Do’s and Don’ts for a Stress-Free Cruise Port Visit

Most of us look forward to port stops on cruises. We love the ship, but get “cabin fever” after a while. We want to wiggle out toes in the sand. We get tired of the shops onboard and want more variety. Many ports around the world are dependent on tourism. What are some Do’s and Don’ts?


  1. Walk purposefully. You brought along a map. Trace out your route ahead of time. The people who live here go about their daily business at a certain speed. Try to match their pace. There is an urban rumor concerning New York City. Some people wanted major streets like 5th Avenue to have two pedestrian traffic lanes: One for locals trying to set somewhere and another for tourists who walk slowly and gaze at the buildings.
  2. Carry local currency. Generally speaking, the US dollar is accepted in many places around the world, but it makes sense to carry the country’s own money. The store might accept US dollars, but they set the exchange rate, which could be arbitrary.
  3. Bring identification including your ship boarding card. You cannot assume everyone speaks the same language. If you need to get back to the ship and there is a language barrier with the taxi driver, showing your boarding card will identify the ship and cruise line. That should help a lot.
  4. Bottled water is a good idea. You cannot assume tap water is safe to drink everywhere. Your ship is aware of this issue and might sell bottles to passengers going ashore. If not, local supermarkets should carry it. You should hydrate. You do not want to have stomach issues for the remainder of your cruise.
  5. Experience local life. Try public transportation. Visit a local supermarket. Attend a festival. Visit the local house of worship for your faith. Another interesting activity is to stop outside a local real estate office and look at prices for property.
  6. See what makes this port special. Your cruise line selected this port for a reason. There are sights that make it famous. There are certain dishes or cocktails that originated here. They might have rainforests or natural geysers. The local wine might not be available back home. Have the experiences.
  7. Bring back souvenirs. Think outside the box. Two really cool things to buy young children are stamps and local paper money. Both can be laminated at home. Consider writing a few letters on ship stationary or buying foldable airmail envelopes in the local post office. People back home will be thrilled to get an actual letter from overseas!
  8. Look both ways before crossing the street. Ports with a connection to British history might still drive on the left-hand side of the road. You need to look Right/Left/Right instead of Left/Right/Left as we do in the US. Some countries might not follow our “pedestrian has the right of way” convention. The minibikes using the sidewalk as a traffic lane is my personal favorite.


  1. Don’t dress like a tourist. This is more difficult than it sounds. Obviously, you are a tourist. You will stand out. You do not need to wear your ship’s boarding card on a cord around your neck, similar to Paddington Bear. You do not need to carry the largest camera you can find on a strap around your neck. Dress like you would when going out grocery shopping on a sunny day back home.
  2. Don’t think you can win Three Card Monty. Ports often feature illegal street games run by shady characters. They are fun to watch, especially if you are seated in a café nearby. There will be the guy running the game, a couple of gang members playing and appearing to win, others who are “touts” encouraging you to try your luck and a couple of lookouts watching for police. Don’t expect this operation is designed to send away happy winners/
  3. Do not explore without a map. I’ve gotten lost in Madrid. I didn’t wander that far off a main street. I thought I knew how to find my way back: All I needed to do was turn left at the little square. There was a little square every couple of blocks! Buy a good map.
  4. Do not go exploring alone. This ties into the “getting lost” example above. There is safety in numbers. Ideally someone speaks the language. You see enough news stories on TV to understand no place is absolutely safe.
  5. Do not travel a distance without knowing how you will get back. One of the things I want to do on our next trip to Bermuda is take a public bus and ride it to the end of the line. The scenery and people watching should be fantastic. I will need to know the route and schedule for getting back. I will need to have an alterative (taxi). Unlike a hotel vacation, your ship has a scheduled departure time. You need to be onboard with time to spare.
  6. Do not follow the guy seeking to sell you fake watches or luxury goods. He approached you on the main pedestrian street. He had a furtive look and kept glancing over his shoulder. He showed you a fold out card with color pictures of scarves and purses. His shop is at the other end of that dark alley. He will show you the way. This is a bad idea for many reasons.
  7. Think twice before buying fine jewelry. There are legitimate stores in ports. They often have branches in major world capitals along with a return policy. That should give you some degree of confidence. Buying emeralds in a local store without an international footprint is a bad idea. Suppose upon returning home you discover the stone isn’t real? What are you going to do?  Fly back to the port to return it?  It’s likely no one will take responsibility. Also, it’s unlikely you are going to get a really, really good deal compared to what you would pay at home. Let’s not forget Customs inspections.

Every port stop can be a spectacular experience, if you approach it the right way.

Cover photo: Large house in Key West style architecture ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews

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