Stress-Free Boarding Tips for Embarkation Day

This article provides tips and tricks to help you ensure a stress-free (or at least less-stressful) embarkation day on your next cruise.


Research and Plan Ahead

First and foremost, check the cruise line’s website for embarkation details and requirements. Always prepare your necessary documents like passports, visas, and cruise tickets before you arrive at port. I personally use a document book (discussed in this article) to organize my paperwork and travel documents before embarking on any of my cruises. Lastly, remember to arrange any necessary transportation from the airport to the cruise port in advance of your cruise date.

Pack Smart

Pack light and try to bring only the essential items for your trip. Utilize a carry-on bag for easy access to your important documents and any medications. Note: I created a simple and free packing list tool that I use before each of my trips to make sure I am packing all of my essentials. Check out the packing list tool here. Also, don’t forget to label your luggage properly. Include your first and last name, your telephone, or email and where your bag should be sent to be reunited with your belongings. Most cruise lines stipulate that your luggage and/or carry-on bags should not weigh more than 50 pounds each.

Arrive at the Port Early

Try to avoid the last-minute rush of passengers by arriving at the port at least 2-3 hours before your scheduled departure time. Arriving early will allow you ample time for check-in, security, and boarding. Worrying about missing your cruise departure is one of the most stressful aspects of embarkation. Boarding for cruise ships typically begins around 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM.

Travel Day

Check-in Process

Proceed to the cruise line’s check-in counter and present your required documents. You will receive your cruise card (this acts as your room key, onboard ID, and your onboard payment method). And just prior to entering the check-in line, be sure to drop off your checked luggage with the porters. Your luggage will be delivered to your cabin. Remember to keep any luggage you wish to carry on yourself with you as it could be hours before you see your checked luggage again.

Security Screening

Security screening on cruise lines is similar to airport security (although generally more lax). If you are traveling by air, you will want to be sure your items like liquids, electronics, and sharp objects are prepared according to carry-on guidelines from your airline.

Boarding the Ship

Once you’ve cleared security, proceed to the gangway and board the ship. Follow the signs to your designated boarding area. Remember to be patient while waiting for your turn to board.

Familiarize yourself with the ship

Check For Upgrades

Check for any last-minute upgrades at the Guest Services desk. Politely inquire about available upgrades once onboard, because these upgrades may be available at a discounted cost at the start of your cruise. I have personally been successful at acquiring one of these last minute upgrades on one of my cruises and was able to go from an interior stateroom to a balcony for around $150 on a 4-night cruise.

Guest Services

Take care of any Guest Services-related matters early in the day. This will help avoid long lines by addressing issues as early as you can. Handle any of your questions, reservation concerns, and necessary arrangements with Guest Services as soon as possible once you’ve accessed the ship.

Visit Your Room

Proceed to your room after checking for upgrades and addressing Guest Services matters (if applicable). Drop off your carry-on luggage in the room if it’s after 1:00 PM or 1:30 PM (typical room cleaning completion time). Pick up your key card from your stateroom door if it was not provided to you at check-in. If your room is not ready, politely and quickly leave your luggage and plan to return later.

Take a Self-Guided Tour

Once you’ve boarded, now is the time to familiarize yourself with the ship’s layout. Exploring the common areas like the dining venues, bars, pools, and entertainment venues. Also, remember to locate important facilities like the guest services desk, medical center, and spa. The ship is now your home away from home for the duration of your cruise, so make the most of it and enjoy!

Enjoy Lunch

Enjoy Lunch!

The very first dining experience onboard a cruise ship is often one of the best of the entire cruise. Plan to enjoy embarkation lunch at the buffet or perhaps at one of the poolside restaurants. Note: Main dining rooms and specialty restaurants are usually not open on embarkation day, except for special packages (for example Royal Caribbean’s Key program).

Purchase Drink & Dining Packages

Drink and dining packages are available for purchase on embarkation day. Look for crew members in the atrium, buffet area, or pool deck trying to sell these packages. All-inclusive drink packages and soda packages are also available. However, for the lowest price available on all of these items, be sure to book them prior to embarkation day!

Make Dining Reservations

Check for specialty dining reservations that may have become available due to cancellations. Visit the specialty restaurant as soon as possible on embarkation day to inquire about reservations. Make main dining room reservations through the cruise line’s app or at the main dining room on embarkation day. Some cruise ships may have one designated location (like one of the specialty restaurants) where you go on embarkation day to make all dining reservations or make any necessary changes to existing reservations. You will ultimately want to make dining reservations, especially specialty dining reservations, as early as possible ahead of embarkation day to secure preferred times.

Make Entertainment Reservations

Make show reservations as soon as possible, especially for popular shows on larger ships like Royal Caribbean’s mega ships. Some cruise lines implement a reservation system for certain shows, so check if reservations are required for your desired shows and secure your spot as soon as you can on embarkation day. Reservations can often be made via the cruise line’s app once you’ve connected to onboard WiFi, although some cruise lines have you report to a single location to make entertainment reservations upon embarking the ship.

Muster Drill

Muster drill is mandatory for all passengers and is now mostly done electronically (e-muster) at your own pace using the cruise line’s app. Follow the prompts on the app, watch the safety video, learn how to put on your life vest, and familiarize yourself with general safety steps. Once you have done all of these steps you will be ready to report to your assigned muster station on embarkation day. For first-time cruisers, the muster drill process is quick and involves verifying your room number, receiving safety tips, and learning where to go in case of an emergency.

Photo credit Id23


After completing the muster drill, you are officially on a cruise. Your stateroom is likely available for unpacking and relaxing. Enjoy the sailaway party or relax on your balcony as the ship departs. You can now fully relax and enjoy your cruise without any further obligations or documentation checks. You are officially on your cruise vacation! Bon voyage.


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