I’ve been thinking about what to say in this post for a while now. It’s not that I don’t know what I like to do on embarkation day. Believe me, I do. It’s just that I don’t want anyone to think that this is a my way or the highway post. Recently, I was asked to describe myself. I simply said that I am a cruising enthusiast and blogger at Boardingarea.com. You will note that the words expert, specialist, pontificus, or illustrious grand poobah did not make the cut. I have never represented myself as anything other than a guy who likes miles, points, and cruising. That said, I’m fairly certain that I have an above average knowledge-base on cruising. With that, let’s talk about how I handle embarkation day.

If you haven’t noticed, I love cruising. I love ships, boats (hell yes, there is a difference between a ship and a boat), submarines, water, and anything else remotely related to sailing the oceans. I love the way the breeze feels as it blows through my hair. Haha. OK…let’s get serious. Embarkation day is something I really look forward to. Most cruises I book are reserved months in advance. In short, there’s a lot of anticipation involved. Vacation and days off are my two favorite things about working for a living, and a cruise is the ultimate vacation. The ultimate vacation should be fun, and that’s the way I look at embarkation day…..time to have fun.

Most cruise ships start boarding in the 11:30 to 12:00 timeframe, and I plan my arrival at port accordingly. Even if your documentation says 2:00PM, most of the time, you can get on the ship a little earlier. I have found that for your average Caribbean cruise, 11:30 to noon is a sweet spot that makes for a pleasant embarkation experience. I will note that I have recently read that some cruise lines are advising guests to arrive no earlier than noon for certain sailings, stating that immigration formalities have been delayed due to US government budget cuts. YMMV. Now that we got that bit of a downer out of the way, let’s play.

When arriving at the port, have your boarding documents, passport, and a couple of bucks to tip your porter in hand. Even if I am cruising with only my airline style roller bag, I check the bag with the porter. Staterooms typically are not available until 1PM or sometimes later on boarding day, and I don’t want to deal with a carry on bag. Of course, if you arrive after 1PM, you can just drop your bag off at your stateroom. It’s just that my stateroom is rarely where I want to go first. Here is how MJ rolls on embarkation day:

  1. Cocktail
  2. Make specialty restaurant reservations
  3. Make spa appointments
  4. Lunch
  5. Pool
  6. Unpack before lifeboat drill
  7. Head up top for the sail away party after lifeboat drill
Yes, pretty much in that order. Note that it is possible to book specialty restaurants and spa appointments online in advance, but you may have to pay for them in advance as well. If you don’t care about that, rock on with booking in advance. Smaller ships may have only one dining option open during embarkation, while a giant ship like Allure of the Seas will have multiple venues open. If you are cruising on a “mass market” line, and you have an option other than anything that says “buffet,” go for it. You are likely to have a more peaceful experience. MrsMJ and I opted for Rita’s Cantina on Allure of the Seas, and were happy to pay the small seating fee and a la carte charges to do so to avoid huge crowds in the Windjammer Buffet. Plus, you can get things like this at Rita’s.
Yes, that is a big drink…. came with a matching price tag, but it was worth it! 🙂 What a way to start a cruise! Never fear, I’d be just as happy having just boarded a cruise if that glass was full of Diet Dr. Pepper….well, almost. My point being that crossing the gangway and getting that first drink, first lunch, and first pool visit in are just a few of the signs that you are about to really get away from it all.
Finally, it’s time for my favorite thing about embarkation day…sail away. Some ports are prettier than others to sail out of, but there’s something special about watching the lines drop, pushing away from the dock, and starting your vacation. Text your friends a few goodbye pictures, and then turn your cell phone on airplane mode or off. Sail away is my favorite. On the big mass market lines, you can expect a party on the pool deck. I love a good party. Most of all, I love sailing out of port, waiving at well wishers and that little moment when you pass from the port….past the beach and can say you are at sea! Leave your cares behind. It’s time to play!