Don't be a pier runner. Nobody likes a pier runner. Avoid returning to the cruise ship late! Credit: Shutterstock

Don’t become a pier runner: How to avoid returning late to your cruise ship

Author: Gillian Carmoodie

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With the inevitable panic in the moment, thousands of disgruntled passengers watching you, getting sweaty while running up a lengthy pier, the explaining yourself and the sheer embarrassment of it all, the last thing you want to become is a pier runner

While out on a well-earned cruise and happily exploring a scenic locale that your ship has temporarily docked in, it’s easy to get distracted and lose all sense of time.

Big mistake – certainly if you’ve got any self-respect or you can’t afford additional travel costs.

If you’re late back to port, chances are you’re going to gain a new status – that of a pier runner, and all the excruciating embarrassment that comes with it.

Cue the panic of realising you’re running late and then the horrid situation of literally having to chase down your cruise ship – usually down a lengthy pier or dock – desperately running.

Not quite cringe enough for you? How about while thousands of fellow passengers observe and add to your humiliation with their heckling from above?

If you’re lucky to make it on board, that’s a bad enough situation to have endured. Worse still is when you get left behind completely, with the disheartening sight of your cruise ship powering away as you’re marooned; stranded in a place you don’t know particularly well while separated from your luggage, crucial documents and, more crucially, the cruise you’ve paid handsomely for.

Your fellow passengers may even sing "Nah nah nah nah hey hey hey goodbye" as they go, adding further insult to your already bruised ego and upcoming tricky situation.

So, what can you do to ensure this never happens to you, especially when other means of transportation may let you down and multiple hold-ups are abound?

Here are our top tips to side-step ever becoming a mortified pier runner.

Be respectful: Stay informed of your ship’s schedule

Staying informed on what your cruise ship is up to on a day-to-day basis is key to never being left behind. Believe it or not, your ship planned its itinerary long before you ever set sail, sometimes up to two years in advance of your cruise.

This is because your ship may need to be accompanied into port by a harbour patrol boat, or has planned to meet with a specific tour provider who is waiting to show passengers around a given location.

An interesting and varied cruise package can only be provided to passengers thanks to meticulous planning, a tight schedule and pre-planned activities running like clockwork.

It is never personal when a cruise ship leaves late passengers behind. If the ship is running late, not only can this cause problems in subsequent locations, but your cruise line may also incur unwelcome penalty fees and a far larger fuel bill - thanks largely to the subsequent need to make up lost time at sea.

Instead of becoming stressed about timings, try to view your return to your cruise ship as part of a mutually beneficial relationship. The cruise line has planned out many exciting and interesting destinations for you but they need you to play your part in being timely too.

To do so, aim to obtain the daily onboard newsletter as this will contain the day’s timetable as well as whether you need to adjust your watch forward or back. Be mindful that there is most usually a difference between ship time and local time, always sticking to ship time.

Once you’ve stepped ashore, setting an alarm on your watch or mobile phone will help to ensure you can’t forget when it’s time to begin making your way back to port.

Most ships will request that you board at least 30 minutes to an hour before any planned departure time. At the very least stick to this but, if possible, aim to give yourself an even longer timeframe for a comfortable return.

Felling nervous about making it back to the cruise ship in time? Book an excursion through the cruise line for peace of mind. Credit: Travelsphere

When exploring busy or complex destinations: Consider sponsored excursions

Whether you choose to explore a new port solo or via a sponsored excursion is entirely down to personal preference.

You may enjoy the thrill of wandering in a new place with no set plan or you may prefer all legwork being taken care of by someone else, in turn freeing you to simply soak up the experience without wondering where you are going or what the time is.

If the latter, a helpful option to consider is that of a sponsored excursion. These are tours that work in partnership with your cruise line and most importantly, if they are late in bringing you back, the ship will either wait for you, or the financial and logistical responsibilities of pairing you back up with your ship at a subsequent port of call, will all be handled by your cruise provider.

When trying to decide, you may wish to consider potential language barriers that could make navigating around an unfamiliar area more difficult than usual as well as how dense the locale and traffic will be.

Consider how likely you are to become either lost or held up while in a new port. If you’re unsure, while less spontaneous, a sponsored excursion can help take the pressure away and allow you to relax more while exploring.

Enjoy a relaxing solo cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

If going it alone in port: Aim to help yourself as much as possible

If you prefer to meander and go your own way in port, that’s a perfectly acceptable choice. However, it is crucial to be aware that it will be entirely your responsibility to figure out travel options and cover the cost of meeting back up with the ship should your late return result in your ship leaving without you.

If you’re a solo wanderer, there are many ways in which you can navigate unknown terrain, communicate with locals and ensure you stay aware of when you need to return.

If you cannot speak the local language, you can use a basic phrase book or Google translate should you happen to need to ask for either information or directions.

Having an awareness of where you are, where you are going and where you have come from are all incredibly useful. It is surprisingly easy to become disorientated in an unfamiliar place, particularly if you are surrounded by tall buildings or if making lots of subtle changes in direction through a town.

Try using Google Maps for improved navigation and, where possible, carry a paper map too in case mobile signal lets you down.

Better still, track your excursion with a walking or fitness app. By recording your walk, not only can you see where you are going and what is around you, you’ll also gain the digital equivalent of ‘a piece of string’ that will guide you back if you have recorded the port as your starting point.

When using public transport, always allow extra time for delays beyond the given timetables. It is also a good idea to have some spare cash on your person should your train or bus fail to show, and you simply cannot wait for another, allowing you to hail and pay for a taxi.

Make sure your day bag is packed with essentials, just in case you are left behind. Credit: Shutterstock/RRM

Be prepared for the unexpected: Essentials for if you’re left behind

In all circumstances, whether exploring solo or on a sponsored excursion, ensure to have some essentials with you should the worst occur and you miss your ship’s departure.

Carry some cash, a charged mobile phone and charger as well as either the originals or copies of your passport, driving license and credit/debit cards. Ensure also to have the telephone numbers for your cruise ship, nominated port agent and the customer service department of your cruise line.

The address and telephone number of your country’s embassy within the port you’re visiting can also prove a lifeline.

If you have a medical condition or regularly take prescription medication (such as insulin or sugar tablets for diabetic-related issues), aim to carry a little more than normal with you as well as any relevant medical ID cards and insurance documents.

If you become aware that you are running late, call both your ship and the port agent to let them know. While the ship might not be able to wait, simply letting the crew know of your delay improves your chances of not being left behind.

Should the worst happen and you do miss your cruise ship’s departure, contact the nominated port agent as soon as possible to plan your next steps for either travel home or meeting your ship at its next port of call.

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About Gillian Carmoodie

Gillian has been a part of the heritage world for longer than she would care to admit. From piloting pre-war racers across Montlhéry and traversing the Cumbrian mountains with an Edwardian automobile, to flying a WWI Tiger Moth and obsessing over all things shipping, Gillian lives for history.

When not buried in a book or lost to the archives, you'll usually find her under the bonnet of her classic Rover or exploring the old shipyards of the North East. When partaking in work for RNLI, Land Rover or RRM, Gillian mostly runs on high-octane Earl Grey.