What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (2024)

What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (1)

What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (ID: 1710) (Photo: Cruise Critic)

What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (2)

What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (ID: 1710) (Photo: Cruise Critic)

What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (3)What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (4)

Cruise Critic


How do I get on my ship? Is there a check-in process like at the airport?

The arrival and check-in process for your cruise can seem overwhelming and chaotic, but it's generally organized. Your cruise line will send you information about when to arrive at the port, giving a several-hour window, typically from late morning to mid-afternoon. You can show up at any time during that window. Generally speaking, the busiest time for boarding is between noon (when most cruise lines' regular check-in begins) and 2 p.m., so we recommend arriving just before or after that window. Bear in mind: If you arrive too early, you might have to wait around, especially if the passengers from the previous cruise are still disembarking. You also shouldn't cut it too close; understand that if you arrive after check-in has ended, even by just a few minutes, you likely will not be allowed to board.

When you arrive at the cruise terminal, the first thing to do is locate your boarding documents (either mailed to you or printed out at home) and your identification (passport or driver's license and birth certificate), and keep them handy.

Upon entering the terminal, you'll need to show your cruise documents and go through a security line. You will need to pass through an x-ray machine and have your carry-ons scanned, but the process is not as rigorous as at the airport. (You likely won't need to remove your shoes, for example.) Then you'll enter a large open space with roped-off lines and check-in stations. Cruise line staff will be on hand to direct you to the correct line; suite passengers and high-status past-passengers will typically go into a shorter line or separate waiting area, while regular passengers join a main line.

At check-in, you will present your ID and documents for the representative to check you in. You will also be asked to fill out a form stating whether anyone in your party has been sick lately; this is for the cruise lines to guard against norovirus and other illnesses easily spread in confined places. In turn, they will take your picture for security purposes, give you your cruise card (an all-in-one electronic card used as your boarding card, room key and onboard credit card) and give you a schedule of the day's events and possibly a handy map of the ship. Note: Some cruise ships issue wristbands in lieu of cards. Additionally, select Carnival ships operate on a keyless embarkation system, in which passengers can pick up their cards in the mailbox outside their cabin, eliminating the extra step of having them issued in the terminal.

Select cruise ports -- namely PortMiami, Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) and Port Tampa Bay -- have undergone renovations aimed at expediting the embarkation process. PortMiami's Terminal F (operated by MSC Cruises), for example, recently received 60 additional ticket counters, among other upgrades. Other terminals are building in new technology to cut down the wait time. PortMiami's Terminal A will adopt a paperless check-in system as well as digital luggage tracking when Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas arrives in fall 2018. The terminal is designed to host the line's Oasis-class ships. Meanwhile, Port Everglades' Terminal 2 will be equipped with similar technology to host Princess Cruises' Ocean Medallion-class ships.

Can I find food or bathrooms at the cruise terminal?

Terminals will usually have bathrooms for passenger use and might have some juice, coffee or cookies available. Food will always be available once you board the ship, regardless of time.

How do I actually get onto the ship?

Once you have checked in and have your cruise card, you will either follow signs and staff members to board your ship right away, or you'll be directed to a waiting area with instructions on when to board. On your way to the ship, you'll encounter the ship's photographers asking passengers to pose for a picture, often with a backdrop of the ship or a ship's life ring. These photos will be available to purchase onboard, and if you do not want to take one, you can simply say "no, thank you" and pass by.

Once you're cleared to board, you will follow a gangway (elevated ramps) up to the ship. There, crewmembers will typically check you in via your cruise card. You'll likely enter the ship in a public area, such as the main atrium, near elevators and staircases, and crewmembers will be available to point you toward food options or your cabin (if it's open).

Will I have to carry my suitcases with me?

When you arrive at the cruise terminal, porters are available to take your large suitcases and transfer them to the ship. You are not required to hand your bags over, but you'll likely want to do this, as cabins are often not ready when you board, and you'll be left lugging your heavy suitcases with you for a few hours. Have a few small bills ready to tip the porters.

