I will be sailing Star Princess on 4/5 and I was wondering what the earliest time is that we could begin boarding the ship. How long does the embarkation process normally take? I was also wondering what a good time would be for a flight home. What is the longest possible time we could stay on the ship? (We aren't in any hurry) Thanks for any help.
IIRC, Princess advertises that you can embark by noon. The reality is that they usually are ready for check-in sometime between 11:00 and 11:30.
If you dutifully sent all your information to Princess in advance, either by filling in the forms in your information package or by filling in the forms on the "Cruise Personalizer" on line, the actual check-in takes about two minutes -- you sign the charge authorizaiton for your shipboard account, and they hand you your cruise card. That's it! The only delay is if you arrive when there's a queue, and thus have to wait your turn -- but the "express check-in" lines (for passengers who dutifully provided their information in advance) do move quite quickly.
If you did not provide all of your information in advance, the check-in process will take considerably longer. You'll have to fill out the information froms completely because the agent at the counter does not have your record, then the agent will check everything for completeness before issuing your cruise card. This process takes a few minutes, so the full check-in lines invariably move a lot slower than the "express check-in" lines.
It's best to book flights home after 1:00 if you are flying home on the day of disembarkation. That way, you won't be in a bind if there's a snag with disembarkation or getting transfers to the airport. U. S. officials won't let anybody leave the ship until all passengers report for immigration inspection, so one uncooperative passenger can delay the whole disembarkation process for two or three hours.
There is not much to do on the ship on disembarkation day because all passenger services other than the restaurants and the availability of coffee and tea in some of the lounges are closed and there are no scheduled activities. Princess does offer tours that start at the pier and end at the airport (in lieu of direct transfers) in some of the ports of disembarkation, though, so that would be an option if you have a later flight.