How to See How Crowded Your Cruise’s Port Cities Will Be When You’re There

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I are big fans of Key West. There was a time we went every year, usually for an extended weekend. At one point, we visited often enough (once or twice a year) that we began to notice the differences in crowd size, depending upon whether or not a cruise ship (or two) was/were in town the same days as we were.

Big crowds at cruise ports can be, well, a pain. The more ships there are at the docks means the more people will be in town, which results in local bars, restaurants and shops being more crowded, and the greater possibility that privately planned excursions might sell out faster than if your ship was the only one in town. Good for all the business owners, but not good if you were hoping for a lazy, quiet day of strolling around town.

When you get your cruise itinerary, you know where you’re going to be on what date. We’re going on a European cruise later this year, and this is the info for our ports of call:

a map of the islandThe only thing we don’t know is what other ships will be in port at the same time as us. Fortunately, I recently discovered a very cool website that can help with that question.

CruiseMapper has actually been out for a while – at least 2015, if not longer. But it wasn’t on my radar until now because, well, we didn’t start to enjoy cruising until less than 2 years ago.

Anyway, Cruisemapper has a lot of capabilities. Among other things, it can tell you:

  • Info about all the ships out there (as of this writing there are over 1,500 cruise ships around the world!)
  • Every port where cruise ships dock
  • All the different cruise lines (over 70 of them!)
  • Deck plans for over 1,200 cruise ships
  • Info about various types/levels of cabins and suites
  • A history of accidents each ship has had (like when Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady crashed into a dock last summer and needed emergency repairs)
  • News about cruises around the world
  • A search function for any cruise, based on destination, departure port, ship name, itinerary dates, cruise length, ship type, etc.

But what piqued my interest was learning how many ships will be in port the same day we are. That’s where the Cruisemapper Tracker comes in.

Cruisemapper Tracker (let’s call it CMT) can show you where every ship (and ferry) is at any given time. The entire world map doesn’t fit the window they give, but when you’re on the website or app, you can zoom in on the map if you’d like, as well as move it from side to side.

From there, you can click on a ship to get pertinent information about it. Let’s say we want to learn more about Disney Cruise Line’s ship, the Disney Wish. If you find Disney Wish and click on it, you get general info about the ship and its current course.

You can also use the side bar to find your preferred cruise line by name, and search for “your” ship. Let’s say we wanted to see where all of the MSC cruise ships are:

You may notice that so far, it’s very similar to the information you can get on Flightradar24.

a map with planes flying

Flightradar24 combines data from several sources, including ADS-B, MLAT, satellite, and radar data. CruiseMapper (and other cruise mapping programs) uses a system called the Automatic Identification System, also known as the AIS. AIS is installed on all vessels and transmits the current position of the ship every two to three minutes to the base stations spread across the world.

But here comes the good part! Let’s say you’re going on one of Virgin Voyages’ Fire & Sunset Soirées cruises and one of you ports is Key West. Your cruise starts on March 20th and you’re supposed to be in Key West on March 21st.

You can search by Ship / Port name from CMT’s front page:

a screenshot of a computerWhen you key in KEY WEST, it gives you the option to click on the cruise port named KEY WEST / FLORIDA.

a screenshot of a cruise shipOnce you click, you can see which cruise lines are going to be at which ports on what days (and how long they’ll be there). Here’s an example that shows the Scarlet Lady on March 21st:

a screenshot of a calendar

It looks like you would luck out – Scarlet Lady is the only ship that’ll be in Key West that day, so the crowds shouldn’t be too bad.

But let’s say you were going to be on Holland America’s ms Rotterdam in early April, and were scheduled to port in Cozumel on April 8th. It sucks to be you because SIX ships are scheduled to be in Cozumel that day.

a screenshot of a cruise ship schedule

Expect crowds, friends. And book your private excursions early.

So yeah – Cruisemapper is a handy little website (and app – it’s available via both the App Store and Google Play) to help you get a better idea of how crowded your ports will be, so you can plan accordingly.

Feature Photo (cropped): Roger W / flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0


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