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embarkation day

20 Things to Do on the First Day of Your Cruise

in Cruise Tips
First Day Cruise Ideas

Ideas for things to do after boarding

You’ve made it through the embarkation process and finally boarded the boat.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed with options on the first day of your vacation. Boarding hours are usually between 11 AM to 2:30 PM on most cruise lines, depending on the scheduled departure time.  Keep in mind that your cabin and luggage may not be available for hours after you board, so make sure to pack your boarding bag accordingly. Here are 20 first day cruise ideas for you to consider:

  1. Eat Lunch
    Since the embarkation times overlap with the lunch rush, you may be hungry by the time you get through security and check-in.  Most cruise ships open up their main lunch buffet for guests.  Keep in mind that the buffet is often crowded for this reason, so if there’s another restaurant open on board – consider trying it instead.
  1. Take a Tour
    While you won’t be allowed in the cabin room areas until they’ve been cleaned, there is plenty to see.  For those who want a walk-through, there is often a guided tour of the ship offered.  Alternately, you can use the deck maps and set out exploring on your own.
  1. Pose for Some Pictures
    Since the cruise is less crowded, the first day is often the best time to get some photos taken around the ship.  Just try to stay off the main pathways.
  1. Share Your Special Dining Requests
    If you have food allergies or other special dining needs, its usually best to make them the first day that you board.  Usually, you can speak with the headwaiter or dining room host to set this up.  If you follow a kosher or halal diet, make sure you know what you’ll be getting before you book!
  1. Make Reservations
    You can make reservations for the spa, specialty restaurants, and shows.  Some cruises let you book these before you board, but many will make you wait until you are checked-in before allowing this.  Keep in mind that offerings during the ship’s Days at Sea often fill up first and fast.
  1. Schedule Shore Excursions
    If you didn’t do it already online, you can change or schedule an excursion after you board.  The shore excursion desk is typically located near the guest services on a cruise ship.  Lines can be long for this on the first day.
  1. Visit the Children’s Club
    There is usually a free open house at the kids’ club onboard on the first day, it lets your kids check it out before you officially register.  The clubs are typically complimentary, but require a one-time registration.  This is also a great chance for them to meet other cruising kids in their age group.
  1. Go for a swim
    The pools are practically empty on the first day.  That makes it the perfect time to go for a dip.  This goes double for the hot tubs.  Many people don’t want to get wet before they get their luggage, but if you’ve planned ahead properly, that shouldn’t be a problem for you. Towels are available for rental, so just make sure you pack your swimsuit in your boarding bag.
  2. Start Sunbathing
    |The pools aren’t the only thing empty on the first day.  Loungers everywhere are available, if you prefer soaking up the sun instead of a swim.  The bars are also open, so you can grab that piña colada while getting started on your tan.
  1. Meet a Character
    If you’re on a Disney cruise, you are probably planning to meet some characters.  There are always some character greetings the first day.  These are frequently less attended than those later in the week.
  1. Try an Activity
    Cruises have a variety of different activity offerings. Since most are less crowded on the first day, it’s the perfect time to try them out.  While other guests are wandering aimlessly around the ship, you could be playing miniature golf or shooting hoops at the basketball court.
  1. Learn How to Play Poker
    Have you ever been interested in learning table games, but without the financial risk?  Casinos often have free gaming lessons, which can be great if you want to gamble but don’t know the ropes.  Try not to feel pressured to purchase after receiving free information.
  1. Download the Mobile App
    Most major cruise lines have their own free mobile app.  This typically contains deck plans, restaurant menus, and activities information.  Some ships even offer a message system to help you keep in contact with other passengers. Mobile apps use the ship Wi-Fi, typically at no cost.
  1. Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode
    Avoid international fees, but putting your phone on airplane mode.  Many apps, such as WhatsApp and Skype offer free calling, video calls, and messaging with access to Wi-Fi.
  1. Sign Up for the Spa Raffle
    Interested free spa services? Sign-up for the spa raffle.  You’ll have to both sign up and then show up for the raffle drawing.  Since guests often have to be present to win, this can increase your chances of getting free stuff.  They usually take about 30 minutes of your time and everyone who attends gets a discount offer. Prizes include free facials, tooth-whitening, and manicures.
  1. Compete for Free Prizes
    Cruises have trivia type games throughout the cruise.  These are more lightly attended the first day, so you are more likely to win. The topics range from Harry Potter Trivia to Naming TV Tunes.  You can win things like hats, water bottles, t-shirts, and magnet, which make great souvenirs.
  1. Unpack
    Make your temporary home comfortable by unpacking and organizing your personal items.  If you would like any changes to your stateroom, such as having the beds separated, just let your cabin steward know.
  1. Attend the Muster Drill
    Every ship has a mandatory muster drill (aka the lifeboat or assembly drill).  This takes place around 3:30 PM, once the embarkation process has closed.  All ship activities are typically suspended for a prior to and directly after the drill.  However, you’ll want to make sure you are not otherwise occupied during that time.  Instructions will be provided by the captain and crew.  These drills only last about 30 minutes.  You can be kicked off a ship for non-compliance, so don’t skip it.
  1. Pick your Position
    After the muster drill, many people start seeking out spots to watch the ship leave port from.  If your traveling companions are not in the same muster drill group as you (this is based on room location), make sure you have a plan where to meet up afterward.  Ships typically set sail between 5 and 6 PM.
  1. Relax
    The great thing about cruising is that you don’t have to do anything unless you want to.  You can take a nap in your room or sit out on your stateroom balcony.  This is YOUR vacation, so take it at whatever pace you prefer.

