How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship?

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The excitement leading up to a cruise vacation can be overwhelming, to the point where you can’t wait for embarkation day. When that day arrives, it may be tempting to head out to the ship at the crack of dawn to start your vacation. This leads to the question, how early can you board a cruise ship? Is there even such a thing as being too early for your cruise vacation?

In this article, you’ll learn how early you can board your cruise ship on embarkation day and start your dream vacation.

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship?

Let’s jump right into it and find out how early you can plan to get on board your cruise ship.

The most straightforward answer is that it depends on the port and your cruise line. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can expect the earliest embarkation time to be four to five hours before sailing.

As most cruise lines leave port at around 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm, in most cases, you can anticipate the earliest time you can board to be at around noon.

Boarding a Cruise Ship
Boarding a Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: KarSol / Shutterstock)

This scheduling is because cruise ships usually run a tight schedule and may have people disembarking and embarking on the same day at the same cruise port. Guests usually disembark from their cruise in the morning – around 10:00 am. This gives the crew a few hours to clean and ensure everything is ready for the next guests.

Some cruise lines will ask you to pick a time to embark in advance. This is usually just a time that you would guess to be arriving for embarkation to help control traffic – it’s not set in stone, and you’re not bound to it. 

Check-in vs. Boarding

Along with knowing how early you can board a cruise ship, it’s essential to understand the difference between checking into your cruise and boarding your cruise. 

Checking into a cruise ship is similar to checking in for a flight, meaning you can do it way in advance. However, check-in times vary per cruise line. For example, Royal Caribbean requests guests check in no later than three days before their cruise.

Cruise Check-In
Cruise Check-In (Photo Credit: Mystic Stock Photography / Shutterstock)

If you fail to check in before the three days, then you’ll be required to check in at least two hours before your cruise on the day of. 

While you may be able to check in earlier, you’ll most likely be unable to board until just a few hours before your cruise, depending on the cruise line.

Boarding Times for Cruise Lines

Every cruise line has its own policies regarding cruise embarkation day – mainly, how early or how late you’re allowed to board. To give you an idea, here are the boarding times for three of the largest cruise lines.

Read Also: How Long Does It Take to Get Off a Cruise Ship?

Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean suggests arriving for the time slot you pre-select on the app. They claim that those who arrive before the time they pick may not be able to board before that time.

Royal Caribbean PortMiami Terminal
Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz

The same goes for those who arrive after their scheduled time – they may have to wait until others who did arrive on time embark. So it’s crucial to pick an embarkation time that works for you and stick with it. 

While their website does not specify how early you can board a cruise ship run by Royal Caribbean, you must be boarded at least 90 minutes before the cruise ship’s scheduled time to leave, or else you will not be permitted to embark and sail.

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line provides even less information on how early you can board their cruise ships. However, like most cruise lines, you can expect the earliest you can board the ship to be about four hours before departure.

Carnival Cruise Terminal
Photo Credit: JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

What Carnival does offer as information is that every guest is given a specific arrival time through an Arrival Appointment. Guests sailing on Carnival must choose an Arrival Appointment no later than midnight before their embarkation date.

You can select these times as early as 14 days before departure. Carnival will assign one to you if you fail to self-select an Arrival Appointment yourself.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line does not provide specific times for how early you can board the ship, but they recommend that guests who haven’t completed online check-in arrive at least two hours before the embarkation time printed on their ticket.

Norwegian Escape in Miami
Photo Credit: TetKabrit /

Guests who have completed online check-in can arrive an hour before the embarkation time on their ticket. Norwegian Cruise Line strongly recommends that guests complete their online check-in at least four days before embarkation day.

Cruise Ship Boarding FAQ

How early is too early to arrive for boarding?

As mentioned, cruise ships usually start boarding four to five hours before departure and won’t allow you to board until they’re ready. So there’s no use in arriving at the cruise terminal first thing in the morning as you’ll have to wait around for hours before you can even board.  If you need to arrive early for any reason, you may be able to board early, depending on the cruise line and how busy embarkation is.

What’s the latest you can board your cruise?

The latest time to board your cruise mainly depends on the cruise line and its policies. However, for most cruise ships, you must embark, at most, an hour or two before departure, with the absolute minimum being one hour. If you’re any later than the strict time that your cruise line stated in your policies, you won’t be allowed onboard, so it’s much better to be too early than too late!

What is the best time to board your cruise?

The busiest time on cruise embarkation day is between noon and 2 pm. Therefore, if you prefer to be early rather than late, the best time to arrive at the cruise terminal is before noon. This is especially true if you have a family with young children, as you may need the extra time to settle in. While you may have to wait a bit before embarking, you’ll be on the ship in time for lunch!

The Verdict: Plan to Board Your Cruise Ship Early

To sum up, when you can board a cruise ship depends on your cruise line’s policies and the time you choose at check-in. If you want to embark as soon as possible, choosing an early time when you check in is best.

However, it’s better to err on the side of too early than too late. Remember that it’s always better to be a little early and wait a little longer before embarking rather than show up late and miss your trip entirely! Check out this article with other tips for embarking on a cruise ship.

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma
I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers. Find out more about us here.


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