16 Things You Must Do Every Time You Board a Cruise Ship

Unlock the secrets of stress-free cruising with these essential pre-boarding rituals.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Passengers heading to a cruise ship

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Planning for a cruise can be a year-long event. By the time you've booked your journey with one of the top travel credit cards and boarding day arrives you might not know what to do first.

Should you visit the buffet? Get situated in your cabin? Plunge into the pool?

Start your ocean journey on the right foot by following our checklist of 16 things to do as soon as you board your cruise ship.

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Pack a carry-on bag

deagreez/Adobe handsome man holding giant suitcase

Tackle the first important step before you board your cruise ship and pack a carry-on bag full of essentials you need to access during your first day on board the night before you leave.

Include a swimsuit, change of clothes, essential medications, a toothbrush, and any activities to keep you occupied during lulls in the action.

Verify that travel documents are in order

kieferpix/Adobe holding us passport at airport with airplane in background

You’ll need to present identification to board your cruise ship. As you’re putting together your carry-on bag, double-check your driver’s license and passport if needed.

These things should be secure within your carry-on but easy to access quickly.

Check out the schedule on the cruise app

Krakenimages.com/Adobe man using smartphone and laptop

Most major cruise lines have mobile apps you can access throughout your trip.

While you’re waiting to board, scroll through the first day’s schedule as listed on the app to find out:

  • Where you can find lunch
  • What time the muster drill will be at
  • How to access your cabin
  • Whether any special events are planned for the evening

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Find your cabin

Maridav/Adobe woman wearing glasses standing on cruise ship near alaska

Once you’ve safely boarded the ship, make your way to your cabin and start to get situated.

Your bags might not be waiting for you yet, but you should be able to access the room. Have a look around and report any concerns to the staff ASAP.

Unpack your carry-on

nikolas_jkd/Adobe woman tourist standing in front of big cruise liner

Get ahead of the tedious task of unpacking by sorting through whatever you brought in your carry-on bag.

You’ll have plenty more to organize once your bags arrive, so you might as well give your future self a helping hand by unpacking what you can now instead of adding to any chaos later.

Find out if the internet works

Maridav/Adobe happy woman using smartphone on cruise

If you purchased an internet package for your journey, take the time to log into the system and figure out how well it works.

If you didn’t buy a Wi-Fi package ahead of time but find that you can’t live without it, now is your chance to sign up.

Set your phone to airplane mode

michaeljung/Adobe two women having fun on cruise ship

You might still have some phone service before you embark, but it’s bound to get spotty as soon as you leave the port.

Forgetting to turn on airplane mode can mean racking up roaming charges without even noticing you’re doing so. Set your phone to airplane mode now instead of leaving it until later.

Dress for the day’s events

michaeljung/Adobe couple talking while walking on cruise ship

If you were waiting until you checked in to change into your swimsuit and gear up for a fun first day of hanging around the pool, now’s your chance.

You’ve made it on board, so feel free to slip into something a bit more comfortable.

Apply sunscreen

sosiukin/Adobe sunscreen lotion in sun shape on tanned woman's shoulder

Hoping to spend at least some of your first day exploring your cruise ship’s decks? No one wants to kick off their vacation with a sunburn.

Get ahead of the sun by applying sunscreen before you leave your cabin for the first time.

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Take anti-nausea medication

New Africa/Adobe man suffering from nausea on bed at home

Cruise ships are large enough that you likely won’t feel any dramatic rocking as you sail unless you encounter a storm. Still, people who tend to get motion sick on dry land can get seasick on cruise ships.

If you’re one of those people, don’t forget to take anti-nausea medication so you can explore the ship without getting too dizzy.

Attend the mandatory muster drill

Jeff Clow/Adobe cruise ship senior

Cruise lines provide passengers with comprehensive safety training before the ship embarks on its journey.

All passengers are required to attend the safety training — called a muster drill — and wear their life jackets for the duration of the drill.

You can expect the muster drill to happen 30 to 90 minutes before embarking, but check your ship’s schedule for exact details.

Explore your surroundings

MagioreStockStudio/Adobe tourists with a straw hat stand on the deck of a cruise ship

Cruise ships are massive, so there are plenty of areas to explore, activities to find, and decks to get used to.

While you’re waiting for the mandatory muster drill, pull up a map of the ship on your cruise line’s app and start familiarizing yourself with the place you’ll call home for the next week or so.

Consider choosing an e-muster

Gorodenkoff/Adobe Smiling Young Woman Using Smartphone

Some cruises now host their muster drills entirely via their app instead of in-person safety training.

Find out if your cruise line requires an in-person drill or if you can complete an e-course instead, then take care of the course right away.

Double-check reservations — or make them in the first place

FornStudio/Adobe dinner party

You might need to make a reservation to enjoy the cruise line activities you’ve been most excited about, such as a spa day or meal at a fancy restaurant.

Hopefully, you signed up for events well in advance. If so, take a moment to verify that the details are in order. If you didn’t sign up early, you should be able to use your app to find any open spots.

Find the best spot to enjoy embarking

Maridav/Adobe travel cruise ship on sunset

There’s nothing quite like the rush of watching your ship pull away from the shoreline and head out to sea at the start of your grand adventure.

Document the moment by finding the ideal spot to watch the moment you leave port — you won’t want to miss it.

Unpack the rest of your bags

Kay A/peopleimages.com/Adobe girl taking selfie on a bed for social media with luggage

You’ve already unpacked your carry-on. Next up, unpack your luggage as soon as it arrives in your cabin.

The sooner you check this tedious task off your list, the faster you can get to the cruise ship activities you’ve been looking forward to for so long.

Bottom line

Mariakray/Adobe side view of cruise ship on the blue sky

Follow this simple 16-step checklist to avoid wasting money and enjoy every minute of your cruise, from the start of your journey to the end.

You’ve spent ages preparing for your cruise. Don’t let a second of it go to waste.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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