Cruise Hacks: Make the Most of your Time in Port

Cruisers wanting to maximise their experience both on and off their ship are being encouraged to make the most of their time at each port of call

Cruisers wanting to maximise their experience both on and off their ship are being encouraged to make the most of their time at each port of call.

Experts from Panache Cruises are encouraging holidaymakers to plan ahead to make sure they make the most of their time when on a cruise.

Once on-board, cruisers are encouraged to simply unpack, sit back and enjoy all the ‘extras’ available to them – which is easy thanks to the all-inclusive packages available on many luxury cruise lines.

From welcome bottles of champagne to sumptuous afternoon teas, spa treatments to gourmet coffees, each ship is different and has a wealth of exclusive features to wow every guest.

But for those looking to get their very best out of their cruising experience, there are lots of excursions, offshore adventures and onboard activities to plan for well ahead of the departure date.

Often, cruisers will have between a half a day and a full day to explore local landmarks, cuisines and take in the culture. Knowing how to best make the most of this limited time requires some planning and preparation.

James Cole, founder and managing director at Panache Cruises said:

“Time off a ship at a port of call can pass by very quickly. With a bit of forward planning though it is possible for passengers to fully experience the sights and sounds of their new destination.

“We want to make sure every cruiser has the best experience possible – whether on or off the ship. This is why we wanted to share our top ‘hacks’ so people can get the most out of their experience, whether they are first time cruisers or regular sailors.”

  1. First off, last on

When getting to a new port, it is always best to make sure you are the first off the boat, and the last back on. This way, you can make the most of your time off the ship and fully explore each new destination. Typically, you will need to be back on-board at least one hour before the scheduled departure time. Don’t be late though as cruise ship captains seldom wait for people without good reason.

When going ashore, take photocopies of your passports and travel insurance documents with you as well as the phone number for your ship should you encounter a problem. Also make sure you have the contact details of the cruise line’s local port agent and its customer services department. Keep this information on your person as opposed to in a backpack which might get lost or stolen.

  1. Plan 

By reviewing the trip itinerary and destinations, you can plan your shore excursions in advance. This is wise because sometimes spaces are limited and you might miss out on your first choice of excursion. Pay attention to where your boat will be docking and how much time you will have there. This will help you decide if you want to book a tour, spend the time exploring on your own or head straight to the main attractions on shore. You will find a wealth of information online or you can invest in one of the excellent ‘Ports of Call’ guides by brands such as Fodors, Berlitz and Lonely Planet.  You might also want to contact the Tourist Information office in each port of call for details of any local events or companies offering specialist excursions.

  1. Think about your time 

Cruise itineraries can range from a few days to a few months – so it is important to think about your time on the cruise and how you would like to split your time between exploring off-shore destinations and enjoying all the amazing facilities on your ship.  Staying up to watch a late night show on-board might make it harder to get up early and be the first off the ship the next day. It makes sense to plan your meal times accordingly – most cruise lines offer early or late dinner seating times. Some speciality restaurants will get booked several days in advance too so it pays to plan ahead.


  1. Consider excursion options 

For the days you are in port, your cruise line will offer excursions for those on-board to get a feel for each new location. These can vary widely in terms of price. Look into your travel destinations and see if it would be worth paying for the excursions offered.  Alternatively, you might like to book an independent tour or even book a local taxi driver for a day to show you around.  This is often the best way to explore a Caribbean island and to discover the best spots that are often missed by tourists.  Remember that most cruise lines will usually offer a free bus transfer from the local port to the local town too.


When booking an independent tour, remember the ship will not wait for you if the excursion over runs – so be sure to only book tours which will finish up an hour or two ahead of boarding time.

As a general rule, tours that are organised by the cruise line are slightly more expensive than local companies but the main advantage of booking a tour organised by a cruise line is that the ship will wait for you if there is delay. Of course, if you are travelling with a luxury or ultra-luxury cruise line where tours are included in the standard fare, this is not an issue.

  1. Try something new 

There is no better way to fully explore what a destination has to offer than by trying out something new. Whether this is kayaking in New Zealand, exploring The Blue Mosque in Istanbul or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Immerse yourself in the local culture and broaden your horizons. Eat at a local restaurant for lunch and talk to the locals. You will find the experience of visiting each destination so much more rewarding!

  1. Invest in the local economy

A lot of people will return to their ship for lunch during a port of call because food is included in their cruise fare. By doing this though many people miss out on the opportunity to travel further inland to reach the best attractions. By returning to the ship for lunch you are also missing out on experiencing the local culture and cuisine. Immersing yourself in the local culture is one of the most enjoyable aspects of a cruise after all! Please also spare a thought for the local economy of the country you are visiting as the people there often rely on tourist income. Ask your cruise concierge for recommendations for the best local eateries before you get off the ship or look for recommendations online before you leave home.

  1. Read onboard newsletters

Cruisers will receive an onboard newsletter filled with information about the planned activities for the following day. Some people will choose to stay on-board when in port and there is always something interesting to get involved in on the ship with activities laid on by the cruise line. The ship is usually very quiet during ports of call so many people use this time to book a spa treatment or just enjoy the ship’s swimming pool or spa when it is quieter.

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