If you’re a planner, you want to know everything about boarding the ship and the disembarking process before you’ve even set foot on the vessel. This is particularly true if you need to make post-cruise travel plans!
Disembarking refers to leaving the ship at the end of the cruise. What happens during disembarkation and how long does it take before you’re on firm terrain again? Find out the answer to “How long does it take to disembark a cruise?” and other tips for managing the process.
Overview of the Disembarkation Process
It takes several hours for all the passengers to leave the ship, once the ship docks at its final destination. But, when the time comes for each individual to exit, the disembarking process only lasts about 15-30 minutes (assuming no glitches). Passengers disembark in pre-organized groups, with those carrying their luggage off the cruise liner themselves leaving first.
Notably, in the more recent pandemic-era sailings, some cruise lines have managed to speed up the process with much less waiting around time.
An average-sized cruise ship has approximately 3,000 passengers on board, while the largest cruise liners have capacities that exceed 5,000. One can imagine that so many people would take a long time to exit and that the crew would have to prevent droves of passengers stampeding down the gangway, so there have to be disembarkation processes in place to facilitate the orderly leaving of the vessel.
How Long Does It Take To Disembark A Cruise Quickly?
Your lovely vacation on the ocean is over and you now have to ready yourself for the mass exodus of the ship. You’re one of a few thousand people and since the best is now behind you, what is the fastest way to get off the ship ahead of the crowd?
The common disembarking routine involves assigning each passenger a color-coded number and a disembarking time. These are worked out according to their cabin type and whether they have disclosed their other travel plans after leaving the ship to the cruise line. (You can do this when you register online, or after you board the ship.)
In the “Before Times,” the different groups of passengers would be sent to various lounges, restaurants, theatres, or other common areas of the ship to wait until their group was called. Then, once called, that group of passengers could queue up to exit the ship.
The pandemic era ushered in many changes to cruise ship protocols, including the disembarkation process. These changes were designed to minimize groups of unaffiliated folks congregating together for extended periods of time. Now that restrictions are lifting, we’ll have to see if those more streamlined protocols remain in place.
The Self-Assist Option Is The Fastest Disembarkation Method
The fastest way to disembark a cruise is to choose the “self-assist” option. Passengers carrying their luggage off the ship with no crew assistance always leave the vessel first. If you can carry all your bags from your cabin to the terminal and don’t mind an early departure, you can be on firm ground well before the heat of the day sets in.
This method is the “fastest” because this group leaves before anyone else. That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily fast. You still have to wait for port authorities to clear the ship and allow passengers to disembark. Also, this option can be more popular than you would think given the early hour, so plan to queue up early if you want to avoid waiting in a line.
Booking An Excursion Allows For Fast And Early Disembarking
If your ship offers excursions on the final day, booking an outing will ensure that you are off the ship earlier than the rest of the passengers, and you will have an added fun activity before returning to reality.
Purchasing VIP Service Allowing Late Disembarkation
How long does it take to disembark a cruise, if you’re not really in a hurry? Though it may not be important to exit the ship early, some passengers, especially families with young children, often find it worthwhile to buy a VIP Disembarkation Service, which allows them to stay on board longer, with access to the facilities until shortly before the new guests are due to embark.
For example, Celebrity Cruises sometimes offers an “extend your stay” service. (We have also seen some version of this on Norwegian Cruise Line.) By this time, most guests would have disembarked and exiting should be smooth sailing.
The Benefits Of An Early Disembarkation
Disembarking before the hoards has its advantages, although you will have to be up and about early in the day.
- If you have booked flights or other transport arrangements, you can avoid the stress of perhaps arriving late at the airport, station, or pick-up point.
- You won’t have to wait for your luggage to emerge from the thousands of pieces of baggage.
- You could have a full day of exploring or relaxing in port before heading home.
Do’s And Don’ts For Disembarking
If you’re a first-time cruiser, taking some advice from the more experienced will allow you to cruise through disembarkation day.
Some Do’s When Disembarking
- Attend the talk on disembarking, or watch the video in your stateroom. This will usually be available the day before disembarkation.
- Pack your luggage the evening before disembarkation day.
- Make sure your transportation from the port is confirmed.
- Ensure that your documents are all in order.
- Look over your account carefully.
- Tip crew members as you deem appropriate.
The Don’ts Of Disembarkation Day
- Don’t forget your valuables in the safe.
- Forget to leave travel clothes out when packing your bags – you will be scurrying around in your pajamas.
- Don’t forget to bring your cabin keycard with you as you need to swipe it before leaving.
Check out our other post for more tips on how to disembark with ease!
Booking Flights For Disembarkation Day
Deciding on which flight to book can lead to some hand-wringing because several factors could affect whether you make it or miss it.
- One never knows the precise time that the ship will dock.
- How long it will take for port authorities to clear the liner for disembarkation.
- The time that the crew will permit guests to start leaving.
- The vastness of the crowd in front of you.
- The customs and/or passport control procedures in place at the specific port.
- The distance from the port to the airport and the time it takes to get there.
With these variables in mind, it is advisable to book a flight leaving on disembarkation day several hours after the ship is scheduled to pull into port. And, if there is a late afternoon or evening flight, that may be the least stressful option.
Don’t feel like you have to stay at the airport, either! Check out our posts on activities to do in Fort Lauderdale after a cruise and what to do with your luggage.
The last day of your cruise can be stressful and chaotic. But it doesn’t have to be. Plan ahead so that you can end your cruise on a high note.