How to make the most of port days

One of the biggest allures of cruising are the ports. Exotic, exciting and action-packed, they’re what get us the most excited about heading out to the high seas. If you’re wondering what to do on port days, wonder no more. Here are a few tips and suggestions for how to make the most of your days in port, whether you stay on the ship or choose to explore the local area.

Getting off

One of the biggest perks of embarking on a cruise holiday is the amazing array of ports you’ll have the chance to visit. You’ll essentially go to sleep in one place and wake up in another – there’s no other holiday experience quite like it.

The swift time frame you’ll have at each port means your visits will more or less be tasters of each destination. If you don’t like one, onto the next. Whether you’re on a Mediterranean cruise or setting sail to the Caribbean, it’s crucial that if you do head offshore you’re back by the time specified. With some cruise ships now carrying more than 6,000 people, they won’t be waiting for you to finish your after-dinner cappuccino in the old town square.

Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess leaves Sydney Harbour

If you’re going at your own pace, do your research

It’s completely possible to head into port and do your own thing, sans tour guide or organised group trip. You’ll generally have no more than 12 hours in a port, so it’s important that you make the most of your time. You should make sure you know when you’ll be able to disembark so that you can get moving as early as possible. If you aren’t sure as to what to do in cruise ports, you should read up on your ship’s cruise port guide for a window into cruise port information. That way if you aren’t joining an already-organised excursion, you’ll at least have an idea of what direction you want to head in.

One way to approach this is by picking three or four must-see locations and concentrate on visiting them, rather than trying to do too much and ending up on a box-ticking exercise. This includes nailing down how to get there as well. Once you’re off and in a new and exciting destination, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend hours asking for directions.

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Book a shore excursion

If you don’t fancy the hassle of organising your own day in port, you might want to consider booking one of the many shore excursions organised by the cruise lines themselves. These generally include your transfers on the day, as well as a tour of the destination or even an activity. What’s more, if your excursion is late returning, your cruise ship is more likely to wait for you.

The advantage of booking an organised excursion is that you’re able to make the most of your limited time in port without having to worry about getting lost or planning an itinerary in advance. Generally, tours and activities will be conducted by local specialists who know the area. You should be able to book your shore excursions fairly soon after your cruise, so you’d be wise to do so as soon as possible in order to secure your spot. If you’re more of a last minute type, you’ll still be able to book excursions from the ship, too.

Bring the right supplies (and don’t bring the wrong ones back)

When out on your port days, it’s important to remember that you’re more or less on your own – there isn’t necessarily going to be a convenient little shop selling sun cream and batteries for your camera just downstairs if you need it. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure you’ve got a bag packed with necessities – especially if you’re travelling with little ones. This should, at the very least, include sun cream, money in your port’s currency, water bottles and some snacks.

Just as important as knowing what to take off the ship is knowing what you can and can’t take back on. This can save unnecessarily time shopping for things you won’t be able to touch while on your ship – ie, cigarettes and alcohol – as well as meaning you wont have the hassle of storing it away with the crew upon re-entering the ship.

Staying on

There is, of course, a completely different way to spend your days in port. If you’ve reached a destination that doesn’t particularly interest you, or you’ve been before, there’s no rule that says you have to leave the comfort of the ship.

The advantage of staying where you are on non-sea days is that you’ll have more of the ship to yourself with everyone else off exploring. Cruise ships are specifically designed to be holiday destinations in and of themselves, so staying onboard while everyone else is in port will allow you to take full advantage of your ship’s incredible array of amenities.

Scope out your favourite spots

Part of the beauty of staying onboard for port days is that you’ll more or less have the ship to yourself. That means little to no line at the buffet, an abundance of free gym equipment and more space around the pool than you’ll know what to do with. If you’ve got an idea of an activity you’d like to try or a spot on the pool deck you’re desperate to snag, now is the time to go for it.

Score a deal

Because there aren’t nearly as many people around on the ship in port days, prices are often slashed on top luxuries like spa treatments. Yes, that massage you’ve been eyeing up is suddenly more affordable. You’ll want to book this in advance though, as some of your fellow cruisers may well have the same idea.

Many cruise lines will also still offer classes and activities as well, giving you more one-on-one time with the instructor and a less hectic atmosphere. If booking is required here too, you’ll want to secure your place sooner rather than later.

Know what’s open (and what isn’t)

The best way to ensure you make the most of your port day onboard your ship is to have a game plan ahead of time, and the only way to really do that is by knowing exactly what your options are.

For instance, your favourite a la carte restaurant might have a different breakfast schedule when in port, or lunch might not be in the dining room that you’re used to. Similarly, most shops and your ship’s casino will be shut while in port, in order to comply with local regulations. Consulting your cruise timetables will help you plan in advance and, above all, avoid disappointment.

Already dreaming of your future port days? Have a look at our selection of cruise holidays for details on a range of exciting destinations.

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