Advice for First-time Cruisers about how to Disembark and more
By Aaron Mase
The last day of your cruise is still part of your vacation, but there are some things that will need to be settled and finalized in preparation for your departure the next morning.
Within the last two days of your cruise, the cruise director will hold a briefing for all passengers, recommending that one member per family attend so you can understand the rules and procedures for leaving the ship on your last morning.
Most of this information will be provided in the daily newsletter and cruise lines are starting to replay the briefing on your in-cabin television, continuously, once the cruise director has finished his briefing. If this is your first cruise, it is a good idea to attend and listen to the information the cruise director has to offer.
What to Expect
I will give you an overview in this chapter, but the rules change, and each cruise line is different so this is general information, but will at least give you an idea of what to expect.
As with any vacation, at the start of vacation, you have to pack your clothes and at the end of the vacation, you have the pleasure of packing again. The concept holds true for cruises.
Well, there is an exception. If you book a suite with a butler, you can opt to have your butler pack for you; but for the rest of us (the majority), we do it the old-fashioned way: ourselves. On a cruise, packing has a couple of twists that you will need to consider.
First, if you participated in the fine art of shopping and delighted the local economy with your purchases, you may be wondering how you are going to get everything home. Well, I guess that concept is for another book because this is one item you will have to creatively figure out on your own. Here are a couple of the other twists.
You will receive, in your cabin, new color-coded luggage tags. These will be used to organize and gather your luggage tomorrow in the ship’s terminal when you leave the ship (debark or disembark). So, make sure you remove the old luggage tags that you used to arrive on your first day and replace them with the new luggage tags.
These colored tags usually represent the group you will be in the next morning when leaving the ship. The group you are in is based on your transportation needs for your final destination home. You will also find, in your cabin, where your group will be waiting in the morning to clear the ship, based on your new luggage tags.
One Last Check
Now, once you have everything jammed into your suitcases you need to make one last check because on your last night, you will place your luggage outside your cabin door for the crew to collect.
You will not see this luggage again until morning so make sure any medications or hygiene products you will need in the morning are left out, much the same as when you handed over your luggage to airport personnel or ship personnel on your first day.
Your room steward, all the room stewards, will be very busy tonight gathering the thousands of pieces of luggage and taking them to the lower levels of the ship so they can be off-loaded in the morning. Don’t worry; the room stewards make more than one walk-through in the corridors.
They make several trips to gather the luggage through the night and then have the chore of cleaning and disinfecting all the cabins the next morning after you leave. They are very busy during this time period. Here is the most important advice of all – do not pack the clothes you are going to wear the next day.
This is what makes your last day of a cruise vacation different than a land vacation: you will not have your luggage in the morning. Not only do you want to keep medications and other essentials for the morning, but you need to make sure you have clothes (shirt, pants, underwear, socks, and shoes).
Don’t Pack Your Documents!
Along with essentials, do not pack any documents you are going to need to leave the ship (discussed soon). You will hear your cruise director tell stories about passengers who forgot to leave something out to wear the next day. Also, anything you leave out will need to fit in your carry-on the next morning.
Also waiting in your cabin along with the new luggage tags will be a Customs Declaration form. Only one member of your family has to fill out this form. The cruise director will provide you all the information you need to fill out this form in the briefing, which hopefully you attended.
Your cruise itinerary will determine your customs allowances. In general, your customs allowances are $800 per person (even the kiddies) for U.S. citizens. Your cruise director will have the current allowances for the time of your cruise.
If one of your ports of call is St Thomas, your allowances increase. For the most part the form is basic. You include your family name, address, passport #, places you visited, number of family members in your party, how you are returning home, and the amount you spent on purchases abroad.
You will need to have this form filled out for the next morning. Fill it out today so it is one less thing to worry about when you are leaving the ship. If your purchases add up to more than the allowances, you will have to pay a tax and will do this before you leave the customs area at the cruise terminal.
You can sometimes pay this onboard if you are required to present yourself to the immigration officials before leaving the ship.
One other item you will find in your cabin along with the new luggage tags and Customs Declaration form is a comment card/survey. When filling this out (and it only takes a few minutes) please remain objective. Do not let one bad incident spoil your whole vacation or do not let one incident affect how you rate other areas of the ship.
Here is why Comment Cards are important:
The comment cards are taken very seriously by the cruise lines and the staff on board the ship. There is a great chance that your head waiter is in that current position because of the comments made on the comment cards. Cruise lines use these comments/surveys for the promotion of staff and they use them for reward and recognition.
Usually, the ships in the fleet compete against one another for top honors. I am not going to ask you to rate “outstanding” on every item, but if the ratings are not above “meets expectations” the cruise line and staff begin the process of determining why the item rated did not “exceed expectations”.
I will ask you to keep in mind that the cruise staff works very hard to make your vacation exceptional. They are working seven days a week, twelve-hour days are not uncommon, six to eight months at a stretch and far from home and their loved ones.
That is all I am going to ask of you when you are filling out the comment cards. Oh, I have had an occasion or two when a particular area was not up to par. I rated the area and I made a note in the “comments” section as to why, but I did not let that one item cloud my overall ratings or ruin my vacation.
Aaron Mase has always dreamed of being a cruise director, but life took a different turn and he’s now employed as a warehouse manager. He grew up watching the Love Boat and worked as a deckhand on a boat on the Mississippi. He escapes harsh Northeastern winters by cruising whenever he can, and he’s also a high school basketball referee. He is the author of The Beginner’s Guide to Cruising from which this chapter is taken. Visit his website at www.aaronscruisechatter.com.
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