Cruising 101: Getting on your Cruise

The Celebrity Eclipse is ready for loading at Canada Place, Vancouver’s cruise terminal.

Check In On-Line

Before your cruise is scheduled to sail, you will get an email asking you to check in to your cruise. This allows you to enter all the information needed to print luggage tags. You can also pre-book excursions, specialty dining, and more. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to print your luggage tags and other documentation. The sooner you go through this process, the sooner you’ll be ready to go … or at least discover any glitches or misinformation. Once your luggage tags are printed, you’re on your way!

The instructions on the printable luggage tags tell you to fold them and staple them around the handle of your suitcase. If you have booked with us, we’ll give you a special luggage tag. Simply fold and insert. No staples to poke you, and no ink that will run if caught in the rain!

Getting There Can Be Easy!

First of all, if you work with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, getting to your ship need not be a problem, or even an inconvenience.  Why? We can take care of your flight, lodging the night before (or even pre cruise excursions), and transfers between airport, hotel, and ship.  “But all of that costs money,” you might lament.  Transfers may not save you money, but they definitely save you worry, time, and energy.  You’ll arrive at the airport, look for a sign with your name on it, and the holder of that sign will take you to your hotel.  The next day, you’re off on your cruise, and when it’s over, you’ll be delivered back to the airport again for your trip home. Easy!  Or… you can shuttle, train, or taxi as well.  Either way…

Arrive the Night Before!

Most ship boarding doesn’t begin until noon, although certain class cabins offer the privilege of boarding early.  Even then you need to wait for the previous passengers to disembark and for all of the food and other supplies to be loaded. You would think, then, that you plenty of time to make it to the ship if you take a morning flight.  But things happen. We have never risked going against the advice to leave early, and the price of the hotel the night before is more than worth the peace of mind that you will not miss the special vacation you’ve planned for so long.  

For our first cruise, we boarded our flight from Denver to Chicago, but there were mechanical difficulties.  Rather than unloading the plane, they showed a movie while we waited for the plane to be repaired.  Then they showed another movie!  By the time the plane was travel-worthy and we had flown to Chicago, we had missed our connecting flight to Miami. The airline took the responsibility for the missed flight and rescheduled us, but we still didn’t get to Miami until the next morning!  Because we flew the day before the cruise was scheduled to begin, the worst thing that happened was we didn’t get to stay in the hotel we had reserved in Miami.  They were very understanding, by the way, and we were not charged for the night. 

What would have happened if we had not planned an extra day of travel? The cruise would have left without us, and our only option would have been to purchase another flight to the next stop, if available, and then find lodging until the ship arrived there.  

The lesson? Rent a hotel room the night before your cruise.  You won’t be sorry.  And the bonus is the port city you’re leaving from probably has some great things to offer your vacation on its own merit.  Take a walking tour of downtown at the very least.  Or book a pre-cruise excursion. After all, you’re traveling all that way.  Why not take full advantage of the dollars you spent to get there?

Book Your Hotel Near the Cruise Terminal

If it’s possible, book your hotel walking distance, a short cab ride, or in close proximity to public transportation.  Taking a quick tour of the site around the terminal BEFORE you’re loaded down with luggage will help you feel more comfortable about your departure and save some steps when it’s time to go.  Plus it’s really fun to see all the activity involved in getting that cruise ready to go. The cruise line will usually have directional signs set up in advance, such as where to take your luggage and how and where to check in once you’ve delivered it.


Once it’s time for embarkation, there are several steps.  You’ll see signs showing each of these steps, and they’re usually numbered.  

Step 1: Drop off your luggage.  Be sure to have your cruise tags on it so it is easy for the crew to get it to your room. We learned on a cruise earlier this year what happens when you don’t carefully follow all of these signs.  We inadvertently went straight to step 2, and by the time we realized it, it was too late to go back.  The result:  We  ended up carrying on all of our luggage!  It’s difficult to tour the ship or enjoy the buffet when you’re loaded down with bags! 

It takes a while for your luggage to be delivered to your room, so you might want to be wearing or carrying whatever clothing you want for the first day.  For example, if you want to take advantage of the swimming pool as soon as you’re on board, carry your swimsuit on with you.  Also, carry or wear whatever you plan to wear for dinner that first evening.  With these precautions, you won’t waste a moment of worry wondering when your luggage will arrive!

Step 2: Check-In. This step seems daunting, but at least everyone is in a good mood! If you have pre-checked in on-line, it’s much faster because all you have to do is show your boarding documents and photo identification. The ship staff will also take your picture for facial recognition purposes as you are entering and exiting the ship. They’ll also give you a key card you should keep on your person during the entire trip. It works as a key card for your room, to check in and out of the ship, and for any onboard purchases.

Depending on the class of cabin you book, you can often skip a lot of the line, too. There are lots of people helping, so it goes fairly quickly, and they often have water or other refreshments to make your wait a little more comfortable.


Step 3: Customs, If Required. This step varies by ship and by itinerary. Most cruises do visit foreign ports, so some kind of immigration process is necessary. Sometimes this means your passport is collected so the ship can clear as a whole. Your passport will then be returned to your room. Other times, there is a formalized customs process upon arrival in the other country and then again in the United States.

Step 4: The Fun Begins! Once you’ve made your way to the ship, there is usually a celebration of some kind — one that always involves food, drink, and lots of photo opportunities! Take a tour of the ship as soon as possible so you’ll know what’s available at the beginning of your cruise instead of finding that special place at the end when it’s too late to enjoy it!

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