The faster you get on the cruise ship on embarkation day, the sooner you can start enjoying your vacation.
Unlimited food and posh amenities await you, and it’s only feet away when you’re in the cruise terminal. It can feel like torture if you have to wait a long time to board your ship.
If you don’t want to spend all morning waiting in lines, or if you just wish you could speed things up, this post is for you.
Here are 7 proven ways to board your cruise ship faster on embarkation day.
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Check in online as soon as availability opens
The simplest and easiest way to get on the ship faster is taking care of the check-in process early. I wrote about this in the post on 19 things you should do on embarkation day.
Every cruise line has its own procedure for when they open up the check-in process. Carnival allows you to check-in 14 days before the cruise date, for Royal Caribbean it’s 45 days, and for Norwegian Cruise Line you can check in 21 days before a sailing.
Look up your specific cruise line to see exactly how early you can check in and then set an alarm or reminder on your phone for that date. If you can check in using the cruise line’s app or website the very first day you have a better chance of having an early boarding time.
Cruise lines offer several boarding times and can only allow for so many in each slot. For obvious reasons the early times are taken first. Be among the first to check in and it will feel like you’re getting priority access at the terminal.
Note: You don’t have to complete the entire check-in process in most cases. For instance, with Royal Caribbean’s app you can simply pick your check-in time, add some basic information and come back later to complete the rest.
Pay up for priority access
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Many cruise lines allow you to pay a little extra for priority access to the ship. The concept is simple: pay a few bucks and skip the lines.
These programs often offer other perks as well that are usually only reserved for suite passengers.
Royal Caribbean has “The Key“, Carnival has “Faster to the Fun“, and Norwegian has the “Priority Access Pass“. Let’s look at what some of these early-access programs offer.
Royal Caribbean: The Key
“The Key” program by Royal Caribbean offers priority access at the terminal, baggage delivery to stateroom, welcome lunch from Chops Grille, VIP show access, and priority departure. The price for The Key varies by sailing, but prices start at $25 per guest for each day of the cruise.
That means if a couple buys The Key for a 7 day cruise it will cost at least $350. Here are some of the benefits included with this program:
- Priority access to terminal
- Priority boarding
- Carry-on bag drop off in the main dining room
- Welcome lunch at Chops Grille
- Exclusive access to time slots for rock climbing, FlowRider etc.
- Priority tender access
- VIP access to shows in Main theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, and Two70
- Surf & Stream high-speed internet package
- Special breakfast on debarkation day and choice of departure time
Carnival Cruise Line: Faster to the Fun (FTTF)
After having paused this program during the cruise re-openings , Carnival is now offering Faster to the Fun again. The price will be different depending on which port you’re sailing from $59.95 in Miami to $129.95 in Seattle.
Here’s what is included in FTTF:
- Priority check-in
- Faster stateroom access once on board
- Luggage brought to stateroom faster
- Dedicated phone number for guest services
- Priority dining reservations
- Expedited water shuttle from ship to shore
- Priority debarkation
Norwegian Cruise Line: Priority Access Pass
Norwegian’s priority program offers everything from faster embarkation to quicker tendering, and even a faster debarkation process. The cost is $129 for a 3-5 day cruise and $199 for a 6-9 day cruise with higher rates for longer voyages.
Norwegian’s priority access program includes:
- Priority Check-In and Boarding
- Tender Priority
- Priority Debarkation
- Daily Complimentary Standard Room Service Breakfast
- $50 Spa Discount per person (Port Days Only)
- Complimentary Canapés (a French hors d’oeuvre) on second day.
Other cruise lines have some sort of priority-access program as well.
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MSC Cruises has three “experiences” to choose from: Bella, Fantastica, and Aurea. Aurea is the most expensive options and could cost anywhere from $150 to $600 more than the lowest cost experience.
The Aurea experience provides much more than just priority access and luggage drop off, also including access to the Top Exclusive Solarium, access to the thermal suite, discounted drink package rates, free delivery of room service and more.
Club Orange by Holland America Line offers passengers priority access to exclusive perks and amenities, including priority check-in, stateroom upgrades, and an intimate dining venue on select ships. Members also get invitations to special events, like behind-the-scenes tours of the ship.
Level up your stateroom
Booking a suite has more advantages than you may think. The first time I booked a suite was on Celebrity Silhouette. I didn’t even have a chance to sit down in the Port Everglades terminal before I was welcomed onto the ship. And after hopping aboard I was invited to a special lounge for suite guests with all kinds of complimentary foods and beverages.
And from there the perks just kept coming.
Just one of the perks of being a suite guest on a cruise ship is having priority access. In addition to that you get to the best locations on the ship, personalized service, exclusive amenities, and other complimentary perks.
One of my favorite benefits was having access to an amazing restaurant that was reserved for suite guests only. It was 6 years ago and I still remember my waiter’s name.
Yes, a suite is more expensive. And it may seem way out of your budget. But I have a helpful suggestion.
If you ever wanted to see what the “suite life” was all about I recommend booking a short 3 day cruise. This way you’re paying about half the price of a week-long cruise and you can test the waters.
The only trouble is you may get hooked on it, and then you will have to come up with the cash for the next cruise.
Read more: 7 reasons you should splurge for a suite on a cruise
Take advantage of loyalty perks
While I do enjoy sailing on many different cruise lines and seeing how they compare, sticking with one line can get you those loyalty perks. And loyalty perks usually involve priority access to the ship.
One of the best parts? Your loyalty status doesn’t reset at the end of the year. As long as the cruise line doesn’t make a drastic change to their program you will keep reaping the rewards for every cruise. I won’t go into every perk these loyalty programs offer, but you can check out our comparison of the loyalty programs on 8 different cruise lines.
