Guest Author - Shasta Wilson
One of the most daunting experiences in cruising, even for seasoned cruisers, is the day of departure. With hundreds of people trying to get themselves, and their luggage, on to the ship within a window of a few hours, the cruise line’s system of embarkation is designed to facilitate the checking in and loading of passengers. Though the embarkation process will vary by cruiseline and port, cruise guests can expect a process similar to that detailed in this article.
Arriving at the Terminal
Most departure terminals are big industrial buildings located on a dock right next to the cruise ship pier. Guests arriving by private car or taxi are usually allowed to pull up in front of the building and unload their luggage. Guests who traveled by air to the port, and paid for cruiseline airport-to-pier transfers, will most likely arrive by chartered tour bus and will be asked to unload in a designated area. Tip:It really makes no difference how you arrive at the terminal; once inside everyone has to stand in the same lines.
Even before you enter the terminal building, you’ll be approached by porters who will want to take your luggage. If your luggage is properly tagged with the cruiseline-provided tags (with your name and cabin number), go ahead and let the porters take it. All larger luggage must go through cruiseline security screening, so even if you keep it with you through check-in, you’ll be asked to hand it over to security before boarding. It’s very rare that a cruise line allows guests to carry-on large suitcases. Tip: Because the bag screening process is lengthy (think thousands of bags and only so many screening machines), make sure you take anything out of your bag that you’ll need for the next few hours. That includes medications, grooming products, swimsuits, a change of clothes and possibly clothes for dinner. I, myself, pack a separate bag for things I’ll need the day of embarkation. On one trip, we didn’t get our bags until 10 PM the day of departure, and it’s not unusual for a few guests to get their bags the next day due to mix-ups.
Getting the Right Line
There is usually one main cue for all departing passengers. Guests with special access, like VIPs, frequent cruisers or the handicapped, will have their own section for check-in. Several cruise line agents will be stationed at the door to help direct guests to the proper line. Don’t be too concerned if the line seems to be hundreds of people deep. All check-in windows will be open and the line will move quickly. Cruise lines want to get guests on board quickly.
Prior to departure, you should have received a packet of information with your ‘Cruise Documents’. One document will be your Cruise Ticket (with reservation number, passenger names, etc), another will be for ship/airport transfers (if applicable), and another will be for shore excursions that may have been booked in advance. Also make sure to have a printed copy of your pre-registration information. Pre-registration is done online, either by you or your travel agent, and basically details your personal and immigration information (passport number, expiration, etc). If you don’t have this, the cruise line should have it all on file in their system. The check-in agent will ask for all these documents along with a credit card to put on the reservation. All cruise guests will be issued a keycard that both allows room access and acts as an onboard credit card. Most cruise lines operate ‘cashless cruising’ programs, allowing everything to be charged to the onboard account, with the exception of casino games and staff tipping, which require cash.
If you still have luggage after checking in, tag it with the appropriate information, and take it over to the porter station. Each guest is allowed a few small carry-ons, but big bags will have to go through the bag screening.
Getting on the Ship
After check-in, cruisers will be directed through metal detectors and carry-on bag screeners en route to the actual ship. Guests will then be directed either to line up at the gangway to board the ship, or be asked to wait until their group number (issued at check-in) is called to board. Don’t be concerned if you have to wait in line yet again. All guests must get their picture taken and have their keycard swiped as part of the ship’s passenger identification process. This tends to hold up the line, but it only takes a minute and once complete, you’re officially on board!