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Top 10 Cruise Ship Tender Tips for First Time Cruisers

Embarking on your first cruise is full of excitement and the unknown.

One question I often hear from new cruisers is “What is a cruise ship tender or tendering?”

The answer is that at most ports there will be a large physical dock the ship can tie up against and all passengers and crew get on and off just like on embarkation day.

However, some ports aren’t equipped to accommodate mammoth cruise ships. This is where cruise ship tenders step in. In this article, we’ll explain the world of cruise ship tenders, shedding light on what they are, their significance, and the mechanics behind their operation.

What is a Cruise Ship Tender?

A cruise ship tender is a smaller vessel, often a lifeboat or a purpose-built tender boat, employed to transport passengers from a cruise ship to the shore in ports where the ship cannot dock.

Quantum Of The Seas Tender Boat

These tender boats act as shuttles, ferrying passengers back and forth between the cruise ship and the destination. While cruise ships might anchor at sea due to inadequate port facilities or shallow waters, tendering offers a relatively seamless solution to ensure passengers can explore the beauty of these unique ports.

Tender boat on P&O ship

Why Do Cruise Ships Use Tenders?

There are a few reasons why cruise ships use tenders. One reason is that some ports are simply too small or shallow to accommodate large cruise ships. Another reason is that some ports have limited dock space, and tenders allow the cruise ship to dock in a different location and still transport passengers to the shore.

How Does the Tendering Process Work?

The tendering process typically begins when the cruise ship arrives at a port. The ship’s crew will then prepare the tender boats for passenger transportation. Passengers will typically be given tender tickets, which have their assigned group and disembarkation order. The tender boats will then shuttle passengers between the cruise ship and the port.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tendering

  • How do passengers reach the tender boats?

Passengers gather in designated areas on the cruise ship to await their turn. On most ships the meeting areas are down quite low on levels 2, 3 or 4 so that your tender is ready it is only a short walk.

Crew members guide passengers to the tender boats in an organized manner.

  • Is tendering time-consuming?

The tendering process can take some time, especially if the cruise ship is large and carries several thousand passengers. However, cruise lines work hard to manage the process to minimize delays and get their passengers on and off the ship as quickly as possible.

  • Are tender ports worth the extra effort?

Absolutely. Tender ports often offer unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences that can’t be accessed by larger ships. Without any hesitation some of our best days in port have been on tendered ports, getting into the lesser-known and smaller areas to experience the assorted cultures and experiences.

  • Tendering For People With Disabilities

In our experience and after a lot of research, this question varies not just by cruise line but by ship.

All cruise lines want to be inclusive and cater for all people. Unfortunately, the physical restrictions of ships can be a problem for wheelchairs & walkers. In our experience, walkers are generally OK but wheelchairs are problematic and will not make it onto a tender.

A good site for information about cruising in a wheelchair is Mobility & More

Once you have cruised and experienced a tender port you will have some idea of why this is a problem. Here is a picture of the tender loading area on Royal Caribbeans’ Quantum Of The Seas.

Cruise ship tender loading area - Quantum Of The Seas

Tips for Tendering

  • Arrive at the tender boarding area early to avoid delays.
  • Follow the crew’s instructions carefully.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and watch your step when boarding and disembarking from the tender boats.
  • Bring a camera to capture your memories of the tendering experience.

Tender Ports Around the World

There are many popular tender ports around the world, including:

  • Bora Bora French Polynesia
  • Santorini Greece
  • Halong Bay Vietnam
  • Bay Of Islands New Zealand
  • Most of Vanuatu and New Caledonia included Mare, Lifou, Champagne Bay, Mystery Island
  • Belize City Belize
  • Cabo San Lucas Mexico
  • Grand Caymen
  • Port Douglas QLD
  • Kangaroo Island SA

Some of the cruise lines provide a list of all tender ports which is really handy if you are researching your next cruise.

P & O Tender Ports

Royal Caribbean Tender Ports

Carnival Cruises Tender Ports

Holland America Tender Ports


Cruise ship tenders can add an exciting and adventurous element to your cruise vacation. By understanding the tendering process and being prepared, you can make the most of your time at these unique ports.

Here are some additional tips for making the most of your tendering experience:

  • Wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in easily.
  • Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Bring a camera to capture your memories of the experience.
  • Be patient and understanding. Tendering can be a slow process, but it’s worth it to experience these hidden gems

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