Your ship has finally come in. Now you don't want to miss the boat - right?
Sorry the puns were a bit too easy here. Seriously you've done all the research, planning and anticipation for your cruise vacation and so you need to get it right.
Let's start with a couple of basics. The "check in" process on a cruise ship is called "embarkation". Check YOUR cruise documents for YOUR specific embarkation times. Most cruise ships start embarkation at 12 noon. People start lining up about 11am excited to get on board. Your ship will most likely sail away from the dock between 4-5pm (in some foreign ports cruises depart around 8pm so again check YOUR documents). All passengers MUST be on board the ship 90 minutes prior to sailing.
So how do you the times to schedule flights if you're flying into port?
Your travel agent can be extremely helpful with all of these logistics. Let's think like a travel agent here and "backwards engineer" this situation a bit. If you must be at port by noon, how long of a drive is it from the airport to get to your port? Every port city is different. Fort Lauderdale airport is located just across the highway from the cruise terminal - an easy 5- 10 minute hop in a taxi or shuttle. Port Canaveral is located approximately 1 hour away from Orlando (MCO) airport. You'll need to allow yourself PLENTY of extra time at the airport to navigate your way, grab a snack or make a pit stop. Always double your airport to port travel time..."because I said so" (sorry, I'm a mom). If you look at the examples given here, your flights should be arriving between 8-10am for you to be on time for embarkation.
Make sure you've pre-planned your airport to pier transportation. Travel agents refer to this as your "transfers". Nothing will slow your journey down like a long wait in a taxi stand line. Nobody wants to be schlepping luggage from kiosk to kiosk trying to find a cheap ride. Make sure you've made your transfer reservations in advance. Be sure you know your "meeting point" at the airport and have the contact phone number for your transfer company in your phone, ready to go, just in case.
But wait....there's more-
Your flight is usually the biggest piece to this puzzle.. In a perfect world, (that includes fairies and unicorns) flights are always on time. Passengers are never inconvenienced or delayed due to mechanical, personnel or weather issues. It's all blue skies and smooth sailing....yeah, no!
It's great to be an optimist, but all it takes is the dude with those orange flashlights who waves the planes out of the gate to be late for work and your ship has sailed. If you are on connecting flights, you're looking at even more potential issues that can delay you from arriving on time.
Folks often think, no biggie - we'll just grab the next flight into port.
- Planes are not like buses and trains, there isn't one departing every 15 minutes. The next departure may be until long after your embarkation time.
- If there IS another flight that WILL get you to port on time, there probably won't be enough seats for you and/or your entire family. Airlines condense their schedules to insure their seats remained full. Plus think about the thousands of your fellow cruise ship passengers just like you all trying to get to port all at the same time.
Many people who DIY their vacations will buy their airline tickets to port straight from their cruise line. The "guarantee" here is that if you do not get to port on time, they will help fly you to meet your ship. Often the prices are not that much different from what can be purchased separately so folks go for it simply for convenience.
When you purchase your airline tickets in this manner, you won't know your exact flight times or schedule until usually about 60 days prior to your cruise. The cruise lines contract specific flights with the airlines. Often these schedules are "tight". If something happens that causes you a delay or missed connection, you'll have to deal with the cruise line and NOT the airlines directly to fix the problem. Yes, they will get you to your ship eventually but who wants the hassle of missing one or more days of your precious vacation?
SO-For ALL these reasons and plenty more....
Most travel agents HIGHLY recommend that you plan to fly into your port city at least one day PRIOR to your cruise. This way if you run into any hiccups, speed bumps or detours you'll have extra time on your side. If you have to cross a couple of time zones to fly from your home to your cruise port then two days is probably an even better idea. Remember, this is your vacation! Who needs the extra stress, angst and worry playing beat the clock to get to port on time? Instead of waking at the crack of dawn you can sleep in a bit, work out at the hotel gym, enjoy a nice breakfast and start your vacation off right. Besides, if you've spent years dreaming about sailing around the Mediterranean, do you really want to spend your first day or two at sea feeling like a zombie with jet lag?
The same rules apply even if you are driving to port. Unless you live really close to port, it's probably a great idea to arrive in town the night prior to your cruise. Weather, traffic and mechanical problems can still affect your journey too. Many cruise port hotels offer "park & stay" packages along with port shuttle service. This means your parking for the duration of your cruise is included in the price of your room. The hotel will shuttle you back and forth to port. Often this is far more economical and convenient than parking right at the pier.
Think about the money and emotions you've already invested in your cruise vacation.Isn't it worth the extra time and the cost of a local hotel to protect that investment? This money is well spent because it gives you even more vacation time with your loved ones. It will also give you a little extra time to explore and visit local sights which will make your cruise vacation even more fun.
Remember, having a travel agent on your side to help handle all of these logistics for you will make your cruise vacation even more relaxing. They can offer help and suggestions beyond those mentioned here to make your experience far more fun with far less hassles. Things like private drivers and local tour guides that can be less expensive than those offered to the masses via the cruise lines or online websites.
Bottom line here - ships wait for no one. Allow yourself PLENTY of time to get to port. It's much better to be sitting at the cruise terminal, relaxing with a latte and watching a movie on your phone than to be freaked out, running and arguing with the people you're supposed to be spending "quality" time with.