16 mistakes cruise ship passengers make on disembarkation day

You’ve had a great cruise, and you want to end your vacation on a high note. Then comes the reality of disembarkation day. Getting off a cruise ship is not the same as checking out of a hotel. You can’t just leave the ship when you feel like it. Small and luxury ships can have flexible, even leisurely, disembarkation plans. However, the final day on most big ships is a madhouse. The crew needs to get everyone out of their cabins and off the ship quickly so they can prepare for the arrival of the next batch of thousands of passengers. It’s a busy work day.

But don’t get too sad about the end of your delightful cruise vacation. Just be prepared for a little chaos, and take these steps to avoid any common disembarkation day mistakes.

The first step is to check your bill. The night before disembarkation, a statement of everything you spent on the ship for drinks, specialty restaurants, spa treatments, souvenirs, and any other splurges will be placed outside your cabin door. Mistakes happen, and inevitably there will be long lines at guest services on disembarkation day with people arguing about specific charges. So, check your bill before disembarking at the guest services desk. Avoid the crowd by either getting there super early or, better, heading to guest services the last night of your cruise and asking for a printout. Carefully check the statement, and ask for any required adjustments. On some ships, you can even do this electronically on the cruise line’s app or smart TV. Don’t assume you can fix issues after you get off the ship. It’s nearly impossible to get cruise line land staff to fix onboard billing mistakes.

Next, don’t get up at the crack of dawn. Your ship might arrive back in port at 6 a.m., but it then has to be cleared by customs officials, which might take two hours or more. Grab an extra hour or two of sleep — unless you still need to check your bill that morning. Avoid early flights home. There is a reason cruise lines recommend guests not book flights home before noon. It takes several hours to clear a ship of thousands of passengers. You might also have to clear customs. Then you have to get to the airport, which could involve navigating through heavy traffic and waiting in security lines along with hundreds of other cruise travelers fresh off their ships. Avoid unnecessary heart palpitations by booking afternoon flights.

Another important step is to check your luggage tags. The day before disembarkation, staff will deliver color- and number-coded luggage tags to your cabin, along with an approximate disembarkation time. The idea is that you put these tags on any luggage you would like the crew to handle. These tags are important for both timing and finding your suitcase at the pier. On disembarkation day, groups will be called by the color and number of the tags — such as Red 1 or Yellow 5 — to head to the atrium to disembark. Don’t bother getting there early, or you’ll find yourself milling around, which can be frustrating. It’s better to grab a coffee and wait in a lounge or out by the pool. And don’t forget your group color. Luggage at the pier will be sorted by group color and number — and there will be thousands of bags waiting. Take a photo, or otherwise make a notation of your tag color so you will know where to look for your bags.

If you picked up any liquor during your cruise, make sure to pack it up. You must pick it up at the time and place your cruise ship tells you before you disembark. Then, pack the bottles in checked baggage if you are flying home. Carefully wrap them in your dirty clothes. U.S. Customs allows you to enter the country with one liter of an alcoholic beverage per adult duty-free. You can bring in more, but you’ll have to pay the taxes.

The system for removing bags from the ship works this way: On the last night of your cruise, you pack your large bags and leave them in the hall for the crew to remove and transfer to the pier. You also have the option of carrying your own luggage off the ship. However, this is only recommended if you are able-bodied and can haul your bags down flights of stairs on the ship and at the cruise terminal. Elevator banks on both will be extremely crowded. It’s better to pack as much as you can in your luggage and let someone else do the heavy lifting. Set aside clothes for the morning. A rookie mistake is packing too much in the luggage that you leave outside the door, then waking up the next day to realize you forgot to leave out shoes, pants, or other necessary items. Don’t be the one walking to the pier barefoot or in your pajamas. You’ll want to have a carry-on suitcase or tote set aside so you can carry your toothbrush, PJs, and other items off the ship. The last night is typically casual, and some cruisers find it easiest to wear the same clothes off the ship the next morning.

Before you leave your cabin, make sure to scour it for any items you might have left behind. You will typically be asked to vacate your cabin by 9 a.m. or earlier on disembarkation day so that the crew can prepare for the next passengers. If you leave any items behind, it’s difficult to recover them once you’re off the ship. Do a careful check of closets, drawers, and even under the bed to make sure you have packed everything. Don’t forget the bedside table drawers, the very back of the shelves, and the safe. If you are traveling with kids, also look for small stuffed animals or other toys hidden in any linens crumpled on the bed.

And remember, don’t take the bathrobe. If you are in a cabin that comes with a bathrobe and slippers, the slippers are typically yours to keep. However, you will be charged if you walk off with the bathrobe. The same rule applies to pool or beach towels stored in your cabin.

As you disembark, make sure to have your keycard, ID, and passport ready. You might think you are done with your keycard when you vacate your cabin, but you will need to tap it once more when you get off the ship. You’ll need to show your passport or other official identification to customs officials at the cruise terminal. If you have received a customs form, it’s important to fill it out (one per family) before you disembark.

Before you head home, make sure to go to breakfast. Room service is not always available on disembarkation day. Head to the buffet or main dining room to enjoy a leisurely breakfast — unless you’re in a rush to get to your flight. Check the open hours before you go because breakfast venues will likely serve meals on a different schedule on the last day of the cruise.

Lastly, respect cabin vacancy times. You will drive your room stewards crazy if you linger in your cabin past the designated time. They need to clean and prepare the room for the next set of passengers. It’s best to vacate your cabin on time and enjoy the last moments of your cruise in the common areas of the ship.

Disembarkation day can be a bit hectic, but with a little preparation and these tips, you can ensure a smooth and stress-free end to your cruise vacation.

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