Disembark like a pro at the world's busiest cruise port

The busted bottles of Bailey's Irish Cream left a puddle on the floor and a sweet smell lingering in the humid morning air. They were a tell-tale sign as we left our cruise ship that morning and slipped out of the port terminal in Miami.

Somebody's vacation did not end on a high note.

The last thing you want to do is ruin a great cruise with a frustrating and stressful morning disembarking the ship.

If you've cruised before, you've been there: Thousands of people all jammed together, suddenly on the same schedule as they race off the ship and into cars, cabs, buses and shuttles to get to the airport in time for their flights. There is luggage to gather in the terminal. (You know, the bags you so trustingly left out in the hallway the night before, hopefully, to be reunited).

Then, you have to haul this luggage and new souvenirs and purchases (like those bottles of Bailey's that sometimes don't survive the battle) through security and customs.

I have done this, and it's no fun. The most disappointing part of this chaos is that it can immediately replace the wonderful memories you have accumulated from your vacation.

Well, you can do something about it.

On our nine-day cruise to the Southern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, we certainly tried to end on a high note. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you master cruise disembarkation day in Miami, the busiest cruise port in the world.



What's the rush? If you have options, choose a later flight on disembarkation day. We opted for a 7:25 p.m. flight for our trip from Miami back to New Jersey on the Sunday that we got off Navigator of the Seas. This means you absolutely do not have to join the rush off the ship, worrying about whether things will go smoothly. (They rarely do.)

The added time allows you to recover from any logistical setbacks. And, if everything goes according to plan, you have plenty of extra time to ease back into post-cruise society with free hours to do a few things in Miami.



You'll probably have to leave your cruise cabin by about 8 a.m., but we pack up and leave our luggage in a neat spot out of the way so the cabin steward can begin tidying up the room for the next cruise. (Keep the suitcases and bags off the beds and counters.)

We've never had a problem being able to return after a leisurely breakfast to pick up our bags in the cabin. (Don't push it past 30 extra minutes, though). This way, you don't have to haul all your stuff through the buffet area.



We don't send our bags out into the hall during our final night onboard and therefore don't have to go down to the terminal floor to try and find them again the next morning. Instead, we take them up to the pool deck or another ideal spot on the ship to sit and relax while everyone else rushes off.

You can have a snack or two at the places still serving continental breakfast items (or have more at the buffet if you want), grab a coffee or even use your drinks package until you leave. When all is clear, we leave the ship and start our day in Miami or head to the airport.



Check out what your cruise ship is offering for shore excursions in Miami. You can do a city tour on the Hop On Hop Off double-decker bus, try a guided tour that takes you to all the top sights including South Beach or explore Everglades National Park on an airboat joy ride.

The best part of these cruise-ship tours is that you get a transfer to the airport when you're done with your adventures. That means they will look after all your luggage, too.



If you're done with the hustle and bustle of your vacation and need a few hours to just chill out, check into a hotel resort in South Beach to soak up the sun and enjoy the amenities before heading to the airport.

There are several hotels — from boutique to full-scale resorts — offering day passes in Miami. We found a great deal at The Savoy and took a quick Uber ride to get there. For $25 (plus $5 for each bag you want to check), you get Wi-Fi, access to the gym and pool area (with towels). The pool connects through a gate right at the beach and the South Beach Boardwalk where you can use the resort's loungers and tents out on the sands.

You also get 10 percent at the cafe, which has an extensive menu with items such as sandwiches, chips and guac and chicken wings.

Or you can try Kimpton Epic Miami, Four Seasons, National Hotel Miami Beach or The Standard Spa (warning, this hip hot spot is pricey!). Just make sure to call ahead to see whether they have passes available.


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