Cruise 101: A Guide To Your First Day On Board

Expert tips on how to have the best start to your trip.
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With an exciting and varied lineup of cruises sailing to more than 250 destinations, from cultural hot spots to eco-friendly locales, there’s a perfect itinerary for everyone. But first-time cruisers may want some tips on what to expect on day one: when you arrive at the terminal, board the ship and settle in.

Traveling by cruise is different from arriving at an airport or checking into a hotel, but it has the benefit of getting you into vacation mode much more quickly. Here’s how the first day on board typically goes, as well as some helpful tips to make the most of your cruise right away:

Getting On Board

Before you get to the cruise terminal, check in online at least three days before your departure—this saves you time when you arrive at the ship. At the terminal, all you’ll need to get on board and start your vacation is your SetSail pass, identification documents and a credit card for any onboard expenses.

Make sure you check your specified arrival time in your Guest Vacation Documents so you can arrive at the time best for an easy check-in. Note: you should arrive no later than 90 minutes before the ship sails. If you have any questions, dedicated port staff are stationed throughout the terminal to guide you through check-in, and to help usher you and any family or friends on board.

Bye-Bye Baggage

When you arrive at the terminal, you’ll hand any large luggage over to the porters and keep your carry-on with you (your bags will be safely delivered to your stateroom later that day, freeing you from any heavy lifting).

What many first-time cruisers don’t realize is how many activities are up and running by the time they board. You may find it helpful to plan your first day of activities ahead of time, so you can pack your carry-on with any must-haves. If you’re ready to relax by the pool, for example, you’ll want to have your swimsuit and a change of clothes. If you’re looking to scale the rock wall, have a set of comfortable athletic gear, and if you want to go ice-skating keep long pants and socks in your bag.

Explore The Ship

When you step on board, you may want to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the ship’s layout and main attractions via the digital wayfinders available in key areas around the ship.

Your first day on board is the perfect time to get a feel for everything you’ll want to do during your vacation, and a bow-to-stern stroll is a great place to start. Much of the ship will be ready to welcome guests, so consider touring the spa to check out its services and book appointments, or check out the shops and restaurants in the Central Park neighborhood (if you’re cruising on Harmony of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas).

Once you’re ready to grab a bite to eat, visit any of our casual dining restaurants. During the day you also can get a preview of our main dining room and our specialty restaurants, which will open that evening. If any of the specialty venues pique your interest, you can make reservations at the venues directly.

Take a look at the show venues and schedule, as well as reserve your seats for performances, too. Entertainment ranges from high-dive shows at the AquaTheater to free Broadway-style performances in the main theater. By late afternoon, your stateroom should be ready, so if you’re hoping to unwind, now is a great time.

Safety First

Around early evening, you’ll be called to a designated area for a mandatory “muster drill.” This safety precaution familiarizes guests with what they need to do in an emergency situation—all you need to do is show up and pay attention. Crew will be on hand to answer any questions you may have; expect the informational drill to last about a half hour.

Setting Sail

After the muster drill and before the ship departs, make your way to an upper deck for dazzling views of the city as you sail away. This is an excellent time for a “gramworthy” shot—which you can easily post to social media thanks to VOOM, the fastest internet at sea—and a toast, so get ready to make use of your drink package at a poolside bar. Enjoy the skyline of the town before you hear the telltale foghorn announcing your departure, and take it all in as the ship pulls away.

Your first day will wrap with dinner in the main dining room (or a specialty restaurant, if you choose), and what to do afterwards is up to you. You can enjoy a show, try your luck at the Vegas-style casino, hit up one of the many clubs and lounges for karaoke, comedy or live music, or even catch an open-air movie with your family on the pool deck.

Our Planning Hack

With so many options, we recommend using our online custom Cruise Planner from the start of your booking, especially if you’re traveling with kids or in a group. This platform will keep everything organized by keeping track of your shore excursions, and helping you book specialty dining (like the wildly inventive fare and drinks at Wonderland or an interactive hibachi experience at Izumi). Once you’re on board, you can update your personalized cruise schedule from your tablet or at dedicated iPad stations on board.

Ready to start planning? Check out Royal Caribbean’s upcoming itineraries here.

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