Top Tips for Cruise Embarkation Day

There is something so exciting, and yet intensely nerve-wracking about cruise embarkation day. Boarding your cruise ship after months of planning often goes very smoothly – and other times not.

With new rules and check in procedures in place for most cruise lines since the pandemic began, it can take longer to get onboard. But with good planning and a vacation mind-set that starts as soon as you step foot on the quayside, embarkation and the sail away party can be great fun.

Our top cruise embarkation tips

Preparation is absolutely key to ensure that your embarkation day for your cruise vacation doesn’t leave you frazzled.

It is not unheard of that cruise passengers have been turned away at the quay side. The most common reasons that customers have been unable to board their cruise ship are:

Lateness – turning up too late when the door have closed and check in has finished means that the ship will not stop departure procedures to let you on. You must turn up at the latest time stated on your cruise ticket. This is often earlier than the actual ship’s departure time. The tide waits for no man, as they say.

Forgotten documents – most often passport. Even if you have a departure from a domestic port, your cruise ship may be visiting ports that are international. Take your passport with you rather than just relying on and ID card or drivers license. Check you passport is valid for at least 6 months after the return date of your cruise.

What is the embarkation procedure?

By the time you get to the port, you should have checked in online already for your cruise.

Since the pandemic embarkation procedures have changed. It varies greatly from cruise line to cruise line just what happens in the port. But generally, you will first enter the check in area before boarding your cruise ship.

Here you approach a cruise staff member at a check in desk and present your passports and cruise tickets. If you have not already registered a credit card on your ship account then you do this at check in.

This means that at the end of your cruise, any purchases made onboard that are not already included in your booking will be charged to your card at the end of your cruise.

You will have the opportunity to check your final bill on your cabin TV screen or through your cruise app on your mobile phone. Any discrepancies should be discussed with guest services before you disembarkation. We recommend you do this the day before you finish your cruise.

Why it’s important to check in online before you cruise:

  1. It allows you to double check all your personal details in your cruise booking
  2. It speeds up the check in process at the port.
  3. It allows you to see exactly what documents you need to have to hand when you get to the port. We recommend that you take paper copies and digitail copies of your documents. You can keep these digital documents on your mobile phone in a drop box.

How long does cruise embarkation take?

You will be allocated a check in time on your cruise ticket. Some cruise lines even offer the option of you choosing your own check in time.

The reason that cruise lines stagger the check in times are to ensure that not all passengers show up at the same time. Remember that the largest cruise ships that hold around 6000 passengers would have an impossible task if guests were not groups into time slots. This helps keep queue time to a minimum and avoid long lines at the port.

The truth is that even when you have an allocated check in time, you are able to turn up earlier at the port. Most often if there are no long lines you will be able to check in and board.

What time can you get on board your cruise ship?

The earliest check in time is usually around 10am if you sailing departure time is around 5pm.

If is very important that you actually do not fly into your departure city on the same day your cruise departs. Flights delays and cancellations could mean that you are delayed getting to the port and missing your cruise altogether. They are no refunds if you miss embarkation.

What is the first thing you should do when you get on board?

As you climb on board your cruise ship you will be asked to place your hand luggage on the x-ray machine.

You will show your cruise card that you have been given already by the check in staff. Or you will be blipped through with your cruise bracelet or medallion. Different cruise lines offer different way of identification.

Once you are through this area you will be on board. Make your way using the elevators to your cabin.

Once inside your cabin make sure everything is to your satifisfaction. You will most likely meet your cabin attendant as they are usually close by during check in. Do you have enough towels? are there plenty of coathangers in your wardrobe? would you like a different pillow? is the bedding configuration as you requested?

If you want anything changed, just ask the cabin attendant. They will be taking care of your cabin throughout your entire cruise so it’s good to say hello.

Many cruise guests take time to explore the ship. Familiar yourself with the location of your cabin. Then head to the main deck where you find the shops. Continue to the buffet restaurants where you can have a late lunch and order drinks. Work you way up to the top deck where you’ll find live music by the poolside ready for the sail away party!

Who takes care of your luggage on embarkation day?

When you are in the initial check in area at the port, your luggage will be taken from you by cruise personel. Keep your handluggage with you.

