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MEI Travel

30 cruise ship embarkation tips and tricks

Two cruise ships in Miami

The day has finally arrived, the start of your cruise vacation! Everyone is excited and wants to get on the ship as quickly and as early as possible.

Cruise lines do a remarkable job loading thousands of passengers in a short couple of hours, navigating through the required processes efficiently. But there are a few things that cruisers can do to make embarkation day even better. Similarly, when it comes time to leave the ship, there are some disembarkation day mistakes that you should avoid!

Getting to the port on time, dropping off your bags and checking-in can be much easier if you are prepared.

Here are our top 30 tips and tricks to make your embarkation day easier and get you cruising faster!

1. Check-in online


Cruise lines allow you to check-in well before your cruise, most often a month beforehand, so go ahead and get this off your to do list. This is a great opportunity to see what is required and to get a boarding time, as well as any other pertinent information. You can also upload any needed documents and take a picture for your file, saving you time at the port. Make sure to download the cruise app ahead of time as well.

2. Complete any health requirements

Woman taking at home test

In addition to checking-in, you may need to complete a health questionnaire closer to your sailing date. There are a few cruises that still require Covid-19 testing, so best to review your cruise line’s protocols to ensure you know exactly what you need and have on hand when boarding. 

3. Fly in early

Barcelona airport

It is not recommended to fly into your port the same day as your cruise, even if it is an early morning flight. Unfortunately, there are too many stories about people who have missed their cruise due to a canceled or delayed flight, and of course, there is always the weather to deal with.

Read more: The 13 best cruise tips the pros use all the time

4. Plan transfers ahead


Regardless of how you plan to get to the ship – rental car, uber or taxi, it is a good idea to plan ahead. Currently, it can be tough to get a rental car last minute, so it is best to make reservations well in advance.   

Have a look at a map and directions ahead of time. Driving from Orlando to the cruise port, there are lots of toll booths, so ensure to have some dollar bills on hand. On the day of, check for any construction or traffic delays that may hamper your journey to the ship.  

5. Carry-on beverages


Most cruise lines let you bring some drinks onboard, such as pop, water or wine but they must be in your carry-on, not checked luggage. Ensure nothing is open, and don’t try to sneak other alcohol; you may end up losing it and cause delays in embarkation.

6. Don’t’ be on the naughty list


Speaking of banned items, there is a whole surprising list of things you are not allowed to bring onboard, well beyond hard liquor. Everything from power tools to crock pots,  irons and candles. These items should be left at home. Check out your cruise line’s website for a list of prohibited items. 

7. Arrive on time


Arrive close to your assigned time. Everyone is excited to get on the cruise ship and start their vacation, but arriving too early can mean extra waiting times.

If you are too early, you may end up waiting outside for a bit. It is a good idea to have some water on hand, sun gear or an umbrella if rainy. If you have little kids, pack a toy and snack to make waiting a little easier.

8. Bring your luggage tags 

lugagge tags

For quick and easy baggage drop off, remember to not pack your luggage tags in your suitcase, have them printed and ready to go. I also like to have some bills on hand for easy access when tipping the porters.

Read more: 20 best things to bring on a cruise that cost less than $10

9. Don’t carry-on big luggage


Even though your larger suitcase may fit through the scanner, it may take longer at security and can be a pain to lug around while you wait for your cabin to be ready, which can take hours. Your embarkation will be a lot easier without trying to juggle all your stuff and lugagge.

10. Pack must haves in your carry-on 

yellow suitcase packed for journey and hat

This is an important tip, pack your carry-on carefully. Not only do you need to make sure you have all your important documents and valuables, it needs to have anything you need until your luggage is delivered to your cabin, which can take several hours. Think sandals, bathing suits, or anything else for the start of your cruise.

11. Look out for your line

port arrival

Guests with certain loyalty status tiers, suites, or other categories may have different embarkation lines, so this is something to watch out for when heading into the terminal. Priority lanes tend to move faster, which is always nice.

12. Have documents on hand

vaccine card

On a recent cruise, I saw some passengers endlessly flipping through their phones for proof of vaccination and Covid-19 test results. In some cases, there is no wi-fi at the port, so I like to print out everything and have them well organized by person.

13. Bring proper identification


It is critical to make sure that you bring the correct ID for your trip and that your name matches the reservation exactly. In some cases, a birth certificate may be sufficient, but for some cruises, a passport is required. Pay careful attention to cruise line requirements so there is no surprises while you board. 

