Okay, we get it; we know people are getting on and off, but what actually goes down on Embarkation Day when a cruise ship docks in port? And why does it take so long to get on? We know it’s a little bit more complicated than scanning a ticket, but what else is eating up all the time?
There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to help a cruise ship successfully embark all of its eager passengers. No matter how smoothly the process seems, it still may take quite a bit of time. (If not for you, for the people working the embarkation!)
Here’s everything you need to know about embarking on a cruise ship and the process behind it.
If you want to skip straight to the embarkation tips I listed them at the bottom ;)
The main port of embarkation is whatever port the most passengers are disembarking (ending their cruise) and embarking (beginning their cruise). In some cruise itineraries, all guests empty the ship and are replaced by new guests. This is called a full ship turn around. This type of itinerary is more common in the Caribbean coming out of ports like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.
Other itineraries work more like a hop-on, hop-off bus. This is so guests don’t need to fly to another country to embark, but can get on the ship wherever it stops closest to home. You can find this type of itinerary replicated in the Mediterranean as most of the stops visit large and populated countries. These embarkations are typically a bit easier solely due to fewer passengers getting on at the same time.
How quickly you can join the ship is dependent on a multitude of things consisting of but not limited to...
- How big your ship is
- How many people are embarking with you
- What kind of customs the country you’re docked in has and
- What special requirements each passenger has.
If you asked a crew member what they think of a complete turn around day, I’m sure they’d only groan in response. Let’s take a medium-sized ship for example. The term medium being used loosely since even the “smaller” ships hold thousands of passengers, but I digress. How exactly do four thousand passengers do a complete switch-a-roo?
Early Morning- Disembarkation Begins
The ship arrives in the port of Miami as early as 5:30 or 6 am. The planned arrival was not written until 7 but as soon as guests see that the ship is docked, they line up to exit. No matter how long the line is the ship isn’t allowed to open their doors quite yet. Hence the written arrival time is 7, but again I digress.
The waiting process begins as all the port officials and security dump on board to run obligatory safety and customs inspections. Every passenger is accounted for. Every. Single. One.
Once a ship is cleared for release thousands of passengers dump off the ship within a matter of only 2 to 3 hours.
The length depends on lots of things like if people abide by their assigned times, need to be stopped to pay their bills or just try to force their way out earlier than scheduled causing jams at security for everyone. Every passenger is scanned out one-by-one, given back their quarantined items and marked disembarked in the system.
Then inevitably there are the remaining guests that are lingering in the lounges soaking up the Wi-Fi or enjoying one last coffee. All while new passengers are already outside in the terminal waiting to board them. Until every single last passenger that is scheduled to leave is off the ship, the clearance process to welcome the new passengers cannot begin.
The second the guests have emptied the ship it becomes a madhouse. Housekeepers flood the ship vacuuming, straitening furniture and scrubbing down every last detail The ship is always left sparkling for the new guests. Bartenders set up displays to help explain drinking packages to the new guests while excursions prep stations to be readily available for all the new questions.
Housekeepers that aren’t cleaning are moving thousands of pieces of luggage from the ship to designated organization stations in the terminal. (This process began as soon as the ship docked but still takes quite a bit of time.
The employees that work with kids sanitize their rooms (again…) and prepare to put safety bracelets on every single child that embarks. Every. Single. One. Security prepares for the arrival and face-to-face check of 4,000 new passengers and people are positioned around the ship ready to help direct traffic.
Officers manage the madness and assist when needed to make sure this all happens quickly and efficiently. Typically in less than a half-an-hour, a ship is completely cleaned and readied for a brand new cruise. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even pick up my room that quickly.
When you’re waiting in the terminal, please be patient with the employees, as many of us don’t realize how much is going on.
I promise, no one is on a coffee break. Just because a ship has been docked for 4 hours does not mean it can be prepared at that time. If it was your last day, you wouldn’t want someone cleaning under your feet and rushing to get your breakfast away from you either.
Early Afternoon-Embarkation Begins
Finally, the process of embarkation can begin.
People embarking range dramatically personality-to-personality. Some are full of life and excited about their vacation. Some want to know why they’ve had to wait. Some have to wait for wheelchairs while others can clear through security quickly. No matter how efficient security and customs are, visas need to be checked for every single nationality and face-to-face checks by security are once again conducted.
Some arrive at a good time and get on the ship right away while others arrive at the same time as a rush of other passengers. Often there’s no way to tell which time slot will be busy depending on which week.
