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The disembarkation process: A fresh start at the end

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All cruise vacations, regardless of length or type, are filled with great memories. From the very moment they board to the final night, cruise passengers begin having the time of their lives. There is one part of every cruise vacation which cruise passengers dislike. It’s that part known as disembarkation. Very much like embarkation, disembarkation is highly sophisticated. In a previous article, “Common Sense: An Essential To Cruising”, the top five key hints of avoiding errors when cruising were discussed. During disembarkation, honestly, cruise passengers commit a comedy of errors on a weekly basis. It’s best to have an error-free disembarkation. Anyone can agree to that! Here are the five key hints to making disembarkation a hassle-free and desirable experience.

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5) DOUBLE-CHECKING THE ON BOARD EXPENSE BILL

The morning of disembarkation, the on board expenses statement will be attached to every cruise passenger's stateroom door. Cruise passengers are to carefully look it over and make sure that all of their charges are correct. If there are any questions, they are to be taken up with the guest services desk before leaving the ship. Cruise passengers who used a credit card for their on board charges will have their total balance automatically routed to their credit card. Those cruise passengers who selected “cash” as their form of on board payment, must be sure that their on board charges are paid up prior to disembarkation.

A short while ago, a passenger had a cash account on board. For whatever rhyme or reason, he was unhappy with his cruise. He decided to leave the ship without paying his outstanding balance. The ship’s security staff attempted to stop him, but he had already raced off the ship into the customs hall. He was later stopped and sent back to the ship where he was then questioned by U.S. Customs and the guest service manager. Ultimately, he had to pay his remaining balance regardless of reason. Those cruise passengers who have a cash account must double-check their stateroom bill for outstanding charges. Cruise passengers who have outstanding charges must pay their outstanding balance at the guest services desk before leaving the ship.

4) REMOVING ALL PERSONAL BELONGINGS

All cruise passengers are responsible for their own personal belongings. This cannot be any more important at the time of disembarkation. The night before disembarking, all cruise passengers are to take a good look around their staterooms. They are to check and double-check the drawers and closets for any personal belongings that they may have left around during their cruise. Personal belongings may include cell phones, iPods, articles of clothing, jewelry, and car keys. Cruise passengers should also look under the beds. Things do get kicked underneath by accident. Additionally, cruise passengers must check their bathrooms for items they may have not yet packed in their luggage. Cruise lines are not responsible for personal belongings left behind.

Cruise passengers must double-check the stateroom safe. Cruise passengers often leave their passports or other travel documents in it. They may have stored articles of jewelry or other valuables in it. Recently, a passenger left his bottle of insulin in his stateroom refrigerator. Cruise passengers rarely check their stateroom refrigerator, however, it’s vital that all passengers double-check it. Cruise passengers must check everywhere in the stateroom for all personal belongings before disembarkation. Once the passengers' stateroom cards are swiped for the final time, they are not allowed back on board. The process of retrieving personal belongings once off the ship can be long, tedious, and complicated. Disembarkation can be extremely hectic. While passengers are coming off, the on board staff is already in the process of preparing the ship for the next sailing. It is essential that cruise passengers add this must-do to their list of disembarkation chores.

3) PROPERLY LABELING LUGGAGE

The night before disembarkation, cruise passengers must have their luggage packed and placed outside their stateroom door by midnight. Note: TRAVEL DOCUMENTS MUST NOT BE PACKED IN LUGGAGE. Cruise passengers will not be allowed through customs without them. Also, passengers must fill out a customs declaration form (Shown in slide show). It must be filled out even if no purchases were made. Cruise passengers must make sure that all of their luggage has personal identification attached. In addition, passengers must attach the colored/numbered tags provided to them. The passengers' names, addresses, and phone numbers must be written on the colored/numbered tags. The number on the tag is the number assigned to passengers for disembarking the ship.

When their luggage color and/or number is called, cruise passengers will proceed to the gangway. Once inside the customs hall, they are to proceed to the area where their luggage is located. Cruise passengers must double-check and triple-check that they have all of their luggage before clearing customs. A short time ago, a couple was exiting the customs hall. The couple asked where their luggage was. They had their carry-on luggage, but never stopped to look for their bags. On another day, two cruise passengers went through customs with the wrong luggage. The two passengers nearly went on their merry ways with the wrong baggage in hand. Note: CRUISE PASSENGERS MUST CHECK THEIR TAGS AND COUNT THEIR BAGS!

2) KNOWING THE WAY HOME

The evening before disembarkation, cruise passengers must review their transfer paperwork, if applicable. They should know ahead of time when their flights or trains are departing. Cruise passengers shout not wait until last minute. If flying home, passengers should know when and where their flight is departing from. For example, those who are sailing from San Francisco should know if they are flying out of Oakland or San Francisco International Airport. In the New York area, there are three airports. Cruise passengers must know ahead of time which one of the three they are flying from. It makes it a whole lot easier for the shore staff to assist them.

Not long ago, a ship was repositioning from San Juan, Puerto Rico. One passenger was coming off via wheelchair. She had no idea what airline she was flying on or what airport she was flying from. She never reviewed her transfer information prior to sailing. Without knowing where she was flying from, the shore staff had no idea which motor coach to direct her to. If it weren't for checking the manifest, figuring out where she was headed would've been a challenge. If cruise passengers didn’t purchase transfers, they should seek out mass transit connections to the train station or airport. If taxis are their choice of transportation, there are dozens of them waiting outside the terminal exit. To find out more, readers can see the article, “Cruise Transfers: Time vs. Cost”.

1) SELF-ASSIST VS. GENERAL DISEMBARKATION

Some cruise passengers carry a ton of luggage when they travel. Some travel light with one suitcase and a carry-on. Some cruise passengers travel with a whole matched collection. This part is number one on the list for a chief reason. Cruise passengers still misconstrue the meaning of the express walk-off program. Express walk-off, now "self-assist", doesn’t mean that cruise passengers can leave the ship and claim their luggage faster. The self-assist program is for cruise passengers who can carry ALL of their luggage without any assistance from the on board or shore staff. Cruise passengers who sign up for the self-assist program are the very first to leave the ship. Note: THOSE PASSENGERS WHO SIGN UP FOR THE SELF-ASSIST PROGRAM MUST NOT PLACE THEIR LUGGAGE OUTSIDE THEIR STATEROOM DOOR. There have been mornings where passengers disembarked from the ship too early, assuming that their luggage was ready to be picked up. They had to wait until all of the luggage was set up and inspected by the U.S. Customs K-9s. Cruise passengers who have all of their luggage, along with their passports and declaration forms, are clear to go on their merry ways.

Disembarkation is the most sophisticated and hectic part of any cruise vacation. There are a lot of must-do’s to be taken care of and many don’ts to be kept in mind. Disembarkation is not difficult as long as cruise passengers use their common sense. Cruise passengers must remember to pay their on board expenses bill if they set up a cash account. Before leaving the vessel, passengers must check around their staterooms for personal belongings. Passengers should properly pack and tag their luggage. Further, they should always review their transfer arrangements. Last but not least, cruise passengers must think carefully if they wish to sign up for the self-assist program. If cruise passengers can can handle all of their luggage, they are good to go. Disembarking from a cruise should never be hard. It begins the countdown to an upcoming cruise. Every ending brings about a good beginning.

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