What to do once on board your cruise before you embark

in Cruise Tips
Embarkation day

The day you have been planning and waiting for has finally arrived – cruise embarkation day!  You’ve travelled to your port city, you’ve been through the check-in process, and you’re finally on board the ship of your dreams, ready to set sail!  However, most passengers have a few hours before they can get into their staterooms or get their luggage, and embarkation is still late in the evening. What do you do to fill the time?  With a little advance planning and these traveler tips, you can begin enjoying your cruise even with the ship tied to the dock.

Use embarkation day to prepare

Explore the ship – Cruise ships are getting larger and larger all the time, and finding your way around making it a challenge with so many decks and passageways. Why not take this time to acquaint yourself with the layout of the ship and learn the most convenient routes to dining, entertainment and amenities?  You can download maps of the ship in advance, or ask for one at check in.  You’ll know your room number even if you can’t get into it yet, so start there. Most ships have a large formal dining area or large theater space at the rear (stern) of the ship, exercise facilities or a spa near the front (bow) and retail shopping in the center (midship).  Cruise lines are constantly one-upping each other, so what you have on your ship may vary widely.  Take the time to find out what is unique to your vessel (hint: ask a crewmember) and be on the lookout for quiet nooks to enjoy a book or a few hours alone.  Keep in mind that the starboard (right) and port (left) sides of a ship are not always mirror images, so don’t assume you can travel the same path on either side of the ship. Getting the lay of the land before you embark can save time and frustration later.

Finalize excursions – Most people book their shore excursions well in advance, and with some cruise lines, it is the only option available.  But, for others, waiting until they are on-board allows them to be certain of the weather that week and book tours accordingly. Cruise lines often change excursions at the last minute, and passengers cancel excursions for a variety of reasons, so there may be a spot on that rafting trip you had your eye on after all!

If you are interested in visiting some out-of-the-way destinations not on the ship’s itinerary, the excursion staff is still the best place to start. They can tell you more about what destinations are popular and which to avoid, as well as offering advice on avoiding scams and which tour operators they trust. The excursion staff will be their busiest on embarkation day, so get to the desk as early as possible.

