Ports of Call Tips

Read these 10 Ports of Call Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Cruises tips and hundreds of other topics.

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( 82) Staying On the Ship in Port

If time, interest, physical condition or budget does not make ship excursions a choice for a day in port, don't worry. There is usually a local market near cruise ship ports and cruise lines offer shuttle bus transportation to and from shopping areas that are not within walking distance.

Staying onboard the ship when it is berthed in port is another option. When the crowds disembark for tours and explorations, the ship is yours. Pricey spa and salon treatments suddenly become affordable with port specials. Meals are served as usual. There's never a competition for the best poolside lounge chair. The crew staff offers games and movies play in the theater.

Even if you disembark for a short time, many cruisers prefer half day tours and return to the ship to relax and watch the non-stop activity in the harbor.


(81) Savvy Shopping in Cruise Ports

Between must see and must do attractions, few travelers resist the lure of shops, bazaars and local markets. Grab your cash, credit cards and a shopping bag and test these savvy shopping tips from a veteran flight attendant who has shopped the world.

Research guidebooks and websites to learn about port of call shopping specialties. Make a list of things you want to buy and a gift list. Study prices so you don't pay more for items than they cost at home. Check prices on EBay or by searching items on Yahoo or Google for comparison.

Read Know Before You Go from U.S. Customs at www.customs.gov. When shopping abroad, it is easy to accidentally purchase prohibited items. Don't depend on what shopkeepers tell you. For instance, markets in Mexico , Central America and parts of Asia are filled with prohibited and restricted items.

If shopping internationally, print a pocket-sized copy of the currency exchange cheatsheet for your destination at www.oanda.com and a common phrase language translation cheatsheet at www.travelang.com.

If you enjoy shopping in markets and bazaars, learn to bargain with best. Ask your travel agent or cruise director about local bargaining protocol. Compare prices at several local shops before buying. Begin bargaining at 50 percent off the asking price and expect to settle for about around 60 percent of the seller's original price. Decide what you are willing to pay and walk away if you can't agree on a reasonable price. Don't haggle over pennies. When negotiations reach that point, give in. Consider the economic conditions where you are and how much a few cents means in a poor economy. Expect to get “taken” occasionally. It's part of the experience and makes a good cruise travel story, if you admit it!

Pay for expensive purchases in ports (especially if they are to be shipped) with a credit card that offers buyer protection benefits. However, remember that the exchange rate you are charged is the rate the day the charge posts to your account, not the day of your purchase. If exchange rates are volatile, you could pay more than you thought for charged items.

Keep a log and receipts for all your purchases. Use your log to complete your customs form and verify purchases on your charge card statement.

Give as well as take. Pack a few small gifts. Inexpensive items such as sunglasses, bandannas and ballpoint pens are sought after in many countries. Use the gifts to barter or simply enjoy the pleasure and goodwill they bring.

Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where and how to shop. Shopping is an art. Hone your skills and buy some happiness.


(79) What to Take Along for a Day in Port

Remember that tote bag or backpack you packed? Now is the time to stock it and take it along while exploring a port. Don't forget these daypack essentials:

  • Your cruise card. You must show your cruise card and crowd by photo ID any time you leave or return to the ship.
  • Your excursion tour ticket. You won't get far without it!
  • A bottle of water and snack. Err on the side of caution in international ports where water quality is questionable.
  • An umbrella or poncho. Unexpected showers crop up and there's nothing more uncomfortable than touring in wet clothes.
  • A hat, sunshades and sunscreen. In tropical climates, add insect repellent.
  • Over the counter meds for headache, nausea and indigestion and bacterial hand gel and tissues. (Public restrooms in some countries do not supply toilet tissue!)
  • Your camera and cruise journal.
  • Money and credit cards tucked securely in a hidden pouch or money belt.
  • A local map and guidebook, especially if exploring on your own.
  • The name and telephone number for the cruise line port agent.
  • A cell phone or calling card for a quick call home.
Before disembarking in port, confirm sail-away time and allow plenty of time to get back to the ship for sail-away.


(80) Using ATMs for Cash in Ports

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are a convenient source of cash for shopping in ports of call. Take this advice from an international banking expert when using an ATM card in ports:

  • Activate and try out a new ATM card before leaving on your trip. An ATM card can only be activated by doing a balance inquiry at an ATM machine or from your home telephone number. Don't wait until you need cash before activating the card.

