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Vancouver to Alaska - Am I going to wait hours?

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3 hours ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

 

But if the first step is the holding pen, they could give different numbers to the suites and 4-5* passengers. Cunard does that at some of the Southampton terminals, depending on how they're set up. It worked very well last time I was QM2. Priority passengers went right to check in (security was after check in), and they called numbers to check in small groups of non-priority passengers at a time. So people may have had to sit for a while (and the terminal we were in has loads of seating), but there was almost no standing in a line to check in, and because the flow was controlled, almost no waiting at security.

 

Not sure what Cunard does in Southampton is in any was relevant to what HAL does in Vancouver.

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Posted (edited)
13 minutes ago, martincath said:

Yes indeedy - read the small print on your card very carefully (or the original leaflets if you still have them). NEXUS is the best TT program as it incorporates ALL the benefits of GE and TSA Pre, PLUS the extraspecial magical land border lanes at the Canadian border AND expedited Canadian domestic flight Security queues. For half the cost of GE. The only downside is the very limited number of sites for interview due to requiring both CBSA and CBP staff.

 

Thanks! I am pretty sure we used it once awhile ago in Florida when I saw a little sign that said something to the effect of "GE entry line". No one else was in line, so we tried our NEXUS and it worked!

 

I totally agree with you about NEXUS. We use it at least 5-6 times a year for trips to Vancouver, and Alaska cruises, plus any other flights we do. The interview part is the difficult part; the first time we managed to get our 2 interviews one after another on a vacation trip to Vancouver. We are working on renewing one card now, and hoping my husband doesn't have to do an interview....

 

 

Edited by PSR

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2 hours ago, martincath said:

OP - since I don't know when you are cruising, I can only give you the general info and point you to the cruise schedule on the port website, so you can assess the likelihood of long delays for yourself. The key points are, first: how many ships? and second: when during the season are you cruising?

 

The horror stories pretty much all share two points in common: 3+ ships, and a May departure. The latter because of new shoreside staff, CBP agents who may also be unfamiliar with the port as they just got assigned, and therefore a lack of efficiency until people get trained up and familiar with processes and location. The former because the pier itself has limited capacity to process passengers - with one or two ships, there can still be bottlenecks if too many folks show up at about the same time (e.g. every  cruise day there is a surge of pax a little after noon because that's when Amtrak arrives) but it should never be too bad.

 

But with 3 or 4 ships there is no room for error and even a minor snag causes backups - with CBP being by far the worst offender as not only is there a physical limit to how many agents and kiosks they can make use of in the space, but they're also prone to not staff all the desks all the time. CBP have total control over when people get to move - if their room is full, they stop anyone being allowed to leave the 'holding pen.' This does tend to mean that once you DO leave the first room, you should in theory flow relatively smoothly through Security and then CBP.

 

You can't do anything about either of these key points (short of rebooking a different cruise!), but you CAN minimise the likely delays by choosing when you arrive at the pier. With a flight ETA of 11am, going early is off the table - even if you didn't have Canadian immigration to deal with at YVR, there's no way you could get to the pier fast enough (it's all about beating as many other pax as possible - and Joe Experienced Cruiser knows that 11am is a nice time to arrive at the pier!) What you can do though is arrive as LATE as possible - and that's actually the most efficient thing to do anyway, with the shortest possible time spent queuing (early people sit around until anywhere from 11am to noon before anyone is allowed to start moving, so show up at 10-ish and you'll always wait 90mins or more to get on board).

 

Since we abandoned the concept of boarding early enough to get lunch in the MDR, and instead show up after 2pm, we've been flowing right through with almost no waiting ever even on 3 ship days. You MUST arrive at least 90mins before departure for the manifest to be locked-down, but the closer you get to that limit the shorter the queues - aim for 2 hours before, be somewhere close by having lunch or sightseeing so that you don't have any travel risks, and you'll be weighting the odds as much in your favour as you can. Boarding late, sometimes we literally only stop walking when we have to interact with someone so it's 20 minutes from curb to cabin.

 

Even though you won't have time for much sightseeing OP, assuming an on-time flight you can expect to be downtown by some time between noon and 1pm - you can drop your bags with the longshoremen right away, but then instead of joining the queues go for lunch or maybe ride FlyOverCanada (this is right at the pier, takes <30mins to experience, so even with a bit of a queue you can be in and out and back to start the boarding process within an hour).

