In 13 years at Carnival Australia I always admired the dedication of the ground handler teams making it easier for passengers to navigate the sometimes daunting cruise terminal experience.

I didn’t expect to join their esteemed ranks. But I’m very pleased I have because, in semi-retirement, it means keeping a toe in the water of the wonderful world of cruising.

After working a series of embarks and disembarks – that’s getting on and off to you – I feel confident enough to highlight what cruise passengers can do to help make the experience as smooth as possible.

Working on the inside of the ground logistics operation has confirmed the view that the shore team is the unsung hero of cruising.

They are the friendly, patient guides and the problem solvers who manage to unravel dilemmas in which passengers sometimes find themselves.

I knew as an industry insider at Carnival Australia that cruise lines also stop at nothing to help their guests.

We left our passports at home! Ground handlers saved us

When Carnival Spirit began sailing from Sydney, there was the couple who had driven all the way from Newcastle for boarding – minus their passports that were still sitting on their kitchen table.

Carnival Cruise Line moved heaven and earth to get the passports picked up and delivered to the Overseas Passenger Terminal with minutes to spare for sailing.

In just a relatively short time as a ground handler I’ve been witness to some near misses. Like leaving boarding passes in luggage that has already gone on its way to the ship via ‘bag drop’.

cruise ship luggage
Important documents can mistakenly be loaded.

We left our documents in the cab! Ground handlers saved us

Or the couple arriving at the White Bay Cruise Terminal who unloaded their bags and waved their taxi driver goodbye. Only for the shocked husband to then remember he left his carry-on bag in the now disappeared cab containing all the important stuff on the back seat.

It was just before Christmas, and it seems miracles do happen. As the ground staff prepared to sift CCTV footage to identify the cab, the man couldn’t believe his good fortune. The empty cab had joined the taxi rank and was still in the port precinct – a cruise holiday and maybe a marriage saved.

Oops! We’re at the wrong terminal!

Then there’s the ‘wrong terminal’ dilemma. Sydney has two (but really needs three) with the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and White Bay west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

No sight is more forlorn than an excited cruiser turning up at the terminal mystified to find the ‘wrong’ ship sitting alongside. Usually, the problem can be remedied easily enough with a longer and more expensive cab ride than planned, and some hurt pride.

But there’s no need to feel alone. A ground handler shift is likely to turn up three or four wrong terminal candidates.

So, take it from this ‘newbie’ ground handler, here are some tips to make your check-in experience as smooth as possible.

Top tips to avoid a baggage debacle

  • Do yourself a favour and complete the online check-in process days before sailing and confirm the terminal where your ship will await.
  • ‘Pick and stick’ when you choose your allocated check-in time – staggered boarding slots helps reduce congestion in the terminal.
  • Keep your travel documents out and safe and be ready to present boarding passes and passports at the terminal entrance.
  • There is a reason cruise lines send you those foldable luggage tags ready for stapling – attach them to your bags before you arrive at the terminal if you want to be reunited with them onboard.
  • Government photo ID such as a driver’s licence is sufficient for a domestic cruise but, if you’re visiting international ports, a passport will be needed, and possibly visas. Also confirm how much time must remain on your passport to make it valid for your particular cruise. Times can vary — it  can be up to six months for many cruises and, remember, travel insurance (a good idea on any cruise) is compulsory on some voyages.
  • Have your travel documents and a valid credit card in hand when you reach the check-in counter and be ready to pose for the camera!
  • For a smooth hassle-free disembarkation including staggered departure times, follow the advice of the onboard team. Their world experts at this.

Follow these tips and you’re on your way to a mishap free embarkation that will soon have you soaking up the atmosphere of a sensational cruise holiday.

And remember, your friendly shore staff are there to help you. Listen to what they say and follow their directions.

David Jones is the former corporate communications manager at Carnival Australia.