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Vancouver Embarkation Craziness - Sept 23


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Has anyone arrived after 2:30 or 3? I would hope the line is shorter then. Sure its nice to get on as early as possible, but there are so many restaurants and things to see close to Canada Place I don't understand the rush of getting there at 9:30 only to have to wait for other passengers to disembark and then wait in lines.

^We're late arrivers (since we live within walking distance our travel time is very much a known quantity - no issues with traffic etc to need to pad things). The only time that your total end-to-end time will not be shorter arriving late than early is on those days when the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan - first three-ship day of the season for example. If time to process each person is longer than usual, queues keep building so even showing up at 3pm means folks who arrived at 1pm might still be stuck in lines.

 

 

Even if you arrive at 10am you will ALWAYS wait at least an hour, even if you are the first person in every queue, as they don't start processing until 11ish (earlier on 1 or 2 ship days with fewer leaving pax to be dealt with first so zeroing out is quicker, but likely nearer 11:30am on a 3 ship day). Show up at 3pm and, if things are actually flowing normally, the queues have plummeted - we've managed to not stop walking at all until we hit CBP for our token Q&A, so sidewalk to ship time of ~10mins).

 

I'm surprised at such a bad day this late in the season, when all staff even first-timers for 2017, should be well experienced with the location, processes etc. There is a clue in OPs first post though - the mention of 10 CBP processing non-US citizens... Having taken one coastal cruise with massive numbers of Canadians (Princes 10 day RT Vancouver - depending which staff member I asked I was consistently told between 80 and 90% of ALL pax were Canucks!) the average processing time at CBP climbs when the % of US cruisers drops...

 

As citizens, they can't stop you entering - as long as your passport photo looks like you, you don't bring anything illegal in baggage, or have over-duty-free limit things to declare you bought in Canada, you guys breeze through preclearance. 10 seconds for a token check of passport vs face and an 'Anything to declare?' 'Nope, under the limit.' exchange sounds about right to me. Those of us with NEXUS/GE get US-type questioning as well - I've been literally waved through Peace Arch without stopping at all on multiple occasions. But for the vast majority of us foreigners, without Trusted Traveler status, the questions from CBP are much more extensive - and non-Canadians can't use the kiosks so it's always a person-to-person chat for the whole thing, customs and immigration.

 

Ballpark even 5x as long per person - still under one minute - and simple arithmetic shows us that swapping out 20% of the pax on a ship from US citizens to foreigners will roughly double total processing time. Since long cruises out of Canada do skew more Canadian (minimum 10 days paid leave, most provinces mandate 15+ with a few years service, so as long as they leave and return on a weekend even without a Stat holiday involved Joe Q Working Stiff could take a Vancouver 15 day RT cruise within their legal minimum vacation allowance...) I think the points above about 10 CBP processing foreigners, taking about a minute apiece, compared to the 10secs per American with 1 agent feels about right so that they could get through a passenger load that skewed 50% foreign or more as efficiently as possible.

 

Even if I'm right though, this just explains why it happened (and is likely to continue happening) - I can't think of any consistent way to avoid delays in such circumstances other than adding more CBP staff (and IIRC there's effectively a hard cap of 14 based on physical space for the desks). Weaker Canadian $ makes us less likely to cruise, so I guess you could avoid Vancouver cruises unless we're down below 75c US;-)

 

The best thing to take away though isn't that your embarkation sucked - it's to consider how much MORE your CBP experience would have sucked without preclearance! The CBP at Canada Place are probably as efficient as they ever can be by this stage - they've had all summer to get the rhythm down. If instead you had to wait until your first Hawaiian port, with a bunch of CBP who have even less experience processing cruisers (Pride of America visitors all get processed at the airport, or are on a domestic flight from mainland US, with only a handful of Asia/Australia/Canada to Hawaii cruises annually). Search the boards for horror story examples in Los Angeles, Astoria, San Francisco, Bar Harbor over the years when pax have been processed at their first US port instead of up here...

 

Since the vast majority of Vancouver embarkations are for Alaskan cruising, remember that only alternative is for Vancouver embarkation to be processed in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway etc. - how many CBP do you think are stationed in tiny ports like those...? No matter how long it takes here, your alternatives realistically would suck even more of your time away...