 

Thank you for your thoughts.  I did look and there are actually two ships in port that day and we are leaving the end of May.  We typically do arrive a bit later when we get to port as we like to miss as much as the crowds as possible.  But with hearing the TA horror stories of three to four hours waits, I was in a bit of panic mode! LOL  

So if we arrive around the 12:30 - 1 PM and drop off the luggage is there a variety of restaurants close by to have a nice family lunch?  Arriving back to port around 2-2:30 for check in and CBP screening we should then avoid the major long lines, correct?

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4 hours ago, bEwAbG said:

I sailed from there last May (mid-month).  I had read in advance that the early cruises are typically slower because they're not always fully staffed + a lot of new people are working at the port since it's a seasonal job.  We went to the port a little after 11am.  There were three ships in port embarking that day (two HAL + one Princess).  This is how it worked:

 

  • Arrive at port
  • Directed downstairs to check bags with porters
  • Go back upstairs to big holding room where you are given a card with a number
  • Sit in that big room until they call your number
  • Go by group to the security lines (to x-ray your carry-ons and go through metal detectors)
  • Go to US Customs
  • Get to the check-in counters for HAL

We had to sit in that big holding room for about 45 minutes.  We have Global Entry, which did not do anything for the relatively short security line but did allow us to go to a dedicated booth at Customs, so it was maybe 5 minutes to get through it. However, we got to skip in front of several hundred people, and this is where the major hold-up was occurring. Consider that I was "in line" in the big room for 45 minutes and then would have had to stand in an actual line for who-knows-how-long after that. Also, when we got to the big room, it was only about 1/4 full; by the time we left, it was about 3/4 full. There was no way to skip the big holding room part, even with Global Entry (we were also in a suite, but that didn't matter, either).

 

From Customs, we proceeded to the HAL check-in desks to get our room keys. That part was practically empty, and the check-in people asked us if the lines were long because they had seen very few people come through. We were on the ship around 1pm, so it took about 2 hours from start to finish, and that was because we arrived before "the rush" and also had Global Entry. All of the ships set sail late that day because of the Customs lines.  I believe the experience is a matter of how many ships are in port and what time of year it is. 

 

Thanks for the information!  Appreciate knowing what to expect when we arrive at Canada place.

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14 minutes ago, UM-Fan said:

So if we arrive around the 12:30 - 1 PM and drop off the luggage is there a variety of restaurants close by to have a nice family lunch?  Arriving back to port around 2-2:30 for check in and CBP screening we should then avoid the major long lines, correct?

Two ships should normally be relatively smooth by 1:30pm but as it's in May there will likely still be some rough edges to rub off on the staff & processes, so after 2pm is safer. - so assuming your ship departs 4pm or later (it should be listed on the schedule) that's a solid plan.

 

Food options run the gamut from the food court connected to Canada Place (just head downstairs), various pubs & cafes along the Seawall, more restos down in Gastown (Water Street is the main tourist drag, folks of all ages enjoy the Steamclock, and kids especially are likely to find the Old Spaghetti Factory interior fun - there's all sorts of stuff in there, you can even eat inside an old streetcar, and while the food is not remotely fancy it's cheap and big) - in fact walk along pretty much any street in downtown and you'll find various eateries within ~three blocks.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for all the useful information, we are sailing out of Vancouver July 21 and I wondered what to expect. Our fight lands at 11:30 in Vancouver and we figured after going through airport customs and the transfer to the ship we would not arrive at Canada place before 1:30pm or later. Our cruise departs at 4:30.

Edited by terrydtx

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Posted (edited)
50 minutes ago, terrydtx said:

Thanks for all the useful information, we are sailing out of Vancouver July 21 and I wondered what to expect. Our fight lands at 11:30 in Vancouver and we figured after going through airport customs and the transfer to the ship we would not arrive at Canada place before 1:30pm or later. Our cruise departs at 4:30.

 

At first we were supposed to land in Vancouver at 9AM and that would have been perfect.  But after the cancellation they wanted to put us on a flight that didn't get in until 1:30.  Knowing that wouldn't work, the best we could do was land at 11 after a night in Seattle.  Right now I view air travel as a necessary evil!  I haven't had a flight in the past few years that hasn't been changed or cancelled weeks prior to the trip. Even after the re-booking, our flight from Seatac to YVR was changed to an hour later a week after it was booked!

Edited by UM-Fan

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51 minutes ago, UM-Fan said:

 

At first we were supposed to land in Vancouver at 9AM and that would have been perfect.  But after the cancellation they wanted to put us on a flight that didn't get in until 1:30.  Knowing that wouldn't work, the best we could do was land at 11 after a night in Seattle.  Right now I view air travel as a necessary evil!  I haven't had a flight in the past few years that hasn't been changed or cancelled weeks prior to the trip. Even after the re-booking, our flight from Seatac to YVR was changed to an hour later a week after it was booked!

 

Necessary evil is right! I'm flying to Seattle for my Alaska cruise and taking the train to Vancouver because I have a better choice of direct flights to Seattle--only one per day between Newark and Vancouver.  I don't know what it is about Seattle flights, but every time I've flown to Seattle there have been time changes or cancellations and new flights. 

 

I'm with the others who recommend the train. It's a beautiful ride along the coast. You do have to be at the train station pretty early, about 6:45 to check bags, but you'll arrive just before noon, and closer to the pier. When I did this several years ago, they "dismissed" one car at a time so there wasn't a huge backup of people to go through border control, and that meant a steady flow to the taxi stand (and a steady flow of taxis, they know the train schedule).

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Two quick points;

The Vancouver-Seattle/Seattle-Vancouver Amtrak is an often overlooked route that I can't recommend enough.  We have used it a number of times to catch a cruise out of Seattle from Vancouver, and to return home.  

I'd recommend paying the extra $20 (its around that) per seat to business class upgrade; priority disembarkation, its a relatively cheap upgrade, and its immaterial if you can afford the cruise

As to the Port of Vancouver, I understand our experience is our experience alone, and others have had far worse days at that terminal, but in eight sailings from Canada Place, various times of year and numbers of ships in port, we have never not been on board by noon, and (as we live about a ten minute cab ride away) we generally arrive at about 10:30, are processed through security customs and HAL, and are seated and waiting to board by 11:15.    Vancouver can be a breeze, to be honest, but again, our own experience, and a non representative sample of all experiences.

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Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions and the help.

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Posted (edited)
On 4/17/2019 at 6:05 PM, martincath said:

They don't - there is a Global Entry line for Security as well as Immigration. Furthest left IIRC. Signage however, is VERY poor at Canada Place as it is not a permanent cruise port so everything is temporary and often just one of the little waist-height poles for marking queues has a roughly Letter-size sign stuck on top of it.

 

If you don't get proactive about asking people where the GE line is you will end up stuck with everyone else!

 

We asked several different people along the way and were told there was no Global Entry priority until we reached Customs, which was after security.  The person in the holding room who was calling group numbers also made an announcement several times that Global Entry could only be used at Customs and that everyone had to wait for their number to be called before being able to go to security.  The person at the exit to that room also had to repeat that several times to people who kept asking to leave.  This was not a misunderstanding or lack of effort on our part.

Edited by bEwAbG

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Posted (edited)
On 4/17/2019 at 5:52 PM, Himself said:

The train from Seattle stps at the Central Pacific Station and that is a cab ride from Canada Place,

 

I was referring to the train from the airport that the prior person had recommended instead of taking a car.  The stop for that is just around the corner from Canada Place.

Edited by bEwAbG

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2 hours ago, bEwAbG said:

We asked several different people along the way and were told there was no Global Entry priority until we reached Customs, which was after security.  The person in the holding room who was calling group numbers also made an announcement several times that Global Entry could only be used at Customs and that everyone had to wait for their number to be called before being able to go to security.  The person at the exit to that room also had to repeat that several times to people who kept asking to leave.  This was not a misunderstanding or lack of effort on our part.

That's not my understanding of the normal GE process, nor those of most other reports I've seen since it started. That does not mean I don't believe you, but depending when you cruised compared to other reports I am hopeful that your experience reflects an abandoned policy and this year and onward a 'short queue' at Security will also apply for GE.

 

If the Security minions were actually shouting out 'Customs' rather than Immigration or Preclearance this also leads me to think it was early in a season and a yet-to-be-properly-trained minion was involved - the key part of CBPs presence is vetting people for entry, not collecting Duty, so while you do go through both Customs and Immigration the latter is by far the most important aspect. They are very commonly-conflated terms, but preclearance is all about the People, not the Stuff.

