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How to Enjoy the First Day of Your Cruise

Updated on December 17, 2014

Its Sail Away Day - Wake up, and Enjoy - with These Tips

The best way to enjoy the first day of your cruise is to be 'in the cruise groove' from the moment you wake up on sail away day.

Some unlucky cruisers arrive at the cruise pier tired, harried, and frustrated. And others miss out on making the most of those first few hours of their cruise by making the mistake of thinking that nothing really begins until the ship is out at sea. Sadly, these folks end up short-changing themselves, by losing out on almost a whole day of sheer enjoyment.

I'm in the magical cruise groove before arriving at the pier, and make the most out of every moment of the first day of my cruise. Here's how I do it.

Except where otherwise noted, images on this page are mine

Two Cruise Planning Tips

1 - Use a Good Travel Agent - One Who Specializes in Cruises

As an experienced cruiser, I always advise those planning a cruise to use a good travel agent, one who specializes in cruises.

Yes, I know... you're an experienced traveler, used to booking your own travel. So am I. I travel a lot for business. Cruises are different.

And you really believe you can save yourself money and get just what you want by calling and booking directly with the cruise line yourself. I thought that at first, too. After a few cruises, I learned better. For more details, see Booking a Cruise - DIY, or Use an Agent?

Flying In
Flying In | Source

2 - Arrive a Day Early

(Especially Important During Hurricane Season)

Whether you are driving or flying to your port of departure, do yourself a favor, and arrive at least one day before the start of your cruise.

Think of this: If your ship sails at 4:30, and your plane that was scheduled to arrive at 1:45PM is delayed by just a couple of hours, you could end up missing the ship entirely. Delays DO happen.

This is more important - even crucial - if you are cruising during hurricane season, when storms can force ships to leave port hours ahead of schedule.

Not only that, you'll eliminate the stress of a tight schedule by arriving on Saturday for a Sunday sailing. Just find a hotel with a fly and cruise or park and cruise package. Your parking will be free, and they usually have a free or no cost shuttle to and from the airport and your ship's pier.

On Cruise Morning

Carry On Luggage - For Your Cruise

There are certain things you'll need to carry with you as you board your ship for the first time, things you won't want in your checked luggage, and things you'll need for the afternoon and early evening.

Of course, you'll need something to pack those first afternoon and evening essentials in. If you don't already have a suitable carry-on, then here are some to choose from. Some come in multiple color choices!

Somebody overpacked!
Somebody overpacked! | Source

Important Things To Put in Your Carry On

First of all DON'T OVER PACK. Most first time cruisers take way too much "stuff."

Since your checked luggage may not arrive at your stateroom for hours, your carry-on should contain anything you might need for the afternoon and early evening. This would include things like:

1 - Medications and basic toiletries

2 - Camera

3 - A change of clothes, just in case

4 - Swimsuit and cover if you want to swim or sunbathe that afternoon


5 - Cruise Tickets / Passport / Travel Documents. If you can't present ALL the necessary documents to the agent because one or more of them is in your checked luggage, your permission to board could be denied.

You DID arrive a Day Early, Didn't You?

If you arrived a day early, the morning of your cruise day is a piece of cake.

You can:

  • Sleep in, and awake in 'cruise mode'
  • Enjoy a leisurely breakfast
  • Tag luggage you will check (if you didn't do this the night before)
  • Make sure your carry-on is ready (See next section)
  • Relax by the hotel pool until your shuttle leaves

Useful Things for Your Cruise - Things to Put on Your Cruise Packing List

Here are some things to consider putting on the list of things to pack for your cruise - and why you might need them.

One thing that many experienced cruisers will suggest that you bring is a multi pocket shoe organazer that can be hung on a door.

Here's why:

If you'e never cruised, you'll be shocked at how limited storage and counter space is in some cabins. These things are life savers. Not only do they provide storage space (hang them on the bathroom door) but they keep small items organized, and if the ship should list, they don't end up on the floor.

Natico Large Display Travel Alarm Clock with snooze and Light (10-AQ147)
Natico Large Display Travel Alarm Clock with snooze and Light (10-AQ147)

If you're in an inside cabin, there will be no light - NONE - once you turn the lights off. You'll appreciate having a lighted travel alarm clock.



Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Get to the Ship

Of course, this is a no-brainer. Don't wait until the last minute to depart for the pier.

Many hotels let you sign up for a specific shuttle run at check in. Take advantage of the earliest available time that you can. The sooner you get on board, the sooner your cruise magic begins.

