Recently we had the opportunity to go on our second cruise. This time it was in a Royal Caribbean ship, (our first time it was aboard the Carnival Fantasy), The Empress of the Seas. Once again this is one of the smaller ships of the float, which makes for a more relaxed experience. At some point I will do a comparison between the smaller Carnival ship v. the smaller Royal ship.
Today I want to give you some tips on boarding your cruise. If you do a quick google search you will find that this topic has been discussed ad nauseam. But after spending several hours reading through many travel blogs these are the tips that most everyone seems to agree on. As far as my own experience I can confirm that these are great guides to follow. Some extremely obvious (don’t leave your passport) others not so much (bring a bottle of wine/champagne), here I give you 5 tips that will make your life better on embarkation day.
1- Be early –
There seems to be a bit of a mixed opinion on this subject. Some tell you to get there early others to make it just in time so that you don’t have to wait in the terminal. I have done both.
For our first cruise we got there several hours early (only way we could bum a ride out of a loved one was to trap them into taking us before work). Because we were there so early we ended up waiting about two hours in the terminal. We were able to go in through security and get all of our documents checked very quickly. There was virtually no line. Then we just sat around in the terminal chatting and watching videos. It was a bit boring (and we were starving since we didn’t have time to eat breakfast) but it was pretty leisurely. Once it was boarding time we were one of the firsts in line to go in the ship where we made a beeline for the buffet.
The second time around we couldn’t entrap one of our loved ones into giving us a ride -_- so we had to rent a car park spot and go in our car. This trip also happened at the busiest time in the year for our business so we actually had to go into work before sailing away -_-. Therefore we ended up making it about one hour before our cruise had to depart. Oh, the agony! The shame! The LINE! We were in an extremely long line that barely seemed to move for about an hour. The plus side was that we were able to board immediately without having to wait some more after.
Now keep in mind that embarkation day is the first day of your vacation. I honestly preferred the first experience where we got to experience no lines, had more chances to ask questions of staff, and got to make our way into the ship at a more leisure pace. So my recommendation is to get there early, the whole “get there very late” seems to be a myth. The later it gets the lines seem to move even slower as panicked travelers make mistakes and have to search for “missing” documents in their bags. So get there early!
2- Don’t Forget Your Travel Documents –
This one seems very obvious, but you would be surprised how many people actually don’t bring the right document (resulting in a panic, asking someone to bring it to them if they are fortunate enough to live in the area, which starts off your vacation on the wrong foot). You will not be able to board the ship at ALL if you do not have a passport, a birth certificate, or a naturalization certificate (as far as I know these and maybe a green card or a passport card are the only forms acceptable). No, a marriage certificate will not work. No, a drivers license only will not work either. So talk to a cruise representative BEFORE you get there to make sure you have the right document. Also double check that you have your passport (or approved document) before you leave your house.
Birth Certificate/Naturalization Certificate v. Traveling with a passport.
For our first cruise we did not have passports, so I used my Naturalization Certificate while my husband used his Birth Certificate. We had no problems whatsoever, it went just as smoothly as when we used our passport. No delay because of documents when boarding or disembarking. So it can absolutely be done, however I had more peace of mind when I had a passport. Not to mention there are places I would not go without a passport, such as Mexico. So proceed at your own risk, however it makes you more comfortable.
3- Start your vacation early –
I already mentioned that getting there early is best. However you can also start your vacation early. If you are one of the firsts on the ship you can get to explore it before it gets too crowded, which makes this an excellent time for taking pictures… yes we could go eat at the buffet but first let me take a selfie!
Another activity is to go eat or go check out the bars (obvious ones). But something that not a lot of people know is that you can enjoy a spa treatment at a discount rate. Most people that are going to use the spa wait for one of the at sea days for booking, which means that embarkation day and the last day of cruising when they have to fill up all of the remaining empty spots are actually great for getting discounts. Just stop by on embarkation day and ask if there are any discounts. This is a great way of getting some relaxation at a better price.
You can also get to use the pool before it gets extremely crowded. Snatch one of the good lounge chairs by the pool and start working on your tan. Or go make reservations at the specialty restaurants before it all gets booked.
4- Pack a carry on –
There are whole blog posts about what to pack on your carry on. So that should tell you how important it is to bring one. First of all choose a bag that is comfortable and light enough (you will be lugging this around for a while until you can get into your room). Make sure not to over pack so that it isn’t too heavy.
-Pack a bathing suit
– A change of clothes for dinner (or wear something nice enough you can wear for dinner and just bring a pair of shorts/shirt/cover-up you can wear with your bathing suit)
– Portable charger and phone (duh)
– Passport or travel documents
– Spending cash/card
– Any medications you or your loved ones are on
– If you have a kid you know what to pack: diapers, change of clothes, bottles, toys, etc. Basically what you would put in a diaper bag, just keep it light.
– Entertainment (book, kindle, ipad, etc.)
These are just some pointers. Just make sure you bring anything you feel you will absolutely need and can’t live without for a few hours. While keeping in mind that you want to keep your carry on as light as possible.
5- Bring your drink allowance –
Always make sure you bring your drink allowance. The specific allowance might vary from cruise line to cruise line. However they usually allow you to bring a 750 ml bottle of wine or champagne per adult guest inside the carry on. Some even allow you to bring a maximum of 12 cans of soda or soft drinks (sealed, no more than 12 ounces each) per guest. Just know that you can do either or (soft drink or wine). Also know that water and liquor are not allowed by most.
If you decide to bring the bottle of wine know that if you drink it in the dining room or one of the bars they will charge you a corkage fee. So keep it to your cabin or pool deck away from the bar.
I have always brought a bottle of champagne or prosecco which we use to toast our departure. If your room has a fridge you can keep it there until ready to use, if not just ask your concierge for some ice and put the bottle in the ice bucket until ready to drink.
This post is actually a little longer than I thought it would be. There are many more tips that I could give you (flight in the day before your cruise, don’t waste time in going to shopping lectures, the shops on board are not really worth it, etc.) but these are just the cruise boarding tips I think everyone should know before embarkation. If you follow these your boarding should go very smoothly and start your vacation on a peaceful not.