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Cruise Keycards Guide – Uses, Styles and Variations

If you are a regular cruiser, you will be used to using cruise cards onboard your cruise ship. You may have also many cards kept from previous voyages as souvenirs.

It has become something of an obsession for many of us, who spend a lot of time collecting and displaying our cruise cards.

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 do I do with it when I have it?

In this article, we find out all about cruise cards, and what some cruise lines use instead of the traditional cruise card.

What is a Cruise Card For?

Traditionally, a cruise card is issued to you when you check in at the terminal, or in some cases you pick it up from the document holder found just outside your cabin after you board.

Your cruise keycard is the most important item that you have when you are on a cruise.

Usually, prior to boarding, you will set up an onboard account and your purchases will be charged to this. You show your cruise card at the bar or in the shop, and your purchases will be put on your bill.

girl cruise cruising keycard collection msc ncl cunard room keys

You can often link your credit card to your cruise account on the cruise line App.

If the cruise line doesn’t have an App you can use, it will be done at the cruise terminal on check-in.

Your bill will be paid by your linked credit card automatically on the last morning of your cruise.

Cruise cards remove the need to carry around a wallet or purse when you are onboard.

Linking Your Credit Card to Your Cruise Card on MSC

On some cruise lines, like MSC you have to go to machines (similar to ATM’s) situated around the Atrium area, scan your cruise card and then attach your credit card details to it.

This saves time when you check in at the terminal.

You can’t charge anything to your card until you have done this though.

If you have any problems using the machines, you can always go to customer services.

MSC Preziosa card activation point

These machines are easy to use, and you can also agree that everyone in your cabins expenses will be charged to your card – if you want that!

What’s on The Card?

What’s 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 from our cruise onboard the Norwegian Spirit

The card shows:

  • Passengers full name
  • Cruise dates (at least disembarkation date)
  • Cruiseline loyalty 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 may take of you at dinner/embarkation etc)
  • Muster station (In this case X1, this is where you will meet for the lifeboat drill)
  • Drinks package if you have bought one. (Soda package, as usual!)
  • When I used to cruise and was underage I would often get the soda package onboard, this usually meant a sticker was stuck to my card, see below.  You can also see that the cut-off corner shows that I am under 21. (The legal drinking age on American Cruise ships is 21, although there are some exceptions.)
  • 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.

This card from the MSC Virtuosa has more information on it.

  • Dinner table – MSC had set dining times on this cruise. This information is displayed on your card.
  • Seating time for dinner
  • Restaurant Name
  • Full cabin number – that is unusual. Often there is no cabin number, or the cabin number with no deck – for example, 221 – not 921 or 1021 etc. This I assume is a security feature in case you lose your card onboard.
  • It also has the Diamond card number and the full name of the guest (which I have obscured in this photo.)

What is Your Cruise Card Used For?

  • The card is scanned whenever you get on and off the ship. This lets them keep a count of who is onboard and who isn’t. If you have cruised you may have heard calls for particular passengers to get in touch with customer services. This is often because the ship is ready to leave port, and there is concern that they are not onboard – or their card hasn’t been scanned successfully to let the crew know they have returned.
  • Let you into your cabin. Similar to in a hotel, the cruise keycard lets you into your room. It’s unlikely to have your full cabin number on the card though, in case you lose it.
  • Turns the lights on in your cabin. On many ships you have to put your keycard into a slot by the door in order to get the lights to come in your cabin. Probably any credit or supermarket loyalty card would do!

What Can You Charge To Your Onboard Account With Your Card?

Your cruise card can be used to charge things to your onboard account, including:

  • Meals in Speciality Restaurants
  • Drinks at the bars
  • To buy drinks packages
  • Casino spends
  • Gifts in the gift shop
  • Photos from the Photo Gallery
  • Excursions
  • Spa treatments
  • Extra “Paid for” shows – if your cruise line has them
  • Access to VIP areas of the ship – if you have paid extra for them.

I love to keep my cruise cards. I have built up quite a collection that I am very proud of!

I know many people who make them into scrapbooks or keep them as fridge magnets – all brilliant ideas.

Various cruise cards, some of which have had stickers put on them onboard. The CHILD sticker on the P&O card actually shows the crew I have a “Soda only” package – not that they think I am a child!

Virgin’s “Band” and Princess’s “Ocean Medallion” – A More Modern Take on the Traditional Cruise Card

A couple of cruise lines have a more Hi-Tech version of the Traditional Cruise card.

Virgin Voyages “The Band”

Virgin Voyages are a reasonably new cruise line who pride themselves on providing a “High Tech Sailing Experience.”

They don’t have cruise cards. They have a wristband with smart technology that you can use to charge things to your onboard account in the same way.

You can check the Virgin Voyages App at any time to see what you have spent money on.

Virgin Voyages are one of the few cruise lines that give their guests free Wi-Fi as standard.

Virgin refers to their guests as “sailors” not passengers, which takes some getting used to!

Find out all about my Virgin Voyages cruise, and what I thought of their wristband approach here:

Introducing The Band – Virgin Voyages’ Smart Wearable Technology Made with Ocean Plastic

Virgin Voyages

The Band arrives via mail prior to your cruise holiday. It activates with just the tap of the wrist. They say the Band is a “hands, wallet and worry-free” way to let you:

  • Access your cabins, serving as a room key
  • Board the ship with ease 
  • Make onboard purchases and pay for the drinks tab
  • Pay for games at the casino
  • Have a VIP pass to enter the exclusive “Richard’s Rooftop” area – if you have paid extra for that of course!

Princess’s Ocean Medallion

Princess’s Ocean Medallion

Princess Cruises has “Ocean Medallion Technology.” You can wear your Ocean Medallion as a wristband or pendant, on a Lanyard, or just keep it in your pocket.

Ocean Medallions are normally supplied with a free lanyard, but if you prefer to have a wristband, clip or pendant you can buy these accessories. The prices range from $7 to $45.

An Ocean Medallion is the size of a quarter. You can carry it in your pocket, or wear it as a wristband, pendant or clip. It communicates directly with the ship to do everything from opening the door of your stateroom to opening new opportunities for adventure. Upload your documentation and set your preferences in advance, and your ship will recognize you immediately—streamlining your boarding process, personalizing your shore excursions, ordering your favorite drinks, even helping locate other members of your party on board.

Princess Cruises
Princess Ocean Medallion.

I was very impressed that I was able to order Cookies to where I was sitting with Ocean Medallion Technology when I was on my Princess British Isles cruise!

Find out more about the Ocean Medallion in the video below:

Before You Go

Find out more about cruise ship Apps, and why you don’t need to buy the ships Wi-Fi to use there here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

Find out how to get the best cruise cabin for your budget in the article below:

Get The Best Cabin for Your Budget! Hints, Tips and Examples of How to Save Money Without Downgrading Your Cabin Type

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.