Boarding a Cruise Ship – All You Should Know

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The first day of your cruise will mainly consist of boarding the ship. Boarding cruise ships is one of the most exciting parts of your cruise. You’re full of anticipation of what the next few days at sea will bring. However, if this is your first cruise, you may also be nervous about boarding your ship and not knowing what to expect.

What time should you check in? When should you arrive? What do you need to have with you? These are all normal questions to ask before embarking on your first cruise vacation. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place to find answers.

In this article, we explain everything you need to know about boarding cruise ships so that you’re ready to kick off your vacation right from the start.

Checking into Your Cruise

The first thing that you have to do before boarding your cruise ship is check in. Depending on the cruise line, you may be required to check into your cruise days before setting sail through an app, similar to what you do for a flight.

Cruise Check In
NCL Cruise Check In (Photo Credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock)

Here are some check-in policies for cruise ship passengers on major cruise lines:

  • Royal Caribbean: Check in up to 48 hours before sailing on the Royal Caribbean app.
  • Carnival Cruise Line: Online check-in up to 14 days before departure and no later than midnight before the sailing time. Must be checked in at least 60 minutes before sailing time. 
  • Norwegian Cruise Line: Online check-in is up to 21 days before departure and no later than three days before departure. Must be checked in at least 60 minutes before sailing time. 

You can also complete check-in in person on the day of your sailing at the cruise terminal. However, you must get to your terminal earlier if you choose to go this route. 

Arriving at the Terminal

Most cruise ships leave the terminal at around 4 pm or 5 pm and allow boarding around noon. Therefore, it’s essential to get to your cruise terminal on time

Most cruise lines require you to choose an arrival time for the day you arrive at the cruise ship terminal. In general, getting there earlier is better than getting there too late. However, if you arrive too early, you may be stuck waiting around for a while before you’re allowed to board.

Carnival Cruise Line Embarkation
Photo Credit: JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

The busiest time for boarding is between noon and 2 pm. If you don’t want to wait in line to board, you’re better off choosing an arrival time after 2 pm or at noon, if possible. 

If you have large checked luggage, porters may be available at the cruise ship terminal to carry it onto the ship so that you don’t have to lug it around before you get to your cabin.

Read Also: Best Types of Shoes for Cruises – For Any Need

Ensure your carry-on bag has everything you need to last the day in case you don’t get your bag until later. This is highly secure, and since it’s tagged and you watch your luggage enter your ship, there’s very little chance of it getting lost. 

Since your luggage will be screened for prohibited items, ensure not to lock your suitcases in case they must open your bag. 

Pre-Boarding Process

Once it’s time for you to board, you want to ensure you have all your necessary boarding documents. The required documents may differ from cruise line to cruise line, but in general, you should have the following documents ready to go:

  • All documents mailed to you on your phone or printed
  • Government ID or passport (valid for at least six months after your cruise ends)
  • Travel visa (if applicable)
  • COVID-19 test (if applicable)
Cruise Terminal Check In
Cruise Terminal Check In (Photo Credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock)

Ensure you have all of the appropriate documentation for everyone in your party and that all the names match on all documentation. You must bring all necessary documentation, or you may be denied boarding. 

Once you enter the cruise ship terminal, you must show these documents before going through the security line. It’s easiest to have one person in your party provide the agent with all the documents to speed things along.

Going Through Security

All cruise ships have security to ensure the safety of all cruise passengers before boarding the cruise ship. While the extent of the cruise line security isn’t that of the TSA, it’s still important to know the process.

Once you’ve shown your cruise documents, you’ll be sent to the security line. Cruise ship security involves walking through a metal detector to ensure that you have no prohibited items on your person and having your bags scanned through an X-ray to ensure that you aren’t bringing prohibited items such as irons or alcohol aboard. 

Cruise Terminal Security
Cruise Terminal Security (Photo Credit: Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock)

While you don’t have to remove anything from your bag, be aware that the security agent may flag your bag if anything suspicious comes up in the X-ray, such as additional liquids.

If this happens, your bag will be brought to a separate side table for further inspection. They’ll confiscate any prohibited items before allowing you to board. 

Once you pass through security, you can pick up your bags, and you’ll be provided a room key by the check-in agent after completing check-in.

Boarding the Cruise Ship

Once you’re clear to board the cruise ship, you’ll be directed by either signs or staff on where to go to get on the cruise ship. You may also be directed to a waiting area in anticipation of instructions on when to board.

Carnival Cruise Ship in Miami
Photo Credit: Ramunas Bruzas / Shutterstock

Boarding cruise ships can be a lively affair. You may find cruise ship photographers asking to take your picture and greetings from much of the staff. If you don’t want your photo taken, you can say no; even if you get it, you are not obligated to purchase it. 

You’ll enter the cruise ship through a gangway into a public area. This may be one of the most exciting parts of the boarding process, as you’ll actually be boarding the ship!

What to Do Once You Board

Once you board, you’ll have at least one free hour before the cruise ship sets sail. This is a great time to explore the cruise ship and discover all the amenities.

Cruise Ship Deck

The first thing you’ll want to do is find your cabin and settle in, making sure that everything is as expected. The crew can help direct you to it. It’s important to note that if you board very early, your cabin may not be ready yet as they’re probably still cleaning from the last cruise.

Once settled in, or if your cabin isn’t ready, it’s time to explore the ship and check out everything there will be to do throughout your trip. A variety of snack and lunch options should be available so you can grab some food before your cruise begins.

Boarding Cruise Ship FAQ

How long does it take to board a cruise ship?

How long the boarding process takes depends on how busy it is. If you try to board during the busiest times – between 12 pm and 2 pm – it may take over an hour, especially if there are a lot of people in front of you. However, if you board during your scheduled arrival time or at a less busy time, the entire process – from arrival to security – shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. 

What time should you board the cruise ship?

For more cruise lines, boarding starts at around noon. The last chance to board is usually one hour before sailing. Therefore, the best time to board a cruise is between noon and about two hours before your sailing. Most cruise lines request that you choose an arrival time when checking in. It’s essential to stick to arriving at that time to avoid any boarding delays. 

What should you wear to board a cruise ship?

Embarkation day may be full of a lot of movement. For this reason, it’s important to wear something comfortable. Remember that your cruise will be pretty casual, so you’ll be fine with simply a T-shirt and shorts. 

Wrap-Up: Successfully Boarding Cruise Ships

How boarding day goes for your cruise vacation can make or break the entire experience, so it’s essential to be as prepared for boarding as possible. After all, you want to start your vacation off on the right foot.

You can do so by researching what to expect from boarding the specific cruise line of your ship and understanding the process. Once you’re on your ship, it should all be smooth sailing!

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