Guide To Disembarking a Cruise, What to Expect and How to Prepare


Today we are going to share our top tips in our guide to disembarking a cruise. Tell you what to expect and how to prepare. No one likes to think about the last day of the cruise. But at the end of every cruise vacation, there comes a time when you have to leave the ship. Cruise disembarkation is the process of leaving the cruise ship, which many cruisers don’t want to think about. 

Focusing on planning excursions and booking future cruises is much more enjoyable than considering the inevitable departure. However, just like all good things, the cruise holiday must end. Plus being prepared for disembarkation makes the process smoother and stress-free.

Disembarking a Cruise, What to Expect and How to Prepare

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Disembarking a Cruise: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Types of Disembarkation: Traditional vs. Self-Disembarkation

The Traditional Method of Disembarking a Cruise

Disembarking a Cruise the traditional way is the standard process most cruise lines follow. At the end of your cruise, when you reach your final destination. You will receive instructions from your cabin steward on preparing for debarkation and your cruise disembarkation time.

This typically involves placing your luggage outside your cabin door the night before with specific luggage tags provided by the cruise line. 

The ship’s crew will collect the luggage and move it to a holding area. They were offloaded to the baggage claim area in the cruise terminal the following day, ready to collect and meet your flights. Passengers are assigned specific disembarkation times based on their luggage tag numbers to disembark the ship. This helps maintain order and prevent crowding. 

If you decide to follow the traditional route of disembarking a cruise, there are a few things to consider:

  • Pack a smaller bag with essentials, toiletries and medication to keep with you. Double-check you have your passport or other forms of identification and travel documents with you too. 
  •  Keep a spare outfit for the next day; remember, comfy shoes.
  •  Keep valuables with you.
  •  Ensure you pack a pen in case your need to fill out any immigration forms.
Disembarking a Cruise, What to Expect and How to Prepare

Self Disembarkation, Can you Disembark a Cruise Early

Self-disembarkation, or self-assist or walk-off, allows passengers to carry their luggage to exit the ship without relying on the crew to move it for them. If you choose self-disembarkation, you’ll be among the first to leave the ship, which can benefit those with early flights or tight travel schedules. 

However, keep in mind that you’ll need to be able to manage your luggage on your own, including navigating stairs if elevators are crowded. The gangway will also be busy, so this is only a good option if you don’t have heavy suitcases.

Benefits of Self-Disembarking Your Cruise

  1. Early Departure: With self-disembarkation, you can leave the ship as soon as the vessel is cleared for debarkation, typically around 7 am.
  2.  No Luggage Placement: Unlike traditional disembarkation, you don’t have to place your luggage outside your cabin the night before.

Disadvantages of Self-Disembarkation

  1. No Luggage Assistance: You will need to carry your luggage alone, which can be challenging if you have heavy or bulky bags and the ship is busy.
  2.  Early Wake-Up: Self-disembarkation requires an early morning wake-up to ensure you can leave the ship immediately.

How Long Does it Take to Disembark a Cruise Ship, When can I get off the Ship?

The exact timing of debarkation varies depending on the cruise port and customs procedures. The scheduled docking time on your cruise itinerary is when the ship is expected to arrive at the port. 

However, the ship must be cleared by the local port authorities and customs officials before passengers can disembark. This process usually begins around 7:30-8 am but can take longer if delays or unforeseen circumstances occur.

A great way to save time is to use the porters. They will help you navigate the cruise terminal quickly and get you to the kerb side to meet your taxi or coach transfer.

Ship view of Odyssey of the Seas

Avoid Booking Early Flights

Avoid booking early flights on the debarkation day. Leaving the ship, collecting luggage, going through customs, and reaching the airport can take time, and delays may occur. 

Cruise lines typically recommend booking flights after noon to allow sufficient time for a smooth departure. If your flight is later in the day, check if the cruise line offers an excursion that drops off at the airport. This is a great option, and your cases will be safely stored on the coach while you enjoy your port excursion.

Check Your Cruise Account

Before disembarking, take the time to review your cruise account to ensure there are no unexpected charges or discrepancies. Cruise lines often provide account information through onboard apps or machines, allowing you to check your expenses. If there are discrepancies, go to guest services sooner rather than later; the queues can be long. 

If you linked a credit card to your Shipboard account, any final charges will be directly posted to it. However, if you opted to pay in cash, settle your account early on the last day to avoid long lines.

This is also a good time to tip crew members who looked after you and offered exceptional service. 

MSC Lirica reception And coffee shop in the atrium

Fill out the Comment Cards

Appreciate the hard work of the crew members who made your cruise enjoyable by filling out comment cards. Mention specific crew members who went above and beyond to make your trip memorable. 

These comments motivate the crew and contribute to their recognition and promotions. Additionally, you’ll likely receive an online survey after your cruise, which provides an opportunity to give feedback about your overall experience. It’s also important to share any areas that could be improved; the cruise line can only improve things if you tell them.

Book a Future Cruise Onboard

If planning your next cruise, take advantage of onboard booking offers. Many cruise lines provide reduced deposits and additional onboard credit for future cruises booked while onboard. 

Visit the Future Cruise staff to secure your reservation and ensure availability before the last night. And if you prefer booking through an agent, you can transfer the cruise credit over to your agent when you get home. 

Disembarkation Morning

On the morning of debarkation, breakfast will still be available onboard, but the hours and food options may be limited. The buffet restaurant is always open, plus suite guests usually get access to the main dining room or a specialty restaurant. 

Thoroughly check your cabin to ensure you haven’t left any belongings behind. Look thoroughly in all drawers, the bathroom, the safe, the closet, and under the bed. My husband once left his driving licence in the safe; make sure you double-check. And remember to check the balcony! 

Disembarking a Cruise, What to Expect and How to Prepare

In Conclusion

Disembarkation, like embarkation day, is an inevitable part of every cruise, and being prepared can make the process much smoother. Follow the cruise line’s instructions, choose the disembarkation option that suits your needs, and make the most of your last moments onboard. 

Remember to thank the crew members who made your cruise special, and consider planning your next adventure before you leave the ship. Cruising offers a unique and exciting way to travel, and each disembarkation is just a gateway to more incredible voyages and memorable experiences.


  • Sarah Christie

    Sarah also writes for Mini Travellers Family Travel Blog and Extraordinary Chaos Craft and Lifestyle Blog. Both are award-winning blogs with a travel and family focus. She is married and has two boys, aged 18 and 22, who all love cruising as a family. Nothing is better than waking up every day in a new port with new and exciting things to explore. She aims to share how cruising as a family with young adults is the perfect choice for family travel. Her boys are sporty and love the activities, sports and dining options cruising offers. Sarah has worked with brands such as Walt Disney World, Mark Warner, Ikos Resort, Center Parcs, Laura Ashley, Belling and Next.

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