The 21 Dos and Don’ts of Cruise Boarding Day – Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

Before stepping foot onboard your next cruise, we have our 21 expert cruise tips to ensure your cruise boarding day is smooth sailing!

Tips for Cruise Boarding Day

It is the first day of your cruise! While we wish it was as simple as showing up and boarding a cruise ship, the process isn’t that clear cut. Don’t worry, as we have put together this guide filled with our tips and tricks to ensure you’re one step ahead of the crowds on cruise boarding day.

Cruise Boarding Day Tips and Tricks

To be ready for boarding a cruise ship, you need to start a few months ahead of your departure date. Believe us, you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to have everything in place.

Do Download the Cruise Line’s App

To make boarding the cruise easier on embarkation day, you will want to download the cruise line’s app. Once you have the app, you can link your reservation. From there, cruisers can review the scheduled daily activities, review ship deck plans, and even book add-ons.

Such additional cruise costs include shore excursions, drink packages, and specialty dining. But, there is an even more important reason to have the app, completing your online check-in.

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Don’t Complete the Online Check-In Late

Now that you have the app, you can complete the digital check-in for your cruise right from the palm of your hand. Typically, you can complete the cruise check-in about 30 to 45 days prior to cruise boarding day.

Using the app lets you skip the paper work, and the lines, once at the terminal. Completing this step as soon as it is available will also get you a preferred port arrival time. The sooner you check-in, the earlier you can arrive at the port and start your vacation on embarkation day.

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Do Make Pre-Cruise Purchases Before Boarding

We are planners and think you should be too. So, to make cruise boarding day more relaxing and enjoyable, make your onboard purchases before even stepping foot on the ship. Some of these additional costs include shore excursions, specialty dining, and other packages like drink packages.

Cruise Boarding Day Tips

Booking ahead of the trip will save you time and often save you money. Cruise lines usually discount these purchases to encourage cruisers to buy them ahead of the voyage.

So, keep an eye on your cruise planner, and if you see a deal or sale, take advantage of the lower rates.

Also, some cruise lines and ships require cruisers to book entertainment. If you can do this before getting onboard, be sure to do so.

Likewise, even if you have flexible dining, many cruise lines let you reserve time slots for the main dining room pre-cruise. We always make reservations for at least a couple of nights, especially cruise boarding day. At least you will know where you’ll be eating for dinner.

Don’t Plan to Arrive the Day of Your Cruise

You should make travel arrangements to get to the port the day before boarding your cruise. Now, we don’t mean literally staying at the port.

Most passengers are traveling a rather long distance to get to the cruise departure point. So, we suggest coming in the day before and staying at a hotel near the cruise port. Coming in early gives you extra time in case there are any travel delays.

Plus, you get to start your vacation a day early! 

Do Print and Adhere Luggage Tags

Most cruise lines don’t send luggage tags to your home anymore. So, you will need to print and adhere your luggage tags to your bags before arriving to the terminal. We suggest printing the luggage tags at home and then adhering them to your luggage before taking your transport to the ship on embarkation day.

Cruise Luggage Tags Make Boarding a Cruise Ship Easy

We use these inexpensive luggage tag holders. They are easy to take on and off and pack neatly away in your suitcase when flying. They also help to protect the paper tags.

Being prepared will certainly make boarding the ship more efficient.

Don’t Get to the Terminal Too Early

Yes, you are excited about boarding a cruise. But, cruise lines have become rather strict regarding port arrival times. That is why it is crucial to do the check-in as early as possible to get a more desirable time.

While we used to recommend cruisers arrive early, nowadays, you need to stick to whatever your assigned time is on your boarding pass. Showing up a little early is usually okay. But, if you have a 1 pm boarding time, don’t get there at 11 am. Most likely, the cruise line will make you wait until closer to your printed time.

Regardless, the earliest cruise lines typically start processing cruisers is around 10 am. Even then, you will need to wait in the terminal as most ships are not cleared to accept new passengers until 11 am at the earliest.  

Do Check Larger Luggage with Porters

Odds are you and the family will have a few suitcases for a weeklong cruise. So, we suggest that you leave them with the porters outside the terminal. Most likely, your room will not be ready when you board the ship.

