No matter how long your cruise will be, you want to make sure that you start having fun from day one. These 18 embarkation tips will help you get off to the right start! Read on and see which of these embarkation tips can apply to you. Starting with your first day boarding your cruise, make sure that you set your family up to have the most fun vacation possible.
Try These Simple Embarkation Tips For A Fun Family Cruise
1. Pack A Small Embarkation Bag
You should implement this first embarkation tip before you ever set foot on the ship. Either while you are packing at home, or the night before at your hotel. Basically, you want to create a small embarkation bag. Pack a small day bag with some key items that will tide you over as you’re waiting for your luggage to arrive to your cabin. You may be lucky, and your luggage arrives shortly after you do. But the more likely scenario will be that you have to wait several hours before seeing your bags again.
Some ideas for your embarkation bag? Definitely pack any necessary medications. If you will be traveling all day or from a location with a different climate, then you should pack a comfortable change of clothes. That way you’re not strolling around the hot sunny decks in you turtleneck sweater, for instance.
You can also pack some gear for swimming and/or laying out by the pool. That’s a great way to kill time while you are waiting for your bags. Or, alternatively, you could hustle family members off to the pool so that you can unpack more efficiently.
And, since it will be unclear when you will have access to your room, you should also slip your power bank and/or a charger into the embarkation bag as well. Also, toss in a few small snacks so that you can avoid crowds at the buffet and excess charges from the minibar snacks.
For more ideas on what to pack, go check out our recommendations for the best cruise accessories.
2. Arrive During Best Time Window
Over the past couple of years, many cruise lines have been actively implementing programs to speed up the process of checking in for your cruise. Depending on the cruise line, you will likely be assigned an arrival window, or at least and arrival window will be strongly suggested to you. In the absence of contrary information or other circumstances, go ahead and try to arrive during the recommended window.
Opinions vary as to whether it’s better to be on the early side or the later side of your window. To the extent that you can arrive on the earlier side of the permissible window, then you will be able to access the ship earlier. But you may find that you cannot have access to your cabin yet, and that the buffet or other dining venues are crowded. (See number 1 above. Pool is usually a good place to hang out. Even if your cabin isn’t ready, folks can change in the public bathrooms.)
3. Be Prepared To Wait
If everything were to run smoothly, you’ll never have to wait long for anything. You’ll show up at the appointed time and not face a line at registration. No line at security. Your cabin will be ready and waiting. And, your luggage will show up within 15 minutes of getting to your cabin. But, that’s not the more likely scenario.
I always go in expecting that there will be some wait at some point in time during the day, and that we should just be ready to deal with it. If no wait materializes, awesome. No harm done in being prepared otherwise.
So what does this mean, other than mental preparation? It means having an activity or plan to occupy the kids. That could be a tablet – in which case you want to make sure you have power for it. (See No. 1). Or, it could be small puzzles, or a coloring book. The types of small fun activities that you would take on a plane.
There will be several scenarios where you could encounter a long wait. At the initial registration, if you arrive during peak times, and don’t have access to a priority line. You could also encounter a wait to access your cabin. Cruise ships typically operate on quick turnaround schedules. Meaning there isn’t all that much of a window between when one group of passengers disembarks and the next group starts walking on. So depending on what time you board the ship, the crew may still be cleaning staterooms.
4. Meet Your Cabin Steward
As soon as you have access to your cabin, you should make a point of meeting your cabin attendant. In most instances, he or she will be making a point of meeting you. It is a good thing to chat with your attendant early in the day so that you can alert him or her to any special issues or requests that you may have. For instance, did the pack n play you requested arrive? Do you need the minibar fridge cleared out? Or, perhaps you need more hangers?
5. Confirm Sleeping Arrangements
You should also make sure that you confirm your bed arrangements with the cabin steward before bedtime rolls around. Confirm specifics even if you think it should be obvious. So, for instance, if you need the one queen(ish) bed broken down into twin beds. Or, if you want the couch made us as a bed, rather than having a bed pulled down from the ceiling.
6. Visit The Kids Club Open House
The ship’s kids’ club will hold some type of open house hours. Plan to attend. These will typically occur for some period of time before the ship’s muster. And, then additional hours after dinner. The kids’ club may or may not be open on the first night for drop-off. This varies by ship.
You should take your kids to visit the open house. This will give you the chance to register and check out the facilities. It will also give your kids a chance to start making friends.
Are you planning a cruise vacation with your family? We have a prep and pack checklist that is specifically designed to help families cruising with kids. Get your free copy now!
7. Sort Out Kids’ Charging Privileges
When you check-in, you will be issued a plastic card that opens your room and acts as a universal charge card. Basically, instead of using cash or real credit cards, while on the ship, you use your cruise card to charge items to your stateroom. Depending on the cruise ship, you may also be provided a wristband option.
Your kids will also be issued cruise cards and/or wristbands that can have charging privileges. So for instance, they could be used to purchasing game credits at an arcade, candy, snacks, toys at an onboard shop, premium ice cream, or other venues that incur additional charges. You need to make sure everyone is on the same page as to whether that feature is turned out and what the rules may be for using it.
Cruise lines differ on whether the default setting when the cards are issued is at on or off. So you should confirm that as soon as you receive the cards. If you intend to allow spending privileges, you should have a talk about limits and expectations. Basically, your child will essentially be running around with a copy of your credit card. You should specifically discuss whether your child is allowed to pay for items for other kids. Several times, I have seen or heard kids running up sizable bills in the arcade or candy shop treating their new friends that they made on board.
And, if you have instructed that the cards or bands are too be turned off, you should double check that actually happened. On a recent cruise, my 5 year-old’s card and band were supposed to be inactive. But, I discovered later that his wristband actually still worked and was being used in the arcade. (I was standing nearby and observed it happening. So, thankfully, not much damage was done.)
8. Check Out The Pool And Assess Any Safety Concerns
Take a look at the ship’s map or newsletter and figure out what different pool options are available to your family. I always like to figure out where the main pool accessible to kids is, and confirm how deep the water is. In most cases, there will be at least one pool that has some portion that is shallow enough for kids to stand up in. But we have seen cases where all of the pools on the whole ship had water levels that were too high for kids to safely stand up. Also, this gives you a chance to see if there are life guards and/or what the general staffing situation looks like.
Related Content: Our Top Pool Safety Tips For Your Family Cruise
9. Sign Up For Dinner Plans For Entire Week
Make sure that you have a plan for dinner for every night of your cruise. If you need to make reservations, then the best time to do so is the first day. Note that you don’t have to do this on the phone. You could make reservations in person as you are walking around the ship. And, it’s possible that you can stop at one venue and make reservations for any other venue at the same time. If you have any concerns or preferences about what time you eat and where, then you try to nail that down as soon as possible.
Related Content: Our Top Pool Safety Tips For Your Family Cruise
10. Sign Up For Special Entertainment
If the cruise ship has any special performances of broadway shows or other evening acts, you should check on whether reservations can and should be made. You should check even though the shows are free. Because some performances require reservations and tickets and may have limited seating.
11. Keep Eyes Open For Special Limited Time Offers
When you first arrive on board, you will likely see tables set up where crew members are promoting certain discount offers or packages. These are usually special deals that are only good if purchased within the first couple of days of the cruise. These will be things like drink packages, photo packages, dining packages for the speciality restaurants. Internet packages. There may even be someone promoting discounts for the spa.
Related Content: Reasons To Skip That Drinks Package
You should make a point of looking at these offers for two reasons: First, if you didn’t buy any type of package during your online registration, then you will want to take advantage of ones that you are interested in now because these offers are usually on a time limit.
Second, if you did make purchases prior to sailing, you want to make sure that what’s being offered on board isn’t in fact a better deal. Usually, the items you purchase in advance are billed as being offered at lower prices than you will find onboard. Don’t assume that this is what happened. Sometimes plans change, and the price promotion on board may actually be better.
12. Read The Initial Newsletter And Any Other Papers Found In Stateroom
When you first get into your room on embarkation day, you will likely find some papers or envelopes waiting for you. Be sure to look through it all and make sure you know what it is. It could be tickets to prepaid shore excursions. Or, an invitation or information about a Roll Call that you signed up for. There may be notices about special offers and promotions or invitations to other events. At a minimum, you will find the ship’s newsletter for that day which will let you know what activities are going on that evening and what the opening and closing hours are for various venues.