 

Sure, you could avoid Vancouver entirely and stick to RT Seattle/SF/LA cruises to Hawaii/Alaska - but then you lose port time in your destination because you have to make a stop in Victoria/Ensenada for PVSA compliance... I can't think of too many complimentary posts I've seen about port stops in Ensenada on these boards, and even Victoria with several nice things to do/see suffers from the crappy times the cruiselines choose for their visits, so it's a half-assed way to visit the city at best.

 

 

TL;DR - OP, sorry you had a bad time embarking but imagine how much worse it would be if you'd been processed in Hawaii by a bunch of CBP agents who almost never worked at the port!

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Living in Vancouver, I have boarded a number of cruises at the Canada Place terminal. Generally it has been okay, but occasionally there have been waits, mostly perpetrated by the USCBP operation, which is incompetent to say the least. I have never waited more than about an hour, however.

 

Disembarkation can also be a gong show, mostly because of the way vehicle access to the terminal is set up, which restricts the ability of taxis to enter and exit efficiently.

 

Having said that about USCBP, I have seen far worse in San Diego and Fort Lauderdale. My last experience in FLL was a year ago, and queues for immigration were 2-3 hours long, causing many to miss their flights.

 

Someone there needs to be fired.

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We sailed out of Canada Place May 17, 2017. Never again!! It's a shame, as we love Vancouver - it's such a great city - but we have never encountered such a disorganized cluster as we did on embarkation for this cruise.

 

Don't blame the Port of Vancouver. US Customs staff's the clearing area. THAT'S what the problem is. If they only send one agent, it's their fault, not the Port of Vancouver. They have NO control over US Customs.

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There were three ships in that day and US customs don't usually care about volumes. We boarded the day before when there was only one ship in and clearing US immigration took less than five minutes. It's not the ports fault and if anyone chooses to board in Seattle rather than Vancouver then you're missing out. The Seattle Alaska route is the worst

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Don't blame the Port of Vancouver. US Customs staff's the clearing area. THAT'S what the problem is. If they only send one agent, it's their fault, not the Port of Vancouver. They have NO control over US Customs.

 

I would agree that this is a large part of the problem ... but certainly not the only problem when we were at Canada Place in May. Nobody and I mean nobody seemed to have any clue as to where pax should go ...and signage was non-existent at the time and those that got the green (I think) boarding cards had no idea what to do with them so they just ended up in the trash. It was really the most frustrating and chaotic embarkation we've encountered. Yes, some have been close to being this bad but this one took the prize.

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Don't blame the Port of Vancouver. US Customs staff's the clearing area. THAT'S what the problem is. If they only send one agent, it's their fault, not the Port of Vancouver. They have NO control over US Customs.

 

If only our problems had started with customs! It started upstairs with check in.

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Thanks for the heads up! We will sail out of Vancouver next June. Will get there early!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

 

There were three ships in that day and US customs don't usually care about volumes. We boarded the day before when there was only one ship in and clearing US immigration took less than five minutes. It's not the ports fault and if anyone chooses to board in Seattle rather than Vancouver then you're missing out. The Seattle Alaska route is the worst

 

I know that I said we would never again sail out of Vancouver, as it was a fiasco. But true, it was the first 3 ship day of the season and we were warned ahead of time that it would be a madhouse. It was just frustrating.

 

However, with that being said, the 4 days pre-cruise that we spent in the Vancouver area was really well worth the embarkation fiasco. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed Vancouver immensely. I received some really great information from locals (especially martincath) who helped in the planning of our stay. Except for the day we drove the Sea-to-Sky Highway, we were able to use the public transit for everything. There was so much to see and getting there on public transit was so easy and economical, even Grouse Mountain was on the transit route. I would definitely recommend a stay in Vancouver!

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I know that I said we would never again sail out of Vancouver, as it was a fiasco. But true, it was the first 3 ship day of the season and we were warned ahead of time that it would be a madhouse. It was just frustrating.

