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 following the pandemic, it can take longer to get onboard. But with good planning and a vacation mindset 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 key to ensuring 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 quayside. The most common reasons that customers have been unable to board their cruise ship are:
Lateness – turning up too late when the door has closed, and check-in has finished means that the ship will not stop departure procedures from allowing you to board. 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 passports. Even if you have a departure from a domestic port, your cruise ship may be visiting international ports. Take your passport with you rather than just relying on an ID card or driver’s license. Check your passport is valid for at least six 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 for your cruise.
Since the pandemic, embarkation procedures have changed. It varies significantly from cruise line to cruise line, just as 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 online cruise account, do this at check-in.
At the end of your cruise, purchases made onboard will be charged to your card.
You will have the opportunity to check your final bill on your cabin TV screen or the cruise app on your mobile phone. Any discrepancies should be discussed with guest services before you disembark. We recommend you do this the day before you finish your cruise.
Why it’s important to check in online before your cruise:
- It allows you to double-check all your details in your cruise booking
- It speeds up the check-in process at the port.
- It lets you see the documents you need when you get to the port. We recommend that you take paper copies and digital 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 let you choose your own check-in time.
Cruise lines stagger the check-in times to ensure that not all passengers show up simultaneously. Remember that the largest cruise ships that hold around 6000 passengers would have an impossible task if guests were not grouped 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 can 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 10 am if your sailing departure time is around 5 pm.
We recommend that you do not fly into your departure city when your cruise departs. Flight delays and cancellations could delay getting to the port and missing your cruise altogether. There are no refunds if you book your flights and miss embarkation.
What is the first thing you should do when you get on board?
As you board your cruise ship, you will be asked to place your hand luggage on the x-ray machine.
You will show the cruise card the check-in staff has already given you. Or you will be blipped through with your cruise bracelet or medallion. Different cruise lines offer different ways of identification.
Once you are through this area, you will be on board. Make your way to your cabin using the elevators.
Once inside your cabin, makes sure everything is to your satisfaction. You will most likely meet your cabin attendant, who is usually nearby 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, ask the cabin attendant. They will take care of your cabin throughout your cruise, so it’s good to say hello.
Many cruise guests take the time to explore the ship. Familiarize 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 your 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, cruise staff will take care of your suitcases. Ensure your suitcases are all clearly labeled. 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 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. Ensure all the things you need immediately 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 personnel and turn up in your cabin for you. This ensures that cruise guests do not have to haul their suitcases on board and through the ship while looking for their cabins.
Most importantly, elevators and corridors do not become overcrowded 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 extras 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 cash, 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 at all times. Most importantly, to take those vacation photos and ensure you can keep in touch and access 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, luggage is delivered to the correct cabin number.
Poolside clothes, spare shorts, and t-shirt – If you intend to be at the pool deck after checking in and finding your cabin, pack your swimsuit, shorts, and t-shirt in your hand luggage. That way it’s a quick change without waiting for your suitcase. Towels are available at the poolside.
What are you not allowed to bring on board?
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 lines also limit the amount of alcohol and drinks you are allowed in your suitcase. Check your particular cruise line rules and regulations.
Some sports equipment may be 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 must inform the cruise company before you travel if you bring special luggage.
What should you pre-book before you start your cruise
It always feels good to know that by embarkation day, when 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 considering what you want from your holiday.
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 available places sell out quickly. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Drinks packages – The topic of drink or beverage packages is constantly 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 total price, but you will often be subject to a service charge of around 18% when ordering a drink at the bar.
The best scenario is if you can jump on a special campaign when booking your cruise vacation and have the beverage package included in the price. Then, if you are interested in upgrading, you pay the price difference for the “luxury” drinks packages. Check the cruise line’s information page to see what is included in your package.
Specialty restaurants – Food is excellent and plentiful on any cruise ship. You will happily eat in the main dining room or the buffet restaurant throughout your vacation.
However, specialty restaurants offer fantastic menus that are hard to resist. It is an extra cost; however, you often get super cuisine that you would pay much more for at a 5-star restaurant.
If you want to try a specialty restaurant, book before you leave home to ensure you get the evening you wish to.
Alternatively, if you are flexible, once on board, ask if any of the restaurants offer a special price to dine there for lunch, especially on port days if you stay on the ship.
Internet access – Wifi packages are often the same price regardless of booking in advance or on board the cruise ship. Booking ahead of your cruise is more convenient, 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.