Embarkation Day Guide – what to expect when boarding a ship
October 26, 2018
The day is here, time to cruise! The first day of a cruise can be overwhelmingly exciting and sometimes a bit confusing. Every port is different, every ship is different and the massive amounts of people seemingly everywhere only adds to the confusion. Knowing ahead of time what to expect will help you get on the ship without stress. Here is my cruise embarkation day guide, so you know what to expect the first day.
Getting to the port
Depending on where you live in respect to where the port you’re sailing out of, arriving at the port will vary. Some people choose to drive to the port and park their vehicles in the cruise port parking lot. Others prefer to take a car service and be dropped off at the port.
If you plan to take an airplane to your port city, it is highly recommended that you fly in the day before embarkation day. This is to allow time for any delays due to weather or an emergency. Cruise ships are very punctual and will leave on time. It is extremely important that you be there a few hours before the scheduled sail away- or you risk missing the ship.
Many hotels that are near cruise ports will offer shuttle services, for a low cost or sometimes free. They usually do this for airports as well. Just ask your hotel and they’ll tell you which services they provide.
At the port
Firstly, the luggage porters will whisk away your checked luggage. (Always tip these people. They work very hard making sure your personal items get to where they need to go.) This is important to know because once you arrive on the sidewalk of the port, you’ll be separated from your luggage. Always keep your necessary items, such as your passport/ID, money, cruise paperwork, medications, and anything you’ll need for the first few hours of your cruise with you in a personal purse or carry-on.
You will also need to make sure your luggage is tagged properly. Before your cruise, you will receive your personalized luggage tags from the cruise line. These will display your name and stateroom information. Make sure you affix them to your luggage properly and have this done before you head to the port.
There will be signs and people directing you where to go. Ports will often have multiple cruise ships leaving the same day, so it can be a bit crowded at the port. Just look for the cruise line you’re booked with and follow their signs.
You’ll go through a bunch of security type checkpoints, so be prepared and have your passports, IDs, boarding passes/paperwork all in hand and ready to go. Do not be that person holding up the lines by rummaging through your giant carry on bag, looking for your passport. Have those items in an easy to find place, ready to go. It will help speed the process up and everyone will thank you.
After you’re through security, you’ll approach the check in desk. Here you will get checked in, fill out customs forms, put your method of payment down for onboard spending, and receive your sail and sign cards -this is where the fun begins!
After that, you’ll be ushered to a waiting area, where you’ll wait to board the ship. It is so exciting at this point because you will likely see the ship right outside the windows!
Boarding the ship
Every embarkation day is different, and every cruise line has its way to board passengers. You may be given an actual boarding time, or a group number and will be called to board at that time. Sometimes you can get on right away, depending on what time you arrive at port. Usually there is an order, such the guests who have booked suites, the high loyalty guests, and handicapped/assistance required guests. After those groups are called, you’ll start hearing group numbers being called.
When your number or group is called, make your way to the line and flash the security people your ship card. Keep this handy because you will need it again soon. Make your way up the gangway and onto the ship. Once you step through the balloon arch (I don’t know if there is always a balloon arch but there has been in all my experiences!) you will be greeted by the ship’s staff. There will likely be music playing and a festive vibe in the air. You will then swipe your ship card into their card readers and be officially welcomed onboard. Now the fun really begins!!!
Your vacation has begun and you’re standing on the ship! This is the best part, the very beginning. Start exploring! Or head to the buffet and grab some food! Go check out the lido deck and get some sun! The choice is yours.
At this point you’ll have your carry-on luggage with you and your room probably won’t be ready just yet so you’ll need to bring it with you as you explore. This is a great time to familiarize yourself with the ship layout. Go for a tour of the ship, check out the common areas, restaurants and venues.
You won’t likely have your checked luggage for a few hours so this is the reason to pack necessities in your carry-on luggage. At some point there will be an announcement that rooms are ready and you can go to your room. Sometimes your luggage will be outside the door waiting for you, but often it may take a few more hours to arrive.
Your room steward will likely introduce themselves to you in the first hours of the first day. He or she will be taking care of your room for the length of your cruise and will be a familiar face every day. At this point you can make room requests and establish your needs with your steward. They will help make your stay as comfortable as they can, so be kind and courteous.
There is this safety drill called the muster drill on every cruise. It is done by law, on every cruise you will ever take. You MUST attend the muster drill. Every ship handles the muster drill in its own way, but it will be done. Listen for announcements, follow the orders. Your sail card will have your assigned muster station printed on it. When prompted, go to the place you’re assigned. There will be a crew member assigned to each station, taking attendance. You must report to them and check in. Once you’re accounted for, wait for the drill to begin.
They will go over what to do in an emergency. Where to go, how to put on a life jacket, how to evacuate in a life boat if necessary. This drill is usually quick and to the point, but informative, so be sure to pay attention. If you ignore the orders to report to the drill, expect your name to be called on the ship’s announcement system. They know who is missing and they will call you out. And if you ignore that and somehow manage to evade the muster drill, you will be tracked down and be held accountable. They will force you to attend a make-up muster drill. Just go to the drill. Everyone has to go. Just go.
After the muster drill, the fun really begins. Get ready to sail away! There will be an announcement and you’ll hear the ship’s horn blasting away, signaling it is about to pull away from the dock.
Being outside for sail away is a lot of fun. Get to one of the outside decks, or witness sail away from the privacy of your own balcony. Wave goodbye to the people on land, and those watching from nearby ships. Watch the city skyline get smaller and smaller as you move out to sea.
There will likely be a sail away party on the lido deck, where the cruise director will charm the guests and the DJ will play music to get everyone in a vacation mood. Dance, grab a drink – you’re on vacation!