Planning to enjoy a cruise is always a lot of fun. For new cruisers there is often a lot of questions about what will happen, when, and how, as it relates to getting onto the ship and starting the vacation. I know when I first cruised that was among the biggest questions I had. Different departure ports can also make a difference in how the process works. Thus knowing a few things ahead of time will make for a much smoother boarding process.
Aside from the various departure ports, it’s useful to know specific procedures for the cruise line you are taking. Not all follow exactly the same process. Some cruise lines are more liberal about allowing folks to get a head start and board ahead of the official boarding time. Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, to name a few, are good about allowing folks into the terminal ahead of time with most even letting folks on the ships ahead of the stated boarding time. Princess has in some ports taken it a step further by assigning boarding slots to keep the traffic of passengers flowing.
Boarding a ship with a few hundred to well over six thousand passengers, such as the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, can be daunting when unprepared. The process is fairly smooth for those who are prepared. The keys are first, doing the boarding pass documentation on-line or ahead of time thru the travel agency. Second, knowing really when you can show up. Third when you show up to the ship having documents ready to show the porters and security. Lastly, being a bit flexible as best laid plans can get messed up when there is bad weather or if there was a norovirus outbreak on the ship ahead of the cruise you are boarding.
First when you have made your deposit with most cruise lines, you can complete passenger information for your cruise. The passenger information includes your contact info, emergency contact information, documenting how you plan to pay for onboard expenses, your passport information (and confirming visas for some countries), and your incoming and outgoing flight information. By providing this information all ahead of time like this allows you to print a boarding pass when you make final payment. This speeds the check-in process since it does not have to all be keyed in at the point of check-in. This helps not only your party but everyone behind you as well.
Knowing the best time to show up will help avoid the long lines. This is a generalization because in reality if a ship has to be cleaned due to norovirus, that decision may come late enough in the prior cruise that all passengers are not notified timely. (That happened to me in early December 2011, I only learned of the delay from a friend on board sailing three segments in a row.) Most boarding passes will state an official time for the commencing of boarding however often folks queue up well in advance because often they are allowed aboard early. Taking this arrive early approach can lead to long lines though, where showing up at the published time can be faster. Some lines will state that a second time is best for avoiding lines. They know they are sharing the information for your benefit, so it may be good to heed that information.
Generally most cruise lines, do not officially board until 1pm or later. Many ships do begin taking folks aboard anywhere from 11am to noon depending on a variety of factors. The actual commencement of boarding is a function of when the ship is ready, when Immigrations officials at any given port are ready, and when the shore side folks are ready to process everyone thru the check-in lines.
Third, upon arrival to the port having your travel documents and passports ready to show as requested will help speed the process of getting in and checked-in. More often than not, the porter wants to see your cabin number listed on your boarding pass before taking the bags. Security will check your information as well since they don’t let non-passengers into the terminal in most cases. Having the documents out and ready to show just keeps you and everyone behind you moving along more quickly and is less hectic than having to dig stuff out when everyone is waiting and watching. This is even more important if you have young travelers with you who are anxious to get the cruise going.
Lastly, being a bit flexible will go a long way towards having a successful and calmer boarding process. The unexpected can come up which delays the boarding process, especially for those hoping to get on early. In the USA in particular when a ship arrives for the first time at the US departure port there will be a delay as ever crew member is also inspected by US Immigration officials. This happens when ships come to the USA from a Trans-oceanic sailing. When outbreaks of norovirus occur the delays are due to extreme sanitizing of the ship. There are other reasons for delays, they tend to be infrequent but when they happen can be annoying for those in line.
Prepare for the cruise and you will find the process of getting going easier and from there should have an enjoyable cruise.