Can cruise ships leave passengers behind?

Last updated on October 5th, 2021 at 09:16 pm

Yes, cruise ships can leave passengers behind when departing from a port, and it’s usually caused by people just not paying attention to the time, or their shore excursion has been delayed and they are getting back late to the ship.

While it doesn’t happen too often that a passenger gets left behind, people arriving late is all too common.  If you stand out on the deck, shortly before the ship is scheduled to depart, you’ll likely notice the last few stragglers running for their life in order to get back to the ship before the gangway is pulled back. It can be quite entertaining to watch. 

Don’t be late returning to the cruise ship

In general, if a large number of passengers are going to be late getting back to the ship due to a late shore excursion, the ship will wait. However, if you’re just late – the ship will leave you behind and the worst part – if you wish to re-join the cruise at the next port, you will need to arrange transportation (flights) at your own expense. 


Why will ships leave without passengers? Ships are usually on a pretty tight schedule, and it can cost a lot of money if there are delays in leaving a port. We all pay port fees for our cruise, and this goes toward the cost of the ship docking at the port.

Ships can be fined for not leaving at the scheduled time, especially if it’s a busy port. Also, if a ship is delayed leaving port, they often have to speed up to get to the next port on time, which can burn through a lot of fuel. All in all, it’s really up to the captain if he/she decides to wait, or determines it’s time to pull out without someone. 

So, how do you avoid getting left behind? There are few ways:

1. Pay attention to the time.

Before you get off the ship, make sure you know what time you need to be back. You can find this information in your daily cruise news and there will likely be announcements before you get off the ship.

Also make sure you know if the time is “ship time” or “port time” if there has been a time change while at sea. If you don’t wear a watch, be careful relying on your cell phone especially if there is an hour or two difference between the ship time and the port time. It might be helpful to set an alarm for yourself, especially if you plan on enjoying a few of the local alcoholic beverages.

If you have been tendered into a port, make sure you know what time the last tender leaves (and try to get on before that). Lines can be long and the tender boats can fill up fast the closer you get to boarding time.

2. Take an excursion instead of going off on your own. 

Going off on your own can be tricky if you’re unfamiliar with your port, unless you are really conscious of the time, and do some research of the port prior to arriving.

While the cruise line always says it’s best to take their shore excursions because they are guaranteed to get back to the ship on time, there are other independent tour companies that guarantee the same thing, and often at a lower price than what the cruise ship charges.

Shore Excursions Group is a good example of this. All of their tour operators are fully aware of what time your ship departs and the tours are designed with this in mind, giving you plenty of time to spare to get back to the ship. In the very rare occurrence that you don’t make it back in time, Shore Excursions Group will fully pay for your meals, hotel costs and transportation to the next port, to meet back up with the ship. 

Just be responsible for yourself and make good decisions. You don’t want to end up like this:

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