How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship? - Cruise Line Guide (2023)

During this post, we will explore how early you can board a cruise ship based on advice from the following lines: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival. We will also look at if you have to keep to the embarkation time given to you by the cruise line.

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship?

The earliest that guests can board a cruise is between 4-5 hours before the ship is scheduled to sail away. Guests may be able to check in earlier but will usually not be able to embark until this time.

A number of factors affect when you can embark a cruise ship. The cruise line can have an impact as some lines have different embarkation procedures to others. The destination and type of cruise can also make a difference.

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship? - Cruise Line Guide (1)

The cruise line may ask you to pick an embarkation time ahead of the cruise. It is usually just the best guess of when you will arrive at the port.

Many cruise lines will give you a suggested ‘check-in time’ as shown below. You’ll receive this by email a few weeks before your cruise. It is also possible to see the time by logging into the cruise lines website, most will have a ‘personalizer’ area where you are able to see details about your cruise.

(Video) Boarding day cruise ship tips for 2022

Cruise Line’s Advice

Royal CaribbeanNorwegian Cruise Line Carnival Cruise Line
How Early Can Guests Board?60 Minutes Prior to Sail Time60 Minutes Prior to Sail TimeGuests Will Be Provided With an Arrival Time

Royal Caribbean

Guests should arrive to the port no later than 60 minutes prior to the published sail time. Guests should adhere to the published check-in windows, where applicable, that can be found in their E-docs (electronic documents) or during general boarding which depends on the ship’s sail time. – SOURCE.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Embarkation time is when you should arrive at the cruise terminal. We ask that you please do not arrive any earlier than one hour prior to the embarkation time noted in your eDocs, because security regulations might prohibit early entrance. – SOURCE.

Carnival Cruises

You must arrive at the terminal promptly within your Arrival Appointment. Arrival Appointments can be selected for sailings within 90 days of departure and no later than midnight (eastern time) prior to your sailing date. – SOURCE.

Do You Have to Board at The Time Given to You by The Cruise Line?

Generally speaking no. Cruise lines do suggest that you board at a certain time but this is normally just to try and stem the flow of passengers wanting to embark. Aiming for the time that you have been given is usually a good idea but if you arrive earlier or later you won’t be denied boarding.

(Video) Complete Cruise Line Guide: American, British and European Cruise Lines

You may have to wait a little longer if you arrive early but it is very VERY rare that you would be made to wait until your embarkation time. I’ve been on 22 cruises to date and have never had this happen to me or heard of anybody to whom this has happened.

Carnival seems to be the strictest about boarding within boarding times.

Below are some experiences by members of our Facebook group:

5 cruises in and never had an issue. Our last one (bellissima) had a time of 3pm but we landed at 10am. We went straight there and got on board before 12 without a single queue. And our cabin was ready! More time to explore and get the first cocktail – Laura.

We were one of the first on our ship on our honeymoon, it was great! Our embarkation time was 2 but we got there early because of the flight and they were fine with it. It was great watching people come onboard and seeing their reactions to the atrium!! – Chlo

I tend to wait & show up later ( usually after 1pm ) when all the crowds & hoopla have died down a bit. Cruise people tend to be very excited & for good reason!!?⚓?☀️????✨ – Charlene

(Video) Too Many First-Time Cruisers Still Get This Wrong

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship? - Cruise Line Guide (2)

What is The BEST Time to Embark a Cruise Ship?

Personally, my favourite time to embark is between 12-1pm. At this time the really keen guests who have been waiting since the morning will have embarked and embarkation will be well underway.

The terminal will be up and running and they will have the maximum number of crew members working to help embark guests. If you’re ever unsure about where to go or what to do make sure you ask a crew member in the terminal. There will be lots around!

Embarking at this time also means you can head straight to lunch. It is worth checking if the cruise ship is serving lunch in the main dining room as most passengers head straight to the buffet which can be busy. Eating lunch in the main dining room can be a relaxing way to start your cruise.

How Early is Too Early to Embark a Cruise Ship?

There is little point in arriving before the check-in desks open as you will just be sitting around waiting. This, of course, is fine if you have a reason why you need to be there so early. On a few occasions, I have been at the cruise port early because I’ve been staying in a hotel which required me to check out earlier in the morning.

If you are at the terminal early you may be given a ‘boarding card’ which might be a number or letter. You’ll be invited to board the ship when your number/letter is called.

What is The Latest You Can Board a Cruise Ship?

Generally speaking the latest you can embark is usually around 3/4pm. Most cruises in the Caribbean will set sail around dinner time although this does vary. Many cruises in Europe won’t depart until late in the evening which means that you may be able to embark later in the day.

(Video) BOOKING YOUR FIRST CRUISE! A Beginner's Guide | Cruising Tips

Regardless of the time that you ship sails you will need to be onboard a set amount of time before it does. This is usually 90 minutes so I would always assume 2 hours to be on the safe side.

