For many travelers, cruisers included, winging it can be half the fun of traveling. We're all for keeping our options open and being ready for the unexpected when visiting a port, but we also know some preparation is essential -- or you could end up missing out on all the fun. Even worse, you could make the kind of mistake that wipes out any enjoyment that came before.
Here are seven things you'll regret doing on the days your cruise ship is in port.
The number-one cruise rule on port days is pretty straightforward: Get back to the ship on time! Sounds easy enough, but you'd be surprised by how many people miss the boat (pun intended). Regardless of what time you think your ship is scheduled to depart, you should double -- even triple -- check by listening for announcements, checking the daily schedule and asking at the gangway when you go ashore.
All-aboard times can often change from the time you first booked your cruise and even from when your cruise started; it never hurts to check again. You don't want to be stuck in port and forced to arrange your own transport to the next port of call or, even worse, back home.
If you've got your heart set on doing something specific in a port of call you're visiting, book it right away. Sure, there might be dozens of snorkeling options in St. Thomas, but if you're going to Malaga and you want to see the Alhambra, you might be out of luck if you don't book your tour months in advance.
If you don't know what the thing to do in port is, take a little time to do some research, or ask your travel agent. Some ports have signature attractions (the ruins of Ephesus in Kusadasi, Turkey, or flightseeing in Alaska), and you won't want to miss out.
Nothing ruins a port day more than not being prepared with everything you're going to need. In the Caribbean, you'll want to ensure your sunglasses, hat and sunscreen are packed and ready to go. If you're going to be somewhere where credit cards aren't commonly accepted, you might want to have some local currency on hand. Long -- and often highly air-conditioned -- bus rides typically require a light sweater, and it rarely hurts to have an umbrella or rain poncho, a bottle of water and a snack (something prepackaged like a granola bar).
While you're readying that day bag, be absolutely certain you've got your cruise card and a photo ID with you, as well. You don't want to end up back at the port entrance without these, as you could be denied entry to the port or onto the ship.
If you're planning to go ashore in port -- and especially if you've got an early-morning excursion booked -- don't forget to set an alarm to ensure you're up and at 'em in time for your departure. If you miss your excursion group's meeting/departure time, you could literally miss the bus, and you won't get your money back.
If you're using your cell phone as your clock, make sure it's always set for ship time; if the clock onboard varies from when you first got onboard or if your cell connected to a local service provider at your last port, you might be off by an hour or more. Nearly every guest services desk offers a wakeup call if you want to be absolutely sure you get out of bed on time.
Knowing when to take the plunge on a souvenir that caught your eye isn't always easy. How do you know it's actually worth the cost? What if you see it in another port for less?
These are valid questions, but we can't count the number of times we decided we'd wait until the next port only to find the thing we wanted wasn't available anywhere else. If you see something you really want, don't risk missing out by waiting until later to purchase. This might be your only opportunity.
We know we're contradicting ourselves here, but there are times when you absolutely should get off the ship and explore, and there are times when it's not such a bad idea to stay onboard and take it easy for a day. Which is which is up to you. If you think you'll never make it back to a specific port and there's lots you want to see, get off -- even if you're not feeling all that great or the ship arrives awfully early. Save yourself the regret.
Alternatively, if you're on a port-intensive cruise and there's a port that doesn't thrill you as much as the others, don't feel like you absolutely must go ashore at every stop. Sometimes it's better to stay onboard and give yourself some much needed rest so you're full of energy for the next few ports you really do want to see. Sometimes it's nice to have an entire ship to yourself, especially if it means no lines for the buffet, water park or ropes course.
Unless you've got dietary restrictions or you're a picky eater, there's no reason not to give the local specialties a try. It's one of the best ways to get a real feel for a destination. Can you say you've fully experienced San Juan if you didn't try the rum? Or that you've had an authentic Barcelona experience if you didn't have tapas?
It doesn't have to be the most exotic thing on the menu, but find something that sounds interesting, and give it a try. (And while we're talking local cuisine, don't just stick to the tourist traps of Senor Frogs, Hard Rock Cafe or, heaven forbid, anything that starts with McD and ends with onald's.)