Finally, the day of your cruise has arrived and you are looking forward to getting on board. I have embarked on many cruises and every time I am still learning a few tricks to maximise my time on board on my first day. Here are a few tips that will help you to have a smooth embarkation process and start enjoying your cruise the second you step into the cruise terminal.
1. KNOW YOUR EMBARKATION PORT
This seems to be a silly point to make, but it is a very important one. Cruise lines get the pier and port information very close to sailing from the port authorities and there are cities that have more than one cruise terminal. So always make sure you know where you have to go before the embarkation day. I have been in a situation where the cruise line did not exactly specify the port and it was a very ambiguous port description. The example was embarkation port Yokohama (Tokyo). So does this mean you should embark in Yokohama or Tokyo? These are two different cities and miles apart from each other. In the end, we went to Yokohama only to find out that the ship was not there, but in Tokyo. We then had to rush to Tokyo and went to the cruise terminal. When we arrived, we found out that the ship was not there either. The ship was docked in the cargo terminal as it was too big and heavy to use the official cruise terminal. I must tell you, this was certainly an experience I would never want to experience again. It was most stressful as we were in a foreign country with no access to help and no one spoke English either. We only managed to get to the ship as I had all the documents printed out so I could show them to the person that was working in the cruise terminal, who then arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to the ship. This leads me to my next point.
2. HAVE YOUR CRUISE DOCUMENTS READY
Before you leave your house, make sure you have a printed copy of your cruise ticket with your name, the booking reference number, embarkation port and time and your stateroom number with you. As mentioned above this already saved one of my cruises and you also need this at the cruise terminal to check-in. In addition to this, do not forget your luggage labels. Either you will have to print them out yourself, or they will be send to you by the cruise line or your travel agent. If you have to print them out yourself, secure them well around your luggage and check that it does not come off easily. The instructions always state to staple the ends of the label together, but I always secure them with some extra sellotape so they do not rip off when the luggage is tossed around. Some of the ultra-luxury brands still provide and deliver proper luggage labels, however you mostly are just entitled to one luggage label per person. If you have more than one piece of luggage you can always request extra luggage labels at the embarkation port. Although these will be just the normal paper labels.
3. LEAVE ENOUGH TIME TO GET TO THE SHIP
Plan in advance how and when to get to the cruise terminal. Are you driving there or taking the train or taxi? Check that there are no road and train track closures and that you will get to the port in time. Do not leave last minute and arrive at least one hour before the ship departs. The ship will not wait for passengers that arrive late and it will be very costly and sometimes impossible, depending on the itinerary, to embark in the next port. To be on the safe side you can book a transfer to the ship through the cruise line. If the transfer is delayed for any reason, the cruise line has the responsibility to get you to the ship one way or another so you will be covered and protected. If your cruise is leaving from a different country I would always urge everyone to fly there one day early and overnight there. It is not worth to miss your cruise for an extra £50 – £100. I have dealt with people in the past who missed their cruise due to flight delays, cancellations or circumstances outside anyone’s control such as the fire at Rome Fiumicino Airport in 2015. If this is not possible or you choose to fly the same day as the cruise, take the earliest flight possible in case there are flight delays or cancellations so you have the chance to hopefully catch a later flight and still make it to the cruise.
4. EMBARKATION TIMES
If you can, try to get on board as early as possible. Some cruise lines allocate your boarding time, some allow you to board at your own convenience and some offer priority boarding, sometimes for an extra fee. This varies from cruise line to cruise line and should be indicated on your cruise documents. If you get on board early though, you can already start using the facilities. The food outlets, bars, fitness centre and pools will already be open and you can already enjoy these. After all, you are still paying for the embarkation day so make the most of it.
5. TAKE SOME HAND LUGGAGE WITH YOU
When you check in for your cruise, your luggage will be taken by the luggage handlers and delivered to your cabin for you. This may take a few hours though and mostly people can expect their luggage to arrive in their cabin after the ship has left the port. Therefore, you will not be able to access your luggage straight away when you get on board. Take some extra hand luggage or backpack with you and pack essentials such as medication, money, passport as well as swimwear and a change of clothes. If you feel like a swim already, you will be prepared and can jump into the hot tub straight away!
6. ACCESSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
Cruises are truly for everyone and cruise lines can cater well for people with disabilities and specific requirements. So for example, if you have walking difficulties due to your age or if you are a wheelchair user, let the cruise line know in advance so they can make the appropriate arrangements for your cabin as well as for your embarkation. Cruise lines offer wheelchair assistance for example during embarkation and debarkation so you will not need to walk along the long ramps, which sometimes can also be very steep depending on the cruise port. Please bear in mind though that this assistance is only for embarkation and debarkation. During the cruise, there always has to be an accompanying person, friend, family member or caretaker, who can help guests with accessibility requirements as the staff is legally not allowed to do much. By this, I am referring to for example lifting or carrying people.
7. REGISTER YOUR CREDIT CARD TO YOUR CRUISE ACCOUNT AT HOME
It saves you a lot of time on board when you link your credit card to your cruise account in advance before embarkation. This is necessary so everything you purchase on board such as drinks, souvenirs, arcade games, spa treatments etc. get charged to your cruise account and at the end of your cruise you will receive a statement and the charges will be deducted automatically from your credit card. If you do not register a credit card in advance you will need to do so almost instantly when you get on board as you will not be able to use your cruise card for purchases and services otherwise. However, on the embarkation day there are always long queues at the reception desk as people have to sort out all sorts of things and sometimes you might have to wait more than 30 min in line. Therefore, save yourself some valuable time and do this at home. It takes less than 5 min to register your card online.
Happy cruising! 🙂