Cruises Part 3: Embarkation and ‘First’ Tips


our cruise 2014 008

Part 2 of this series Your Cruise is Booked, Now What?


  • Check in ONLINE before going to the terminal. Some cruise lines ‘suggest’ this and others ‘require’ it. It certainly speeds things up for you. Your cruise website will give specifics on how and when to do this.
  • embarkation

    Lines at Check In

    Embarkation involves lines and waits.  Just be patient;  once you’re on the ship, it will be a distant memory.  🙂

  • Luggage Tags:  Most cruise lines ask passengers to print and attach these themselves, though they MAY also provide them at  the terminal. Printing these will be part of your online check in process.
    • Before relinquishing your bags (at the airport or at the terminal) double-check that every piece of luggage has a luggage tag.  Bring along 1-2 extra tags in case one is damaged in transit.
    • If you have purchased cruise line transfers, they will pick up your bags at the airport, so attach all ID / cruise  tags, etc… SECURELY before leaving home.  (I have been known to put TWO tags on each piece of luggage just as a precaution…)
    • Tip: If the weather report predicts rain, make sure your luggage tag is protected from possible water damage (smearing)  –either by using a plastic tag cover or by covering it with  clear shipping tape.
  • When you arrive at the terminal, porters at the entrance will accept your bags and take them to the ship for you if you wish.  Customary tip for this service is $1-2/bag  🙂  You are not obligated to accept this service;  you CAN carry and check your own luggage.  NOTE:  I just learned recently that luggage handlers at Canada Place in Vancouver are unionized and paid quite well so tipping is discouraged. Of course, tips are always your choice.passports
  • You will need to show a passport and cruise documents when you check in for the cruise.  DON’T PACK THEM IN YOUR LUGGAGE!!!
  • If you drove to the port/parked your car, write down or put in your phone the location of your parking place.  If you can forget where you park after an afternoon at the mall, think what it will be like after a 5-7-12 day cruise.  🙂
  • When it’s time to board, have your documents READY!! (boarding pass, passport, ID, possibly VISAs…)  If you’re the one holding up the line, you may get a few dirty looks…  🙂
  • If traveling with young children, make sure they know their middle name.  In some ports, they will be asked (as part of the Customs process) and will need to answer for themselves.
  • Your picture will be taken during this process and connected to your card for security purposes.  Be ready to smile!!  🙂


  • You probably won’t be able to get into your room right away.  Remember, the previous cruisers just got off the ship a few hours ago.  Cabin stewards are working very hard to “turn the ship”.  Head to the buffet.  Explore the ship.  Take a few pictures.  Your room should be ready within a couple of hours.
  • Pack any items you MUST have during those few hours (and possibly the first night) in your carry on bag – medications, bathing suits and sunscreen 🙂 and perhaps a change of clothes.   This way, if your bag doesn’t arrive for a few hours, (or in rare cases, the next morning) you can still get started on your vacation….   ALWAYS pack needed medications in your carry on.  However, as you’re packing this bag, keep in mind that until you have access to your stateroom, you’ll be carrying it around with you.  Find the balance between packing what you need while still being able to carry/manage the bag you’ve packed for several hours.  🙂
  • Photo Credit: Adam Knight on Flickr CC LIc.

    We usually try to keep an eye on our hallway/room to bring our luggage inside the door as soon as it arrives.  Depending on the particular ship (no consistency among cruise lines that I have been able to determine)  it MAY be sitting in the hallway…available to anyone who walks by…….  hmmm…



Photo Credit: Jenni Konrad on Flickr CC LIc.


  • You will need to report for your Muster Drill (Lifeboat/Safety Drill) according to instructions given to you after boarding….typically before Sail Away.  Participation in this emergency drill is MANDATORY on ALL cruise lines.  They go over safety procedures and tell you where your muster station (raft) is.  Just go!! …and be advised, on some cruise lines, they check everyone in with their cruise ID….and kindly hold another drill for those who chose to skip the first one! 🙂  Frequent cruisers often complain about these, but remember, a good attitude goes a long way to improving your experience.  It MAY turn out to be information you NEED to know.
  • Once you get in your room, your cabin steward will probably come to introduce him/herself.  You should have the same steward for the entire cruise.  Get to know him or her on a first name basis…because they will know YOU on a first name basis.  🙂  If you have any special requests of them, this is the time to let them know…and if you’re making ‘extra’ requests, keep that in mind when you’re given the opportunity to increase their tips at the end of the cruise.  🙂
  • Sail Away:  This is a celebratory time.  Some people like to join the party up on deck.  Others like to make a private toast on their balcony or a secluded place on deck.  Others like to find a place to wave good-bye to friends or family on shore – or just to wave at complete strangers on shore. 🙂   Give some thought to where YOU want to be during this time…    🙂


First, it should be noted that coffee, tea (possibly flavored/herbal teas), hot chocolate,(on some cruise lines) lemonade, and milk/juices in the mornings are typically free on most cruise lines.

