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What should you expect when boarding a cruise ship?
You’ve decided that you want to give this cruising thing a go. You’ve determined where you’d like to go and have already booked your cruise with your preferred cruise line. What should you expect when you arrive at the port? How do you board a cruise ship and check in as a passenger?
How do I check in?
Each Cruise Line is different, but Celebrity allows you to check in well before your sail date. If it’s possible, I would recommend that you do that. If you are familiar with flight check-ins at the airport, this works the same way. You will go to the cruise line’s website, create an account and put in your information.
This in effect, pre-registers you for the cruise. You will be able to print out your guest ticket which will give you pages of info on what to expect on cruise day, during your journey and your cruise itinerary, etc.
We received luggage tags via regular mail with our stateroom number stamped on it and were advised to affix them to our luggage before leaving home. One can only imagine the logistics involved in keeping up with the baggage of thousands of passengers, so we made sure that we followed their instructions to the letter.
I’ve heard that it’s best to arrive one day before your scheduled cruise departure. Why?
Most cruises, particularly, Caribbean cruises, depart in the late afternoon. That might lead most people to think that it’s a safe bet to fly in on the day of the cruise. My advice is to plan on flying in the day before; this will allow you breathing room to be prepared for embarkation the next day.
Can you imagine booking a flight on cruise day and something happens to delay the flight? Trust me; the cruise lines will not wait for you, so save yourself the stress and fly in the day before.
What if I choose to drive directly to the port from my home?
This has become such a “thing” that you will find that hotels located close to ports will offer “Park, Sleep, and Cruise” specials. If you pay for one night’s stay, they will allow you to park your car on site for free and reclaim it at the end of the cruise. They will usually provide a complimentary shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port.
This might be the most desirable option should you choose to drive in because port parking fees are high (approximately $20.00 per day). I rented a car during my last cruise, and after dropping it off at the rental agency, I was shuttled to the port by the agency for free.
What can I expect when I arrive at the port?
We flew into Fort Lauderdale (FLL) because the flights were cheaper, but our cruise departed from Miami. We hired a shuttle service to drive us to our Miami hotel, and the next day we took the hotel’s shuttle to the port.
It cost $10.00 pp, but it was worth it to assure that we’d get to where we needed to be on time. As soon as you reach your particular cruise line, the driver will remove your luggage, and you will then turn it over to the porter who works for the cruise line.
S/he will make sure that your luggage finds its way to your stateroom. This would be the time to confirm that you’ve affixed your luggage tags with your stateroom number on it. Otherwise, you will find your luggage delayed, or you will have to claim it after the ship leaves port.
To avoid a massive check-in procedure, cruise lines will let you know when to check in so that your wait time will be limited. Keep in mind that there will be thousands of passengers on your cruise, so it’s imperative that they mitigate traffic by assigning specific times for everyone.
What is the process once I arrive at the port?
On your sail date, you would only need to show up at the port, go through their TSA security clearance section with any carry on luggage and you will be directed to your specific cruise check in line for boarding. Be aware, not every line is for all passengers.
We made the mistake of standing in the line reserved for Captain’s Club members, premium passengers who were loyal to the cruise line. Thankfully, we realized our mistake early and found the proper cruise check in line to settle in.
Once you make it up to the counter, you will be asked for photo ID. We gave them our passport, and they were able to pull up our reservation. The clerk quickly printed two plastic cards that would act as our onboard ID and stateroom key.
The only thing that I didn’t like about it was that it resembled a credit card. I would have preferred one that was attached to a lanyard so that I could keep it around my neck at all times.
OK, I have my keys, what’s next?
As soon as we received our stateroom keys, we were directed upstairs to the entrance of the ship. This is where you will be enticed to pose for a Bon Voyage photo that the cruise line will attempt to sell you once you are on board. We declined. Once we showed our cruise ID to the gatekeepers, we were on our way.
I would suggest that you spend a little time exploring the ship. It will be time well spent familiarizing yourself with where the restaurants are, the pools, the gym, spa, etc. Since it had been some time since we’d eaten breakfast, we found the buffet restaurant and gorged on their incredible menu before making our way to our stateroom. When you arrive, you will more than likely find your luggage inside or it will soon be on the way.
Alright, I’m settled in but how in the world do I decide what to do first?
On your bed, you will find the cruise line’s list of activities for that day. The first official activity will most likely be their emergency drill or ‘muster’. You will be instructed where on the ship to go for this drill. Our muster section was imprinted on our key cards.
They will have ship personnel stationed throughout to assist you in locating your group. This is mandatory so that you will know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. It will take 15-20 minutes at most.
Each stateroom is assigned a steward. This person is responsible for making your stay as seamless as possible. On average, they will change your linens twice a day and tend to any other request that you might have.
For the most part, it is not necessary to tip this person. Most cruise lines will collect these gratuities in advance and roll that cost into your grand total — ditto for restaurant service. I chose to tip my servers on the last day of the cruise because their service was impeccable. Use your discretion when doing so.
One of the activities listed is a shore excursion. What is that?
It is pretty much a guided tour of any port stop which is where your ship is scheduled to stop. I enjoyed two shore excursions during my cruise in St. Thomas and St. Martin. Both were reasonably priced and were ordered via the television in my stateroom.
Once you place the order, the steward will bring your tour tickets to your stateroom with instructions on where to rendezvous with your tour group before disembarking the ship.
You are not required to purchase any excursion. You can leave the ship on your own accord and hire the many locals who will be advertising their tour guide services as soon as you reach the shore. On my first cruise, I hired locals in advance after getting recommendations on Cruise Critic.
I liked the idea of putting money directly into the local economy, so I would recommend it. This time around, we played everything by ear and decided to do shore excursions pretty much at the last minute. Besides, we had $300.00 in onboard credit (OBC), so we were in good shape. More on OBC later.
What is the advantage of buying a Shore Excursion from the cruise line?
There is one real advantage of purchasing your shore excursions from the cruise line. If you are late getting back to the ship, they will wait for you. If you take an independent shore excursion with the locals as I did on my first cruise, they will leave you behind.
You will have to find your way back to the ship at the next port stop. Most port stops are eight hours or more, so there’s no valid reason to be late.
Coming up next: Now that you’ve booked your cruise, we’ll provide a handy checklist for you to use before you start packing and other pertinent information that you will need to know before you set sail until then.