Leave the Bags With The Ports on Cruise Boarding Day

The last thing you want to do is lug these bags around with you for hours in crowd spaces on the ship. Instead, drop them with the porters and you will be reunited with them later on in the afternoon once your cabin is available.

Don’t Forget Necessary Forms and Documents

At the terminal, you will need to show your boarding pass and passport to check-in. Most cruise lines accept digital boarding passes, but they need to see your physical passport. So, that needs to be handy.

We also recommend having print copies of your boarding passes and other travel documents (receipts for tours and pre-cruise purchases, proof of travel insurance, etc.) available in case they are needed.

Do Bring a Carry-On Bag

While you are leaving your bigger bags with the porters, someone in your travel party should have a cruise carry-on bag. Typically, we each bring a small backpack or tote bag as our carry-on item.

In the bag, we keep necessary documents, electronics like laptops and cameras, and other necessities.  

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Other items you will want to have on hand include any necessary medications, chargers for your phone, and other essentials like sunglasses, suntan lotion, and even a lanyard for your cruise card.

For tropical cruises, you might want to have a bathing suit in there as well so you can use the onboard pools as soon as you board the ship.

Further, most cruise lines allow you to bring two bottles of wine onboard. If you choose to take advantage of this perk, those need to be in your carry-on as well.

Don’t Pack Prohibited Items

Nothing can ruin cruise boarding day like getting items confiscated from your luggage. So, avoid the issue all together and simply don’t pack any prohibited items.

Your cruise line will have a list on its website of what items are not allowed onboard. Typically, such banned items include bottles of liquor, firearms, illegal substances (regardless of your state’s laws), and items like fireworks.

Most cruise lines don’t allow items like inflatable pool toys, as well as irons, electronic tea kettles, steamers, candles, incense, and hotplates.

Further, if you’ll need extra outlet space, make sure it is a cruise-approved device.

Do Follow All Staff Member Instructions

While boarding a cruise at peak times, the terminal can get busy. If there are any delays or queues form, just take a depth breath and relax. Also, please listen to the instructions and directions from the shoreside staff members.

Truthfully, the staff are doing their best to keep everyone in line and keep the process moving as quickly and efficiently as possible.  

On Cruise Boarding Day follow the staff's directions

Whether it is the security agents, check-in specialists, or those organizing boarding groups, please be courtesy and patient. Will there be fellow cruisers who are rude, cutting in line, or ignoring directions, probably. Why be that person though?

Honestly, those individuals will not be on the ship any quicker than you. So, just go with the flow. Afterall, it’s vacation!

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Don’t Skip the Welcome Aboard Photos

Is there any better way to commemorate your cruise vacation than with a Welcome Aboard photo? Well, we certainly don’t pass up the opportunity to have a picture of us snapped in front of the ship.

Okay, to be honest, it is a backdrop of the ship, but still.

Yes, many cruisers have dozens of these slightly cheesy photos, but that is part of the fun. Don’t worry, if the photo turns out awful, you are under no obligation to purchase it.

So, take the few minutes to stop before boarding the ship and smile for the camera.

Don’t Head to Your Cabin

You are finally onboard and can’t wait to see everything. Well, resist the temptation and avoid going to your stateroom. Your cabin will likely not be ready just yet. Most cruise lines do not have staterooms ready until between 1 pm and 2 pm.

Again, this is another reason checking your larger items is so worth it. With your manageable carry-ons in tow, it is now time to take care of any loose ends.

Do Sign Back Into the App Once Onboard

If you were smart, you’ve already downloaded the cruise line’s app. Now that you are onboard, you can connect to the ship’s intranet.  Don’t worry, you will not need to purchase WiFi to use many of the features of your ship’s app.

One benefit of the app is having access to all the daily activities, events, dining hours, and entertainment offerings, as many ships have done away with the traditional print “daily”. Instead, the cruise line apps put all of this information, and more, in the palm of your hand.

Do Make Remaining Reservations

If you took our advice, then you made all of your reservations ahead of time. Still, there might be some last-minute reservations you need to make once you board the ship.

These could include entertainment reservations, dining reservations, as well as reserving spots for other activities. If your cruise ship has such attractions as go karts, escape rooms, or laser tag, check if they require advanced reservations. If so, now is the time to book those.

