Should I check my bags before boarding the ship?
Queen Mary 2 at the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal in Southampton, England..
At most cruise terminals, when you arrive you have the choice of handing your bags over to a porter employed by the terminal or of carrying the bags onto the ship yourself. This note looks at some of the considerations in deciding whether to part with your bags and if so how many.
The reasons in favor of carrying the bags your self are primarily peace of mind and utility. If you take the bags with you, you will know that they have not been lost. In addition, you will have the use of the contents immediately when you arrive on board.
There are several countervailing considerations. First, there is the feasibility of carrying the bags yourself. If you have brought more than you can physically carry by yourself, you will have to check at least some of the bags with the porter.
Second, there is the inconvenience of carrying (or these days more often wheeling) your bags through the security apparatus, the lines for check in and then onto the ship. The final part of the journey onto the ship can involve going up escalators or, like at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, carrying the bags on and off the shuttle bus that takes passengers from the terminal to the ship.
In addition, you will have to watch your bags in the waiting lounge if the ship is not ready for boarding when you arrive. Similarly, several cruise lines allow passengers to board before the cabins are ready for occupancy. In such a situation, you will have to take the bags with you around the ship while you wait for your room to be ready.
Another consideration is that you will have to restrict what you bring with you on the cruise if you are going to carry your bags yourself because your baggage capacity is limited to what you can carry. Of course, with today’s airline baggage restrictions, this is more of a consideration for people who are not flying to get to the cruise.
Balancing these considerations, most people going on cruises more than four nights long, opt to check at least some of their luggage. By looking at what happens to a bag once it is given over to the porter, we can get some idea as to what should be checked and what should be carried.
When a bag is checked, the porter will place it on a trolley along with several other passengers’ baggage. It is customary to give the porter a tip at that point. The amount of the tip varies with the locale with the customary tip being more in the cities with a higher cost of living.
The bags are than taken to a security processing area where they are scanned and/ or sniffed by canine inspectors. For the larger, more modern cruise ships, the bags are then placed in steel cages and loaded onto the ship by forklift through large doors in the hull. On older ships, they are loaded by conveyor belt.
Once onboard, the bags become the responsibility of the ship’s baggage team. Typically, they are sorted by deck and then taken to the appropriate deck by elevator and placed in a staging area (frequently the lobby surrounding that elevator). Members of the baggage team then distribute the bags to the cabins.
Considering this process, it is clear that one should not place fragile items in a soft sided bag and then check the bag. Your bag may well be placed under a pile of other bags at several points and the bags are not handled with the utmost gentleness.
While the vast majority of bags do make it to their rightful owners, there is a possibility that the bag will be lost or will take a dip in the harbor as it is loaded onto the ship. Therefore, do not check anything that is very valuable or irreplaceable.
Along the same lines, do not check anything that you will need or want in the next few hours. Once a bag is checked, you may not see it until after the ship has sailed. Indeed, if the luggage tag has come off or if it has been delivered to the wrong cabin, it may not show up until that night or the next day. Thus, for example, if you are planning to use the ship’s swimming pool that afternoon, carry your swim things with you. It almost goes without saying that one should not check the bag that contains your ticket or passport. Otherwise, the bags may be the only ones going on the cruise.
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