What Does it Mean to Tender on a Cruise?

So you’re reading the website description for your cruise, and it says you need to “tender” to shore.

Unless you’ve taken a cruise before, you’re probably wondering what the heck that means. In a nutshell, a tender is a smaller boat that carries people from the ship to the shore.

What Are Tenders?

Many times, tenders are owned and operated by local companies. They are small ferry boats that hold anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred people. If there are not enough local ferry operators to service the cruise ship’s needs, the ship may even drop a few of its own lifeboats into the water to use as tender boats.

Side note: My mom thinks this is about the coolest thing ever and insisted I mention it in this post. The reason this is cool? Because you get to see what lifeboats are like and how effective they are. Wash the thought of rubber dinghies floating in a vast ocean out of your head. Lifeboats are fully operational boats that hold hundreds of people.

Why Do Cruise Ships Need Them?

Sometimes, ships aren’t able to dock in port. The water may be too shallow, or there may be a coral reef nearby. In some cases, the port city may not have a dock large enough for a cruise ship, or it may already have other ships using the dock. For whatever reason, your ship needs to park in the open water, and you need a more practical way to get to shore than swimming.

tender

How Do They Work?

Your ship’s cruise director team will let you know in advance of reaching a port if you’ll need to tender. They will also explain how the process is going to work for your ship. In some cases, it’s a free for all. Simply head to the gangway, and walk onto the next tender. In many cases, people who have purchased tickets to ship-sanctioned shore excursions will be given exclusive access to the first few tenders. Once they are all on their way, the ship will open up the tenders on a first-come first-served basis. Typically, the ship will tell you in advance an approximate timeline for when this will happen so you can be prepared.

Some ships require people planning to board early morning tenders to acquire a tender ticket when they are ready to get off the ship. There tends to be a bit of rush-hour traffic until about noon, so the ship tries to manage the chaos. You will likely need to go to a lounge or theater area to obtain a ticket. That said,  you will only be able to get a ticket if your entire party is ready to go. If you’re still waiting on someone to finish breakfast or apply sunscreen, hang tight, and let someone who is ready to go get on board instead. If you’re a late riser, by mid-day, the traffic tends to die down and tickets will likely no longer be required.

Tenders run all day while you’re in port. They are a continuous service so you never have to wait long for the next boat. In most cases, as soon as one is full, the next one pulls up and starts loading.

Have questions? Let us know.

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