Big cruise lines are increasingly requiring passengers
to pick a boarding time in hopes of streamlining embarkation on large ships.
The idea is to offer a smoother, more tranquil first
In the past year, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal
Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have all rolled out staggered
check-ins on some or all of their ships.
Norwegian is the furthest along. Last June, it began
enabling guests on the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway to select their
arrival time when they downloaded documents as part of the online check-in
process. Guests select a half-hour window to board between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The line continued to expand the idea to its other ships; by November, almost
anyone on a Norwegian ship departing from a U.S. port was able to take
advantage of staggered check-in.
The only exceptions are Norwegian’s Hawaii-based Pride
of America, due to later departure times, and its Anchorage/Seward itinerary
because of cruise-tour complexities.
Carnival says it strictly enforces the staggered times and will ask guests to return to the terminal later if they show up early. Norwegian is less strict.
Carnival’s version started last year in Galveston,
Texas. The line extended it to two of its New Orleans-based ships, the Carnival
Elation and Carnival Dream, and is targeting Miami next, beginning March 4. The
Carnival Triumph, also based in New Orleans, is scheduled to begin staggered
check-in this April.
Royal Caribbean’s staggered check-in program is
currently limited to the Anthem of the Seas. Royal assigns arrival times,
rather than enabling guests to choose.
Andy Stuart, president of Norwegian, said staggered
check-in helps break up the “big block” of passengers who tend to arrive around
Stuart said that so far the idea has been a qualified
success: “I won’t say it’s perfect; I think it’s improved it. It has started to
spread people out a little more effectively.”
One important difference between Carnival and
Norwegian is the policing of early arrivals. Carnival says it strictly enforces
the staggered times and will ask guests to return to the terminal later if they
show up early.
However, if guests show up later than their assigned
times, “we allow them to come in and check in,” Carnival spokesman Vance
Norwegian is less strict, Stuart said. “We don’t force
anyone to sit and wait. People embark as quickly as we can get them on,” he
“There are people who are rule keepers,” Stuart
continued. “They say ‘OK, I was told to arrive between 11 and 11:30, and that’s
what I’m going to do.’ And then there are rule breakers who say, ‘I don’t care
what you tell me; I’m going to get there for lunch.’ So we like the rule
keepers, but we don’t penalize the rule breakers.”
Stuart said Norwegian is working on other ways to
speed the process of embarkation.
“Nobody books the trip to be on the embarkation; they
book the trip to be on the ship,” he said. “We think investments in technology
and automation to accelerate the process will continue to improve that experience.”