There are a great many aspects of life on a cruise ship that will be novel for most musicians. For this reason the upcoming posts will deviate from music-related themes in order to familiarize future shipboard musicians with concepts and routines that will quickly become normal and even second-nature once on board. This particular post will deal with procedures associated with the various ports that make up a ship's itinerary, and the following post will go into more detail about the ports themselves.
Most often, musicians will be allowed to get off the ship any time it is in port -- that is, docked at a pier that's a part of a city or island, or, in the case of a tender port, anchored in the water slightly beyond the coastline where smaller boats transport guests and crew to the pier (see paragraph 4 of this post). To disembark the ship, each crew member is required to scan his crew identification card, so that the ship's system knows that he is no longer on board; the crew member retains possession of this card and must re-scan it upon returning to the ship, updating the ship's system and confirming that he is indeed back on board. In addition to the crew ID, international crew must also carry a document referred to as an I-95 -- proof of their status as crew members that grants permission for their entry into a foreign country or territory. US citizens working on US-based cruise lines do not need this document, but must bring a second form of ID in conjunction with their crew ID when leaving the ship.
Back-on-board' time is posted at the gangway when disembarking the ship, and simply states the latest time that any guest or crew member can return to the ship before the gangway is closed and the ship prepares to set sail. Arrival and departure times can also be found at the guest services desk and the staff administration office; guests can usually get off the ship immediately after docking, with crew following shortly thereafter, and back-on-board is generally a half hour before the listed departure time. It is imperative that crew members return to the ship no later than the back-on-board time, or they will be met with punishments from the ship's officers and may have their crew ID's taken away (preventing those crew members from leaving the ship in future ports). It is rare that a crew member is so late that the ship sails without him, but it has happened before, so it is always important to synchronize time-keeping devices with the clocks on board the ship (especially when sailing through different time zones), be aware of the back-on-board time, and be sensible and responsible when off the ship to ensure a safe and punctual return.
Tender ports deviate slightly from normal pier port procedures. As mentioned earlier, tender ports exist because the sea bed is too shallow for a large cruise ship to sail all the way to a pier located at the shoreline; the ship therefore drops anchor as close to shore as possible and then either employs smaller boats belonging to the port or uses its own lifeboats to shuttle passengers to and from the pier. Guests are given priority in disembarking the ship in these situations, because the tendering only allows a certain number of people to leave the ship at a time (dependent on the number and capacity of the smaller tender boats). Crew ID's are scanned as per normal, and then the gangway leads immediately to a tender boat which, when full, sails the short distance to the pier and lets guests and crew off. Instead of a back-on-board time, there is a similarly scheduled time when the last tender from the pier leaves for the cruise ship, and all guests and crew must be at the pier no later than that in order to return to the ship on time.
Of course, this post can't cover every detail regarding the getting on and off of a cruise ship, but it should give future ship musicians a head start on port procedure information, and a good idea of what to expect. Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will similarly discuss home ports and ports of call -- far more exciting than the procedures that surround them.