Book on-board amenities – There’s so much to do on board cruise ships these days, you might never want to leave! Waiting for embarkation is the perfect time to visit the ship’s spa for a tour and to book the services that appeal to you most. Consider booking a vigorous massage after a strenuous excursion such as hiking or a weight-loss treatment near the end of the week to help counteract the amazing desserts you are sure not to resist. Stop by the salon to book a mani/pedi and new hairstyle so you look your best for any formal dining plans.  Each ship has unique amenities, including mini-golf, skeet shooting and even ice skating, all of which require advanced registration.  Use your time on embarkation day to learn what’s new and unique on your ship.

Make dining reservations – Most cruises offer either traditional dining, where everyone eats in the main dining room at one of two set meal times, or flexible dining, where you visit different restaurants throughout the ship.  For flexible dining, be aware that reservations are recommended, and required if you want to dine at the most popular spots. While most cruisers make reservations in advance, visiting each option may change your mind about where and when to eat. You may also notice a particularly romantic table that is worth waiting for. Like excursions, cancellations do happen, so check back often if you have your heart set on something that wasn’t available pre-departure.  For traditional dining, embarkation day is the time to change your meal time between early and late if you are unhappy with your assignment. You should also ask about the dining schedule for the week, as some cruise lines offer a mix of formal and casual nights.  You might want to skip a casual night to order a pizza and dine al-fresco, or rent a tuxedo for a formal night and really live it up!

Take this time to relax

Hit the hot tub – You’ve been travelling a while – and standing in a lot of lines – just to get on board.  What better way to pass the time until your room is ready than relaxing in a hot tub? Because hot tubs tend to get crowded after you embark, day one is the best time for soothing sore muscles.  Pack a bathing suit and sunblock in your carry-on and you are ready for a soak: the ship will offer towels and a place to change. Sitting in a hot tub is also the perfect cover for those of us who enjoy people-watching, a great embarkation day activity because everyone is on the move!

Head to the bar – The sun is shining, breezes are blowing, and the excitement of a vacation lies ahead, but you’re still stressed out.  Air travel, parking, worrying if you left the iron on…it can be hard for some of us to relax and let go. Thankfully, cruise ships have specialists on board to help with the transition: Bartenders. Nothing helps to melt away stress like a colorful, fruity drink with an umbrella on it, with or without the alcohol. Saddling up to the bar before you embark gives you the opportunity to sit and talk to the bartender about where to go and what to see during your itinerary.  You’ll likely be surrounded by experienced travelers who can also make suggestions.

Grab a bite to eat – Your room may not be ready, and your luggage may not have arrived yet, but one thing is for certain: there is food to eat somewhere on board. Whether you prefer casual poolside dining or an intimate restaurant experience, your ship is sure to have plenty of options available. Dining is a big part of the cruise experience, so there’s no time like the present to get started.  Popular eateries tend to be less crowded on embarkation day, so it might be your only chance to hit the hottest spot on board.

Enjoy the spa – Time in the spa can often book up during a cruise, but the day of embarkation is generally pretty quiet.  Head straight to the spa and see what is available immediately. It’s a great way to unwind, and since all you’ll need is a bathrobe, not having your luggage is no problem. You may even get a reduced rate for a service if you agree to be a model for arriving guests taking a tour of the spa. People will be staring, but you’ll be wrapped in seaweed without a care in the world!

Get some exercise – Cruise ships offer amazing exercise facilities that rival the best gyms on land. As passengers start counting the calories they have collected at the buffet, it can get harder and harder to find open exercise equipment. Embarkation day offers the perfect opportunity to jump-start your workout routine and get to know the equipment and classes the ship offers.  Working up a sweat helps to cut stress, allowing you to relax faster and get to sleep easier once the ship embarks and heads to sea.

So whether you choose to prepare or relax, you should definitely consider embarkation day the first day of your cruise. Don’t waste time sitting and stressing over how long it is taking for your luggage to arrive; pack a few essentials in your carry-on and start enjoying yourself immediately!


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