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Should I fly in early for my cruise? Pros and cons

Imagine it’s embarkation day for your long-awaited cruise vacation, but your same-day flight gets delayed. Your new arrival time means you might not get to your ship before check-in closes. Or, imagine you wake up to a snowstorm and unplowed streets, and you can’t get to the airport. Or maybe your car breaks down on the way, and you miss your flight.

In all of these scenarios, you’ve left yourself mere hours to fly from your home city to your cruise port. An unexpected delay means your voyage hangs in the balance.


As experienced cruisers know, one of the best ways to avoid potential embarkation day travel headaches is to fly in at least a day before your ship’s departure.

Flying in early is generally a smart idea, but consider these pros and cons before you decide when to arrive for your cruise if you’re traveling by plane.

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Pros of flying in early for your cruise

You’ll have time to rebook if there are delays


You know how the stereotypical dad arrives at the airport five hours before any flight? Flying to your cruise departure city early is the same concept but on a larger scale.

If you plan to arrive the day before your cruise and your flight is delayed or canceled — or you run into another snag that prevents you from being on the plane as scheduled — you’ll be able to make alternative travel plans and arrive in port before your ship sets sail. Knowing you have time to develop a Plan B will allow you to keep some travel stress at bay.

Related: What happens if you miss your cruise

You’ll have time to explore your port city

One of my least favorite things about cruising is the limited amount of time most ships provide in port. If you fly in a day early for your voyage, you’ll have a chance to explore your city of embarkation before your ship departs.

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Plan to check out a local restaurant or two, visit a museum or take in the sights. One day is sufficient, but if you have the time, consider a two- or three-day pre-cruise stay to enhance your vacation and really explore the area.

You can rest and start adjusting to any time changes

If running around taking in the local attractions the day before your cruise sounds more exhausting than fun, you can also use the time to do the opposite: relax. Check into your hotel, have a leisurely meal and rest up before boarding the following day.

This is also a great way to jump-start your body’s adjustment to any time changes you might encounter if you’re flying farther afield to meet your ship.

Related: Should I buy my flights through my cruise line

Cons of flying in early for your cruise

You’ll have more logistics to plan


If you’re flying in the day before you embark, you’ll need a place to stay. That means more vacation planning. Is it better to stay closer to the port or local attractions? Does the property you’ve chosen offer perks like free breakfast or Wi-Fi? What is the best way to get from the airport to the hotel? Which attractions are best to visit, and do you need a car to get to them?

You’ll also need to find your way to the port on the day your ship leaves. If your hotel doesn’t have a shuttle, you’ll need to research taxis, ride-hailing services or other public transportation options.

Related: Embarkation day do’s and don’ts

A longer trip will cost more

If you’re on a strict budget, the extra costs involved with a pre-cruise hotel stay might not be affordable or worth it. Are you giving up a shore excursion in a port of call in order to fund meals and accommodations prior to your sailing?

You’ll want to research not only hotel prices but also costs for meals, sightseeing and transfers between the airport, hotel and cruise port. Then, you can decide whether you want to fly in a day early. Look to points and miles that might help you score a pre-cruise hotel room for free or at a discounted rate, or look to redeem award nights for your stay.

Bottom line


Arriving early for a cruise has its pros and cons. However, the reasons to arrive at least a day ahead of time far outweigh reasons not to — especially if a pre-cruise hotel stay is within your budget.

Making your way into town a day or more in advance will provide you with additional peace of mind, a chance to explore and an opportunity to rest up for embarkation day.

If you can’t afford a pre-cruise stay or don’t have time to fly in the day before you sail, I recommend booking the earliest flight possible on embarkation day. This way, you’ll have time to hop on another one if your travel plans go awry.

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