I made a big cruise rookie mistake. A way-too-early flight back home on disembarkation day is a recipe for disaster.
Because of my careless oversight in planning a last-minute cruise, I broke one of my biggest rules.
My 9am flight made for a very rushed, stressful, and interesting morning. (Photo credit: Cruise Fever)
I was so excited to be able to check out the all-new Celebrity Ascent that I didn’t even closely examine my flight back home until I was on my way to the cruise port for embarkation.
It’s then that I looked at my return flight on the Delta app and saw the actual time of my return flight: 9:10am. Yeah, that’s a bit early for debarkation day.
I usually recommend cruisers book a flight after noon if they can at all help it. I’ve booked 11:00am and 10:00am flights before and had no issues, but it definitely makes the morning a lot more stressful.
But a 9:00am flight back home on the day the cruise ship pulls back into homeport? Well, that’s just asking for trouble.
The first thing I did was look up other potential flights. Unfortunately, there were no other options that would not have left me with a 4 or 5 hour layover. All the good flights were already full.
Photo credit: Cruise Fever
Why is it a bad idea to have an early flight after a cruise?
Before I tell you a few things that worked out to my advantage, let’s look at a few reasons you should not book an early flight on debarkation day.
Port delays. While your cruise itinerary may say you will be back in port by 6:00am or 7:00am, that doesn’t mean you will be able to get off the ship at that exact time. In fact, a ship has to be cleared by authorities at the pier before passengers can even be allowed off the ship. I’ve seen these delays last for 2 to 3 hours in some cases, although that’s not the norm.
Weather delays. Weather conditions may delay your cruise ship in getting back to the homeport in a timely manner. If this happens there’s really nothing your captain can do and it may lead to you missing your flight.
A lot more stress. Take it from me, having a flight so early in the morning makes the entire debarkation day a stressful one. You won’t have time for breakfast, you’ll be scrambling to find out exactly where you should be to be among the first off the ship, and everything from traffic on the road to delays in long lines will cause undo stress on your mind and body.
No flexibility. Having a little flexibility in your vacation plans is a good thing. It allows you to pivot, try something unplanned, or check out a new site. When you have an early flight the day your cruise gets back to port, you don’t leave yourself any flexibility. You either make that flight, or spend all day at the airport trying to make other arrangements
Missing out on the port city. And of course, if you plan an early flight back home you won’t have any time to enjoy the port city a little. If you can book a flight the day after debarkation day you can really explore the city and make a local excursion part of your cruise vacation plans.
I grabbed a quick photo of the other ships in port as I was walking off Celebrity Ascent. (Photo credit: Cruise Fever)
In order to make my 9am flight, everything had to go perfectly, and I also had to make a few changes in my plans.
I should also say that the proximity of Port Everglades to the Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL) made a huge difference in my being able to make this flight on time.
You can actually see the cruise ships from the airport.
In most situations a 9:00am flight would be impossible when trying to arrive from a cruise port.
How I made my 9am flight and why I will never book an early post cruise flight again
The first thing I had going for me was that I didn’t have much luggage at all. In fact, I just had a large backpack since it was only a 2-day pre-inaugural cruise.
This allowed me to use the self-assist program in getting off the ship. While you can do this with large suitcases as well, it’s just a lot easier when you don’t have much to carry and can maneuver around the ship and elevators.
On almost any cruise line, when you choose to carry your own bags off the ship you will be among the first allowed off the vessel.
With so many people on board, cruise ships have to stagger the departure times of cruisers, so they will use a luggage tag system for announcing different departure times.
Getting in line for debarkation
According to the ship’s itinerary the soonest I could get off the ship would be around 7:00am. But I knew this was only if there were no other issues pushing the time back.
At 6:30am I walked down to Eden on Celebrity Ascent, and saw there was already a line of about 40 people waiting to get off the ship for early departure. Fortunately, at 7:15am we were allowed to disembark.
While this did mean I had to stand in line for 45 minutes, it allowed me to be ahead of a couple hundred other people who filed in line after I joined it.
Another plus was that the cruise port used facial recognition for immigration, so I didn’t have to pull out my passport and there was never even a line at customs. It was one of the fastest customs experiences I’ve ever had.
While walking through the cruise terminal I only had to stop for a few seconds to stand in front of the camera at customs and I was out of the terminal.
Took this picture while in the taxi from the cruise port to the airport at Port Everglades.
My ride to the airport
My original plan was to use Lyft to get to the airport. But after the previous 30 minute wait I endured when trying to get a Lyft from the airport to the hotel, I knew this was not the most efficient use of my time.
Fortunately, I knew that there would be a line of taxis right at the pier.
As soon as I got off the ship I made my way to the taxis and was able to be on my way in just a few minutes. By the way, the cost for the taxi from Port Everglades to the Fort Lauderdale airport was $20, and it was about the same for Uber or Lyft.
Taking a taxi saved me at least 15 to 25 minutes compared to waiting for a rideshare service.
Thankfully, there was no traffic, and it was only about a 10-minute ride to the airport. FLL is one of the closest airports to a cruise port that you will find in the United States. If my flight was out of Miami, this story would have ended very differently.
At the airport I had no bag to check so I could go right to the security checkpoint and to my gate.
Even without TSA pre-check I was through security in 15 minutes.
By the time I got to my departure gate it was just after 8:00am. It was a mad rush, but I made it with time to spare.
The Delta terminal at FLL is very small, so this helped save time as well. After going through security it was only a couple hundred feet to my gate.
So, yes, it all worked out in the end. I made it to my gate on time for a 9:10am flight.
But by the time I sat down at the airport I was so worn out I just wanted to nap for a few hours.
The stress was simply not worth it in my opinion.
And if a few things took longer than expected I would have been cutting it very close.
Normally, on debarkation day I like to go up to the pool deck, take some pictures of the port and other ships as they come in, watch the sunrise, etc.
Having skipped breakfast to make sure I was in line as early as possible and constantly looking at my watch was not the most enjoyable way to experience debarkation.
A 12:00pm flight would have meant I could enjoy the ship a little longer, take my time getting to the airport, and maybe even get one of those chair massages at Xpres Spa.
I hope this cautionary tale helps encourage readers to book later flights on disembarkation day.
Of course, if you’re an adrenaline junkie maybe the thought of racing through cruise port and airport terminals sounds exciting to you.
But for most of us, a cruise is all about relaxation and getting away from the daily stress of life. Do yourself a favor and plan that flight for later in the day, or ideally for the next day.
Read more: 7 reasons you should never fly on cruise day
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