Since February of 2009, I have been a cruise line agent at the Cape Liberty Cruise Terminal in Bayonne, NJ.
On occasions, I have had the opportunity to work across the river in New York. For the past three fall seasons, I have worked at Boston’s Black Falcon Cruise Terminal. What makes me happy every sailing day is assisting the hundreds, even thousands of cruise guests as they arrive for their trip.
Whether they’re first timers or multi-timers, it’s always a pleasure welcoming them. It’s even a bigger pleasure playing that key role in their cruise vacation. Embarkation day (Day 1) is always full of energy. The guests are all excited about boarding the ship, ready to enjoy that seven, ten, or even twelve-day adventure they’ve been looking forward to for many months.
Aside from all the excitement, there are mistakes which cruise guests make time and time again, regardless of how often they sail. They often forget to use their common sense.
From my work experience in the cruising industry, I’ll share with you some of the things you must do in preparation for your cruise vacation. From my advice, I hope you will enjoy your upcoming cruise experiences by avoiding the same mistakes made by preceding cruisers.
5. ARRIVE AT THE TERMINAL ON TIME. Whether you are driving to your departure port, taking the train, or flying, make sure you arrive at the cruise terminal by boarding time. If you’re sailing from a port where you’ll need to travel by plane, you have the option of staying overnight in your departure city. The next day you’ll feel relaxed, refreshed, and ready to head to your ship. Cruise ships begin boarding approximately noontime. Once you have checked in and you are on board, you can explore the vessel and get to know your way around. About one hour prior to departure is the lifeboat safety muster drill. The lifeboat drill is mandatory, regardless of how often you’ve been cruising.
DO NOT try to show up at the cruise terminal one hour prior to sailing. There’s a definite chance you will be denied entry. On a few occasions, I saw people in tears, begging security to let them in. I can recall a day when a family showed up half hour prior to sailing time. They were immediately turned away. On another day while I was leaving the terminal, a couple showed up less than an hour to sailing time. They put on such a dramatic scene, they made me think I was in “One Life To Live”. Not only is it upsetting, but missing the ship is a heartbreaking reality which no cruise guest should ever experience. After all, don’t you want to be on board the ship having the time of your life? It’s a no-brainer.
4. WHAT’S IN YOUR CARRY-ON? Before you leave your home for the cruise terminal, be sure to have the following items with you, in your carry-on. Make sure that you have your cruise ticket paperwork and original travel documents (including passports) with you.
DO NOT PACK ANY TRAVEL DOCUMENTS IN YOUR LUGGAGE. This past fall in Boston, I was checking in two guests for their New England/Canada cruise. One of the ladies had her passport, while her roommate had her passport in her suitcase. She had given her suitcase to the longshoreman outside. She had to wait until the very end of the day. Luckily her suitcase was located. She was checked in just one hour prior to departure. If you take any daily medications, they too must be packed in your carry-on. Regardless of when you take them, your carry-on is the safest place for them. You don’t want your embarkation or disembarkation day to become your longest or most frustrating. The more convenient you make things for yourself, the better.
3. CHECK YOUR TAGS...COUNT YOUR BAGS! The night before disembarking your ship, make sure you count how many bags you placed outside your stateroom door. For instance, mark them 1 of 5, 2 of 5, etc. Another way to identify your luggage is to put bright color ribbons or Velcro cuffs on the handles. You’ll be able to find them faster in the luggage claim area. Be sure that all of your bags have personal identification attached to them. Even if you are taking carry-on baggage, they too should have identification attached to them.
One morning, I was on wheelchair duty. I was assisting an elderly guest and her family through customs. She had assumed that one suitcase was hers, since her family’s two other bags had tags on them. Just as we cleared through customs, the elderly guest then realized the bag on the porter’s cart wasn’t hers at all. To make things even more interesting, her real bag had no identification. I gave her a small slip of paper to write her address on, so that the porter or I could attach it to her bag when or if we located it. When the bag was finally located, it was shipped to the guest’s home. Unfortunately the guest had to pay the shipping cost. If you are missing a piece of luggage upon disembarkation, it’s vital to fill out a missing luggage report with the port staff. As long as a report is submitted, your luggage will be shipped to you free of charge. Do not leave any of your luggage behind. More importantly, do not go home with someone else’s luggage. Not only do you not want your trip to end on a bad note, but you don’t want to subject another guest to the same situation.
2. PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION! Within two weeks prior to sailing, you should have received your ticket paperwork for your cruise. Whether you printed out your paperwork on line, or if your travel agent did it for you, have it all together so that your embarkation is “smooth sailing”. On many occasions, guests have shown up at the check-in counter with nothing but a big pile of paperwork, having no clue of what they’re supposed to give to me. Also, make sure that you requested the mailing of your luggage tags. Those tags have your name and stateroom number printed on them. Some cruise lines ask you to register a credit card for your on board charges. Be sure to bring that same credit card with you. That credit card will be needed by the agent to set up your on board charge account. Having that credit card with you will save you the inconvenience of filling out manual paperwork. The same thing goes for your cruise tickets. The more efficient you are, the better!
1. DOCUMENTATION, DOCUMENTATION, DOCUMENTATION! This is the one part of every sailing day which cruise guests misinterpret in a multitude of ways. All guests are responsible for taking along the proper travel documents. If the departure city, or if one of the ports-of-call which your ship will be sailing to requires a visa, make sure you take care of that within an adequate time frame prior to sailing. Please note: Guests who do not carry the correct traveling documents might, can, and will be denied boarding. Last year, I was checking in a family from overseas. Regretfully, they were denied boarding. Their visas were two years expired. Make sure your passports and/or visas are in good standing at the time of your cruise and are valid well after your cruise. You don’t want your passport to expire while on your trip. Why is that important? You don’t want to be denied entry into the country upon disembarkation.
Children’s documentation is every adult guests’s responsibility. If you are traveling with any children who are not your own, be sure to have a notarized permission letter from the parents. Even if they’re in the same family, a permission letter is still required. That letter will be photocopied and kept on record on board the ship. Aside from passports, visas, and permission letters, when traveling with children, take back-up documentation with you. A short time ago, I was checking in a mother and daughter. The mother kept her maiden name, and the daughter still had the mother’s married name. Besides their passports, I was given no paper proof connecting the two guests. In order to embark them both, I needed some form of official paperwork to prove that the child was the daughter. If it weren’t for a small technicality, both guests would’ve been denied boarding. An original birth certificate or health insurance card work the best.
Cruising is a fun way to travel. There is so much to look forward to on your embarkation day. There are also important things to keep in mind for disembarkation. Cruising can be a lot of fun, but it also depends on your common sense. Carefully reading the cruise line’s information on line, arriving at the cruise terminal on time, and assuming responsibility for your travel documents are extremely important. Properly labeling your luggage, being prepared for check-in, and carrying all other forms of documentation also contribute to making your cruise a smooth and memorable one. The cruise lines have their embarkation and disembarkation processes down to a science. Remember these five key hints of advice, and your cruise will be much more than exciting. Your cruising experience will be the utmost memorable and enjoyable over and over again.