Embarkation a bigginers guide

People who haven’t cruised often think that you just walk up to a terminal, show some ID, collect your ID card and get on the ship. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Embarkation can vary a lot depending on the cruise line and the embarkation location.

Arrival at the port.

When you get to the cruise port you will have to find where you should drop off your luggage. If you have already printed off luggage tags at home with your name/stateroom number on them, you can just drop off the bags with a porter. If not there is usually a desk to go to where they will help you fill out the tags. It’ll all be clearly signposted.

A cruise terminal in Hong Kong, be aware, some ports do NOT have these fancy huge terminals, but rather tents or older smaller building which makes the embarkation process slightly longer.


When boarding a cruise ship you have to go through security the same way that you would at an airport. Your hand luggage will be checked and you will have to walk through a metal detector. It usually feels slightly less scary than airport security but it is the same kind of thing.


Next, you have to join a queue to check in. The size of the queue can vary a lot. If you arrive just as the desks are opening you might be in for a long wait.


Once you’ve made it to the front of the queue you will be asked to show your travel documents and some ID. If you want to charge your onboard account directly onto a credit card you will also be asked to provide this. You don’t have to set up the account on a credit card but if you didn’t you would have to settle the balance before disembarking.

Time for a photoshoot!

Your photo will be taken for your cruise key card. This usually happens when you’ve been travelling for hours or have got off a long flight and as a result look a state. The photo is only used when you scan onto and off on the ship to check that they have got the right person, so it doesn’t really matter.

Key card

You’ll be given your key card. The key card is what you use to get on/off the ship, into your room and is what you charge everything to when on board the ship. Actual physical money isn’t used anywhere onboard. If you loose it on the ship or it stops working do not worry, just head to the reception and ask for a new card!

My key card on Costa Venezia on her inaugural journey. I love it when the ship you’re sailing on is on the card!

Head to the ship

If the ship is ready to be embarked then you will go straight onto the ship. You’ll only have your hand luggage with you at this point as your bags will be making their way to your cabin, so make sure you have anything that you may need for a few hours in your hand luggage. In my experience, the bags usually turn up a couple of hours after embarking.

There are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that embarkation day goes smoothly.

Embarkation tips:

  • Firstly, make sure you’re not rushing, it is far better to be waiting in the gate for an hour than running late and missing the ship completely.
  • It can be a good idea to put a luggage tag on your hand luggage. That way you can check if you forget the number, your keycard doesn’t have your stateroom number on it for security reasons.
  • Don’t be surprised if they try to take a photo of you standing in front of a picture of the ship. Cruise lines seem to love taking photos of you at every opportunity (they can make money from these I suppose).
  • Embarkation is where they will try to sell you beverage packages. If you would like an alcohol/soda package make sure you buy these as soon as you embark to ensure that you can starting drinking straight away.

Embarkation day usually does go smoothly, but like all travel it can be stressful. I know in my case that I always worry do I have everything I need to board the ship, do you?

Do you have any tips for stress free embarkation?

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