You should already have tagged your luggage using the tags you received from the cruise line with your cruise ticket. It has your cabin number on it. If you are missing any luggage tags do tell the check in staff before handing over your suitcase.

Your luggage will appear in your cabin during the afternoon. Don’t worry if it’s a little delayed. Make sure all the things you need immediately when you are on board are in your hand luggage.

What should you pack in your carry on luggage for embarkation day?

Once you get to the cruise port, your luggage will be handled by cruise personel and turn up in your cabin for you. This ensures that cruise guests do not have to haul their own suit cases on board and through the ship whilst looking for their cabins.

Most important of all, elevators and corridors do not become over crowded with suitcases.

All you need is your handluggage. Much like the handluggage you take onboard an aircraft, this should contain all your essentials and a few extra you may be glad of on cruise embarkation day:

Medication – any medication you the day should be in your handluggage.

Money – as always we recommend that you carry valuables with you until you are in your cabin and can use the safe to safely store your money, passports and anything else of value.

Passports – you will need these to board the cruise ship.

Mobile phone / camera – of course you will have this will you at all times. Most importantly to take those vacation photos and to ensure you can keep in touch and have access to valuable information through your cruise line app (download before you leave home!).

Embarkation documents – you will certainly need these with you and we recommend that you carry paper copies even if you have them accessible in digital form. And we also mean your printed luggage tags that the cruise line sends with your cruise ticket. These should be attached to your suitcase at the port. That way your luggage is delivered to the correct cabin number.

Poolside clothes and a spare shorts and t-shirt – If you intend to be at the pool deck after you have checked in and found your cabin, then pack your swimsuit, shorts and t-shirt in your hand luggage. That way it’s a quick change without having to wait for your suitcase. Towels are available at the poolside.

What are you not allowed to bring onboard?

Rules can vary from cruise line to cruise line, but generally you will not be allowed clothing irons and steam irons in your cabin.

Some cruise line also ban or limit the amount of alcohol and drinks you are allowed in your suitcase too. Check your particular cruise lines rules and regulations.

It is possible that some sports equipment is allowed, for example if you are extending your cruise into a land vacation and want to take golf clubs. However the cruise line will store your golf clubs until the end of the cruise. You need to inform the cruise company if you are bringing special luggage.

What should you pre-book before you start your cruise

It always feel good to know that by embarkation day and the time you are on board your cruise ship, you have booked all the optional extras you want during your vacation. Planning is half the fun and it is worth spending time considering what you want out of your vacation.

Excursions – whether you choose ships excursions or tours booked through independent suppliers, plan your days before you start your cruise.

Cruise lines often keep a certain number of places open for each excursion they offer. This allows guests to book last minute on board at the shore excursion desk. However, it’s risky, as by the time you get to guest services all the places for the shore excursion you wanted could be sold out. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Drinks packages – The topic of drink or beverage packages how long been discussed. Is it worth the money? when should I book to get the best price? One thing we know for sure is that beverage packages are almost always more expensive if you book on board the cruise ship. Not only will you pay the full price but often be subject to a service charge of around 18% when ordering a drink at the bar.

The best scenerio is if you can jump on a special campaign when booking your cruise vacation and have the drink package included in the price. Then if you are interested in upgrading, you just pay the price difference for the “luxury” drinks packages. Check the cruise lines information page on their website to see what is included in your package.

Specialty restaurants – Food is good and plentiful of any cruise ship. You will quite happily eat in the main dining room or in the buffet restaurant throughout your vacation. However the specialty restaurants offer fantastic menus that are hard to resist. It is an extra cost however you often get suburb cuisine that you would pay much more for at a 5-star restaurant.

If you want to try a specialty restaurants, book before you leave home to ensure you get the evening you want. A tip here is to also check when you get onboard to see if any of the restaurants are offering a special price to dine there for lunch, especially on port days if you choose to stay on the ship.

Internet access – these package are often the same price regardless if you book in advance or if you book on board the cruise ship. It is just more convenient to book ahead of your cruise and guest services can be busy on embarkation day. Again, check for special campaigns when you book your cruise to see if you can get a free package as part of a promotion.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..