Two cruise ships surrounded by tender boats

Tender Loving Care: 5 Must-Visit Mediterranean Tender Ports + Top Tips

Tender ports, those charming destinations where cruise ships drop anchor offshore and ferry passengers to land via smaller boats, are a unique and often overlooked facet of cruising.

While some cruisers may initially balk at the idea of tendering, these ports often offer a more intimate and authentic experience than their larger, bustling counterparts. In this guide, we’ll demystify what happens when you see “tender port” marked on your cruise itinerary, address common concerns, and reveal five must-visit Mediterranean tender ports that will make you a tender-port enthusiast in no time!

From the glitz and glam of Cannes to the famous blue domes of Santorini, each of these destinations offers a unique allure that’s well worth the tender ride. So, if you’re ready to embrace the adventure of tendering and discover some of the Mediterranean’s most captivating hidden gems, read on!

Only interested in my Top Tips to Minimise Tender Queues? Then jump straight to my tips section by clicking here.

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What to Expect at a Tender Port: Tendering Process

Lifeboats on cruise ship, with a tender boat next to the cruise ship
Image by Monica Volpin from Pixabay

If you’ve never experienced a tender port, here’s the lowdown: your cruise ship won’t be docking at a pier. Instead, it’ll anchor a bit further out in the water. To get you to shore, the cruise line will use smaller boats called tenders (often these are the lifeboats repurposed for this task). These tenders ferry passengers back and forth throughout the day.

Here’s how it usually goes:

  1. Anchor Drop: The ship will find a suitable spot to anchor, often with beautiful views of the coastline.
  2. Tender Preparation: The crew will prepare the tenders and lower them into the water. Sometimes the crew uses lifeboats repurposed as tenders for the day but in the Mediterranean, most tender ports will have a fleet of tender boats ready to ferry cruisers ashore.
  3. Tender No or Ticket Time (Maybe): Some cruise lines require you to get a tender ticket with a number. These are usually available at a designated spot onboard, and your number will be called when it’s your turn to board. Other cruise lines have a more open boarding policy. I’ll explain more about tender procedure further down this blog post.
  4. Boarding: You’ll head to the tender boarding area, usually a deck lower down. If your cruise line uses tender tickets, then you’ll hear the tender numbers being called via the PA system onboard. To avoid overcrowding, only head down to the tender deck once your tender number has been called.
  5. All Aboard: Once on the tender, find a seat and enjoy the short ride to shore. (Most rides are under 10 minutes.) It’s a great opportunity to snap some photos of your ship!
  6. Disembarkation: The tender will dock at a designated area, and you’ll step off onto land. The crew will be there to assist you if needed. When you read my DIY port guides for tender ports, I’ll highlight where the typical drop off point is but this can’t be guaranteed. Your cruise line will have final say on where it is safe to drop you off on the day itself.

Tendering 101: Answers to All Your Frequently Asked Questions

It depends on a lot of factors, including how many tender boats your cruise ship is running, how full your cruise ship is, how many people wants to go ashore in the “initial rush”, how far ashore your ship has anchored and weather conditions.

The entire process, from anchor drop to the end of “initial rush” (when most people who want to go ashore has done so and tender tickets are no longer required), can take anywhere between an hour to 2-3 hours, if you’re on a large ship sailing at full capacity.

For example, in Santorini, tendering can start as early as 7 – 7:30am, depending on your cruise line. (I have been in the cable car queue before 8am, despite not being in the first few tenders). But it’ll likely be mid-morning before there are no queues for tender boats.

Yes, you can absolutely travel independently. There is no need to go on a ship-sponsored shore excursion to go ashore, unless you want to! To do a DIY excursion, you simply follow your ship’s tendering procedure, get a tender ticket (if you need one) and go down to the tender deck when your tender number is called.

If you’re on a ship-sponsored excursion, you don’t need a tender ticket! Go to your designated excursion departure area on the ship and you’ll be escorted to a tender boat, as part of your excursion group.

