Boarding a ship can often be a tedious and drawn-out experience. Since hours of waiting in a terminal is not how you want to start your vacation, it’s important to know what you can do to make embarkation go as smoothly as possible. Claudius Docekal, who has been carefully selecting exciting new cruise itineraries for more than 30 years, has the answers to your embarkation questions. Currently the head of deployment and destinations for Azamara Club Cruises, Docekal offers these tips on how to achieve a painless embarkation:
1. Plan ahead.
Popular restaurants like Teppanyaki on Norwegian require reservations. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Complete the online check-in process on your cruise line’s website, if it has one, prior to sailing. You’ll be able to print your boarding pass — and even luggage tags — in advance and make your way onto the ship faster.
If you can, make specialty-restaurant dinner reservations and spa appointments online or on the cruise line’s app in advance, too, so you won’t have to rush around when you board to handle these bookings.
2. Have your paperwork organized.
Have your documents in hand from the moment you arrive. - Photo by allstars / Shutterstock
It’s important to have all of your documents, including your passport, handy when arriving at the terminal. The crew has thousands of passengers to check in, so make the process easier by not holding up the line as you sift through your carry-on in search of boarding passes and identification.
3. Arrive in town early.
Flying in a day or two early gives you plenty of time to explore the departure port. - Photo by Ian Schofield / Shutterstock
“Make your embarkation day part of your local experience and get out and see the sights in [the] exciting ports of embarkation,” Docekal suggests. After all, unless you live near the port you’re sailing out of, it’s another city on your itinerary you’ll want to explore. Flying in a day or two early can also give you a chance to get over jet lag before your cruise.
4. Know the best time to board.
Boarding early may be your one chance to experience an empty pool. - Photo by Royal Caribbean
This depends on whether you followed tip 3 or not. If you’re flying in a day or two early and are done sightseeing, 11:30 am is a good time to arrive at the port, have lunch onboard, and get acquainted with the ship before it sets sail.
Cruise lines usually offer a buffet lunch and access to most public areas on embarkation day. It’s important to remember that staterooms generally remain closed for cleaning until around 2 pm, so stash your swimsuit in your carry-on if you plan to hang out by the pool.
If you’re flying in on the same day as your sailing and want to embark directly without sightseeing, Docekal says that 11:30 am is still the best time to arrive at the ship. However, if you want to explore the city you’re embarking from, he recommends arriving earlier (around 8 am) to drop off luggage and handle the check-in procedures, after which you’re free to see the sights. (Just don’t pick up your keycards, since you risk losing them.)
Return to the ship around 2 pm, and most guests will have already checked in. You won’t have to wait in the terminal, and your stateroom will be ready.
Tip: Some lines like cruise lines have begun implementing staggered check-in to prevent situations where everyone tries to board the ship at the same time. Make sure you sign up in advance to get the time you want.
Don't let your vacation start off on a sour note by getting stressed out at the terminal. - Photo by Isamare / Shutterstock
Try to start getting into “vacation mode” when you arrive at the cruise ship terminal, even if it’s crowded and the lines are long. This means doing whatever you can to shake off any stresses of traveling. Give yourself permission to use the bathroom, get beverages, organize your bags, or make a call before you get in line — whatever you need to do to feel calm and collected.
If you find yourself anxious and stressed, repeat this mantra to yourself: “The vacation starts now.”