Your luggage should be delivered to your cabin by dinnertime. Because you'll be without your suitcases for several hours, you'll want to pack a carry-on bag with everything you'll need for the first afternoon (such as a swimsuit, change of clothes, camera and cell phone), as well as any important items you cannot lose (medications, ID, etc.).

Is there anything special I need to know about traveling with children?

If you're traveling with kids, warn them in advance about the long lines. Consider bringing snacks or entertainment to keep them busy while you wait.

If I or one of my traveling companions can't stand for a long period of time, will we still have to wait?

If you, or someone in your party, cannot stand for a long time or walk long distances, you might want to bring a walker with a seat or foldable stool, as procedures vary by terminal, and there might not be expedited boarding or appropriate seating options. Additionally, you might want to request a wheelchair; while some might be available at the port, you are better off alerting your cruise line in advance. (If you require a wheelchair for the entire cruise, you'll need to bring your own or rent one via an agency like Special Needs at Sea.) For more information, check out our article on cruising with a disability.

How can I find out more the first day of my cruise?

You might like the following articles:

The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.

Updated January 08, 2020

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What to Expect on a Cruise: Boarding a Cruise Ship (2024)


What do I need to know before boarding a cruise ship? ›

First Time Cruise Tips
  • Location vs Duration. ...
  • The Right Type of Cruise. ...
  • Be Sure That You Understand What's Covered. ...
  • Follow the Instructions Sent by the Cruise Company Prior to Embarkation. ...
  • Pick The Location of Your Cabin. ...
  • Check Whether Your Travel Insurance Includes Cruise Cover. ...
  • Plan Your Port Days.
29 Apr 2022

How does boarding work on a cruise ship? ›

Cruise line staff will be on hand to direct you to the correct line; suite passengers and high-status past-passengers will typically go into a shorter line or separate waiting area, while regular passengers join a main line. At check-in, you will present your ID and documents for the representative to check you in.

What do you do on boarding day on a cruise? ›

13 Things to do on Embarkation Day
  • Explore the Ship. Take some time to explore the ship as soon as you get onboard. ...
  • Enjoy the Pool & Waterslides. ...
  • Grab Something to Eat. ...
  • Book Shore Excursions. ...
  • Reserve Seats for OnBoard Entertainment. ...
  • Take Pictures. ...
  • Visit the Dining Room. ...
  • Arrange Spa and Salon Appointments.

Do they go through your bags on a cruise? ›

Just like the security screening at an airport, we also screen all luggage our guests bring onboard to ensure everyone's safety. If there is an item in your luggage that is prohibited or is believed to be prohibited, your bag will be taken to a screening location and will be inspected by our Security Team onboard.

What should you not forget to take on a cruise? ›

15 Things NOT to Forget to Pack for a Cruise
  • Sweater or Light Jacket. This one is most important for the ladies. ...
  • Emergency Contact List. ...
  • Identification. ...
  • Medication. ...
  • Prepackaged Snacks. ...
  • Power Strip. ...
  • Reusable Water Bottle. ...
  • Comfortable Walking Shoes.
5 Oct 2020

How long does boarding a cruise take? ›

Depending on the cruise line, size of the ship/number of passengers, and how efficient the boarding process is, embarkation can range from 30 minutes to a few hours.

Should I bring a purse on a cruise? ›

Bring a small purse to hold your cruise card and camera when walking around the ship. I always like to have my camera with me so carrying a small purse means I don't have to always have it in hand.

How early should you arrive to board a cruise? ›

Arriving about an hour before the end of the boarding window leads to fewer lines, allowing you to arrive and usually get right on the ship. Note: One thing you should never do is arrive late to the boarding window.

What is best time to board cruise ship? ›

Avoid arriving at peak boarding time

We recommend getting to the terminal either early, before the rush, or late (after 2 p.m.), when most people are already onboard. You might still have a little wait, but it won't be anything compared to peak boarding time.

Do you get searched when boarding a cruise? ›

How do you define a search? Generally YES, you go through a security check, similar to boarding a commercial flight. They publish well in advance the permitted and not permitted items to carry with you or check in your luggage. Browse the cruise line's website with all the information.

