Are you ready to go on your first cruise? Not knowing what happens on Cruise Day may cause some anxiety for first-time cruisers, but with a little planning everything should go smoothly.
The whole boarding process can seem complicated, but as long as you arrive at your cruise terminal on time and understand the steps involved, you will sail on through like a seasoned traveler!
What Happens On Cruise Day
Typically cruises will allow passengers to board starting around noon, through the mid-afternoon (specific times will vary based on your cruise’s schedule, and you will receive that information well ahead of time). When you check in online for your cruise (a few weeks before Cruise Day) you will pick a time slot for when you expect to be at the port, ready to go.
Obviously, you want to get to the port a little before that time! Ports are extremely busy, and when you travel, any number of little issues can pop up that cause a delay.
Boarding Your Cruise Ship
First, when you arrive at your port terminal, there will be a small army of porters ready to take your bags and load them onto the ship (nope, you don’t want to carry them on yourself). That’s why you print out your tags ahead of time and make sure they are attached to each of your bags, so the staff can read your cabin number and your luggage to you.
Note: Your bags will take a while to get to your room, so if there are things you need for the next few hours, make sure you have those in a carry-on bag (such as a Kyss Bag) that you bring with you, rather than checking it with the porters.
Next up, you enter the cruise terminal and join a line, waiting for the first check-in step. You will present your tickets and identification (passports are STRONGLY recommended), just to make sure that yes, you are in the right place.
You will then go through airport-style security, so be prepared for that! After clearing security you proceed to a customer service desk, where you will receive your cruise cards (which you will use throughout the cruise) and verify your payment method for any charges during your trip.
Note: we are seeing reports that this practice is changing! On some cruises, if you pre-register a credit card to your cruise account for your charges, you can skip the customer service desk and head straight to the ship! Your cards will be sent directly to your room.
After that, it’s time to board the ship! Depending on how busy things are you may be able to walk right on, otherwise you may have to wait in the lounge until they call your boarding group. Here’s an example of what those first steps on board look like:
Once on board, you have a chance to explore the ship for a little while, while the porters load all the bags. There will be a set time (for example, 2:00 p.m.) by which you can expect your room to be ready. Before that time passengers are supposed to stay out of the cabin area so that the porters can move freely, so until then, take a walk around the rest of the ship!
- Take an elevator up to the Lido Deck and check out the buffet options – food will be available!
- Swing past the casino (which won’t open until the ship pulls out to sea) and take a look at all the various clubs and lounges
- Poke your head in the theater, and investigate the various shops on board
Or better yet, just try the Drink of the Day, grab a comfy place to sit, and spend time people-watching! You’re on vacation!
Once you are cleared to check out your room, bring your bags in and unpack. You should also receive your first newsletter, which outlines the activities on board that day, the schedule for when various shops and lounges open up, and more.
By the time you’re done unpacking, you might feel the ship starting to move…
Pulling Out of Port
As the ship begins to pull out, join the time-honored tradition: grab a spot along the rail and wave to folks on shore. You’re heading out to sea!
Once your port slips out of view and you hit open water, take some time to just appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. There’s something very calming and hypnotic about watching the waves, so simply enjoy that for a while.
Note: Now is the time to put your phones on Airplane mode! You will lose regular cell coverage shortly after pulling out of port, and you don’t want to be surprised by international roaming charges when you return home! You can either purchase WiFi coverage on the ship during the cruise if you really need it, or just activate WiFi when you stop at your destination ports, there are usually multiple bars/restaurants/cafes with free WiFi internet access for visiting cruisers.
Muster Up, Then Explore!
There will be a safety drill taking place at some point early on, where you and your family report to your designated muster station and receive a short lecture on the ship’s safety procedures. This is required by international maritime law and only takes a few minutes.
Once the safety briefing is done, you have a few options. You can start sampling the various food stations which will be opening up around the ship, as well as the shops and lounges. The kids will presumably want to sample the numerous ice cream stations scattered throughout the ship.
Save room for dinner, however, as you will want to enjoy your first evening in the main dining room, which is always a treat. You don’t have to eat in the main dining room each night, but for me at least it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of cruising, and a good exercise in letting kids experience a full-service meal in an elegant setting. “Cruise casual” is the dress code on that first night so don’t worry about breaking out your best duds (save those for the formal night), and just have a good time.
By this time, your vacation is truly underway! Don’t feel like you have to explore the entire ship on that first night, you will have plenty of time for that. Pick out an activity or two, spend some time watching the waves roll by, and relax.
Bonus Tip: If you’re feeling lucky, consider joining the tour of the spa facilities they hold that first evening. A few lucky winners receive gift certificates to spoil themselves on the cruise. Who knows, you may win!
Plan Ahead, Then Relax!
To recap, the basic idea of what happens on Cruise Day is to get through the boarding process, then hang out for a while before you are cleared to go to your cabin. Once you’ve unpacked your bags and the Safety Drill has been completed, you are officially on vacation and can look forward to a few days of sun, fun, and relaxation.