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Cruising 101: Debarkation

I have received a complimentary cruise in exchange for sharing my honest views of my experience aboard the Carnival Valor

Sunday was our last wonderful day aboard the Carnival Valor.  While we all threatened to hide and never leave the ship, we knew we had lives to get home to and school that is starting soon.  I wasn’t looking forward to getting off the ship.  As smooth as our embarkation was, we had hours and hours to do it.  Some people showed up as early as 11am, but we didn’t have to be aboard until an hour before the ship set sail at 10pm.  That’s plenty of time for 3,000 people to board the ship.

Cruising 101 Disembarkation

3,000 tired cruise passengers disembarking in a third that time?  I was ready.  In fact, I was told by guest services that there would be huge lines with waits for the later zones.  That said, we were staying in Puerto Rico for another several days and our hotel check in wasn’t until 4pm, so we didn’t want to get off the ship first thing in the morning.  We’d rather have a leisurely breakfast and disembark later.

Fortunately, that is an option.  Even though we threatened to stay forever.

No one wanted to leave the Carnival Valor

There are two main choices for debarkation.  You can either do self-assist or the relaxed debarkation.  To do the self-assist debarkation, you do have to be a US citizen (in a US port, which we were).  The relaxed debarkation is available for everyone.

If you are doing the self assist option, you pack your bags and keep them in your stateroom.  When you leave the ship, you will be in charge of carrying all your luggage, which includes on any stairs and through any lines.  If you are a relatively light packer and are ready to head out, this is a perfect option.  The self assist option is the first group of passengers to disembark the ship, from roughly 7-8am, assuming the ship is cleared by then.

We chose the relaxed debarkation, which means that we packed our suitcases the night before, but the suitcases are then left outside our staterooms – with our zone assignment tags on each bag – by midnight on our last night of the cruise.  We kept carry ons that we would bring off the ship ourselves that included our electronics, a set of clothes, and everything we needed in the morning.  We would next see our luggage in the terminal, so it’s important to not leave anything critical in those bags.

That morning, we reviewed our sign and sail account to ensure we understood all the charges on it, though the sign and sail account is still active on the last morning we’re aboard ship for any last minute purchases.  And yes, my mom did use hers to purchase a family photo from the second elegant evening.  Those transactions are sent directly to the credit card company.

We also filled out our customs declaration, with just one needed per family rather than for each adult traveling.  It was easy to do, as we didn’t come anywhere near the $1,600 allowance per passenger or other limitations on alcohol, tobacco, etc.  My husband forgot to include his passport number, but that was easily corrected in the terminal.

We did purchase alcohol in St. Maarten, as I was excited for my guavaberry liquor that I remembered from my last trip.  While that was collected in St. Maarten when we boarded the ship, it was in our stateroom the last night when we returned from dinner so that we were able to pack it in our suitcases.

After a nice breakfast in the Lido buffet area, we hung out while the zone numbers were called.  Our official zone was 15, which was called near 10:15am.  Rather than rushing off the ship then, we waited a little longer and headed to Deck 0 closer to 10:45.  Because we were US citizens, we disembarked on Deck 0, but all non-US citizens left from Deck 3.  As we continued in the fast moving Deck 0 line, crew members had us show passports to ensure that we were US citizens, as non US citizens absolutely must disembark from their designated area, as they have different customs to clear.

We also still needed our sign and sail cards, which I had kept in my pocket.  We used them one last time as we exited the ship, which let Carnival know that we had disembarked and weren’t hiding somewhere to stick around for the next voyage.  Once they were scanned as we left the ship, they became souvenirs and no longer our identity aboard the ship.

From there, we proceeded to the terminal, where we found our luggage in a group under the flag with our zone number.  It was easy to access and pick up, then we got into the customs line.  It also moved fairly quickly – much more smoothly than I had anticipated, to be honest – and we noted that we had nothing to declare, our passports were inspected, and we were free to find transportation to head to our hotel.

Carnival disembarkation terminal with luggage and customs line

All in all, I’d say it was no more than 15-20 minutes from the time we started to head down to Deck 0 to disembark until we were procuring a taxi.  It was incredibly smooth and efficient, so much more so than what I remember from cruises past.  My hats off to Carnival Cruise Lines for making what could be a painful process with overtired and crabby people into something that worked like a well-oiled machine.  Obviously they have practice doing this constantly, but I was pleasantly surprised nonetheless.

Had we purchased transfers to the airport, we would have met directly outside the terminal at the time provided.  The same goes had we purchased excursions for the last day (a great option if you have a late afternoon flight and need something to do during your last day, as they take control of your luggage and drop you at the airport at the end of it).

We declined both options, as we were staying in San Juan until Wednesday.  Transportation each way was $15 per person, which was a great deal if you were traveling with one or potentially two people, but too expensive for our group of 6 were we going directly to the airport.  The cab fare was under $19 from the airport to the cruise terminal for up to 5 people, with a $2 surcharge for our sixth person.  There is also a $1 per piece of luggage charge, plus tip, but obviously every port is different.

Hailing a taxi was a smooth process, and we easily got ourselves and our luggage into one of the many waiting taxis to head to our hotel and continue our vacation, still amazed by how smooth essentially ever facet of our journey with Carnival was.

Did you miss earlier installments of Cruising 101?  Check them out here:
Why cruise?
Before you go
What to pack
Dining with allergies
Day 1 St Thomas
Day 2 at sea
Day 3 Barbados
Day 4 St Lucia
Day 5 St Kitts
Day 6 St. Maarten

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  1. Eric says:


    Awesome post. Quick question. Sorry in advance if I missed this info in your post but how were you able to stay in Puerto Rico for 3 days? Were you taking another cruise as the return trip? Also, are there extra fees for getting off? Maybe I’m lost but was this a one way cruise?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Michelle says:

      Our cruise departed from Puerto Rico, as many southern Caribbean cruises do. We booked our flights so that we had time to enjoy and explore Puerto Rico, as well – there are so many cool cultural and ecological things to explore from old forts to the rain forests and more. You cannot disembark from a cruise midway through for tons of reasons (emergencies being one exception of course). There are some great locales where cruises leave from that make great extensions of your cruise – from French Polynesia to Hawaii and more. Hope that helps!

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  6. Laila (@OnlyLaila) says:

    I’ve never been on a cruise before so this was helpful for me. Thanks for sharing your family’s adventure, looks like a lot of fun!

  7. Pat says:

    We like the relaxed debarkation, too…a leisurely room service breakfast, and we have done debarkation both ways. What a fantastic trip you had! We usually go on Holland America cruise ships and just love them. That’s our fave. I get totally spoiled on cruises and so it’s hard to go back to cookin’ and cleanin’.

    Your kids’ sad faces say it all….boo…school. But I’m sure they’ll be happy to see their school friends again.

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