Getting ready for a cruise vacation is way more fun than what to do when it is over. Before, we plan where to go, what to do and get excited for the experience. After, not so much. Still, preparing for getting off the ship can be just as important. You’ll want to know where to go and what to do and while each cruise line is a bit different, there are some common elements of the experience that we can tell you about right now.
Here are some tips to make the pain of leaving your ship behind when the cruise is over just a little bit easier to do.
1. What to expect. The night before you’ll pack up and set your luggage out in the hallway. The ship’s crew will take it away and the next time you’ll see it is after you get off the ship. Be sure you have anything you need out of it before you set it out in the hallway. All you should be left with is your carryon stuff, just like when you came onboard
2. Check your account. After dinner on the last night, check your shipboard account either via your cabin’s television (if available) or by going to guest relations. Be sure there are no mistakes and if there are, get them settled now.
3. Don’t forget the booze. If you purchased liquor ashore or onboard during your journey it will be packaged and brought to your cabin tonight- I suppose you could have one heck of a party if you wanted to.
4. Check your account again. Sometime in the night you’ll get a copy of the accounting of your shipboard account and its settlement- look it over for mistakes and get them settled at the Pursers desk right away. Actually you should have been keeping up on this throughout your voyage by checking your account at least halfway through and again a day before the end of your cruise.
5. The Last Meal. In the morning breakfast will be served in much the same way as usual, perhaps starting earlier than normal.
6. Coming In To Port- You can sleep in or get up early and watch your ship come into port. The docking back into port is just as fascinating as when you left. I suggest getting up a good two hours before your scheduled time to dock. It takes a long time to bring your ship to a standstill and it’s a great time to reflect on your vacation, remembering all the great moments you’ve had at sea.
7. Be Prepared To Wait. After the ship has docked but before any passengers can get off, US Customs and Immigration Agents will take control of the ship. Only after they have been satisfied that all is in order with the ship will they allow you to get off. A common hold-up in this process are passengers with foreign passports who have not reported to Immigration or passengers who have issues to be settled with their shipboard account (like their credit card was declined)
8. Time To Go. When the ship has been cleared they will start letting passengers get off in some pre-determined order that will not make any sense to you. You’d think they’d let people off from the top to the bottom of the ship. This is something that is beyond the comprehension of mere cruise passengers.
If you have an early flight you should be in the first group off the ship see “How To Get Off Early” on this page
9. OK, Get Off. When it is time for your group to leave you need to be sure you have both your Customs Declaration Form (one for each family) and your Identification. You will be asked for both.
10. Find Your Luggage. You’ll be led to an area I call the “Sea of Luggage” where you will find yours, sorted by ships deck, color group or some other organization. This is why it’s a good idea to mark your luggage to somehow make it stand out among the crowd. In writing, this is a heavily guarded secret, nobody wants you to copy them for obvious reasons. I suggest something from where you live, something unique. Maybe bumper stickers from a local restaurant, social club or “Gore/Lieberman 2000”
11. Grab a Porter. This place looks like a madhouse and it pretty much is. There are two things you need to do here. Get your luggage and get a porter. You need the luggage so you won’t be missing stuff when you get home and you need the porter to get out of there in the most efficient manner.
12. Follow The Leader. Believe that porters know the layout of the land and where to lead you to get out with the least amount of hassle. In addition, if you need a cab they can take you right there. In fact, tell them your ground transportation plans and they’ll take you there. You may have been here before but leaving is a whole different ballgame than coming. Tip $2.00 per bag just like at embarkation.
13. Go Through Customs. On your way out you will pass through customs and hand the customs agent your customs card (actually a piece of paper). If you have nothing to declare you’ll no doubt smile at them and they at you and keep walking. This is not a time to be thinking about anything dishonest. They’ll smell it and pull you off to the interrogation room where you may never be seen again. (Not really)
Chris Owen is a travel writer from Orlando Florida charged with sharing frank, inside information on cruise vacations with travelers. Certified a Master Cruise Counselor by the Cruise Lines International Association, Chris can be found via the popular travel blog, ChrisCruises.net and on the long-running cruise information website, YourCruiseDream.com.