Know that if you arrive right at the stated beginning of boarding time, you will be one of many, many, many. And there WILL be lines. So, the earlier, the better. And, take along two things:

A) Something portable to amuse you

B) Patience

In addition, make sure the documents you need for boarding are ready and in a safe and handy place - NOT in luggage you will check. This includes the credit card you'll use to set up your on board account, your cruise documents, and your passport or other acceptable ID.

As You Board Your Cruise Ship - Toss Your Cares Away!

Oasis of the Seas, with lower gandway deployed,  (Ships typically use upper gangways on embarkation days)
Oasis of the Seas, with lower gandway deployed, (Ships typically use upper gangways on embarkation days) | Source

Boarding Time

Finally, the time will come, and it's your turn to step up to the counter, present your documents, and get your cruise card.

Keep that card in your hand for now. Proceed to the gangway, pausing for the obligatory boarding photo on the way.

As you cross the gangway, toss your cares over into the water. You won't need them for a while. You might as well turn your cell phone off, too. It's time to unplug from the work-a-day world, and plunge in to the magic!

Welcome Aboard!

You've Made It - Take a Deep Breath

Enjoy Your First Afternoon Aboard the Ship

Once on Board, TAKE A DEEP BREATH and relax. You are now free to spend the afternoon doing anything you choose. Here are some things you might consider:

Take a dip in the pool. (Remember to pack your swimsuit in your carry on.)
Take a dip in the pool. (Remember to pack your swimsuit in your carry on.) | Source

- Find Your Cabin (if it is ready)

- Have Lunch in the Buffet

- Browse through the ship's daily for the day

- Take a Nap

- Explore the Ship

- Take a Dip in the Ship's Pool

- Meet Some of Your Fellow Passengers

- Locate Your Dining Room

- Get Ready for Muster

In short, do whatever in the world you want, until time for Muster Drill.

Welcome Aboard!
Welcome Aboard! | Source

Exploring the Ship

Boarding early as early as possible gives you a great opportunity to engage in a favorite activity of many cruisers - exploring the ship.

This gives you time to locate important areas, like the purser's desk, the eating venues, the dining entrance where you'll need to be at dinner time (if you've chosen traditional dining) and any area that may become a favorite of yours throughout your voyage.

I like to take my camera along on this exploration, especially if the cruise ship is one I haven't sailed on before. By boarding early, you'll be able to get some great shots of some really cool stuff - before everything is too crowded to get an unobstructed view of anything.

Here's one taken a few years back of a really attractive fruit display on one of Royal Caribbean's ships. There's even the words "Welcome Aboard" carved into the watermelon!

What I Like to Do - On the First Afternoon of My Criuse

Here are some of the things that are always on my mental to do list for the time between boarding and Muster Drill. I don't do every one of them on every cruise, but these are some of my usual activities:

  1. Have lunch in the buffet, of course!
  2. Spend a few minutes in my cabin.

    During this time, I like to:

    - Put our things away (if luggage has arrived)

    - Meet our cabin attendant, and give him a "pre-tip" along with any special requests

    - Get the little bag that I carry on board, and put my camera, cruise card, and a few other small necessities in it.

    - Take a quick look at the first 'daily' paper to see what activities are being offered, who the officers are, and learn other important information

  3. Purchase my soda card. It's for unlimited sodas for the duration of the cruise.
  4. Find our dining table, and make sure the information for my husband's special diet was passed on from my travel agent
  5. Take a quick dip in the pool and relax on the Lido Deck
  6. Explore the ship, and meet the loyalty ambassador, if possible
  7. Take a brief nap (yes, really!) because I might want to stay up later than usual

Your Cruise Card is Ultra Important - Here are some ways to keep it secure

While on board, your cruise card is your money, the key to your cabin, your identification, and your pass for getting on and off the ship. You should always have it with you.

Although the purser can give you a replacement, losing one is always a pain.

You should plan on having something that will allow you to have it on your person at all times, even when you are swimming in the ship's pool or snorkeling in a port,

A watertight neck wallet works well when you are in the water, and can be used even when you are not.

If you're not a water person, there are other types that will work for you.

Muster, Sail Away and Dinner

Muster Drill - Attendance Required

A Safety Drill is Required before Your Ship Sails

Question: Must you attend Muster Drill?

ANSWER: Absolutely! (Many cruise lines take attendance, and track down missing passengers)

Cruise Ship Muster Drills - Find out what Muster Drill is all about.

