Your cruise vacation begins as soon as you set foot on the ship and receive that welcome glass of sparkling wine from the smiling crew members.
To make the most of your valuable time and to get your cruise off to a great start, you’re going to want to have a smooth embarkation day. The process of getting on a big ship is notoriously one of the most stressful parts of the cruise experience. This is because so many others are arriving onboard at the exact same time, often leading to a crush of passengers in the same spaces until you all get spread out and settled in.
You can avoid some of the hassles and frustrations that keep you from finding your vacation groove by following our best tips and tricks to enjoy a hassle-free embarkation day.
Before You Head Out
Cruise lines allow you to check in for your cruise online. You can print out your ship’s “boarding passes” and create a file of your paperwork that is easy to access so you are ready to show the agents who greet you at the cruise port. This saves you from hold-ups that can result when you have to fill out forms and go through extra checks at the cruise terminal.
Arrive Early, But Not Too Early
Most large cruise lines “clear” their ships by 10 a.m. This is the process of getting all the passengers who are finishing their cruise just before yours off of the ship. If you arrive at the cruise pier before the ship is cleared, you will wait (and wait and wait). It makes sense that you want to get onboard as early as you can so that you can maximize the time on the ship and start enjoying the amenities and food.
But after about 11 a.m. is probably the safest time to arrive and not expect too long of a wait. Some cruise lines offer a program like Carnival’s “Faster to the Fun” (for a fee) that gives you priority boarding for your cruise. If you book a suite, you also typically receive priority boarding perks. Consider these options if you want to be among the first passengers onto the ship.
Drop the Bags
Your staterooms are being turned over typically until about 2 p.m. when they will be all cleaned, prepared and ready for your stay. Until then, you need to do something with your luggage so that you don’t have to lug it around for a couple hours on the ship.
You can lighten your load by dropping your bags curbside with the cruise terminal porters. They will load them onto big carts and ensure that they get onto the ship and eventually to your stateroom. Make sure you have affixed a baggage tag indicating your name and cabin number. You also should tip your porter a buck or two per bag.
We generally like to carry on our own luggage on because we pack light and want to have it as soon as the cabins are available (bags left with the porter service can sometimes arrive hours after your staterooms are made available, which is frustrating). So, we go straight to our cabins to drop off our bags. Here is the trick: The corridors are usually closed to passengers while the cleaning is in progress. But you can open the doors, go to your stateroom and let your steward know that you simply want to slide the bags under the bed or somewhere else out of the way while they clean. Be polite and leave quickly, so he or she can get on with turning over the cabins. It’s a tough day for them, too, so don’t dawdle in the room and be sure to show appreciation for allowing you to drop off your bags.
Avoid the Buffet
Cruisers naturally arrive hungry and ready for lunch when they board their ship. The buffet is a hot spot, of course, and you will find crowds of people all in the same place as they quickly grab up tables and form lines at the buffet.
This scene is perhaps the biggest source of frustration on embarkation day. Make your way to the main dining room or any of the smaller venues onboard that will be open for lunch, such as a poolside grill serving burgers and other sandwiches or the ship’s pizza eatery or café with lighter fare.
You will be able to get something tasty and find a table without any problems. In the main dining room, you order from a menu and enjoy a much more relaxing experience as you are served by staff at your table.
In the Bag
Prepare a day bag or backpack to bring on that you can easily carry around with some items that you will want while you wait to get to your stateroom. Place essentials in it, such as a swim suit, book, Kindle, magazines, sunscreen, phone charger and any needed medications.
This means you can use a restroom to change into your swim suit and start enjoying the pool and other amenities in comfort.
Have a Look Around
This is also a good time to give yourself a tour of the ship, going deck by deck to learn the layout and where everything is located. If you take an hour to learn all the spots on the ship, you’ll quickly pick out your favorite spots to enjoy during your cruise – and be less likely to get lost.
Get Your Goodies Booked
While touring, stop by the spa for a tour and book any treatments you might want. If you have your eye on a massage or facial or other treatment, getting there early ensures that you get your preferred time and day for your appointment. Do this for any specialty restaurants, too, that you want to dine at. (Note: many cruise lines allow you to book dining online ahead of the cruise, and they even offer dining packages that include discounts.)
Start Enjoying Your Cruise
If you’ve followed all our tips, that means you have avoided the crowds, satisfied your appetite with a good meal, set up all your appointments for the cruise and learned your way around the ship. There is nothing left now except to order up your favorite fruity drink or cold beer and start enjoying your cruise vacation with all your new friends.
Brought to you by Cruise Compete. CruiseCompete.com allows you to easily compare multiple offers from Cruise Experts