Cruise Tips - Embarkation

  • Very important cruise tip -- try to get to your departure port the day before you are leaving.  Then, if anything delays you or your luggage, you won't miss your cruise. 

  • Most cruise ships dock in the early morning at their final destination.  The arriving passengers disembark, and the ship is cleaned and restocked for another group.

  • You will go through several lines at the cruise ship terminal.  First, you will be in line to check in with the cruise line.  When you present your ticket, a photo ID or passport, and a credit card, you will be given an electronic room key that you will also use to charge purchases and drinks on the ship.  You will also have your picture taken, and most cruise lines electronically imbed your photo onto your ID card.

  • No matter what the cruise line publishes, most ships are ready to receive passengers around noon.

  • Because many people arrive around noon, most ships set up a nice buffet lunch.  This may or may not be publicized by the cruise line, but it is usually there.  This is a chance to check in early, have a good meal, and explore the ship prior to getting underway. 

  • Now the bad news.  You aren't the only passenger who has this information.  The gangway is going to be very crowded with people wanting to get on the ship early.  Waits of one hour or longer are very common.  And in some cases, you'll wait in the sun or in the rain.

  • Cruise tip -- don't get to the pier at noon or even one o'clock for a five o'clock departure.  Take it easy, relax in town, and then leisurely stroll onto the ship around two o'clock or even three o'clock.  The lines will be gone, and you'll feel more like royalty than being part of a human wave.

  • More cruise tips -- if the ship is sailing from a remote location, try to purchase transfers to the departure port, directly from the cruise line.  For example, even if you arrange your own air travel, many cruise lines sailing from one of the English ports (such as Dover) will sell you transfers so you can ride on their bus from London.  Let the cruise line worry about getting you from point A to point B.  And, you'll probably save money.

Cruise Tips - Debarkation -- Getting off of the Ship to return Home

  • First, plan your return flight home for five or six hours after the ship docks.  Give yourself time for an unhurried return to the real world.  Ships can be delayed in docking, and you don't need to end your wonderful vacation with a stress-filled sprint through the airport.

  • Many cruise passengers treat debarkation as the human equivalent of a road race.  They want to be the "line leaders" in getting off the ship, and they want off NOW.  The cruise line also wants to help get you off of the ship as quickly as possible.  Quite frankly, you're in their way on the final morning of your cruise.  Just follow their directions, and you'll have plenty of time to make your flight home.

  • The day before your ship docks, you will be given color coded tags for your suitcases.  The color coding system places you in a specific group for disembarking. 

  • On your last night on board your cruise ship, you will have to pack your suitcases and place them in the corridor outside your cabin before you go to bed.  You will attach color coded tags to each of your suitcases.  You will need to keep a small, carry-on bag with you on your last night, which will hold your toiletries and your next day's clothing.

  • As you sleep on your last night, the ship's crew collects all of the baggage from the corridors and takes it down to the hold where it is ready to be taken ashore.  When the ship docks early the next morning, the baggage is taken ashore and placed in groupings in the cruise terminal by the color of the tags you have been given.  Customs agents and drug enforcement agents with drug-sniffing dogs wander through the baggage, looking for suspicious luggage.  Some bags are also opened at random and are searched.

  • On your final morning, most cruise lines allow you to remain in your cabin until your color-coded group is called.  You can visit the breakfast buffet and return to your cabin to wait, or (our favorite), you can preorder room service and eat breakfast in your cabin.

  • As you leave the ship, you will enter the passenger terminal.  In front of you will be a sea of luggage, separated into groups by the colors of the tags.  Remember those colored straps we advised you to buy in our packing tips section?  They will now help you find your luggage quickly.  Once you have your suitcases, you will hand your customs form to an agent and leave the terminal.


Useful Links

Guide to Travel Insurance

Norwalk Virus & Cruise Ship Illness

CDC Sanitation Inspection Results for Cruise Ships







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