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I Want to End My Cruise at a Port on the Itinerary. Is That Allowed?

It’s a little more complicated than you may think.

Cruises can be a fun and budget-friendly way to travel, especially for groups and families. They’re typically all-inclusive and take the guesswork out of finding dining or entertainment while on vacation. You start and end your cruise at the same location (also known as a closed-looped cruise) with some fun stops in between. Cruises are also a great way to travel out of the country if you or your travel partner do not have a passport. Closed-loop cruises are ideal for American passengers because it simplifies the customs and immigration process.

INSIDER TIPThis information is intended for Americans utilizing U.S. ports and may not apply to passport holders from other countries. As a best practice, contact your cruise line directly for guidance and any legal or financial restrictions that may be incurred from taking a partial cruise.

Why Would You Want to Exit a Cruise Early?

Even though a cruise intends to see all the outlined cities and countries on the itinerary, sometimes it is not possible to complete. There are quite a few reasons that can cause someone to have a voluntary-or involuntary disembarkment. Some examples include:

  1. You or your cruise mate(s) get sick or injured onboard or while exploring a destination
  2. Things have gone awry at home, and you have a family emergency
  3. The service onboard is subpar
  4. You want to spend more time at a destination (or it was cheaper to cruise to than fly to a destination on the cruise itinerary)
  5. You are asked to leave due to misconduct, unruly behavior, etc.
  6. Your essential needs are not being met

So, Can You Get off a Cruise Early?

Outside of emergencies, passengers rarely end their cruises before completion. No matter the reason, the question remains: Can you end your cruise at any port on the itinerary? Technically, the answer is yes. However, it’s not quite as easy as just getting off and going home on your terms when you are ready. There are a few “stumbling blocks” and laws that have to be taken into consideration, and they are, truthfully, quite confusing.

The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 (also known as the PVSA) was enacted essentially to protect U.S. maritime interests. This law still exists today. In a nutshell, the PVSA states that foreign ships cannot transport passengers between U.S. ports, or they will face a fine ( currently $778 per passenger!). But what about leaving a U.S. port and getting off at a foreign port? According to U.S. law, you can set sail and then disembark at a foreign port. However, although it is allowed by U.S. law, there are still foreign laws and cruise line policies to contend with. In some countries, laws prohibit cruise passengers from permanently disembarking.

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For customers who only want to take part of their cruise, it’s also not a cut-and-dry process. Royal Caribbean lays out its rules on its website: “Royal Caribbean no longer allows cruise passengers to pre-plan early debark or late embarkation for any of our ships.” Not all cruise lines post their rules, so it’s best to contact your cruise provider for specific information.

What if the Cruise Is Terrible—Can I Leave?

As a passenger, you have a bill of rights, and cruise lines have a responsibility to you as well. When you are a cruise passenger, the Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights states that you have the right to disembark a docked ship if “essential provisions such as food, water, restroom facilities, and access to medical care cannot adequately be provided on board.” This bill of rights is widely used by all of the major cruise lines. However, under this bill of rights, there are still exceptions for the safety and/or any immigration requirements at the port of call.

The Process of Early Disembarkation

Just how do you get off a cruise if you need to? Start by talking with your cruise line to discuss your specific situation so that you can work together for a reasonable solution. If you are leaving due to your essential needs not being met or general disdain for the service or offerings, this is a critical step as it can impact whether you can receive a partial or full refund. In these circumstances, cruise lines have to be allowed to correct their mistakes before a refund of any kind is issued. If an emergency has occurred, you still want to alert cruise staff. They can assist you in arranging transportation from the port or booking a flight or hotel.

If you simply just want to get off the ship at a port ending your cruise, you should inquire about immigration status, restrictions, and laws for that country. Remember, if your cruise starts and ends in the U.S., a passport is not required. This also means that technically there is no trackable record of you being in that country. If you do have your passport, it likely has not been stamped for entry. Walking around the city without proper documentation or even trying to leave without proper documentation can result in further complications.

Whatever you do, please do not go rogue. This will allow cruise staff to know that you are safely off the ship rather than a missing person–which will create an emergency as they attempt to locate you.