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Vancouver boarding shambles


Fairgarth
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I have read on other forums that boarding in Vancouver can be a real pain.  Massive snaking queues and nobody going anywhere for a long time.  We live in Vancouver but have never boarded a cruise ship here.  However, we are now booked on an Alaska cruise so would appreciate any helpful advice.  There are two big ships boarding on our day of departure.  It looks like the problem is pre-clearance, nothing to do with the cruise line  i.e. everybody has to go through US Customs and Immigration before boarding.  Is it always like this?  Does arrival time make a difference?  Is there seating before or after US pre-clearance?  Any helpful suggestions?  Thank you in advance.

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Yes, it can be problem. Yes, there can be a queue at US Immigration, though they seem to have switched to automated kiosks with facial recognition. It makes a difference. IMO, what really matters is the size of your ship. A very large ship will face messy congestion at the ship's processing stations.

 

What's he best boarding time? Depends on the cruise company. They have different boarding policies. Best to ask the folks on the specific forum.

 

Suggest you add details of which date and ship. The cruise terminal's schedule is here...

 

https://www.portvancouver.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/2023-Cruise-Ship-Schedule-as-of-April-25.pdf

 

As far as I know, there is adequate seating in the waiting areas for Holland America's 2k pax ships. Don't know about other cruise companies.

 

 

Edited by HappyInVan
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7 hours ago, Fairgarth said:

I have read on other forums that boarding in Vancouver can be a real pain.  Massive snaking queues and nobody going anywhere for a long time.  We live in Vancouver but have never boarded a cruise ship here.  However, we are now booked on an Alaska cruise so would appreciate any helpful advice.  There are two big ships boarding on our day of departure.  It looks like the problem is pre-clearance, nothing to do with the cruise line  i.e. everybody has to go through US Customs and Immigration before boarding.  Is it always like this?  Does arrival time make a difference?  Is there seating before or after US pre-clearance?  Any helpful suggestions?  Thank you in advance.

Hi!  I live in Vancouver and cruise to Alaska each year, leaving from the port of Vancouver.

 

I leave tomorrow for two weeks on the NCL Jewel and there will be 3 large ships in port, all departing tomorrow.  You can see my live thread for a report on how the boarding process went.

 

From past experience, I would not use the word shambles.  It’s organized, but the wait to get through security is long and slow.  There are no seats. Port arrival time makes no difference (unless you get there very early, in which case you would be waiting to board your ship, but at least there are chairs in the ship waiting areas.  Yes, it is always like this.  

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Don't forget that the access roads to the cruise terminal (Conference Center) is extremely narrow. At peak periods of disembarkation and boarding, there's a big jam outside the cruise terminal. Fortunately, I've never had to use the terminal when several big ships were docked.

 

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Group of 4 of us cruised from Vancouver last year, with 3 ships in port.

We found the longest line ups was for people trying to drop their bags off because they did not have bag tags (this is the first step in the embarkation process). While the signage could have been better, as soon as we found the place to drop our bags (because we did print our bag tags at home!) it was off to security and check in.

Start to finish, it took us less than an hour and we were on-board.

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We haven't cruised yet since the Pandemic shutdown, so take with a pinch of salt compared to reports specifically since then - but timing makes a HUGE difference in our experience. One ship maybe not so much, but even two ships days the difference in pax volumes at 10am, 12noon, and 2pm were always chalk and cheese (and then even chalkier chalk). When we first started cruising we went when our tickets said we should go - and waited forever! Then we did the 'be very early' thing - no slow queues, great, BUT the problem is that the first part (sitting around in one of the big halls upstairs until the ships are Zeroed Out and they let folks start boarding) then always took an hour or so, so it was a guarantee wait (in a chair), but once you started moving it flowed pretty well. Then we figured out that purely for the sake of getting a sit-down lunch on embarkation day we were going through way too much waiting - so instead we started showing up as late as possible (with US CBP to consider, definitely be there 2 hours before ship is scheduled to leave port, but try to shave that margin TIGHT!)