  • Memorize your pin number. Do NOT write it on the card or in your checkbook.
  • Many international ATMs use only numbers. If your pin number is composed of letters, look on the telephone pad and convert the letters to numbers (memorize the numbers) before leaving the country. This is not about getting a “new” ATM pin number. It is your same pin just in a different format.
  • Check and possibly increase your daily withdrawal limit. Most ATM cards are capped with a $300 daily limit. You can request, in writing, that the limit be increased. Plan ahead. You can't do this by telephone after leaving the country.
  • Use ATMs in well-lighted locations. Guard your pin number during usage. Shield the keypad with your other hand. Don't use a machine when there is someone loitering nearby.
  • Don't toss the ATM receipt in the nearest trash can. It can be a source of bank account information for thieves on the prowl for identity theft opportunities. Hang onto that receipt; you will need it to verify the correct transactions to your account when you return home.


(78) Sample Port for a Cruise Ship Excursion

The cruise port for Paris is Le Havre. There's not much to see or do in Le Havre. It is primarily a working freighter port. However, there is much to see in Paris or Normandy. However, Paris is three hours from Le Havre. You could hire a car or take a train, but if there is a delay you may miss the ship. Cruise ship excursions to Paris are about 10-12 hours.

The drive to Paris is enjoyable. Sit back, relax and enjoy the countryside. Learn about area history from your tour guide. Take a nap. With six hours total round-trip drive time, you will have about four or five hours in Paris. Not much time to see the City of Light but, if you have never been to Paris, a glimpse is better than missing this beautiful and romantic city. The ship excursion takes in the city's major landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and a Bateau Mouche motorboat cruise along the Seine River.

Cost of Paris ship excursions is around $150-$175. Excursions to Normandy Beach, the site of the D-Day invasion, are comparably priced and must for many military buffs.


(77) Sample Port for Easy Independent Exploration

San Diego is rapidly becoming one of the most popular cruise ports along the west coast of the United States and it is an easy port to explore on your own. Here is a sample of the activities available near the cruise ship terminal.

See San Diego highlights a day with Old Town Trolley Tours. Hop on the colorful trolley at the cruise terminal and ride the entire route passing dozens of are landmarks. Entertaining and informative trolley conductors provide a running commentary about lore and legends of Coronado Island, Old Town, the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park and San Diego neighborhoods. Hop off and spend time at interesting locations along the route. Hop back on a later trolley. When your trolley makes a stop at Old Town, pay at the ticket office before continuing your tour.

Tour the San Diego Maritime Museum and the USS Midway. A stone's throw from cruise ship docks, the USS Midway offers a behind the scenes look at life aboard the gigantic aircraft carrier. Volunteers share stories of life at sea. Step back in maritime history aboard the Star of India, the oldest active three-masted sailing vessel and a flotilla of six other historic maritime vessels. There will still be time to shop the one-of-a-kind stores at Seaport Village.

A third option: grab a metropolitan transit bus or taxi and take in as many of the 85 attractions at Balboa Park as time permits. It's the home of the world famous San Diego Zoo and dozens of museums.

Heads Up: Purchase a Go San Diego Card in advance at www.gosandiego.com for big savings on local attractions.


(76) Finding Independent Adventures

If you choose to explore ports independently, research your destination thoroughly. Buy a destination guide book and highlight the must-see places. Read a fiction or non-fiction books that take place at your ports of call. Compare local tours, sights, attractions and private guides on the Internet. Online coupons and discounts are often available for local museums, monuments, hop-on/hop-off tours and other local port attractions. For instance, most major cities offer a “city card” that provides admission to museums and attractions for a set fee. Usually 30 percent to 50 percent off regular admission prices. Finally, ask friends and fellow cruisers who have traveled to the port before for recommendations for independent explorations.


