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Getting ON the ship, especially for the very first time, is so exciting and you rarely notice the lines, the crowds, or little annoyances that might come with excited crowds. You are going on a cruise!! However, getting OFF the ship is it's own anti-party that can cause consternation and a little stress. People may be sun burned, tired, and just anxious to get home. There may be long lines and lots of little opportunities to practice patience.

Recognizing this, many cruise lines have streamlined the processes for getting on and off the ships. It is so much better than it was 10 years ago when I first began cruising. It may vary slightly from port to port, but it is basically the same steps.

You have the option of checking your luggage the night before or doing what is called "Self Assist" where you keep your luggage with you. If you check your luggage the night before, you will need to pick up special luggage tags (The cruise line will tell you when and where these are available in plenty of time). The luggage will be placed in a specific location in the terminal where you can retrieve them once you are off the ship. If you "Self Assist" you do not need luggage tags, but you haul them with you through the lines, stairs, elevators, to the waiting area, and off the ship. *See the video at the bottom of the post for more great information about this process.

Be SURE you carry your Passport or ID and your Cabin Card with you to the gangway when you depart. Do NOT accidentally pack it in your luggage.

You will be assigned a zone number or a time to debark. You will be given a special zone "waiting area" -- or Relaxation Station -- on the ship until your number (or deck) is called. The first time you experience this, it is a little confusing, but trust me, it gets better!

Cruise lines offer a "debarkation talk" the day before we return to port, and it can be reviewed from the TV in your stateroom. They also will provide written instructions delivered to your cabin. And if you have any specific questions, guest services will be more than happy to assist you.

So... what do you do that morning before they kick you off the ship?

-- You can grab an early breakfast if you like. And we do mean EARLY (most start at 6am).

-- Have a cup of coffee from the coffee bar.

-- Purchase any last minute photos.

-- Settle any outstanding account balances with Guest Services.

-- Play a game of cards, read a book, or people watch.

But whatever you do, be sure you do not forget that feeling of sitting on the deck and hearing the sound of the water, feeling the warm sun, and stay in your "happy place" until next time!

Here is a great video from CruiseTipsTV that might help you decide how to debark the ship: