Are you about to embark on a cruise? Whether this is your first time or you’re a cruise veteran, it’s essential to know how to have a stress-free cruise embarkation day.
Cruise ships are massive and can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. There are so many things to do and see, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This blog post will discuss what you should do before arriving at the cruise ship terminal and after you board. We’ll also provide helpful tips to make your embarkation day go smoothly!
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Preparation Is The Key To A Stress-Free Embarkation Day
You booked a fantastic cruise vacation and can’t wait to enjoy all the fun and food on your beautiful ship. However, before leaving home, there are three key things you need to do to ensure your cruise embarkation day is stress-free.
1. Download The Cruise Line App
Download the cruise lines app and familiarize yourself with the ship’s layout. This will help you navigate the ship more quickly once you’re on board.
Upload all your cruise documents to the app. This is your pre-cruise check-in. Once you’ve done this, the cruise line will already have your documents ready and will just need to verify any last-minute items. This will save you time during your live check-in on cruise day.
While in the app, you will be asked to choose a check-in time at the port. Just like a flight, the earlier you complete your docs, the more options you will have for an early check-in time.
Before your cruise is the time to take advantage of pre-cruise specials, the cruise lines often offer discounts on bookings for the spa, specialty dining, excursions, and more before sailing. Check the website for offers and book the ones you know you’ll use.
Have your travel documents in both digital and paper form. Having paper backups will help if you lose your phone or your electronic devices die, or there is lousy internet service at the terminal. Place your digital docs and paper docs in an easy to access folder. Keep these items in your “cruise ship carry-on”; you don’t want them getting on the ship without you.
2. Plan To Arrive At Your Departure Port At Least One Day Before Embarkation
Unless you live near the departure port, plan to arrive in the departure port city at least the day before your cruise. Most cruises leave in the late afternoon. Because of this, many folks think they can fly into town that day and still make the ship.
You don’t want to take a chance on your flight or other transportation getting canceled due to weather or unforeseen circumstances and missing your cruise. If a storm comes in and shuts down the airport, or your flight is canceled or delayed due to mechanical issues, you may not make the sail away party. Even if you do arrive at the port just in time, I guarantee you won’t be enjoying a stress-free embarkation day.
We give ourselves even more time when we depart from an international port; this allows us to relax and get acclimated (i.e., re-coop from jet lag).
If you’re driving to the cruise ship terminal, make sure to leave early enough to account for traffic and parking.
Also, until further notice, we all have to take a COVID test, usually within 48 hours of boarding a cruise. Find a location at your cruise departure port and make an appointment for the test. CVS and Walgreens offer Rapid Antigen Test in less than a one-hour turnaround here in the States.
Lastly, try to book a hotel close to the cruise ship terminal. Being close by will save you time and aggravation on embarkation day. We like to stay at the Hilton Marina in Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale, Fl). This hotel is so close to the terminal you can usually see your cruise ship!
3. The Last Thing You Need To Do Is Pack Your “Cruise Ship Carry-On”
You are going to drop most of your luggage at the dock. But you may not see those bags until after dinner on embarkation day. It is essential to have a “cruise ship carry-on” to get you through your first day onboard.
This bag should contain all of the items you need to make it through your first night on board. Obviously, you will want to have your important documents (passport, boarding pass, etc.). Place all medications, toiletries, any electronics you may need (phone charger, camera, etc.), and other valuables in this suitcase.
Additionally, you should have a change of clothes, your nightclothes, and maybe a bathing suit in your “cruise ship carry-on.” With all this inside, your bag may not be a small case. In my case, it’s actually two bags.
First, I have A Roll Aboard like this one that carries most of my clothes and some of my electronics.
And then I have a tote that fits over the handle of my roll-aboard for all the rest of my needs—phone, earbuds, snacks for the plane, etc.
Why would you need all of this on your first day? Well, you may not. But your luggage might not make it to your room until quite late on embarkation day. I have heard stories of luggage getting lost and taking a few days to show up in one’s cabin.
In one episode of the Cruise on YouTube, embarkation day didn’t go so well for the porters on the pier. As they loaded the luggage onto the ship, one of the dollies filled with guests’ bags went straight into the water. I’m sure that even if you get your luggage back after being dropped in the ocean, you won’t be wearing those clothes.
What To Expect At The Cruise Ship Terminal On Embarkation Day
It used to be you could arrive almost anytime you wanted to check-in and board the ship. Your room might not be ready, and you’d be stuck sitting in a lounge, by the pool, or in the buffet, but at least you were on the ship. Not so these days.
Arriving At The Terminal On Embarkation Day
When cruising started back up after the COVID shutdown, the cruise lines were subjected to even more stringent health requirements. Check-in has become more regimented as well. You will most certainly be assigned a check-in time when you complete the registration on the app or your computer.
If you arrive before that time, you may have to wait to check-in. So pace yourself; the ship won’t leave without you as long as you are there before “all-aboard.
You will find a queue of porters outside the terminal to take your luggage to the ship. Double-check that you have the correct luggage tags on your bags and send them off. In your eagerness to board your ship, hold on to your carry-on!
Once inside the terminal, a cruise line coordinator usually guides you to the proper check-in counter. There are different locations for certain levels of loyalty passengers. Also, if you booked a coveted “suite,” you will likely get express service.
Getting Your “Sea Pass”
Once you are at the check-in kiosk, the cruise line representative will scan your passport and review your boarding documents (including your vaccination card and recent covid test). This is where having all your documents in an easy-to-access folder comes in handy.
They will check the photo you uploaded during your app check-in and maybe take a new image. Your photo is digitally connected to your sea pass. For newbies, a sea pass is your key to the cruise. This credit card like item is your room key, your access to board or leave the ship, and your “money” while onboard.
Princess Cruise Lines recently migrated from the standard sea pass to a fob they call the “Princess Medallion.” Last October, we used the medallion on our cruise on the Sky Princess and liked its simplicity. However, while it has some great features that a traditional sea pass does not offer, Princess still has a lot of bugs to work out of this piece of technology.
The last step before getting on the ship is the security line. Like at an airport, you and your bags will go through a final screening point. To get through screening effectively, you should review our list of what you can and can’t bring on your cruise ship.
Unlike airplanes, cruise lines are ok with liquids, as long as it’s not alcohol. With alcohol, depending on the line, you are limited to two-750ml bottles of wine per cabin. But if you want to bring a case of soda, and don’t mind carrying it on board, feel free!
Finally, You Get To Board The Ship! Here’s What We Do Next!
Yay, you are on the ship! But there are still a few things to make sure your embarkation day and the rest of the cruise are stress-free.
First, Go To Your Cabin
Depending on when you board, your cabin may or may not be “ready.” But even if the room steward needs to finish up some last-minute cleaning or arrangements, you should be able to drop your bags. Chances are, however, the room will be available for you, and you can use this time and space to take care of some necessities.
a) Check the room to ensure it is set up as you requested. Unpack your carry-on and place your valuables in the room safe.
b) Meet your room steward; if you need anything for your room, now is the time to let them know.
c) Watch the muster video. Before COVID, muster was a live event where everyone had to put on their life jackets, report to their muster station, and get a briefing as a group. You were then often led to your lifeboat station before being dismissed.
Now days not wanting to have all those people in one place at one time (social distancing 101), the muster is a video. You can watch the video on the TV in your room or on your phone/tablet on the cruise lines app. They somehow know if you watch the video after boarding the ship, so you can’t skip it. After you watch the video, head down to your muster station to report in and get checked off.
Next Up Lunch – Your First Meal On Board
These next few steps along the way of your embarkation day are all about setting you up for a stress-free cruise. In your cabin and on the cruise line app is the daily schedule. Grab your phone and the list, and head off to get a bite to eat.
Most people are directed to the buffet and gladly head up there. I prefer to grab a seat in the MDR (main dining room) for lunch. Here you can enjoy a quieter meal in spacious surroundings. Why do you need quiet time and space to breathe? This is when you get ready for all the fun to come.
Once you’ve been seated and ordered, pull out your phone. Now is the time to log on to the ship’s wi-fi. Go to settings and place your phone in “Airplane Mode,” then enable wi-fi only. If your cellular plan offers wi-fi calling, you can enable this feature so you can make calls as well.
This essential step will prevent you from incurring the crazy high “roaming.” Often your cellular company starts charging these fees as soon as the ship leaves the dock. If your cellular plan offers wi-fi calling, you can enable this feature so you can make calls as well.
A very important next step is to set the time zone on your phone to “manual” and verify what time it is with your waiter. Ship’s time can be different than local time. You want to make sure your phone or whatever device you are using for timekeeping is always on ship time. You don’t want to be one of the many pier runners who miss the boat because they were not following “ship time.”
While you enjoy your meal, study the ship’s map to familiarize all the venues. After lunch, you can head out on a personal reconnaissance mission!
Time To Explore And More
How are you enjoying your stress-free embarkation day so far? There are just a couple of items left to cross off the list, and these are the most fun.
If you haven’t made any reservations for specialty dining, now may be a good time. Look for a kiosk at the entrance to the MDR with menus for these restaurants and someone waiting to make your reservation. Often the specialty restaurants offer a discounted rate for the first evening.
Next, we like to head to the ship’s top deck and start a slow circular walk down. We tour all the common areas venues on each deck with our map in hand.
Some venues are reservation only, depending on the ship. Reserve space now if you want a day in the “Sanctuary” on Princess or the “Persian Garden” on Celebrity. These amenities book up fast!
Like the specialty restaurants, the spa offers discounts on services on the first day of the cruise and often on port days. Again, book early to ensure you get an appointment and the deal.
Take a stroll through the various bars, entertainment areas, and the library. Visit the “Internet Café” so you know where to go if you have issues with wi-fi or your device(s). In general, get a good feel for your ship.
Usually, 4 – 5 pm is the official sail away, and unless it’s raining, there will be a party on the pool deck. Grab a drink at the bar and enjoy the music and the show. When you finish your drink, you may want to head back to your cabin; your luggage has probably arrived by now.
Finishing Up Your Stress-Free Embarkation Day
There are typically two showtimes each evening. One is around 8:00 for those who dine early and one around 10:00 for those who dine later. Whether you are eating dinner in the Main Dining Room or a specialty restaurant, you want to be sure to catch tonight’s show.
The show on the first evening sets up the entertainment for the rest of the cruise. If you didn’t meet the “cruise director” earlier in the day, they will be the MC for the show. Often the program is a “variety” of acts from the many different performers scheduled to perform later on in the cruise.
Also, because you are now “At Sea,” you have your first opportunity to visit the shops and make a few bets in the casino if you are a gambler. Due to local laws, these areas of the ship are closed while in port.
Embarkation Day Made Stress-Free
So now you have a complete guide for a stress-free embarkation day on your next cruise. Following these simple steps will help you board your ship with ease and start enjoying your vacation right away.
Have any questions or tips of your own? We’d love to hear them in the comments below. Bon Voyage!