What should I bring on my first day of cruise? ›

5 Things to Pack for Your First Cruise
  • Extra Bags. A day pack, a bag for dirty laundry, a plastic bag for wet bathing suits, Zip-Loc bags for snacks ... ...
  • First-Aid Kit. ...
  • Your Favorite (Nonalcoholic) Beverage. ...
  • Laundry Alternatives. ...
  • Power Strip.

What should I wear on my first day of cruise? ›

What should I wear on embarkation day? Since you most likely will be doing a lot of walking and standing in line, comfortable shoes are key. Dress casually, and don't be surprised to see tropical wear on Caribbean cruises or even groups in matching T-shirts. Also make sure you check the weather beforehand.

Can you text while on a cruise? ›

Yes, you can make calls, text, and even video chat from a cruise ship. In port, you can connect to local roaming networks. At sea, you can either make calls via a satellite connection or pay for the ship's Wi-Fi (also via satellite) and make Wi-Fi calls, text or video chat via the internet.

How many suitcases do you take on a cruise? ›

Most cruise lines “encourage” each passenger to limit luggage to two suitcases, each one less than 50 pounds. In addition, you can also bring carry-on luggage (more on that in a moment).

Do cruises provide condoms? ›

But there was bad news for those feeling frisky but failing to pack that essential for safe sex – 70% of cruise liners don't sell condoms. The company found that sexual encounters at sea is on the increase, but that cruise lines are failing to rise to the occasion.

How much do you tip your luggage carrier on a cruise? ›

Give the luggage handler a $2- $5 tip per bag, depending upon size, weight and amount of luggage. What is this? If you're a solo traveler and only have one large bag to check, a $5 tip is appropriate. Consider the tip as baggage delivery insurance.

Can I bring snacks with me on a cruise? ›

One of the best things about cruising is the food! And there will be many dining options available to suit most tastes and preferences. However you are free to bring non-perishable prepackaged food in limited quantities. While we have many drink offerings onboard, you are welcomed to bring select beverages onboard.

Can you drink the sink water on a cruise? ›

Cruise ship tap water is safe to drink unless you are told otherwise by the ship's authorities. The water throughout the ship has been treated, filtered and frequently tested to meet the standards of the World Health Organization and the U.S. Public Health Service on ships sailing into and out of U.S. ports of call.

What are the things we should know before going on a cruise? ›

15 First Time Cruise Tips
  • Research Your Ports in Advance. ...
  • Don't Tip Double on Alcohol. ...
  • Pack With Space in Mind (and Consider Only a Carry-On) ...
  • Take Yourself on a Ship Tour on Embarkation Day. ...
  • Board Your Ship As Soon As You Can on Embarkation Day. ...
  • Pick a Cabin That Works for Your Cruise Needs.

What do I turn off on my phone on a cruise? ›

Data use onboard a cruise ship is ridiculously expensive, especially because it tends to add up quickly. Always remember to put your phone in airplane mode or turn off data roaming before you head out to sea and don't want to be smacked with a hefty bill upon returning home.

What happens if you use your phone on a cruise? ›

Do cell phones work on cruise ships? It's a common question with varying answers. Guests are free to utilize their cellular data or connect to our onboard Wi-Fi on any ship. But, please be aware that cellular data used on the ship or in certain ports of call will result in charges from your cell phone provider.

How do you avoid cell charges on a cruise? ›

You will also want to log into the ship's Wi-Fi network. Put your phone into airplane mode to get off cellular, then log into its Wi-Fi and always log out when you're not using it. Then, make phone calls and receive phone calls over Wi-Fi calling apps like Skype. Or use a messaging app like WhatsApp.

How long does it take to get off a cruise ship after docking? ›

In most cases you'll find that it is completed in 30-45 minutes of arrival. So just because the ship is tied up at the pier doesn't mean passengers can immediately get off. Once passengers are free to go ashore, there is a bit of a rush of people at the beginning, but the lines usually goes quickly.

How long do you sway after a cruise? ›

It's called “getting your sea legs,” and it keeps you from crashing into a wall every time the ship bobs up or down. When you get back on shore, you need time to get your land legs back. That usually happens within a few minutes or hours, but it can take up to 2 days.

