Today's mass market cruise ships are huge floating resorts with dozens of venues; restaurants, shows, water slides. It can be overwhelming when you board! If you have an ocean cruise in your future, follow these tips to crush boarding day!
Tips Before Boarding
- Check your documents about when you can check in at port, and where the port is, it varies based on your loyalty with the cruise line, the port authorities and what time your ship departs. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to arrive well before the check in closing time, which is often an hour or more before the ship sails, in order to allow officials to approve the passenger list before sailing.
- Sign any waivers or online permissions for activities. This way your kids can participate without you needing to be there to check them in and sign once you board.
- Carry your required IDs and set sail pass in your hand or a super accessible pocket on your carry on...DO NOT leave these in your checked bags at the pier, because you can’t board without these and they may not be able to locate your bags quickly! (And do not let them fall out of your pocket and fall on the family room floor in the predawn darkness, miss your flight and wake your parents with a frantic 3 AM call...oh wait, maybe that's just our kids!)
- If you want to change into your bathing suit or out of your travel clothes, pack those in your carry on too. On most cruise lines your room won’t be available till after lunch, but you’ll be able to change in one of the rest rooms and hit the pools or hot tubs right away!
- Don't pack your medications or valuables in your checked luggage, keep these with your hand luggage in case your check luggage takes a while to arrive (or very rarely, gets lost all together. This is very, very rare, I've cruised so many times and never lost a bag on board for longer than it takes security to determine that all those bottles in my bag are IN FACT sunscreen. Hey, I'm Irish!)
- I like to carry on something I wouldn’t mind wearing to dinner on day 1 just in case luggage is delayed. This has almost never happened to me in 25 years of cruising, but it’s a habit that makes me feel better, just in case!
- Check your cruise line's rules about what is allowed on board and what is not, you'll know the obvious stuff, no weapons, candles, or illegal drugs, but some might surprise you! Many heat accessories, like clothes irons and hair dryers are banned, and lines have their own rules about bringing alcohol on board.
Where to Go After Boarding
Get them an arm band right away. Should your kids be in a children's program and the emergency alarm sounds, that band will ensure the staff gets your children to you at the muster station. You go there, they go there, everyone is together, no hysterical, frantic searching.
If you want a package, there are plenty of opportunities to do that as soon as you board, you literally cannot walk 5 feet without a table, a tee shirt, a server, tent card, billboard, or airplane trailing a banner offering you the opportunity to get your beverage package (ok. Maybe those last two are slight exaggerations) Hint hint, if you can, you should be buying it advance online at a discount. Wait till you get an email offering a percentage off the packages before your cruise and then take advantage of the sale)
If you want to make dining reservations for specialty restaurants, go to any of the restaurants or dining rooms and you can sign up there. You can also go see your table if you have traditional dining. If you would like get spa appointments, go to the spa and talk to staff there. Some ships have Broadway style shows and might require tickets, even if the show is free, stop at the box office and make those reservations. Lastly, if you haven't planned your activities for the port days, visit the Shore Excursion Desk and talk about what what might interest you. Some ships will allow you to fill out a form for excursions, or reserve on line in your cabin. Hint hint, discounts are often offered online before sailing for all of these reservations, and will save you time on board making reservations!
Hit the buffet!
Ahh, now you are ready to relax, and possibly eat. The buffet will usually be open and very busy! If other venues are open, they might be less crowded. Another option is to put lunch off until the time cabins open up. Everyone will be going to see their cabin and the buffet should be quieter.
Get a towel!
Not all towels will be made into monkeys. You’ll need a couple of pool towels for your deck chair, and excursions. Get a couple per person now, checking them out with your sea pass and you’ll have them when you need them. When they get drippy, change them out for fresh ones at stand at the pool deck. Some lines keep these in your cabin and will change them out regularly, others require you get them on the pool deck.
Grab a deck chair!
...and relax! Pick one by the pools if you have kiddos, in the adult area/solarium if you don’t. You don't need to hold it all day! There are loads of chairs everywhere, no need to hosey one with your towel, when it's so easy to find another later! Also, if you have kiddos, do they EACH really need a whole chair? Especially when they spend so much time IN the pool that they turn pruney and the pool turns yellowy? Really, I found one chair for me and one for the "kids" to dump there stuff on and for hubby to perch on while watching them in the pool was plenty, I couldn't get them out of the pool anyway!
Hit the bar!
If you’ve purchased an all inclusive drink package, you can get started, otherwise, you can just hand over your sea pass card and start imbibing! Just remember all those drinks do end up on your bill at the end of the cruise! Also, be aware of the "souvenir" cup- a drink will cost more if it comes with a cup you can keep...if you don't want the cup, do't grab one off the tray, instead ask the waiter to bring you a drink from the bar in a regular cup.
Get a room!
An announcement will be made and you can hit your cabin. Your attendant probably will stop by, to make sure you know when the muster drill will be held. This is a good time to make any special requests you have (mini bar, ice, extra towels, etc) and I always like to let them know when they can expect me to be out of the cabin for dinner, so they can plan out their time to freshen up your cabin each evening.
Get your @&$ to the muster!
Come on, no one loves muster, but it’s a must, (which is maybe why they call it muster? Or maybe not!) and everyone hates waiting for that one person who shows up late and makes everyone else stand in the blazing sun single file waiting for them. Go on time, you only need your sea pass in hand (which tells crew where your life boat is) and to shut your yap, put your phone in your pocket and listen, the rest is easy and it's over quickly, so you can get back to the fun!