(75) Getting the Most from Cruise Tours

Here are some tips for getting the most pleasure out of your cruise ship group excursion:

  • Request the earliest tour of the day and get ahead of the crowds. Arrive at the specified tour meeting point early. Make sure everyone in your travel group is present. There are multiple buses for some tours. Cruise representatives give out numbered stickers for each tour bus. It pays to be on one of the first buses, but unless everyone in your group is present, you cannot pick up your tour stickers and must wait for a later bus. Early tours also allow time to relax when you return to the ship rather than rushing to dinner.
  • Give the escort a break. The tour escort is paid to be your liaison for local sightseeing. They are not paid to be at your beck and call for every little grievance, wish and command. Don't expect them to hold your hand throughout the cruise tour. Most cruise tour guides are entertaining and informative. Listen and learn from them Don't try to “one-up” the guide.
  • Use good tour group etiquette. Share positive insights and keep negative comments to yourself. On every tour there is a group whiner. The whiner always finds something wrong with everything. Sometimes they have to look hard, but they'll find something to complain about. They are also the ones who seem to delight in keeping the group waiting while they shop a few more minutes or enjoy one more cigarette. Make new friends. Add value to the tour for others and you will automatically make new friends. Introduce yourself to other tour guests. Offer to take photos of other couples or groups. (Hopefully they will reciprocate.)


(74) Ship Excursions Versus Independent Explorations

Cruise lovers face the dilemma of how to get the most out of brief visits to exotic ports of call. With six to 12 hours (occasionally overnight) in port, is it best to take an organized ship excursion or explore on your own? In part, the answer depends on your personal travel interests, experience and comfort level in distant and unfamiliar surroundings. You may be able to hire a private guide in some ports, or you can often trek around solo. In other ports, a ship excursion is an economical, practical and safe way to see the city or countryside. Use these guidelines from port savvy cruisers to decide whether to book cruise ship excursions or explore independently:

  • Are the attractions you want to see located nearby? If what you want to see is a couple of hours away, it pays to book a ship excursion. If you book a ship tour and are delayed by traffic or a breakdown, the ship waits for you. If you roam off on your own and are delayed, the ship may sail without you. It will be your responsibility and expense to “catch up with it” in the next port.
  • There are wonderful private port guides and woe-some private port guides. Do your homework rather than taking “potluck” and grabbing any guide in port. Research ports of call in advance. Use the Internet to look for tours that have a track record and offer references. Book tours that don't require advance payment. Cruise itineraries may change or a port of call may cancel and you must change or cancel your private tour. Ship-to-shore telephone calls are expensive! Get the tour company Email address so you can confirm, change or cancel a tour via onboard Email. Also, when using local transportation, agree on taxi rates before hopping in for a ride.
  • Consider safety and security in ports of call. Research local laws and customs. A good Website for destination safety and security information is http://www.state.gov/travel.
  • Attend the ship port talk that highlights attractions and shopping for each port. Don't hesitate to ask questions. Crew members and fellow passengers who have visited the port are good sources for recommendations for shopping, sightseeing and safety.
Overall, when traveling to a destination you visited in the past, you know the ropes. When you visit a port for the first time in a developing country or if the port is several hours from the city, it pays to book a ship excursion.


(73) Making the Most of Ports of Call

One of the greatest advantages of cruising is visiting exotic ports of call around the world using the cruise ship as home base. Some critics of cruise travel say that a few hours or even a full day in ports is not enough time to explore a destination. True, you cannot see all of Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Honolulu, New York City, Hong Kong or other major ports around the world in a day or even several days. However, with a little planning you can sample the major historical and cultural sights and special activities in one day in port. No doubt, you will fall in love with some ports of call and return for a longer visit in the future. No doubt, you will find one day sufficient in other ports.

Here's how it works. Prior to arriving at each port, a crew member will present a brief seminar about the port covering the available excursions, local transportation and shopping recommendations. This is the time to ask any questions you may have about the port. The shipboard television channel also features presentations about each port and ship excursions. And, the ship's daily newspaper lists information about ports, arrival and departure times and the name and telephone number of the cruise line's port agent.

In most ports your cruise ship will dock at the pier or drop anchor in the harbor in the early morning. Passengers who are booked on early cruise ship excursions disembark first according to tour schedules. Passengers who want to explore the port on their own are notified when they may go ashore. Sail away is typically late afternoon. (One exception is overnight stays in some ports like Venice, Istanbul, Barcelona and St. Petersburg .)

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Guru Spotlight
Jolyn Wells-Moran