The good news is that while checking in at the pier can seem very daunting, the lines have made the process relatively painless considering all your family has to do to get from point A to point B.
You’ve got bags, tickets, camera and kids — and you want to make sure everything gets into your stateroom. In your precruise documents, your cruise line will send you baggage tags — two for each person — that indicate the ship, the date, the stateroom and your name. So, for $1 a bag, you can hand your tagged luggage to a porter, who will take it and get it on the ship for you (although you might not see it for several hours). Do not give the porter your carryon luggage, this includes that piece we talked about in part IV (link) with your documents, medication and swimsuit.
If you’ve done the online check-in, this part will be very smooth. Make sure you have your printouts and passports for each person in your party. Everyone in your group will have to check-in, but not everyone needs to wait in line. Some terminals have seating or even televisions that you can watch while someone in your party waits in line. If you are concerned with getting your family’s attention, and the line isn’t that long, you might want to keep everyone together.
There might be several check-in lines — don’t worry, you don’t have to wait in all of them. Some will be for international passengers, some are for return cruisers (the ones mentioned in part III), some lines are divided by deck number with the higher floors in one area and the lower in another.
You’ll hand your passport, documents and a credit card (to link to your reservation) to the helpful cruise line representative who will give you a card. Do not lose this card. It is your identification for getting on and off the ship, your key, your charge card and will tell you your table for dinner, as well as your dining room on ships that have more than one. On your kids’ card, it will also have a way to indicate that your child is under 18 and will not be allowed to order any liquor (very helpful for those 16/17 year olds). You’ll want to keep your card handy as you will need to show it several more times before you actually board the ship.
At this point you might receive a copy of the ships’ deck plans as well as a sheet indicating where you can have lunch, and other helpful information.
If you get to the check-in terminal too early, you will have to wait a little to board the ship. This is a good time to get yourself together and figure out what it is you want to do once you board. Some lines give out boarding numbers, which indicated when you may board. After a certain time, there will be open boarding, which means as soon as you check in, you may board.
Once you are in the terminal, you might see different tables advertising various programs on the ship. Usually there will be one for the dinnertime wine package and sometimes you will see a check-in table for the kids programs, which will give your kids a schedule of events for the rest of the day, or even for the week. If you don’t want to, or are unable to, stop in the terminal, you can sign up for everything on board the ship.
Based on the cruise line and the port, you’ll go through security either before or after you check-in. It is very much like airport security, and they will confiscate items that could be hazardous. You don’t have to remove your shoes, but you will need to put metal objects in the bin. Help your kids with their stuff and send one adult through first so your kids see a friendly face on the other side.
The Welcome Aboard Portrait
This is the money shot. A picture of your frazzled self and your stressed-out family next to a sign of the date and the name of the ship. It makes a great “before” picture that you can compare with your relaxed self from four days later on the cruise. There is no charge to take the picture, only to buy it, which you can do on board the ship the next day if you want to.
The ID picture
There is just one more thing you have to do to get on that ship: take your picture. Each person in your party (kids included) will be asked to insert your card into a machine which will scan it and know that you are now on the ship. The photo it takes is for ID purposes only and will not be published anywhere. It is so it can match names with faces and make sure someone doesn’t steal your ID and pretend to be you.
Once you walk across that gangway you are on vacation. What you do from here on is up to you. Most people head to the cabin to drop off their things and then go have lunch. If you don’t get a sheet when you check in telling you where lunch is being served, feel free to ask a crew member or you can also look at the activity sheet in your stateroom; you will receive a new one every evening for the following day.
If you want to book a spa appointment or shore excursion and are unable to do so in advance, you’ll want to get there soon after you board. You also can take this time to see where your table is in the dining room. If you want to change your seating time from early to late (or vice versa), you can do that now, too.
You can also take the kids to their clubs so they can get checked in. Each program operates in their own way, but most likely your child will get an ID bracelet that has information about them as well as their muster (lifeboat) station. Several ships have a paging system, so you can be notified if you son or daughter is going somewhere, wants to be picked up or if there is a problem.
In your cabin you will find several things, including very limited closet space (aren’t you glad you packed the way you did?) You’ll meet your cabin steward (the crew member who cleans your room, takes care of you for the duration of your vacation and turns your towels into animals). In your room will also be tickets for your shore excursion (if you booked it in advance), as well as flyers about art auctions and other on board activities. If there is food or water in the room, check the price before you dig in, remember: things cost more on water.
The Muster Drill
- This is the ONE thing you HAVE to do on your cruise. Not because it is exciting, but because maritime law requires it. You’ll head to your stateroom and get your lifejackets on. Your canin should have lifejackets for the kids, if it doesn’t, inform your cabin steward. When you get into the cabin for the first time, your TV will be tuned to a safety briefing about what will happen during the drill. You’ll then go to your muster station, which is indicated on the back of your door, as well as on the lifevest itself. Sometimes your station might be inside. The whole thing takes about 20 minutes. In the event of a real emergency, and your kids are not with you, the staff will get them into lifejackets and get them to you as soon as possible at your station.
Enjoy your dinner, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’d like something done a little differently. Your wait staff wants you to be happy, and after a few days, they’ll know all about your likes and dislikes. They’ll know your daughter wants macaroni and cheese at every meal or that your son is allergic to broccoli or that you have a huge sweet tooth (some waiters have been known to bring out every dessert every night. Many ships even offer healthier alternatives for every meal. As for drinks, check the cruise Web site. Some ships include soft drinks for dinner, others consider it a bar item and charge for it. And don’t be afraid to try something new. If you don’t like it, your waiter will bring you a different dish.
Welcome to Your Vacation
That’s it. NOW you can really enjoy your family cruise. If you haven’t explored the ship, do so. Go swimming if you’d like. Watch the ship pullout of the port and have fun at the deck party. Take in a show or a sunset while your kids are making new friends. Check out the shops. Dance the night away. Eventually unpack. It’s your vacation. You worked hard to get here and now there is only one thing left to say: Bon Voyage!