Trust us. You never, ever want to play a game of “catch the cruise ship.” That’s when you miss the boat—literally—and are left to decide if you should bag the vacation altogether and head home, or if you should embark on your own version of “The Amazing Race” and try to catch up to the ship at the next port of call. Neither option is appealing so you should vow to never put yourself in that particular predicament.
Let’s start by examining the reasons why travelers miss the boat in the first place. Most often, cruisers miss embarkation because of a travel delay. Other times, individuals misjudge the time allotted in port, aren’t familiar with the region and local traffic, and don’t leave enough time to return to the ship. There are ways to hedge your bets in both cases to make sure you’re never left standing on the dock watching your ship weigh anchor and sail out to sea without you.
Make a Plan That Fits Your Comfort Level
It’s important that you arrive at the cruise terminal with plenty of time to spare before embarkation. The absolute best way to ensure this is to fly in the day before your cruise and stay over at a nearby hotel or motel. This way, even if you experience a major delay—airline issue or trouble on the road—you’ll be in town long before the ship sets sail.
Of course, not everyone wants to give up an extra day or invest in a hotel room for the evening. If you insist on flying out the day of embarkation, be sure to book the first flight of the morning. If you plan to fly in the day of the cruise, consider booking your airfare directly through the cruise line. Then, if there’s an issue, they are obligated to get you to the ship. Sometimes that means the ship is held in port for stragglers, and other times that means the cruise line will rebook you on alternative transportation so you can meet the ship at the second port of call.
Like we said, fly out on the first plane of the day, and if you have to connect, do so in a major city that offers multiple flights to your destination throughout the day.
Keep all your cruise documents in your carry-on bag, and make sure you’ve got the address of the cruise terminal handy. Pre-book ground transportation so someone is waiting for you when you land at the airport. Alternatively, book ground transportation directly through your cruise line.
If you are running late, call the ship’s port agent so they are aware of the problem. The appropriate contact information can be found in your cruise documents.
It’s also wise to invest in travel insurance. Make sure the policy covers things like trip delays, lost baggage, and trip interruption. You can compare a variety of insurance policies at InsureMyTrip.com.
Avoid Travel Delays and Misconnects
When it comes to travel, be an informed consumer. Sign up for automated alerts from your airline so you’ll be the first to know if your flight is delayed. You can also use free third-party services like TripIt that file all of your flight, hotel, car rental, and cruise details and itineraries right in your phone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or Windows Phone 7) or iPad. The upgraded (aka paid version of) TripIt Pro app instantly alerts you to flight delays, cancellations, and gate changes. It can also help you find alternative flights so if you have to rebook, you can tell the airline representative what would work best for you.
Know Your Options
Be your own advocate, and know what alternative flights will get you to your cruise port on time. If your airline has a mechanical issue, for example, ask them to “protect” you on another flight—even if that means putting you on a competing airline. Research all potential flights in advance, and carry that list of options with you. Hopefully you’ll never need to refer to the list, but it will be incredibly helpful if your original flight is cancelled.
If you do have to rebook while at the airport, don’t wait in the long line with everyone else. Call the airline’s toll-free number for faster service. If you have access to the airline’s elite lounge, you can head there and have an agent assist you in person.
Know When to Fold ’Em
Sometimes a vacation is just doomed from the get-go. People in the hospitality business call that a “trip in vain.” It’s when, despite your best efforts, everything goes wrong. There’s a crash on the highway so your car service can’t get you to the airport on time. You miss your initial flight and are rebooked on a second flight, which then is delayed due to weather issues. You finally get to your destination only to find that your bags were misdirected and are at a different airport altogether, and your cruise ship has already sailed.
If you’re ever in that situation, you’ll need to determine if you’re going to try to catch the ship at the next port or head home. Your decision will hinge on a few things. For example, did you book your airfare directly through the cruise line? If so, the onus is on them to get you to the ship. If you booked transportation on your own, it’s up to you. What’s the next port of call? Is it an easy to reach destination or a far-off island with no airport? Did you purchase an insurance policy? Will you get a refund if you return home without ever setting foot on the cruise ship, or will you lose out on the fare you paid?
As you can see, it’s just so much easier if you’re never in this situation to begin with! Follow our tips and you’ll get to your cruise ship on time—every time. Bon voyage!