Disembarkation day is the final day of your cruise as you leave the ship and the saddest day of all. Disembarkation day can be somewhat stressful and full of long lines and lots of waiting – waiting for an elevator, waiting for your disembarkation group to be called, waiting in the line to exit the ship, waiting to go through customs, waiting for transportation, waiting at the airport for your flight home.
Knowing the process of disembarkation and what to expect may help ease the stress on the last day of your cruise vacation. This process is very different than checking out of a hotel, you cannot just leave when you are ready. All passengers must pass through immigration and customs, and not everyone can be processed at once, so passengers are divided into groups.
A Few Days Before
Two to three days before your actual last day on the ship, the cruise line will ask you to complete a short disembarkation form with the details of your departure. This information is how the cruise line will assign you a disembarkation group. The assigned group will determine the time you will be permitted to leave the ship that will fit with your travel plans.
You must also complete a customs form to disembark the cruise ship because you have visited international ports, even if you didn’t make any purchases or never got off the ship. Only one form is needed per family. The form has questions about your activities while traveling, ports visited and items you are bringing back into the country. Fill out the form before debarkation but keep it easily accessible as you will need to present it to the customs agent when you leave the ship.
This is the time to review your onboard account. You may be able to access a copy of your bill on the television in your stateroom. You must settle your account before disembarking the ship. You probably presented a credit card when you checked in, so if everything on your bill looks correct, you don’t have to do anything. If you have an issue on your bill or want to pay with cash or gift card, this is the time to visit the Guest Services desk. The line at Guest Services on your last day on the ship will be long! The earlier you visit the Guest Services desk, the better. On some cruise lines, you can continue to use your cruise card on the morning of departure and all charges will be billed to the credit card you have on file.
The Day Before
At some point, your stateroom attendant will leave disembarkation information in your stateroom. This will include disembarkation instructions, a group number, colored luggage tags, estimated time your group will disembark, available breakfast options and where to wait for your disembarkation group to be called. If you see any problems with your assignment, visit Guest Services as soon as possible. If you need additional colored luggage tags, you can get them from your stateroom attendant.
There will most likely also be a disembarkation video playing on one of the TV stations with detailed step-by-step information on the disembarkation process. If any information is unclear, visit the Guest Services desk and they will be able to answer any questions you have.
This is the time to visit the photo gallery if you want to purchase cruise photos or make one last stroll through the shops because they will not be open in port the next morning.
Unless you pre-paid your tips, they are automatically added to your shipboard account, but you will also have the option to provide additional individual cash gratuities to staff members who provided you with exemplary service. Stateroom attendants, main dining room attendants and bartenders are those most often given additional tips. You can pass them out on your last evening on the ship before disembarkation day. Guest Services often has small envelops for cash tips for your convenience, if there were none left in your stateroom.
Getting your luggage off of the ship is different than anything you may have experienced before and can be confusing for first-time cruisers. You can carry your luggage off without assistance or use general collection. Carrying your luggage off or self-disembarkation can sound like a good idea, but you must vacate your room early on disembarkation day and you must be able to handle all of your luggage with you through crowded hallways and elevators, up and down stairs and keep it with you while you have breakfast. This is a great option if you travel light and wish to get off the ship as soon as it clears customs. This is the first group allowed to disembark the cruise ship.
If you opt for general collection, you will attach the colored luggage tag to your luggage and place it outside your stateroom the night before disembarkation. The exact time will be in the disembarkation information your stateroom attendant left for you. Sometimes it is before dinner and other times it is by 11pm. You will not see your bags again until the next morning in the terminal, so it is important to pack a small carry-on. You will need your cruise card, passport, custom forms in addition to any valuables and medication. Don’t forget to leave out your toiletries and a change of clothes so you aren’t disembarking in your pajamas!
Some ships offer valet luggage programs and you will need to check with Guest Services after you board to see if your ship and the port where you disembark offer it. With this service, your luggage is taken from the cruise ship and checked in with your airline. You will not see your luggage again until your final destination. This service generally costs between $20-$25 per person.
The ship will pull into port very early in the morning and begin being cleared by customs. The arrival time on your itinerary is the time the ship arrives in port and not the time you can exit the ship. Customs generally moves very quickly, but sometimes it can take longer. This is why it is advised you never book a flight before noon.
The entire ship must be prepared for a group of new passengers on the day you are leaving. You will most likely be asked to leave your stateroom before 8 am even if your disembarkation time isn’t until a few hours later. Be sure to check your disembarkation paperwork to see the hours and location for breakfast. After breakfast, you will have to wait in one of the lounges with your disembarkation group until you are called.
In general, early flight and loyalty passengers will disembark first, along with passengers who are carrying all their luggage. It is during this time that crew members are moving collected luggage from the ship to the claim area in the terminal. Once the first set of luggage has been sorted, disembarkation zones will begin to be called. Luggage is delivered to the customs area in colored groups that match up with your disembarkation group number. If you debark before your zone is called, your luggage may not yet be unloaded, and you will be waiting in the hot, crowded terminal.
Once your group is called, you will proceed to the gangway and disembark. Follow the signs and keep your group together. You will need to retrieve your luggage (if you didn’t valet it). It will not be on a carousel, like at the airport, but placed in rows grouped by the colored luggage tag for your disembarkation group. There may be several hundred bags in your luggage group, so it is best to mark your luggage so that it stands out against the rest. I have a hot pink luggage strap!
Once you have gathered your luggage you can enter the line for customs. You will want to have your customs form and passport handy. You will show it to the customs agent, and they may ask you some questions.
You should have a plan for transportation to the airport or hotel. There will be thousands of people disembarking during a relatively short period of time and you may even start to run into passengers arriving for the next cruise, so expect chaos. There will be a long line for cabs and the rideshare area will be congested.
You can use a car service, which is great if you have a lot of luggage. The cruise line will also offer a shuttle bus to the airport. You can book prior to your cruise or while onboard, but you will need to make reservations in advance. For more than a few people, a taxi, rideshare, or private car will be less expensive than the cruise line shuttle.
As you can see, disembarkation day can be hectic if you don’t know what is going on! Now that you know what to expect, you can hopefully have a more relaxing end to your cruise vacation. Now it is time to book your next cruise!