Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

A few years back I wrote a piece comparing a stay at a resort hotel to the experience of vacationing on a cruise ship.

Few things stood out more than the check-in, which was so easy at a hotel and so tedious on cruises.

I think if I were writing an update, the cruise ship would look a lot more appealing than it did several years ago.
Two things have happened.

First, in the interim, I checked into a Las Vegas-style 2,500-room hotel, rather than the 750-room beachfront resort I used for my original comparison. Check in at the mega-resort was no more efficient or easy than at the typical cruise ship of several years ago.

But second, the cruise ship check-in experience has improved for real.

The last two large ships I boarded were the Carnival Horizon in Miami and the Celebrity Edge in Fort Lauderdale. In both cases, the automated boarding process finally worked as advertised.

Passengers willing to upload some information and a photo prior to embarkation basically just need to show a passport to get on a cruise ship these days. There is of course a security hurdle that isn't required at hotels. But once you've been screened by a metal detector, the process of check-in has become even less time consuming than at a typical hotel.

Cruise lines have done a better job of getting passengers to stagger their arrivals, although it can still be a bottleneck at times. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said that it built its new Terminal A in Miami to process a peak of 2,000 passengers an hour.

The cruise lines have also figured out how to leave room keys waiting for guests at their cabin door, rather than issuing them in the terminal, another step that used to bog down the arrivals process.

Disembarkation is also on its way to becoming easier wherever Customs and Border Protection is equipped with facial recognition technology. A brief pause in front of a kiosk while the machine matches your face to your stored passport photo is all that it takes for 85% of disembarking passengers.

Royal says it hopes to shave an hour or more off the debark process as a result.

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