My family and I just got back from an Alaskan cruise tour with RCCL (which was fantastic) arriving in Vancouver on Friday morning. Up until this point, everything went as smooth as clockwork. But I want to warn some unsuspecting cruisers about a rude surprise that may be awaiting you as you disembark in Vancouver.
First a bit of information about how the disembarkation is done in case you don't know.
Early on in the cruise, you are handed a questionnaire about your travel plans following the cruise. You are asked things as whether you are staying over in Vancouver, taking the Vancouver City Tour, using RCCL's airport transfer service and what airline and flight you are on.
We didn't realize it at the time, but this questionnaire is used to determine the order you and your luggage get off the boat and to where it should be delivered. Based on your answers you will be given differently colored and numbered luggage tags. We had yellow/4 meaning that we were using RCCL's transfere service and were flying back to the US that afternoon. I would have lied and said that I had an earlier flight if I had know what was about to occur.
The last night of the cruise you have to put your luggage out by midnight. Be sure that you take out anything you will need (wallets, tickets, passports, etc.) the next day. I know of one person that packed all his shoes in his luggage and had to borrow a pair the next morning.
The morning you arrive, you have to be out of your stateroom by 8 AM. Everyone is told to report to one of the ship's lounges. This was the only time on the cruise that all 2000+ people on board are out at the same time and it gets very crowded. Try to get a seat if you can because you may be waiting a very long time.
You are called to disembark based on the color and number of your luggage tag. Basically, the first ones to go are those taking the city tour, next those that have early departures, and then everyone else based on their flight departure time. Our flight was due to depart at 1 PM so we were in the last group that was called at about 9:20 AM. I figured that we had plenty of time so I wasn't worried. WRONG!
After you get off the ship, you wait in a line to board a bus that will take you to the airport. By the time we boarded the bus and left it was about 9:45 AM.
The drive to the airport takes about twenty minutes. However, because there are so many buses arriving at once, the stack you up in a holding area and you wait for another 20 minutes. We didn't end up getting to the airport until about 10:30. I still figure that we have plenty of time.
When you get to the airport, you then have to wait on line until your luggage arrives. Because our flight was leaving after noon, our luggage was delivered to the airport last. This is why I would suggest that you tell a white lie and say you have an earlier flight. We didn't get out luggage until 11AM.
Although this was quite an ordeal so far, I figure that we have still have 2 hours to get our boarding passes and check our luggage. I am beginning to get a little concerned because I see nothing but huge lines at each airline checkin counter. It seems that every cruise ship has arrived at the same time. In addition, at the Vancouver airport, each set of airline counters is placed directly next to the others so there is absolutely no room. The checkin lines which were very long were all intertwined that if you weren't careful you might find yourself waiting in line for the wrong airline. I must have asked my wife ten times "Are you sure this is the line for American?"
Finally, we get to the checkin counter at about 11:45 and I'm thinking not too bad, we're back on schedule. However, I was wrong. I did not know about the gauntlet ahead that we still had to overcome.
It took about 10 minutes to get our boarding passes and tag our luggage. However, they don't take the luggage at the counter because you have to go through US customs So we roll our luggage to the customs checkpoint and show our customs form and passports.
After we get through customs, there is a huge mob blocking our way. What's going on? Well it seems that everyone is waiting their turn to put their luggage on a conveyor belt to take it to the planes. We finally make our way up to one of the baggage handlers and he informs us that we probably won't make our flight. What's he talking about? We still have about 45 minutes until our flight. Then I see that the mob is still in front of us. Now we are nervous!
What's going on? Well it seems that Vancouver realizes that their airport needs improvements and they are going to charge departing passengers $10 (Canadian) to leave. The mob of departing passengers is waiting to pay their fee at about four or five payment booths. There is no semblance of any order so you have to push your way forward until you get to one of the booths. They take cash and credit cards so the payment process takes quite a bit of time. After you pay you are given a ticket that proves that you paid the fee.
The mob is still here; what's going on? Well now it seems that the entire mob has to work its way through a single entrance to hand in the ticket (and show boarding passes) to a clerk. Again, the only way to make progress is to push. As we were pushing forward (as politely as possible) someone tries to push past me. It's an airline pilot saying that he has to make his flight (Don't we all). I figure, if I don't let him through, maybe the flight will be delayed long enough for us to make it. Crazy!
Well we finally hand in our ticket to the clerk and then we realize that we still haven't gone through airport security. There are only four x-ray machines to screen about a thousand people! To top it off, they seem to be very sensitive so that most people walking through have to be to be hand checked.
After all this, we still ended up making our flight with five minutes to spare. It took two bloody marys to finally calm down (which ended up being complimentary because the airline somehow ran out of peanuts. Amazing!).
