Why Every Cruise Line Could Go To “Staggered Check-In”

When it comes to cruising, there’s no doubt that Carnival is the biggest fish in the pond. While other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are certainly large and have a lot of sway in the industry, Carnival — with more than one hundred ships and ten different cruise lines — is the most influential company in cruising.

So whenever they make a big change, you can rest assured that other cruise lines are watching.

That’s why it was major news when during the past couple of years, Carnival has tested something new called “staggered check-in.” If you’re not familiar, staggered check-in is pretty simple.

For most cruise lines, there is a window for people to board the ship. So if your ship sails at 5 p.m., the cruise line might allow boarding from 12-4 p.m. Passengers simply show up whenever they like during those hours and board when they please.

You’d think that would be the easiest way to load the ship. In fact, it causes some major complications. That’s because everyone is excited about cruising and many passengers want to be among the first to board the ship.

The result is somewhat chaotic. There’s a flood of passengers right when boarding opens, which causes all sorts of problems. There are backups and congestion in the port area, longer lines at security, and extended lines for check-in itself.

The result is that instead of a nice and quick process, some people can spend up to an hour waiting in lines before making it onto the ship. Meanwhile, times later in the boarding window barely have any people at all. It can take just 10-15 minutes to get through all the check-in process.

Traditional check-in

With this in mind, Carnival started to test using a staggered check-in at several ports around the country. The premise is simple. Instead having a rush of passengers board at the start, Carnival gives each passenger a boarding window of 30 minutes, spreading people out over the entire boarding time. So instead of boarding anytime between 12:00-4:00 p.m., a passenger has a boarding window of, say, 12:30-1:00 p.m.

If a passenger shows up before their boarding window, they have to wait until their time. If they show up after their boarding window, they are allowed to go ahead and board. In other words, there is no reason for a passenger to arrive and try to board earlier than they are allowed.

Since Carnival began testing this different style of boarding, the results have been exactly what they had hoped. Boarding has gone smoother and more efficiently. In fact, Carnival has since rolled out staggered check-in to nearly every major port, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Of course, other cruise lines have been watching and conducting test of their own. Norwegian Cruise Lines already has staggered check-in for nearly all of their cruises. Royal Caribbean is also testing the process for its line.

But the pain of embarkation is universal among all cruise lines. Excited passengers show up early to get on the ship and create long lines and waits. With Carnival showing how this different check-in process can relieve these frustrations, it’s only a matter of time until every cruise line and ship around the world offers its passengers a staggered check-in. That way, everyone can get on the ship in a more efficient way and get the fun started.

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