We already have a previously written post on embarkation day tips, but here we will just talk about when you should try to get on the ship and the best times to board to avoid long waits in line.
Most cruisers agree. By the time you get to the port you have already paid for your cruise, so the sooner you get on the boat the sooner you can start enjoying your vacation. You don’t want to waste ½ a day just waiting and waiting when there is free food aboard that vessel that you could be eating. And yes, that wait can be long, especially if you are not a frequent cruiser and you have to wait in the long line like everyone else. So the best advice is simply to get there as early as possible.
So what is early? Usually if you get there around 11am-11:30am you will be pretty close to being first in line. But this does not mean that your wait is over. You still have to wait for them to actually start boarding the ship, but when they do you will be among the first to get on the boat and start enjoying a buffet lunch in port. But from my experience, it’s much better to wait for your boat to leave the dock while you are pigging out at the buffet and getting a self-guided tour of the ship than standing in line behind 300 other anxious people.
If you don’t get there at 11am you might have a little wait ahead of you. So some people like to get to the port around 1pm because by then most of the lines have died down and you can usually just get right on the ship after a brief wait. If you get there right at noon then you can expect some delays ahead of you.
Always be mindful of the boarding times according to the website of the cruise line you are sailing with, but you can even try to board the ship as late as 2:30pm in some cases and you will practically not have to wait at all. After all, who wants to feel like they are at the DMV to get their vacation kicked off?
Keep in mind that you will not be able to go to your rooms as soon as you get on board, unless you do get on the boat at the last minute. If you get on early like 11am or so you will have to wait a couple hours until you can go to your room and settle in. So whatever carryon luggage you have will have to be toted around for a few hours. This is why you should send as much as you can straight to your room.
If you sail with Princess, Cunard, or Holland America you can go to your room as soon as you get on board your ship, but with the big 3 like NCL, RCCL, and Carnival you will just have to enjoy walking around the ship for a while until your room is ready for you.
The majority of cruises leave port at 4 or 5:00pm. If you cruise leaves at a different time than this, check with your cruise line to see what time embarkation begins. Most ships will begin boarding 4-5 hours before sailaway.