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Tuesday travel tip: How to disembark from your cruise ship before everyone else

Oct. 06, 2020
5 min read
4 women with luggage
Tuesday travel tip: How to disembark from your cruise ship before everyone else
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Today's cruise industry has changed so much from the early days when ships were smaller and onboard activities were limited to trivia, shuffleboard and stuffing your face at the midnight buffet. Now, ships are so much larger and can accommodate many more things to do -- from onboard watercoasters, roller coasters and go-kart race tracks to laser tag and skydiving simulators.

All that real estate means also that there's plenty of room for cabins. Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, on of the largest cruise ship in the world, can accommodate up to 6,680 people. So just imagine the crowds as you board and disembark the ship.

In today's Tuesday Travel Tip, TPG shares its favorite secret for disembarking your cruise ship -- ahead of almost everyone else -- on the last day of your voyage. This tip is especially helpful for newbie cruisers who may not even know this is an option.

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When you take a cruise, the line leaves a newsletter in your cabin each evening. It explains all the activities and shore excursions for the next day, as well as times for restaurant openings, lectures, onboard games and more. As you approach the end of your cruise, the newsletter also includes information about disembarkation.

You'll be told to leave your packed luggage outside your cabin door by midnight on the evening before disembarkation. (Just remember to leave out shoes and clothes to wear the next day -- yes, people have forgotten to do this! -- and any medications and paperwork you'll need in your carry-on until you are reunited with your luggage.)

Related: What to pack for your first cruise -- and what to leave home

You'll also receive color-coded luggage tags indicating if you're taking cruise line-arranged transportation to the airport or a hotel or if you've made independent plans. Affix those tags to your bags before leaving them for crew pick up -- that's the only way the crew will know where to direct your luggage.

In the middle of the night, crew members pick up the bags in the ship's hallways and, in the morning, move them all out onto the pier's holding area. This is where you'll claim your things before exiting the cruise terminal and boarding transportation to the airport or your next destination.

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Related: How to book a cruise using points and miles

luggage dock cruise ship
If you don't choose self-embarkation, you'll leave your bags outside your cabin door and the crew will bring them to the dock (or inside the cruise terminal) where you'll be reunited with them upon departing the ship. (Photo by RelaxFoto.de/Getty Images)

Disembarkation morning

Before you can exit the ship, you need to wait for your group (remember those color-coded tags we mentioned) to be called. Depending on where your group falls in the debarkation process, you could be waiting a long time. And, once your group is called, it can feel like a stampede as everyone races to the gangway at the same time.

Related: 15 ways that cruising newbies waste money on their first cruise

Here's what we suggest instead: Pick the self-disembarkation method. This option is called a lot of different things but on Royal Caribbean, for example, it's referred to as self-assist, express departure or self disembarkation. All those terms mean the same thing.

Don't leave any of your luggage outside your cabin door and instead commit to carrying it yourself. In most cases, independent travelers using the self-disembarkation option may leave the ship before anyone else. This can help you exit the terminal before the customs line is packed or before the taxi queue gets out of control.

This method is especially useful for travelers that didn't buy the cruise line's transfer back to the airport or local hotel and those who have an early flight. You just listen for the onboard announcement saying self-disembarkation travelers may go ashore (which happens as soon as customs officers clear the ship), grab your things from your cabin and proceed to the exit gangway.

Related: Key things to know about getting Global Entry

Just be aware that you will need to carry all of your things yourself with no help from the crew. So, this might not be a fantastic option if you've got a ton of unwieldy luggage. It's a much easier option for people who travel light.

Also, especially on smaller ships, some elevators may shut down on disembarkation day to allow the crew to use them exclusively to move luggage from the ship to the dock. You may need to carry your luggage down a flight or more of stairs -- or wait a lengthy amount of time to board one of the few elevator banks devoted to passenger transit.

But, for independent and fit travelers that don't have a ton of luggage to deal with, self disembarkation can get you off the ship and on to your next destination in a matter of minutes.

Planning a cruise for the coming year? These stories will help:

Featured image by Featured image by unguryanu/Shutterstock.com

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees