Boarding a cruise ship is a lot like a first date: Sometimes it flies by; other times it drags on for an eternity — and first impressions are always important. The first few hours after you arrive at the terminal can set the tone for the rest of the trip, so settling in without complications can go a long way toward ensuring your cruise is a great one. Start your cruise off on the right foot with these seven tips:
1. Arrive at the port later in the day.
If you're sailing from Miami, add another stop to your itinerary by spending the day in Miami Beach. - Photo by Thinkstock
You don’t have to wait until you cross the gangway to start your vacation. If you flew into town the night before, spend the morning on the beach — or shopping or sightseeing, then grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant.
Even if you’re arriving the morning of your cruise, you can avoid the worst of the crowds by and explore the port a little before heading to the terminal.
2. Bring a book or magazine.
You're going to need some reading material for the beach anyway. - Photo by Thinkstock
If you arrive at the terminal early enough that you have to wait for boarding to begin, it’s important to know that not all cruise terminals have Wi-Fi. (Shocking, right?) And don’t count on being able to find an outlet for your phone, since the few available are usually claimed immediately.
3. Pack your own food and water.
Unlike the TSA, cruise port security won't confiscate your water. - Photo by Thinkstock
Most cruise terminals have vending machines, but loading up on sugary snacks and beverages while you wait is a recipe for a late afternoon crash. Thankfully, unlike at airports, you can bring food and beverages in your carry-on bags.
4. Plan for your luggage arriving late.
It takes hours for the crew to get thousands of bags onto the ship. - Photo by Thinkstock
The crew will deliver your suitcases to your cabin, but if you plan to head right to the gym or the pool make sure you have everything you need in your carry-on bag. Sometimes, the bags don’t show up until as late as 5pm.
5. Consult a map once you board.
Ship Mate has offline deck plans you can use to navigate around the ship. - Photo by Ship Mate Cruise App
Once you board, you’ll realize — especially if you’re on a newer, mass-market ship — that cruise ships feel much bigger in person than they look in brochures.
It’s easy to get turned around in the interior hallways without any landmarks, so even if you have a good natural sense of direction, swallow your pride and check maps on the ship (often by the stair wells) or use Ship Mate App's downloadable deck plans.
6. Make any last-minute reservations.
Want a reservation at Eataly on MSC Divina? Make sure you get a reservation right when you board. - Photo by MSC Cruises
If there’s a specialty restaurant, spa treatment, or shore excursion that you’re dying to try, the odds are that plenty of other passengers are, too. If you didn’t make reservations in advance, do so after you drop your carry-on bag off in your cabin.
7. Expect the muster drill.
Follow these signs from you cabin to your nearest muster point. - Photo by Thinkstock
Before you get too comfortable in your cabin or by the pool, remember that all ships have a mandatory muster drill. Passengers will gather at their muster point — a designated meeting area used during emergencies — to learn various emergency procedures and how to don their life jackets.