Land Ahoy! Staying Safe On Shore

There are good and bad parts to every destination in the world, and it’s important to be educated and informed on these parts wherever you decide to set sail. Cruise lines do their best to choose ports that are safe, but it’s important to do your own research on how to best keep you and your family protected when on shore.  

Your first line of defense should be to look for your destination on the U.S. Department of State (click here) website for the latest safety recommendations and official travel advisories.  Here you will find every official worldwide travel advisory issued by the U.S. government along with a country-specific detailed report of the alert. Official travel advisories are issued from a four-tiered system:

Level 1 - Exercise normal precautions

Many cities have a Level 1 alert and you should be aware of this, but safety issues can typically be prevented by exercising a normal level of caution and awareness, just like domestic travel.

Level 2 - Exercise increased caution

More serious types of crime you should be aware of. Make sure you’re knowledgeable about your destination and know what areas and neighborhoods to avoid. Stick with tourist areas and don’t wander off alone.

Level 3 - Reconsider travel

Unless you’re traveling for a specific reason, like visiting family, and are very familiar with the destination and areas to avoid, you might want to find another spot for your family vacation.

Level 4 - Do not travel

You really shouldn't be traveling here period, let alone with your children.

Major cruise lines stay up to date with the latest travel advisories and safety recommendations and adjust accordingly, so you likely won’t find a port with a Level 3 or 4 advisory on your itinerary.  Don’t be surprised or alarmed to find many ports, especially Caribbean ports, with at least a Level 1 advisory and many times even a Level 2 advisory.

The Caribbean is one of the most tourism-dependent regions in the world.  Many Caribbean nations are small in size and don’t have the space or infrastructure for factories, farms, or other major sources of exporting goods.  Many nations also depend on tourism for employment, income, and economic stimulation and stabilization as a whole. As a result, you’ll find cruise ports commercialized with shops, attractions, major restaurants, museums, and other amenities, but if you travel outside of the port, oftentimes you’ll find a country struggling with crime, unemployment, and other issues related to high poverty.  Many cities in Central America and Mexico also struggle with high poverty rates, in addition to violent crime and other issues as a result of increased drug cartel and gang activity.

These factors create some safety concerns that you should know about before embarking on your adventure on land, especially if you plan on traveling independently outside of your cruise port.  The safest option to venture outside of the port’s tourist area is to book excursions directly through your cruise line. It may be more expensive to do so, but your cruise line has relationships with companies and vendors who have a stronger and safer track record.  If you find an attraction or beach you must visit that’s not accessible through your cruise line, be sure to research the area beforehand, as well as the area you will have to travel through to get there and the transportation to and from your location. Cross reference this research with any travel advisories and also be sure to read your cruise line’s daily guide while on board; it will always detail any travel advisories and safety recommendations for your port.

Tripadvisor (click here) and other online cruise forums like Cruise Critic (click here) can also offer insight into alternative plans and making the most of your experience on land while keeping you and your family safe.  Each port of call is different, so it’s up to you to research the specifics and decide whether or not you feel it’s a safe choice for you and your family. Mama bear knows best!

Truly, every port of call is different.  I’ve taken taxi rides to separate beaches and independent areas in some ports and felt perfectly safe, while I wouldn’t have even considered this in other ports due to safety issues.

Generally, the larger the city you’re visiting, the more aware you need to be of areas surrounding the port, as crime rates are naturally higher in larger cities. Do your research!