For the next few blogs, I’m going to help those of you who are “virgin cruisers” .. or people who have always wanted to cruise but were afraid to. I was in the same boat (sorry, that was sad cruise pun) at one time. I NEVER had ANY inclination to cruise – but that has changed. And even with the recent pandemic experience, I’m still looking forward to our next adventure.
Ready, packed … Go!
So .. you’re all set to take that leap. You’re excited … and stressed.
This blog is going to take you from leaving home – to the pier and into the embarking lounge, getting just steps away from the dream vacation you have been planning. It’s finally going to happen.
But, the stress really isn’t necessary. There are measures you can take to alleviate A LOT of it. In the past, we’ve learned that budgeting ourselves to start our vacation a day earlier is of great peace of mind. It takes a little back-tracking, but it works out well.
Most cruises depart on Sunday afternoons.
Now, if you’re lucky to live within a few hours of your departure city you can simply pack up the car and head out that morning. But, like most of us – there is a flight prior to the cruise we must consider (and worry about — late departures, weather, cancellations). In order to get to a port-city, most of us have to leave on the first flight in the morning in order to be on ground at least 3hrs prior ship departure. At this point alone, you are rushing because you are not the only person in the same predicament. If you CANNOT get into your departure city at least 3hrs prior, I suggest another option.
We’ve taken to flying into our departure city the night before and getting an inexpensive hotel not far from the pier so we can get up at a normal time, lounge around and have breakfast BEFORE heading to the pier.
… the NIGHT BEFORE
If you have flown into your port city, make sure you take off your flight luggage tags and exchange them with your “ship tags”. These are usually given to you when you pick up all your sailing papers and once registered on-line. Most cruise-lines are switching to on-line registration only to help speed up the entire process and get you through the lines quicker with as little human interaction as possible. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT you have these tags on your bags PRIOR to going to the port, especially if you wish to have luggage sent to your room(s).
If you had flown in the night before, “try” to get a good nights sleep. This is where flying in the night before pays off a little, because you don’t have to get up so early to get to the ship unless you are required to be on the earliest boarding lists. Most cruise-lines are now assigning specific boarding times which will be shown on those final sailing papers. Like an airport, a cruise terminal is a busy place. Try to get to the pier at least an hour before your suggested boarding time.
You have all your luggage tagged, but make sure to leave ONE SMALL bag out which you can carry on. All luggage will be surrendered upon arrival and you may not see it again until later in the evening, when they drop it off outside your cabin so make sure you have:
- your sailing papers with all your information
- PASSPORT and legal identification, wallet etc.
- a signed doctors note if required by the cruise-lines
- any medications you will need for the day
- a change of clothes if you plan on swimming while waiting to get access to your stateroom
- a bottle of water (in case those lines are longer than expected prior to getting onboard)
- SUNGLASSES / hat
- FACE MASKS since it is inevitable you will be in areas where social distancing will be near to impossible to maintain.
All set? It’s time to call your cab/shuttle, and head out.
… the CURBSIDE LUGGAGE CHECK POINT
I remember the first cruise we went on (aboard ALLURE of the SEAS, the largest ship on the oceans at that time) and how amazed I was as out taxi was driving us into the port. The ship was MASSIVE. Now, I know — any sized ship is pretty intimidating when you are closer to it, but this “thing” … it literally took my breath away – and we were still BLOCKS away!.
And then we arrived …
Because taxis are in a rush to get you off so they can get the next fare, you are dropped off at any available open spot, which COULD be close to a porter / it COULD NOT. No need to panic as most terminals have ample signage and directions. Once you find a porter, you will hand over all your luggage (except that one to carry with you onboard mentioned above) who will then add them to the hundreds of other pieces.
Behind the scenes, your luggage will be scanned for items not allowed on the ship including alcohol, and especially small electrical applianes like toasters and coffee makers (I have seen it, trust me). Anything NOT ALLOWED onboard is taken and placed in storage until you return. If you are returning to a different port … say good-bye to that item.
Now that we are POST COVID, all luggage will now be sanitized prior to going on ship. Companies are still finding the most effective and economic way to do this, but most are implimenting a TSA like machine that will mist each item as it passes through. Another idea is an ultra-sonic “wash” so all items inside can be cleansed at the same time.
So, you’ve said good-bye to your luggage, and it’s now time to find the right line so you can get into the embarkation terminal. Some cruise-lines are creating a “greeter kiosk” who will tend to your needs. I can understand this completely with the need to observe those designated boarding times and help monitor social distancing at the same time.
It is at this point, BEFORE YOU ENTER THE TERMINAL where you may be subjected to the first of many temperature scans. This could be done manually with a swipe of a thermometer on your forehead, or by passing a thermal scanner. Coming up GREEN, you’re clear to proceed … RED? hmmmmm. Remember, this temperature screening will go on throughout the cruise and is for the safety of everyone onboard.
… you’ve entered the EMBARKATION TERMINAL
THIS IS DEFINITELY WHERE YOUR MASK (in your carry-on bag) will be of essence. Yeah, the lines outside really didn’t shrink much, but like an airport there are several agents ready to get you registered and moving. I’m sure there will be space-markers on the floors like in our shopping outlets now, but instead of one individual per space, I’m sure it will be based on reservation / stateroom. This is where your sailing papers come into play (again, in your carry-on bag).
When you first approach the agent, present your sailing papers so he/she can get you in the system while you answer the medical / travel questionaire. They will again ask for the credit card you will be using while on board. Remember, a cruise is a CASH-LESS society, but this DOES NOT MEAN it’s a free-for-all. ANY and EVERYTHING you purchase beyond your pre-cruising expenses will be added to your account and a summary delivered to your stateroom the last day of the cruise.
With ROYAL CARIBBEAN, each passenger is assigned a “sea-pass” card which holds ALL IMPORTANT INFORMATION about you. A photo of yourself will be taken so every time the card is scanned, your photo pops up on computer screen for additional security. This measure stops anyone from using your card for like getting cocktails or shopping in any of the stores. ROYAL CARIBBEAN was in the proccess of using bracelets instead of the cards which is a great idea since you are touching that card numerous times a day — which means you should be sanitizing your hands after every use.
Once you’ve gotten your “sea-pass” card you are set to head into your pre-boarding screening.
... the SCREENING LOUNGE
is basically another line where your “sea-pass” gets it’s first test. This also doubles as a CUSTOMS CLEARANCE POINT, so having your passport handy may be necessary at this time.
Through another set of doors where you will find those annoying photographers wanting to take your “cruise memory photo” in front of some ultra fake backdrop. I always wondered why they just didn’t shoot with the actual ship … but since a port is technically “FEDERAL PROPERTY”, photos are not allowed. Plus … at times you’ll have luggage on carts and food deliveries as a back-drop … not that appealing.
… and look where we are now ….. another line.
so close, yet you’re still on the dock. ■