A cruise vacation is a great way to enjoy gourmet food, superb entertainment, and exotic destinations. Whether you are taking a three-day weekend cruise, a seven-day honeymoon, or any length of seafaring getaway, knowing what to expect will help you set sail with ease.
When you arrive at the port, you will not necessarily get on the ship right away. It takes several hours for the previous passengers to disembark and for the ship to be cleaned and resupplied, but embarkation generally begins between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., depending on the ship’s size and the departure time. If you arrive earlier, you can still complete some of your processing and receive your ship identification – a personalized card that is your stateroom key and onboard charge card. To process in, you will need appropriate documentation, including a passport or government-issued proof of citizenship and a photo ID, as well as any cruise ticket or printed online cruise registration.
Once on board, you may not be able to go straight to your cabin, and many areas of the ship will not be available due to cleaning and general turnover. Most public areas, including a lunch buffet, several bars, and open lounge areas will be available, as well as centralized pools or other recreational facilities. If you arrive after most passengers have already boarded, however, cabin areas should be available and you can go straight to your stateroom.
In Your Cabin
Early passengers may not be able to access their cabins immediately, but some cruise lines offer special privileges to repeat cruisers or those who pay for that immediate access. All cabin areas will be open to passengers before the ship sets sail, however. Once in your cabin, you may be shocked at how small it is, and it is advisable to pack light and choose versatile clothes that can create different outfits. All cabins have decent closet space, including hanging bars and shelves, and limited drawers will be available in a vanity or desk area. Hangers are included, but if you need more, you can ask your steward for extra.
Bathrooms are similarly small, and most do not have bathtubs unless you booked an upgraded suite – even then, many ships do not have bathtubs in cabins. There will be plenty of towels, including beach towels for pool use.
Oceanview cabins have windows that range from small portholes to floor-to-ceiling windows. Balcony cabins have small balconies often equipped with a small table and a chair or two, with more luxurious loungers for suites or on luxury liners. Interior cabins do not have windows, but may have curtains on the wall all the same.
If you carried your luggage on board, now is a great time to unpack. If you turned some of your luggage over to a porter at the dock, it may be several hours before it is delivered to your cabin.
Learning Your Ship
A great way to get into your cruise is to explore the ship. You can get a map from the ship’s information desk, or one may be available in your cabin. “You Are Here” maps are often available near elevators, and you’ll soon learn to orient yourself to major ship landmarks, such as a central atrium, shopping area, casino, or restaurants. During the first few hours, short tours may be available, and most ships offer tours of spa facilities, which is a great opportunity to learn what services are available. Guests who book spa appointments right away can often get fantastic deals and discounts.
One place you’ll want to visit right away is the dining room. The night’s menu may be posted, whetting your appetite for the fabulous meals you can expect, and you can ask where your assigned dining table is. Table sizes vary from tables-for-two, which are typically rare, to larger tables that can accommodate groups of ten or twelve passengers. If you prefer a different table, you can request a reassignment and the maître’d will attempt to honor your request, but changes are not always possible.
Either shortly before or after the ship sets sail, all passengers will be required to participate in a mandatory safety drill. You will assemble at your assigned muster station, the location you need to report to in the event of an emergency. During the drill, all public areas – the spa, restaurants, bars, etc. – will be closed, but the drill only takes a few minutes. Crew members will demonstrate life vest use, and young children will be fitted with wristbands that identify their muster stations so they can be escorted properly if needed. After the drill ends, the fun begins!
Planning the Rest of Your Cruise
Even as you’re getting started on your cruise, it’s important to take a few minutes to plan the rest of your voyage. A daily newsletter will be available in your cabin or you can pick one up at the information desk, and it will include a list of daily activities, including trivia contests, musical performances, comedy shows, art auctions, and more. You should also check shore tours and excursions, and it is best to book them early – popular tours may sell out in just a few hours. You may want to note any port and shopping talks on the schedule, usually planned for the afternoon before a port of call, which can give you a heads up about shopping deals, popular tours, and exciting sites at every port you visit.
A cruise can be amazing, but the first few hours can be overwhelming. If you know what to expect as you get onboard, visit your cabin, and learn your way around, you’ll be able to settle in to your vacation much faster and enjoy every minute at sea.