 

The result? Consistently 20 minutes or less total curb to cabin time, no waiting anywhere, literally only stopping when interacting with the assorted check-in staff, security checkpoint 'pocket stuff in the tray', and CBP kiosks, otherwise walking the whole time. Our standard pattern for a Vancouver embarkation became:

  • head to the pier about 10am to drop bags;
  • go for a lovely 90min couples massage (for less than half the cost of onboard treatments, from RMTs who know us so provide better quality than anything onboard too as they can go right into the pressure etc. we like without any learning curve);
  • a fantastic and leisurely lunch not too far away from the pier so that we just have to walk - no worries about traffic, sightseeing on the wrong side of a bridge etc. to guarantee that if we aim to be there at 3:25pm for a 5:30pm sailaway we will be accurate to within about +/-2 minutes with the only normal variable whether we just miss a few pedestrian lights or get them all nicely sequenced on the walk.

 

Even with our typically-swanky dining tastes the discounted massage pricing pays for everything and then some, so we actually save time and money by lunching here and boarding late as well as supporting two local businesses - and we start the trip wonderfully relaxed, with no need to choose 'do we make a massage reso on a sea day or give up valuable port time to maybe score a deal in the spa?' either!

 

For anyone who lives in Vancouver, or has visited us often enough to not feel the need to pack in some extra sightseeing on embarkation morning, it's a plan I highly recommend. Although hopefully most of you ignore me and stick to early boarding, so it stays nice & quiet for me later in the day!!! 😉

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Many thanks, martincath, that sounds like a scheme.  We will be two couples so we can drop our baggage and wander the waterfront, find a nice spot for lunch and watch the float planes.  On previous cruises we went with the herd and so the crush was trying to get lunch at the buffet on board.  We don't need it that badly.  The Koningsdam and Majestic Princess are boarding on the same day so that could be 6210 passengers.

 

There's another report today of excessive boarding line-ups at the port of Los Angeles.  Google 'Cranky Flier'.  He and his family were boarding Norwegian Bliss for the trip to Vancouver.  There's no US pre-clearance on that one but it was most unpleasant anyway.  And, yes, shambles is probably the wrong word.

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To add fuel to the fire, there's a new thread on the Holland America forum by Dr.Koob:  "Live from Koningsdam on a Pacific coastal".

 

They boarded the Koningsdam two days ago.  He goes into great detail but here's the summary: out of 35 cruises this was his worst experience ever.  It took 3:15 to get on the ship.  It was so bad, the ship left two hours late.  So maybe I was right the first time.  This has to be a shambles, it is absolutely disgraceful and a big black eye for Vancouver.

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I cruised out of Vancouver twice last year. One was the very first trip from Vancouver and it was chaotic. The second was in September and it was much better. Perhaps there is a learning curve for the staff each season and it takes some time for the wrinkles to get ironed out

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4 hours ago, Fairgarth said:

To add fuel to the fire, there's a new thread on the Holland America forum by Dr.Koob:  "Live from Koningsdam on a Pacific coastal".

 

They boarded the Koningsdam two days ago.  He goes into great detail but here's the summary: out of 35 cruises this was his worst experience ever.  It took 3:15 to get on the ship.  It was so bad, the ship left two hours late.  So maybe I was right the first time.  This has to be a shambles, it is absolutely disgraceful and a big black eye for Vancouver.

 

This thread...

 

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12 hours ago, everbeentoseabilly said:

I cruised out of Vancouver twice last year. One was the very first trip from Vancouver and it was chaotic. The second was in September and it was much better. Perhaps there is a learning curve for the staff each season and it takes some time for the wrinkles to get ironed out

 

A contributing factor, but the root cause is the design.

 

When initially designed, they planned for 5 ships, but most of the newer ships in those days were about 700 - 750 pax. Unfortunately, by the time they completed construction, ship sizes had started to increase again.

 

I frequently visited the P&O/Princess ships in the 80's and didn't note any issues when they still had the 750 pax Island/Pacific/Sun. However, once the larger ships arrived it started to get busy. It was never designed to handle 3 ships of 3,500 pax each, so the delays and crowding has worsened as ship size increased.

 

Sadly, Metro Port Vancouver made the decision to have Canada Place as the only cruise terminal, handing most of the Alaska business to Seattle. 

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52 minutes ago, Heidi13 said:

 

A contributing factor, but the root cause is the design.

 

When initially designed, they planned for 5 ships, but most of the newer ships in those days were about 700 - 750 pax. Unfortunately, by the time they completed construction, ship sizes had started to increase again.

 

I frequently visited the P&O/Princess ships in the 80's and didn't note any issues when they still had the 750 pax Island/Pacific/Sun. However, once the larger ships arrived it started to get busy. It was never designed to handle 3 ships of 3,500 pax each, so the delays and crowding has worsened as ship size increased.

