How To Disembark A River Cruise In 4 Easy Steps

After a week’s worth of fun onboard Viking Atla on our Romantic Danube cruise, the time had come for our cruise to come an end in Budapest.  While our journey started in Nuremberg (Erlangen to be exact) a few days before we boarded Viking Atla, we enjoyed the days we spent sailing along the Danube River in Germany, Austria, and Hungary.  But when it comes time to leave the ship, is disembarking a river cruise the same as an ocean cruise?  Even if you’ve cruised before, you’ll quickly discover that departing a river cruise is vastly different from its ocean cruise counterpart. Here’s how to disembark a river cruise in 4 easy steps.

1. Prepare your luggage to be placed outside your cabin: When you’re on an ocean cruise ship, you’ll be advised a few days before the end of the cruise when to have your luggage packed and placed outside of your cabin for collection.  With the exception of self-disembarkation, this means you’ll typically spend some time on the last full day of your cruise packing your bags.

On a river cruise, like the one I took with Viking River Cruises, if you attend the daily briefing held nightly in the Lounge, you’ll know exactly what to do when it’s time to leave the ship. This includes when to put your bags out, when and what time to meet your transfer, etc. Karla and I did the majority of our packing the night before our departure because we wanted to minimize the amount of time we’d need to gather our belongings in the morning. Since we were planning another full day of sightseeing in Budapest, I didn’t want to spend any additional and unnecessary time squeezing everything back into my suitcase only to then rush off the ship.  Since I had a small 20″ roller bag, I could take my bag off the ship all on my own without assistance.

How To Disembark A River Cruise
Breakfast buffet on Viking Atla

2. Eat breakfast on the ship: You do know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?  You should definitely try to eat breakfast onboard your cruise before leaving the ship. This is especially true if you’re going to the airport as delays can occur and who knows if you’ll be able to grab anything to eat before your flight. Since your meals are included in the cost of your cruise, why not take advantage of one last breakfast? If you go to the dining room and have a leisurely breakfast, you’ll not only feel more relaxed, but you’ll have a chance to say goodbye to the crew and other passengers you’ve met on your cruise.

After we ate our breakfast, we returned to our cabin to pack up any remaining items we had yet to pack.  We spotted our our cabin steward, Marius, and chatted with him before he kindly let me sneak a peek at the suite across the hall.  No worries about privacy as he was cleaning up after the last guests in preparation for the new passengers who would soon come onboard.  Then it was time to say our goodbyes to Marius and other crew members, grab our bags, and exit the ship.  Until next time Viking Atla!

3. Walk off the ship: That’s right — just walk off the ship.  If you’ve ever taken an ocean cruise, you know that the last day of your cruise involves much of the time waiting.  You’ll wait for your tag color to be called and then, depending on the size of your ship and the time of your departure, you’ll wait to walk off the ship with what feels like every other cruise passenger on your ship.  Of course, they stagger departures, but it never feels like it when you’re squished in the middle of an enormous group of people and no one is moving.  Then you have to wait in a crowd to collect your bags and queue up again to go through customs and immigration before departing the cruise terminal building.  On my river cruise I only had to grab my bags and walk out the door. No one to show my passport to and no one to ask me any any questions.  The entire process from leaving my cabin to stepping out onto the sidewalk was less than five minutes total.

4. Prearrange your post-cruise transportation: Once you’ve completed the disembarkation process from your ocean cruise ship and you’re permitted to exit the cruise terminal, you’ll see buses, shuttles, and cabs all lined up outside waiting and ready to whisk you off to the nearest airport or hotel.  I find that if I’ve planned correctly and know what I need to do (taxi, shuttle, or car rental), this usually is the fastest part of the last day of a cruise.

After my river cruise ended, although I had intended to take the Budapest Metro, which is mainland Europe’s first subway built in 1896, as it sometimes happens, we had a last minute change in plans.  Karla and I had decided that it might be faster and easier to take a taxi instead of walking to and using the metro.  But here’s where things went awry.  After leaving the ship and walking up the gangway to the street, we were surprised to not see a taxi of any kind at all waiting.  This was when a Viking River Cruises crew member came over and spoke with us.  We learned that cabs don’t typically wait here and if we needed one, we would’ve needed to prearrange our ride before leaving the ship.  Despite this minor setback, the cruise line called someone for us immediately and in no time at all, we had a driver curbside helping us load our bags into the car.

How To Disembark A River Cruise
Viking Daily departure information

TSG Tip: The easiest solution to our self imposed blunder of the day was right in front of us.  Had we read the “Viking Daily,” the cruise line’s daily newspaper, which was left every night in our cabin, we would’ve seen that all of the information was provided two days prior to disembarkation in an easy to read chart.  If you plan to self disembark, you only need to sign up at the reception desk by 10 am the day before for taxi or private transfer requests.

Even if you’ve cruised before, you’ll find the disembarkation process on a river cruise far faster and easier. But if you’ve got cruising in your blood like I do, once you hit dry land it won’t be long before you plan another cruise.

Have you taken a river cruise? Do you think there’s a difference in the disembarkation process between ocean and river cruises?

I was a guest of Viking River Cruises for this cruise, but as always — all opinions and photographs are my own.


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