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Can You Leave A Cruise Ship Early?

You most likely have invested quite a bit of time and money in your cruise planning and in selecting the perfect itinerary for your family. But sometimes plans change or need to be tweaked. If so, can you leave a cruise ship early? Keep reading to learn what you need to know if you find yourself in that situation.

So, Can You Leave A Cruise Ship Early?

The short answer is (probably) yes. But, depending on your circumstances, you will likely have to pay a fee or penalty.

Prior to the Covid-19 situation, you could make plans in advance to disembark early. However, some of those policies changed. For instance, Royal Caribbean barred that practice completely. It remains to be seen whether the policy will be modified now that various pandemic-related restrictions are being lifted.

Sometimes people don’t realize that they need to leave a cruise ship early until after the cruise has started. So what then? You can leave a cruise ship early, but depending on where you are traveling, it may result in you having to refund the penalties that the cruise line company is charged. If you leave due to an emergency, you may have to look to your travel insurance for compensation.

Leaving a ship before the cruise’s end causes the cruise crew a logistical nightmare. It may be that you missed the cruise ship after going ashore to see the local sights, had an unpleasant experience that ruined your vacation, or an emergency dictated your need to get home; whatever the circumstance, it is a sad end to a beautiful holiday.

Why Do Some Passengers Leave A Cruise Ship Early?

Many situations may arise where you want or need to leave a cruise ship early. These may include:

  1. You suffer an injury on the ship, or you get very sick.
  2. There is a family emergency back at home.
  3. The service, cabin accommodation, or food is so bad that you have to get off the ship as soon as possible.
  4. You, or a member of your travel party, is instructed to leave because of some infraction.
  5. The ship stops at a port and leaves without you.

Can You Leave A Cruise Ship Registered Outside America?

The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 disallows any foreign registered vessels transporting passengers between two different ports in America unless the ship has traveled to another county first.

This Act mainly affects foreign cruise ships operating around North America. These ships make regular stops at many places, and no passenger can leave the vessel permanently except when it returns to the original point of departure.

The effect of this law is that cruise lines that operate foreign-flagged vessels are fined $798 for each passenger who boards its vessel in one U.S. port and leaves it at another port. The cruise lines typically pass this cost to the passengers who “jump the ship.”

This act still requires the total fine to be paid if the passenger leaves the ship for any emergency.

This penalty even applies if the ship has to dock in a different port due to an emergency or bad weather conditions.

If you board a ship in America and leave that ship in another American port before the ship has traveled to a second country, the vessel will be fined, and they will pass the fine onto you.

If You Are Travelling On A Cruise Overseas

If you board a cruise ship in another country and travel back to America, this law does not apply. 

You must keep in mind the different legislation that applies to the various countries you travel through.

For example, if you boarded a cruise ship in Greece, which had an itinerary that included traveling to Italy and then back to Greece, if you chose to leave the ship in Italy, you will have to make sure that you comply with Italian immigration laws.

If you are a national of a country that requires visas and any other permits to enter Italy, it will be very inconvenient. It could ultimately (in very extreme cases) end up with your deportation.

The tips below will help you navigate a situation like this.

When You Are Onshore, Carry Your Key Documents

Whether you are going ashore to look around a new town or city and return to the ship, or if you intend to “jump ship,” always carry the following:

  1. Your current passport, and if you have a visa, make sure it is also displayed
  2. Your travel insurance details
  3. Your Credit cards
  4. The phone number of the ship & port agent details (found in the ship newsletter)
  5. The emergency contact details of the ship

It would also be extremely helpful if you had the following information available. This is information you can store on your phone before you leave home:

  1. The emergency contact details of your country’s embassy in that port
  2. Contact details of your travel agent
  3. Emergency Contact details of a family member

If you return late to the ship and it has left, this information will be essential to help you try to catch the cruise ship at the next port of call or to assist you in getting home.

Leave A Cruise Ship Early

What To Do If You Accidentally Leave A Cruise Ship Early

If you unintentionally end up off the ship after it has sailed, take the following steps:

1. Find The Cruise Ship’s Agent

This is the most critical step. The agent will be able to get hold of the ship and give the crew permission to enter your quarters to remove any belongings left there.

The cruise agent will also be able to assist you, either with travel arrangements to get you home or to help you get to the next port to catch the ship. (Note that “helping you” does not mean they will pay for it.)

If you can’t find the cruise agent, try to contact the cruise ship directly using the emergency numbers you were provided when you boarded.

2. Organize Your Documents

If you did not intend to leave the ship, but are now left stranded with no documents, get to your home country’s embassy as soon as possible.

They will be able to assist you by providing emergency travel documents and help you figure out the following steps on how you get home or back to the ship.

3. Try To Get Back On The Cruise Ship

If the situation happened in America, because of the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, you would not be able to race ahead and board the ship at the next stop.

In all probability, if this happens, the cruise is over, whether you intended for it to be or not.

Do You Get A Refund If You Leave A Cruise Early?

There are two circumstances where you may need to leave the cruise early.

There Is A Problem Which Ruins Your Holiday

Cruise lines generally are very clear about what they are and are not liable for. Most cruise liner contracts state very clearly the resolution process for disputes. If, for example, you find that there is a problem in your cabin – maybe the toilet or an air conditioner doesn’t work – most ships will try very hard to resolve the issue, rather than issue a refund.

Before they even consider a refund:

  1. A crew member, or the captain, will need to be notified
  2. They will request that they be allowed to fix the problem first
  3. If the problem is not fixed to your satisfaction, they will ask that you persist with them
  4. If the problem is severe and can’t be fixed by the crew, you must submit a formal complaint
  5. Most cruise line companies are very responsive to these issues. If you show that you followed the formal dispute resolution process, they will probably try to work something out. (Check out these tips from the Elliot Report on getting your complaints resolved.)

There Is An Emergency

If there is an emergency, whether you are forced to leave the ship because of an accident, someone has fallen ill, or a circumstance requires you to return home immediately, any refund amount will generally be toward your account.

Refund policies vary by cruise line, and as always we suggest familiarizing yourself with the policies of the line you are sailing with.

If you paid for the trip with your credit card, there might be compensation available through your card’s purchase protection plan, and If you purchased travel insurance, there might also be coverage available depending on your policy.


Yes, you can leave a cruise ship early; however, depending on which country you are traveling to, and the circumstances surrounding your early departure, there may be penalties imposed on you.

Before signing up for a cruise, check the conditions of each cruise company, and find the company whose terms are most acceptable to you. Leaving a ship before the end of the cruise will generally cause a lot of inconvenience and damage to your wallet.

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