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship? - Cruise Line Guide (3)

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship With Priority Boarding?

Many cruise lines now offer schemes which allow you to embark faster. ‘Faster to the fun’ is a service offered by Carnival cruises. The scheme doesn’t really allow you to check in earlier than other guests but does give you priority embarkation so you don’t have to wait in the terminal for so long.

Loyalty Schemes

A number of cruise lines also have loyalty schemes which allow you to take part in ‘priority embarkation’. Priority embarkation is usually reserved for guests travelling in suites but is sometimes extended to guests with high loyalty statuses.

I have a priority embarkation perk with MSC Cruise Line. I’ve actually only been on 3 MSC cruises but MSC have a really cool program where you can ‘match’ a loyalty status from another line. I had a loyalty status with Norwegian Cruise Line which I matched with MSC and was awarded a loyalty status of black. The loyalty status means I can use the ‘priority embarkation’ lines at check-in.

If you are considering a cruise with MSC make sure you check out this post: MSC Status Match – The Free Way To Get 5% Off MSC Cruises.

Related Questions:

What Should You Wear to Embark a Cruise Ship?

(Video) Tips for the first time cruiser: Carnival Boarding Procedures

There are no specific dress codes or rules about what you should wear when embarking a cruise ship. I like to make sure that I am wearing something that I like because most of my cruise photos seem to be taken on the first day. I like to run around the ship and have a photo taken in front of things that I think are cool like the staircase below on the MSC Meraviglia. This photo was taken on embarkation day.

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship? - Cruise Line Guide (4)

When you get onboard your cabin may not be ready which means you may be carrying around a carry-on bag and you’ll be on your feet. For this reason, make sure you’re wearing something comfortable. Even if it is warm outside make sure you pack a sweater/jumper/cardigan since the terminal building and inside of the ship will most likely be air-conditioned


How early can you board a cruise ship? ›

The earliest that guests can board a cruise is between 4-5 hours before the ship is scheduled to sail away. Guests may be able to check in earlier but will usually not be able to embark until this time. A number of factors affect when you can embark a cruise ship.

What is the earliest time I can board my Carnival cruise? ›

Although guests may access the terminal at 10:30 am, based on their window selection, boarding is scheduled to begin at approximately 12:30 am.
Find a cruise.
2 more rows

How many hours before sailing the embarkation begins? ›

The majority of cruises leave port at 4 or 5:00 pm. If your cruise leaves at a different time than this, check with your cruise line to see what time embarkation begins. Most cruise ships will begin boarding 4-5 hours before sailaway.

Should I board my cruise early? ›

Arrive early.

Everyone has different preferences for how early they like to arrive before a cruise, but unless you like leaving a major vacation to chance, we suggest flying in the day before your sailing to protect yourself against flight delays that could cause you to miss the ship.

What happens if I get to the cruise port early? ›

Regardless of your status, the earlier you check-in, the sooner you will board the ship. The advantage of arriving to the cruise port early is you will likely find shorter lines, and board the ship sooner. That means your vacation begins sooner, and you will have more time on embarkation day to explore and have fun.

What's the best time to board a cruise ship? ›

Avoid arriving at peak boarding time

We recommend getting to the terminal either early, before the rush, or late (after 2 p.m.), when most people are already onboard. You might still have a little wait, but it won't be anything compared to peak boarding time.

Can you check-in luggage early for cruise? ›

Normally you can drop off your luggage fairly early, as per @coasterking, as long as the porters are around and the port is open.

What is the embarkation time? ›

Embarkation day is the first day of your cruise. It's the day you arrive at the cruise terminal to embark on your vacation. Disembarkation, similarly, is the last day of your cruise, when you disembark from the ship, whether you're staying an extra day in port or catching a flight back home.

What do I need to know before boarding a cruise ship? ›

First Time Cruise Tips
  • Location vs Duration. ...
  • The Right Type of Cruise. ...
  • Be Sure That You Understand What's Covered. ...
  • Follow the Instructions Sent by the Cruise Company Prior to Embarkation. ...
  • Pick The Location of Your Cabin. ...
  • Check Whether Your Travel Insurance Includes Cruise Cover. ...
  • Plan Your Port Days.
29 Apr 2022

How long do cruise check ins take? ›

Depending on the cruise line, size of the ship/number of passengers, and how efficient the boarding process is, embarkation can range from 30 minutes to a few hours.

What is the latest you can board a cruise ship? ›

What Time Do You Board a Cruise Ship? No matter the scheduled time, you MUST be onboard and checked-in no later than 90 minutes prior to the departure. To expedite this process, make sure you have completed your cruise line's pre-registration and printed your boarding pass.

Can you get off in the middle of a cruise? ›

The vast majority of passengers simply sail their normal cruise itinerary. But can you just get off the ship and return home on your own terms? The answer is yes, but there are some major complications (and laws) that should be considered.