How long does it take everyone to get off a cruise ship? ›

Disembarking all passengers from a cruise ship takes a few hours, depending on the cruise ship's size. From the time your color-coded departure group is called, you can be off the ship in 15 minutes.

Can you text on a cruise for free? ›

Can you text on a cruise ship for free? Yes, you can. If you want to text while on a cruise ship, you have the option of either connecting to the ship's Wi-Fi network or its cellular service so you send an SMS over the Internet for free.

Do Cruises wash your clothes? ›

Most cruise lines offer wash and press services onboard their cruise ships for a fee. Exceptions include smaller lines, such as Island Windjammers. There is typically a laundry bag located inside your stateroom that you can leave for your room steward to pick up.

Do I need to bring shampoo on a cruise? ›

Your cruise ship will provide basic toiletries for the shower, so there is no reason to waste precious luggage space on shampoo and conditioner. Check the bathroom before you leave to make sure you haven't left behind contact lenses, contact solution, glasses, medications, deodorant, mouthwash and hair gel.

Should you pre tip on a cruise? ›

If you want to make your life easier, and don't plan on removing or adjusting the gratuities on a cruise, it's better to prepay before you go. In our experience, prepaying gratuities does not negatively affect the service onboard. We have consistently been very pleased with the wonderful service on cruise ships.

Is it cold on the deck of a cruise ship? ›

And while you might be cruising the Caribbean or some other tropical locale, ship decks can get pretty cold at night when the sun goes down and the wind picks up, so it may be smart to bring a shawl or light jacket.

Which side of the ship is better on a cruise? ›

The truth, though, is this: There's no “better” side of the ship. It doesn't matter where you're going, or what river you're sailing on, or even what ship you're sailing aboard. Both sides of the ship are created equal. The trouble with trying to pick a side of the ship based on something you'd like to see is this.

What are the embarkation process? ›

What is embarkation? Simply put, embarkation is the process of getting on your ship – it's the cruising equivalent of boarding a plane! While the embarkation procedure may vary slightly between the different cruise lines, it will fundamentally remain the same and require you to have similar documents to hand.

Do cruise ships have cameras in the rooms? ›

While most, if not all, cruise ships already have video cameras in place, the newly proposed rules stipulate that the vessel's surveillance system must cover all areas of the ship where passengers or crewmembers have common access. (This rule excludes staterooms and crew cabins.)

Can I bring co*ke on a cruise? ›

Guests are prohibited from bringing water, sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages that are packaged in glass or plastic bottles.

What night do you dress up on a cruise? ›

Dress-up nights are found on three- and four-night Disney cruises, with optional formal and semiformal nights on seven-night cruises. Dress-up means dress shirts, slacks and jackets for men and dresses or pantsuits for women.

Can you wear jeans on a cruise ship? ›

In the evenings, some of our ships enforce a “cruise casual” dress code. For men this dress code can call for longer dress shorts or pants (jeans are OK too) and a collared polo shirt. For women, the dress code may ask for sundresses, skirts and blouses, dress shorts and capri pants are acceptable.

Can you wear jeans to formal night on a cruise? ›

You can get away with wearing jeans to the Main Dining Room on formal night. However, it's a good idea to make sure the jeans are fairly nice and do not have any holes or rips in them. A dark-washed jean will look more formal, although you will likely not be turned away with any type of jean.

How many swimsuits should I bring on a cruise? ›

Swimwear: Bring at least 5 swimsuits and 4 swim cover-ups. Dinner Attire: Bring enough smart-casual looks for 10 dinners. For men, that means bringing at least 7 button-down shirts, while women should consider packing at least 7 fashion tops.

Can you watch TV on a cruise ship? ›

Yes. Cruise ship cabins feature televisions, though you might not be able to keep up with all your favorite shows.

Do cruise ships have room phones? ›

All cruise cabins have room phones with a messaging system the same as a hotel. Also like hotels, there are "house" phones throughout the ship that you can use to call directly to the stateroom phones. Some cruisers bring walkie-talkies onboard, particularly families with kids old enough to spend time on their own.

