Travelers unfamiliar with the experience of cruise travel wonder what it will be like when on the ship. Rightfully so, compared to just about any land-based travel option cruise travel is quite unique. First-time cruise travelers already bought into the big picture; unpack once but see multiple destinations, much of what happens is included in the price and memories will be created. But what exactly to expect? Once the planning, packing, and anticipation are behind them, veteran cruise travelers sometimes view embarkation day as anticlimactic. However, for first-time cruise travelers, embarking on their first ship can be exhilarating.
The First Day Of Your Cruise- Turnover
First of all, keep in mind that your embarkation day cannot officially begin until the ship is clear of departing guests and their luggage. The process of moving the exiting passengers off the ship and getting the new ones on the ship is called ‘turning over the ship’. While the previous weeks’ passengers make their way reluctantly down the gangway, the staff and crew are busy readying the ship for the next sailing. By the time the last straggler departs, trucks are already arriving at the dock with provisions and a lot of heavy work is going on behind the scenes. Staterooms and public lounges are thoroughly cleaned and readied and a steady stream of supplies and luggage are brought aboard. There can even be an exchange of crewmembers, with some leaving and others arriving.
The First Day Of Your Cruise- Arrival On Board
Cruise line shoreside staff are on hand to point passengers in the right direction. They will be easily recognizable in official looking uniforms with nametags. Once inside the terminal, new arrivals might encounter a check-in line. Actual boarding time is often scheduled for around Noon but some cruise lines will begin processing early arrivals and then direct them to a “holding” area. During check-in, those boarding will be asked to produce travel documents and any forms they were sent to complete ahead of time. Prove citizenship, produce a credit card to pay for on board charges not included in the price, have your photo taken for identification purposes and travelers are issued a boarding card that often also doubles as a stateroom key and shipboard charge card.
At some point, either before you enter the check-in area or before proceeding to the ship, you and your hand luggage will have to pass through a security procedure, somewhat like that at airports.
Everyone is anxious to get on board and begin their vacation, but this isn’t the time to get cranky if there is a wait. Keep in mind, no one can board until the ship has been cleared by authorities and the ship passenger count has reached zero. Once boarding begins, passengers will likely have their first experience with a ship’s photographer and be asked to pose for an embarkation picture. It only takes a second, so smile. You are under no obligation to purchase any photos taken of you during the cruise and they are a nice souvenir.
The First Day Of Your Cruise- Ten Important First Day Activities
- Walking On To The Ship– Congratulations! Your cruise has begun. Procedures vary somewhat between cruise lines but on a big ship cruise, but embarking passengers will have to produce their boarding card for the security officer. Depending on cruise line, you will be directed to your cabin or a steward will relieve you of your carry on luggage and accompany you. Stewards on high end cruise lines not only show you the way, but hand you a glass of champagne as a welcome aboard gesture.
- Stop By Your Cabin- Check out your cabin to make sure that everything is in order. You should find life jackets on the bed (ready for the muster drill later) and a copy of the ship’s daily schedule. Take a few moments to look over the schedule-you’ll want to know what time the muster drill takes place (a placard on the back of your cabin door will indicate directions to your emergency station), as well as meal hours and the schedule for various activities and entertainments.
- Check Special Requests- In the old days, many passengers rented tuxedoes and would find them either hanging in the closet or delivered sometime during the afternoon of the first day on board. Bon Voyage gifts sent by your friends or travel agent usually appear as well. Be patient if you are expecting deliveries, particularly on large ships. Cabin stewards participate in the ship’s turn-around and are extremely busy, although yours will no doubt introduce himself at the first available opportunity.
- The First Lunch- It will also be a while before your checked luggage arrives, so your initial order of business is usually the welcome aboard buffet. Bring along the daily schedule to peruse while you eat. While making your way to the buffet, no doubt you’ll notice bar waiters offering trays of colorful and exotic “Bon Voyage” drinks, often in souvenir glasses that you can keep. Beware-they are not complimentary! If you choose one, you’ll be asked to sign for it. Again, like the photos, you’re under no obligation to purchase; however, the glasses are fun souvenirs.
- First Choice Of Tours And Treatments- Do your plans for the cruise include booking shore excursions and indulging in spa treatments? The most popular tours sometimes sell out and spas can be very busy during sea days, so your next stop should be the Shore Excursion Desk to book tours and the Spa to make appointments.
- Dining Room Table Assignment- Your dining room seating assignment may be another matter for consideration. Some people like to check the main dining room to see where their table is located. If it’s not to your liking, or if you requested a large table and find yourself assigned to a small one, you will want to see the Head Waiter. He will be stationed in a lounge with his table charts handy to make changes-the daily schedule will indicate where and when.
- Introductory Activities, Or Not- For the rest of the afternoon and into the evening you may find other introductory activities such as tours of the spa and fitness center, port and shopping talks, and casino gaming lessons available. There will be a safety drill, followed by sailaway festivities on the pool deck.
- Luggage Matters- By late afternoon or early evening, your luggage should arrive and you can unpack and settle into your cabin to prepare for dinner. A few words of advice… just in case your luggage doesn’t arrive before dinner, as sometimes is the case when you’re dining at the early seating, it’s a good idea to have toiletries and appropriate attire in your carry-on so you can freshen up and change. Dress codes are always casual on the first evening of cruises.
- The First Dinner- A highlight of embarkation day is that first dinner in the main restaurant where you’ll meet your waitstaff and tablemates. Order whatever you like from the menu of appetizers, salads, soups, and entrees, but save room for dessert. Other than iced tea, coffee, hot tea, and water, beverages in the dining room are not complimentary.
- A Full Evening Ahead- After dinner you’ll find the entire ship alive with action! The casino, shops, and lounges will all be open to greet guests and the Cruise Director usually introduces his staff at a Welcome Aboard show in the main theater (shows are scheduled to coordinate with dining seating’s).
Whenever the day ends, returning to their cabins, first time cruise travelers find their steward has straightened things up while they were away, filled the ice bucket, provided fresh linens in the bathroom, turned down the bed, left the next day’s schedule of activities, and perhaps placed a chocolate on their pillow.
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