Think of taking a cruise, and you likely picture strolling leisurely across the beach, having a drink under an umbrella, or maybe swimming in crystal-clear water.
And while there is an amazing amount of fun and things to do on the ship, it’s no accident that many people think more about their time off the ship. After all, head to most cruise line websites and you’ll see lots of pictures of people on beaches or jumping through the water.
Make no doubt, if it’s beach and water you want, you will have plenty of time to do that on your cruise. But many first-time cruisers may be a bit surprised about how much time they actually spend on a ship.
Take a 7-night cruise, for example. During that week, you might have three or four different ports of call. If you are new to cruising, you might think that means you’ll have three to four days in port our of seven — or the majority of your time.
In fact, your time in port and on shore is much less than that. That’s because despite having multiple stops during a cruise, you spend only a handful of hours in each port.
Time Spent in Port on an Example Cruise
Let’s look at a typical week-long cruise. This one departs Galveston, Texas and sails to three ports — Roatan, Costa Maya, and Cozumel.
If you were on this trip, the schedule might look like this:
Day 1: Boarding (all aboard at 3:00 p.m)
Day 2: At sea
Day 3: At sea
Day 4: Roatan (at port from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)
Day 5: Costa Maya (at port from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.)
Day 6: Cozumel (at port from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.)
Day 7: At sea
Day 8: Arrive home (7:00 a.m.)
This is fairly typical of many cruises, although there might be more or fewer ports of call depending on your trip. But there is almost always a day or two at sea and the ship is in port only for about eight hours on average during its stops.
Consider that a week cruise that departs at 3:00 p.m. and gets back a week later at 7 a.m. is gone for a total of 160 hours. But with three ports of call that are eight hours each, only 24 of those hours are spent in port. And beyond that, most people don’t leave the ship the second the gates open and get back right at the last minute. In other words, the actual amount of time spent on the ship is even greater.
In fact, if you spent the entire 24 hours in port hanging out on shore, that would still make up only 15% of the entire week cruise. In other words, 85% of your time is spent on the ship.
As we said, it can be surprising how little of your time is actually spent on shore during your cruise.
How to Make the Most of Time in Port
So what if you are the type of person who loves to explore ports and you want to make the most of your vacation on land? We have a few tips for maximizing those precious hours you spend in port.
Plan an Excursion
Excursions are planned outings that can be arranged on your own or through the cruise line. They can cover any number of things, from snorkeling trips to relaxing beach days, to guided tours. No matter what you decide to do, excursions can help you make the absolute most of your time in port. There’s not time wasted trying to figure out what to do or how to get there — it’s all taken care of for you. Even better, excursions give you a chance to do things on your cruise that you’d never get to do back home.
Look for Cruises With More Ports of Call
There is no rule about how many ports of call a cruise can have. You might find weeklong cruises that have three stops… or some that have five stops. Or you might find a four-day cruise with three stops and some others with one. Obviously if you want to spend more time in ports, you should look for cruises with more ports of call. Remember, each day in port is roughly eight hours of time ashore.
Look for Cruises With Overnight Stays
Short stays in port have been a complaint of some passengers for a long time. Over the past several years we’ve seen a number of cruise lines start offering trips with overnight stays — usually at ports in Cuba such as Havana. These overnight stays give you a ton of time in port, allowing you to have dinner and take in the nightlife without feeling rushed to get back to the ship.
Sail on a Ship With Tons to Do
As a basic rule of thumb, the newer the ship, the more things there are to do. Cruise ships built in the past five years offer completely different experiences than ships built 15 years ago. If you’re going to end up spending the majority of your time on the ship anyway, it makes sense to choose a newer ship where there is a lot to do.