1. Timing is everything.
You know the boarding time for your cruise line, and possibly even signed up for a check-in time to avoid the crowds. Get to port early. There will be hundreds to thousands of fellow travelers squeezing into the gangway throughout the first morning of your vacation. Plan to arrive with plenty of time to spare. While you’re in the terminal, make your last phone calls, organize your carry-on, use the facilities, and grab a snack or drink.
If you prefer, stroll in closer to the end of the embarkation window. The ‘set sail’ time is later than the final time for boarding. So there’s a bit of flexibility for those who like to arrive at the last minute. The queues are shorter, and your wait-time will be less The next option would be to take advantage of a cruise line priority embarkation program. These are offered to loyalty members; but some lines allow regular passengers to purchase the perks. You will have a dedicated queue or perhaps an exclusive lounge in which to wait.
2. Papers please.
With the press of hundreds of travelers behind you, fumbling in your bags for your paperwork is the last thing you want to do! Have your boarding passes, passports, travel visas, proof of vaccination, and any other required documentation literally in your hand. (Your cruise line should tell you which documents you will need, as some are only required in certain countries.)
Print your cruise line luggage tags ahead of time and place them on your checked baggage, as well as on your carry-on. This will be one less task to complete at the terminal. Insider tip: Once you find out the number of your stateroom, write it on your luggage tag. The key cards no longer have room numbers on them for security reasons. And, speaking from experience, the illusive cabin number can slip from your mind before you get there!
3. Where to go first.
Once you’re onboard, head to a Guest Services desk to reserve your shore excursions, spa appointments, and other extra fun you want to have on your cruise. This is my third suggestion assuming that you haven’t booked these activities prior to leaving home. Some cruise lines offer the option of making all manner of reservations online – do this if you have the opportunity. It prevents the hectic conversations in line that start with ‘what does everybody want to do in port,’ ‘who wants a massage,’ and ‘what was the name of that specialty restaurant on the ship.’
Also, it is recommended that you skip the buffet as well as the first bar you see after the gangway. Scads of flip-flop clad tourists stop at these two places immediately after boarding. Be a savvy cruiser and find the eatery and bar furthest from the gangway!
You may also want to make a quick stop in your cabin. See #4.
4. Dressed and ready.
You passed through check-in, wrote your stateroom number on your carry-on, made your excursion reservations online, and grabbed a bite and a tropical drink – so make your next stop at your room. (Be aware that some cruise lines allow boarding several hours prior to the time when your room will be ready. For example, boarding at 11 AM and room access at 2 PM.)
The embarkation tip here is to pack one leisure cruise ship outfit, such as shorts, swimwear, jacket, etc. This way you can change out of your tired traveling clothes and go right back out on deck. It’s more likely than not that your checked luggage will arrive at your room quite a bit later than you do. Also, remember to pack any necessary medications, sunscreen, and other essentials in the carry-on for this reason. Keep the bag small and light though since you’ll be carrying it around until you stop by your room.
5. Vacation mode.
The last embarkation tip is to stay chill through the process. Yes, it can be a strain on the patience. Yes, it can take an inordinate amount of time. And yes, other people will be complaining. You, however, have decided to adopt the vacation mode mindset. It’s all part of the experience, and can be turned into funny anecdotes after it’s done. Use these tips and transform your embarkation into a story to tell your friends who didn’t get to go on a cruise vacation!
Angela is a professional freelance travel writer and published indie author – AngelaMinor.com