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Understanding the Difference Between a Dock Port and a Tender Port of Call

Updated: 7 days ago

When planning a cruise vacation, it’s essential to understand the logistics of ports of call, as this can greatly affect your overall experience. Cruise ships typically dock at two types of ports: a cruise ship port (also known as a dock or pier) and a tender port. While both types serve as stops along your cruise itinerary, there are significant differences between them, each with its own set of benefits and considerations. Let’s delve into the distinctions and advantages of each to help you better prepare for your cruise adventure.

Tenders port of call vs Docking Port of call

Cruise Ship Ports (Dock/Pier Ports)

Definition: A cruise ship port, often referred to as a dock or pier port, is a port where the cruise ship can directly dock alongside a pier. Passengers can disembark directly from the ship onto the dock via gangways, making the transition from ship to shore seamless. A cruise ship will position itself along side a pier and tied off with ropes. See all current cruise deals available today!



  • Direct docking allows passengers to easily walk off the ship, often with minimal waiting times. This convenience is particularly beneficial for families with young children, elderly passengers, or anyone with mobility issues. Time Efficiency:

  • Since there’s no need for a secondary mode of transportation to get to shore, passengers can maximize their time at the destination. This is especially advantageous when the port of call has numerous attractions or activities that you want to explore thoroughly. It makes it easier for you to go ashore at your leisure rather than a tender time-schedule. Safety and Accessibility:

  • The straightforward disembarkation process at a docked port reduces the complexity and potential safety risks associated with transferring from ship to shore. Additionally, gangways are generally more accessible for individuals with disabilities. Luggage and Supplies:

  • For those embarking or disembarking at the start or end of their cruise, a docked port simplifies the process of handling luggage. It also facilitates the loading and unloading of supplies for the ship, ensuring smooth operations. Considerations: Port Fees:

  • Ports with docking facilities may charge higher fees to cruise lines, which could be reflected in the overall cost of the cruise. Crowding:

  • Popular docking ports can become crowded, especially when multiple ships are in port simultaneously. This can sometimes lead to longer lines and waits for local attractions and transportation.

Tender Ports

Definition: A tender port is a port where the cruise ship anchors offshore, and passengers are transported to and from the shore using smaller boats called tenders. This usually happens when the port lacks the infrastructure to accommodate large cruise ships or when the water is too shallow.


Scenic Approach:

  • Tendering can provide passengers with stunning views of the port and surrounding landscapes as they approach the shore. This scenic journey can be a memorable part of the cruise experience.

  • Access to Remote Destinations: Tender ports often allow access to more remote or less developed destinations that larger ships cannot dock at. This can lead to unique and less commercialized experiences, offering a more authentic glimpse into the local culture and environment.

  • Less Crowded Shores: Since tender ports are typically smaller and less frequented by multiple cruise ships, the shore excursions and local areas might be less crowded, providing a more relaxed and intimate experience.


Tendering Time:

  • The process of tendering can be time-consuming. Passengers usually need to queue for a tender boat, and the ride to shore can take additional time. It’s important to factor this into your plans for shore excursions. Weather Dependence:

  • Tendering is highly dependent on weather conditions. Rough seas or inclement weather can delay or even cancel tender operations, potentially disrupting your plans for the day. Mobility Challenges:

  • The process of boarding and disembarking tenders can be challenging for passengers with limited mobility, as it often involves negotiating steps and sometimes uneven surfaces. Limited Capacity:

  • Tender boats have a limited capacity, so during peak times, there might be waits to get on a tender, both to and from the ship. It’s important to plan accordingly to avoid missing scheduled excursions or return trips.

Making the Most of Each Port Type

Tips for Cruise Ship Ports:

Early Disembarkation:

  • Take advantage of early disembarkation to beat the crowds, especially if you have an excursion planned or want to explore popular sites. Plan Ahead:

  • Research the port area to know what’s within walking distance and what requires transportation. Some ports offer shuttle services to key locations. Utilize Ship Amenities:

  • If you’re not in a hurry to disembark, enjoy the ship’s amenities while others rush off. This can be a great time to relax by the pool or enjoy other onboard activities. It's your Cruise Vacation, so take advantage of every moment that you can!

Tips for Tender Ports:

Prepare for Delays:

  • Be flexible with your plans and allow extra time for tendering, both when leaving the ship and returning. Wear Appropriate Footwear:

  • Sturdy, comfortable shoes are a must for boarding tenders, as surfaces can be slippery or uneven. Pack Essentials:

  • Bring a day bag with essentials like water, sunscreen, and any necessary medications, as returning to the ship midday can be cumbersome. Follow Instructions:

  • Pay close attention to the ship’s announcements regarding tendering procedures. Being in the right place at the right time can minimize waiting. And most of all, get back to the ship early! They Will NOT wait for you if you are late arriving at the tender!!


Understanding the differences between cruise ship ports and tender ports can significantly enhance your cruising experience. Dock ports offer convenience and ease, while tender ports provide access to unique and often less crowded destinations. Both types of ports have their own set of benefits and considerations, and being prepared for either scenario will ensure that your time ashore is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. Whether you’re exploring a bustling city directly from the pier or enjoying a picturesque approach to a secluded island, each port of call on your cruise offers a distinct adventure waiting to be discovered.

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