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What is tendering on a cruise ship?

June 28, 2022
4 min read
What is tendering on a cruise ship?
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If you're new to cruising, you've likely heard of tendering or tender boats, but you might be confused about what they are. What is a tender on a cruise ship? Lest you think that I'm talking about newfangled vessels that are soft and gentle to the touch, I'm here to explain.

Some cruise ports — including Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Santorini, Greece; and Sorrento, Italy — don't allow ships to dock, either due to lack of infrastructure or due to shallow waters that would cause larger vessels to run aground if they got too close to land.

In other instances, cruise ships will sometimes anchor offshore if ports are crowded and there isn't enough dock space. This often happens in Juneau, Alaska, which has only four berths but which can see as many as six ships in port in the same day.

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Celebrity Edge's "Magic Carpet" makes it easy to board a tender. (Photo by Tim Aylen/Celebrity Cruises)

In those cases, ships anchor offshore and passengers are required to take a cruise ship tender to land. On a cruise, tendering is the process of using smaller boats to ferry passengers from their anchored vessel to shore.

What is a tender boat, specifically? Depending on the port, the cruise line and any local agreements that might be in place, tenders can be boats operated by people who live in the destinations ships visit or they can be a ship's own lifeboats, which are lowered into the water and used to transport cruisers. Most lines refer to the boats as tenders, though Carnival Cruise Line prefers the term "water shuttles."

On board a tender boat taking passengers from Half Moon Cay back to Holland America's Rotterdam cruise ship. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy)

Tender rides are free, but on some larger ships, to keep things orderly and fair, you might have to report ahead of time to get a tender number that will tell you the order in which you can disembark the vessel. Your ship will also let you know what time the last tender boat leaves to return from shore for all-aboard.

Suite guests, cruise line loyalty program members with top-tier status, cruisers booked on early departures of ship-sponsored tours and other VIPs will often be allowed on the first tender boat departures ahead of regular passengers.

While tendering allows ships access to ports without cruise ship docks, the process does have its downfalls. Passengers with mobility issues, especially those who use walkers, scooters or wheelchairs, may have difficulty boarding the boats as they bob in the water. The shuttling process takes time, which means simply getting ashore will eat into the time you have to explore in port. Calls on tender ports can be canceled completely for safety reasons if there's inclement weather.

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The boats themselves can also be stuffy and crowded, which is a less-than-ideal way to end a fun day of vacation.

Overall, though, tendering is a fairly simple solution that allows cruise lines to take passengers to a larger variety of port destinations.

Got more cruise questions? TPG has answers:

Featured image by ©Danny Lehman
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023