Has anyone else experienced this nightmare or did we somehow luck into a once in a lifetime occurrence? I don't remember seeing any messages about this.
Anyway, the moral of this story is to be sure that you leave plenty of time for the disembarkation and boarding process.
Thanks for the heads-up. We went through this gauntlet back in '96 and I had dim memories of "stress". My question would be, what happens if you are on the city tour? Do they allow you enough time to go through all this? If your air is booked through the cruiseline, are they liable to get you on a later flight (if you miss yours)? My flight is scheduled (currently) to leave at 1:50 and I'll certainly take your advice. Thanks again!
I believe that you are advised to only take the Vancouver city tour if you have a flight later in the afternoon. I'm not sure how much time they leave you after the tour so I would only consider it if I were leaving very much later.
We did book our flights through the cruiseline and I'm not sure what would've happened if we missed our flight; glad we didn't have to find out. We had trip insurance so I'm sure that it wouldn't have been much of a financial impact but more of an aggravation thing.
We are scheduled on the Rhapsody and don't won't to get caught in this mess? We are staying in Vancouver over the weekend and checking into a hotel (Listel downtown)- so we will want to get off the ship, get our luggage and go about our business. What do you recommend as being the best way to do this?
Thank you for the heads-up, George. A couple of questions come to mind...
Why was it necessary to go through US Customs in Vancouver, rather than the destination airport? And, was this a requirement for all US destinations, or just those with possibly no customs at destinating airports, or just those departing on US carriers? For instance, if departing on Air Canada to the US, would the customs portion of the gauntlet also be required? And this is only rhetorical....but why in the heck wouldn't this "airport beautification/improvement fee" be simply tacked onto the ticket price when purchased?
Everytime I have gone to Canada and flown back from and to various cities I have always gone through customs in Canada. Don't know why it has just always been that way. As for the airport fee, it seems to take them months/years to get this done. They did this at the Edmonton airport; I flew in and out of there several times over two years before the "tax" was added onto the ticket. Go figure.
Don't forget to claim your GST if you have bought anything in Cnada before you fly home.
Best solution is to spend some time in Vancouver stay the night. Great city, great food, and great people.
Wow!! I sure sympathize with you.
Either you hit it on a very bad day, or we hit it on a very good day. We disembarked the Mercury on a Friday morning, July 20, but had pretty smooth sailing all the way through. Our flight was scheduled for noon and we got off the ship around 9:30 AM. The color coded/numbered tags (we had Red / 8) meant that we were on the Red bus, # 8. Our luggage was preloaded on our bus before we boarded, and it was taken off the bus curbside at the airport. It literally took us under a minute to gather the 4 pieces and get a porter to take us and the luggage into the terminal and direct us to the correct check in line for Continental Airlines. We waited on line for about 10 minutes to check in, then maybe another 5 minutes for US customs. Fortunately we didn't have to wait to place it on the conveyor. The lines for the "airport improvement fee" and security were disorganized and annoying, but compared to riding the NYC subways during rush hour it wasn't too bad. We arrived at the gate before 11:00AM.
Amen -- you sound like our trip on Thursday last week. We were on Radisson Mariner and spent one night in Vancouver -- arrangements made with Radisson. There was very little Radisson supervision at the hotel and none to be seen when it was time to get to the airport the next morning. We had a letter from the hotel (Pan Pacific) telling us what time the bus was picking us up, but no instructions beyond that. When I read your posting, it could have been our two days -- the embarkation was just as you described it -- and we were one of last off because we were spending the day in Vancouver. Then the hotel told us how fortunate we were to get a room at 10:00 in the morning. I asked Radisson staff about city tours and was told to go talk to a bus company, so I got help from the conciege.
They experience at the Vancouver Airport the next morning was exactly as you described it -- except the Northwest line was not near as long as some of the others, so our initial checkin line wasn't too long. We had to go through Canadian customs and then U.S. customs too. The Canadian customs was rude and gave us a hard time about our identification. At our travel agent's insistence, we had gotten passports just for this part of the process and it's a good thing. He wasn't interested in any other ID, and because our passports were new, we had forgotten to sign them and he told us we had invalid passports without telling us why for about five minutes! He then dared me to bet him if we were legal or not.
After that, we encountered all the same lines and chaos you described. Unbelievable for such a large clean airport to be so disorganized!