Beyond that, the cruise lines offer packages for unlimited drinks (sodas….or alcoholic).    Most cruise lines will require you to purchase this for the full length of your cruise (even if you don’t purchase it until Day 3…you will still be charged for the full length of the cruise)  Check your cruise line website for specifics on YOUR cruise.  By requiring you to purchase for the entire trip, you are paying for drinks on days when you may not be on the ship for the full day (embarkation day, port days, etc….)  Unless you plan to make up for lost time (i.e. lost drinks) at other times,  it may be difficult to get your money’s worth with the package.  Just keep this in mind as you calculate the costs of the drink packages vs. buying drinks individually.

Princess has a coffee card (punch card)  for specialty drinks – lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, etc…  and we have found these to be a pretty good deal because you can actually use ALL that you pay for.  They don’t have an expiration date so you can use them on future cruises.  Edit 2018:  Princess has recently begun putting an expiration date on these cards…  This decreases their value (to me)…..

NOTE:  You CAN find these coffee punch cards on eBay (either brand new or partially used)  for varying prices.  While these cards DO have some limitations, you still get the drinks for a ‘punch’ on the card….provided the card has not expired.  According to Princess, ‘old’ cards with no expiration dates will be honored ‘until a specified date’….no explanation as to what that means exactly…  hmmm…



There’s been a lot on the news about Norovirus on cruise ships. However, information that is NOT getting out is that Norovirus is NOT a ‘cruise ship’ illness.  It can show up anywhere large numbers of people live in a small space.

What is it?:    It’s an extremely common and highly contagious virus affecting the stomach and intestines causing gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting, stomach or intestinal cramps, etc…with symptoms similar to food poisoning or the flu, though it is NOT the flu.  Headache and low-grade fever may accompany it as well.

Some Things to Know about Norovirus:

