Excited about your upcoming cruise? You should be! If this is your first time sailing, you may have lots of questions about what to expect and read as many articles as you can to prepare yourself. These cruise embarkation tips should help answer some of your questions. Cruises are a great way to explore new destinations and a fabulous way to get large groups for reunions together.

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Essential cruise embarkation tips featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: make your cruise embarkation day run smoothly with these 9 tips!

Since most readers of this blog are based in the United States and Canada, the information provided will focus on the cruise lines that are the most popular in these ports. Keep in mind that your cruise line’s website provides information tailored to your own experience.

What is Embarkation Day?

Embarkation day is a fancy name for the day that you board your cruise ship. While there are some subtle differences depending on which port you are leaving from or what cruise line you’re sailing on, general embarkation procedures are fairly similar across the board.

Remember that most cruise ships turn around the same day. Just like planes arrive at a gate, de-board, are quickly “fixed up”, and re-boarded, so are cruise ships. Today’s cruise ships carry thousands of passengers, so the turn-around process is a little lengthier than that of a plane. Most cruise ships disembark (passengers get off) anywhere from 7 am to 9 am. In the few hours between sailings, the crew cleans and readies for the next group of passengers.

9 Essential Cruise Embarkation Tips for the First Time Cruiser featured by affordable travel blog The Common Traveler - image: Carnival cruise ship in blue waters

9 Cruise Embarkation Tips

Tip 1: Know your Boarding Time!

Each cruise line has different embarkation times depending on when the ship is expected to sail. It may be as early as 10 am or start closer to noon. All passengers must be onboard the ship no later than an hour (some two) before sailing time. Do not be late! The ship will leave without you! 

Consider arriving at your departure port the day before your embarkation day to avoid the stress of a delayed or canceled flight or connection. Plan how you’ll get from the airport or hotel to your cruise port. Many cruise lines offer transportation from the airport to the cruise port on embarkation day but you can also consider whether it may be more cost-efficient to arrange your own transportation. 

Prepare to wait in queues, especially if you’re sailing at a popular time of the year and arrive at the same time as the crowd. Frequent cruisers (VIPs in the cruise line’s loyalty program) and suites passengers often benefit from skip-the-line or early embarkation. Carnival offers a “Faster to the Fun” pass for those who wish to skip the lines. 

Tip 2: Bring the Necessary Boarding Papers

The cruise line will send you paperwork to complete ahead of time through your online account. Print it out and bring it with you to expedite the embarkation process.

  • Don’t forget your passport (or appropriate identification if your cruise doesn’t require a passport)
  • Arrange a visa if needed (depends on your nationality and where you’ll be visiting)
  • The credit card you’ll use for expenses (you can pay using a different manner before disembarkation)
  • Printed luggage tags (porters usually have tape or a stapler to attach them if you haven’t)

Tip 3: Decide What to Do with your Luggage

Choose whether to carry-on or check your luggage. If you choose to carry-on yourself, you will need to keep it with you until your stateroom is available. Checked luggage may not arrive until after dinner.

If you choose to check your luggage, pack a backpack or small bag with anything needed for your first few hours. I’d suggest your bathing suit and sunscreen (towels are provided by the cruise line) and any medications you’ll need for that first afternoon and evening.

9 Essential Cruise Embarkation Tips for the First Time Cruiser featured by affordable travel blog The Common Traveler - image: suitcase full of wine bottles

Tip 4: Don’t Pack Prohibited Items

No matter which option you choose, keep in mind that there are many items that cannot be taken on a cruise ship and therefore should be left at home. For example, there are specific limits to the type and amount of alcohol that may be brought aboard (typically two bottles of wine or bubbly per cabin). Should you bring something else, it will be confiscated by the cruise line and returned to you upon disembarkation. Most also limit the amount of soda that can be brought onboard. And do not bring items that are banned, such as an iron. Your cruise line’s website is the best source of specifics for your sailing. (For ease of reference click here for some popular cruise line’s: Carnival Cruise Line; Royal Caribbean; Princess; and Celebrity.)

Tip 5: Waiting for your Stateroom

Access to the staterooms is generally barred until 1:30 pm or so. You’ll be able to enjoy food and drinks as soon as you board, so start enjoying from the get-go! Just keep in mind that your fellow cruisers will be doing the same, so be patient and expect some craziness in the first few hours.

On some cruise lines, you’ll receive your sign and sail card right away, while on others, they’ll be waiting in your cabin. Your sign and sail card is the only thing you’ll need to carry with you while on the cruise ship. It is both your stateroom key and your charge card. Know your stateroom number, many cruise lines allow you to make purchases using your stateroom number before you get your card (we also had to show our boarding pass on our most recent sailing).

9 Essential Cruise Embarkation Tips for the First Time Cruiser featured by affordable travel blog The Common Traveler - image: cruise ship sailing into setting sun

Tip 6: Book and Reserve!

Eat, drink, and tour the ship! This is your opportunity to get yourself oriented to where things are on the ship. If you haven’t purchased a drink package and have changed your mind, this is your opportunity to do so. 

Tour the spa, the gym, and the different amenities that your ship offers. Register for the waverunner, or climbing wall, or other specialty areas, by signing waivers and learning about how to access the activity later on. If you’re interested in enjoying dinner at a specialty restaurant, book your reservation for later in the week.

This is not the time to approach the guest services desk as they are frequently mobbed while the ship is in port with people begging for stateroom upgrades and dealing with other emergencies. If your question can wait, go during a quiet time instead.

Tip 7: Prepare for the Emergency Drill

Before every embarkation day sailing, an emergency drill is carried out before leaving port. ALL passengers must participate. You’ll have to show up at your muster station, usually a number or letter, where everyone must be accounted for by ship personnel, usually by scanning your ship pass so don’t forget to pick it up in your stateroom before you go. Don’t be that person that everyone else must wait for. The faster the drill is completed, the faster everyone can get to the fun.

Tip 8: Watch the Sail Away

Weather permitting, you should enjoy the sail away at every port, but it is a great big party on your departure day. Enjoy seeing your ship cruise away as you prepare to explore new locales. Grab a drink, bring your camera, and enjoy!

Tip 9: Settle In for your Journey

Whether your cruise’s duration is two days or much longer, take the first evening to settle into your new surroundings. 

Looking for inspiration on where to go on your cruise vacation? Check out these great things to do when arriving at different Carribean port destinations

What about you? What cruise embarkation tips would you share?

Happy travels,

Annick, The Common Traveler

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Essential cruise embarkation tips featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: make your cruise embarkation day run smoothly with these 9 tips!
Essential cruise embarkation tips featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: make your cruise embarkation day run smoothly with these 9 tips!
Essential cruise embarkation tips featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: make your cruise embarkation day run smoothly with these 9 tips!