While we all love to travel, no one likes to wait in line. Lines at the airport; lines at the cruise terminal; lines at the buffet – a vacation fact of life. Sometimes queuing up is unavoidable. Just the same, there are steps you can take in some instances to save yourself time – and sometimes money – by planning in advance.
At the Airport. Unfortunately, beating lines at the airport usually requires the expenditure of extra cash. Southwest’s Early Bird Check-In and American’s Main Cabin Extra offer will get you an earlier boarding place in line, for a fee. Upgrading your ticket is a way to get to your plane seat faster, if you can afford it. Frequent flyer miles and VIP status won’t hurt, either.
At the port of embarkation. The best way to get to the head of the line at embarkation is by cruising the same line numerous times and moving up the line’s loyalty ranks. Or cruise with someone who does. If you’re not a cruise line VIP, don’t despair. Sometimes by just waiting an hour or two before arriving to port will get you to your cabin quickly and effortlessly. By that time, the eager beavers will already have boarded.
At the ship’s buffet – embarkation/disembarkation day. Anyone who has cruised knows that the buffet is usually the first place people head to after dropping the luggage at the cabin. And there’s nothing like a hoard of hungry, excited passengers to create mayhem at the buffet. Some buffets are crowd friendly – others not so much, with people playing “Dodge ‘Em” as they move from place to place to gather pizza, pasta, salads, soups and every other thing on the menu. One way to avoid the madhouse is to head directly to the dining room, be seated and be waited on. It will be a much more calm and serene experience. Sure, it may take you longer to eat, but you’re on vacation. There’s plenty of time to explore the ship.
On disembarkation day, on the other hand, everyone needs to wake early – no sleeping in. Therefore, the buffet will be packed with hungry folk looking for a meal before the trip home. Again, the dining room is a good alternative.
At the ship’s buffet – any other day. Avoiding crowds at the buffet during breakfast and lunch most other days of the cruise is easier. Simply avoid dining rush hour. Choose the buffet early when it first opens or later before it closes. Early is better, in my book, as the food is fresh and hot. Go later, and you may get the lukewarm pickings. Another option is room service. Coffee, pastry and fruit are enough for me, and I make a point of ordering every night for the next morning. Sometimes I may head down to the buffet for second breakfast, but usually a continental breakfast does this body just fine. If it’s a sea day, and you’re in no hurry to do anything, there’s always the dining room where you can relax and have a leisurely first meal of the day.
At the photo displays. It’s the night before the cruise is over, and all of a sudden everyone wants to buy some photos – the photos that have been collecting in those display stands that seemingly span the whole length of the ship. Do yourself a favor – save time and valuable space. If you know you hate a photo, don’t leave it there collecting dust. Hand it in to the reps at the photo counter to dispose of. Then take the rest of your photos scattered around the displays and group them together, one behind the other, in one spot on the display – a place you’ll remember - so you won’t have to go searching and searching for the ones you may want to purchase later.
At the tenders. When the ship is unable to dock directly alongside a port of call, it needs to transport its passengers from the ship to port in “tenders”. Tendering can either be an effortless breeze or a long ordeal, depending upon the number of passengers and other factors. Just as in embarkation and debarkation, loyalty status will get you on the first tender to the island. Otherwise, you’ll have to line up with the rest of the crowd. Ships have a process using tickets and schedules and such. If you have a tour guide awaiting you or a train to catch, you’ll need to be up and out early to be on the earliest tender you can. Likewise, if you’re being tendered over to the cruise line’s private island intent on getting a prime spot on the beach – under a shady tree, for instance – be on that first tender to stake your claim. However, if you are in no rush and just want to leisurely explore the port, take your time, and go later when the crowds are less.
On Excursions ~ Museums, Castles and other Historic Sites. Remember these two magic words: “plan ahead”. No one wants to waste precious time standing in line to purchase tickets – especially when you’re only in port a day or just a few hours. Depending on the popularity of the place you want to see, lines can get crazy. If you’ve purchased a ship’s excursion, it’s not a problem, as tickets are usually included. But if you are going it alone, you’ll need to purchase tickets for the attractions you want to see. While your sitting at your computer weeks before the cruise, make a must-see list of museums, historic sites and other popular places, order your tickets directly from their websites, and print them. Then on the day your ship arrives in port, simply head straight to your attraction and bypass the long line at the ticket booth. As a bonus, you may even save money on web-only rates!
If you do find yourself in a seemingly endless line, don't be miserable. Laugh, be happy and make friends with your neighbors.
By Janice Neves, CruiseCrazies Contributor
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