Cruises are great for all ages

I have been on 18 cruises, so needless to say I love to cruise. Now that I am a mom, I love to cruise with kids! I find it to be a great family vacation because there are opportunities for all ages to have fun.  But making the most of a cruise comes with experience or following some advice from the seasoned cruiser. I want to share some tips for boarding day that will ensure your cruise vacation gets off to a great start! Some of these tips are specific to families traveling with young kids but many of the cruise boarding tips are best practices for all cruisers.

What to expect when you arrive at the port

Arrival time to the port is a personal choice to some extent. There is always a time at which you must be on board, usually about an hour or two before the ship departs. Your cruise paperwork will tell you that you will not board until a certain time. However, as soon as the previous cruisers are off and the ship gets cleared they will begin boarding. You never know when that will be but this has allowed us about 3 hours more on the ship that we were not expecting. So if you want to get to the ship early, then go right ahead you just might get to be one of the first on!

If you are flying the day of the cruise, you will definitely want to make sure you allow for the possibility of flight delays and traffic to the port. I highly recommend flying in the day before and enjoy the port city for a day to allow for a stress-free boarding day. 

The lines at the port can be very long during certain times. We choose to either arrive early so that we are in the first group or towards the end of boarding to skip all the waiting. Also if you are a frequent cruiser on the same cruise line you will earn status levels and most of the perks include priority boarding. This helps with the long lines and expedites the entire boarding process!

Don’t just pass by the Boarding Photo. These are so fun to collect if you take several cruises to see how your family changes with each vacation. Don’t laugh but I like to have us all dressed with coordinating colors so that our cruise boarding photo is cute and frameable. Love these memory keepers!


You boarded the ship, now what

Staterooms are typically not ready for you to enter until after 1:00pm.  So keep this in mind when you are deciding what you will be carrying on.  You will have access to just about everything else on the ship. So bring a small carry-on bag (this bag works great for us) with a change of clothes like a swimsuit or dress depending on what you want to do the evening of embarkation.

Luggage gets delivered to your stateroom through out the afternoon and sometimes well into the evenings.  The cruise lines usually say that your bags should be in your room by 10pm but I think the latest I ever got one was 6:00pm.  Again keep this tip in mind when choosing what you carry on and wear when boarding.  You will want to have anything you may need to get ready for dinner and the night events.  And if you have a baby make sure all its essentials are with you when boarding.  The bags are rarely delivered together so who knows when you will get that bag you consider the most important!

A Mandatory Emergency Drill will be conducted right before the cruise ship sails away.  This drill is to help you familiarize yourself with the procedure that will take place in case an unfortunate event occurs.  So despite your anxiousness to get the party started, pay attention it could possibly save your life later!  It does not last long and nothing on the ship is open while it is happening.

Make sure to get your kids their ID Bracelets. These are for children usually under the age of 16 (I think) to wear that states which emergency station they are assigned to. So in the event of an emergency and your children are not with you for whatever reason, the staff will immediately know where to take them to meet up ith you.

If you chose a specific time for dining (not the anytime dining option) then make sure to visit the dining room to see where your assigned table is. It is important to know that on boarding day the maitre d’ is typically available to take questions and make changes, if possible.

Tour the Kids Program and register your kids for the week!  Boarding day is the perfect time to let them meet the staff and check out the rooms where all the fun kid things take place. If you are in the process of deciding which ships are best for your family vacation see photos and read about our experience with Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean Kids Program. We will experience Carnival’s Camp Carnival In January, so check back for our take on it.


cruise boarding tips for families
cruise boarding tips for families
cruise boarding tips for families
cruise boarding tips for families

Make sure to walk around the entire ship to get familiar with everything you want to do before the cruise gets started so you spend time enjoying it instead of getting lost!  Plus there have been many times where I heard people say “I didn’t even know that was there until Day 5”  Enjoy all the ship all week! I suggest starting at the top and working your way down. And take a pedometer (here’s my favorite) to see how much you walk on this vacation- I bet you will be surprised!

Have tours, dining, and packages preplanned.  Use a certified Travel Agent.  Travel Agents no a lot of information, usually from first-hand experience and then classes given by the cruise lines.  They can save you time and money by watching for promos, rate drops, etc.  Plus Travel Agents have already done all the research for the port destinations and can help you experience the destinations the best way that fits your liking!  If you need help planning your upcoming cruise, please email me, I am happy to help you with any questions. And if you need assistance with booking it, I have been an independent travel agent for 8 years as a side gig; I love to cruise and have been on 18 cruises in the past 15 years so I am happy to help you plan the cruise you have been thinking about.

If you plan to be cruising with young kids, check out my other family cruise posts: Allure of the Seas is the perfect cruise vacation and Adventure Ocean Kids Program. Then stay tuned for my Trip Report on our upcoming Family Cruise on the Carnival Victory in January.


cruise boarding tips for families

Hope you found this helpful and if you take a family cruise tag me on Instagram (@mandymcarter) so I can see all the fun you are having!