The process of "checking in" for your cruise is called Embarkation. It's a little like checking into a hotel and similar to checking in for a flight. It basically a combination of these two experiences. The difference is, it happens on a massive scale.
If you're new to crusing here are a few details of how this process works and what you can expect....
- Your tickets and ID is checked by the gate agent. Instead of a "boarding pass" your photo is taken and you're given a ship board card that will get you on and off the ship, is the key to your cabin and connects to your ship board account acting like a credit card for any purchases you care to make
- Your luggage is scanned via xray machings and you'll pass thru security checks just like TSA at the airport
- Porters will take your luggage and it will be delivered directly to your cabin
- OK big difference - you'll be invited to take a commemorative souvenir photo that will be for sale later in the lobby photo shop.
Other than that important souvenir photo, the process is pretty much the same as what you have experienced at any airport or hotel. The BIG difference is that instead of a few people waiting for hotel check in, or perhaps 200 or so people checking into the same flight, at a cruise embarkation you'll find a few THOUSAND people all checking in at the same time.
Needless to say, any cruise ship terminal at embarkation time can feel a bit "hectic". Everyone is excited and anxious to get onboard the ship and get their party started. The crews here are used to managing people and doing major crowd control. To their credi,t they can move a few thousand people thru this process in just a couple of hours while maintaining everyone's safety, sanity and well being.
Every cruise ship passenger wants their embarkation to be smooth sailing so here are a few helpful tips to get your cruise vacation started the right way...
Double Check Your Docs - Before you lock the door to your home, double check and make sure you have ALL of your tickets, travel documents, IDs and passports. This is a very important step people that very often leads to disappointment if overlooked. If you arrive at the airport or cruise terminal without proper documentation and ID you will be denied boarding and forfeit the cost of your vacation.
Arrive on time - Generally most ships open embarkation around 12 noon with folks lining up about 1 hour prior. (do check your own cruise tickets for specifics). Most ships sail between 4-5pm and all passengers must be on board 90 minutes prior to sailing. Whether flying or driving to port, allow yourself sufficent time.
Pack Your Patience - Be prepared for the wait with snacks, drinks, supplies and activities to entertain the kids
Do Advanced Check In - Most cruise lines will allow passengers to log in online and register for their cruise shortly after making their deposit and confirming their reservations. Guests can add in their contact details and passport numbers, set up their ship board accounts with their credit cards and even make advanced reservations for dining, spa and shows. Anything you can do in advance to speed this process along will save you time and waiting at embarkation.
Opt for VIP Embarkation - Many cruise reward programs will offer guest the options for early embarkation, going to the head of the line or even special VIP lounges. This perk can also be made available to cruise groups. Some cruise lines will allow regular passengers to pay for the upgraded service of VIP embarkation. If you are the type who doesn't have much patience for crowds then you should certainly consider this type of upgraded service.
Carry On Wisely - Remember how we mentioned that a few thousand people will be embarking on their cruise ship all at the same time? This also means several thousand pieces of luggage will need to be brought on board too. This takes time.
Pack a small carry on bag that contains all your valuables, medication and anything that you may need to start your vacation right away like a pair of shorts, bathing suit and sunblock. It's also a good idea to pack a light jacket to help layer you with sea breezes and air conditioning. You might also want to pack a change of clothes that could be used as a back up or to wear for a casual dinner that evening. If you're traveling with little ones be sure to pack at least two day's supply of diapers, food an other necessary gear.
Don't Be a Smuggler - Be familiar with your cruise line rules regarding what can and cannot be brought on board. Don't be "That person" in line trying to sneak in an iron, alcohol or anything else that you're not suppose to in their luggage. It's not all about you, these actions hold up everyone else waiting to get on board the ship. Nobody likes a sneak. Not only can you get in serious trouble but at very minimum, you'll need to endure of week of fellow passenger giving you the stink eye.
Be Organized - As you approach the counter at embarkation, have your documents ready in hand and set to go. If you pack wisely in an organized fashion this will be much easier. The folks in line behind you don't want to wait for you to unpack your entire bag to find your passport.
Tag your Luggage - Make sure all of yor bags are properly tagged with your name clearly marked and a cell phone number. Also most cruise lines will issue you luggage tags that need to be clearly attached. This will help speed the process of reuniting all of your "stuff" back with you.
Have a Plan - By this we mean Have a deck plan - aka a map of your ship. Walk around, take a tour of the ship and learn about your new home at sea. This will certainly help you get oriented. Know your cabin number and how to find it. Unless you have mobility issues, be prepared to use the stairs. The crew will be using most of the elevators to deliver your luggage.
Make Reservations - If you didn't take our advice and you haven't made all of your dining, show, tour and spa reservations in advance, NOW is the time to do so while you still have a chance. Take care of this business the moment you step on board.
Changing Reservations - Maybe you did take our advice and did made all your reservations in advance. Then you HAD reservations ABOUT your reservations. Now is the time to make changes. Crew members are available at the spa and tour desk to address any of your concerns. Although the main dining rooms may not be open to serve food at this time, the maitre d' and staff are usually on hand to help answer questions and try to meet your requests. If you or any family member has any allergies or special dietary requests, this is an excellent time to discuss these concerns and options.
Buy your soda & drink Packages - Do the math and see if makes sense to purchase one of these packages for the duration of your cruise. Bear in mind the number of days you'll be in port on excursions and see if this make sense. If so, then buy drink package now.
Register at the Kids Clubs - Whether or not you and/or your kids plan on using the kids club activities, embarkation is the time to go and register them. Parents are required to fill out registration forms that include important information to help care for the health and safety of your kids while they are having fun at the kids clubs. This is when tours of all the facitilies are open to adults and kids alike. It's also a great spot for kids and parents alike to start meeting and making new friends.
Check out the daily Activities Schedule- Every cruise line publishes a daily newsletter of all the activities scheduled for that particular day. It will contain information as to restaurant times, the location and time of fun activities like trivia games, dance classes, shows, drink special of the day and more. Some of the newer ships will have this information posted on electronic boards throughout the ship. There will probably be a printed copy waiting for you in your cabin. On embarkation day, just ask the crew in the lobby for a copy.
Where to Eat- Buffet restaurants are usually jammed packed with arriving guests along with all of their carry on bags. Trying to navigate this area with a tray of food for you and the kids is usually a logistical nightmare. This is a great time to opt for slice of pizza poolside or even pay to eat at any speciality restaurant that may be open.
Be Ready for Muster Drill - All passengers and crew are required by maritime law to practice for cases of emergency. Everyone on board the ship must know the location where they need to report, how to assemble, obtain and use a life jacket, etc. Muster drills take place just prior to sailing and are MANDATORY for all passengers. Just like fire drills in school, it is important to treat these exercises seriously and with respect. Not only do adults need to set an example for the kids but your life and the lives of others may depend upon this important information.
Enjoy the Sail Away - This is one of those moments of your cruise vacation that you certainly don't want to miss. The moment the ship sails away from the dock. Everyone gathers on deck to toast their vacation, watch the sun set, listen to the ship's whistle and wave good bye to all of those unfortunate souls left standing on the dock. You don't want to miss this!