From the moment you lock eyes with your cruise ship on embarkation day, you want nothing more than to rush through the lines, get on board and start your vacation pronto. Unless you've planned ahead, though, it might not be that easy. Little hurdles, like forgetting to print your boarding pass or arriving at peak boarding time without realizing it, can keep you in line longer and drag out the boarding process.
Preparing ahead of time will make getting to your cruise ship a breeze, but there also are a few ways you can combat the lines once you get to the terminal.
Follow these six tips to speed up the cruise embarkation process so you can enjoy that pool-deck umbrella drink sooner (and people watch all the unprepared cruisers still stuck in line at the terminal).
One of the biggest things you can do to prepare for a smooth embarkation is to make sure you’ve scheduled any required health screenings or testing, such as for COVID-19, with enough time before your sailing. For COVID-19, pre-testing requirements are always being updated, so be sure to know if you’ll need to provide test results taken within 24, 48, 72 or any other window of time before your check-in.
You may also be required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, and will need to be sure you’ve met the requirements for the waiting period between your last vaccination dose and your sailing.
Cruise lines offer the ability to check in online at least a few days prior to sailing, so be sure to take advantage. By getting this step out of the way before you arrive, you'll be able to fill out forms you otherwise have to do at the terminal. You also can print your boarding pass and luggage tags, which will help speed up the process as soon as you arrive. Make sure you attach those printed luggage tags (which indicate your cabin number) to your bags.
It's hard to say when the best or worst time to board is -- every cruise is different -- but generally speaking, the terminal is busiest roughly when regular check-in begins through about 2 p.m.
We recommend getting to the terminal either early, before the rush, or late (after 2 p.m.), when most people are already onboard. You might still have a little wait, but it won't be anything compared to peak boarding time. Just don't arrive too early, as you might find yourself waiting even longer for the previous cruise's passengers to disembark.
During the coronavirus pandemic, most cruise lines started assigning passengers check-in windows based on status level and cruise ship cabin type. This helps to avoid bottleneck congestion at the terminal. If you have an assigned window, be sure to arrive no earlier or later than 15 minutes on either side of the window.
Priority boarding is a perk enjoyed by many suite passengers and upper-tier cruise line loyalty members, but a number of cruise lines allow regular passengers to pay for the same privileges with programs such as Faster to the Fun on Carnival Cruises.
With priority boarding, you'll have access to a dedicated security and check-in lane, which saves you from waiting in the usual lines. In some cases, this also means your accommodations will be ready before others. If you can't avoid peak boarding time, or simply can't stand to wait in line, upgrading to priority boarding is worth the splurge.
Again, during the coronavirus pandemic, things have worked a little differently, and priority boarding times may not be available for purchase but rather assigned through status level or stateroom type. There may also be a dedicated line for first-time cruisers, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled if that’s you.
When you arrive at the terminal, porters will be there to greet you and take your luggage -- which will be delivered to your cabin -- so you don't have to lug around all that weight yourself. (Don't forget to tip the porters a few bucks.) You're not obliged to hand over your bags; however, doing so will make it easier for you to move through the security and check-in lines.
Our advice? Pack a comfortable carry-on bag with all your essentials, since there's no guarantee how quickly your bags will arrive to your cabin.
You'll be asked to show your official documents -- passport or other legal form of ID, boarding pass and visa and COVID-19 vaccination and test results (if required) -- more than once during check-in, so it's a good idea to keep them somewhere easily accessible. This way, you're not stuck digging for them at the bottom of your bag, when you could be moving swiftly through the lines.
Learn more about which travel documents you'll need for your cruise, as well as other cruise rules and regulations, and don’t forget to check up-to-date COVID-19 testing and vaccine proof requirements for your sailing.
Updated December 15, 2021