The first day of the cruise is my favorite. There’s no better feeling than to finally be onboard, exploring the ship, or lounging with that first drink on board.
There’s an entire fun-filled vacation ahead of you and it feels like it’s going to last forever. But sadly, that feeling gradually fades as the week progresses and the days tick by.
Before you know it, it’s now the last day of the cruise and your vacation is almost over. It’s as sad and depressing as that first day was exciting.
Whether your cruise’s final day is a relaxing day at sea or a visit to a cruise line private island, there are a few extra things that you’ll need to take care of in preparation for the following morning’s debarkation.
The room steward should leave debarkation instructions in your room the evening before. If you haven’t already taken a look at it, read the instructions in the morning so that you won’t be surprised at the last minute by any details.
Even if you are frequent cruiser with the line, it’s still a good idea to take a look at the instructions as cruise lines periodically update their procedures to help make the entire process go more smoothly.
Traditionally, room stewards have left luggage tags in staterooms along with debarking information. The luggage tags use a color and/or number identification system. The color/number tags correspond to a time frame when it is anticipated that passengers with those tags will be able to debark the ship.
The debarking paperwork should contain a schedule; letting you know what time your group is scheduled for.
If the time does not work with your travel plans, you will need to visit Guest Services and request different luggage tags.
Do this in the morning if at all possible. The lines at Guest Services are generally extremely long on the evening of the last day.
Some cruise lines have changed the process for luggage tag distribution. Instead of tags being left in your stateroom, there will be a central distribution point. You will be responsible for going to the distribution point and picking up the tags you need.
The debarkation paperwork will let you know where to go to pick them up.
The earliest times go first and go quickly, so if you have an early flight out the next morning, make sure you know where and when you can pick up tags.
Future Cruise Booking
If you’ve been thinking about taking advantage of any onboard future cruise booking promotions, this is your last chance. Check the cruise newsletter or app for the hours when the future cruise desk will be open. It will be busy on the last day. Ideally, it’s best to get this taken care of early on in the cruise.
Depending on the cruise line, you may also be able to put a deposit down on an open booking, meaning that you don’t have to have a specific ship or sail date in mind.
The deposit can be made onboard and be applied to a specific cruise later on. If that’s the case, you might be able to simply fill out a form and turn it into the future cruise desk.
If you are sailing on Carnival, you can skip this! Carnival allows you to take advantage of the future cruise program once you’ve returned home. Read more about Carnival’s program here.
Check Onboard Accounts
Keeping an eye on the charges being made to your onboard account is something you really should be doing throughout the cruise. Mistakes do happen and Guest Services is happy to investigate any issues and make corrections.
More often than not, the charges are legitimate. After a few days, it’s easy to forget a purchase or it’s simply not displayed in a way you think it would be.
For instance, charges made at a bar you never visited. It could be that it is the bar location used for drinks ordered in the dining room or from main theater.
If you have any questions about the charges, it’s best not to wait until the last night of the cruise or the morning of debarkation. Guest Services has huge lines, and standing in lines on the last day of your vacation isn’t any fun.
The final day of the cruise is a little like Christmas Eve. It’s their last chance to entice you to spend in the gift shops so it’s possible to find deals that weren’t happening earlier on in the week.
You’ll also want to take advantage of any duty-free prices on popular items you may regularly buy at home like alcohol and cigarettes.
If you haven’t looked at or made your photo purchases, try and get to it early in the day. By evening, the photo area is swarmed with passengers trying to find their photos and make those last minute purchases.
If your ship has moved to digital photos or is placing them in “books”, it makes finding and purchasing much easier. However, if the ship is still displaying photos on shelves, it’s a good idea to gather all of your photos and group them together each day.
The photography staff will still move them around as they make room to display new photos, but you’ll have a better chance of finding all of your photos on the final day so that you can pick and choose which ones to purchase.
You may able to make photo purchases the final morning of the cruise, but you could be searching through several huge bins of photos to find yours.
Related article: Should you buy those cruise photos?
Onboard casinos generally don’t have a specific time when they close in the evening; instead the newsletters often just state that they will be open “until late”. Regardless, they won’t be open the morning of debarkation.
Those who have been enjoying gambling in the casino will need to cash in their chips before going to bed.
Anyone playing electronic games, like slot machines, and has casino money tied to their cruise card, will also need to visit the casino cashier to cash out at some point during the last day of the cruise.
