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 with the same number of guests 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 immediate post-cruise travel plans. You may have forgotten that during the pre-boarding process, you had entered how you were going to get home, but this is a way for them to set up the best disembarkation times for 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 simplifies how all passengers disembark the ship.
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 (and your luggage) on a tour of your disembarkation city that ends at the airport. These are usually very well done AND much better than spending all day in the airport!
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 later 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, pack the items that go into your suitcase (making sure you keep out something to wear in the morning as well as the toiletries and medications you will need the next morning) and put your luggage into the hallway (usually by midnight). You will have attached the assigned colored tags, as well as ensure 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.
Your carry-on items (that you do NOT set out) 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!
After Express disembarkation people have disembarked, then regular disembarkation will begin. When it’s finally your turn, they will scan 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 and passports handy.
Once you have reached the terminal, you will go through customs. 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!