Monday, September 09, 2013

Embarkation Day

You’ve been booked for months and have been eagerly anticipating your first cruise vacation. Finally, the day has arrived. In cruise lingo, we call it “Embarkation Day.”  Obviously you’re excited, but you may be a bit nervous too, not knowing what to expect.  No worries…we’re here to walk you through it!

Whether you’re driving or flying to the port, it’s a good idea to expect to arrive around noontime.  After all, this is officially the first day of your cruise vacation and you don’t want to miss a minute!  When you pull up to the cruise terminal there will be porters out front waiting to take your luggage.  If your bags aren’t yet tagged with your stateroom number, these are the people that will take care of that for you.  It will be several hours before these bags are delivered to your cabin, sometimes not until after dinner.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to take a carry-on with you containing any medications and valuables as well as swimsuits, sunscreen or change of clothes you may need for the day.

With your cruise line boarding pass and identification (passport or birth certificate and government issued id, depending on the cruise itinerary) in hand, enter the terminal and proceed to the security line. Beware if you’re trying to carry on wine or booze.  Each cruise line has limits and restrictions.

Next you’ll be directed to a check-in line.  Keep that boarding pass handy as well as the credit card you’re going to charge your expenses to. Everybody in your traveling party will be issued their own room key, which is also needed to get on and off the ship, and used to make onboard purchases (it is your choice if you want to allow your children’s card to have charging privileges). Once aboard the ship your cash won’t buy you anything other than casino chips.  From water bottles to bottles of beer, from spa treatments to shore excursions, everything onboard must be charged to your account.

Depending on the cruise line, your security picture that is embedded within the key card is taken at this point, or if not, it will be done before stepping onboard the vessel. You will then be asked to take a seat in the waiting area until you’re called to board the ship, although sometimes you may be directed to board immediately. Regardless, before you’re allowed to board you’ll be detoured by one of the ship photographers waiting to take your official “welcome aboard” photo.  Don’t pass them by because you’re not obligated to purchase it.  That evening all photos are posted in the photo gallery where you can view it and then decide to purchase it or not. Personally, I always buy it because I think they make a perfect first picture in my photo album!

Stepping onboard a cruise ship for the very first time is such a “Wow” moment!  Your eyes open wide and your jaw drops just a bit before your mouth breaks into this wide smile.  You’re finally here!  Let the vacation begin

Crewmembers are usually lined up to welcome you onboard (Disney actually announces your arrival, which is really fun!) and give you the ship’s daily newsletter that will fill you in on the days activities, restaurant hours and other pertinent information.  If you’re boarding before 2 pm, chances are your stateroom is not yet ready to occupy.  No problem. You can head to an open restaurant for lunch before making your way to the pool (which is why we recommend you bring a swimsuit in your carry-on bag), or you can take care of miscellaneous business.  It’s a good time to get your bearings by touring the ship deck by deck, make reservations for specialty dining, sign the kids up for the children’s program, or purchase a soda card or beverage package. You can head to the spa for a tour or to book a treatment and sometimes there are raffles to win them!

Later in the afternoon you may want to check and see if your cabin is ready and if your bags have arrived.  Chances are your cabin steward will be lurking in the hallway, awaiting your arrival so that he / she can introduce himself / herself.  Your cabin steward is responsible for cleaning your cabin each day and ensuring that it has everything you need for a comfortable stay.  Remember his or her name because that’s the person you can count on to bring you extra towels and fresh ice throughout your cruise. Stewards seem to have built-in radar that alerts them when you leave your cabin in the morning. When you come back, you’ll find that everything is clean and fresh, with beds made and towels back on the racks. While you’re out at dinner, your cabin steward will pop in again, turning down the bed, and maybe leaving a treat on your pillow and an adorable ""towel animal” on the bed!

Before you know it the muster drill alarm will sound (seven short tones followed by a long tone). When you hear it, head for your muster station (the place where a designated group of passengers meet, in case evacuation by lifeboat becomes necessary), which is noted on your key card as well as posted in your cabin. Mustering is a mandatory drill that everyone on board participates in, so that guests become familiar with emergency procedures. It’s an important drill, but over quickly, and when it is it means one thing and one thing only.  It’s time for the sailaway party!

Head up to the pool deck where the cruise director and staff will be leading the merriment!  Live music, dancing, frosty umbrella drinks….a toot from the ship’s horn and you slowly begin to pull away.  Bon Voyage!"

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