Incidentally, though you'll often hear cruisers refer to it as the 'life boat drill," nobody ever actually gets into a lifeboat during these mandatory safety briefings.

It doesn't matter if it's your first, or if you've been through a hundred, it's still required. Find out more about Muster Drills by following the above link.

After Muster Drill, it's time for the big event - Sail-Away!


Sail - Away

There'll be a Sail-Away Party. Yes, a Party! (Attendance is optional.)

Bon Voyage to you!

There's usually a sail-away party on the Lido Deck, near the pool. That's a good place to enjoy the event if you like a lively atmosphere.

Another good place is the topmost deck, which is usually above the Lido. This is a great place if you enjoy waving to the well wishers on shore.

Places we enjoy sail-away include the outside promenade deck, at the aft, or on our private balcony. We've enjoyed plenty of Lido Deck Sail-Aways, but enjoy something a little quieter these days.

Wherever you choose to enjoy the moment your ship leaves the dock, blasts her horn, and makes for the sea, Bon Voyage to You!

After the big event, you're probably going to be ready to partake of a little sustenance . . .

A view from a corner of one of the three levels in the main dinig room on a Freedom Class cruise ship.
A view from a corner of one of the three levels in the main dinig room on a Freedom Class cruise ship. | Source

Cruise Dinner on the First Night

Dinner in the Main Dining Room is a Dining Event

If you found the proper entrance to your dining room while exploring the ship in the afternoon, you'll know just where to go when dinner time arrives. Just don't be late, as that's considered bad form!

We prefer traditional dining, late seating. Dinner in the main dining room is as much an event as it is a yummy fuel stop for your tummy.

But, our best friends prefer to go casual and take their evening meals in the buffet. Like everything else on board, food on cruise ships is a matter of personal choice... and there are lots of choices!

View from a corner of

one of the three levels of the

main dining room on Freedom of the Seas

The Evening is Still Young - What do you want to do most? (a poll)

After a luxurious desert, your evening at sea awaits. What will you do with it?

It's up to you!

What is the first thing you'll want to you do after dinner on the first night of your cruise?

See results

The Voyage Begins

The Voyage Begins
The Voyage Begins | Source

Your Cruise is What You Make of It

Your Cruise is really what you make of it, I hope you've enjoyed these tips for making the most of your first day aboard a cruise ship.

Just remember, here are some of the things that can help you to really enjoy that first day aboard:

- Find yourself a good travel agent and use them

- Travel to your embarkation city ahead of time if possible

- Get to the ship early

- Throw your cares overboard as yo cross the gangway

- Relax and make the afternoon before sailing part of your cruise

- Take some time to explore the ship and see what it has to offer you

- Enjoy your fellow passengers

- Be on time for Muster Drill and traditional dining times

- Pick your favorite place for Sail-Away, and enjoy!

The Guestbook Is: OPEN

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    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from East Central Florida

      @ashley-wyatt2: Enjoy!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thanks for the helpful tips! I will be on my first cruise in a month!!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Enjoyed your post. I have been on 2 cruises. My first cruise was a 14-day Caribbean cruise for Christmas and New Year's on the Grand Princess in 2009-2010. My second was this past May (2013) on NCL's Pearl 7-days Coast Cruise where we flew from Vancouver to L.A. then cruises from L.A. back to Vancouver. Cruising is very addictive, I can't wait to do another one!!

    • Camden1 profile image


      5 years ago

      We just booked an Alaskan cruise for July, so now I'm enjoying reading everything I can about cruises!

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      @Monica Ranstrom: You should go ahead and try one... there's plenty to really like about cruises!

    • Monica Ranstrom profile image

      Monica Ranstrom 

      6 years ago

      Really fun lens! We've never been on a cruise but really want to!

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      @SciTechEditorDave: Oh yes! they're like potato chips - it's hard to have just one. :)

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 

      6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Nice lens! I've been on only one cruise, but it was enough to get me interested in more sailing adventures. Congrats on a Squidoo masterpiece!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i have never gone on a cruise, hope it will happen soon ...thanks for sharing this information.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hope to take a cruise someday! Thanks for the tips!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      6 years ago from New Zealand

      Never gone on a cruise, if I ever do I must check your lens out, seems pretty helpful.

      Thank for sharing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great information. Luckily, my first cruise was with an experienced cruise couple and I think they pretty much followed your (very detailed) advice.

    • CruiseReady profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      @ReadyToTravel: Did you get to visit a glacier?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Just got back from an Alaskan cruise, wish I had seen this first!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never taken a cruise. Maybe someday!


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