Sometimes when on a cruise, I will see another ship in the distance. Curosity always gets the best of me, and I begin to try and figure out which ship it is. If they're close enough, I might be able to tell from the funnel— it is impossible to mistake Disney or Carnival's funnels! Usually, though, they're too far. Even if I can see, it is fun to learn where the ship is heading. Is their cruise almost over, or did they just depart?
Perhaps you are at home and just curious how busy your favorite port is on any given day. You do not have to be on the seas to wonder what cruise traffic is like!
Thankfully, I never have to wonder for too long. There are numerous different cruise tracking websites available at your disposal to help you figure out what ship is on the horizon or how many vessels are currently docked in Nassau.
Wondering what the best websites are? Here's a breakdown of the free cruise-tracking websites that you can use!
(Screenshot of CruiseMapper's website on December 27, 2023)
Personally, CruiseMapper is the site that I always use since it appears first in the Google search when I type in a specific ship and "location" (i.e., "Allure of the Seas location"). I have never had any issues with it, and I find it to give accurate readings.
If you don't have a specific ship in mind, it's easy to browse the website. You can search via cruise line (i.e., Carnival Cruise Line or Holland America Line) to see where their vessels are currently at. Each line has a designated color, too.
The arrow indicates which way the ship is heading, so you have an idea of where it might be en route to, whereas the dots let you know that the ship is docked at a port of call. On the image below, Disney Dream is docked at Castaway Cay, while Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas (the green arrow near the coast of Florida) is sailing past Port Saint Lucie and Palm Beach.
(Screenshot of South Florida and The Bahamas taken from CruiseMapper's website on December 27, 2023)
CruiseMapper will also let you search certain ports of call, such as Cozumel, Mexico; Ravenna, Italy; and Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Perhaps you aren't interested in this week's activity in St. Maarten since your cruise isn't until next week. Thankfully, you can view future schedules, too! This will help give you an idea of how many other passengers will be docked alongside your ship.
When you select a specific port, you can view the current weather, time, recent news, and nearby hotels, which can be useful when trying to find a pre-cruise hotel in Fort Lauderdale or Barcelona, for instance.
(Screenshot of Nassau taken from Cruising Earth's website on December 27, 2023)
Compared to CruiseMapper, Cruising Earth has a relatively outdated interface. That, however, does not mean that it is incapable of providing with you the information you are seeking. What sets it apart from CruiseMapper is the resources that they have available. Cruising Earth has everything from port guides to music playlists to get you excited for your upcoming sailing!
Additionally, there are forums in which you can seek advice from other cruisers. Some cruise lines even let you view their ship's webcams from the website!
When it comes to tracking cruise ships, you will have to navigate to the live ship tracking page. To gain access, you'll first have to select a specific line and ship, such as Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Dream.
(Screenshot of St. Maarten taken from Cruising Earth's website on December 27, 2023)
There's a total of 124 lines to choose from, including river cruise lines like Ama Waterways and mainstream cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises. You can even select the now-defunct White Star Line to see where RMS Titanic's wreckage is located.
A fun little tidbit of information they include when you choose a ship is the year it entered service! Carnival Dream, for instance, entered service in 2009. It even tells you that the RMS Titanic entered service in 1912.
Cruising Earth will also allow you to view the ship traffic in any given port of call. You first, however, have to select a specific region, such as the Caribbean or European cruise regions. Once you choose a region, you will be able to see all the ports of call. Unlike CruiseMapper, the different colors indicate the different types of vessels. All cruise ships, regardless of cruise line, are dark blue, while cargo ships are green and tankers are red.
(Screenshot taken from Cruise Hive's website on December 27, 2023)
At some point during your cruise research, you've likely come across Cruise Hive. While they're most well-known for the news and cruise tips that they share, they also have a cruise tracker on their website that is available for free.
From the toolbar, you can search for ships filtering by their size, year built, current speed, and voyage information (i.e., departure port or destination). Cruise Hive also tracks different kinds of ships in addition to standard passenger vessels, such as tug pilots, yachts, and navigational aids.
Once you've selected all applicable filters, simply zoom into the region you are curious about and click on an icon to learn more. If you find a ship you want to learn more about, you can opt for Cruise Hive to show you its path.
(Screenshot taken from ShipCruises' website on December 27, 2023)
ShipCruises will allow you to easily view where each cruise line's vessels are located. At the top of the screen, simply select which line you're interested in viewing.
Note, however, that they do not have as many options as Cruising Earth. However, it is a good option for those searching for a ship from a mainstream cruise line, such as Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean.
You're also able to search for a ship on the lefthand side of the webpage, making it easy to find out where your favorite ship currently is. In addition to getting the exact location of Norwegian Epic, ShipCruises' tracker told me that the vessel is 13 years old.
(Screenshot of Norwegian Epic's location taken from ShipCruises' website on December 27, 2023)
You're also able to view what ships are in various ports, as well as the deck plans of certain ships, such as Carnival Jubilee and Celebrity Ascent.
While it's not the fanciest website, it certainly gets the job done without having to worry about all the other bells and whistles that other sites have. If, for instance, you do not care about the location of yachts or military vessels, you may find Cruising Earth's website to be overwhelming.
(Screenshot taken from Ship Finder's website on December 27, 2023)
Ship Finder utilizes AIS receiving stations located all over the world, and they have a great mobile application that you can use when on the go! When fully zoomed out on a web browser, you will mostly still numbers indicating how many ships are in a specific area.
According to the picture above, for instance, there were over 1,100 vessels in or around The Bahamas. Note that this includes far, far, far more than just cruise ships!
Upon zooming in, actual ship icons appear. You can hover over the little image to see what the ship's name is. One feature it is lacking is creating different color icons for different cruise lines, like Cruise Mapper does. All ships appear dark blue.
(Screenshot of Sky Princess docked in Cozumel, Mexico taken from Ship Finder's website on December 27, 2023)
You can see what ships are docked, as the icon changes from a vessel to an anchor inside of a dot. When the picture above was taken, Sky Princess was docked in Cozumel, Mexico.
(Screenshot taken from Marine Vessel's website on December 27, 2023)
Marine Vessel provides information on other ships, not just passenger vessels, which can be great for those who are nautical-obsessed! To make use of all the features, you will have to make an account, though. You cannot, for instance, simply search a specific ship without logging in.
You can zoom in and click on the various icons to get more details about the itinerary, recent ports of call, speed, and weather. This, however, isn't efficient if you want to figure out what ship is next to you, unless you happen to know exactly when you're located, or have a specific ship in mind!
Additionally, you can search for a ship in the toolbar at the top of the page. Rather than taking you directly to the map, it'll redirect you to an informational webpage that has a lot of hidden stats, including the reported destination and time of arrival.
(Screenshot of Allure of the Seas' location taken from Marine Vessel's website on December 27, 2023)
To reveal them, you will have to make an account. From there, however, you're able to view the ship on a live map, but it states that a newer position via satellite might be available to those who subscribe.
Cruise Addicts' website uses Marine Trackers to feed their cruise tracker, too.
How do cruise ship trackers work?
You're able to track cruise ships for free thanks to land-based VHFs, or very high-frequency radios, as well as Automatic Identification System (AIS), according to Cruising Earth. VFHs are more common on free sites, though, since it is less costly.
In fact, did you know that all passenger ships over 300 gross tons must have an AIS system onboard according to the Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Regulation V/19.2.4?
These systems send important information to the internet that keeps track of the ship, cruise line, speed, position, and route. Plus, they're useful if a ship needs to conduct search and rescue efforts and to help port authorities regulate marine traffic to mitigate the risk of any potential collisions.