At some point on the last day, you’ll need to pack. Packing is my least favorite part of the cruise. Everything except the things you’ll need on the last night and next morning needs to be packed up and placed outside your cabin door by the time noted in your debarkation paperwork.
Many passengers pack right before or after dinner. That feels hectic and ruins the last evening of the cruise for me. I much prefer to get this unpleasant chore over with earlier in the day. I may still have to throw a few things in that I used or wore during the last day, but then my evening is free to enjoy.
Nothing ever fits as well or as neatly as it did on my way to the cruise. I’ve tried a variety of ways to make it a little quicker and easier. Packing cubes can be helpful. If I know I’m not going to use or wear something again during the cruise, it goes into a packing cube that stays in the closet or on a shelf. It’s much easier to throw filled packing cubes into a suitcase than gather and fold each item of clothing.
Just as your luggage arrived to your stateroom, it will be taken the evening before debarkation and you won’t see it again until you are off the ship. You’ll want to hang on to things like medications and leave room in a small bag or two for things you’ll need that last evening and morning. Those bags you’ll carry off the ship yourself.
Most ships also offer the option of self-debarkation. If you opt to take part in this, you won’t place any bags outside your door the night before. Instead, you’ll be responsible for carrying all of your luggage off the ship yourself. The advantage is that you are generally some of the first passengers off the ship. It is particularly useful for those with early morning flights home.
Recognizing Crew Members
Most cruise lines have moved to automatic or pre-paid gratuities, doing away with the handing out of gratuities on the final evening of the cruise. However, it is still a good time to reward the crew members with a little something extra.
Working 7 days a week is difficult and draining, yet many crew members manage to exceed expectations and do it with a smile. It’s nice to say thank you and hand a little extra cash to anyone who has helped make your cruise more enjoyable or memorable.
Certain positions do not share in automatic gratuities, for instance, the staff in the kids’ clubs. If your child has been participating in and enjoying the youth programs, cash gratuities are appropriate and appreciated.
The only exception is with Disney Cruise Line. The youth program staff on Disney is not allowed to accept tips.
If you choose not to hand out any additional gratuities, you can still recognize them in end-of cruise surveys. If you mention crew members by name and position in your comments on cruise surveys, it helps them earn bonuses and promotions.
If you have a Wi-Fi package or are in port will cellular service, you should check in for any flights the next day. This is especially true if flying Southwest where boarding position is determined by when you check in.
It is also advised for any early morning flights when timing for getting off the ship and to the airport might be tight.
If neither of those options is available, go the ship’s Internet center and find out if you can pay for a short block of Internet access. You may even be able to print off boarding passes.
Set an Alarm
It may have been a fantastic week of sleeping in, but you won’t be able to enjoy it the morning of debarkation. Room stewards need a lot of time to properly clean staterooms and get them turned over for the next group of passengers.
It’s not uncommon for passengers to oversleep the last morning. Set an alarm or schedule a wake-up call to avoid accidentally oversleeping. The time you’ll need to vacate the room will be mentioned in the debarkation information.
Start a Final Night Tradition
My family is always a little sad on the last night. We’ve said goodbye to our favorite staff members and the kids have made friends that they’ll likely never see again. It’s kind of bummer picking them up from the kids club and seeing them sad after a great cruise. Starting a tradition gave us something to look forward to.
Instead of heading back to our stateroom and going to bed, we started doing “last night” fun activities. Fortunately, kids are easy to please and doing anything out of ordinary puts smiles on their faces. We frequently end up getting some late night pizza and ice cream followed by a little hot tubbing under the stars. Our swimsuits tend to still be a little damp when packing the last of our things up the next morning, but it’s been fun and memorable.
Debarkation Morning Tip
If you aren’t trying to be one of the first ones off the ship the morning of debarkation, the best place to kill some time may be the dining room.
Breakfast up in the buffet can be chaotic as passengers are trying to get breakfast and store the bags they are carrying off. Meanwhile, the dining room is delightfully dead. There is plenty of room for bags and you can sit in a relaxed atmosphere.
The options are more limited than what the buffet has to offer, but it’s nice to order from a menu for your final onboard dining experience.
The last day of a cruise is still a day on a cruise! Although there are things you’ll need to take care of that can be a bit of a chore, you should make the most of it.