cruise Port

While everyone has different priorities for fun on their cruise, no one wants an unhappy or unsafe experience to be what they remember most about visiting a cruise port. These eight problems are some of the most common or most dangerous in ports of call, but they’re also easy to avoid if passengers take the proper precautions.

1. Harassment

Getting harassed by aggressive vendors is one of the top complaints from cruise passengers. Quaint shopping areas and craft booths near the docks are a convenient place to find souvenirs, but when vendors are too pushy about selling products, braiding hair or offering taxi rides, these colorful shopping districts can have passengers seeing nothing but red. The easiest way to minimize that aggravation is to be polite but firm, shaking your head, saying “no, thank you” and moving along. Do not pause at booths or handle merchandise if you’re not truly considering buying it, as your interest will be perceived as an invitation for more sales pressure. Instead, browse with your eyes while strolling along the main walkways, and always remember that you’re a visitor in a different country with a different culture. Do not be rude to the vendors who are only trying to make a living, just like any retailer back home.

2. Robbery

No one wants to get robbed on vacation, but pickpocketing, mugging, assault and other incidents do happen, though they are rare. It is important for passengers to protect themselves from becoming victims, and there are several easy steps that can help. Avoid taking expensive jewelry, large sums of cash or extra electronic devices on shore, and leave them safely locked in your cabin safe on the ship instead. Split up cash you must take in different places, with some in pockets, shoes, different bags or other hidden spots so the full sum isn’t as noticeable. Women should wear their purses with the strap across their body to avoid purse-snatchers, and wallets tucked into a front pocket are much less easy to pick than those in a rear pocket. Also, the less you look like a tourist, the less of a target you’ll be for any potential crime, so avoid wearing obvious tourist attire. Staying in busy public areas, using authorized transportation and avoiding being in port after dark are other ways to minimize robbery risks.

Carnival Cruise Ships
Photo By: Russell Otway

3. Getting Lost

New locations can be confusing, and it is easy to get lost amid the winding roads, crowded walkways and unfamiliar sights of a cruise port. Once you’re lost, you may find yourself more at risk for other incidents, or you could run out of time and have trouble getting back to the ship before it sets sail or you miss a spa appointment, shore tour, dining time or other event. If you carry the ship’s shopping or port map with you, however, it should have enough basic landmarks to help you stay oriented. The GPS and map features on smart phones and other devices can also be useful, but don’t count on them exclusively in foreign areas, as the maps may not be complete or recently updated. Staying in designated areas, such as the main shopping or dining district, can help you avoid getting lost. You should also carry a copy of the ship’s deck plans, newsletter or similar item to show a cab driver, law officer or other authority figure if you need to ask for help and there may be a language barrier, as they will recognize the ship and can direct you back toward the dock.

4. Overindulgence

Vacation is a great time to let loose and have a good time, but overindulging in port can be dangerous. Too much alcohol can dull your judgment and put you at greater risk for being taken advantage of, or drinks could be spiked or otherwise altered without your knowledge, putting you in a very dangerous position indeed. Even overindulging on food can be tricky in port, especially if you have severe food allergies or sensitivities and can’t be sure how local dishes may be prepared or what ingredients are used. When in doubt, limit yourself responsibly, and if you’re with a group, have a designated non-drinker who will be able to keep track of everyone even if a little bit of overindulgence does occur. Keep any quick response medications, such as an EpiPen, with you if needed.

5. Injuries

No one wants to get injured on vacation, but a bad fall, twisted ankle, severe sunburn, dehydration and other problems can happen all too easily, and even simple pains such as blisters can put a damper on your vacation. You should always stay aware of your surroundings, especially in port. Watch your step carefully, use handrails when available and don’t take crazy risks for unique photos or shortcuts, such as stepping over obvious barriers or strolling into inappropriate areas. Wear sturdy, comfortable footwear, apply sunscreen and bug spray liberally and stay hydrated with plain water. Know your limitations, avoid booking any tour you may not be able to participate in and take care not to stretch your endurance or else you may be too hurt to enjoy the rest of your cruise.

6. Unwanted Expenses

There are many ways to save money on cruises, but too many passengers end up blowing their budget in port with expenses they never anticipated or never wanted to have. This could be the result of sales pressure from aggressive vendors, costs that aren’t clearly communicated or even uncertain exchange rates. There are several ways to avoid these extra costs, starting with limiting the cash you carry and leaving major credit cards on the ship safely locked in your cabin so you can’t overspend on an impulse purchase. Always check signs and price tags carefully to understand how they are marked and in what currency, and don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t certain. Many vendors may also be willing to haggle on prices, which can be a great way to get a better deal and save more money.

Docked Cruise Ships
Photo By: Russell Otway

7. Getting Arrested

While rare, arrests do happen in ports of call when passengers aren’t aware of or don’t abide by local laws. Many times these incidents are due to not paying attention or not respecting the community, such as trespassing on private property (that shortcut isn’t worth it), vandalism or littering (very serious crimes in many countries) or disrespectful behavior (failing to respond to instructions, ignoring posted signs or otherwise not complying with the authorities). Travelers who are thoughtful about their behavior and respectful of the fact that they are visitors in a foreign country – with different laws, cultures and standards of behavior – are less likely to encounter problems that could lead to an arrest. If problems do arise, it is important to stay calm and respectful while cooperating fully with the local authority figures to resolve the situation peacefully and quickly.

8. Missing the Ship

8 Things You Need To Avoid In A Cruise Port
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No incident is worse in a cruise port than arriving back at the dock after the ship has left without you. This may mean you are separated from family members as well as your luggage and travel documentation. While these incidents are rare, they do happen when passengers are not properly aware of the time. First, before leaving the ship, note the time on board – it isn’t always the same as the local time. If you use a smart phone or other device as a watch, be sure it hasn’t reset to local time automatically, which could cause confusion.

Also note when passengers are required to be back on the ship, which is often 30-45 minutes before the vessel’s scheduled departure. Setting a personal alarm or reminder for an additional 30-45 minutes before that passenger deadline will ensure you aren’t late. While on shore, authorized tours – those purchased on board the ship – give you a great opportunity to explore the port without worrying about being late, since the ship stays in communication with those tours and will delay its departure to wait for the tour’s return if necessary. If you avoid other in-port risks such as irresponsibly overindulging, getting lost or getting arrested, you’re less likely to risk missing the ship as well.

Having a bad experience in port, even if it’s only a minor issue or misunderstanding that can be quickly resolved, can taint your entire cruise vacation with bad memories. Fortunately, it is easy to avoid most unpleasant situations, and one of the very best ways to do so is to trust your cruise ship. Attend the shopping and cruise port talks for tips and guidelines, stick with the tours recommended by the cruise line and always be vigilant, and you shouldn’t have any difficulties when you visit ports during a cruise.