Welcome Aboard! Well almost. So what should you expect on the first day of your cruise? When do you get to the port? What will happen? Here is a typical breakdown of what happens.
Let’s assume for the purposes of this blog that you are very excited and want to get to the port early. If you arrive at the port after boarding begins, the start of this blog won’t totally apply, but you’ll get the idea.
In nearly every case, the ship you are embarking on will be coming into port in the morning of your cruise and other passengers will be disembarking. Because of this, you are not allowed into the cruise terminals until later in the morning. This varies from port to port, but is generally no earlier than 10:00 am. You can usually wait outside of the terminal, but you may be doing so for a long time. Your luggage will not be taken by the porters until a certain time as they are busy with the guests disembarking. That being said, we have arrived at the port as early as 7:15 am when we were very excited for a Panama Canal sailing. There are usually no places to sit down outside or bathrooms that you can use until you get in to the terminal so keep this in mind.
Once you are able to get into the terminal, you will give your luggage to the porters at the port. Your room will not be ready when you get on the ship until at least 1:30 or so, so you definitely want to give the porters most of your luggage which will be delivered to your room later in the afternoon. You will want to make sure you have luggage tags from the cruise line on your luggage to make sure it is delivered to you. If you do not have luggage tags when you arrive, the porters will have extras. Make sure you have a carry on with anything you will need before dinner time and any valuables. This would include jewelry, medication, and I recommend a swimsuit, your door decorations and of course your documentation to get on the ship.
A security officer will check your name against the cruise manifest. They will also check your photo ID or passport. Once you get into the terminal building, you will have to go through security, much like at the airport. The exception we have found to this was in the Port of Los Angeles (in San Pedro). Here the security was just before we got on the ship. In most cases, we have not had to pull out laptop computers, but in Miami on Norwegian, we did.
After you have cleared security, you would proceed to check in. On Norwegian if you were bringing on wine, this is the time that you would pay the corkage fee before checking in. Most cruise lines will now give you a form to fill out at the port, asking if anyone has experienced any illnesses in the last 24 hours or so such as nasal symptoms or diarrhea. If anyone in your party checks yes, you will have to be cleared by medical personnel before you will be allowed to cruise. This is to make sure that no contagious illnesses get introduced onboard.
You will get into a line for check in, either based on the type of room booked, your repeat cruiser classification or citizenship classification. This is different on different cruise lines. With Disney Cruise Line they have four classifications – Non-US Citizens, First Time Cruisers, Castaway Club Members and Concierge/Platinum Castaway Club Members.
When you check in, you will need to present your documents which include your cruise contract, payment authorization form, passports or birth certificates and photo IDs and the credit card you will use for charging onboard. If you wish to pay cash onboard, you will have to pay a deposit at this time. You will receive your key card and other general information. At Disney if you have cruised before, you will also receive lanyards. The general information would either be your daily newsletter or an information sheet of what to expect when you get onboard. On some cruise lines, you will also get your photo taken at this time. On Disney you will go to a separate station (unless you are in the Concierge/Platinum Castaway Club line) and have your photo taken.
If you are interested in a port upgrade, this is the time to ask, once you have checked in. If there are upgrades available, the agent will direct you where to go to check this out. Many times upgrades at the port are considerably less than even the day prior, however you cannot be guaranteed an upgrade will be available.
If you do upgrade, you will want to check to see what will happen with your luggage as you have already given it to the porters with your old cabin number on it. Usually the terminal staff will contact the ship and let them know what your room was and what it will be. It will likely take more time for your luggage to get to your room as it will be delivered to your original room first and then transferred to your new room.
Now you wait. Ok, it’s not that bad. There are usually either seats for you to relax while you wait or something else to do. In the Disney terminal, there is a model of the ship in the middle of the room. You will want to also check out the floor in the terminal. There are television monitors in one area with cartoons for the kids. In other terminals there hasn’t been as much to do, but you’d be surprised how fast the time goes. We have always met people sitting around where we were which passed time and you got to know some others on the ship. If you are doing a Roll Call or cruise meet, you may start to see people in your group.
Once the announcement is made that boarding will begin, you will work your way to the gangway. On some cruise lines, here is where you will get your picture taken for your key card. Boarding may begin in the order you arrived at the port or by your room category or repeat cruiser status. Either way, it goes pretty quickly.
Usually on the way to the ship, you will have a chance to have pictures taken. This is optional, but doesn’t cost anything for the session, just if you purchase the picture later.
On some cruise lines, when you get on the ship, you will get a glass of champagne. On others you will be funneled towards the buffet restaurant. On Disney they will ask your family name when you approach the ship. They will also have crew members available to check in with you to see if you need directions, etc.
