No two cruises are identical. Are your expectations realistic?
Once the planning, packing, and anticipation are behind them, veteran cruise passengers sometimes view embarkation day as anticlimactic. However, for first-time cruise travelers, embarking on their first ship can be more than exhilarating—it can be downright intimidating. What exactly can you expect?
First of all, keep in mind that your embarkation day cannot officially begin until the ship is clear of departing guests and their luggage. The debarkation process can be as drawn-out as a divorce. While the previous weeks' passengers make their way reluctantly down the gangway, the staff and crew are busy readying the ship for the next sailing. By the time the last straggler departs, trucks are already arriving at the dock with provisions and a lot of heavy work is going on behind the scenes. Staterooms and public lounges are thoroughly cleaned and readied and a steady stream of supplies and luggage are brought aboard. There can even be an exchange of crewmembers, with some leaving and others arriving.
The vessel's entire turn-around procedure is as carefully choreographed as the most intricate ballet.
Whether you take a bus transfer or taxi from the airport or a hotel, the first people you encounter at the terminal are baggage handlers. They are not cruise line employees and they do expect a tip—a couple dollars per suitcase is sufficient. You may be required to show your cruise ticket and picture ID at this point for verification and security purposes. Be sure your ship's luggage tags are securely fastened to your suitcases before you hand them over.
Cruise line shoreside staff are milling about to point you in the right direction—they are easily recognizable in official looking attire with name tags and, often, a clipboard. Once inside the terminal, you might encounter a check-in line. Actual boarding time is often scheduled for noon but some cruise lines will begin processing early arrivals and then direct them to a "holding" area. During check-in, you will be asked to produce your documents and any forms you were sent to complete ahead of time, plus proof of citizenship, and a credit card (to pay for your on board charges). You are issued a boarding card that often also doubles as your stateroom "key" and shipboard charge card.
At some point, either before you enter the check-in area or before proceeding to the ship, you and your hand luggage will have to pass through a security procedure, somewhat like that at airports.
Everyone is anxious to get on board and begin their vacation, but this isn't the time to get cranky if you have to wait. Keep in mind, you cannot board until the ship is ready for you. Once boarding begins, you will inevitably have your first experience with the ship's photographer and be asked to pose for an embarkation picture. It only takes a second, so smile. You are under no obligation to purchase any photos taken of you during the cruise and they are a nice souvenir.
Of course once you're on board there's a lot more you want to know about cruising. Let CruiseDiva.com be your guide and discover What to Expect On Your Cruise.