Before Arriving at the Port
There are many ways to arrive at the cruise port – taxi, lyft/uber, shuttle or even driving yourself and parking at a nearby garage. Regardless of how you arrive at the cruise port, make sure you have your boarding documents and passport/ID handy as you may need to show it to security as you enter the port area.
If you are driving yourself to the port, there is often ample secure parking on site, but you may be able to find less expensive parking nearby. It is best to do some research before you arrive to see all of the options and read reviews.
Arriving at the Port and Luggage Drop Off
There may be many cruise terminals at the port, so don’t just follow the crowds. Be sure to read the signs to go to the correct terminal.
When you arrive at your ship’s terminal, it will be well organized chaos, but rest assured, these folks know what they are doing. You will be guided to drop your luggage with the porters before entering the building for check in. Make sure your bags have the luggage tags attached to them (that you printed from online check in). The porters will load your luggage directly onto the ship and your luggage will magically appear outside of your stateroom a few hours later. It’s a good idea to have a few small bills to tip the porters.
There are often several hours between when you board the ship and when your bags arrive at your stateroom. It is a good idea to pack a small bag or backpack with valuables, a change of clothes, toiletries and any medications you may need. If you pack your swimsuit you can jump in the pool or go on the waterslides as soon as you board the ship! You will also need your cruise documentation (that you printed from your online check in) and passports/ID with you!
You are not required to check your bags with the porters. If you carry all of your bags on with you, will need to keep them with you until your stateroom is ready which can be as late as 2pm. Also, elevators are often very full on embarkation day and you may need to use the stairs.
Pro tip: Take a picture of your luggage with your phone before you hand it off to the porters. While it is completely safe and I’ve never heard of lost or stolen luggage, the paper luggage tags can rip off and the cruise ship staff may not know whose bag is whose. If you have a photo of your luggage, it will be much easier for the cruise ship staff to identify which bag is yours and get it to you quickly. We prefer to use these reusable plastic luggage tag holders. They are made to fit the printed cruise luggage tags but take note that due to size, they are not universal, so make sure you order the correct size for your cruise line.
Security & Screening
The bags that you checked with the porter will be screened. Your suitcase may be opened to identify unknown or prohibited items inside, so be sure not to lock them. Prohibited items will be confiscated.
As you enter the cruise ship terminal, you will also be required to pass through security. Your carry-on bags will be screened, and you will pass through a metal detector. Any prohibited items will be confiscated. Some cruise lines allow you to bring on water, soda and wine/beer on board, but it must be carried on. Check your cruise line for specifics on what and how much you can bring onboard.
There are obvious items that are prohibited like weapons and illegal drugs, but there are many other items that cruise ships do not allow on board. Check your cruise lines website for specifics, but the biggest no-no’s that get confiscated are irons, steamers and power strips that are not cruise approved.
Cruise ships do not have a weight limit on luggage nor do they limit the number of bags you bring. Just remember, your stateroom is tiny and you will need to store that luggage somewhere. Unlike the TSA, there is no limit on the number of liquids and sizes you can bring onboard.
Depending on the time you arrive, the cruise ship terminal could be busy with several long lines at the check-in stations. There will be port staff everywhere to guide you to your check-in location and answer any questions you may have.
Once at the check-in desk, you’ll need to show your cruise documents (that you printed from online check in) and passports/ID, as well as a credit card for your onboard account for any expenses. Your cruise card photo may also be taken at this time.
It is at this point you will receive your cruise cards. This is your stateroom key, onboard charge card and ID. Ships are cashless and this is the card that you will use to charge items to your onboard account. You will also use this card to exit and board the ship at ports of call.
Pro tip: Bring lanyards to carry your cruise cards if you don’t want to carry a wallet or purse.
Boarding the Ship
After check-in, you will have your cruise cards and you are almost ready to board the ship. If your boarding group hasn’t been called, you will need to have a seat until it is.
When it is called, it is time to start your cruise! You will head towards the gangway and often pass the ships photographer who will encourage you to take a boarding photo. While we generally don’t purchase cruise photos, this is the exception! It is a fun souvenir of the trip. You can opt out of the photo or just have them take it and decide once onboard if you’d like to purchase it.
Security will scan your cruise card as you board the ship and they may take your photo at this time if they didn’t take it at check-in.
You are Finally Onboard
Your cabin most likely will not be ready until after 1pm (but could be later). You are free to start exploring the ship. Most people are going to head to the buffet to get something to eat. The lines will be long and it is difficult to find a seat. Add to that, a lot of people will have luggage with them and you can see how this could not be much fun! Instead, do some research or ask a crew member what else is open. There are generally 1-2 restaurants that are open and will be less crowded!
This is also a great time to put on your swimsuit and jump in the pool. This is when you will find it least crowded. Somewhere near the pool will be a towel station. This is where you will check out, exchange and return towels. Keep track of your towels! If you don’t return them, you will be paying for them. Last I heard it was $25 per towel!
Keep in mind that if your ship has a casino, it will be closed any time you are in port. The casinos can only operate in international waters.
Before the ship ever leaves port everyone on board must attend the safety drill, known as the muster drill. This generally happens right before you set sail around 4pm or so. Your muster station area will be listed on your cruise card. There will also be instructions on your where your muster station is located on the back of your stateroom door. Cruise ship staff will be located throughout the ship during the drill to instruct you on where your muster station is located.
The muster drill is mandatory and they will take attendance with your cruise card. If you do not show up, you will be paged and the entire ship will need to wait for you to check in at your muster station.
The muster drill will give you instructions on what to do and where to go in the very unlikely event something happens at sea, so it is very important!
Every cruise line is a little different, but children under a certain age will be given a wristband when they board with their muster station area on it. These will be distributed as you board the ship, at the kids club or at the guest services desk. You can ask when you check in, on where to get them. Children are required to wear them during the entire cruise.
As you can see, the first few hours of your cruise vacation can be hectic, but hopefully by understanding what to expect on embarkation day, the process can go smoother!
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