My apologies first for the way most of you have been treated at the Airport. It's not always like this. Has Vancouver is my home town I'v flow in and out a number of times. To speed things up there are terminals I the airpot, like bank machines where you can prepurchase your YVR butification ticket. These are usually never crowded. We always arrive at least two hours prior to flight departure. Never had any trouble. Most trouble I'v had was with American Airlines flying from Los Vegas to Vancouver, Couldn't get a direct flight had to fly to San Antonio and Change planes 4 hours late leaving Vegas nearly missed our connection had to run from one end of the airport to the other to get to the gate on the ticket, then told that we had to go back to a gate one over from the one we arrived at, then sent back to the first gate. What a shmozzel!!!! Personaly I thing deregulation has made it the same for all air carriers. No class any more. That's why I cruise and don't fly. for my vacations if possible. It's nice living in a major Port City I can get on and off the boat without having to Fly. lol.
Could you please tell us where the terminals are located to pay the tax?
What type of payment do you have to make in them? (eg credit card, cash)
Also, do you know where I could find a current map of the airport?
Thanks for your comments, it's too bad that such a beautiful city with such friendly residents has this airport setting the first impression for visitors :o(
Th easiest terminal to find is located in the international section right in fromt of the food court. They take debit or credit cards. Hope this helps. Don't know where to find a map but the international departures is located to the left has you aproch the airport. Easy to find right next to the Hotel at the airport. The airport it self is located in Richmond, BC. Bye the way it's rated has one of the best Airports in North America. I'd hate to see the worst LoL. Hae a Great Cruise. Bon Voyage
I wish we knew about the terminals for paying the improvement tax. It would have been nice for the cruise line to inform us about this or even allow passengers to purchase them on board the ship. The biggest problem to me was that this came as a complete surprise. We should have been alerted about this so that we could plan ahead and know what was happening.
I'm not sure how it works when you are staying over in Vancouver but I'm sure that it won't be too bad. The actual disembarkation process from the ship, although a bit drawn out, was very organized. You'll love the Rhapsody!
Just make sure that you leave plenty of time at the airport, at least two hours. I'm from New York and generally leave myself only an hour and always feel that even that is too much. I guess in NYC we're a little better at handling large volumes of people.
Was on Vision last week -- to airport was OK. Once there became a nightmare. Our NW flight to Detroit was delayed for 2 hours, which caused us to miss our connection to Providence.
Not impressed with the airport at all. Their $7 "beautification" fee; standing in a LONG line with only 1 person collecting took too long; nevermind the rude person who refused to put bags on conveyor.
I won't even discuss the luggage fiasco by Northwest; and we also had to move from one gate to another then back to the same gate. Ended up staying overnite in Detroit.
This is a VERY SHORT version of our nightmare. Looking forward to seeing Alaska again, as we missed Hubbard Glacier; but NOT Vancouver Airport.
I thought this was pretty humourous (I copied it off the Vancouver Airport Webpage):
"Cruise ship passengers
Vancouver is home to the world's third most popular cruise vacation. From May to September each year, the world's leading cruise ship operators sail from Vancouver, through the beautiful inside passage of British Columbia, to the glaciers of Alaska. Cruises include visits to historical sights of Alaska, and often witness Orca and other whales in their natural habitat.
The new International Terminal at Vancouver International Airport is the first in the world to be specially designed and operated to let cruise ship passengers 'sail' through the airport terminal with the greatest of ease."
Here is the URL for the airport maps. Maybe this will help those of us who have advance notice:
Even their web site leaves a lot to be desired. I couldn't bring up the maps large enough to read them. I printed out one at the "enlarged" size and couldn't read anything on it because the resolution was so blurry. Oh well....
I'm sorry for all the trouble a lot of you have had with Vancouver Airport as I live in BC and travel thru it at times.
Its important that your TA research what airports in Cannada charge a direct Airport Improvement fee prior to you leaving. The CDN Govt a few years ago stepped back from running airports to having local areas run the airports and in that course a lot are now being improved with new runways , better public areas et cetra. Thus the AIF was born
If you come to my hometown, Victoria BC , we worked with the Air lines to put our AIF in your ticket price but not all do.
PS; The AIF is only when you start your journey at an airport not when you are intransit and if you are intransit ,hold on to your boarding pass.
The Vancouver Airport completed a major expansion of the US and International section a few years back and last year started on the domestic section, thus your scenarios.
I cannot explain why the cruise lines do not tell you.
Because of a lot of travel between Canada and US both governments established what is called pre-clearance at major departure points in both countries. Normally this saves you going thru customs at your end of the journey.
I'm just as frustrated as you when I have to haul my baggage off intransit for US inspection in Vancouver when travelling thru to Barbados via the US.
I'd suggest you all write the Vancouver Airport Authority as to your problems, the cruise lines and the Vancouver Port Authority as we do want you back. Love to have you here and your dollars of course.
Are you a new cruiser? Most everything you wrote is standard. As for the airport, it also sounds like you got caught up in time consuming areas that could have been avoided with a cab ride there instead of the bus transfers.