Embarkation procedures are an unending source of frustration for the lines. They are fully aware of the understandable tenet that a delayed and troublesome embarkation triggers a negative mood in the cruise guest which can often carry over into everything the guest sees or does on board for the rest of the voyage. Suggesting that a cruise line that spends millions to ensure that its guests experience great service on board could be oblivious to the trauma of a poorly executed embarkation doesn't make sense... they are very aware.
There is a sea change of difference between what is planned and what looks good "on paper" and the reality of a particular embarkation. With a degree of frequency that has markedly increased since the horrors of 9/11, embarkation may be delayed because of events totally beyond the control of even the most dedicated and caring cruise line.
Generally, embarkation is scheduled to be spread over a 3 or 4 hour period. This is based upon a timely clearance of the ship upon its arrival. Nowadays, a ship can be cleared at 8am... or, on a bad day at 11am... or anything in between. Late clearance delays the start of embarkation of new passengers for a variety of reasons. As an example, at some piers in Port Everglades, the embarkation desks, computers and so forth... in the Embarkation "Hall"... are set up in the exact same space as the Baggage "Hall"... so even the basics of embarkation cannot be set up until the arrived baggage has been claimed and customs been cleared. Pier 21 at Port Everglades is a classic example of this.
Other factors include the geographic origination of the passengers. Sailings that attract a large percentage of Florida residents (in the Ports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale) tend to have large groups arriving by bus in a very short window... generally between 11am and 1pm, as opposed to arrivals spread out over a period of time say from 11am to 3pm or so. This bunching up of arrivals quickly overwhelms the embarkation procedures and is a major cause of delay, backup of passengers and so forth.
I spend a good part of almost every weekend at Port Everglades and am frequently at the same pier for the same ship week after week. Pier 2, from which the Grand and Golden Princesses depart is a good example. I can tell you that embarkation varies from week to week... with some embarkations as smooth as silk (generally coupled with an early ship clearance) and others that are just horrific.
I recently did a crossing on the QE2 from New York to Southampton. Cunard assigns arrival times (mine was 2pm or so) and the system seems to work well. I arrived at the pier before noon, checked in my luggage and went into midtown for lunch. When I returned, at the appointed hour, embarkation was a breeze. 20 minutes later a lightening strike in the area knocked out Cunard's embarkation computers. If you had arrived shortly after I did, your impression of Cunard's embarkation procedures would have been the exact opposite of mine and of those who embarked earlier.
As with most things in life, this problem defies simple solutions. I know a number of cruise line pier managers (a thankless job if ever there was one) and it is an unending source of frustration to them... but I fear that we'll only see more "tinkering"... with changes here and there... but the likelihood of stressful embarkations will, I'm afraid, persist in the foreseeable future. I don't see the soon to arrive "E" Documents helping much either.
I suppose one caught up in a difficult embarkation ought to stop and think how lucky one is to be going off on a great cruise vacation and just grin and bear it... as one minor inconvenience endured because of the distracted world in which we live.
Post Edited (09-10-03 11:56)