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Many thanks for the information about the somewhat improved boarding process. Although our next voyage from Vancouver is on Cunard, not HAL, it is relevant to us. When we boarded a HAL ship a few years ago there was no holding room on the upper level, so it was a bit of a "zoo" on the lower level.  On that early May date there were three large ships boarding and all were delayed departing by an hour or more.

 

We don't mind waiting (seated) and it sounds like it may not be necessary to stand in long queues for a lengthy time. My wife has issues with standing for long periods. We normally request wheelchair assistance only when flying internationally, which can be a horror. Ship and rail terminals are normally far more civilised.

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6 hours ago, martincath said:

If the Security minions were actually shouting out 'Customs' rather than Immigration or Preclearance this also leads me to think it was early in a season and a yet-to-be-properly-trained minion was involved - the key part of CBPs presence is vetting people for entry, not collecting Duty, so while you do go through both Customs and Immigration the latter is by far the most important aspect. They are very commonly-conflated terms, but preclearance is all about the People, not the Stuff

 

I am the one using Customs in this thread as shorthand for Customs and Border Protection, which is the name of the U.S. agency, but I don't know why the workers at Vancouver would not also call it that.  That's very common nomenclature. 

 

I am calling "security" the process by which you go through the metal detectors and to have carry-on luggage screened.  Separate processes from Customs.  There was no Global Entry priority being given to get through that security screening and many were asking why not because it's similar to what happens at airports.  I do hope it's something that changed later in the season.  There was a shorter line for Global Entry participants at Customs once we got past the security screening area.  Just reporting on my experiences so people know what they might encounter based on a sailing from last May.  I'd still choose Vancouver over Seattle for Alaska departures any day.

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Keep in mind that the CBP clearance in Vancouver is unique. There is nothing equivalent in Montreal, Southampton or any other port. Much like the clearance done in Canadian airports for US bound flights, you are technically leaving Canada and entering the US since the rest of your ports on an Alaskan cruise are in the US. No need to show a passport at any intermediary stops, and when you get to Seward (assuming a north bound cruise), you can simply walk off the ship - no additional government clearance needed (no customs lines!!!).

 

I did this last year travelling with friends and can attest there is a single, not well marked GE line with a single agent that did speed it up for me. There was no one in the line, so he was handling a non-GE traveller that apparently had some issues so I had to wait a few minutes for that passenger to get resolved before I could zip through. My friends were in the long "commoner" line, but it seemed to move reasonably quickly. They were cleared about 5 minutes after I was.

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6 hours ago, bEwAbG said:

I am the one using Customs in this thread as shorthand for Customs and Border Protection, which is the name of the U.S. agency, but I don't know why the workers at Vancouver would not also call it that.  That's very common nomenclature.

You're absolutely right that it's a very common term - but it's also one that gets misused significantly, especially in regards to Vancouver. A very surprising number of folks even seem to think they are processed by 'Canadian Customs' and 'US Customs' before boarding for example, confusing the Security step for some sort of Canadian customs control! CBP aren't even the only folks able to work here - in fact on the 'stuff' rather than 'people' inspecting side of things, USDA and Dept of Agriculture inspectors are more relevant as Biosecurity is a much bigger risk than unpaid Duty...

 

There is only one official term for what happens here on Canadian soil - 'Preclearance' - and that's what should be getting stated by anyone employed at the pier. Without going into ridiculous detail about the legislation that governs what US gov't agents do here in Canada, and the many changes to it since it first started back in the 50s, suffice to say that it is still not quite the same process as happens at the actual, physical US border.

 

Anyhoo, you made yourself perfectly clear in terms of definitely experiencing a different Security and Preclearance setup so I'll abandon any further pedantry😉 For everyone with GE/NEXUS cards, let's hope that priority queues are available for both processes in future - but that the fancypants folks with expensive rooms but no verified criminal background checks continue to get stuck with everyone else so I can continue being processed quicker than them!!!

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Hey at least you aren’t sailing on the Viking ship that has to tender in Vancouver on its turnaround day because Viking screwed up dates! They forgot about the international date line and failed to inform the port before 4 ships scheduled turnaround service. 

 

Oops!

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On ‎4‎/‎19‎/‎2019 at 5:00 PM, sppunk said:

Hey at least you aren’t sailing on the Viking ship that has to tender in Vancouver on its turnaround day because Viking screwed up dates! They forgot about the international date line and failed to inform the port before 4 ships scheduled turnaround service. 

 

Oops!

 

Oh my, what a thing to forget! I am glad I am not on that Viking ship!

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