Yes! Tender rides are included as part of your cruise fare.

Tenders will run continuously during the ship’s advertised tender hours. The last tender boat time will be in your daily newsletter and on notice boards on the tender deck – similar to how “all aboard time” is advertised.

You’re free to catch the return tender any time. After the initial rush period, tenders may not run as frequently but there’s usually only a short wait for the next tender boat.

That depends on how bad the weather is. If there is a severe weather alert, the tender port itself may be closed. This means that your ship can’t run any tender operations and you won’t have the opportunity to go ashore.

I’ve been on a ship on its way to Villefranche when the tender port was closed due to an extreme weather alert. The ship had no choice but to sail on to the next port in the itinerary.

Yes! And tendering can be temporarily suspended during the day as well.

I was in Mykonos when a huge thunderstorm moved in around 9am. A torrential downpour lasting about 90 minutes ensued.

I was on one of the first tender boats and was already ashore when tenders were temporarily suspended. I had to seek shelter under a balcony because there was no option to return to the ship until the weather improved. Other cruisers waited on the ship until tender operations resumed around noon.

Don’t worry if bad weather hits when you’re ashore. Always be back at the tender pier by the advertised last tender time. Your crew will make sure that you’ll be safely back on the ship.

First of all, not all cruise lines use a tender ticketing system. If your cruise ship uses one, you’ll be told in advance how the tender process works and where to get them. Do check out my tips below on how to minimise queuing time.

Oops. Then you might end up on a news story about how you (or your group) got left behind at the port!

Missing the last tender is like not being back onboard by the stated “All Aboard” time, if your ship was docked at a cruise port. So treat the “Last Tender Time” with the same respect as “All Aboard Time”.

Not usually. I’m prone to seasickness as well. Tender rides are typically short, usually no more than 10-15 minutes.

If you’re especially prone to seasickness, let a crew member know. They’ll let you be one of the last cruisers to board the tender boat, so you’re not sitting there, bobbing up and down, until almost all have boarded the tender boat.

Depends on the port really. If you have any concerns, discuss this with your cruise line, as each cruise line runs tender operations slightly differently.

From my own experience, most tender ports will require passengers to be able to stand and walk a few (assisted) steps into the tender boat.

Tender Like a Pro: Insider Tips to Minimise Queues & Maximise Shore Time

Tendering doesn’t have to be a hassle! With a little insider knowledge and planning, you can breeze through the process and be off exploring in no time. Here are my top tips for conquering tender ports like a seasoned cruiser:

  1. Scope Out Your Itinerary: First things first, check if your cruise even has a tender port. Most cruise lines will clearly mark tender ports on your itinerary, so you’ll know what to expect before you book and definitely before you even set sail.
  2. Get the Lowdown on Tendering: The night before your first tender port, your cruise line will give you the full scoop on how their tendering process works. Keep an eye out for info in your cabin’s daily newsletter, announcements at shows or on the TV channel dedicated on onboard information. Not all cruise ships use a tender ticketing system. For example, Royal Caribbean required tender tickets on a Greek Isles cruise I was on but Celebrity Cruises did not, on a very similar itinerary. Sometimes it can also vary depending on whether the ship is sailing at full capacity.
  3. Excursions = Express Pass: If you’ve booked a shore excursion through the cruise line, consider yourself a VIP! You won’t need a separate tender ticket – your excursion is your golden ticket to skip the lines and get ashore with your group.
  4. Suite Life (or Loyal Cruiser) Perks: If you’re staying in a suite or have a high loyalty status with the cruise line, you may get priority tender access. Woohoo! This is typically through a separate tender queue, so be sure to know where to go if you’re eligible!
  5. Divide and Conquer: Traveling with a group? No need to all huddle in line for tender tickets. Send one brave soul to wait, while the rest of you can enjoy a sit down breakfast.
  6. Timing is Key: If your cruise line doesn’t have a ticketing system and you want to be ashore quickly, just be in the queue by the estimated tender starting time. Honestly, there’s no need to start queueing from 6am – I met many cruisers who did queue for almost two hours in Santorini to be on the first tender. You can join the queue at 7:30am to be ashore by 8am, just not on the very first tender boat.

