Nine “Rules” of Cruise Ship Disembarkation Day

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I’ve now cruised thirty times with various cruise lines, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.  Here is a list of things to make the Disembarkation Process go as smoothly as possible for everyone!

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Rule #1:  Never disembark the ship without first checking your bill!

It goes without saying you should always check your bill to make sure you haven’t been charged for something you didn’t purchase. If you wait to do this after you’re off the ship, you might be out of luck when it comes to getting reimbursed.  I usually check my statement 2-3 times (depending on cruise length) during my cruise, just to make sure there aren’t any surprises on my account.  Mistakes can be made, and they are usually easy to rectify!  Simply go to Guest Services and ask for a printout.  As any veteran cruiser will tell you, customer service on a cruise ship is very different from that off a ship. It’s much easier to convince the crew member behind the counter at Guest Services that you didn’t purchase six Bahama Mamas at the Promenade Lounge than to try and get someone on the phone at your cruise lines’ land offices to authorize a refund.  I always get a printout on the last full day of the cruise, and compare it to my final bill.


Rule #2:  Buy the photos on (or before) your last full day on the ship.

Waiting to buy photos until the morning of disembarkation may not be the best decision. Everything might go well, but I’ve heard stories of people discovering the photo gallery staff had already started tossing pictures by the time they headed over to make their purchases — this is especially true the later you show up on that last morning.  If you’ve got your heart set on purchasing photos as cruise souvenirs, it’s much better to do it on or before the last night of the cruise. Whatever you do, don’t leave the ship without purchasing photos if you want them; even on ships where photos are stored electronically, once the cruise is over, those photos are discarded.


Rule #3:  ALWAYS Check your In-Room Safe as you’re walking out of the door for the last time.

The night before disembarkation can be a hectic one. Trying to get in some last-minute fun, while also getting your suitcase packed up and out in the hallway before the pick-up deadline could understandably lead to a few things left behind. Part of your cruise ship morning disembarkation ritual should always include checking your safe before walking out the door to make sure you’ve definitely remembered your passport, phones, tablets, jewelry or anything else you deemed important enough to lock away.  I’ve had friends that accidentally left jewelry behind.


Rule #4:  Don’t walk off the ship in your pajamas!

Speaking of packing up your stuff on the last night of your cruise, don’t forget to leave out something to wear on disembarkation morning — including shoes! I’ve heard about  (and seen!) people stuck in their overnight best because they forgot to leave a pair of pants and a top out to wear the next day. If you do end up in your pajamas or a pair of slippers on your last morning, hold your head high and don’t feel embarrassed as you leave the ship. You’ll never see any of those people again.


Rule #5:  Don’t forget your Room Card Key or Ocean Medallion!

Getting off a cruise ship is not like leaving a hotel. You can’t just leave your keycard behind in the room and walk out the door. Ship security staff needs to monitor who is on and off the ship at any given moment; this is especially important at the end of a cruise when a ship must be officially declared cleared of all previous passengers before new cruisers can get on. To do this, everyone must swipe their card, or Ocean Medallion one last time when getting off to record their departure. If you’ve forgotten your keycard, you’re going to have to go back to your cabin to get it. You won’t be allowed off the ship until you do.


Rule #6:   That isn’t your bathrobe.

While any slippers you might be given in your cabin are yours to take home with you, the same cannot be said of bathrobes. These are only for your use on the ship. Don’t think waiting until the last morning when you’ve already received your bill will enable you to walk off the ship with one without paying for it. You’ll still be charged for it; the charge will just appear on your credit card bill separately from the rest of your onboard bill.


Rule #7:  Don’t Skip Breakfast!

Unless you’re on a tight timeline and need to reach the airport in order to make your flight, don’t feel like you have to rush right off the ship. Take the time to have one last included breakfast. You can even have sit-down service if you get up early enough as the main dining room will be open, along with the buffet. Why not extend your vacation that extra half-hour?  When you’re missing your “3:00 PM Chicken Finger snack” you’ll be very glad that you didn’t skip breakfast.


Rule #8:  Don’t wait around where you shouldn’t!

Staying in your cabin past when you’ve been asked to leave or lingering in the atrium before your debarkation group has been called will slow down the entire disembarkation process.  Cabin stewards are under a lot of pressure to get rooms cleaned as quickly as possible and lingering in the room will make that significantly more difficult. Hanging around in the atrium also slows things down by making lines longer and forcing crew to control a milling crowd — all of which mean waiting passengers have to wait longer. Instead choose a lounge to relax in with a book or stay a little longer in the buffet.  On many cruise lines, you will be told where your group (color of luggage tags) can wait before your color or number is called.  Also, if I didn’t take advantage of leaving my bags outside of my room the night before, I usually ask my room host if it’s ok to leave my luggage in the room while I eat breakfast.  So far, that answer has always been “yes!”.  After breakfast, I walk to my room, and get my bags…that way, I’m not loaded down with luggage during breakfast.


Rule #9:  If you packed more than one bag, leave your luggage (except a carry-on for medications, toiletries, pajamas, etc.) outside your door the night before!

Self-assist really does mean what it sounds like. Each cruiser is responsible for carrying all of his or her own luggage. There is no porter service; the random crew member in the hallway is not available to help you up or down the stairs. If you can’t carry everything you brought with you by yourself, don’t choose self-assist. Instead, put out your bags the night before, wait for your debarkation group to be called in the morning, and pick up that heavy luggage (or pay a port baggage handler to do it for you) once you reach the cruise terminal.  (Also:  See Rule #4!)


I hope these “rules” help you on your next disembarkation!