3 Tips for Checking In at the Cruise Port

Not sure what to expect when you arrive at the cruise port?

 

Every cruise line and port is a little different from the next, but there are a few things you can count on every time you arrive to check in for your cruise. These are the top three things you can expect when checking in at a cruise port.

1. Baggage Porters

When you first step foot on the street outside the cruise port, one of the first sights you’ll see are baggage porters. These people are eager to collect your bags and carry them onto the ship on your behalf. They are perfectly legit, and the only way to transport any bags bigger than a carry-on on board. You can personally carry any bags that will fit through a typical security scanner—like the conveyor-style ones found at the airport. Anything bigger needs to be handed over to a porter. Make sure you have a dollar or two per bag available to tip the porter. It is expected, and I always think it’s best not to upset the person responsible for safely getting all of my belongings on the ship.

Most often, your bags will arrive before your ship sets sail, especially if you’re at the port early. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you will not get them until a few hours later. Be sure you have everything you need right away inside your carry-on. This includes medications, a swimsuit and sunscreen if you plan to sit by the pool for the sail-away party, a sweater if you get cold easily, or any other essentials. Also be sure to remove your wallet, ID, cruise papers (including your boarding pass), and other valuables from any bags you check with a porter. You will not be able to get in the ship if you do not have proper identification or the papers from your online check in.

The cruise line knows you may not have your bag in time for dinner, so they don’t usually set any expectations for your attire in the dining rooms on the first night. Still, I like to assume I may have to wear whatever I have on. I try to choose an outfit that is comfy enough to lounge around in for a few hours but also classy enough to wear to a restaurant. It’s a fine line to balance.

Pro Tip: Be sure your bags are properly labeled with your name and cruise ship cabin number before turning them over to the porter. Otherwise, they won’t know where to take them, and you’ll be without your bags longer than you need to be while they try to sort it out.

2. Long Lines

No matter what time you arrive, you will encounter a long line of people. The longest lines tend to be when the cruise port first opens and the first two or three hours after that. Don’t be surprised if the line extends outside and wraps around the building. Some cruise lines and ports have very organized lines with signs telling you where yo go. Others are quite disorganized and seemingly chaotic.

Depending on how many times you have sailed with a particular cruise line, you may have priority boarding over other cruise guests. There is a special line for these people. Some cruise lines have multiple lines for past cruisers, each with its own special boarding privileges. There is also a special line for people who have paid through the teeth for priority boarding, even if they have never sailed with the cruise line in the past. Don’t jump into the first line you see. The best way to sort through the hustle is to simply ask someone where you should go.

Once you have found yourself in the appropriate line, expect to wait 30 minutes to and hour to reach the front of the line. Even if you have checked in online, you still have to go through this process. Don’t try to skip ahead—you’ll end up right back where you started. The good news is that once you reach the front of the line, the check in process usually only takes a few minutes.

Most times, you’ll be able to walk right onto the boat after you’ve check in. But sometimes, you’re ship simply hasn’t come in or is still being prepped. If this is the case, you’ll need to wait some more. You will likely be handed a number and told to wait until it’s called to come to the boarding area. In the meantime, you’ll need to find someplace out of the way to stand in the overcrowded embarkation area (there are rarely very many seats available and you need to stay out of the way of people in line).

3. Don’t Wait Til the Last Minute

If you’re boarding the ship in a foreign city, it may be tempting to spend every last minute you can touring the local sights. But be sure to leave yourself lots of time to get to the cruise port and through the boarding process. The same goes for anyone flying or driving into the cruise port on the same day the ship sets sail. No one wants to have to wait for a straggler. Not to mention, it puts the ship behind schedule. And while it may seem like the captain has tons of time to sail to the next destination, it’s simply not the case. There are many factors the crew needs to consider at each port, from weather to underwater obstacles, tight turns, and high-traffic ports. The last thing they need to worry about is whether or not everyone is on board when they should be.

Your boarding pass likely says you must check in at least two hours before the scheduled sailing, but I recommend arriving a minimum of three hours before that time. This will give you extra time in case you run into any last-minute snafus…like forgetting your paperwork in your checked baggage. The ship will sail without you—I’ve seen it happen many times. Don’t be that person…you know the one.

These are just a few tips for checking in at the cruise port. What other advice do you have for fellow travelers? Join the conversation on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook page.

Five Hours in Funchal: From Gondolas to Street Toboggans

One of the best parts of cruising is going to places you might not have otherwise considered, like Funchal, Madeira.

 

This picturesque city has slightly more than 100,000 people and is the capital of Madeira, a Portuguese island in the North Atlantic Ocean. Funchal is magical, but before my ship entered its port, I had no idea I wanted to go there. Heck, I had no idea it existed. Within 15 minutes ashore, I knew it was one of my new favorite places in Europe, and even though I still had the whole day ahead of me, I didn’t want it to end.

I had no idea what to expect so I thought about taking a ship-sanctioned shore excursion. In the end, I decided not to take one. Instead I chose to take my chances on making my own itinerary. I studied the ship’s recommendations and decided I could see the main city sites and still have plenty of time to stroll the streets if I did things on my own. And I was right! I packed in a ton of fun and never once felt rushed. Here are my tips for the best ways to spend five hours in Funchal.

Disembarking

Funchal

To make the most of this beautiful port, I urge you to rise early and beat the crowds. If you get up at 6:30 a.m., you can be dressed, have a bite to eat, and be ready to go by 8 a.m. This was the projected arrival time for NCL Epic.

