What Happens If You Miss Your Cruise Ship?

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Preparing to set off on a cruise vacation can be an incredibly exciting time. With the anticipation of exploring picturesque destinations, basking in the luxury and relaxation the ship offers, and eagerness to enjoy all the onboard activities, anyone would count down the minutes before departure. 

Amidst all the excitement, it is also important to ensure you are ready and prepared for boarding when that time comes. Not only do you have to make sure that you have packed everything that you will need, you have to ensure that you will arrive at the departure point on time.

Today, we will address a question that has many first-time cruise passengers anxious – what happens if you miss your cruise ship? We will discuss potential scenarios and how they would be resolved and provide you with some tips you can follow to ensure that your cruise experience goes smoothly and you don’t become one of those pier runners!

What Happens if You Miss Your Cruise at the Original Departure Point?

Before we get into what will happen if you miss your cruise ship’s departure time, it is important to establish that arriving on time is always your responsibility. This is true regardless of the cruise line you are traveling with. 

No matter your reason for being late, the consequences for failing to arrive on time can be quite severe. Cruise ships have to cater to thousands of people and adhere to specific itineraries, so they cannot afford to delay the entire voyage for a few late passengers.

Unfortunately, if the captain and crew decide that the ship cannot wait any longer, they will leave without you. While this may seem harsh to those who have spent thousands of dollars booking their trip and waited months for the date, cruise ships must arrive at ports at very specific times.

Cruise Ship Gangway
Cruise Ship Gangway (Photo Credit: Ihor Koptilin)

Once the ship has sailed away, the responsibility to catch up with the ship and join the voyage would depend entirely upon your actions. If you can make your own arrangements to meet the ship at one of its ports of call, there is a chance you will be able to board and enjoy the remaining voyage; however, this is not always feasible or allowed. In most cases, passengers who have failed to board on time are simply out of luck.

What Would Happen if You Missed Your Cruise at a Port of Call?

The situation is slightly different for those who fail to return to their cruise ship on time at a port of call. Since cruise ships take responsibility for their passengers once they have been accounted for at the original departure point, they make more of an effort to wait for your arrival.

That said, it would remain your responsibility to return to the ship on time. If, for whatever reason, you do not make it back to the ship in time, the first action would be to contact the cruise line immediately.

They will guide you on the next steps you will need to take. They may also help you contact the relevant organizations if it is an emergency situation.

Cruise Passengers Heading Back to Ship
Cruise Passengers Heading Back to Ship (Photo Credit: Yingna Cai)

If you fail to make contact with the ship, but your cruise card has not been scanned by security personnel, there is a good chance that they will wait a reasonable amount of time before filing a missing person report with local authorities and embassy personnel

While there is a good chance that they will work with you to make the proper arrangements to rejoin the voyage, any costs associated with doing so would still fall upon you rather than the cruise line itself, so be prepared to take on these expenses.

Report to a Port Agent

Once you have established that your cruise ship has departed, or if you suspect you might be late, you need to report to the port agent as quickly as possible. The port agent is a certified expert who serves as a liaison between cruise ships and the shore.

Given that they coordinate services between the ships and the local port, they can assist you if you have managed to miss your ship while visiting a port of call.

Most cruise lines station a port agent within the port to assist their passengers. In situations where it is clear you will not be able to return to the ship on time, they can even have your essential items, like passports, smartphones, and medication, removed from the ship and held at the port agent’s office for your retrieval. They can also help you make the appropriate travel arrangements by communicating with the ship on your behalf.

Punta Langosta Pier, Cozumel
Punta Langosta Pier, Cozumel (Photo Credit: Leigh Trail)

For most cruise lines, you will be able to find information relating to port agents within the cruise ship’s daily newsletter, as well as your cruise line’s smart app. Failing this, you can contact your respective cruise line’s customer service line, as they will be able to offer you guidance about locating and reporting to the relevant port agent.

How Can You Avoid Missing Your Cruise Ship’s Departure?

