MiscellaneousWhat Happens When Your Cruise Ship Leaves Without You?

What Happens When Your Cruise Ship Leaves Without You?

If there is one mistake that you should never make on a cruise, it should be the mistake of arriving late back to the ship while in port.

Carnival cruise ship leaving the port of Nassau
Carnival Spirit departing from Nassau, Bahamas. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

If you have taken several cruises, you undoubtedly have watched pier runners running back to the ship just before you are scheduled to sail.  It happens almost every cruise and while just about everyone makes it back on board in time, once and awhile some are left standing at the pier watching their ship sail away without them.

First of all, the ship will NOT wait for you if you are late.  However, if you are on a sponsored excursion booked through the cruise line and are late coming back, the ship will wait.

Excursions booked through a 3rd party normally allow for extra time so you won’t miss the ship. The locals know what time the cruise ships leave and the last thing they want is for you to get left behind.  

The majority of cruisers who miss the ship miss it because they lost track of time and are late getting back on their own.  Cruise lines usually have the all aboard time 30 minutes before they actually leave.

If a ship is scheduled to depart at 5:00 pm, then the all aboard time will be 4:30 pm. This allows for the ship to depart right on time and still give guests a few minutes leeway if they are late.

For instance, using the above times, if passengers arrive back to the ship at 4:40 pm, the gangway is usually still out and they can board the ship. Obviously, I don’t recommend timing it out this way as you should always be back on board before all aboard time. But, this does allow for a few minute cushion incase any passengers are running late.

The gangway will normally be out until all passengers are on the ship or it will get pulled 5-10 minutes before departure so the vessel can leave on time.

For ports that require tenders, there will be a “last tender” time. In all of my cruises, I have seen the last tender time anywhere from 30-60 minutes before departure. This is to allow time for the tender to reach the ship and passengers to board. The time varies from port to port based on how long the tender ride is. I have had five minute tender rides in some ports, while others have been as long as 15-20 minutes (Kotor, Edinburgh).

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What happens to those who miss the ship?  Here is the procedure that cruise lines go through when a passenger is not back on board when the ship is scheduled to leave port.

If a passenger is not on board at the scheduled departure time, their name is called over the PA system to make sure that they didn’t board without their cruise card checking them back in.  If there is no response after five minutes, another announcement is made over the general emergency system.

If there is still no response, a member of guest services will be accompanied by a security officer to check the passenger’s cabin to see if they are there.  If they are not there, they will look for the passenger’s passport and use a master key to check for it in the safe.  They do this because many passengers will put their passports in their safe on embarkation day to keep them safe.

Read more: 3 things to do if you miss your cruise ship

If they are unable to find the passports, the ship assumes that the passenger has them with them.  If they find the passport, it is given to the ship agent (there is an agent stationed in every port) so the passenger will have them when they arrive back at the pier. A passport is needed for all international flights so they can catch back up with the ship.

The passenger is then responsible for all fees and for the cost of lodging and flights to meet back up with the ship.  Last minute international fares can be extremely expensive. The ship agent will assist the passenger in booking flights and a hotel.

Travel insurance may or may not cover flights if you miss the ship due to your own negligence.  Cruise ships wait as long as they can before leaving but are often on strict time schedules.

Our advice, always plan on arriving back at the pier a minimum of one hour before you are scheduled to leave.  This will allow for unexpected delays (traffic, flat tire etc) and ensure that you won’t be left standing on the pier watching your ship sail away without you.

Note: This article was last updated in March 2024.

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Ben Souza
Ben Souza
Ben is a world traveler who has visited 40+ countries, taken over 70 cruises. He is one of USA TODAY's experts for their 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. His writings have appeared and been cited in various media outlets such as Yahoo News, MSN, NPR, CNN, Fox, and ABC News. Ben currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow Ben on Instagram. Visit Ben Souza on Linkedin. You may email Ben at [email protected].
MiscellaneousWhat Happens When Your Cruise Ship Leaves Without You?


  1. Good to know about the passport info and how it goes from the safe to the agent. I always wondered about that.

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