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So How Long Does It Take To Disembark A Cruise Anyway?

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!

Disembarkation typically 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.


  • Disembarkation Time Varies: The time it takes to disembark from a cruise ship can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the size of the ship, the number of passengers, and the disembarkation procedures in place.
  • While individual passengers may be able to disembark in as little as 15-30 minutes, the total process for all passengers can span several hours from the moment the ship docks.
  • By planning ahead, you can arrange to be among the first or last group of passengers off the ship, depending on your preferences.

Overview of the Disembarkation Process

It takes several hours for all the passengers to leave the ship once it 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 ship 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.

The Port Canaveral cruise port near Orlando, Florida.

Key Steps in the Cruise Disembarkation Process

Once the ship is docked, the disembarkation process follows a structured sequence:

  1. Waiting for your turn to exit the ship.
  2. Physically exiting the ship.
  3. Collecting your luggage at the pier (unless you opted for the self-assist process described below).
  4. Navigating customs and immigration.
  5. Leaving the cruise terminal.

You will typically encounter long lines to exit the ship, but these can move relatively quickly when things are going well, and everyone follows the required procedures.

Each step is designed to ensure that all passengers leave the ship safely and efficiently, but being prepared for each phase can significantly streamline your exit.

Preparing for Disembarkation

Exiting a cruise ship on disembarkation day is nothing like checking out of a hotel resort. Planning your exit strategy from the ship to shore can save you time and avoid the stress of last-minute scrambling.

Finalizing Onboard Payments Before Disembarkation

Before disembarking, it’s important to review your shipboard account for any discrepancies. Cruise lines make it easy to access your account through the TV in your cabin or their mobile app. Spotting and resolving any issues early can prevent delays when it’s time to disembark. This is especially important for families, as charges for kids’ activities and services can sometimes be overlooked.

Before you disembark, make sure to settle any outstanding charges on your shipboard account and/or that you have a valid and working credit card on file able to accept all final charges. You will not be allowed to depart the ship if payment has not been secured.

Your final act before leaving the ship will be swiping your cruise card. If your account still has a balance due, you will be directed to resolve matters at guest services, which will involve another line and more waiting.

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?

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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.)

If you don’t provide that information, you will most likely be assigned to one of the later groups.

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.

Although the pandemic-era restrictions have lifted, some of the streamlined protocols have remained in place depending on the cruise line and itinerary. For instance, our most recent cruises in 2022 and 2023 all provided an option to remain in your cabin until your group was called.

Photo of luggage for numerous passengers lined up down the hallway.
Luggage lined up in the ship hallway, waiting to be carried off the ship by crew members. (E. Warren/

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 without 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 day’s heat 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 minimize 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.

How Long Does It Take To Disembark A Cruise | photo of crowd of passengers departing cruise ship

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.) Most guests would have disembarked by this time, and exiting should be smooth sailing.

The Benefits Of An Early Disembarkation

Disembarking before the hoards has advantages, although you must 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.
  • Before heading home, you could have a full day of exploring or relaxing in port.

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 which flight to book can lead to 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 will it 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 are 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.

Elaine Warren

Founder & Crew Chief

Elaine founded this website after publishing the book The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids. She has sailed on 40 cruises (and counting). She loves helping families navigate their way to an adventure-filled, fun, and memorable vacation.

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