It does take a little while, but sometimes you actually are docked a bit early, so getting off is pretty smooth. Yes, they do let the people with ship excursions off first. The only time it could be a problem is if you are at a "tender" port.
It can also depend on the port and passenger demographic, for example non-US pax can delay the whole process if they haven't been cleared prior to arriving in a US controlled port, or nationals from some countries are not permitted to go ashore in other regions.
But for the normal day to day events, Donna's answer has it all.
Last Cruise: Queen Victoria January 2016
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If you look at your itinerary, the time you will in port is listed, so, I would say maybe an hour or so &, you can get off In tendered ports, if you bought a ships tour, you get on the tenders first. You get a tender ticket,[they will announce where to pick them up] and wait till your number is called.
If it's not a tenedered port, just be on the gangway as early as you need to tour.
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Time to get off in a port can be extremely variable depending on many factors.
In many ports, the ship arrives at the dock and begins tying up before the published time, and pretty much right at the scheduled time everybody just walks off the ship.
In other ports there are formalities to be gone through, gangways to be placed, and so on. It is possible you might not get off the ship for half an hour or so after the scheduled time.
In tender ports it is a bit different. (A tender port means that the ship anchors off shore, and the ship's boats are used to tender, i.e. ferry, people ashore.) Generally, those on ships tours will report to a specified meeting place. For those not on ships tours, the usual procedure here is that at an announced time, perhaps an hour before tendering actually begins, they will hand out numbered tickets in a certain lounge.
Once the ship is anchored and the tenders have been lowered and all is ready, they will begin sending the tenders ashore. There is usually a ships tour that will go on the very first tender. Then they usually manage to interweave the ships excursion times so that passengers with tender tickets can go ashore in between ships excursions. It is NOT generally true that ALL ships excursions go before ANY independent passengers. It works pretty well and everybody gets a fair chance.
In a tender port, IF you get up to the lounge early and get the first tickets, it is possible to be ashore within half an hour or so of arrival. But that means really pressing things. Usually about an hour and a half after arrival, the tenders just run back and forth and no tickets are needed.
Also note that everybody waits til the last minute to come back to the ship, so there is usually a big line for the last few tenders.
If you are meeting an independent tour operator ashore, they are normally very familiar with the operations in that particular port and can suggest the time to start the tour that will allow you to get off the ship in time. If you just want to rush off to get ashore quicker -- well, honestly, my advice is to relax and take it easy.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THINGS CHANGE FROM PORT TO PORT, SHIP TO SHIP, AND SAILING TO SAILING. STUFF HAPPENS. All of the above might not apply to any particular port call.
Very well said, Mike. But I have one more question about tender ports: How much time should I allow to get back on the ship? During my second cruise, I will be in port 7-4 at Santa Barbara. Does that mean I have to be on a tender boat at 3:00?
That morning they will tell you when the last tender boat leaves port, try to make the one before that and have that one to fall back on..
Good advice, Donna.
As I said above, there will be a long line. The line starts to get long at least a half hour before the posted time for the "last" tender. In fact it is the last tenderS because they will keep running boats until the line is taken care of. They won't go off and leave anybody who is standing in line. In theory you could hop up and get in line at the last minute and still get back to the boat.
It is really a hectic scene that it is better to avoid, particularly if you are on a large ship in a popular port. If we can manage it we try to be back at the tender a full hour before the "last" one.