Disembarking a Cruise Ship
Photo By: Russell Otway

You may never want your cruise vacation to end, but unfortunately, all ships eventually sail back into their home ports and it’s time for passengers to leave. But debarkation doesn’t need to be an unpleasant end to your cruise if you know how to keep it smooth, swift and easy. Here are some tips to help guide you through Disembarking a cruise ship:

Heed the Guidelines

All cruise lines provide detailed instructions for proper debarkation. Even if you have cruised many times from the same port, with the same line or even on the same ship, it is important to review those instructions. Changes in international laws, port facilities and onboard procedures can all impact debarkation, and the updated guidelines will help you be familiar with what to expect. These instructions are often delivered to staterooms on the last day of the cruise, and a detailed informational debarkation video may be playing on one of the ship’s in-cabin television stations. If any information is unclear, ask at the guest services desk or purser’s station for clarification to be sure you know exactly how to debark.

Carnival Ships, Miami
Photo By: Teresa Alexander-Arab (Creative Commons)

Filling Out Customs Forms

Properly completing your customs declaration forms is an important part of disembarking a cruise ship. Because you have visited international ports, you will be expected to complete a customs form – even if you didn’t make any purchases or never got off the ship. Only one form is needed per family, and you should fill it out thoroughly and honestly. The forms have a series of questions about your activities while traveling, ports visited and items you are bringing into the country. Detailed instructions are included and outline the customs allowances for alcohol and other purchases that must be claimed. Fill the form out before debarkation, but keep it easily accessible – you will need to present it to a customs and border protection agent when you leave the ship.

The Night Before Disembarkation

Debarkation will go much more smoothly if you have wrapped up essential business before the cruise ends. Still undecided about those portraits you haven’t yet purchased? Visit the photo gallery because it may not be open the next morning. Need a souvenir for family members or friends who didn’t make the trip? Visit gift shops because they cannot be open in port the next morning. Want to give an extra tip to a favorite bartender who sang along with you at karaoke or a fantastic dining server who always brought your dessert? Give out those extra gratuities before the end of the cruise or you may not find those crew members during the hustle and bustle of debarkation. Overspent a bit on your shipboard account? Visit the purser’s desk early to settle your payments or your debarkation could be severely delayed.

Luggage, Luggage, Luggage

Cruise Luggage
Photo By: Russell Otway

There are two ways to handle your luggage when leaving a cruise. If you are able to carry all your luggage without assistance – including up and down stairs, through crowded hallways, etc. – you may keep your bags in your cabin until you leave in the morning. It may be helpful to leave a note with your bags so an overly enthusiastic steward will not accidentally remove your bags for general luggage collection. If possible, condense your luggage – the less you have to carry when you leave the ship, the easier the process will be.

If you will be handing your luggage over for general collection, you should have your bags packed and placed outside your stateroom door by a designated time on the last evening of the cruise. Crew members will collect the bags and place them in a secure area until they are offloaded when the ship is docked. Be sure the tags denoting your debarkation zone – your steward will provide these to you – are securely and visibly attached. Also take steps so you can easily recognize your luggage when it is grouped with hundreds of other bags, or else you may spend a lot of time after leaving the ship searching for your luggage in the collection area.

Whether you are planning to carry your own luggage or have it collected, keep out any medications, your customs forms, passports or other identification, as well as the clothing you need to wear in the morning.

Leaving the Ship

Miami Cruise Ships
Photo Credit: Josh Friedman (Creative Commons)

The exact time passenger debarkation begins in the morning will vary depending on how smoothly the ship passes its immigration and customs inspection, how many passengers are on board and if any emergencies require priority debarkation. It is best to get up early to be sure you are ready to leave your cabin when called – disembarkation could begin as early as 7 a.m. In general, early flight or loyalty passengers debark first, as well as passengers who are carrying all their luggage without assistance (these passengers are generally asked to wait in designated lounges to make debarkation easier). During this first wave of departing passengers, crew members are moving all the collected luggage from the ship to a claim area in the terminal, and when the first luggage has been sorted for collection, general debarkation begins as zones are called. If you debark before your zone is called, your luggage may not yet be unloaded and you will be waiting in a much less comfortable area.

As you leave the ship, have your ship ID card in hand – you will need it to check off the ship one last time. Also have photo identification and your customs form ready, as you will next be passing through customs and border protection. Keep your group or family together, and follow all signs or instructions. From there you will either head for the baggage claim area or, if you have all your bags with you, you can go directly to transportation, either to hire a cab, catch a shuttle or find your vehicle in the parking area. And on your way out, don’t forget to smile, thank the crew members you pass and let them know that you hope to be back for another amazing cruise very soon!

Disembarking a Cruise Ship
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