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Cruise Ship Time vs. Local Time

Some cruises create a fascinating wrinkle in time: You can arrive in port to discover there is one time zone aboard the ship, and another onshore.

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Stepping aboard your ship can mean crossing a time boundary.


Captain’s Choice

When a cruise ship sails across time zones, a difference can arise between the hour onboard, which is set by the captain, and the time of day onshore, determined by local authorities. This can make life for passengers a little complicated.

When there is a time gap, vacationers may find it harder to keep track of re-boarding, shore excursions, or onshore activities. And sometimes, phones will update themselves in the port of call, adding to the general confusion.

That’s why some cruise lines recommend their passengers simply stay aboard for short stops in ports where there is a time difference.

Caribbean Rhythms and DST

In the popular cruise destinations of the Caribbean, time differences can occur because some of those islands don’t use Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Many cruises embark from Miami, which changes its time zone out of DST in November, shifting from UTC-4 to UTC-5. So if you were to sail from Florida in December and dock at a port like St. Martin, which does not use DST and stays at UTC-4 all year, you would discover a one-hour time difference. Suddenly, 3.00 pm on the ship would become 2.00 pm local time as soon as you stepped ashore.

In Europe, there tend to be fewer cases of a gap between cruise ship time and port time. Cruises in that region usually choose to harmonize their time zones with the port by changing the ship’s timekeeping at night.

Longer Voyages

Long sailings across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans call for a different time protocol. These voyages adjust the ship’s clock as they cross each time zone—usually at a pace of one hour each day.

For any kind of time change on a ship, the captain will make an announcement to keep everyone updated, and there are often signs broadcasting the time onboard and ashore.

It In the end, there’s a simple principle to keep in mind: It is the ship’s time that governs all arrivals, departures, and excursions.