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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Here’s how to start your cruise vacation off right.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

Our exciting lineup of cruises has a perfect itinerary for everyone, from visiting cultural hot spots to wandering eco-friendly locales. Much different than flying to an airport and then driving to a hotel, a cruise quickly gets your vacation started. But first-time cruisers may not know what to expect on day one, including boarding and settling in.

Here’s your guide to embarkation day and some helpful tips to make the most of your cruise:

Getting On Board

Set yourself to vacation mode and check in early via the Royal Caribbean International mobile app (free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store) or on our website at least three days before your departure. You can also set up your onboard expense account in the app by adding your credit card.

With access to your SetSail Pass (think of this as your ticket to board) plus the proper identification documents, you can enjoy an easy, breezy embarkation at your designated arrival time noted on your SetSail Pass. At select ports and only when using the app, guests can enjoy expedited boarding that allows them to check in in just a few steps. Some even offer frictionless boarding using facial recognition to skip check-in lines.

Bye-Bye Baggage

When you arrive at the terminal, you’ll hand over any large luggage that you’ve tagged with the provided arrival documents to the porters. But you’ll keep your carry-on luggage. Checked bags are safely delivered to your stateroom that day, freeing you from lugging them.

What some first-time cruisers don’t realize is many activities are up and running right when you board, so it’s helpful to plan ahead and pack your carry-on with must-haves like sunscreen and shades.

A number of our ships have been amplified, introducing a reimagined Caribbean pool deck and other new features.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

Ready to relax by the pool? Have your swimsuit and a change of clothes. Looking to scale the rock wall? Bring athletic gear. Want to go ice-skating? Keep long pants and socks in your bag. You can find all open activities in the mobile app’s Cruise Compass or by grabbing a printed copy at Guest Services on board.

Explore The Ship

Once on the ship, get familiar with a bow-to-stern stroll. Digital wayfinders in prominent locations are a great place to access deck plans and main attractions. Also, the app’s map helps you navigate the ship, maximizing every minute!

Much of the ship will be welcoming guests, so consider visiting the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center to check out its services and classes, and book appointments. Pro tip: You can book a massage or spa treatment through the app even before your board to get the best price! Ditto for specialty dining.

Snag a real taste of New England-style seafood at Hooked.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

If you’re hungry, visit any of the casual restaurants, like Windjammer Cafe. During the day, you can also preview the main dining room and specialty restaurants, opening that evening. If a specialty venue piques your interest—like Izumi’s hibachi—make reservations then and there.

Next, scope out the show venues and schedule, and reserve your seats for performances. Entertainment ranges from high-dive shows at the AquaTheater, to ice-skating productions with performance drones, to full-scale Broadway shows and original productions in the main theater. By early afternoon, your stateroom should be ready, so it’s a great time to unwind, unpack and pick up your official SeaPass card.

Safety First

Just before departure, you’ll be called to a designated area for a mandatory “muster drill.” This safety precaution familiarizes guests with emergency protocol and lasts about 30 minutes. Crew members will be on hand to help guide you to your muster station and answer questions.

Setting Sail

Before the ship departs, head to the top deck for dazzling views and a sail away party hosted by the Cruise Director. Post your ‘gram-worthy shot using VOOM, the fastest internet at sea, or toast to your trip by making use of your beverage package at a poolside bar like The Lime & Coconut.

Day one wraps with dinner in the main dining room (or your chosen specialty restaurant), and what to do afterwards is up to you! Try one of the many clubs and lounges for karaoke, comedy or live music, or catch a movie under the stars with your family.

Our Planning Hack

We recommend using the trusty Royal Caribbean mobile app to personalize and plan your cruise vacation, especially when traveling with kids or a group. You can book ahead of time and easily organize shore excursions, entertainment, specialty dining reservations and more (like the wildly inventive fare and drinks at Wonderland).

Ready to start planning? Check out Royal Caribbean’s upcoming itineraries here, and download the app for iOS or Android.