 

Sadly, Metro Port Vancouver made the decision to have Canada Place as the only cruise terminal, handing most of the Alaska business to Seattle. 

 

Agreed! However, the limiting factor for cruise ship size at Canada Place is the Lion's gate bridge. Some cruise ships need to time their arrival/departure with low tide to fit under. 

 

The Port Authority is once again looking at the idea of docking the larger cruise ships at Robert's Bank in Tsawwassen. Middle of no-where with no amenities and at least a half- hour from any tourist attraction. Reminds me of Rome!

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10 hours ago, dawnvip said:

 

Agreed! However, the limiting factor for cruise ship size at Canada Place is the Lion's gate bridge. Some cruise ships need to time their arrival/departure with low tide to fit under. 

 

The Port Authority is once again looking at the idea of docking the larger cruise ships at Robert's Bank in Tsawwassen. Middle of no-where with no amenities and at least a half- hour from any tourist attraction. Reminds me of Rome!

 

Affirmative, the max size of ship is governed by the air draft at 1st Narrows and having taken many ships into the harbour, I well aware of that limitation. Getting even bigger ship in at low tide will further compound the issue at Canada Place

 

In addition to Robert's Bank, they have also considered the Fraser River. With experience handling low draught/high freeboard ships in both the river and around Robert's Bank they are not the best waters for cruise ships.

 

 

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I just wanted to share my thoughts about Monday Koningsdam embarkation.  Yep, I too am on it.

 

additional tips.

 

- if you can't afford the Neptune/Pinnacle suites, nor have 4 star mariner status.... serious research joining Club Orange. You get priority boarding access at the terminal.  You get priority debarkation access.  You also avoid some of the long lines at the MDR and Lido, without paying extra for specialty restaurants.

- if you have troubles standing in long lines, seriously consider getting a wheelchair.  Staff at the terminal and airport are trained to give such passengers priority access with their travel companions.

- do you have Nexus or a member of Global Entry trusted traveler program, you get sent into a priority customs line

- I've learned to avoid showing up at the cruise terminal during the "hotel dump" (ie noon) where passenger volumes are the highest.  I have no interest in being stuck in that luggage drop off ramp.

 

Embarkation for me was one hour and I was the first one to enter the Koningdam lobby to enjoy the lemonade for 20 minutes before boarding.

 

I think I could have made it shorter to 45 minutes if someone directed me to the right line for P2 elevator luggage drop.  Pre-covid, luggage drop was at cruise ship level, but they turned that it a taxi pickup area.

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In recent years we have boarded three times in Vancouver. My wife has mobility issues but is proud and doesn't like requesting a wheelchair unless necessary. But after some bad experiences in the USA (Newark Airport and the Brooklyn Cruise terminal) I request a wheelchair for most of our air and ship embarkations and disembarkations. That now includes Vancouver.

 

There are not a lot of wheelchairs and staff to push them at the Vancouver pier, so we have been advised to show up early near the baggage drop-off area. The last two times we arrived about 10:15. Once there was a short  wait for help but last year we didn't even have to sit on the bench when help arrived. 

 

We always stay the night before at either the Pan Pacific or across the street at the Fairmont Waterfront. Porters will collect your luggage from your room and deliver it to the ship. That is one step of the boarding process you don't need to do. Our friends went straight to the convention centre hall for check-in with the cruise line. Otherwise you start on the lower level with luggage drop-off, go up a level and down a long hall to check-in, then back down for the rest of the procedures as others have indicated. 

 

I must give a warning about disembarkation. Although we have never had to speak to a border agent (even when ArriveCan was in effect) the queue for a taxi can be considerable. Coach transfers booked through the cruise line are way more expensive than a taxi, but for convenience we sometimes do so. 

 

Of course times have changed since our first ever cruise which was from Vancouver 50 years ago. The old CPR terminal was in the same spot as Canada Place. At that time there were no formalities on the pier. We simply walked on board with our visitors, showed our tickets at the purser's office and received our keys. That was it: no security, no photos, no passports for an Alaska cruise, no credit cards to produce. The purser's office dealt with both Canadian and US immigration officers on behalf of the passengers.  

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1 hour ago, david,Mississauga said:

Of course times have changed since our first ever cruise which was from Vancouver 50 years ago. The old CPR terminal was in the same spot as Canada Place. At that time there were no formalities on the pier. We simply walked on board with our visitors, showed our tickets at the purser's office and received our keys. That was it: no security, no photos, no passports for an Alaska cruise, no credit cards to produce. The purser's office dealt with both Canadian and US immigration officers on behalf of the passengers.  