  • Norovirus is not limited to cruise ships.  It spreads where people congregate in enclosed spaces – nursing homes, hotels, dormitories..and yes, cruise ships.  It is every bit as common as the common cold.
  • The REASON you hear about it on cruiseships is because they are required to report data on illnesses.  Hotels, college dorms etc… aren’t required to ‘report’ so it doesn’t make the news.
  • Norovirus passes from person to person from surfaces or physical contact.
  • How can you guard against it?  WASH HANDS FREQUENTLY WITH HOT WATER AND SOAP!!!  Always wash before and after meals, after touching your face and after using the restroom and of course after returning to your cabin after touching handrails, doorknobs, etc… around the ship.  If the previous cruise on your ship had more than 2% of the passengers ill (the level they are required to report to the CDC) they are required to inform new passengers boarding the ship.  That gives you a ‘heads up’ to be EXTRA careful with hand washing…and limiting how much you touch on board.
  • These packages of Lysol or Clorox wipes20170613_144234 (from Dollar Tree) are great to take – There’s 15 in the package…enough to not only wipe down surfaces in the room such as remote, doorknobs, switches or telephone when we first arrive and again mid-way through the cruise…but also for the pre or post cruise hotel(s).
  • It’s tempting to ‘taste’ that item from a family member’s plate when they are raving about it…but resist the urge.  🙂  Symptoms take 1-3 days after exposure to show up….so they may not be as healthy as they appear.
  • Most cruise lines put dispensers of antibacterial (Purell, et al)  at the entrance to food stations as a deterrent to Noro.  The fact is that Norovirus is a ‘virus’…and therefore not killed by an antibacterial (NOTE…anti-“bacterials” protect against BACTERIA….)  You will be required to use these.  Rather than argue with the crew member standing there, just use it.  Though it won’t protect you against Noro, it will keep crew members happy…. 🙂   and protect you against anything ‘bacterial’ that you might encounter.  🙂
  • Be HAPPY when the cruise line opts to ‘serve’ food at the buffet rather than allowing guests to serve themselves.  I’ve heard people complain about this and I’m always thinking  THANK GOODNESS!  I’ve seen a few behaviors from people at buffets that have turned my stomach.  I like the idea that guests aren’t allowed to contaminate the food before I get to it. Interesting fact:  Holland America requires crew members to serve ALL food and drink – even water – for the first 48 hrs of a cruise – to decrease the spread of illness.
  • So…what if you DO get sick…then what?  You can make a trip to the ship’s medical center (Travel insurance MAY pay for this visit if you find it necessary…but KNOW your policy)  but realize that medical science can not make a virus ‘go away’.  They can only help you deal with the symptoms while the virus runs its course.  The only cure for viruses is ‘time’ and rest.
    • Keep hydrated (water)  🙂
    • Stay in your cabin.  Please!!!  🙂  I’ve heard stories of cruisers who decide they’re not going to waste their vacation and they continue to come and go around the ship while sick. Folks….THAT’S DOWNRIGHT CRUEL AND SELFISH!! Don’t do that to other passengers.  Be humane!!!
    • Initially, ALLOW your body to rid itself of the virus by allowing the diarrhea and vomiting while staying hydrated of course.  (It’s the body’s natural way to get rid of those toxins) After a reasonable amount of time, you can stop the diarrhea with Pepto Bismol (or similar med).  This is expensive on the ship (and perhaps in short supply)  It’s a good idea to bring a small bottle with you.  (available at the Dollar Tree…for $1)
  • It will take 1-3 days after exposure for symptoms to appear. They will last 24-48 hrs with diligent hygiene. You may still be contagious for 1-2 weeks!  BE AWARE that you can bring this home to family and friends…  Know this and be diligent with personal hygiene for a while!!!
  • On a Positive Note:  When there is a significant outbreak, the ship crew cleans more thoroughly than usual…with stronger solvents.  They serve guests at the buffet.  They go to great effort to keep passengers healthy as a report to the CDC hurts their ‘reputation’.  CHOOSE to see these efforts as ‘positive’ not ‘negative’. 🙂
  • Final Note:  A Norovirus outbreak does NOT mean you’re on an unclean ship any more than an outbreak of the flu in your family means your house is filthy.  Cleanliness is closely monitored and some of the greatest outbreaks have happened on ships that have passed inspections with scores of 99 & 100%.
  • Cruise lines are not required to compensate guests if they become ill on a cruise.  There have been occasions when port stops have been cancelled due to extremely high instances of illness on the ship (controlled by the port/country, NOT the cruiseline so don’t blame them…)  and if that happens, there will be a refund of any port charges for those missed ports, but don’t expect any more compensation than that.  All of these policies will be outlined in your cruise contract.  It’s not a bad idea to read this contract before you head on your cruise….since you DID agree to its terms.  🙂
  • Travel insurance may cover you if you cancel your cruise due to illness BEFORE you go or cover medical expenses incurred while on board (visit to ship’s doctor or departure from the ship due to serious illness), but will not compensate you for ‘loss of enjoyment’ if you are ill and unable to enjoy your cruise as you wanted. That’s just a risk we take when we travel. Of course it’s ALL determined by the level of policy/coverage you purchase.  Shop carefully, but By All Means….Buy Travel Insurance!!!


If you read very many forums or blog posts, you’ll come across the inevitable post about someone who encountered the ‘fellow passenger with no manners’.  I hate to admit it, but Yes, those people exist.

How do you avoid being one of ‘those people’?  Basically…   If the rules ask you not to save pool chairs, then don’t.  🙂  (And if you do, don’t be surprised if someone ‘helps themselves’ to your book….or sunglasses….or hat ….  It might be ME!!  haha)   Be considerate (i.e. quiet) when walking down the hallways at night or early in the morning.  Be considerate when opening and closing your balcony or room doors.   If cruising with children, instruct them on good manners.  (Btw, elevator buttons are not toys.)cruise towel animal

OK…I’m going to say it:  If children aren’t able to use good manners, consider leaving them with Grandma while you cruise.  (I don’t mean to be harsh here, but teaching and expecting good manners of children seems to be less and less common these days.)  Good manners and common courtesy are important in the close quarters of a cruise ship.  🙂 🙂

Just Remember – When on a cruise and living in close proximity to lots of people…  Consideration is imperative.   Have good manners.  Teach and require good manners of your children.   We’ll all have a better cruise!!  🙂

Other Posts on Cruising: