Not sure what to expect when you arrive at the cruise port?
Every cruise line and port is a little different from the next, but there are a few things you can count on every time you arrive to check in for your cruise. These are the top three things you can expect when checking in at a cruise port.
1. Baggage Porters
When you first step foot on the street outside the cruise port, one of the first sights you’ll see are baggage porters. These people are eager to collect your bags and carry them onto the ship on your behalf. They are perfectly legit, and the only way to transport any bags bigger than a carry-on on board. You can personally carry any bags that will fit through a typical security scanner—like the conveyor-style ones found at the airport. Anything bigger needs to be handed over to a porter. Make sure you have a dollar or two per bag available to tip the porter. It is expected, and I always think it’s best not to upset the person responsible for safely getting all of my belongings on the ship.
Most often, your bags will arrive before your ship sets sail, especially if you’re at the port early. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you will not get them until a few hours later. Be sure you have everything you need right away inside your carry-on. This includes medications, a swimsuit and sunscreen if you plan to sit by the pool for the sail-away party, a sweater if you get cold easily, or any other essentials. Also be sure to remove your wallet, ID, cruise papers (including your boarding pass), and other valuables from any bags you check with a porter. You will not be able to get in the ship if you do not have proper identification or the papers from your online check in.
The cruise line knows you may not have your bag in time for dinner, so they don’t usually set any expectations for your attire in the dining rooms on the first night. Still, I like to assume I may have to wear whatever I have on. I try to choose an outfit that is comfy enough to lounge around in for a few hours but also classy enough to wear to a restaurant. It’s a fine line to balance.
Pro Tip: Be sure your bags are properly labeled with your name and cruise ship cabin number before turning them over to the porter. Otherwise, they won’t know where to take them, and you’ll be without your bags longer than you need to be while they try to sort it out.
2. Long Lines
No matter what time you arrive, you will encounter a long line of people. The longest lines tend to be when the cruise port first opens and the first two or three hours after that. Don’t be surprised if the line extends outside and wraps around the building. Some cruise lines and ports have very organized lines with signs telling you where yo go. Others are quite disorganized and seemingly chaotic.
Depending on how many times you have sailed with a particular cruise line, you may have priority boarding over other cruise guests. There is a special line for these people. Some cruise lines have multiple lines for past cruisers, each with its own special boarding privileges. There is also a special line for people who have paid through the teeth for priority boarding, even if they have never sailed with the cruise line in the past. Don’t jump into the first line you see. The best way to sort through the hustle is to simply ask someone where you should go.
Once you have found yourself in the appropriate line, expect to wait 30 minutes to and hour to reach the front of the line. Even if you have checked in online, you still have to go through this process. Don’t try to skip ahead—you’ll end up right back where you started. The good news is that once you reach the front of the line, the check in process usually only takes a few minutes.
Most times, you’ll be able to walk right onto the boat after you’ve check in. But sometimes, you’re ship simply hasn’t come in or is still being prepped. If this is the case, you’ll need to wait some more. You will likely be handed a number and told to wait until it’s called to come to the boarding area. In the meantime, you’ll need to find someplace out of the way to stand in the overcrowded embarkation area (there are rarely very many seats available and you need to stay out of the way of people in line).
3. Don’t Wait Til the Last Minute
If you’re boarding the ship in a foreign city, it may be tempting to spend every last minute you can touring the local sights. But be sure to leave yourself lots of time to get to the cruise port and through the boarding process. The same goes for anyone flying or driving into the cruise port on the same day the ship sets sail. No one wants to have to wait for a straggler. Not to mention, it puts the ship behind schedule. And while it may seem like the captain has tons of time to sail to the next destination, it’s simply not the case. There are many factors the crew needs to consider at each port, from weather to underwater obstacles, tight turns, and high-traffic ports. The last thing they need to worry about is whether or not everyone is on board when they should be.
Your boarding pass likely says you must check in at least two hours before the scheduled sailing, but I recommend arriving a minimum of three hours before that time. This will give you extra time in case you run into any last-minute snafus…like forgetting your paperwork in your checked baggage. The ship will sail without you—I’ve seen it happen many times. Don’t be that person…you know the one.
These are just a few tips for checking in at the cruise port. What other advice do you have for fellow travelers? Join the conversation on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook page.