The day you get on a cruise ship (embark) is the same day the previous cruise’s passengers get off the ship (disembark). The ship must be cleared of every single passenger before new ones are allowed to board. A delay in the ship’s arrival, in customs, or in passengers not disembarking when advised can change the timing of when you can board. Bring your patience. Processing and loading 2,000+ people is not a quick nor easy process despite how many staff are present. Whether arriving earlier or later, there is usually a line. Getting to port too early will have you waiting at the terminal. Arriving too late may have you missing the ship. Arrive no later than two hours before departure.
The specific check-in procedure varies with the cruise line but the process generally follows an order:
1. Luggage Handling
One of the first things happening at the port will be the passing of luggage to one of the numerous porters. Keep the carry-on with you. Don’t hand over anything containing medications, passports, or cruise documents. The porters will load your luggage onto a cart. The carts are then transferred into the terminal. The luggage is scanned to check for weapons, alcohol, and other prohibited items. Bags will arrive at your cabin sometime in the afternoon or evening.
2. The Long Line
Around the same time luggage is dropped off the line begins outside the terminal. Lines can be long. Very long. Thousands of other excited people will be checking in within the same few hours. Sometimes you will be able to check in and go straight to the ship but other times you may be directed to a waiting area to sit until being called to board. Many times there is a backup somewhere, whether at the security line or at the check-in desk or in the waiting area. While being in line behind hundreds of other people might be enough to make you decide never to take another cruise don’t let it. The process may not appear smooth and it may not be fast and it may not seem efficient but it works.
3. Security Screening
A security screening occurs inside the terminal. As at the airport all items – keys, bags, phones, computers - are placed on the belt for scanning. Unlike the airport shoes aren’t removed and there isn’t a concern about all liquids fitting within a certain size clear bag. Passengers walk through a metal detector with additional screening occurring if necessary.
4. Health Questionnaire
At some point in the line or while at the check-in counter you will complete a short health questionnaire. It’s important to be healthy when traveling on a cruise ship so passengers are expected to be honest when answering the questions about gastrointestinal and cold and flu symptoms.
5. Checking In
To expedite the time at the check-in desk have passports, cruise documentation, and health questionnaires out and ready. You may have to provide the representative with the payment method you plan on using for onboard expenses.
6. Cruise Card
At check-in each person is issued a magnetic strip card similar to a credit card. Your picture will be taken for the card. Your picture isn't seen on the card but when cruise personnel scan it they will see the photo on their device. Keep that card handy. It is your cabin key and your onboard "charge card". It also helps in keeping correct counts and determining specific passengers missing after a port stop and is used to account for passengers during the muster drill and during a real emergency.
7. Boarding Photograph
One of the first of many photo opportunities happens before stepping on the ship. The embarkation photo is usually taken in front of a ship-themed background. There is no obligation to purchase this or any of the photos the ship photographers take of you. If not interested in having the picture taken give a simple no thank you and walk on by.
Once on the ship, it's time to enjoy!
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