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      What Is Cruise Ship Tendering? A Few Tips for Cruise Ship Tendering

      Holly Riddle
      What is Cruise Ship Tendering?

      If you’ve never cruised before, or if you’ve only cruised on a few major itineraries to some of the world’s top cruising destinations, then you may have no idea what cruise ship tendering is. So, if you’ve recently booked a cruise and spotted this term on your upcoming cruise itinerary, here’s everything you need to know ahead of time. 

      What is Cruise Ship Tendering?

      Cruise ship tendering is pretty simple. 

      Sometimes, a cruise ship takes you to destinations where there’s not enough room at the port of call for the size of the cruise ship visiting. Other times, a cruise ship arrives at the port of call, and there’s no room for the ship because other ships have arrived ahead of it. Sometimes, the port itself may be large enough to handle the ship, but the water levels are such that it makes getting all the way to the port unsafe. 

      In all these cases, tendering is the solution.

      Tendering is when a cruise ship uses a smaller ship, or series of smaller ships, to transport passengers to places where the main ship can’t go. Sometimes, the cruise ship owns its own tender boats (which often double as lifeboats). Sometimes, the tender boats operate out of the port of call and may be more similar to what you think of as a ferry (minus the cars). 

      Tender boats are typically pretty comfortable and are entirely safe, and, most importantly, they allow you to visit destinations on a cruise that you otherwise could not.

      The Vacationer Tip

      If you haven’t booked your cruise yet, read our guide for the Best Websites to Book Cheap Cruises. Then, browse our guide for the Best Websites to Book Tours, Activities, and Excursions during your cruise.

      How to Know if a Cruise Itinerary Includes Tendering: Tendered vs. Docked

      You’ll know ahead of time whether or not a cruise itinerary will include tendering by looking at the itinerary and what ports of call are included. Each destination should be listed as either “tendered” or “docked.”

      If the destination is listed as “docked,” then that means you’ll disembark at the port of call just like you would normally, as the ship docks at the destination’s port. 

      If the destination is listed as “tendered,” then that obviously means you’ll have to tender from the cruise ship. 

      Pros and Cons of Tendering

      Pros of Tendering During a Cruise

      As mentioned, tendering allows you to safely visit destinations you might not get to otherwise during your cruise. However, there are other benefits as well.

      • Tendering is a unique experience 

      Going from your cruise ship to the tender boat and then on to shore can be a unique experience you don’t just get with any cruise. 

      Beyond this, since most major cruising destinations are equipped to handle the large cruise ships that they see on a regular basis, if you’re tendering, it typically means you’re on a more off-the-beaten-path cruise.

      • Tendering offers great scenery

      Tender boats are often open-air, giving you excellent views of the shoreline, ocean, and cruise ship. 

      Cons of Tendering During a Cruise

      However, for all these benefits, there are still some cons.

      • Tendering takes time

      There aren’t going to be enough tender boats to accommodate all of a cruise ship’s disembarking passengers at once. Because of this, tendering takes time — time that you would normally get to use exploring a destination. You’ll have to grab a ticket, wait in line, and eventually make your way between the cruise ship and the shore.

      • Tendering is unsafe under certain conditions

      Okay, so we did say above that tendering is entirely safe, and while that’s true, that doesn’t mean that all sea conditions are safe for the tendering boats. 

      If the waters are rough and there’s any question at all about your and your fellow cruisers’ safety, cruise lines must make the occasional decision not to tender at all — meaning you may miss disembarking at a destination if the weather is uncooperative. 

      • Some tender boats are not handicap accessible  

      While often roomy, tender boats may not always be handicap accessible. 

      • Tendering is not for everyone

      Let’s be honest. Getting into a small boat on the ocean isn’t for everyone. Even getting on a cruise ship isn’t for everyone. If you’re traveling with someone who’s already a little nervous about the whole cruise ship thing, maybe hold off on an itinerary with tendering until they get their sea legs. 

      Tendering? Here’s What to Do

      Avoid both the first and the last tender

      Take your time with the tendering, and don’t try to make the first boat, as you’ll be forced to deal with crowds. However, don’t wait until the last tenders, either, as that can significantly cut down on the amount of time you get to spend ashore. 

      Prepare for the elements

      Since tender boats are on the smaller side, if you’re prone to seasickness, you may feel the effects more so on the tender boat than you would on a large cruise ship. Plan accordingly with the sea sickness remedy that works best for you. 

      Additionally, since most tender boats are uncovered, you’ll be exposed to the sun during your journey. While this open-air set-up does make for some great scenery, it also can make for a sunburn if you’re not careful. 

      If you want first choice for tendering, book a VIP cabin

      It’s not uncommon for cruise lines to give passengers in VIP cabins, suites, and classes first rights to disembark or tender. If you want your pick of when and where you disembark, you might want to upgrade your booking. 

      USA Ports with Tendering

      While this is not an all-inclusive list of U.S. ports with tendering, and not all cruise ships use tendering at the same destinations, this list will give you a quick glance at some U.S. destinations where you can likely expect tendering. 

      • Avalon, California
      • Bar Harbor, Maine
      • Catalina Island, California
      • Gloucester, Massachusetts
      • Icy Strait Point, Alaska
      • Hilo, Hawaii
      • Honolulu, Hawaii
      • Juneau, Alaska
      • Kahului (Maui), Hawaii
      • Ketchikan, Alaska 
      • Kona, Hawaii Island, Hawaii
      • Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
      • Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts 
      • Monterey, California
      • Nawiliwili (Kauai), Hawaii
      • Newport, Rhode Island
      • Rockland, Maine
      • Santa Barbara, California
      • Sitka, Alaska

      Cruise Deals: Browse Ongoing Cruise Deals Leaving from USA Ports

      Caribbean Ports with Tendering

      Again, while this is not an all-inclusive list of the Caribbean ports with tendering, and not all cruise ships use tendering at the same destinations, this list will give you a quick glance at some destinations where you can likely expect it. 

      • Basseterre, St. Kitts
      • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
      • Castries, St. Lucia
      • Cozumel, Mexico
      • Devil’s Island, French Guiana
      • George Town, Cayman Islands
      • Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands
      • Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
      • Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
      • Gustavia, St Barthelemy
      • Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
      • Harvest Caye, Belize
      • Ocho Rios, Jamaica
      • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
      • Princess Cays, The Bahamas 
      • Road Town (Tortola), British Virgin Islands
      • Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
      • San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
      • Saint Kitts, St Kitts and Nevis
      • Saint John, US Virgin Islands

      Cruise Deals: Browse Ongoing Cruise Deals Leaving from Caribbean Ports

      To Tender or Not to Tender?

      While tendering is a totally normal part of cruising, it still may not be part of the cruising experience that you’d like to be surprised by. If you have mobility issues, don’t care for little boats on the ocean, or want to be able to make the most of your time in a port of call, itineraries with tendering might not be for you. However, the good news is that you can still visit smaller, more exclusive destinations while cruising, sans tendering. You’ll just need to book small-ship cruises (like some of those offered by some of our favorite all-inclusive cruise lines) that can avoid the tendering process on ships that are small enough for smaller ports.

      Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post. 

      Holly Riddle Headshot

      By Holly Riddle

      Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, food, and lifestyle journalist who also dabbles in ghostwriting and fiction. Her work appears in publications ranging from Global Traveler to Golf Magazine, Mashed to Forbes, and Bloomberg. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring the mountains near her home in the Adirondacks. Her favorite travel destinations include Chicago and New Orleans.