While it may sound pretty obvious, the most effective way to ensure you do not miss your cruise ship is to simply arrive early. Even if it seems tedious, arriving with plenty of time to spare is the only way to guarantee that you can board the ship and enjoy your vacation. 

You can also do yourself a massive favor by ensuring you are organized ahead of time. Don’t wait for the day of your cruise to begin packing!

Have everything, including passports and other relevant travel documentation, packed well ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to have your transportation needs organized ahead of time, including your rides to and from airports or hotels.

Passport for Cruise
Passport for Cruise (Photo Credit: Ricardo Reitmeyer / Shutterstock)

Another seemingly obvious tip many travelers forget to do is check with your cruise line for updates. Most cruise lines and airlines have smart apps that will provide real-time updates about delays and other issues. By staying informed, you can help reduce the chances of encountering any last-second issues.

If you are traveling to a departure point from out of state or out of the country, make sure that you consider the time zone your departure time is listed in.

Many people have mistakenly arrived at the wrong time because they didn’t consider the departure time was listed in the local time zone rather than the one they traveled from.

Speaking of timing, make sure that you set multiple alarm clocks and regularly check your watch or phone. The more time you give yourself, the less stress you will experience on your departure day.

Checking Time in Port
Checking Time in Port (Photo Credit: New Africa)

Finally, purchase comprehensive travel insurance. Even if you have planned everything perfectly, some situations are out of your control. Whether it is a last-minute emergency or simply a delayed flight you have no control over, travel insurance will help you avoid the financial burden of paying for a cruise you could not join. 

Avoiding Missing Your Ship at Ports of Call

To avoid returning to the ship in time, you must pay close attention to the time. When you disembark at a port of call, you will be given clear instructions regarding when you should return and where you should meet.

While it may sound pretty obvious, many cruise passengers find themselves distracted by the fun and excitement of stretching their legs and enjoying the sights and sounds of a new location.

In addition to paying close attention to the clock and giving yourself plenty of time to return to the ship, we recommend only booking excursions and shore experiences that your cruise line recommended. 

For a cruise line to work with a shore-based excursion provider, they will have been vetted beforehand. This means that the excursion operators will be fully aware of your departure time and when they need to return you to the ship.

NCL Cruise Ship in Port
NCL Cruise Ship in Port (Photo Credit: Ceri Breeze)

While these excursions can be more expensive than those booked within the port of call itself, purchasing ahead of time through your cruise line is a worthwhile expense when you consider the panic and financial burden that would result from missing your cruise. 

Plus, not only will the excursion provider make every effort to return you to the ship in time, cruise lines will wait as long as possible for delayed shore excursions that are booked through them. The same cannot be said for excursions that are booked independently.

Read Also: Boarding a Cruise Ship – All You Should Know

Another important tip is to always stick to ship time, rather than adopting the local time, which could be in a different time zone than the time your ship keeps.

While this may sound obvious, it is incredibly important to stick to the same time your ship keeps, as this will determine when they depart. To avoid confusion, don’t rely on clocks within the port. Instead, keep ship time on your watch or smartphone and stick to that.

Keep Important Information on You

Take photocopies of all of your essential travel documents when you leave the ship at a port of call. This includes passport books or passport cards, both sides of your driver’s license, as well as credit cards you can use in the event of an emergency, or if you miss the ship.

US Passports
US Passports (Photo Credit: Chiara Sakuwa / Shutterstock)

We also recommend writing down important phone numbers, including emergency contacts and contact information for your cruise ship. Even if these numbers are saved within your phone, you should still bring a paper copy, as your phone could be lost, damaged, stolen, or it could simply run out of battery power. 

Having contact and location information for the port agent can also be incredibly useful if you manage to miss your cruise ship. Again, this information will be listed on the daily schedules you will receive onboard the ship each day.

Can You Catch a Cruise Ship at the Next Port of Call?

