Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
CRUISING - THE TENDERING PORTS
When cruising around the Caribbean it is almost inevitable that you will find yourself visiting an island where the ship is unable to dock alongside. Many of the Caribbean islands are very small, and do not have the facilities for the larger cruise ships to dock – Grand Cayman is one such port. Surrounded, as most of the islands are, by coral which is protected, many cruise ships have to anchor some distance from land. Even if you are able to dock alongside at most ports, should your cruise ship visits one of their private islands you will inevitably be ‘tendered’ ashore. The only exception to this rule is the Disney cruise line, which has built a dock deep enough for their ships to tie up alongside at Castaway Cay.
However, it is not a problem, as cruise ships will ‘tender’ you to the islands using smaller boats – usually lifeboats – which transfer passengers from ship to shore, and back again. The whole operation of ‘tendering’ is usually highly organized, and cruise ships try to make it as easy as possible.
The ship usually drops anchor off shore early in the morning – the islands are very strict about where these ships are allowed to anchor as they must protect the delicate ecosystems surrounding the islands, and coral is protected. The ship will be allocated a particular area where they can drop anchor, and this is strictly monitored. The ship will then lower several of their larger lifeboats, which are normally 2 deck motor launches - and passengers are 'tendered' ashore using these. They can carry approximately 120 passengers at a time. You may well be woken early in the morning by the sound of the lifeboats being lowered, and the tendering decks being swung out.
There will be detailed instructions given to you in your daily 'newspaper' about how the tendering operation is to be organized, but from experience you will be told when you can go and collect your tender tickets, usually early in the morning. Tender tickets are a priority system used to determine when passengers may exit a ship via a tender. They are issued on the morning you arrive at the tender port, and are numbered. If you are regular cruisers and belong to one of the cruise lines returning passengers clubs you may even get priority tendering, ensuring that you are one of the first off the ships. An announcement will be made to tell passengers when tender tickets are available, and you can send one member of the party down to collect them. These tickets will be numbered and you will have to wait until your particular tender number is called. Whilst the British, in particular will find any excuse to queue, there is actually little need to spend a long time queuing up, just wait until you are called. On some ships you are 'mustered' in one of the theatres or larger lounges, where you can sit comfortably until your tender ticket is called. There will be numerous staff on hand who are in constant radio contact with the tenders, and they will oversee the movement of groups of people down to the tender deck. They will not move people from the comfortable mustering areas until a tender is actually available.
Once your tender number has been called you are escorted to the lower decks where the tender will be waiting. You will wait until the tender is ready for embarkation and then you will probably walk down one flight of stairs and will be helped onto the tender. There are normally lifts right down to the tendering level for those with mobility problems. However, they cannot carry you on board the tender – they will help lift the wheelchair on, but you have to be able to board the tender with assistance. The crew are fantastic at helping you on, and do not be afraid to accept this help. There will then be a short, maybe 10 minute, ride over to the island. In many cases the tenders are supplemented either by larger local tenders, carrying considerably more people, or, as in the case of the private islands, the cruise line usually has a fleet of larger tenders available when they arrive.
Getting back on board the ship is just a re-run, but in reverse. You simply go to the tender dock and wait for your tender – no tickets required. They normally run a non-stop service throughout the day, so you will rarely wait more than a few minutes. Of course, if you choose a peak time to return you will have to queue, but there are tips to help you avoid too much queuing. Many people, for instance, want to get straight off at a port, so you will probably wait longer if you try to get on one of the first tenders. We prefer to take a leisurely breakfast, let all those who want to rush off do so, and usually by this time tender tickets are no longer required, and you simply walk down to the tender deck where you will soon board a tender. They will announce when tender tickets are no longer necessary, as once the first rush is over you can simply wander down and get on the next available boat.
If you want to avoid queues when returning from one of the private islands then don't wait until everyone decides to leave, go a little earlier. But if you want to stay until the last minute then move yourselves towards the tendering area and simply sit on the beach under a parasol and just keep an eye on the line. Don't bother queuing, just join the line when it has decreased - you won't be left behind, and if you are sitting close to the tendering dock you can relax until the very last minute.
Then it’s a short hop back to your cruise ship, where a meal or snack will be waiting for you in air conditioned comfort. You might even be lucky enough to see flying fish as you make your way back after a wonderful day on land. Either way, it is a brilliant photo opportunity, as this is one time when you will be able to take a picture of your liner in all its splendour.
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