5 Unforgettable Mediterranean Tender Ports You Can’t Miss

While tender ports might require an extra step to reach shore, the rewards are often extraordinary. These five Mediterranean gems, accessible only by tender, are bursting with charm, history, and natural beauty, making them well worth the effort:

1. Cannes, France

Cannes marina with yachts
Photo by Mike Kit

Cannes exudes glitz and glamour, but it also boasts stunning beaches, charming old town streets, and a vibrant culinary scene. Enjoy a stroll along the Croisette, the iconic promenade lined with palm trees, designer boutiques and luxury hotels. Or check out your favourite actor’s palm prints at the Palais des Festivals, home to the world-famous Cannes Film Festival.

Intrigued? Then dive into my comprehensive guide and cruise port map: Cannes Cruise Port: Your Perfect DIY Mediterranean Escape

2. Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos Old Town Harbour with blue skies
Photo by Luke Webb

Get ready for a whirlwind of fun on this iconic Greek island! Mykonos is known for its picture-perfect windmills. Explore the charming maze-like streets of Mykonos Town or wander through the archaeological site of Delos.

Want to know more? Check out my insider tips, with a DIY guide and cruise port map: Mykonos for Cruisers: Ultimate DIY Port Guide and Excursions

Note: There IS a cruise port at Mykonos which will accommodate one cruise ship. But there’s usually more than one ship daily at Mykonos during the summer months. That means that the other ships have to tender into Mykonos.

3. Santorini, Greece

Santorini cliffside view of the three blue domed churches
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric

Prepare to be mesmerized by Santorini’s dramatic caldera views, whitewashed villages clinging to cliffsides, and romantic ambiance. This volcanic island is a photographer’s paradise, with iconic blue-domed churches, stunning sunsets, and charming tavernas serving up delicious local cuisine.

Take a cable car to the top of Fira, explore the ancient ruins of Akrotiri or simply soak up the sun on one of the island’s unique black sand beaches.

Ready to discover the magic? Here’s my DIY Guide with all the insider tips to conquer the cable car queues: Beat the Crowds: Your Perfect Santorini DIY Shore Excursion

4. Kotor, Montenegro

Our Lady of the Rocks near Kotor, Montenegro
Image by Gerhard Zinn from Pixabay

Nestled within a stunning fjord-like bay, Kotor is a hidden gem of the Adriatic. This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts a well-preserved medieval Old Town, filled with charming squares, ancient churches, and a labyrinth of narrow streets.

For the adventurous, a challenging hike up to the San Giovanni Fortress rewards you with breathtaking panoramic views of the bay and surrounding mountains.

Want to explore on your own in Kotor? I’ve got a DIY guide with cruise port map for you! Check out Kotor Cruise Port: DIY Port Guide for Montenegro’s Jewel

5. Villefrance-sur-Mer, France

Villefranche Sur Mer Harbour, France
Image by Gerhard Bรถgner from Pixabay

Often overshadowed by its glamorous neighbor Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a tranquil haven with a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of charm. Its colourful harbour, lined with pastel-hued houses, is a joy to explore. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, or hop on a train to nearby Nice or Monaco for a day trip!

Interested in a DIY day trip? Then check out both my DIY guides to Nice or Monaco before you decide! Villefranche Cruise Port to Nice: What to Do & How to Get There, Villefrance Cruise Port to Monaco: Your Easy DIY Day Trip Guide

Featured Image by falco from Pixabay

I hope this guide has helped you feel more confident and excited about experiencing these enchanting Mediterranean tender ports! May your journeys be filled with smooth sailing, breathtaking views, and unforgettable memories. If you found this information helpful, please consider sharing it with your fellow cruisers in your roll call groups or on social media. Bon Voyage!

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