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

Oct 6, 2020

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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.

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 unguryanu/Shutterstock.com

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