Cruise TipsHow to Never Miss Your Cruise Ship and Get Left Behind

How to Never Miss Your Cruise Ship and Get Left Behind

Don't get left behind cruise ship
Cozumel, Mexico

There is an odd tradition for some who cruise a lot.  They find a comfy spot on the pool deck about the time the ship is set to leave port.

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And then … they watch.  It happens almost every cruise.   “Pier runners” start emerging from the distance as they run as fast as they can, trying to get back on the ship before the gangway is hauled in.

These latecomers are greeted by cheers and shouts of “You can make it! Run Faster!”, but for those running, it’s no laughing matter, especially if they don’t make it in time.

So how do you make sure you never miss your cruise ship?  How do you avoid becoming a “pier runner”?

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

While your port of call might seem like a paradise, being “stuck” on foreign soil without a passport or means of transportation can quickly become a vacation nightmare.

If you’d like to know what happens if you do miss your ship you can check out our post, but this article is meant to help make sure it never happens to you

Here are some simple rules to follow to make sure you don’t miss your cruise ship and get left behind.

The cruisers in the video below were VERY close to being left behind…

Ship Time Rules: Don’t Trust Your Phone

This is probably the #1 reason people get left behind at a cruise port.  They fail to follow ship time.  The times in your daily program are based on ship time, no matter what the time may be in your port of call.

You might use your phone as a watch.  You never need to set the time because the time from your network is always accurate, right?  Well, in this case, wrong.

On one recent cruise a few people were left behind because they were using their phones for the time, but their phones automatically set to local time, which was one hour behind ship time.   They thought they had plenty of time to make it back to the ship, only to find that the ship was already gone.

For this reason I like to wear a cheap, non-smart watch, not one that automatically sets the time for me.  I set it to ship time so I always know how much time I have left in port.

Pat Attention to the All Aboard Time Not the Set Sail Time

Some cruise lines don’t even list the set sail time as it may cause confusion.  The time by which you’re aiming to be back on the ship is the all aboard time.   The set sail time is when the ship actually plans on pulling away from the pier, but by then the doors are closed and you’re supposed to be on the pool deck waving back at the port.

Just don’t use the all aboard time as a reason to procrastinate your journey back to the pier.   I like to aim to be back at least 30 minutes before all aboard time.  At least try to be within a very short walking distance form the ship before this time and that will take the stress out of things.

By the way, if you’re one of those people who is late to everything, you might want to set your watch 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the actual time.  And then try to forget your watch is fast.

Book Excursions Through the Cruise Line

I’ve booked excursions through 3rd parties before.  Sometimes you can find a great deal or find a very unique excursion not offered by the cruise line.  But if you want to make sure you don’t miss your ship, book your excursions through the cruise line directly.

Companies that work through the cruise line are in direct communications with the ship, so if there is a delay in your activity, the ship will know and they will wait for you.   They will not leave you behind.

If you book an excursion through a 3rd party and something happens that delays your arrival back to the pier, the ship will not wait for you.  Your very next excursion will be figuring out how to get to the next port of call on your own.

Know How Far Your Planned Activities Are from the Ship

Let’s say you want to do your own thing at the port of call.  Go for it.  But know how long it will take to get back as well.

For example, if you are on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico there are a lot of excursions on the mainland.  There are even some excellent Mayan ruins you can visit while there.  But some of these are at least 2 hours from the ship itself and involve a ferry crossing.  They are all-day activities that require some planning.   Again, this is especially true if not booking through the ship.

Here is some advice that may help you.  If there are some things you want to do that are a little further away from the ship, do them first.  Do the things last that are right near the ship, so if you are delayed a little it will not affect you as much.

You don’t want to have to tip your cab driver $100 to drive like a mad man and get you back in time, unless that gives you the thrill you are looking for of course.    In that case you should really check out our post on the best shore excursions for adrenaline junkies.

Schedule for Time Delays

There are some things you simply can’t control.  Realize that things like weather, traffic, and even medical issues can prevent you from staying on schedule.  Always give yourself a buffer of time between all the things you want to do and see in port.

What you don’t want to have to do is rush.  When you’re in a rush you tend to make silly mistakes that can prove costly to your wallet and safety.

The Amazing Race is a fascinating show to watch on TV, but when the possibility of missing your cruise ship is at stake, allowing for some extra time is the way to go.   You don’t have to be Team #1, but you don’t want to be the team waving at your cruise ship as it sails into the sunset.

left behind cruise ship

Do Last Minute Plans Near the Ship

Some cruise ports will have a lot of shopping right at the port itself.  Go ahead and hit this last as you are heading back to the ship.  You will be a short walk from hopping back on your floating hotel and you won’t feel as rushed.  Just don’t let time slip away while piling up those $5 T-shirts.

But there can be a false sense of security if you’re right near the ship.  You can tell yourself you have plenty of time but then look down at your watch and realize that time is gone.

Many of the workers at the cruise ports and tourism areas will know what time the ship is supposed to leave port and they can be helpful in reminding you to head back to the ship, but don’t rely on this as your alarm clock to head back.

Don’t Try to Do Too Much

So it’s your first time in Jamaica and you just want to see and do it all.  On paper it might look doable, but in realty trying to do too much while in a cruise port will just mean you won’t get to really enjoy one thing very much at all.

The difficult aspect of cruising is that you’re only at that certain port of call for a few hours, and those hours go by very quickly.

The schedule might say you arrive in port at 8am, but in reality you might not get off the ship until 8:30 or 9:00.   Then your little schedule is already behind by an hour and you will be flying through all those beaches, landmarks, and shops.

Pick 1 or 2 things that you really want to do at a port of call and see how the day develops.  If you feel like you have time to add in some more shopping or sightseeing go for it, but you won’t have the pressure of trying to do it all in a short amount of time.

hwo to not miss your cruise ship

Get a Map and Cruise Ship Contact Info Before You Leave the Ship

Another big reason some cruisers fail to make it back to the ship on time is that they simply get lost.  While there are many remedies to this that will get you back on track, having a basic understanding of your surroundings and looking at a map ahead of time will help you from going way off course.

I’ve used Google Maps on my phone before while navigating a cruise port, but if you don’t have data you can use in another country you might have to go back to the basics with a map.

You should also have contact details for the ship.  This way if you do get lost or need to let the ship know your situation you can easily do so.

Travel with Some Accountability Partners

There’s always the option of getting off the ship with another couple or person to help keep you on track.  Just make sure they are more time-conscious than you and preferably have a few more cruises under their belt.  Avid cruisers know the tricks of the trade and are very unlikely to miss the ship.

Worse case scenario is you all miss the cruise ship together, but at least you have someone with which you can share your misery and you can make travel arrangements to the next port of call together.

Just Stay on the Ship

Well you can’t miss the ship if you never get off of it, right?  Ok, this piece of advice is a little tongue-in-cheek, but I had to put it in here.  After all, if you’re really stressing out about missing the ship, or you had an experience with something like that before, just enjoy all the amenities a cruise ship has to offer.

Related: 7 Reason to Stay on the Ship When in Port

One big benefit of staying on the ship is that there are fewer people in the pools and hot tubs and you might actually find a lounger without a towel saving it.

What would you add?

What advice do you have for our readers?  How do you make sure you never miss the cruise ship at a port of call?

We’d love to hear from you.

And if you have any funny stories or personal experiences you’d like to share on missing a cruise ship let us know.  I mean the comment section is there for a reason, and if you’ve read this far in the article you might as well take a few more minutes to enlighten us.

Time is something that slips away so easily when on a cruise.  It’s partly the reason why so many of us love to go on cruises.  Just don’t let it be the reason you miss your ship.

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Cruise TipsHow to Never Miss Your Cruise Ship and Get Left Behind


  1. I suggest you don’t get drunk while on shore. Thats a good way to lose track of time, or you might fall asleep at the beach. You can drink once you are safely back on the ship.

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