Once the planning, packing, and
anticipation are behind them, veteran cruise passengers sometimes
view embarkation day as anticlimactic. However, for first-time
cruise travelers, embarking on their first ship can be more than
exhilarating—it can be downright
intimidating. What exactly can you expect?
for the birdie--an embarkation photo op
First of all, keep in mind that
your embarkation day cannot officially begin until the ship is clear
of departing guests and their luggage. The
debarkation process can be as drawn-out as a divorce. While the
previous weeks' passengers make their way reluctantly down the
gangway, the staff and crew are busy readying the ship for the next
sailing. By the time the last straggler departs, trucks are already
arriving at the dock with provisions and a lot of heavy work is
going on behind the scenes.
Staterooms and public lounges are thoroughly cleaned and readied and
a steady stream of supplies and luggage are brought aboard. There
can even be an exchange of crewmembers, with some leaving and others
The vessel's entire turn-around procedure is as carefully
choreographed as the most intricate ballet.
Whether you take a bus transfer or taxi from the airport or a
hotel, the first people you encounter at the terminal are baggage
handlers. They are not cruise line employees and they do expect a
tip—a couple dollars per suitcase is
sufficient. You may be required to show your cruise ticket and
picture ID at this point for verification and security purposes. Be
sure your ship's luggage tags are securely fastened to your
suitcases before you hand them over.
shoreside staff are milling about to point you in the right
direction—they are easily
recognizable in official looking attire with nametags and, often,
a clipboard. Once inside the terminal, you might encounter a
check-in line. Actual boarding time is often scheduled for noon but
some cruise lines will begin processing early arrivals and then
direct them to a "holding" area. During check-in, you will
be asked to produce your documents and any forms you were sent to
complete ahead of time, plus proof of citizenship, and a credit card
(to pay for your on board charges). You are issued a boarding card
that often also doubles as your stateroom "key" and
shipboard charge card.
At some point,
either before you enter the check-in area or before proceeding to
the ship, you and your hand luggage will have to pass through a
security procedure, somewhat like that at airports.
Everyone is anxious
to get on board and begin their vacation, but this isn't the time to
get cranky if you have to wait. Keep in mind, you cannot board until
the ship is ready for you. Once boarding begins, you will inevitably
have your first experience with the ship's photographer and be asked
to pose for an embarkation picture. It only takes a second, so
smile. You are under no obligation to purchase any photos taken of
you during the cruise and they are a nice souvenir.
Congratulations! Your cruise has begun. Procedures vary somewhat
once you are greeted by staff members lined up just inside the ship's
hull; however, you'll usually have to produce your boarding card for the security officer. Depending on cruise
line, you will be directed to your cabin or a steward will relieve
you of your carry on luggage and accompany you. Stewards on high end
cruise lines not only show you the way, but hand you a glass of
champagne as a welcome aboard gesture. If cabins aren't ready,
you'll be directed to the buffet where lunch is being served.
When you arrive at your cabin, check it out to make sure that everything is in order.
You should find life jackets (ready for the muster drill
later) and a copy of the ship's daily schedule. Take a few moments
to look over the schedule—you'll want to
know what time the muster drill takes place (a placard on the back
of your cabin door will indicate directions to your emergency
station), as well as meal hours and the schedule for various
activities and entertainments.
Rented tuxedoes are
either hanging in the closet or will be delivered sometime during
the afternoon and Bon Voyage gifts sent by your friends or travel
agent usually appear as well. Be patient if you are expecting
deliveries, particularly on mega-ships. Cabin stewards participate
in the ship's turn-around and are extremely busy, although yours
will no doubt introduce himself at the first available opportunity.
It will also be a while before your checked luggage arrives, so your
initial order of business is usually the welcome aboard buffet if
you haven't already been there.
Bring along the daily schedule to peruse while you eat.
While making your
way around the ship, no doubt you'll notice bar waiters offering
trays of colorful and exotic "Bon Voyage" drinks, often in
souvenir glasses that you can keep. Beware—they are not
complimentary! If you choose one, you'll be asked to sign for it.
Again, like the photos, you're under no obligation to purchase;
however, the glasses are fun souvenirs.
Do your plans for
the cruise include booking shore excursions and indulging in spa
treatments? The most popular tours sometimes sell out and spas can
be very busy during sea days, so your next stop should be the Shore
Excursion Desk to book tours and the Spa to make appointments.
Your dining room
seating assignment may be another matter for consideration. Some
people like to check the main dining room to see where their table
is located. If it's not to your liking, or if you requested a large
table and find yourself assigned to a small one, you will want to
see the Head Waiter. He will be stationed in a lounge with his
charts handy to make changes—the daily schedule will indicate
where and when.
For the rest of the
afternoon and into the evening you may find other introductory
activities such as tours of the spa and fitness center, port and
shopping talks, and casino gaming lessons available. Of course,
there will be the compulsory muster drill, followed by sailaway
festivities on the pool deck.
By late afternoon
or early evening, your luggage should arrive and you can unpack and
settle into your cabin to prepare for dinner. A few words of
advice... just in case your luggage doesn't arrive before dinner, as
sometimes is the case when you're dining at the early seating, it's
a good idea to have toiletries and appropriate attire in your
carry-on so you can freshen up and change. Dress codes are always
casual on the first evening of cruises.
A highlight of
embarkation day is that first dinner in the main restaurant where
you'll meet your waitstaff and tablemates. Order whatever you like
from the menu of appetizers, salads, soups, and entrees, but save
room for dessert! Other than iced tea, coffee, hot tea, and water,
beverages in the dining room are not complimentary.
After dinner you'll
find the entire ship alive with action! The casino, shops, and
lounges will all be open to greet guests and the Cruise Director
usually introduces his staff at a Welcome Aboard show in the main
theater (shows are scheduled to coordinate with dining seatings).
Back in your cabin
for the night, you'll find that your steward has straightened things
up during your absence, filled the ice bucket, provided fresh linens
in the bathroom, turned down the bed, left the next day's schedule
of activities, and placed a chocolate on your pillow. Sweet
What to expect: