Prolong the Cruise? Another Line Testing For-Fee Late Disembarkation Program

September 22, 2011
cruise-airport-wait (9 a.m. EDT) -- "Hurry up and wait" defines disembarkation day -- rush out of bed only to then sit captive for hours in an airport before an evening flight. Would being able to remain onboard for a few hours improve the dreaded end-of-cruise experience?

Azamara Club Cruises has begun a late check-out pilot program on its two ships in an effort to accommodate passengers with afternoon or evening flights. Offered at the discretion of the captain and his staff, the program allows those debarking in ports like Venice and Piraeus to stay onboard until about noon.

Passengers must be out of their cabins by 9 a.m., yet they still have access to most of the vessel, and lunch is included in the price of $25 per person.

The "late debark" option is still in its planning and developmental stages, according to company representative Bill Leiber, who offered no additional details. "It's currently under consideration while the operational process is reviewed by shipboard management and staff to assess its impact on the housekeeping and dining operation on a turn-around day," he added.

Still, readers on the Cruise Critic message boards have already taken advantage of the pilot program. Azamara passenger Jenni Islington arrived at Athens International Airport at 1 p.m. after staying aboard Azamara Quest until 12:15 p.m. There, she met up with fellow passengers who had been waiting at the airport since 8:30 a.m. Lotie A. avoided a 12-hour wait at an airport in Venice with a late check-out from Quest.

The Welsh Wizards also stayed aboard Quest until 12:15 p.m. They did, however experience an issue with losing their baggage during transport to the airport. Leiber told Cruise Critic the problem "was caused by poor judgment by our ground operator who separated a couple and their luggage into two separate motor coaches."

The line becomes only the second currently offering such a program. Sister company Royal Caribbean features a late-debark option, available year-round on many of its Europe-based ships (depending on customs regulations and staffing at each port). For $35 per adult or $17.50 per child, ages 3 to 17 (free for children under 3 years), passengers can stay onboard on debarkation day until 90 minutes prior to the ship's next departure. Although they must vacate their cabin by 9 a.m., passengers can use the pool, fitness center and spa. Food and drinks are available at the bars and buffet venue. And, to avoid lost luggage, RCI gives passengers wristbands to match the bags in their late check-out program.

There are also other options for killing time before late flights. Most mainstream lines, including Carnival Cruise Lines and NCL, offer debarkation day shore excursions, which include transportation to the airport.

--by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor