16 mistakes cruise ship passengers make on disembarkation day

Dec 6, 2021

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You’ve had a great cruise, and you want to end your vacation on a high note. Then comes the reality of disembarkation day. Getting off a cruise ship is not the same as checking out of a hotel. You can’t just leave the ship when you feel like it.

While small and luxury ships may have flexible, even leisurely, disembarkation plans, the final day on most big ships is a madhouse. The crew needs to get everyone out of their cabins and off the ship quickly so they can prepare for the arrival of the next batch of thousands of passengers. It’s a busy work day.

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Try not to get too sad about the end of your delightful cruise vacation. Just be prepared for a little chaos – and take these steps to avoid any common disembarkation day mistakes.

Check your bill

The night before disembarkation, a statement of everything you have spent on the ship for drinks, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, souvenirs and any other splurges will be placed outside your cabin door. Mistakes happen, and inevitably there will be long lines at guest services on embarkation day with people arguing about specific charges.

You can review your bill before disembarking at the guest services desk. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Avoid the crowd by either getting there super early or, better, heading to guest services the last night of your cruise and asking for a printout. Carefully check the statement and ask for any required adjustments. On some ships you can even do this electronically on your app or smart TV.

Pro tip: Don’t assume you can fix mistakes after you get off the ship. It’s nearly impossible to get cruise line land staff to fix onboard mistakes.

Don’t get up at the crack of dawn

Your ship may arrive back in port at 6 a.m., but it then has to be cleared by customs officials, which may take two hours or more. Grab an extra hour or more of sleep – unless you still need to check your bill that morning (see above).

Avoid early flights home

There is a reason that cruise lines recommend guests do not book flights home before noon. It takes several hours to clear a ship of thousands of passengers. You may also have to clear customs. You then have to get to the airport, which may involve navigating through heavy traffic. Avoid unnecessary heart palpitations by booking flights in the afternoon.

Check your luggage tags

The day before disembarkation, color- and number-coded luggage tags will be delivered to your cabin, along with an approximate disembarkation time. The idea is that you put these tags on any luggage you would like the crew to handle (see below). These tags are important for both timing and finding your suitcase at the pier.

On disembarkation day, groups will be called by the color and number of the tags – such as Red 1 and Yellow 5 – to head to the atrium to disembark. Don’t bother getting there early, or you’ll just find yourself milling around, which can be frustrating. Better to grab a coffee and wait in a lounge or out by the pool.

Related: A beginner’s guide to picking a cruise line

Don’t forget your group color

Luggage at the pier will be sorted by group color and number – and there will be thousands of bags waiting. Take a photo or otherwise make a notation of your tag color so you will know where to look for your bags.

Pack up your liquor purchases

If you have picked up a bottle of Kahlua in Mexico, rum in Jamaica or purchased duty-free booze on your ship, don’t forget you have to pack the bottles in checked baggage if you are flying home. Carefully wrap them in your dirty clothes. U.S. Customs allows you to enter the country with one liter of an alcoholic beverage per adult duty-free. You can bring in more, but you’ll have to pay a duty.

Put your luggage out

The system for removing bags from the ship works this way: On the last night of your cruise you pack your large bags and leave them in the hall for the crew to remove and transfer to the pier.

You also have the option of carrying your own luggage off the ship. However, this is only recommended if you are able-bodied and can haul your bags down flights of stairs on the ship and at the cruise terminal. Elevator banks on both will be extremely crowded.

It’s better to pack as much as you can in your luggage and let someone else do the heavy lifting. (An exception is if you only have light carry-on, in which case, go for it.)

Set aside clothes for the morning

A rookie mistake is packing too much in the luggage that you leave outside the door, then waking up the next day to realize you forgot to leave out shoes, pants or other necessary items. Don’t be the one walking barefoot or in your PJs to the pier.

You will want to have a carry-on suitcase or tote set aside so you can carry your toothbrush, PJs and other items off the ship. The last night is typically casual and some cruisers find it easiest to wear the same clothes off the ship the next morning.

Pro tip: If you have any items that can’t go on the plane but that you need at night, put them in a separate small bag so you remember to transfer them to your checked luggage before you get to the airport.

Scour your cabin

You typically will be asked to vacate your cabin by 9 a.m. (or even 8 a.m.) on disembarkation day so that the crew can prepare for the next passengers. If you leave any items behind it is really hard to recover them once you are off the ship, so do a careful check of closets, drawers and even under the bed to make sure you have packed everything. Don’t forget the little drawers in the bedside tables and the very back of shelves. If you are traveling with kids, also look for small stuffed animals or other toys hidden in any linens crumpled on the bed.

Don’t take the bathrobe

If you are in a cabin that comes with a bathrobe and slippers, the slippers are typically yours to keep. However, you will be charged if you walk off with the bathrobe.

Check your safe

Given that safes are tucked away in closets, it’s really easy to forget about the important items – your passports, wallets, jewelry – that you’ve set inside. Check the safe first thing when you get up on disembarkation day.

Don’t pack your keycard and passports/IDs

You may think you are done with your keycard when you vacate your cabin, but you will need to tap it one more time when you get off the ship. You also will need to show your passports or other official identification to customs officials in the cruise terminal. If you have received a customs form, it’s important to have this filled out (one per family).

Go to breakfast

Room service may or may not be available on disembarkation day. Have a leisurely breakfast – unless you are in a rush to get to your flight.

Respect cabin vacancy times

You will drive your room stewards crazy if you linger in your cabin beyond the recommended clear-out time. At the same time, leaving a packed carry-on bag in one corner, out of the way, while you go to breakfast may be acceptable. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Know what your luggage looks like

When you get to the cruise terminal area where thousands of bags have been placed, it helps if you know exactly what your suitcases look like. Putting a colorful ribbon or string on your bags will help you spot them.

Don’t run to the bus

If you’ve paid your cruise line for an airport transfer don’t get stressed about missing the bus. There will be plenty available. Staff will be on hand to direct you to a bus that is going to your specific airline and terminal or that does a circuit to several terminals at the airport and then back to the ship to do the route. It will run again and again until everyone gets a lift.

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Featured image courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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