One of the biggest mistakes that cruisers make is to try to fly into the cruise port the day of the cruise. While this may seem like the simplest way to get to and from your cruise, it can lead to one of the worst travel disasters: missing your cruise ship. Your cruise vacation is just too important to you and your companions to risk missing the ship because of a delay.
Our Own Experience
I never did fly in early during my initial years of cruise traveling, and thank goodness it never ruined our cruises. We flew from Atlanta to San Juan, Miami, and Los Angeles the day of our different cruises so that we could just take a taxi from the airport to the cruise ship. Thank goodness we never had a problem like a delayed flight due to weather or equipment. We could have missed our cruise all together had we run into problems like that.
For our honeymoon, my husband picked a cruise that departed on a Sunday, but since we wanted an evening wedding, we actually chose to have the wedding on a Friday night so that we could fly to Vancouver on Saturday and stay the night right across from the cruise port. The conveniently located hotel made it easy for us to simply walk across the street and board the cruise ship the next morning. For this cruise we made all of our arrangements through the cruise line’s accommodations, transfers, and flight packages.
Ten years later, we actually did fly from Tucson to San Diego the day of the cruise. That particular cruise had a late departure and we choose to take the first of several direct flights offered by South West. We figured if there were delays or problems we could catch another flight or actually drive last minute to San Diego in 6 hours. That was our back-up plan if for some reason they couldn’t get us there by flight. Luckily the flights went smoothly and we arrived at the cruise dock around 1:00 as planned.
However, that was the last time we didn’t plan ahead of time to arrive in the port town the day before the cruise. Since the, even when we have driven to San Diego for a cruise, we arrived a day early. That allowed for unforeseen circumstances like a flat tire or mechanical breakdown. When we have taken cruises out of Florida, we almost have no choice but to fly in the day before because of the time change. By the time we make our change of planes in Dallas, we usually don’t arrive in Florida until evening. For our two European beginning trans-Atlantic cruises, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to tour the embarkation cities so we actually flew in three days early.
Things Can Go Wrong
What could go wrong if you don’t fly in a few days early? Here are a few examples of incidents that occurred with other passengers:
On one of our cruises in the 1970’s one of the passenger’s luggage was lost and without another day for her luggage to catch up to her before embarkation, she had to wait 4 more days to be reunited with her luggage in our third port. Reports said that when she finally had her luggage back, she ran up to the bags and gave them a big hug.
When we cruised from Vancouver in 2007, several buses were delayed in crossing the boarder from Seattle. Because many passengers were affected, the captain did delay the departure until the last minute. We saw people frantically running to check in and board the ship. Even with the delay there was one family that we met for whom their father and husband had completely missed the ship. I never did hear if he was able to catch up with the ship and board in the next port. I just remember how disappointed and worried his family was as the ship began to pull out of port with out him.
We had several friends who missed a connection in Paris because of a customs fiasco. For some reason or mix up they were forced to get off their flight from Paris to Barcelona and come to the customs area and open their suit cases. Since they didn’t have any contraband in their case, they were allowed to board the next flight, but by the time their flight arrived in Barcelona, the ship had already departed. They were able to arrange to board the ship in the first port, but they missed several days of their cruise.
Finally, in numerous cases weather delays have caused cruise passengers to miss their ships. In some severe snow and ice cases even a planned 36 hour advanced arrival would not have rectified the situation, but in most cases that extra 24 to 36 hours offers enough of a cushion to ensure on time arrival at the ship.
Cruisers should remember a cruise vacation is different from a land based vacation in a fixed location. The ship has a schedule and won’t wait for just a few passengers.
How to Arrange that Day Ahead
If you book your air through the cruise line, which sometimes can be the best deal, then you can also purchase your hotel arrangements and transfers through them. They will have a uniformed agent meet you at the at the luggage area or exit of customs and direct you to your coach which will take you to your hotel. The hotels utilized by the cruise lines tend to be highly rated hotels, which can make these packages more expensive than if you make arrangements on your own or through your travel agent.
Often, I use Frequent Flyer/Credit Card miles and Reward Points for my air and hotel. In this case, I purchase the air and hotel independently of my cruise. I will often look for either a hotel that is close to the airport or cruise port and/or has shuttle service to and from the airport and cruise port. A good travel agent that can book transfers and hotels and can also help you with your selection. Most cities with large cruise ports have companies that offer shuttle service specifically designed for cruisers or hotels that cater to the needs of cruisers.
Depending on length of stay in my embarkation city, I might just grab a glass a wine and nachos at the pool side snack bar and head off to bed as we did in Ft. Lauderdale, or spend a few hours as a tourist as we did in San Diego at Old Town and the Gas Lamp District. Of course if I have 3 days in an embarkation port, I take full advantage of the opportunity to take in all that city has to offer. Cities like Honolulu, Sydney, Barcelona, Rome, and Venice offer so much in the way of art, scenery, culture, shopping and food, it really would be a shame to travel all that way and not spend at least a few days enjoying the sights before the cruise.
Think of your early arrival as extra insurance, in addition to your traveler’s insurance, to make sure that you get to enjoy your vacation. Depending on the quality of hotel and length of stay, it may only add $100 to $300 to the total cost of your vacation, gives you a chance to adjust to any time changes, and takes one more worry off your mind as you embark on well deserved vacation.
We invite our readers to share their experience. Have you ever had a flight delay or other problem that caused you miss or nearly miss your ship? Have you ever had an extra enjoyable experience in your embarkation port that made you glad that you decided to spend the extra day in town? Please share with us your thoughts and comments.