If you’re taking a cruise you may have to ‘tender’ to get to land. I’ve been on a number of cruises where this has been the case and I actually find it quite fun!
What does it mean when a port requires tendering?
Tendering is where you use a lifeboat, or smaller boat, to get from the cruise ship to the port, it usually happens when the ship is too big to get into port. It often slows down the disembarkation process.
Can you see before the cruise if you need to tender?
If you are worried about tendering or would prefer not to, you can usually see on the cruise itinerary before you book if the ports are docked or tendered. It certainly is possible to avoid cruises which require tendering. If you chose a cruise with city ports you more than likely, won’t have to tender.
When you book your cruise your itinerary will say if ports are docked or tendered. Below is my itinerary for my weekend cruise with Celebrity Cruises. At the end of this post is a list of the most popular cruise tender ports in the USA, the Caribbean and Europe. It is possible to find out if almost any port is a tender port
- I would recommend not rushing to get off on the first tender, I much prefer to have a leisurely breakfast and an explore of the ship without all of the guests! Tendering is much nicer when you don’t have to queue. If you are on an organised excursion with the cruise line you will, more than likely, meet on the ship and tender off together. In some circumstances, you may be asked to meet on land so make sure you’ve allowed extra time for this.
- Go to the front of the tender by the windows (or the top) if you get seasick. The breeze will make you feel better. When embarking the tender the crew will usually direct you to a seat if you ask to be seated at the front or on the top, most crew will happily let you do so.
- Don’t come back an hour or two before the last tender, this will be the busiest time. If you can come back a few hours before you will skip the queues. Alternatively, you could leave it to last minute and get the last tender, but I wouldn’t be brave enough to do that.
- Use the tender as an opportunity to take photos! It is rare that you will ever see a cruise ship from the ocean so make the most of it. It really is difficult to get an idea of scale until you are right beside the ship.
What boats are used as tender boats?
The tender boats are usually lifeboats from the ship but sometimes can be through an external company. When tendering it is common for multiple tenders to be running at the same time. Passengers will usually queue onboard and be loaded onto the tenders as they arrive.
Cruise ship lifeboats can usually hold around 150-200 passengers, they certainly aren’t cramped and only the biggest lifeboats will be used in the tender process.
Seasickness and cruise ship tendering
I am quite a travel sick person. I get travel sick in cars, coaches, boats etc. However, I have never have had any problem with tenders. The journey usually only takes around 10-20 minutes and for some reason, my body doesn’t think that’s long enough to make me seasick. There is also usually a breeze in the tender which makes me feel better.
If you do still feel unwell I would recommend taking some seasickness tablets.
The drawbacks of tendering:
It takes time
The actual transit time isn’t usually too long but when you ad waiting for the tender at both ends, loading people into the boat etc the whole experience can take some time. It is definitely slower than docking in the traditional sense where you just walk off the ship.
- The boat isn’t particularly comfortable
- You normally have to queue up to get a return tender
The benefits of tendering:
- You can take some brilliant photos of your ship!
- Can visit small islands
- I quite enjoy the tender, it’s like a free boat trip (sort of).
How does tendering work?
Most cruise lines offer a ticket system if you want to get off soon after anchoring. The ticket system will give you a tender time to get off the ship.
Usually, if you wait for an hour or two you don’t have to get a ticket and can tender off when you like.
On some cruise lines having a loyalty status will get you priority tendering, I have this with Norwegian Cruise Line but I have never used it.
There is no such ticket system to get back on the ship, all you have to do is go back to where you got off the tender, show your cruise card and wait for the next boat.
There are steps involved and a gap to step across between the ship and the boat. This can make it difficult for people with limited mobility.
Having said that I have been on cruises with my Gran who has never had any problem with tendering.
On some cruise lines guests may be asked to prove that they can step a certain distance before being allowed to tender, I believe this is the same if you have small children/babies, you must prove that you can carry/pass them over the gap.
Can cruise ship tenders operate in bad weather?
Tendering does mean that there is a higher chance of the port being skipped if the weather is bad. The tender boats are small and it wouldn’t be a pleasant ride in strong winds. The cruise line cannot risk having guests off the ship and it is too unsafe to get them back to the ship.. so a better safe than sorry approach is normally adopted.
Tender ports in the Caribbean:
Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
Devil’s Island, French Guiana
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Gustavia, St Barthelemy
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Saint Kitts, St Kitts and Nevis
Saint John, US Virgin Islands
Tender ports in the US:
Bar Harbor, Maine
Icy Strait Point, Alaska
Kona, Hawaii Island, Hawaii
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Newport, Rhode Island
Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
Santa Barbara, California
Tender ports in Europe, Africa and the Middle East:
Alghero, Sardinia, Italy
Alter Do Chao, Portugal
Argostóli, Nissos Kefalonia, Greece
Horta, Azores, Portugal
Korcula, Otok Korcula, Croatia
Le Palais, France
Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Mgarr (Victoria), Malta
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Mykonos, Nisos Mykonos, Greece
Nosy Be, Madagascar
Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen, Norway
Paamiut (formerly Frederikshåb), Greenland
Ponza, Isola di Ponza, Italy
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Portoferraio, Elba, Italy
Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
South Queensferry (Edinburgh), Scotland
St Helier, Jersey
St Peter Port, Guernsey
Trincomalee, Sri Lanka