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Cruise Keycards – Guide

If you know any regular cruisers you’ll often see them flashing around their cruise keycards. It becomes something of an obsession for many of us, who spend a lot of time collecting and displaying our cruise cards.

But if you’ve never been on a cruise you may be wondering, what exactly is that little piece of plastic for?! How do I get one?

What is a cruise keycard?

Your cruise keycard is the most important item that you have when you are on a cruise. Prior to boarding you will set up an onboard account that you would like purchases to be charged to, this is usually done with a credit card although there are other ways to pay. (More on that another day!) The cruise keycard allows you to charge drinks/food/gifts on the ship to your onboard account, effectively removing the need to carry around your wallet, woohoo! It also is what you use to get into your cabin and has a number of other uses around the ship.

collection cruise cruising keycards room keys msc ncl cunard

Whats on the card?

Whats on the card will depend a lot on the cruise line that you are cruising with. I have cruised mostly with NCL will start with them. Below is a card of mine from a cruise onboard the Norwegian Epic.

norwegian epic NCL cruise cruising key card room key ultimate beverage package

The card shows:

  • Passengers name (obviously)
  • Cruise dates (at least disembarkation date, this one has the date of the 12/28/15)
  • Latitudes status ( This is the cruise line loyalty rewards status, on NCL I am currently platinum more about that here: NCL Platinum)
  • Photo gallery (Location of the photos that they’ take of you at dinner/embarkation etc)
  • Muster station (In this case C1, this is where you will meet for thelifeboat drill)
  • Drinks package (Onboard this particular cruise I had the ultimate beverage package, more about that here: NCL’s ultimate beverage package. When I used to cruise and was underage I would often get the soda package, this usually meant a sticker stuck to my card, see below.)Norwegian Breakaway Soda Package Cruise Cruising Key Card Muster Station Cruising NCL

On some other ships and cruise lines there may be more information, see below an MSC cruise card.

MSC cruise cruising room keycard dining

  • Dinner table (Unlike NCL, MSC has set dining times. All of this information is also displayed on your card)
  • Seating 1st/2nd
  • Restaurant (For dinner)

What is it used for?

Your cruise card can be used to charge a number of things to your onboard account, including but not limited to:

  • Speciality restaurants
  • Drinks
  • Casino
  • Gifts in the gift shop
  • Photos

The card also has a number of other uses such as:

  • Allowed you on/off the ship. (Whenever you embark or disembark your cruise keycard will be scanned. This lets the ships staff keep a count on who is onboard and who isn’t)
  • Let you into your cabin (Similarly to in a hotel the cruise keycard lets you into your room)
  • Turns the lights on in your cabin (On some ships you have to put your keycard into a slot by the door in order to get the lights to come on on the ship, I have heard rumours however that any card will do the trick)cruise keycard room key cruising msc cunard nil drinks package

I personally love to keep my cruise cards. I have built up quite a collection which I am very proud of. I know many people who make them into scrapbooks or keep them as fridge magnets, all brilliant ideas!

(Photo below from Jackie! This is the most impressive collection I’ve seen so far, can you beat it?)

cruise cruising key card collection carnival ncl princess msc

How incredible is this collection by @Jackiebmanuel?! (Twitter)

Do you keep your cruise keys cards (or will you when you cruise in future)? Let me know!

Why not check out my latest video all about Embarkation to find out how to get your cruise keycard.


Patricia Rowe

Monday 6th of March 2023

Where do you get the cruise keycard?


Friday 16th of December 2022

Just curious, would most passengers have their keycard on a lanyard? And if so, does the keycard have a hole in it to attach to the lanyard?


Friday 10th of June 2022

When do I get the key card? When I board the ship?