4.1 Check in Before You Check in
The absolute best way to check in for your cruise is on-line, weeks before you are leaving. In the comfort of your home, you can make sure your passport ID numbers are correct, and contact information is up to date, and best of all, you can book your shore excursions to get the best selection.
On-line check in includes ordering or printing out your luggage tags, registering the credit card that you will charge items to on the cruise, and even request special dietary or room needs. And if you want early dining, make sure that is requested, when you reserve your stateroom and during the check in process. Remember that the main dining facilities will accommodate less than half the sailing passengers for each seating, and most travelers prefer early dining rather than the late seating. And how does that work out? The worse job on the ship has to be the staff in charge of seating assignments. More on that in Section 5.1…
4.2 Print out all Your Boarding Document
It is always a good idea to carry a paper copy of your boarding documents, passport, and any other “electronic” documents. And keep your backup copies in a safe place like in your carry-on luggage.
4.3 Don’t Arrive Too Early… But Arrive on Time
The ship arrives in port at 7:00 am and you are at the check in counter a few minutes later… bad idea. Without going into all the details of Section 7.2, How to Get Off the Ship, let’s first go over the disembarkation process. Although the ship may dock at 7:00, very few people will be getting off in that first hour. The on-board passengers will be getting off in carefully allocated time slots, usually after a nice “last breakfast.” As the ship clears customs and the passengers leave, based on their flight plans, or requests (I like to leave last), and when all passengers on the manifest are accounted for, several hours will have passed. Typically, three or four hours of moving bags to match passengers’ leaving times, and customs backlogs, puts the “cleared ship” at 10:30 to 11:00 am.
After the last passenger is off and the ship is cleared for boarding, add a few minutes. 11:30 would be a reasonable time to start the boarding process for our hypothetical ship. And a lot of people know about the earliest boarding time, and that means a crowd will be waiting for you.
Recommendation: If your boarding instructions have a boarding time, believe them. If you are given a range, don’t pick anything close to the “clearing time.”
I have seen people wait an hour to board, and have also seen people literally walking aboard (no wait) later the same day. Remember that your stateroom will not be ready until a couple of hours before sailing, and there will be a lot of people in the public locations. To avoid the crowds and waits and hassle, push your boarding time to early-afternoon (based on a 11:30 clearing time).
4.4 Leave Your Bag to the Experts
One of the nicest things of the check in process is baggage check in. You arrive via public or private transportation, and the porter will take your bags. If you haven’t pre-printed and attached your baggage luggage tags, your porter will ask for your boarding information and make the tags for you. All you need to do is tip the porter, and walk to the check in area.
Carry any medical devices with you as carry-on luggage. The same applies to any medicine, or anything that you will need throughout your first afternoon aboard ship. Your bags should be in your room before you sail, but always hand carry expensive small items (jewelry, camera, etc.), and anything that is a “must have” on your cruise.
4.5 The Check in Process
To check-in you will need:
- Your passport, and the passports of all in your group.
- The credit card that you registered on the on-line check in site.
- Your confirmation or boarding documents.
After a brief moment at the check in counter, or guest check in, you will be invited aboard.
Recommendation: Make sure you get your boarding pictures taken! Passengers are often in a hurry to get on the ship, but take a moment to capture the moment. And the boarding photos make for great Holiday cards.