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What does tender mean on a cruise ship?

28 Dec 2022
Jenna DeLaurentis

Certain cruise ports require tendering from ship to shore, but what does this mean and how does the cruise ship tender process work?

Tendering is the process in which a cruise ship anchors offshore and smaller boats are used to transport passengers from the ship to shore. If there is no pier that can accommodate a cruise ship’s size in a particular port, tendering is required.

The boats used for tendering are typically the ship’s lifeboats. Because these boats are much smaller than the cruise ship, many trips are required to transport all passengers from ship to shore.

Let’s take an in-depth look at what it means to tender on a cruise ship, which ports require tendering, and if you should avoid tender ports on your next Royal Caribbean cruise.

Which Royal Caribbean ports are tender ports?

Most of Royal Caribbean’s most popular cruise ports are not tender ports, meaning you can walk right onto the pier from the ship. These ports include Perfect Day at CocoCay, Nassau, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Roatan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Juneau, Rome, and Barcelona, among others.

The majority of Caribbean and Alaska cruises do not require tendering. You’ll find tender ports more common in Europe, Oceania, and smaller northeast and west coast ports.

Some of the most popular tender ports visited frequently on Royal Caribbean cruises include:

  • Belize City, Belize
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Catalina Island, California
  • Grand Cayman
  • Santorini, Greece
  • Mykonos, Greece
  • Kotor, Montenegro
  • South Pacific islands
  • Bar Harbor, Maine

How do I know if my itinerary includes a tender port?

There are two main ways to check if your itinerary includes a tender port.

The first way is on Royal Caribbean’s website before you book your cruise. When browsing cruise itineraries, click on the itinerary and select “Explore this itinerary”. This will bring you to a page where you can view a day by day schedule of the sailing.

When a ship has a dock, for example, the port will say “From 8 AM - 5 PM” whereas a tender port would note “Tendered from 8 AM - 5 PM”.

The second way is through your Royal Caribbean e-docs. A few weeks before your cruise, you’ll receive an email from Royal Caribbean stating that your sailing’s electronic cruise documents are ready. This document provides information on necessary identification, health and safety, directions to the port, general cruise information, and your ticket contract.

The e-docs also include a Travel Summary page which lists your sailing’s itinerary. On this page is where you’ll find the date and time of each port stop. You’ll also see a column for Dock or Tender, where D stands for a port with a dock, T for a tender port, and a C for a day at sea.

How does the tender process work?

Boarding a tender boat from ship to shore is free, but it isn’t always as quick a process as many would prefer. If you wish to travel to shore soon after your ship anchors, you’ll need a tender ticket.

Tender tickets are available for pickup on the morning of your port day. The tickets have numbers, and when your number is called over the ship’s loudspeaker, you can head to the tender embarkation area and board a tender boat.

The tender ticket pickup location will be posted in the Cruise Compass and/or the Royal Caribbean app. We recommend lining up for tender tickets 15-20 minutes before the tickets are distributed to ensure you receive an early tender time.

Passengers with shore excursions are given priority tendering, so booking an excursion for the morning is something to consider if you hope to disembark as soon as possible.

Once on the boat, tendering is usually quick. However, waiting for your group to be called is what can often take more time than you’d prefer, so make sure to grab tender tickets early.

Should you avoid tender ports?

Tender ports may not be as convenient as docking at a pier, but some of the world’s most unique destinations require tendering. Destinations such as Mystery Island, Vanuatu and Santorini, Greece require tendering, and these ports offer wonderful scenery, culture, and history to discover.

Related: 15 countries you didn't know you could cruise to on Royal Caribbean

That’s not even mentioning other beautiful destinations like Mykonos, Kotor, Grand Cayman, and Cabo San Lucas, all of which require tendering from ship to shore.

Therefore, we don’t recommend avoiding tender ports when selecting a cruise itinerary. There are certainly pros and cons to tender ports, but there’s no doubt that you can visit some of the world’s most interesting, unique destinations via tender boat.

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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