 

Remember the old CPR terminal well, with my first visit being on SS Oriana in 1977.

 

Even after the current Canada Place was built, you could still walk aboard the ships. When on days off on the weekend, I would head downtown and walk aboard the P&O ships for lunch and a few beers with the officers in the wardroom.

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Just popped into Canada Place at noon. Crown Princess was loading pax. But Majestic Princess was missing.

 

Even with one ship docked, there was constant traffic into the terminal. Vehicle traffic on the  road outside was crawling as Traffic Officers controlled access to the basement of the terminal; taxis and buses exiting.

 

As reported by pax, management has shifted check-in to the ground floor of the old Convention Center. Unfortunately, luggage drop-off has moved down to P2; accessed by a single elevator bank(?). There is an escalator linking the check-in area to P1 where the taxis and buses are. But, I can't find escalators to P2. Not good. Definitely, a bad mistake by the cruise terminal.

 

The worst news is that the Marathon is using the front rooms of the old convention center to check-in the runners. Distributing their tags for tomorrow's race. So, the pax check-in areas are at the back. In addition, the new Convention Center is hosting an Art Expo. Already, very messy on the waterfront at noon.

 

No ides what happened to the Majestic.

 

 

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On 5/4/2023 at 6:27 AM, Heidi13 said:

 

A contributing factor, but the root cause is the design.

 

When initially designed, they planned for 5 ships, but most of the newer ships in those days were about 700 - 750 pax. Unfortunately, by the time they completed construction, ship sizes had started to increase again.

 

I frequently visited the P&O/Princess ships in the 80's and didn't note any issues when they still had the 750 pax Island/Pacific/Sun. However, once the larger ships arrived it started to get busy. It was never designed to handle 3 ships of 3,500 pax each, so the delays and crowding has worsened as ship size increased.

 

Sadly, Metro Port Vancouver made the decision to have Canada Place as the only cruise terminal, handing most of the Alaska business to Seattle. 

 

From Canada Place ships have to sail under the Lions Gate Bridge.   The tallest of the mega cruise ships will no long fit.   

 

The Port of Vancouver is looking at options for a second cruise ship terminal.  That would be in Richmond or Delta.  However selecting a site, doing the environmental impact assessment, and then building it will take years.  There is a project in the works.  Until that happens the largest of the ships will need to sail out of Seattle and call in Victoria. 

 

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, em-sk said:

 

From Canada Place ships have to sail under the Lions Gate Bridge.   The tallest of the mega cruise ships will no long fit.   

 

The Port of Vancouver is looking at options for a second cruise ship terminal.  That would be in Richmond or Delta.  However selecting a site, doing the environmental impact assessment, and then building it will take years.  There is a project in the works.  Until that happens the largest of the ships will need to sail out of Seattle and call in Victoria. 

 

The limited cruise ship dock space in Vancouver has been an issue for many years, starting well before ship's couldn't fit under 1st Narrows, due to Air Draught. In the 70's and 80's, Vancouver had almost the entire Alaska cruise business. As the number of ships increased, the industry requested additional berths, especially on weekends.

 

Vancouver refused to develop more berths and even closed Ballantyne in about 2014. The industry responded by moving ships to Seattle in the 90's. The discussions regarding a new cruise berth have been going for many years, with no action to date.

 

With respect to the Fraser River and Deltaport options, both have significant risks for low draft/high sided ships due to wind and tides. Even the ferries no longer operate in 40 kt winds and they are easier to handle in extreme winds than mega cruise ships, especially the Princess Cruises Royal Class.  

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On 5/2/2023 at 3:33 PM, martincath said:

We haven't cruised yet since the Pandemic shutdown, so take with a pinch of salt compared to reports specifically since then - but timing makes a HUGE difference in our experience. One ship maybe not so much, but even two ships days the difference in pax volumes at 10am, 12noon, and 2pm were always chalk and cheese (and then even chalkier chalk). When we first started cruising we went when our tickets said we should go - and waited forever! Then we did the 'be very early' thing - no slow queues, great, BUT the problem is that the first part (sitting around in one of the big halls upstairs until the ships are Zeroed Out and they let folks start boarding) then always took an hour or so, so it was a guarantee wait (in a chair), but once you started moving it flowed pretty well. Then we figured out that purely for the sake of getting a sit-down lunch on embarkation day we were going through way too much waiting - so instead we started showing up as late as possible (with US CBP to consider, definitely be there 2 hours before ship is scheduled to leave port, but try to shave that margin TIGHT!)