 

However, with that being said, the 4 days pre-cruise that we spent in the Vancouver area was really well worth the embarkation fiasco. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed Vancouver immensely. I received some really great information from locals (especially martincath) who helped in the planning of our stay. Except for the day we drove the Sea-to-Sky Highway, we were able to use the public transit for everything. There was so much to see and getting there on public transit was so easy and economical, even Grouse Mountain was on the transit route. I would definitely recommend a stay in Vancouver!

 

Wonderful to hear :)

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We went May 13th. Even though we were platinum for priority boarding, there was not priority boarding that anyone there knew about. We arrived at Canada Place about 1 pm and it was close to 5 pm by the time we boarded. The ship did leave Canada Place late. Absolutely the worst embarkation that we have ever experience.

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We sail out of Vancouver next Wednesday and our first stop is Vancouver Island. Won't our US Customs and Immigration take place when we reach Seattle?

 

They might do it on the ship, and that can be a process too! We sailed out of Vancouver last year for a Pacific Coastal and we didn't do US customs until we docked in San Francisco (our first US port). 5 US border agents came on board to process all 2100 passengers. We were lucky - we were in a suite and had an early excursion booked so our concierge was able to get us processed early. We returned from our excursion about 4 hours later and there were STILL people lined up waiting to go through customs! A lot of unhappy passengers that day.

 

We have sailed out of Vancouver three times now and only had a long wait to board once. We disembarked on September 23rd of this year and it was a mess. We were late docking and there were 3 ships in port. It took forever to get off the ship, locate our luggage, and get in line for a taxi. We actually ended up missing our flight home but were able to book one for just one hour later (thank god flights from Vancouver to Toronto are frequent!) Next time we sail from Vancouver we will be hiring a car service or using the ship's transfer if there is more than one ship in port - that was not a fun ending to our trip!

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If only our problems had started with customs! It started upstairs with check in.

Hopefully the early-season woes will reduce a little now that the port seems to have a consistent process of check-in first (in the past it almost seemed random which order things happened!). But regardless, every year will always see some new hires - so even if it's the same old, same old for returning folks and they get into the swing of things quickly, there are always n00bs hired each season at the port to do check-in, showing people around etc. so there will always be less overall efficiency early in the season unfortunately. I blame the cruiselines for not keeping ships in Alaska all year round so that the pier folks could actually be permanent employees;-)

 

 

Oh, and thanks for the shout out in your other post.

 

We sail out of Vancouver next Wednesday and our first stop is Vancouver Island. Won't our US Customs and Immigration take place when we reach Seattle?

If Seattle is your first US port, yes. Since Seattle at least does have regular cruises for 6 months or so at least some of the CBP guys will have a clue about working at the port - hopefully a less-crappy experience than the less-often-used ports-of-call like SF and Astoria! It would be really nice if you reported back with how long it took to queue up and get processed so we actually have some data to compare with the much-maligned Vancouver preclearance process...

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They might do it on the ship, and that can be a process too! We sailed out of Vancouver last year for a Pacific Coastal and we didn't do US customs until we docked in San Francisco (our first US port). 5 US border agents came on board to process all 2100 passengers. We were lucky - we were in a suite and had an early excursion booked so our concierge was able to get us processed early. We returned from our excursion about 4 hours later and there were STILL people lined up waiting to go through customs! A lot of unhappy passengers that day.

 

We have sailed out of Vancouver three times now and only had a long wait to board once. We disembarked on September 23rd of this year and it was a mess. We were late docking and there were 3 ships in port. It took forever to get off the ship, locate our luggage, and get in line for a taxi. We actually ended up missing our flight home but were able to book one for just one hour later (thank god flights from Vancouver to Toronto are frequent!) Next time we sail from Vancouver we will be hiring a car service or using the ship's transfer if there is more than one ship in port - that was not a fun ending to our trip!

