Port stops and shore excursions add another level of enjoyment to your cruise vacation experience. Everyone has heard stories about the passenger who didn’t make it back to the ship or the person with the bad experience because they followed someone down a dark alley. Let us look at ten mistakes to avoid and the precautionary steps to try keeping you safe.
- Don’t carry all your credit cards, driver’s license and full wallet. You do not expect to be separated from your wallet, but it can happen. If you are not renting a car, what is the logic of carrying your driver’s license? The average American has four credit cards. (1) VISA is the most widely accepted card with 44 million locations taking it. MasterCard follows with 37 million. (2)
Better: Carry one card when you leave the ship.
- Do go ashore with local currency or US dollars. You might not expect to spend any money, but that is no reason to go ashore with empty pockets. You might like the food on offer from street vendors, but they don’t take cards or ApplePay. Dollars and Euros generally have worldwide acceptance, but you are leaving the exchange rate to the shopkeeper or taxi driver’s discretion.
Better: Have some cash folded around your credit card. Be prepared.
- Don’t forget to keep copies of credit cards in your safe. Possible theft is always a concern, but it is easier to lose a credit card than you might imagine. Many people have experienced the “Where did I put that credit card” moment. If you are home, you know it’s probably in the house somewhere. If you are sailing to your next port, that is a different story.
Better: If you need to report your card as missing to the credit card company, a saved copy of the card (both sides) gives you your card numbers and the emergency number to call.
- Carry a passport photocopy ashore, not the original document. You might get the ship’s advice on this subject. You are often advised to have your passport with you, if you need to show ID or are stopped by the authorities for some reason. If you can misplace a credit card, you can misplace a passport.
Better: The photocopy has all the pertinent information. If you lose it, that is better than losing the original document and trying to explain the situation to the Customs agent when you return to the US.
- Don’t forget your ship ID card. This should be a no brainer. The ship probably will not let you off without it. OK, wearing it on a cord around your neck gets you thinking of Paddington Bear and marks you as a tourist, but lots of other clues show you are a visitor. Getting back onboard would be tough if you do not have your ID.
Better: Wear it around your neck, but tuck it into your shirt.
- Know what you can and cannot bring back to your home country. Australia and New Zealand have strict rules. So do the US and the UK. It is best to assume bringing plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables back home is prohibited. You may be required to throw them away before clearing Customs.
Better: Skip this idea entirely. Buy what you like at your local stores back home.
- Don’t go ashore alone. This isn’t meant to scare anyone. Touring is more fun when you can elbow someone and say: “Did you see that?” They can look at their watch and ask: “What time does the ship leave?
Instead: If you are new to cruising, start by booking shore excursions. Make friends at the start of the voyage and see if they want to stick together when you go ashore.
- Not knowing when the ship sails. This might sound like a no brainer, but seven ports in seven days might include seven different departure times!
Better: There should be a sign at the gangway with the departure and “all ashore” times. Write it down.
- Don’t forget the port map from the tourist office. Sometimes your ship is the tallest structure in town. It’s a landmark. On another trip you might be in New York City and several ships are in port, docked in different locations. The ship or the tourist office onshore should have single sheet tourist maps.
Better: Know where you are starting from and the path you intend to take. Stick to wider avenues, especially if the signage is in a foreign language. Put a big “X” on the location of your ship. A taxi driver should be able to figure it out, even if there is a language barrier.
- Bring a watch or smartphone. The logical reason you would “miss the ship” is you lose track of time. Years ago, I worked with a fellow who took a Caribbean cruise and missed the ship twice, as I recall! You can be drinking or watching a show and simply lose track of time.
Better: Plan on getting back to the ship an hour before you are supposed to be back. It lessens the anxiety level.
- Don’t assume everyone is out to cheat you. Some ports have better reputations than others. You might encounter a crowd of taxi drivers wanting to sell you a one-hour tour in their cab. You might be suspicious.
Instead: Be on your guard, like you would be at home but, generally speaking, people are inherently good. Strangers give directions. If you are walking off your ship and several ships are in port, many of the people you meet are likely to be fellow passengers. How they are dressed on the ship ID cards on cords around their necks are good clues.
- Remember the ship’s rules about alcohol purchases ashore. While visiting the Greek island of Rhodes on our ship, the Swan Hellenic Diana anchored alongside the Virgin Cruises ship, Resilient Lady. We passed the ship as we walked into port. There was a sign at the foot of the gangway advising passengers they are not allowed to bring alcoholic beverages back onboard.
Better: Check the rules. The ship likely sells duty free liquor in one of the onboard shops. You should get an attractive price and the bottles are delivered to your stateroom on the final night for packing into your luggage.
Some of us are experienced cruisers, others are trying this type of vacation for the first time. Raking precautions is never a bad thing to do.
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cover photo: Sightseeing boats cruising on the Vltava River in Prague © Dennis Cox / Photo Explorer Productions, All Rights Reserved