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.