First, you were lucky in SF (or they've actually learned from past debacles and changed procedures) - our SF processing involved 3 guys at the desk in the terminal to process the whole ship! Five seems like a luxury, and onboard too so you don't need to stand outside when the queue is too long to fit in the building;-)

 

Second, as Canadians with no currency/credit card issues - next time take SkyTrain. It's easy, cheap, and the fastest way to travel end to end as soon as cab queues go beyond 5 minutes (and always, always the most consistently-timed way to go). Even if you aren't familiar with our ticket vending machines they're pretty intuitive, so the ~3 block walk and ticket buying time should add less than 10 mins to the travel time of 26mins to YVR even for a first-time-user. Absolute worst-case, you just miss a train on a Sunday morning you might have 20mins until the next one comes - but usually it's closer to 7mins, as they do schedule more frequent trains on busy cruise days.

 

 

Ship transfers suck badly here - they literally cost as much per person as an entire cab, and while on a 3 ship day they'll almost certainly be faster if you're not among the first few folks off (can queue can easily run over an hour and up to 3 is not unheard of...) they are always slower than SkyTrain.

 

 

Private car, depending how many other folks also reserved one, should be a pretty consistently short wait time so on par with SkyTrain - but at a much, much higher price. If you can afford a suite I'm sure a limo won't bankrupt you - but I'd rather save the money to buy overpriced airport beers while waiting for my flight;-)

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On a 10 day Pacific Coastal Vancouver Rt on the Star in May of 2016, we had to go through Customs in Los Angeles (San Pedro) our first port - they had given everyone times to be at the chosen venue (can't remember exactly where). We were in the second group 7:15 AM so thought we would do the customs thing, grab breakfast, then easily make our scheduled princess excursion which wasn't due until 9:00 AM. We went down 15 minutes early to find that the line was already all the way around deck 7 - Princess staff were trying to tell people to wait until the times on their notices as they were timed to coincide with the excursions passengers had booked. At about 7:30 the line hadn't moved an inch and there was an announcement that the Customs and Immigration Agents still had not arrived but that they were trying to find out when we could expect them. Finally at about 8:30, the Agents came on board - all four of them. It took them about 15 minutes to set up and then they would only let about 20 people at a time into the lounge. They would process that bunch - then let the next 20 in. We weren't processed until close to 10:00 AM but there were MANY people behind us. Princess did come by with some beverages as most of us hadn't eaten anything, thinking we had ample time. The Princess Excursions did all wait, and since we were only doing the Long Beach excursion we didn't mind too much that we were late as they extended our return time to allow for our late departure. This was only possible as we were scheduled to be in port until 11:00 PM and our excursion had originally been due back at around 6:00 PM if I remember correctly. However, those that had other excursions were not all able to do the full excursion that had been planned and private ones were not always able to be accomodated (so we heard time and again at dinner). The Captain authorized a free drink for everyone when they re-boarded to apologize even though it was no fault of Princess Cruise Lines.

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  • 1 year later...
16 hours ago, Cruiserkenn said:

If my cruise is round trip from Vancouver, U.S. Immigration should 't be involved, should they?  So wouldn't round trip from Vancouver be smoother?

 

When we sailed out of Vancouver, I do recall going through US immigration right there at Canada Place during the embarkation process ... this happened at least a couple of times for us.  I may have happened every time I've been there, but only the very long delays are the memorable ones for me.  And, I believe it is because our first port of call was in the US (Ketchikan in our case).  The US Border Agents are right there at Canada Place before you can embark.  

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22 hours ago, Cruiserkenn said:

If my cruise is round trip from Vancouver, U.S. Immigration should 't be involved, should they?  So wouldn't round trip from Vancouver be smoother?

If you visit a US port of call on your closed loop Vancouver cruise, then yes, you will have to clear US immigration at some point.

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Thanks, all, for the clarification concerning RT Vancouver cruises.  I have embarked in Vancouver a few times, but it was always for a Vancouver to Whittier or Seward trip.  I was hoping that RT Vancouver would be better.

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15 hours ago, Cruiserkenn said:

Thanks, all, for the clarification concerning RT Vancouver cruises.  I have embarked in Vancouver a few times, but it was always for a Vancouver to Whittier or Seward trip.  I was hoping that RT Vancouver would be better.

 

Funny you mention that ... 

I don't think I've ever been on a Vancouver RT itinerary.  I think they've always been Vancouver to the somewhere in the states or vice versa, be it Seattle, San Francisco, LA ... 

 

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