How long do you stay at each port on a cruise? ›

The length of your stay in port will vary. But, in general, your ship will dock for a half-day to a full day. Check the itinerary pages for estimated onshore and reboarding times for your cruise.

Which side of the ship is better on a cruise? ›

The truth, though, is this: There's no “better” side of the ship. It doesn't matter where you're going, or what river you're sailing on, or even what ship you're sailing aboard. Both sides of the ship are created equal. The trouble with trying to pick a side of the ship based on something you'd like to see is this.

Do cruise ships go faster at night? ›

Do Cruise Ships Travel Faster at Night? It's a common misconception that cruise ships travel faster at night than during the day. This is probably because cruise ships slow down as they enter and leave ports. Since most cruise ships only enter or leave ports during the day, it can seem like they travel faster at night.

Is it better to stay higher up on a cruise ship? ›

The higher the deck, the better and, often, more panoramic the view. Cabins on top decks aren't always the best on the ship, but many suites and specialty cabin categories are typically located on upper decks.

Do cruises check your purse? ›

Don't Pack – Certain things that is.

Your bags will be screened by security at the cruise terminal, in order to save yourself time and hassle there are certain things that you just can't bring with you.

How much do you tip your luggage carrier on a cruise? ›

Give the luggage handler a $2- $5 tip per bag, depending upon size, weight and amount of luggage. What is this? If you're a solo traveler and only have one large bag to check, a $5 tip is appropriate. Consider the tip as baggage delivery insurance.

Do you carry a purse on a cruise? ›

Bring a small purse to hold your cruise card and camera when walking around the ship. I always like to have my camera with me so carrying a small purse means I don't have to always have it in hand.

How long does the boarding time set before the departure time? ›

Boarding starts 60 to 25 minutes before departure.

What is the difference between boarding and embarkation? ›

Simply put, embarkation is the process of getting on your ship – it's the cruising equivalent of boarding a plane! While the embarkation procedure may vary slightly between the different cruise lines, it will fundamentally remain the same and require you to have similar documents to hand.

What is the difference between boarding and departure time? ›

Most flights start boarding 30 - 50 minutes before scheduled departure, but the exact time depends on your destination and plane. Boarding ends 15 minutes before departure. If you're not on board, we may reassign your seat to another passenger.

What do you have to do before you go on a cruise? ›

Top 20 things to do before going on a cruise
  1. Pre-book entertainment.
  2. Print luggage tags. ...
  3. Complete online check-in. ...
  4. Consider travel insurance. ...
  5. Check your travel documents. ...
  6. Learn about your cruise ship. ...
  7. Make sure you have enough cash. ...
  8. Book flights & hotels. ...
4 Jun 2020

What paperwork do you need to get on a cruise? ›

U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises can enter or depart the country on the cruise with proof of citizenship. However, it is possible that one or more of the destination countries on your itinerary may require a passport to enter.

What should a first time cruiser know? ›

10 Things Every First-Time Cruiser Should Know
  • Prebook activities before you leave home. ...
  • Plan to arrive at your departure city a day or more before the cruise. ...
  • Pack a carry-on bag. ...
  • Switch your cellphone to airplane mode. ...
  • Don't assume the cruise is all-inclusive. ...
  • Pace yourself. ...
  • Understand automatic gratuities. ...
  • Watch the clock.
1 Feb 2019

How strict is cruise security? ›

Expect to go through security checks when re-entering the ship at each port of call. Procedures typically include luggage x-rays, full-body scanning in a metal detector, and digital photographs as you enter and exit.

What happens if you test positive during cruise? ›

If you or your travel companions have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive at embarkation, the cruise ship may deny you from boarding. If you are allowed to board, you may be required to isolate or take other precautions, depending on your symptoms and test results.

Can you bring food on cruise ship? ›

One of the best things about cruising is the food! And there will be many dining options available to suit most tastes and preferences. However you are free to bring non-perishable prepackaged food in limited quantities. While we have many drink offerings onboard, you are welcomed to bring select beverages onboard.

How do you get early boarding on Royal Caribbean? ›

The Key is an extra-fee program from Royal Caribbean that gives cruisers a host of perks, such as priority boarding and debarkation, reserved seating at shows, special access to onboard attractions and more.

How early can you check-in Royal Caribbean? ›

Check in after booking begins up to 45 days in advance of your first sailing day and can happen up to 48 hours in advance.

Who gets priority boarding on Royal Caribbean? ›

All suites in the Royal Caribbean Suites program have access to certain benefits. Our Junior Suites, Grand Suites, Ocean View/ Panoramic (No Balcony) Suites, and Owner's Suites all receive priority boarding, and our Royal Suite and Villa Suite guests are escorted onboard by an officer.

What time does embarkation start on Royal Caribbean? ›

In our experience, guests will usually be let into the cruise terminal around 10am, or shortly thereafter and embarkation usually begins somewhere around 11am.


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