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As you may have seen in hilarious (when it’s not you starring in them) YouTube videos, people choose to cut it dangerously close to all-aboard times when getting back to the pier. It results in guests running to the ship, which may or may not result in them actually making it on board. Even if the ship is still officially “at” the dock, if the gangway has already been closed, it could happen that they cannot join the ship until the next port. A few reasons behind it may include how long the gangway has been disconnected, how much longer the ship stayed at the pier waiting (which generates costs to the Cruise Line), and the timing to arrive at the next port. Regardless, some people luck out and make it back on board, properly scolded by the Staff Captain, of course. I’ve even seen extra lucky guests who were brought back onto the cruise ship by the Pilot Boat (HIGHLY unlikely btw so don’t plan for this to happen!). Others will have to meet the ship at the next port… or worse.
Let’s first start with the document side of this whole situation. Most people choose to leave their passports in the safe and go out only with a picture ID, like a Driver License or ID Card. THEY ARE RIGHT! Passports should NOT be brought along when going ashore, as losing them (or having them stolen) would create some huge inconvenience going back home, or out at the rest of the ports. The only reason someone should consider bringing their passport with them is if it IS required, since an immigration process will be in place in order to go ashore (as it was in St. Petersburg, or Istanbul a long time ago), or if they will make a big purchase and will require the documentation in order to get the tax return papers. Otherwise, leave passports in the safe in your room!
The first thing that will happen when it’s time to leave and you haven’t swiped your room key card to come onboard is an announcement will be made, in order to rule out a miss-swipe, that is, you are onboard but the computer did not register you correctly. If there is no response, and the time has come to disconnect the gangway, the Port Agent will be contacted, Security will open your safe, collect your passports, they’ll be handed to the Port Agent, and he or she will be waiting for you at the pier.
As soon as you finish completely freaking out and calm down a little, the Port Agent will help you book a hotel, get flights to the next port, and provide any transportation needed within the town. All of this, OF COURSE, is at the guest’s expense.
With a little luck, the next port the ship will arrive at is a place you can fly to (as opposed to, for example, a private island), it’s a place you don’t need a visa for (again, St. Petersburg, …), or it’s not a few sea days away, which would drive up the expenses in the meantime.
Given the situation, in the best of cases, you’ll rejoin the ship and continue enjoying your cruise. In the not-so-good cases, you might have to go through a separate immigration process upon your arrival, pay a fine if US or Greek ports were involved (due to Jones Act), or not be able to come back on board at all. This would happen if the port you were left at was the last one before the end of the cruise. In these cases, the Guest Service team will be in charge of packing up all your belongings, with the proper inventory of every item, and have them ready for you at the pier. Not ideal, but at least you saved yourself from the chore of packing yourself! Still, maybe not the best way to end your cruising experience.
The best ways to avoid risking situations like this will be to, obviously, allow enough time before all-aboard time to come back on board, or to take the Shore Excursions organized by the Cruise Line itself, which would guarantee that, regardless of anything, the ship will be waiting for you. This is a particularly good idea if the pier is far away from the main attractions, where independent transportation isn´t readily available. – ThatGuy
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