If you decide to fly to the cruise port on embarkation day realize you are playing travel roulette. The ship will leave at the set time, whether or not you’re on it. Even a good cruise travel insurance policy won’t completely make up for poor planning on your part.
So why do many choose to fly on the day their cruise begins? For most it’s a financial decision. You’re already spending money on a cruise, and having to book a hotel is just an extra expense.
I definitely can understand that and everyone’s situation is different. However, in my experience booking an extra night at a hotel is an expense that could save even more money and frustration in the end.
A recent poll we ran on our Twitter account revealed that 59% of our readers fly rather than drive to the cruise port. Driving to the port affords you the flexibility to pivot when the unexpected happens, but not all of us live within reasonable driving distance to a cruise port — much to our disappointment.
When you fly, a lot of things are out of your control. That’s why we suggest flying into the city near your cruise port at least one day early. And from both experience and first-hand accounts, there are a few reasons for this.
Here are 7 reasons you should never fly on the embarkation day of your cruise.
1. Delays, delays, delays
Flights are delayed for a host of reasons. Whether it be weather, airplane maintenance, or just a pilot forgetting to set the alarm, a flight delay can set in motion a series of events to ruin the start of your vacation.
You might think you booked a flight that would give you plenty of time to get to your ship. But “on time” is a relative term when it comes to air travel, and if your flight has more than one leg in the journey those delays just pile up.
I’ve talked to some cruisers who think a flight that lands at 10 am will give them plenty of time to get to the port. And while this may work in some cases, it’s a risk you really should not take. At least book a flight the day before, so even if there is a delay and you get in very late you still will make it to your ship on time the next day.
And if you’re worried about a multi-day delay because of a storm you can get there two days early and extend your vacation.
I had a cruise in Iceland that was delayed because of weather in the States. Fortunately, my original flight was two days before the cruise so I was still able to meet up with the ship before its departure.
2. Then there’s the luggage
If your bags are lost or “misplaced” by the airline you don’t have much time to either get the things you need or wait around for your luggage to be found if you have a cruise departing that very day. At least if you arrive the day before you have time to go shopping for some new clothes or items you need before your voyage.
If you have a short layover with your flight you may find your bag didn’t make the second leg, so save yourself the headache of having to wait for the luggage fairy to show up.
Some travel insurance plans will help compensate you for lost luggage and even give you $500 to buy new stuff, but this usually only kicks in after your bags have been delayed at least 24 hours.
3. Travel from the airport to the cruise port
You might have booked a flight that arrives well before your embarkation time on the cruise ship. But did you account for how long it takes to get from the airport to the cruise port. For ports like Port Canaveral it can take about an hour for a shuttle to the arrive at the port from Orlando’s airport (MCO), and this is without traffic.
One major traffic jam and your plans might go right out the window. In situations where the port is further away from the airport you’re adding an extra variable into the equation, so we definitely recommend you fly in the day before.
4. Flights are more limited and often more expensive
If you’re flying in the day of your cruise you won’t have many options for flights. You will want a flight that arrives as early as possible if you decide to go this route. This kind of limitation usually means spending more money on the flight, money you could have spent on a hotel if you just booked a cheaper flight the day before.
I would not want a flight that arrives any later than 8am. But this means getting up very early for that 5am or 6am flight and then being wiped out most of the day. Not the ideal way to start your cruise.
5. Way less stress and way more relaxation
I’ve done the whole flight-the-day-of-the-cruise thing more times than I can count. I know what it’s like to just hope my flight is on time and delays are kept to a minimum. I’ve been very fortunate on the dozens of cruises I’ve been on to never have missed my embarkation. But I have cut it close a few times, and that stress just isn’t worth it in my opinion.
When you arrive at least the night before your cruise, it’s amazing how different your stress level will be. You can actually have a leisurely morning, enjoy your breakfast, and check out of the hotel already refreshed and ready to enjoy your getaway. If you know you’re going to be checking your flight status every 5 minutes on your phone it might be a sign you need to just arrive a day early.
6. The pre-cruise hotel puts you in vacay mode
Every time I’ve booked a pre-cruise hotel it’s put my mind in vacation mode right away. That stress-free morning rolls right into the embarkation process so when it’s actually time to get on the ship I already feel relaxed and at ease.
Plus, with that extra day in the port city you can actually do something in the area. When you fly in the same day as the cruise you don’t have time to enjoy the port city at all, and it’s more like a blur than a start of a vacation.
Port cities like Miami, Port Canaveral, Galveston, Charleston, and New Orleans have all kinds of things to do and see. If you can afford to fly in two days before your cruise you can spend an entire day exploring the city and make it a pre-cruise shore excursion. Remember, the embarkation port city is part of your cruises itinerary, so you might as well enjoy it.
Also, many hotels near cruise ports offer shuttle transportation to the port as part of your room package.
7. You deserve an extra day off
You work hard and save up to pay for a cruise. Why not take the extra day off work so you can really enjoy it and make sure you have the best chance of a smooth vacation?
I often recommend a post-cruise hotel as well, especially if you have a destination intensive itinerary, just so you have another day to decompress and not have to worry about catching a flight as soon as you get off the ship.
Remember, that extra day before the cruise is kinda of like time insurance. A bad winter storm might still interrupt your flights and departure time, but having a one-day buffer can make a big difference if you have to rearrange your plans.
Other factors to consider
The simple truth is that not everyone has the time or money to take that extra day on either side of a cruise. And maybe you’re just someone who books cheap cruises and doesn’t mind the thrill of an airport to cruise port rush.
Maybe the cost of “hotel insurance” the day before isn’t worth it to you. No judgement here if you have to fly in the day of the cruise.
You also might have work restraints that won’t allow you to take that extra day or two. I get that.
Everyone’s situation is different. It’s my recommendation that you fly in a day ahead of your cruise, but if you can’t here are a few tips for flying to the port on cruise day.
- Get a flight that arrives by 8am or sooner. Carnival recommends your flight arrive at least 4 hours before the cruise departure time.
- Make sure it’s a non-stop flight. Those extra legs can be trouble.
- Get travel insurance so you can get some reimbursement if a flight delay makes you miss the ship.
- Have a plan B in case you do miss your ship, whether it’s to meet up at another port or stay on land and enjoy a resort.
- Book your flights through the cruise line if you can. This way if something happens you can get some assistance.
Read our article on 19 things you should do on embarkation day for more helpful cruise tips.