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Cruise ship embarkation day – What to expect

People who haven’t cruised often think that you just walk up a gangway, show some ID, collect your ID card and get on the ship. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Embarkation can vary a lot depending on the cruise line and the embarkation location.

  1. Arriving at the port.

    When you get to the cruise port you will have to find where you should drop off your luggage. If you have already printed off luggage tags at home with your name/stateroom number on them, you can just drop off the bags with a porter. If not there is usually a desk to go to where they will help you fill out the tags. It’ll all be clearly signposted.Cruise ship embarkation NCL Norwegian Cruise Line Epic

    2. Security.

    When boarding a cruise ship you have to go through security the same way that you would at an airport. Your hand luggage will be checked and you will have to walk through a metal detector. It usually feels slightly less scary than airport security but it is the same kind of thing.

    2. Queue.

    Next, you have to join a queue to check in. The size of the queue can vary a lot… If you arrive just as the desks are opening you might be in for a long wait.

    3. ID.

    Once you’ve made it to the front of the queue you will be asked to show your travel documents and some ID. If you want to charge your onboard account directly onto a credit card you will also be asked to provide this. You don’t have to set up the account on a credit card but if you didn’t you would have to settle the balance before disembarking.

    4. Smile!

    Your photo will be taken for your cruise key card. This usually happens when you’ve been travelling for hours or have got off a long flight and as a result look a state. The photo is only used when you scan onto and off on the ship to check that they have got the right person, so it doesn’t really matter.

    5. Key card.

    You’ll be given your key card. The key card is what you use to get on/off the ship, into your room and is what you charge everything to when on board the ship. Actual physical money isn’t used anywhere onboard. The keycard also says your loyalty status with the cruise line on it.

    Cruise ship embarkation day NCL Norwegian Spirit room keycard 6. Head to the ship.

    If the ship is ready to be embarked then you will go straight onto the ship. You’ll only have your hand luggage with you at this point as your bags will be making their way to your cabin, so make sure you have anything that you may need for a few hours in your hand luggage. In my experience, the bags usually turn up a couple of hours after embarking.

    7. Wait…

    If the ship is not ready you will have to wait in a room, similar to an airport gate. On my last cruise out of Miami we arrived at to the port a couple of hours before embarkation and had to wait, sitting on the floor of an incredibly busy room. This part is never fun but at least you have exploring the ship to look forward too!

There are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that embarkation day goes smoothly.

Embarkation tips:

  • Firstly, make sure you’re not rushing, it is far better to be waiting in the gate for an hour than running late and missing the ship completely.
  • Secondly, if you have a latitudes status of bronze or above on NCL you receive priority boarding. This means you get to use a much shorter check-in queue. I’m sure other cruise lines have the same system so if you are a regular traveller don’t forget to look for a loyalty queue.
  • If you’re like me and are likely to forget your stateroom number, it can be a good idea to put a luggage tag on your hand luggage. That way you can check if you forget the number, your keycard doesn’t have your stateroom number on it for security reasons.
  • Don’t be surprised if they try to take a photo of you standing in front of a picture of the ship. Cruise lines seem to love taking photos of you at every opportunity (they can make money from these I suppose). I actually brought one of these embarkation photos from the Norwegian Epic when I was travelling with my brother Max. You can always politely decline if you don’t want your photo taken.Cruise ship embarkation photo NCL Norwegian Epic Barcelona Spain
  • Embarkation is where they will try to sell you beverage packages. If you would like an alcohol/soda package make sure you buy these as soon as you embark to ensure that you can starting drinking straight away.

Embarkation day usually does go smoothly, but like all travel it can be stressful. On my latest Cunard cruise the scanner wouldn’t recognise my passport so I was left until every other passenger had left the check in terminal! I got on in the end *phew*.

Do you have any tips for stress free embarkation? Let me know in the comments.