Same goes for dining. If you purchased a specialty dining package, you might only be able to reserve those once onboard the ship. Or, maybe you changed your mind and decided to book a specialty restaurant.

Don’t Skip Muster Drill

For those new to cruising, muster drill is a compulsory safety drill all cruisers must complete. Whether you have sailed once or 100 times, all travelers on a ship are required to complete muster.

Luckily, many cruise lines now employ a virtual muster drill, or sometimes referred to as e-muster. Instead of an in-person, drawn out safety drill, this new muster consists of two steps.

First, cruisers need to watch the safety video in the cruise line’s app (or stateroom television). After watching the video, cruisers can then check-in at their assigned assembly station for a short life jacket demo and safety highlights. This process is efficient, easy, and a vast improvement.

missed about cruising

So, there is no reason for you to skip muster, or prolong completing these steps. The video takes only a few minutes to watch. The earlier you do it, the earlier you can begin your vacation!

If your cruise line has reverted back to the traditional in-person muster, then make sure you know when and where to go for that briefing. It will usually occur in the afternoon shortly before sail away.

Do Skip the Buffet

Once you board the ship, hordes of people will be ushered into the same spot, the buffet. Resist the urge to be shepherd into this casual eating spot.

Most contemporary cruise lines offer a variety of other casual dining options. These can include Mexican fare, cafes, pizza parlors, and outdoor grills, along with other options.

The daily schedule, or the cruise line’s app, will indicate the times and locations of restaurants open for embarkation day lunch.

If the buffet is the only option, try to go at off-peak times. This way, you can enjoy the rest of the ship while everyone else is eating.

Do Explore the Ship

Fueled up and ready to go, it is time to explore the ship. You’ve examined the deck plans, now it is time to see what the ship looks like in-person. Even if we have been on a ship before, we like to spend some time on cruise boarding day getting reacquainted with a vessel.

Now is the time to get a general sense of the layout of the ship so you know where to go throughout the week.

Our tip is to start at the top of the ship and work your way down to the inside areas. At the top, there will be the outdoor areas, pool, sports deck, and other amenities. The lower inside decks will be home to venues like the theater, main dining rooms, specialty restaurants, and bars and lounges.

On this first day of the cruise, many of these venues will be open for you to checkout, even if they aren’t hosting entertainers.

Often, you can also take a tour of the spa and thermal suite and learn more about upcharge seminars and classes.

Do Sign Up Kids at the Youth Center

If you are traveling with kids, you should visit the Youth Center on the ship at some point after boarding the cruise. Some larger ships might have several spots, with activities arranged by age groups.

During these open hours, you can meet the staff, tour the facilities, and learn more about the activities and events occurring during the week. Often, there is a separate schedule just for the youth programs that details the week’s events.

Do Unpack

During the afternoon, there will be an announcement that the staterooms are ready. While we don’t want you to miss out on all the fun on your ship, at some point, we do recommend you unpack. Typically, we try to unpack before the sail away party.

Although, that is not always possible, especially if the luggage arrives a bit later in the day.

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Still, we make it a point to get our clothes stored away, items hung, and our luggage under the bed before we retire for the evening. It is highly unadvisable to try and live out of your suitcase for the next week as this will take up valuable space in your cruise cabin.

Don’t Go Overboard

With all of the excitement and fun of the first day of the cruise, you might be tempted to over do it. Just remember, there are six more days of food, drinks, and fun.

It is true that you should preload your cruise, by doing some of those sought after activities and events early on during the week. Things like the waterslides, go-karts, mini-golf, zip lines, or other family-friendly activities get busier as the week goes on.

Check out the show, grab a drink (or two) at one of the lounges with live music. Just don’t try to do too much on the first night.

Commonly Asked Questions About Boarding a Cruise Ship

If you still have questions about boarding a cruise, we have the answers. If you still are not sure about the process or what to do, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below. We will be happy to answer them.

What to Expect When Boarding a Cruise Ship

The cruise boarding process consists of several steps. For the most part, the entire process shouldn’t take more than 30 to 60 minutes.

Once travelers arrive at the terminal, the first step is luggage drop off. Yes, leave your larger luggage with the porters. It will save you time and energy.