Lunch is generally ready when you get onboard. This is also the time where you would make any changes that couldn’t be done ahead of time. If you want to change your dining time, there may be an opportunity to do so. You can also check on availability of specialty restaurant dining and make reservations. You can sign up for drink packages/soda cards as well. You will have your carryon with you until the rooms are ready so keep that in mind.
After you get some lunch, you can explore the ship or go for a dip in the pools, if you remembered your swimsuit in your carryon! This is a great time because few people will do this. We have had the adult pool all to ourselves. You will likely be approached by cocktail servers asking if you want the drink of the day. This is a good way to break in your key card! If you are not interested, just say no, but another one will likely be by before long.
This is a good time to tour the spa areas as well. If you are interested in setting up an appointment, they can take care of you right after your tour.
Once your room is ready, you’ll make your way down to find your room. Inside your room you will likely find another daily newsletter, tickets for any excursions or activities you prearranged, any gifts you purchased for the room, and notes about any onboard credit you are receiving. If you will be getting a repeat cruiser gift, many times it is also in the room. Your TV very well could be on with a safety announcement about the lifeboat/muster drill.
If you brought door decorations in your carryon, why not start decorating! We usually bring way too many decorations, but I have them divided up by which day I will put them out. For example, I have magnets for Pirate Night, but keep them on the back of the door until Pirate Night. I also unpack my carryons and get a feel for the room, where things are located, what kind of soap (that’s an inside joke for those that know about my soap problem!).
If you have never cruised before, this is also a good time to become familiar with the toilets. They are likely much different than you have experienced on land. In most cases, you have to close the toilet lid to flush. I think this is actually a safety feature! The toilets are operated on a vacuum line.
You may also find a note about ice service in your room. If there is one, you will need to check what type of ice service you want – none, morning only, night only or both. You may see your stateroom host at this time too. If you need anything changed in the room or need anything extra for the room, this is a good time to let them know. For instance, if you have a queen bed and wanted two twin beds or if you have an infant and need a diaper genie or bottle warmer, your stateroom host can take care of that for you.
You’ll also note that each room has a separate temperature control. You should adjust this as you need to. Keep in mind that if it doesn’t get as cool or is too cool for you, you can ask maintenance to adjust this. There is usually a range on the control that is set so you can’t accidentally make it extremely cold or hot and that range can be adjusted. This is why I bring a thermometer with on the cruise. If I don’t get it adjusted to a certain temperature, I tend to have sinus issues. Most of the controls do not have actual numbers for the temperature, they just have a range – warmer to cooler.
About an hour before sailing, you will be told that you have to report for the muster drill. As mentioned before, it will depend on the cruise line but you may or may not have to bring your lifejacket. This drill once started usually only takes about 15 minutes or so. All ship services are suspended during this time so you can attend the drill as it is required for every guest to attend.
Once we are done with the drill, we have found it common to start to see our luggage being delivered. I like to get unpacked as quickly as possible to not avoid anything else going on. You should not worry if your luggage hasn’t been delivered by the time the ship sails away. The luggage is all onboard, it just takes a while to sort and get to its destination.
It’s now time for the sailaway!! Your cruise may have a band or DJ playing as you sail away or there may even be a deck party. Check your newsletter to find out for sure and head up on deck to wave goodbye to the land!
Once the ship gets out of the channel near the cruise terminal, you may start to feel the motion of the ship more. It may not be noticeable much, but this is when you would start to notice it.
Now it’s time to get ready for your first night aboard. You will either be going to dinner or a show at this time. You will find photographer in the Atrium area and other public areas of the ship. The shops will open up for duty free shopping and the other clubs not opened earlier will open. Some of the clubs and bars will have entertainment – pianist, comedian, duos, etc. You will find all of the entertainment options in your daily newsletter.
After you have eaten, seen the show, did some dancing or enjoyed a comedian, it’s time to turn in. When you go back to your room, you’ll likely find that your stateroom host has turned down your room. Many times you will find a towel animal on the bed along with a copy of the next day’s newsletter. Some cruise lines will also put a chocolate on your pillow. It is at this time too if you want to order room service for the next morning that you can put out your order if a request form is available (on Disney this is in the top desk drawer). You can also order milk and cookies or another nighttime snack if you want from room service. Finally, if you need to change your clocks because you are switching time zones, there will be a note to do so.
If you do not want to be disturbed (and this goes for any time during the day or night), there will be a “Do Not Disturb” placard to put out. There is also usually a deadbolt on the door. You will certainly want to make sure you do this if you don’t want your stateroom host inadvertently coming in at a not-so-good moment! The opposite side of the placard usually requests that your room be made up. You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t accidentally put the wrong side facing out.
It’s time to say goodnight and get a good night’s sleep so you are ready to go in the morning! Enjoy the rest of your cruise!