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The Tahitian Pool on Norwegian Gem: Board your ship early then kick back at poolside while waiting for your stateroom to be ready.

Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The Tahitian Pool on Norwegian Gem: Board your ship early then kick back at poolside while waiting for your stateroom to be ready.

Tips for the first day of your cruise

How to make the most out of embarkation day aboard the ship

You've been waiting for your cruise to arrive for weeks, months, maybe even longer. To set off on your sailing the right way, you need to prepare ahead of time.

Tips & tricks on cruise basics

On a cruise, it's important to keep a checklist that ensures your embarkation day, and the sea days that follow, go smoothly.

Here are some tips to help your cruise start the right way and to set yourself up for a great vacation.



Weeks before your cruise, you'll be receiving a packet of materials from the cruise line, including your luggage tags. Make sure the luggage tags are securely fastened onto your suitcases so there are no snafus in getting them delivered straight to your cabin. If you're flying to your cruise departure destination, remove the airline tags and remember to bring something in your carry-on to affix the cruise line baggage tags securely to your cases, such as cellophane tape. Remember to fill out the tags with contact information such as a cell phone number. You should always pack valuables, medication, documentation and any items you will need in a carry-on bag that you should retain while your bags are en route to your room. 

Bring your passport & other identification 


A lot of people forget to bring their passport, picture I.D., credit card or other important identification on cruise day. Even if you're traveling within a home region, you may need your passport, which is often the preferred form of identification. You'll need to provide a credit card at check-in to cover onboard spending for items like drinks, excursions arranged by the cruise line, Internet access, shopping and gratuities. So make sure you set these aside ahead of time and place them in your carry-on.  

Allow plenty of time to get to the ship


If you're flying to join a cruise, it's better to arrive the day before in case of a flight delay. This happens more often than you'd think, so avoid the stress by flying in the night before and staying at a hotel. This can be especially important when not using flights arranged by the cruise line, as they're unlikely to hold departure or get you to the first port of call if you miss it. If driving to the ship, allow a lot of time for traffic problems. Have the cruise line emergency contact number on hand in case you run late.

Check in and board as early as you can

The promenade deck, or upper deck, aboard MSC Opera. Start at the top of your ship and work your way down.
Danielle Fear / Special to CruiseableThe promenade deck, or upper deck, aboard MSC Opera. Start exploring at the top of your ship and work your way down.

 You can usually check in before the time marked on your ticket. I recommend you board and explore the ship before it gets full. Doing so will give you time to find your way around and enable you to make reservations for alternative dining and excursions before the rush commences — you can usually do so in the reception desks in the atrium or lobby. You should be able to get a deck plan from reception or in your cabin. I suggest that you start at the top deck of the ship and work your way down, so you end your tour in the lobby area where reception is located. Staff members can answer any questions you have after your exploration.

Check your stateroom


 Although you may be able to board early, you may get access to your stateroom (cabin) only after 1 or 2 pm. (Ships often depart around 4 pm on the first day of a voyage.) As soon as you can, find your room and check it thoroughly. If there are any defects or issues, report them because if you are unhappy with your cabin for any reason, you stand a greater chance of getting a different room by being among the first to request a change. You should meet and let your steward know of any special requests you have.

Other tips to make it a smooth sailing

There are a number of items you should review in addition to the above:

  • Check to see if the safe works, and put your valuables in it.
  • Look up the time and place of the safety drill (muster drill) and the location of your life vests.
  • Find out your assigned restaurant and the number of your table, if your cruise has assigned seating. Then go to it and make sure it meets your needs. Again, this gives you a greater chance of making a change if needed.
  • Refer to the daily program for times and the venue of events such as the sail-away party, orientation seminars and talks, and evening entertainment.

Embarkation day special offers

Find out what special offers are available for arriving guests. They are often advertised in the daily program or with promotional leaflets in the cabin, but they can also usually be found at desks in the lobby area and around the pool. You should be able to get deals on Internet packages, spa treatments, photographs, cruise DVDs and drink packages by purchasing them on your first day. If you have not already booked excursions, visit the desk and review what is available and makes reservations to avoid disappointment.

Have something to eat

Final tip: On larger ships, most people head for the buffet restaurant on embarkation day, but the main restaurant is usually open and will be quieter and less frantic.

Your take

How about you? What are your suggestions for how to get the most out of the first day of your voyage? Would love to hear your tips.

Updated from an earlier post. See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator! 

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Gary Bembridge
I'm a longtime cruise fan and ship geek. While traveling the globe, I operate, where you'll find podcasts, videos and advice about cruising and traveling.