 

The result? Consistently 20 minutes or less total curb to cabin time, no waiting anywhere, literally only stopping when interacting with the assorted check-in staff, security checkpoint 'pocket stuff in the tray', and CBP kiosks, otherwise walking the whole time. Our standard pattern for a Vancouver embarkation became:

  • head to the pier about 10am to drop bags;
  • go for a lovely 90min couples massage (for less than half the cost of onboard treatments, from RMTs who know us so provide better quality than anything onboard too as they can go right into the pressure etc. we like without any learning curve);
  • a fantastic and leisurely lunch not too far away from the pier so that we just have to walk - no worries about traffic, sightseeing on the wrong side of a bridge etc. to guarantee that if we aim to be there at 3:25pm for a 5:30pm sailaway we will be accurate to within about +/-2 minutes with the only normal variable whether we just miss a few pedestrian lights or get them all nicely sequenced on the walk.

 

Even with our typically-swanky dining tastes the discounted massage pricing pays for everything and then some, so we actually save time and money by lunching here and boarding late as well as supporting two local businesses - and we start the trip wonderfully relaxed, with no need to choose 'do we make a massage reso on a sea day or give up valuable port time to maybe score a deal in the spa?' either!

 

For anyone who lives in Vancouver, or has visited us often enough to not feel the need to pack in some extra sightseeing on embarkation morning, it's a plan I highly recommend. Although hopefully most of you ignore me and stick to early boarding, so it stays nice & quiet for me later in the day!!! 😉

@martincathhi there, Sue @willsawayhere. Do you have any words of wisdom for the following side2side scenario. Disembarking Eclipse on 24 September (which is a Sunday), at 7.00 am. Assuming we drag it out until the last possible minute, say 9.00 ish, down the gangplank and back up an adjoining gangplank (so to speak) to board Brilliance on her transpacific to Sydney, Australia via Hawaii. I'm not game to find out if there's a 3rd ship in this mix. Reading this post, I'm having visions of 1000's of people tripping over each other. Cheers. 

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6 hours ago, willsaway said:

@martincathhi there, Sue @willsawayhere. Do you have any words of wisdom for the following side2side scenario. Disembarking Eclipse on 24 September (which is a Sunday), at 7.00 am. Assuming we drag it out until the last possible minute, say 9.00 ish, down the gangplank and back up an adjoining gangplank (so to speak) to board Brilliance on her transpacific to Sydney, Australia via Hawaii. I'm not game to find out if there's a 3rd ship in this mix. Reading this post, I'm having visions of 1000's of people tripping over each other. Cheers. 

Nieuw Ansterdam is also in port so it will be busy. If you disembark at 9am you would be 'crossing the pier' earlier than any official boarding slot so almost certainly among the very first folks to arrive. This means you will definitely have to wait around, probably for 90+ minutes, before anything really starts to happen but you'd be among the first folks to board.

 

Personally I would suggest a day in Vancouver! Drop your bags off, then leave the pier, do whatever the heck you like in the morning, get back downtown by 2pm at the latest, then fill your time with close-to-the-pier things like Gastown, Coal Harbour, FlyOverCanada so that you know you can walk back in time with no concerns about traffic problems; hard cap for you guys might be a bit less if there's a domestic Canadian stop after Vancouver (for some reason many repo cruises add Victoria when they have no need to do so to satisfy PVSA; if yours is one of them you will NOT need to see US CBP for preclearance before boarding so the most contigency-causing elements is removed - instead your first US port is your Port of Arrival so you will be processed there) but I would still aim for 2 hours pre-sailaway.

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Make sure you have luggage tags ahead of time. Last year we couldn’t get our tags online from Celebrity - told to just get them from a porter at the pier. Waited an extra 45 minutes in that line alone. Ugh. 

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2 hours ago, XLVIII said:

Make sure you have luggage tags ahead of time. Last year we couldn’t get our tags online from Celebrity - told to just get them from a porter at the pier. Waited an extra 45 minutes in that line alone. Ugh. 

Great tip, and one I am grateful for. I'm assuming Eclipse will have some sort of concierge availability and plan to use that facility to print our Brilliance tags if unable to do so from Oz before our flight out. Thank you. 

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