Next, the shoreside staff will confirm you are at the right location and have a valid reservation. Here, they will want to see your boarding pass and passport. Once they have confirmed your identify and reservation, you are ready to proceed.

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If you arrived at the cruise line designated arrival time, staff will let you enter the terminal. It is possible that the staff will make you wait outside if you arrive too early.

Once inside the terminal, the process is relatively straight forward. There is a security check. Here, your carry-on luggage will go through a scanner, and you will pass through a metal detector. Do not try to get any prohibited items through security. They will find them and confiscate them.

Following security, you will make your way to the check-in counter. Here, they will swipe your passport, confirm all your details, and make sure there is a form of payment on file. If you didn’t load a security photo, staff will take one now.

At this point, many cruise lines give you your key card. Some lines, like Royal Caribbean, make you use your boarding pass to get on the ship and leave your keycards in an envelope outside your cabin door.

Now, depending on when you arrive, you may need to wait in the terminal until your boarding group is called to actually get on the ship. In some instances, we have waited an hour or so after check-in to be called to embark. Other times, we have gone through all the above steps and walked on the ship within 30 minutes.

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To officially board the ship, there is one more security point. Here, the ship’s security scans your key card to get visual confirmation that you are the individual tied to the reservation. From there, it is up the gangway to the ship. Usually, you are greeted by smiling crew welcoming you onboard!

Where Do You Board a Cruise Ship?

Your cruise line has emailed you a copy of your booking statement. There, it will show all the ports you are visiting, including both your departure and return port.

Most likely, your cruise is a closed loop cruise, meaning it begins and ends at the same port of call. Whether that port of call is Miami, FL, Port Canaveral, FL, Los Angles, CA, or one of the 100+ popular cruise ports, this is where you will board your ship. The boarding location is the port listed under Day 1 on your itinerary.

Often, the cruise line will provide specific port information, an address, and perhaps directions to the port on the cruise ticket. Those tickets are normally issued after you do your check-in on the cruise line app or website.

What to Wear Boarding a Cruise Ship?

Cruise boarding day is usually a long day. Thus, you want to make sure your outfit is comfortable and functional. But it is the first day of your vacation, so make sure to let the world know.

We usually pick out a coordinating outfit that is fitting for our itinerary. Think a Caribbean print shirt for Caribbean cruises.

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Plus, we have been known to purchase matching t-shirts for family trips or milestone cruises. So, you have our permission to make that Esty purchase!

Since you will be doing quite a bit of walking and standing, make sure you have comfortable footwear as well. Depending on the region of your cruise, you may need to bring some layers in your cruise carry-on too.

Who Gets Priority Boarding?

Most cruise lines offer priority boarding to several guests. There are a few ways in which you can get this privileged access on your next cruise.

  • Cruise Line Loyalty Status – Cruisers who have cruised frequently with a cruise line will be members of that line’s loyalty program. While the levels vary for each line, guests at the top echelon of the Loyalty program get priority boarding. There will be a separate line dedicated to those cruisers who have status.  
  • Staying in a Suite – All cruise lines offer separate boarding access and exclusive check-in counters for guests staying in Suites. Whether it is the Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line, the Retreat on Celebrity Cruises, or Concierge Level on Disney Cruise Line, guests staying in those cabins are among the first to check-in and board the ship.
  • Paying for Early Boarding – Some cruise lines offer packages that include priority boarding. Royal Caribbean’s The Key is a program that includes several benefits. One of these perks is priority embarkation. It also includes priority tendering and disembarkation, along with internet. Similarly, Carnival Cruise Line offers Faster to the Fun. Again, this provides guests the ability to be among the first on the ship. It also provides priority access for tendering and disembarkation.


Do you have any additional cruise boarding day tips? What do you do first when boarding a cruise? Drop us an anchor below with your embarkation day cruise tips and tricks.

Don Bucolo, or “DB”, loves everything about cruising- the ocean, the food, and the atmosphere. While he may be obsessed with doing extensive amounts of research on ships and all elements of a cruise, Don enjoys sharing his new found knowledge with fellow cruisers. When he is not sailing the high seas, he does whatever his wife tells him to do-it only took 10 years to realize this.
Don Bucolo
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  1. On carnival you can’t get your sign and sail card till you get to your Cabin. That could be late afternoon. How can you buy a drink?

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