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A tender port is a dock that 1, may not be able to recieve a large cruise ship, so the ship dispatches little boats to take passengers back and forth while anchored in the bay. You can come and go as you please, just don't miss the last tender. The ride itself is ususally 5 minutes depending.
2, there may be too many large ships in port, or the cruiseline may not have been able to secure a docking space so they tender in.
Hope that helps a little.
An Adventure is only an inconvenience rightly understood; an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
In cases where the water is not deep enough for the cruise ships to dock in port or in cases where there are more ships in port than dock space, you will see tender. Instead of the ship docking right at the port, it will instead drop its anchor and utilize life boats to tender passenger's back and forth to the particular port.
What is the impact?
Normally, those who are booked for a shore excursion are given priority for the first several tenders to ensure that they don't miss their excursions. Then all of the other passengers can take the tenders over to the port of call. Depending on the size of the ship, how many tenders are being used to take passenger's back and forth this could mean that it might be an hour or so after the tender service start up that those passenger's who are not booked on a shore excursion through the cruise line can start to board the tenders.
In your daily program they will provide guidance as to when the last tender leaves port to take passenger's back to the ship at the end of the day.
While tenders are a little inconvenient, they do allow more ships to visit ports of call and also allow the much larger ships who might not be able to dock in selected ports to visit those ports.
Key West has what I call "land tenders." If your cruise ship docks at Key West's "Outer Mole" Pier and not Mallory Square or Pier B, you will have to use "land tenders", either the conch train or trolleys, to go to and from the ship through a Navy yard, so you cannot walk it yourself.
Hope the following helps you better understand tendering...
In tendering operations, boats are used to shuttle passengers from the cruise ship to shore. Some cruisers dislike tendering because it can involve waiting in lines, the physical transfer from the cruise ship to the smaller boat, and the boat ride sometimes can be over choppy waters. Then there are those (like me) who really like tendering. It is always a wonderful thrill to see a cruise ship from water level. You shouldn't be concerned about tendering, as it is part of the adventure of cruising. But wear solid shoes and pay attention to what you are doing (there are lots of crew around to help you as well). Also, put your cruise identification card in a safe, accessible place (there are stories of these cards falling into the sea).
Here is another tip...if you are not on a ship's tour, have breakfast while the first wave are going ashore via tender. After the first wave are taken care of, you will probably not have to wait very long to access the tender.
Fred- that is great advice, and I think that is exactly what we will do. We had considered booking a ship excursion, but the reality of it is that our only motivation would have been to get off the ship sooner.
We will just take our time, eat breakfast, and watch the masses push each other around until they are gone!