As soon as I heard the captain give the A-OK to get off the ship, I headed toward the gangway. Trust me when I tell you not to waste a single minute of time you have in this lovely place. I was the very first person to disembark for the day. And I was glad to have the quiet streets to myself for a few hours before most of the other cruisers made it off the ship.

It’s a bit of a jaunt from the ship to the heart of the action, but it’s a well-designed route once you get past the ship dock. Simply walk off the ship and keep going until you reach a fork in the road. Make a right on Avenida Do Mar, and keep on walking. The level pathway, scenic view along the waterfront, and smattering of shops make it an easy stroll. You can turn left at the first main intersection to head straight into the tourist area. But I decided to up the ante and keep walking. I had a special plan for my morning.

Morning

I walked all along the pathway for about 45 minutes at a brisk pace. I had an ulterior motive: to get on the cable cars or, as they’re called locally, Teleférico do Funchal, before the crowds of tourists arrived. I made good time, arriving by 8:45 a.m. Sadly, they didn’t open until 9 a.m. so I could have walked at a more leisurely pace and enjoyed the sights. Still, even as I waited to get inside, throngs of tourists arrived. In fact, three busloads were waiting just behind me.

I swooped in as soon as the doors were unlocked and bought my ticket to the hilltop village of Monte. Monte has lots to offer in its own right, including beautiful gardens. You can purchase tickets to various attractions at the same time as you buy your cable car fare. Just remember, Funchal also has lots to offer too. Watch the clock so you have time to enjoy both places.

Monte

I bought a round-trip ticket and boarded the very first car of the morning. I’m terrified of heights, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t so bad. Treetops and roofs appear to be just a stone’s throw away for most of the ride up. There are a few places where you’re suspended fairly high above the ground, but the journey lasts only 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, I promise. And the view is so worth any anxiety you may experience.

When you reach the end of your journey, there’s not a lot of signage telling you where to go. Because I was the first tourist at the top, there wasn’t anyone to follow. If you turn right, you’ll head toward the gardens. If you turn left, you’ll make your way toward the Church of Our Lady of the Mount. It’s a short walk either way you turn.

I was hoping for a few shops and cafés where I could while away the morning in Monte, but there were no such thing. After you walk the stairs to the church and take in the exceptional view of Funchal, there’s not a lot else to do…except for maybe the most amazing experience ever. Read on.

Mid-Morning

So the real reason I wanted to make my way to the hilltop town of Monte was so that I could ride in a wicker basket back down the hill. A wicker basket! I believe the locals call it a toboggan, but I call it like I see it. For the high, high price of 25 Euros for one person or 30 Euros for two, you can sit in a basket while two men push you through the village streets at relatively fast speeds. You can’t make this stuff up.

Funchal

The men wear special boots that help them glide along the well-oiled streets. Occasionally, they slow the pace to let a car pass along at a cross road. Along the way, men will pop out from the side streets to snap your picture. You can buy it later for 10 Euros, along with a cute history of the toboggan ride. I figured no one would believe me when I told them what I’d just done without evidence, so I snapped it up. There’s also a little market where you can haggle for souvenirs and a place where you can grab a bite to eat.

Pro tip: If you plan on taking the toboggan ride down the hill, you only need to purchase a one-way ticket for the cable cars. I learned this the hard way and could have saved myself a few bucks. Oh, and try to have cash for the toboggan ride. In theory, they take credit, but it’s a hassle. My “drivers” were quite unhappy about not being paid cash.

Downhill

It’s important to note the basket ride only takes you partway down the hill. There’s still a long way to go to reach the bottom. You have three options, take a tour bus, hop in a taxi, or walk. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I like a good walk. But I can tell you, I am the only person who chose this option. And it was a long walk at a steep angle. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it, unless you’re really keen.

I stopped a few times along the way to take some snaps of my ship in the port. I also caught a few glimpses of locals going about their daily business. I like that sort of thing. It feels more intimidate, which can be hard to achieve with only five hours in Funchal.

Mid-Day

I’d promised my traveling companion I would return to the ship by 11 a.m. so we could spend the rest of the day in town together. Believe it or not, I had already accomplished all of that excitement and got back to the ship 15 minutes early. To my delight, she was already waiting for me outside, leaving us even more time to explore Funchal.

We spent the rest of the day meandering through the city streets. We went into every shop, walked down every alley, and ate gelato. From trendy boutiques, like Dona Hortensia, to the local market, Mercado Dos Lavradores, there are endless unique shopping options. Zara, Mossimo Dutti, Mango, and all of the other major chain stores are present too.

Funchal

It’s hard not to fall in love with the stunning scenery of town square. Quaint cafés, like The Ritz, lush greenspaces, and white buildings and cobblestone streets give Funchal a romantic glow. Praça do Município, the main square, the statue of João Gonçalves Zarco, and Sé Catedral do Funchal are not to be missed. I could spend a month just sitting at a café taking in Funchal’s beauty, writing a romance novel and enjoying the atmosphere.

In the Old Town, the Rua de Santa Maria features a public art project that’s helping to revitalize the area. Known as Arte de Portas Abertas, it features more than 200 doors painted by local artists. It’s a feast for the eyes.

Alas, with only five hours in Funchal, by mid-afternoon, it was time to make our way back to the ship. I was sad to sail away from this fairy tale town, and dream of visiting Funchal again soon.