A tender is a small boat that’s used to transport passengers between their cruise ship and the port when the ship itself is unable to dock. These tenders are usually carried by the cruise ship, and often double as a lifeboat. Don’t be nervous though, these aren’t the types of lifeboats you see in old movies – these are more like sightseeing boats and are often capable of carrying between 80 and 150 passengers at a time. If you’re new to cruising, or are planning to take your first cruise that includes a tender port, here’s everything you need to know:
Photo Credit – Frank Peters
Why Is Tendering Needed?
There are many reasons why your ship may need to tender at some ports, rather than dock. Don’t be deterred by booking a cruise that includes tender ports – it’s exciting! It is true that getting on and off the ship is a little more effort than simply walking off when docked, but keep in mind that your cruise line has been doing this for years, and they’ve got the tendering process down to a fine art – it’s really no hassle! Here are some cases when you may need to tender:
Today’s ships are getting bigger and while they’re designed to offer the ultimate on board experience, they’re not always designed to fit into a specific port. This doesn’t stop them visiting certain destinations though; they will just need to provide a tender across to land.
Even some of the more modestly sized ships sailing the seas today can’t always fit into port. This is most often the case in historic European destinations where the ports are typically quite small and filled with tradition. It’s also common throughout the Caribbean, especially private islands where there’s not much of a port area at all.
Safety is always a priority for cruise lines, and if there’s a chance that the water would be too shallow or too rocky closer to land, then they won’t take that risk. Ships dock just offshore in deeper water and transport passengers on smaller tenders which can navigate shallower waters without danger.
If you’ve cruised before, you’ll have noticed other cruise ships in port at the same time in certain destinations. Ports are starting to get booked up quicker now that many cruise lines are putting more of an emphasis on destinations and even offering overnight stays in port. If a port is fully booked, they may offer a tendering space to appease the cruise line and boost local tourism.
What About my Shore Excursion?
If you’ve booked a shore excursion in a tender port, don’t worry! For excursions that begin early in the day, passengers will be given priority for tenders and other passengers will usually be required to wait on board until all tour guests have been taken ashore. If your excursion begins in the afternoon, you should have no difficulty in getting off the ship in time (tender queues have usually reduced significantly by lunchtime) and the organisation process is extremely efficient. When your excursion is over, don’t feel like you need to get straight back on the tender – take some time to stroll the port area, explore, and do some shopping if you wish.
Photo Credit – Plonq
- Listen to ship announcements carefully – you may need to collect a tender ticket before boarding which is a way of keeping the queues and waiting times to a minimum.
- Let crew members know in advance if you need assistance getting on and off the tender. Some cruise lines unfortunately cannot transfer wheelchair users due to health and safety, but they will always try to accommodate those with mobility problems.
- There’s no need to rush back on board if you’re having fun, just keep in mind the time of the last tender back to the ship. The last tender is often the quietest of the day, so it can be quite a relaxed and special journey.
- If your tender has an exposed upper deck, try and grab a seat up there as the views are unobstructed and completely breathtaking, especially as you get right alongside your cruise ship.
- Take your camera! Being able to view your awe inspiring cruise ship from water level is a truly unbelievable sight and you can get some incredible photos of your ship as you sail away.
How Do I Know if I’ll Need to Use a Tender?
Most cruise lines will indicate if a port is a tender port in their itineraries (it’s usually depicted by a small anchor symbol), but keep in mind that any last minute issues with the port or weather conditions may prevent a ship from docking. If this is the case, you will be informed as soon as possible by the Captain, usually over the ships speaker system. Here are a few examples of European destinations where a tender is often required:
- Ajaccio, Corsica
- Cannes, France
- Geiranger, Norway
- Naples, Italy
- Villefranche, France
- Santorini, Greece
- Mykonos, Greece
- Corfu, Greece
- Split, Croatia
- Visby, Sweden