Can a Pre-cruise Hotel Room Avoid Disaster?

Don’t risk missing the boat by scheduling your arrival too close to cruise departure time!

You’ve already spent the money; don’t take any chances

We’ve heard the tragic stories before. Thousands of dollars spent on a dream cruise itinerary. Multiple bucket list items to be crossed off. Then, real life happens. Flights are delayed. Traffic to the port is a nightmare. The story always culminates with someone (or multiple someones) standing at the end of the dock with all their luggage watching in horror as their cruise ship sails away without them.

People missing their cruise boat on Day 1 is a surprisingly common occurrence. It’s also a largely avoidable disaster with proper planning. We are going to examine the cruising strategy of arriving early for your cruise in order to ensure that you don’t miss out on the vacation that you likely shelled out big bucks for. Make no mistake- cruise ships WILL NOT wait for passengers who are late to port. They have hundreds if not thousands of other paying customers onboard to worry about, and sticking to the schedule is their main priority.

Our recommendation is to arrive at the departure port a day or two early and stay at a hotel prior to boarding the cruise ship. Wait, you mean we need to spend MORE money for a hotel room on top of what we paid for the cruise already?! Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Luckily, there are resources for federal government employees, such as Fedrooms, that can help you score a very affordable hotel rate at a hotel that has already been vetted for quality. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): It is DEFINITELY worth it to use a resource like Fedrooms for the peace of mind that comes with not having to worry about the horror of missing your cruise ship on the very first day.

Time to de-stress and decompress

You will likely be undertaking quite a bit of travel on each end of your vacation to meet your cruise ship and then to return home afterwards. For a lot of cruises, air travel will be required. Whether domestic or international, flying is fraught with delays and unforeseen difficulties.

Many novice cruisers make the mistake of trying to fly into the city their cruise ship is sailing out of on the same day of embarkation. The appeal of doing this is plausible. After all, most cruise ships don’t sail until the late afternoon/early evening of Day 1. Most people think a buffer of 8-12 hours before sailing time is adequate. That line of thinking might be correct about 85% of the time. 85% of the time, flights are on time; luggage arrives all in one piece; and you have no issues getting from the airport to the cruise port.

What about that other 15% of the time, you ask? Those are the days that start with your flight getting delayed by two hours. Then you spend an extra hour trying to find a missing duffel bag (turns out it got put on the wrong conveyor belt at baggage claim). You find the shuttle bus to the port, but it doesn’t leave for another 45 minutes. Once on the bus, you feel a short-lived sense of relief before spending the next 3 hours in some of the worst traffic you’ve ever see in your life. All of a sudden, that 8-hour buffer you gave yourself has shrunk to almost nothing.

OK, we might be exaggerating a little, but if there was ever a time for Murphy’s Law to rear its ugly head, it’s on vacation. Arriving late to a resort or a beach house may not be a big deal, but arriving late to a cruise often means you will arrive at an empty port slip and have to pay BIG bucks to fly to meet the ship at its next stop. Along the way, you miss out on the food; drinks; and relaxation onboard that you likely already paid for upfront! Why take that chance for the vacation you have already spent your hard-earned money on?!

The Pre-cruise hotel room

There’s only one surefire way to avoid the pitfalls of missing the boat on your first day of vacation, and that is to arrive a day or two early to make certain that you will be able to board on time. Here’s what you gain by arriving early and booking a hotel room:

  • You are guaranteed to make your boarding time on embarkation day, allowing you the maximum amount of time possible onboard the ship.
  • You will have an extra night of sleep to deal with jet lag from longer flights.
  • You have the opportunity to explore a new city/country. When we sailed out of Athens, Greece, we arrived two days early to sight-see. We wouldn’t have had time to see the Parthenon otherwise!
  • Extra decompression time. Traveling is stressful; what better way to put yourself in a “vacation state of mind” than an extra day to relax and let the anticipation build?; a familiar site to many.

A familiar face in Fedrooms

If you are a seasoned federal government employee, then you have likely used Fedrooms before for official travel. According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), “FedRooms provides Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) compliant hotel accommodations at or below per diem with standardized amenities. The program is available to all U.S. government and military personnel. In 2024, there are over 10,900 FedRooms properties available in over 3,000 markets”. We have booked hotel rooms through Fedrooms nothing short of hundreds of times over the years, and it certainly makes finding the lodging per diem rate easy and comprehensive for almost any CONUS or OCONUS destinations you can think of.

If you are not yet a member of Fedrooms, joining is easy and free. Here’s a link that walks you through the process of setting up a new account.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that federal government employees can use many of the discounted rates on Fedrooms for leisure travel as well.  From the booking tool homepage, all you have to do is select the “Leisure” option from the drop-down menu. From there, Fedrooms operates much like any other hotel booking website, allowing you to search for rooms by location, date, etc.

Perhaps you have doubts as to whether or not Fedrooms will actually be able to save you more money than other hotel booking sites. In 2019, an analysis of the top 80 Fedroom market locations found that, on average, the rate offered by Fedrooms was $38.98 lower than the hotel’s Best Available Rate on the respective hotel website. It’s also not unusual to save even more than that based upon room demand at a given location.

The benefits of Fedrooms don’t end with low rates. Here are some other perks that Fedrooms touts on their website:

  • 4 pm day of arrival cancellation policy (domestic), 24 hours before arrival cancellation policy (international), no early departure fees and no minimum stay requirements
  • No additional fees (i.e., resort, booking, etc.)
  • The ability to collect your hotel brand reward points
  • Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi
  • ADA compliant and FEMA certified properties within the United States and US territories
  • Many hotels also offer free breakfast and free parking to FedRooms travelers

Do your due diligence

If you’ve read any of our other blog posts, you know that we at Fedcruise are sticklers for examining your options when planning a getaway cruise. It’s important to stress that some of our recommendations are just that- suggestions. Fedrooms may or may not be your best option when booking a hotel room before and/or after a cruise. Maybe you’re a frequent hotel traveler and you have a ton of loyalty points that you can use instead. Or perhaps you were able to find a better hotel rate on Expedia. Fedrooms is yet another valuable tool that we hope you understand better now by reading this article.

The other key piece of advice that we gave above is not so much a recommendation as it is common sense. PLEASE don’t gamble with missing your cruise as it sets sail on the first day of your vacation. We have gotten several emails from readers who have had to pay over a thousand dollars to cover flights and other extra incurred expenses to meet up with a cruise ship that they missed by arriving late to embarkation. The serenity that comes from paying a few bucks ahead of time for a hotel room ahead of a cruise is priceless.

*As a small, independent website, Fedcruise does not receive any incentives to promote many of the products that we recommend or write about, to include Fedrooms. We do our best to offer you simple, unbiased advice. Thank you for your support 🙂