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How to Take the Stress out of Embarkation Day on Your Cruise Holiday

As an experienced cruiser, I've got tons of tips to make your next cruise vacation a breeze.

So you have booked your first cruise. Good on you! You deserve to lay back in that lounge chair and soak up the sun. But once the big day arrives and you are ready to get the party started, you'll have to deal with embarkation day—a stressful experience if you aren't well prepared.

Here are a few tips to consider on and before embarkation day. If you follow them, I guarantee your first day of cruising will be a breeze.

Prepare for the Bag Drop

The first thing that needs to happen is the bag drop. This is the time to get rid of that heavy suitcase you've had to wheel around the entire port, the one that is full of everything you absolutely needed to bring. The stewards will take it away and arrange for it to be transported to your room (must be magic!). Once you get rid of your luggage things start to feel a little more like a holiday, which is well worth it these days when everything is screaming covid and you feel like you're living in more than one mask.

Now, if you are early, you might just want to go for a little walk around the port. I usually leave from Sydney harbour, so I always take some time to enjoy the atmosphere of Circular Quay and even take some shameless selfies in front of the abundance of iconic Australian points of interest (I personally love the Sydney Harbour Bridge).

Make Sure Your Bag Is Tagged

Before you do the bag drop, make sure you have properly labelled everything. The embarkation team will likely come past and offer you tags if you need them, but I would suggest doing it all before you leave your house or hotel room, it'll just make the process even faster. You should also preprint everything else that you need, such as spare copies of your boarding pass and boarding information. Just make sure that your luggage is all tagged up and ready to go, just like you would do if you were taking a flight.

Note: If you don’t have access to a printer at home and you arranged your booking through a travel agent, they will happily prepare all of this for you.

Fill out Any Necessary Paperwork Beforehand

I highly recommend making sure you complete all of the documents you can before you arrive, as there will be thousands of people boarding and you don’t want to be the one holding them all up because you're struggling to fill out the customs form whilst walking the line.

Pack Your Carry-On Carefully

Everyone’s luggage will be taken onto the ship and then sent up to your room, but this is not instant (your luggage likely won't turn up for at least an hour or two as the crew concentrates on getting all of the passengers and inventory like food and booze onto the ship). So make sure you have everything you need for the time being in your carry-on. Here are a few essentials not to miss:

  • passport and boarding pass (as well as copies of both)
  • wallet
  • medication
  • cameras
  • glasses
  • bathers

I would also suggest making sure that you have everything you need to board in a travel wallet or pouch. I personally use a travel wallet. They are inexpensive and can carry everything you need, including a pen.

Making sure you are organised is key to having a smooth and pleasurable embarkation day.

Make sure you have all the essentials in a carry-on bag.

Make sure you have all the essentials in a carry-on bag.

Pack Light

The next thing is to pack light. While you might be tempted to overpack because the luggage restrictions on cruises are more lenient than they are on flights, packing light for a cruise has big advantages.

You May Not Be Able to Get Into Your Room Right Away

Once you have received your SeaPass and boarded the ship, you will likely want to drop your carry-on off at your room. Unfortunately, your cabin isn't likely to be ready straight away. Lugging a heavy piece of carry-on the length of the ship is no fun at all, so packing light just makes good sense.

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If your room is ready right away, I recommend dropping off your carry-on first thing. But in the event that it takes a little while to get into your room and you end up exploring the ship instead, having light luggage will at least make sure that you don’t end up pulling your arm out of its socket while you wait.

Your Cabin Won't Have Much Storage Space

Packing light also means you'll have more space in your cabin. After all, rooms on cruise ships aren't exactly known for having ample storage. If you bring two large suitcases and have nowhere to store them, you'll find yourself tripping over them the entire trip.

Pay Attention to Your Boarding Time

On the big day, it pays to note the time you have been allocated to get on the ship; it is usually based on the floor that your room is on. If you are lucky enough to have access to priority check-in, then take it! It can all be a bit of a madhouse trying to get on, and any extra bit helps!

Avoid the Urge to Just "Show up Whenever"

Some passengers will just turn up whenever they want, which isn’t too much of a problem most of the time but is frowned upon because if everyone did that it would be a free-for-all. You will notice that you will get the occasional person on cruises (or any holiday, for that matter) who seems to have left the concept of courtesy at home (if they ever had it to begin with!).

Take Advantage of Your Free Time to Wander

I personally like to spend the majority of embarkation day wandering around the port, enjoying the scenery and even grabbing some photos of the ship before it departs, so having a set boarding time does not affect me too much.

If you are getting straight off the plane and heading for the ship, I guess it is forgivable not to spend much time exploring the port, but really all you are going to be doing on the ship before it takes off is getting drunk, eating too much and trying to get your bearings before muster.

Bring Something to Entertain Yourself While in Line

Waiting to be checked in can be a pain, so try to keep yourself entertained. This is especially important if you have kids; you will definitely want their attention to be focused, so remember to bring something for them or make sure you have games on your phone and it is fully charged.

Collect and Load Your SeaPass

Once you get to the front of the line, you will be supplied with a SeaPass, which looks like a debit card. When you step on board, you will have your SeaPass card scanned. Once that has been done and you have loaded it up with a credit card or cash, you are ready to go.

This card is your ticket to fun. It will be your access to your room, your pass to get on and off the ship at ports and the way you will buy things on the ship. If you have a drinks package, it will be attached to this card as well.

Basically, a SeaPass removes the need to carry cash to buy things on the ship. Instead, you just end up paying a sum of money at the end of the cruise. It also means that you can track your expenses before they are charged to your credit card or you settle your bill on the last day.

Deck with a view, prior to departure.

Deck with a view, prior to departure.

Consider Getting the Photo Package

After you board, you will be welcomed by the crew, and they will usually offer you the opportunity to have your photo taken to start off your cruise. You don’t have to pay for the photo there and then or even at all if you don’t want to.

If you end up going for the photo package, you may as well let them take a few snaps whenever you see them as they might just capture that perfect shot. I generally find their photo package to be a nice way of making sure that I appear in at least a few photos instead of being stuck behind the camera for the whole trip.

Even if you don’t take up the offer of a photo package, you should still keep an eye on the photos as they put them up. They are really quite good at taking photos and may take some beautiful candid shots of you just being you that will just make for the perfect memory of your cruise.

Check out the Food Before Visiting the Bar

When you first board, you will notice that the buffet and the bars are packed to the brim, so if the opportunity presents itself, it may be worthwhile visiting one of the other dining options on the ship for a bite to eat.

While most people make a beeline for the bars or the buffet, I like to make my way to the other food first and enjoy a chilled-out lunch. You will likely be offered a drink on your way to get food, anyway. Once I've boarded, I really enjoy just sitting back and taking in the whole vibe of the ship, and the eateries are a good place to do so.

Avoid the Most Crowded Parts of the Ship on the First Day

When I first get on the ship I tend to stay away from the core of the ship; the central lifts, foyer and things like that get the most foot traffic on embarkation day.

Given it is boarding time, you will likely find that all of the lifts are full and constantly going up and down at pace. I tend to find the next set of lifts or maybe the ones closest to my room and use those. If you aren’t willing to wait, your only other option is to use the stairs—you may as well get used to them now. Personally, I like to use the stairs, as it means that I am burning off some of the buffet calories!

Happy Cruising!

When it all comes down to it, that is about all there really is to worry about. At this point, it is time to settle in and enjoy your well earned holiday!

© 2018 Paddy Michelson

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