Here is a list of several cruise lines that offer priority boarding when you gain loyalty status and what it takes to get there:
- Carnival Cruise Line: VIFP Club. This requires Platinum tier with at least 75 points. You get a point for each day you cruise with the line. For example, a 7-day cruise nets you 7 points.
- Norwegian Cruise Line: Latitudes Rewards. Priority check-in and embarkation requires the Platinum tier which is at least 75 points. You get a point for each night you spend on a Norwegian ship, with an additional point when booking a suite or The Haven stateroom.
- MSC Cruises: Voyagers Club. This requires the Diamond tier which is at least 10,000 points. The points you get for each cruise will vary based on the “experience” you select and the duration of your cruise. For example, a 7 day cruise with the Bella experience will earn you 500 points, while that same cruise with the Aurea experience will net you 1,000 points.
- Holland American Line: Mariner Society. This requires 4-Star Mariner status. To reach this status you will need at least 200 cruise day credits. Credits are doubled for suite and penthouse guests.
- Princess Cruises: Captain’s Circle. Priority boarding can be earned by reaching Platinum status with Princess. This will require at least six cruises or 51 cruise days with the line.
Most of the time if you have priority boarding you will also have priority disembarkation included as well.
Cruise lines want you to be loyal to them, so ranking up your loyalty tier is a great way to get faster boarding times in addition to a ton of other perks.
Note: MSC Cruises has a status match program, so you can carry over some of the perks you have with another cruise line. The benefits won’t always be the same, and you have to fill out a form and wait for approval. But once you’re approved you will get a 5% discount on any future MSC sailing along with some other discounts on ship amenities.
Let the porters take your bags
You should always let the cruise terminal porters take your large bags for you. I see some people skip this step because they want to save a few bucks on tipping. But if you opt to drag your suitcases all through the terminal and onto the ship you’re just slowing down the entire process.
Remember, if your suitcase will not fit through the x-rays at the security check-point you will have to employ the services of the porter anyway. And again, this just slows down that quick embarkation process.
Quick tip: You should always keep one bag with you. Whether it’s a backpack or carry-on, always keep a few things with you that you may need in the event your large bags are delayed in getting to your cabin. Things like medications, documents, passports, and even a bathing suit and some sunscreen can be kept in this bag.
After all, if you want to jump in that pool as soon as you get on the ship you might as well be prepared. If you get on the ship early you will find this is one of the best times to enjoy the cruise ship pools without any crowds.
Read more: 10 biggest tipping mistakes cruisers make
Avoid packing banned items
You should always check with the cruise line to see what is not allowed on their ships. Often this comes down to the ports of call being visited by the cruise line. For instance, although medical marijuana may be legal in parts of the United States, it is not allowed in most part of the Caribbean, and therefore will not be permitted on the ship.
Things like weapons, candles, and irons are on the list of things NOT to bring. Here is a list of a few prohibited things Royal Caribbean has on their website:
- Firearms and ammunition, including plastic replicas and toys
- Sharp objects like knives and scissors(scissors with a blade length of less than 4 inches are allowed)
- Illegal drugs and substances
- CBD oil and CBD products
- Candles and incense
- Coffee makers, clothes irons, travel steamers and hot plates
- Handcuffs, pepperspray, and night sticks
- Hookahs and water Hookah pipes
- HAM radios
- Electrical extension cords
- Dangerous chemicals
- Perishable foods and meat products
- Alcoholic beverages like beer, selter, or hard liquor
If you try to bring any of these things onto your cruise ship you will not only get the items confiscated, you could also be in some trouble with the law.
I don’t think I need to mention how this would slow down your boarding process, but it’s a key element to remember when cruising.
Each cruise line has their own list of prohibited items, so just make sure you follow those instructions and avoid being pulled to the side by security at the cruise terminal.
Have your document ducks in a row
If you want to have a hassle-free boarding process, it’s important to stay organized and keep all your important documents organized and easily accessible. This includes your passport, boarding pass, and any other necessary paperwork.
Believe me, searching for documents in your luggage is not only time-consuming but also frustrating. The embarkation process is stressful enough without adding in the guy behind you asking you to hurry things up in the most colorful of ways.
So, make sure you keep everything within reach and enjoy a smooth boarding process.
Now, if you’re planning to embark on a closed-loop itinerary that starts and ends in the United States, you can use your birth certificate and legal name change documentation to board. However, I highly recommend traveling with a passport. It’s just easier and faster. Plus, the agents at the port won’t have to take the extra time to verify your birth certificate.
Also, since your cruise will likely take you to foreign countries, it’s crucial to have a passport with you. You don’t want to find yourself stuck in a foreign land without your passport in a worst-case scenario.
By the way, there are still delays in the passport renewal process. So if you’ve been delaying getting your passport renewed and don’t have a trip planned any time soon, I’d recommend getting that taken care of.
To sum it all up
If getting onto your cruise ship as early as possible is important to you these tips above should help. The biggest key is being prepared and knowing when you should or shouldn’t pay extra to get on board faster.
If you don’t have extra room in the budget, the first point in this article will help the most. Simply check in on the very day availability opens. If you’re still not satisfied you can pay extra for the priority access some cruise lines offer.
Keep in mind that other factors may effect your boarding time. Cruise ships have to receive clearance from port authorities in order to be able to allow passengers from the previous cruise off the ship. And if this gets delayed it will also impact when you can embark.
And in that case there’s nothing you can do but sit back and make the best of it.
Just know that with some of the tips above you will still be able to get on the ship before most of the other passengers.