Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity speed up disembarkation process

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity recently announced a new option for speedy disembarkation at the end of a voyage. It's called Express Departure, and we can only hope similar ideas are quickly adopted by other cruise lines.

According to the new policy, passengers who need to catch planes or who simply want to get off the ship faster can leave between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. on departure day, as long as they can carry their own luggage off the ship. Rather than leaving their bags out in the hallway to be picked up, they keep their luggage with them in their cabins until ready to disembark.

For me, there's nothing more frustrating than having to wait to leave the ship once I'm all packed up and ready to go, especially if I'm in a hurry to get somewhere else (such as catching a flight). And needless to say, if it keeps you from missing your flight altogether, this could be a huge money-saver.

This is one more reason to pack as lightly as possible: if you can manage your own luggage, you'll be in control of when you can leave. Imagine not having to go through that mad scramble for luggage, buses, taxis and all the rest that occurs under typical disembarkation procedures.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have also introduced a new pay service called Luggage Valet, that enables you to check your luggage, get baggage claim checks and receive airline boarding passes while still on the ship. When you arrive at the airport, you can then bypass the check-in lines and go directly to the security checkpoint. That could easily save an hour jostling in line at a busy airport, or allow you to go off for the day without luggage if you have a late-day flight.

For the time being, at least, Luggage Valet is only available at nine ports in North America, including Los Angeles and San Diego, CA; Miami, Port Everglades, and Tampa, FL; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seattle, WA; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. Participating airlines include American, United, Continental and Delta.

Both lines also allow passengers to get off to a faster start before the cruise, offering online check-in before leaving home. You can print out boarding passes that result in faster embarkation once you reach the pier.

Three cheers for streamlining all these generally annoying necessities.

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