14. Have a stress free lunch

Dining on river cruise

Once you make your way onto the ship, the cruise fun begins. We recommend avoiding the buffet if possible, as it is notoriously busy on the first day. Some ships may have complimentary lunch spots or even specialty dining for a relaxing start to the day. Check out different options.

15.  Make reservations


Some reservations can't be made until you get on the ship and if you are particular about times or would like a specific restaurant, you want to get that taken care of. On some ships, that can be done at the restaurants themselves, so you don't have to get in the guest services line, which can be long on the first day

This is also a good time to make reservations for shows. Some can be done through the cruise line apps; try this first.

16. Make plans for the kids


It is also a good time to register your little ones for kids' programs, which are popular on cruise ships. Pop into the kids’ clubs/programs to sign up for the days your kids will be attending any other specialized activities or if parents want a special evening out on their own.

Read more: The 5 best cruises for teens

17. Make sure your wi-fi is working


Although you don't need wi-fi to use cruise ship apps if you purchased a package, make sure you have access once onboard. Cruise ships have separate help desks, apart from guest services, where they can help you get going if you are having any issues.

18. Explore the ship


Another nice activity, while you wait for your cabin to be ready, is to explore the ship, wander around a little, get lost, all part of the fun. Some of the best discoveries happen that way.

19. Take some fun pictures

Family on Carnival ship

Take some fun, family pictures, and selfies all over the ship while you explore. On the first day, some areas are not busy at all, so it is a good time to get pictures without tons of people.

20. Check out your cabin


When that magical announcement comes that the cabins are ready, head to your stateroom and check it out. I find it is best to take pictures right away, before our bags explode and the stuff is all over the place.

21. Unpack

Packing clothes

Okay, not the most fun activity, but take a few minutes to unpack, organize and hang up clothes. This will also help to get some wrinkles out of clothes.  For super easy unpacking you can even throw your packing cubes into different drawers for a quick effort.

22. Store your valuables


Make sure to put important stuff away. In addition to unpacking, it a good idea to put important things like your passport or any valuables in a safe spot so you aren't wondering where you put them afterward.

23. Meet your cabin attendant


More than likely, your cabin attendant will be around in the hallway. It is nice to say hello to him or her on the first day. Let them know if you need anything – such a fan, or pack and play for kids. Those items may not be available or in limited supply, so make sure to touch base as soon as you can.

24. Check-in with the main dining room

dining room

if you need to change anything, such as your dining time or clarify dietary restrictions, take a moment to check in with the main dining room to make sure all is as it should be.

The cruise lines are very good about dealing with different food preferences and requirements, so make sure to double check anything that is important, like nut allergies.

25. Have a signature cocktail/drink

Superman Cocktail

With a lot of the must dos out of the way, take some time to enjoy yourself. It is important to keep hydrated, so maybe indulge in some first day specials or savor your favorite cruise cocktail. This goes for kids, too – a great mocktail or milkshake can be lots of fun and get everyone in vacation mode.

26. Try out some popular activities


While other guests are busy visiting guest services or making plans, embarkation day can be a great time to get early access to some of the most popular activities. Check your cruise app to see what is open, you may be surprised by what you can get done on your first day.

Read more: 40 Fun Things to Do on a Cruise Ship

27. Find a great spot for sailaway


Sailaway is a great time to get some amazing views and celebrate the official beginning of your cruise. Many cruise lines have sailaway parties, so check out to see what is offered.

28. Put your phone on airplane mode

Man using his phone on a cruise ship

Before you get carried away with all the fun, put your phone on airplane mode. This goes for everyone in your cabin, especially kids/ teens who may not be worried about it. Putting your phone on airplane mode and enabling wi-fi is one of the best ways to make sure you don’t’ end up with any unexpectedly high cell phone bill post cruise.

29. Make sure to use any seasickness meds


Some seasickness remedies, such as the sea band or the patch, are required to be applied before you feel unwell, so if you tend to get sick or are worried you might become ill, remember to put it on before you set sail.

Read more: Bonine vs. Dramamine for Motion Sickness: Which Is Better for a Cruise?

30. Do the muster drill


The traditional must drill is not most fun activity on a cruise ship, but this has has been transformed into a mostly a painless process that can be done through your phone or by watching a video in your stateroom. Cruise ships have to have these before they can sail so make sure you do yours. So don’t be the person to prevent the cruise from leaving port!

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