Does it cost money to text on a cruise? ›

Sending and receiving text messages at sea can be incredibly expensive as you'll likely incur roaming charges. So, it's generally not a good idea to just turn on your mobile/cell phone and start texting. Suggested read: Does WhatsApp Work On Cruise Ships?

What information is needed to go on a cruise? ›

It depends on a few different factors. If you're a United States citizen going on a “closed loop” cruise, you'll only need to present: Government issued photo identification. Proof of citizenship (an original or copy of your U.S. birth certificate, a Consular report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization)

What do first time cruisers need to know? ›

10 Things Every First-Time Cruiser Should Know
  • Prebook activities before you leave home. ...
  • Plan to arrive at your departure city a day or more before the cruise. ...
  • Pack a carry-on bag. ...
  • Switch your cellphone to airplane mode. ...
  • Don't assume the cruise is all-inclusive. ...
  • Pace yourself. ...
  • Understand automatic gratuities. ...
  • Watch the clock.
1 Feb 2019

How much money should you bring on a cruise? ›

As a general rule, plan to have $50 to $100 each day in the local currency. Also, you may want to bring an extra $20 a day for tipping crew members. Make sure to include smaller bills for tips. Fifty to a hundred dollars a day should be enough to cover small purchases, tips and snacks at each port.

Do I need to take cash on a cruise ship? ›

Here's the short answer: You don't actually need any cash when on a cruise ship. Most cruise lines operate on a cashless system. This allows you to pay for any and all of your onboard charges using your room key rather than bringing extra cash.

What sort of clothes do you need for a cruise? ›

Casual, comfortable attire

T-shirts, tank tops, shorts, sundresses, and skirts are all acceptable clothes to wear on a cruise ship to have lunch in the Oceanview Cafe and other restaurants with a casual dress code.

Can you use cell phone on cruise ship? ›

Do cell phones work on cruise ships? It's a common question with varying answers. Guests are free to utilize their cellular data or connect to our onboard Wi-Fi on any ship. But, please be aware that cellular data used on the ship or in certain ports of call will result in charges from your cell phone provider.

How do I protect myself on a cruise? ›

Pay attention during the muster drill.
  1. Drink alcohol responsibly. ...
  2. Buddy up. ...
  3. Practice in-cabin safety. ...
  4. Be safe on your balcony. ...
  5. Use your safe. ...
  6. Get to know your steward. ...
  7. Don't carry large amounts of cash. ...
  8. Don't accept an invitation to crew quarters.

How many bags can you take on a cruise? ›

The best news about packing is that there is no (reasonable) limit on how much you can bring on a cruise. Most cruise lines “encourage” each passenger to limit luggage to two suitcases, each one less than 50 pounds. In addition, you can also bring carry-on luggage (more on that in a moment).

Do they check your bags before a cruise? ›

Your bags will be screened by security at the cruise terminal, in order to save yourself time and hassle there are certain things that you just can't bring with you. Oh, and don't accidentally pack your passport in your checked luggage – you will need it to get into the terminal to check in!

How long should your first cruise be? ›

The ideal cruise length for a first-timer

A week or so is the sweet spot for most first-time cruisers, which will offer two or three ports. Three-day sampler itineraries won't allow you to explore more than one destination, and you can't decompress as thoroughly, either.

How do I prepare for a cruise 2022? ›

  1. 8 Tips For Preparing to Cruise in 2022. By Orlando Martinez. ...
  2. Know the cancellation policies before you book. ...
  3. Buy travel insurance. ...
  4. Plan to get a COVID-19 test before your cruise. ...
  5. Begin the check-in process for your cruise ASAP. ...
  6. Stay informed. ...
  7. Boost your family's health. ...
  8. Bring whatever you need to feel safe and healthy.

How much do you tip on a cruise ship? ›

How much should I tip? Most cruise lines suggest tipping $10 to $12 per day per passenger (not per couple), regardless of age. For a seven-day cruise, this means each cruiser should budget at least $70 for gratuities, or $140 per cabin for two people.

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