First Time Cruiser Series: All Aboard!

Welcome back to the First Time Cruiser Series. This is the final part of our series on what is involved in preparing for your cruise. By this point, you are a cruising professional with lots of tips, tricks, and knowledge in your back pocket! You might even strike up a conversation with fellow cruisers (and provide some suggestions for other first-time sailors).

Waiting inside Carnival’s Miami cruise terminal for the boarding process to begin.

If you’ve been following along, we last left you in the port terminal building. You’re carrying are your backpack (with essential items including soda and champagne), passport, and boarding documents. The only thing between you and the cruise ship is the (seemingly) long walk. Your boarding group gets called, you pick up your belongings and make your way to the bridges that carry you from the building to the ship. You can feel the anticipation and excitement building. There’s a certain energy in the air.

Welcome Aboard

You walk past port workers who have smiles on their faces as you make it to the gangway (we promise, it only seems like it’s miles long!). You step foot onto the ship and suddenly you’re surrounded. It’s all a bit chaotic at first – there’s someone selling lanyards and a live musician playing, and thousands of other cruisers making their way on board. #CruiseTip: Take a deep breath and just keep going. While it’s tempting to stop, there will be plenty of time to check all of this out. With all of the crewmembers welcoming you onboard and ushering you in, you feel like a celebrity. This is now your home for the next (insert length of cruise) days and the crew warmly invite you to cozy up to a bar or restaurant while the boarding process continues.

Stepping foot into the main atrium on the Carnival Sunrise for the 50th Sailabration!

#CruiseTip – go to the main buffet (Lido on Carnival, Windjammer on Royal Caribbean) and let the over-indulging begin. Take this time to find a spot for your group to gather and eat. You will likely find yourself gravitating to this same location throughout the cruise.

When we get onto the ship, we’ll usually head to one of the specialty (included) food venues first. We know that these venues will be popular once discovered by the other cruisers. Settle in and enjoy the feeling of getting to explore the massive beast on the water. From the smallest Fantasy-Class ships in Carnival, to the giant Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class ships, you’re sure to make some exciting discoveries on your first day.

Getting settled in

As you’re becoming more familiar with the “public” spaces of the ship, you’ll notice that there are announcements happening every so often across the public announcement system. There are two different sets of people that will make these announcements: Guest Relations, as they’re looking for fellow passengers or announcing the bunkering process (we’ll discuss what this means in a future article), or the Cruise Director.

Who is this “cruise director” and what do they do, you might ask? Think of them as the Master of Ceremonies for the entire duration of your sailing. They are present at the theater shows, the comedy club, deck parties, and atrium celebrations. They are seemingly everywhere on the ship at the same time.

Waiting to set sail on Celebrity Apex

One thing you’ll be hearing a lot about is to hop onto the ship’s Wi-Fi and begin using the cruise line’s app.

#CruiseTip – on embarkation day (the day you board the ship), have one person in your group connect to the Wi-Fi and log into the app. As mentioned in a previous post in the series, you’ll need to schedule which shows you’re going to, dining options (for up-charge restaurants), and other services. By doing this first-thing, you’ll get early pick to build out your schedule for the cruise.

After you’ve completed your reservation(s) for the sailing, make sure you follow proper protocol for the muster station drills. Post pandemic, this process is a little different, and not all of the cruise lines do the same practice, so pay attention to what your cruise director is instructing you to do to complete this drill. Everyone on the ship MUST complete the muster training process before the ship can set sail.

Where’s my Stateroom?

In most cases, when you board the ship, your stateroom won’t be ready. There’s a lot that goes into getting the guest rooms turned over so don’t expect to gain access to your room until at least 1:30pm. Refer to your boarding document to identify where your stateroom is located on the ship. In most cases, the first number, or first two numbers indicate which deck you’ll need to travel to. The exception to this is if you’re staying on deck 1, or deck 10 or higher. We have seen some of Carnival’s older ships with confusing numbering: take the Conquest-class for instance, Deck 1 rooms begin with number 1201, whereas Deck 10 rooms are 1001, and Deck 11 rooms are 1101. In any case, your boarding pass should inform you of what deck to go to.

Once you arrive to the correct deck where your room is, refer to the signs on both hallways on the sides of the ship. They will inform you that your room will be port or starboard. Port refers to the left side (port = 4 letters, left = 4 letters) of the ship as it travels forward through the water. Starboard refers to  the right side of the ship as it sails through water. The next thing you’ll need to figure out is if your room is forward towards the bow, or aft towards the stern.

Don’t let all of this information confuse you, though. The cruise lines know that there are many first-time cruisers onboard so they have done lots of planning to make this hunt easier. Your room key(s) will be waiting for you just outside of your stateroom door (if they weren’t distributed during check-in).

Once you get into your room, don’t be afraid to get settled in. Luggage may not be delivered until 4pm, so now is a great time to wipe down the highly touched surfaces using your Clorox wipes. Typically, when our luggage gets delivered, we’ll spend thirty minutes, or so, unpacking our suitcases. We’ll find a place for everything. Now is when these magnetic hooks are handy to have; you can slap them on the wall and hang your hat, or backpack.

#CruiseTip – stow your smaller carryon suitcase inside of the bigger checked bag and gently push the set under your bed. There’s more storage on the cruise ship than you may originally realized. The beds are high enough on most ships for you to discretely hide your luggage while you’re sailing in your new home away from home.


Whether you go wild with planning your entire cruise vacation down to each show you’ll attend before sailing away, or you like to just go with the flow, you’re in for an amazing cruise vacation. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading through this “First Time Cruiser Series” and gained some new knowledge as you prepare to embark on this exciting journey.

Mark enjoying a cocktail soon after he boarded the ship. The crowds haven’t arrived…yet.

As the ship gently sails away from the port, may you be blessed with an amazing adventure that was made a little easier because of your newfound knowledge! If you encountered any issues during this process, or found that additional information around a specific topic would have been helpful, please drop in a comment below. We love interacting with our readers. And, hopefully, we’ll catch you on a cruise ship soon (check out our sailing schedule).

Now, it’s time for you to switch your mobile device(s) to airplane mode (don’t want to get those “Cellular-at-Sea” charges), turn on the Wi-Fi, and let Vacation-Mode kick in!

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