13. Plan To Attend The Safety Presentation
Within the first 24 hours of sailing, the ship will have a mandatory muster drill. All passengers are required to attend, and all dining venues and other distractions are shut down. If you fail to turn up at the muster, someone will likely be dispatched to find you, and the other passengers will be annoyed for having their wait unnecessarily extended.
14. Unpack Fully And Store Luggage
Once your luggage actually arrives, go ahead and unpack everything. This is one of our embarkation tips that will definitely make your family’s cabin experience much more comfortable.
If you are sailing with a baby or toddler, we also have additional tips on how to improve cabin safety.
15. Make A Safety Plan For If Kids Get Lost Or Separated
It is possible that you and your kid will get separated (for instance something goes awry when a large crowd leaves a show at the same time, or you’re trying to wrangle a packed elevator). Although this is unlikely to happy, go ahead and have a simple plan in place to address it. You should make a point of showing your child what the ship crew and officers look like. Any distinguishing characteristics like everyone has a name tag or a special hat. Guest services will be in a centrally located spot, so as you walk by, point out where it is. Depending on the age of your child, you could also point out the house phones.
16. Figure Out Phone & Internet Situation
Unless you have specifically confirmed otherwise with your cellphone carrier, you should assume that any cell charges will be at roaming rates while you are at sea. So, to avoid nasty surprises, go ahead and turn off data roaming before the ship leaves port. You may choose to turn it on and off based on when you are in certain ports. If you do that, make sure you have a system in place to remind you to turn it back off.
If you have signed up for an internet package, make sure that you get it set up properly. (There will probably be instructions in your room if you pre-purchased a package.) You want to avoid inadvertently signing onto the ship’s internet outside of your plan and incurring a la cart pricing, which is usually quite expensive.
17. Download Any Ship Specific App And Figure Out If It Is Worth Your Time
Depending on which cruise line and ship you are sailing, you may have access to an App that you can download to a smartphone or tablet. It may, or may not, actually be helpful.
Some of the really helpful ones will have all of the event timing information that’s available in the ship newsletters. And may have options that allow you to make reservations for dinners, shows and the like. They may also let you see your ongoing room charges. Or, track what different members of your party want to do at different times. And, some apps may provide access to free or low cost messengering services that allow you to exchange text messages with other guests on board. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, you could find that the app is just a waste of space on your phone.
As the apps and updates get rolled out, it may not be universally rolled out to all ships. So you can’t necessarily just rely on what’s being reported in various internet fora. One ship may have access to an awesome cruise app, while another ship in the same fleet only has access to the crummy one. So, download it and test if for yourself.
For a recent summary of different apps currently available for different cruise lines, check out Cruise Critic’s 19 Cruise Apps You Need Right Now.
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18. Make Arrangements For Any Special Events
This one of our embarkation tips is somewhat of a hodgepodge of different things. Basically, if you are sailing during a period when you would usually be observing or celebrating some special event, you should check on whether you can celebrate or observe while on ship. And, if so, you can go ahead and make any necessary reservations.
We have frequently cruised on dates that includes at least one of my kid’s birthdays. We have always been able to arrange a celebration, but the specifics have varied by cruise line. So, for instance, one cruise line arranged for a special dessert and song on a designated date. On another cruise line, for a fee and with sufficient notice, we could have the kitchen bake a birthday cake. Another ship had a cupcake bakery that would also make elaborate custom orders with notice (for a fee). Lots of different options are possible, but you need to figure that out as soon as possible so that you can make the arrangements you want.
A different example comes from various religious holidays. The cruise ship may be planning to have a special event in observance of a religious holiday that is important you. So, for instance, we were on a cruise that coincided with Jewish Passover. We noticed that on the designated date a certain section of the dining room was cordoned off, and a special meal was served. Only guests that had pre-registered for that event were permitted entry to the special section.
Your cruise vacation should be all about fun and relaxation. Follow these embarkation tips to make sure that you get off to a good start. And, these will also help you avoid unfortunate surprises at the end.
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