If you manage to miss your cruise, either due to travel delays, an emergency situation, or simple disorganization, it may be possible to rejoin it at the next port of call.

In order to do so, you would need to coordinate this with the cruise line, as well as make sure that you had all of the relevant documentation to both board the ship and explain your absence. 

Typically, you would contact your cruise line and get in touch with their response team. They might be able to discuss potential options you could follow to join the cruise at its next port of call.

Late Cruise Ship Passengers
Video Footage: Laszlo Bagi

Unless you have coverage through a travel protection package, any costs associated with meeting the cruise ship at the next stop on its itinerary would be your responsibility to cover. 

While it may sound like a fairly simple process to rejoin a cruise ship, it is vital that you only do so in cooperation with the cruise line you are traveling with.

Not only do you want to avoid traveling to a port of call only to be denied the ability to board the ship, it is essential that doing so would be in compliance with the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which is something your cruise line would ensure.

How Long Will a Cruise Ship Wait for Missing Passengers?

Wait times will vary depending on your circumstances. As mentioned, a cruise ship will typically wait as long as they are able to do so for missing passengers who have booked an excursion experience through the cruise line itself.

On the other hand, cruise ships will not wait for tardy passengers who have not made any effort to contact the ship. As a passenger, it is your responsibility to return to the ship before the final all-aboard time is called.

Cruise Ship Gangway in Port
Cruise Ship Gangway in Port

On the other hand, if you are missing but you have managed to contact the ship or the relevant port agent, the ship may extend you the courtesy of waiting for your arrival, but this will depend on circumstances within the port itself. Typically, port schedules are tightly controlled, so ships cannot afford to spend time waiting for missing passengers.

In terms of the specific amount of time a ship will delay departure, a delay could last as long as an hour if an entire excursion group is missing, but only if that excursion was booked through the cruise line.

In situations where an individual or several passengers are missing, cruise ships usually only delay departure for around 15 minutes, and even that is up to the discretion of the captain.

Late Carnival Cruise Passenger
Late Carnival Cruise Passenger (Credit: @designsbyd1)

One exception to the typical delay occurred when a cruise passenger kept the Carnival Vista waiting for 45 minutes! Her casual attitude in returning to the ship even made a recording of the situation go viral. While this careless passenger got lucky, do not assume your cruise ship will do the same for you. Always make every effort to arrive on time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it expensive to rejoin a cruise?

If you missed your cruise, the costs and headaches associated with rejoining the voyage can be incredibly expensive. Not only will you have to pay for flights and hotels, but you will also have to spend hours organizing travel arrangements.

In short, these expenses can vary, but you should anticipate having to spend a significant amount of money, especially if you are with a big group. 

It’s important to remember that being on time is always your responsibility, so you should not expect the cruise line to provide any compensation, even if your lateness was not your fault. 

How long will a cruise ship wait for late passengers?

While each situation is different, most cruise lines have strict policies regarding passenger tardiness. Not only does each ship have strict deadlines and a cruise itinerary to adhere to, but it would not be fair to the thousands of other passengers if their vacation was delayed because of a few late passengers.

Typically, you should not expect the ship to wait any longer than 10 to 15 minutes for late passengers. While there are exceptions, some will not wait at all. Again, make sure you are on time!

What is a pier runner?

Pier runner is a slang phrase used to describe cruise passengers who are returning late to their cruise ship. They are often seen running down the pier in a last chance effort to make it in time.

While this can be amusing for spectators, it can also be incredibly frustrating if the cruise ship has had to delay its departure due to disorganized and unpunctual passengers. Obviously, it can also be incredibly stressful and embarrassing if you find yourself in the situation where you have become a ‘pier runner’ yourself.

Final Words

While it may seem stressful, arriving on time for your cruise does not have to be a nerve-racking experience. Use the potential consequences of lateness to motivate you to be extra organized.

Give yourself plenty of time and make the necessary preparations ahead of time. If you take the right steps, your travel experience can be smooth sailing!

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