I must compliment the cruise lines – On disembarkation day, they disembark anywhere from 600 to 5000 guests (usually by 9:30 a.m no less!), take on food and supplies for the next cruise, board another group of passengers and are ready to sail by 4 p.m.! WOW! Talk about organization!
About halfway through your cruise, the cruise line will want to reconfirm your post-cruise travel plans. You may have forgotten that during the pre-boarding process, you had entered your flight information or indicated you were driving home, but this is a way for them to set up the best disembarkation times to meet the needs of all of the disembarking passengers. From the information provided, they divide the passengers into small groups according to their travel plans and cabin level (suites have higher priority than inside cabins). This minimizes the impact of all passengers trying to get off the ship at the same time.
Typically, on the morning of the last day or two of your cruise, you will return to your cabin and see what no cruiser wants to find – the colored luggage tags and disembarkation instructions. This is an indication that your cruise will soon be coming to an end … sigh.
If you have a late afternoon or evening flight, you might consider booking an excursion with the cruise line that will take you on a tour of your disembarkation city that ends at the airport. These are usually pretty well done AND much better than spending all day in the airport!
The colored luggage tags and custom form (one per family) will be delivered to your cabin, usually along with a sheet that lists the colors and its respective disembarkation time. Each cruise line does it just a little differently, but again, disembarkation is truly organization at its best!
NOTE: You should never book a return flight after a cruise before noon on disembarkation day. In many cities, the airport and the pier are at opposite ends of town, so you need to factor in traffic, going through security at the airport (especially when abroad) and any unforeseen delays, so noon is a pretty good benchmark to use.
In general, those with early flights disembark earlier than those with late departures – those that have driven to the port have the option of either doing the Express disembarkation (more on that later) or disembarking last, along with the rest of the passengers.
On the last night of the cruise, you will pack up the items that go in your suitcase (making sure you keep out something to wear in the morning as well as the toiletries and medications you will need for the morning) and put your luggage into the hallway (usually by midnight). You will attached the assigned colored tags as well as make sure your personal identification tag is still there. That night the crew will come by and gather all of the luggage and take it down to the hold. From there it will be sorted by the colored tags and put into luggage bins, also sorted by color, and stored for the rest of the night.
Your carry on items would include anything fragile that you didn’t want to pack (or couldn’t fit in the luggage), your toiletries, jammies and anything else you wanted to take home.
If you are driving home, you might want to do the Express disembarkation, which means you will walk off with all of your belongings in one trip (both luggage and carry on). Express disembarkation passengers will be the first to disembark the ship. They might start as early as 7 a.m., depending on when the ship docks and has been cleared by the authorities.
The other option for locals would be to do the regular disembarkation. This would apply if you wanted to have one last leisurely breakfast onboard to make your cruise last as long as possible (but you will still have to be off by 9 or so).
Once the ship has been cleared, the color coded luggage bins are transferred from the ship to the holding area of the terminal. There the luggage will be scanned for items such as weapons or other illegal items and the drug dogs wander through. Then, the luggage is set out in nice neat rows waiting for you to come and claim your luggage. Again, they REALLY have this down!
What we usually do that morning (regardless of which way we decide to disembark) is to finish packing everything into our carry ons and then stow them in the closet before we go to breakfast.
This way the steward can start ‘turning the cabin’ and getting it ready for the next guests while you are at breakfast. By being in the closet, your items won’t be in his way, but you’re not having to deal with your carry on items while at breakfast.
After breakfast, return to your cabin and retrieve your carry ons (and do one last final check to make sure you have everything!), say one last good-bye to your cabin steward and proceed to your assigned lounge area. Although you have to be out of your cabin by 8 a.m., it may still be a half hour or so before you’re actually able to disembark, so everyone is assigned a lounge where they can wait.
Once the Express disembarkation people have disembarked, then the regular disembarkation will begin. When it’s finally your turn, as you approach the gangway, you will show them your cruise card one last time and hear that final ‘ding’ before proceeding down the gangway. NOTE: As you exit the ship, you will need to have your cruise card, passports and the filled out custom form handy.
Once you have reached the terminal, you will go through customs. The custom form is where you will declare any major purchases you have made while on your cruise. Currently, the limit is $400 per person of personal items. This would exclude any duty-free items you might have purchased onboard or at any of the ports of call. Although you should be truthful, you also don’t want to raise any red flags that might cause you to have to pay additional taxes, so just use your best judgement. You should enter some amount, so any small amount would be fine. Hint: If you purchase any jewelry, just wear it off like you boarded with it.
The custom agents are usually pretty pleasant, especially if you are pleasant with them. Keep in mind, they are stuck in a pretty mundane job and you will have just come back from a fabulous cruise. It is their job to keep our borders safe, so you can’t joke around with them too much. I’m happy to say I’ve never known of anyone to be detained at customs!
From there, you will actually claim your luggage. It may look like a sea of luggage when you first enter, but it usually isn’t as bad as it might look. Luckily the groupings are usually relatively small, so you don’t have to sort through too many to actually find yours. (This is truly where having decorative luggage, a colorful luggage protector or a pom pom can be helpful in finding your luggage quickly and easily.)
The last thing you do is hand them the customs form as you exit. If you are driving, HOPEFULLY you 1) remembered not to pack your car keys 2) you remember where you parked your car!
I hope you have found this helpful. So many times the information is all about the fun part and NOBODY wants to talk about disembarkation!