You have been waiting months for this moment. Your tickets are in hand and you can’t wait to settle into a deck chair and set sail.  All you have to do is get on your ship and go.

If you’ve never been on a cruise before, this moment is even more exciting.  But it can also be daunting if you don’t know what to expect and how to prepare.

The first thing you need to bring is patience.  It is a virtue, and never more so than when you’re getting on and off a cruise ship.

Smooth Sailing at the Terminal

Getting on a ship is like getting on a plane, only there are thousands of people.  Be prepared to wait in line.  Dress comfortably, bring something to read, and make sure your paperwork is organized and accessible.

When you arrive at your cruise terminal, you’ll find porters waiting to take your luggage immediately.  Put the tags you were given with your tickets onto each suitcase.  The porters will load them into bins to be delivered directly to your stateroom.  Have $1s or $5s handy for tips.  You should tip about $2 per bag, depending on the size.

Next, you will line up and go through the embarkation process.  Like at airports, this will involve security, and just like when you fly, the security measures are getting stricter.

Then, you will check in.  Have all your cruise documents filled in and ready to go, along with your identification and your credit card.  The cruise line will give you your “shipboard charge card”, which you will use as identification on the ship, and to pay for anything you buy.  The charges will go directly onto your credit card.

What happens next depends on when you arrived at the pier.  If you’re the kind of person who likes to beat the rush, you’ll be given a code and asked to wait in a lounge until you are called for boarding.

Once the ship is boarding, follow the signs up the gangway.  You’ll be met by cruise line staff who will tell you where your stateroom is.  You will likely be asked to wait before heading to your room, so the porters have time to bring all that luggage on board.  There will be welcome parties, tours of the gym or spa, or buffets on the pool decks, so don’t worry about trying to fill time here.

When your vacation is over, you will need the same kind of patience when it comes to getting off the ship.  You will put your checked luggage outside your cabin the night before you disembark, so keep a few things out for the next day in your carry-on.

You will be assigned a color or deck code which will let you know when you will be called to get off the ship.  It’s getting faster, but it can still take a few hours on the bigger ships.  You may also have to clear customs, so make sure your customs declaration is filled out, and you know what you’re allowed to bring home.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t book your flights too close to when you need to be on or off the ship.  The process is long enough without the added stress of worrying about your timing.  Most ports are in interesting places, so it’s worth sticking around a little longer to see the sights. Several cruise lines offer Sail and Stay packages that combine the cruise with a vacation at a resort such as Disney World.

Your cruise will be a vacation of a lifetime, and with a little patience, preparation and time, getting on and off the ship can actually be an enjoyable part of the experience.

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