Pro Tip: The beginning of embarkation is quite often the busiest as everyone thinks they can beat the rush but end up showing up at the same time. Again that can always change, but from my experience, that’s what is most common.
Embarkation takes much longer as there is a much longer time allowance to board. This is all dependent on when flights land or where people are coming in from. Typically in about 4 to 5 hours, this process is also completed. A thousand new passengers every hour-security cleared, visa checked, readied for additional special needs help, kids accounted for…the list goes on and on.
Some ports have a hard close for customs clearance and security reasons. This means that no matter what, the gates to get through to the ship close at a certain hour in the day. No. Matter. What. Even if your flight is late. Even if you forgot documents at home and had to turn around. Even if a crew member is still outside. They will try to wait, and in some ports have more freedom. However, if you are in a port with a hard close, the doors will not be opening again. Period.
Unless you work on a cruise line and dock in a certain port every week and overhear conversations in the terminal, it’s pretty impossible to know which ports have which policies. Just be on time and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Pro Tip Please allow yourself time for travel problems. It’s not that the cruise lines don’t want to wait for every single passenger if possible, but there are guidelines we all have to abide by as well which is why guests are given certain times to embark in the first place. Please respect those times so in case you do have a problem, someone can help you.
The Ship Leaves Port
Finally, the focus of the employees on board can switch from safely and efficiently embarking all the passengers, to the fun part of the job. Your cruise has officially begun. If you’re anything like me, it’s time to party. See you on the dance floor.
Pro tip: Try to avoid going to reception when you first board the ship. Not only is it the busiest time for guest services and you’ll waste a lot of time waiting in line, but many employees are positioned around the ship just to answer your questions the first day. On top of this, crew members just in general know a lot. It is their home after all. If they don’t have an answer for you, they can generally send you to someone that does. Reception being the last resort is not only helpful in keeping the rushes down but will save you time as well.
Check out these awesome tips below to make sure your embarkation day goes off without a hitch!
Top 7 things crew members wish you understood about embarkation days
It is rare that employees that you come into contact within the terminal work on the cruise ship or even with the cruise line at all.
We are sorry that you had a bad terminal experience and we are working to make sure that this does not happen to our passengers again. Please don’t take it out on us the second you step onboard. Come talk to us. If there is a solution, even if it technically not our problem.
I know you’re thinking, “How is it not your problem if it’s your cruise line?” Well, if you got caught in a subway delay on the way to your job in the inner city, would you blame the company for being in a high commute area, or the subway for breaking down? That’s how silly it sometimes sounds when we get yelled at for bad weather, high waves, and winds, or delays in the current port.
I understand you’re angry it took you longer than you expected to get on the ship, but know that we’ve been in a position for hours on our feet trying to help the process be as speedy and least confusing as possible. We do care about you. We also care about the 3,999 other passengers you boarded with. It will take time.
We will help you solve your problems or send you to the correct department you need. Please speak with us cordially. Just because you’ve paid to be here, doesn’t give you the right to treat us poorly. We can’t help you if you huff, puff and storm off.
The ship has a half an hour to turn around. The employees don’t. We don’t get on the ship with you; we stay for months at a time. Be considerate and we are happy to help you get around our home.
At the end of the day, you still are our guests, which means we really will do everything in our power to leave you happy and content with your whole experience.Please just be patient-there are thousands of you.
7 Tips to make your embarkation go as smoothly as possible
Abide by the time instructed to you. If you have a problem with embarking at a certain time, ask an employee if it’s possible to get on the ship at a different time. Often, it will be a definite yes, but if everyone showed up at a time different than they were given, it could cause major traffic jams and slow the process entirely. Just ask.
If you know that you have a special need, please prepare appropriately. We are more than happy to get you a priority pass or a wheelchair or whatever you need. If we know in advance! We can’t do anything about the time you’ve already wasted in line expecting us to read your mind.
Be ready with your needed documents in hand when you get to the check-in counters or security lines.
Listen to our instructions we make over the public address systems.
Don’t fight the security. No one else could take their knife on which means you can’t either. Research the security guidelines beforehand to know what to leave at home. If not, we will hold on to it safely until the end of your cruise. Don’t worry you’ll get it back, because let’s be honest, none of us want your stuff.
When you are on the other end disembarkation, aka you’re leaving the ship, make sure to schedule flights late enough in the day to allow plenty of time to get off the ship and to the airport.
Are you an avid cruiser and something in this article still changed some of your opinions?
How have your embarkation experiences go and what made them better or worse?
What do you wish you knew more about embarkation day or cruising in general?
Let us know below!
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As always, God Bless and I hope to see you somewhere around the world.