For your first cruise, the two biggest days are Embarkation Day (YAY! we're getting on the ship!) and Disembarkation Day (BOO! we're leaving the ship). Here's our tips on what to expect for both of these days.
EMBARKATION DAY (the big day!)
Depending on the time you arrive, it CAN be very busy and a bit chaotic with thousands of people exiting and entering the same ship. Just relax and know that there’s a big cruise ship waiting on the other side of the building. :)
Do not arrive any earlier than 30 minutes before your scheduled arrival time. The cruise lines have been more stringent about the arrival times since the restart and arriving any earlier will just have you waiting outside the terminal much longer than necessary.
If you are checking luggage to be brought onto the ship, there will be curbside porters to take your bags. They are easily identifiable by lanyards with their ID on them MAKE SURE YOUR CHECKED BAGS HAVE LUGGAGE TAGS ON THEM and those tags are secure. Generally we tip the porter $2 per bag. If you’re unsure where to go next, ask the porter, they will direct you to the Terminal entrance. There are usually police officers directing traffic and other terminal agents directing you as well.
Take all carry-on bags with you to the terminal.
Ensure all necessary documents and identification are within reach and ready to show to the various agents as you walk in, either via app or physical items. You will need your boarding pass out and possibly your ID just to enter the terminal.
You will go through a security checkpoint similar to an airport with metal detectors.
You will then go to the Check-In area. There should be agents there to help guide you to the correct line. There are different lines for Suite Guests and high-level loyalty guests, and lines for everyone else. :)
At the Check-In desk they will need your boarding pass and your identification (passport or Birth Certificate/Photo ID). Once checked in, they will take a photo of each traveler unless you’ve already done so in the cruise app. This photo is used by the ship security when you board and exit the ship to verify your identity.
After Check-In you will be directed to a waiting area to await your time to board the ship or directly to the gangway if your group is already boarding. Make a note of your Muster Station, it’s usually a letter and a number on your ship card, such as D3.
When your boarding group is called, you will enter a very long, uphill gangway that’s like a very long glass walled jetway where you will get a good look at your ship as you walk up.
As you exit the gangway, a security officer will scan your Ship Card and you are now officially onboard the ship!
Get the Muster Drill out of the way as soon as you can. See more info about this security drill in Your First Cruise: Part 1, Getting A Cabin
Once onboard, the ship is yours. Cabins are generally not ready until 1:30pm, you will hear a general announcement over the ship’s PA when the cabins are ready. At that point, the elevators will be busy. If you can walk up the steps to your cabin do that, or just wait until 30 to 60 minutes after the announcement to take an elevator up to your cabin.
The Buffet is usually VERY busy during embarkation, but you can check it out to see how busy it is. You can also grab lunch in the Main Dining Room or any of the other complimentary eateries on the ship. If you have pre-purchased a beverage package it will be active as soon as you get on the ship, EXCEPT in a few ports, such as Galveston. There it may not be active until you leave the port.
You can head out to the pools, the activities on the top deck or anything you want to do. We recommend taking a walking tour of the ship at some point during your first day to get a feel of where everything is. If you don’t have the daily activities planner showing up on your app, you should be able to grab a printed version at Guest Services to see what the schedule is that day.
All ships have a “Sail Away Party” at the main pool or on the top decks. This can be fun, but don’t feel compelled to attend this. Enjoy your first Sail Away any way you choose. :)
DISEMBARKATION DAY (the sad day)
Disembarkation is handled through the use of groups the same as the boarding day. In general disembarkation can start as early as 7:15am and can be finished by 9:30am. Based on what time your travel arrangements are, you can request a disembarkation time to give you plenty of time to exit the ship and get on your way. You can also opt to ‘self-debark’ which means you will walk off the ship with all of your own luggage, this is generally the first group to be called to walk off the ship.
If you have any checked luggage that you would like the cruise line to remove from the ship for you, you must use disembarkation luggage tags on that luggage.. Depending on the cruise line, you will either have luggage tags delivered to your cabin the night before your final full day on the ship or you will have to go down to Guest Services to get the tags.If you intend to self-debark with all of your own luggage, you do not need these tags.
Checked luggage must be packed and put in the hallway outside your cabin the final night of the cruise. Generally before 8pm, though the cruise line will give you an exact time. Room stewards will collect the luggage and it will be stowed in the lower decks ready to remove from the ship. You will retrieve the luggage in a luggage corral in the terminal after exiting the ship.
In general you have to be out of your cabin by 8:00am. We usually grab breakfast in the buffet between 6 and 7:30am. Then come back to the room for a final check and will then head to a public space to wait for our exit group to be called. If you would like to tip your room steward before leaving, but you don’t see them, you can leave your tip on the desk in your cabin.
Have your Ship Card handy as you get ready to exit the ship. Ship security will scan your Ship Card one last time to clear you off the ship.
Once off the ship, you will proceed to the luggage corral in the terminal to retrieve your luggage, and then through Customs before exiting the terminal. If you self-debarked, you can go straight to Customs.
If you have made total purchases that exceed $250 during your cruise, you will have to declare those to Customs. In some cruise ports Customs has been replaced with face scanning systems, but in some, you will still pass through a Customs officer before you can exit the terminal. If you have any questions regarding what needs to be declared, you can ask at Guest Services for assistance.
You can order a ride share service (Lyft/Uber), hail a taxi or use any number of shuttle services to get to an airport if that is your destination. Just know that it will be crowded and can be a bit chaotic with a few thousand of your new friends all exiting the ship at the same time. If you have any questions at all as you exit the ship or in the terminal, there are terminal agents and porters you can ask for assistance.
What To Know For Your First Cruise, main category
Your First Cruise Part 1: Getting A Cabin
First Cruise Guide: Tips for Booking Your First Cruise
First Cruise Guide: Excursions, Dining & Drink Packages
First Cruise Guide: Selecting Your Cruise Ship Cabin
Cruise Critic: (membership is free, sign up to participate in the cruise boards)