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Embarkation day - advice and tips
The wait is over, and your cruise is finally here. Soon you'll be unpacking in your spacious suite or stateroom, breathing in fresh sea air on deck, and sipping a cocktail while you decide where you'd like to eat for dinner. But before all that comes boarding day. Our expert guide gives you everything you need to know about each step, and some top tips to get the best out of your first day on board with Cunard.
What is embarkation day?
Embarkation day is day one of your Cunard voyage. It’s the day that you go through the cruise terminal and step on board your ship. It’s an exciting day, but there’s quite a lot to think about. Having said that, with the right preparation, the luggage, security, and documentation process will run smoothly, and you’ll enjoy a stress-free start to your cruise holiday.
Why is embarkation day important?
Embarkation day can often set the tone for the rest of your voyage, so preparation is key to ensure it’s as swift and worry-free as possible. You will receive emails from us in the lead-up to your voyage – make sure you check these regularly as they’re helpful for making sure you’re clear on what is required for embarkation (read on for more details). Also, make sure your travel arrangements to the terminal itself are all in hand – don’t forget to account for last-minute traffic and book your parking in advance if you need it.
What to expect on embarkation day
Embarkation typically begins at around midday and can last until around 4.30pm. In many ways, cruise terminals are similar to airport terminals – you have to drop off your luggage, check in, and go through security just like when travelling by air. Boarding for a cruise is often quicker and easier, however, because instead of potentially hundreds of scheduled flights, it’s likely that there will only be one or two ships departing.
Even though there are things you can do to make embarkation quicker and easier – online check-in via My Cunard being at top of the list – you should expect some queuing and waiting, especially if you have booked a Britannia grade stateroom.
Preparing for embarkation day
Checklists and essentials to pack
With itineraries all over the world, a suitcase packed for a Cunard voyage will depend largely on where you have chosen to sail (visit our full packing guide for more information). However, there are a few essentials that you might want to pack in your hand luggage to get the most out of your first day on board.
- Documentation – any documents you require to board, including passport, boarding pass (printed or on your device), insurance documents, and any other relevant documentation.
- Something to drink – most terminals have a café or somewhere to get some refreshments, but to avoid disappointment or queuing, you might like to bring your own drink to keep hydrated while you wait. If you want to bring alcohol on board, Cunard permits you to bring one bottle per person up to 1 litre (remember that if you are flying before your cruise, hold luggage must be used to store liquids). You can consume this in your stateroom for no additional charge, or in one of our restaurants (a corkage fee will be applied in this instance).
- Swimming costume – weather permitting, the pools may be open once you board, so if you wish you can enjoy them right away without having to wait for your luggage to arrive. Towels are provided poolside, so you needn’t worry about those. Don’t forget the sun cream if it’s warm weather!
- No prohibited items – like other methods of travel, there are some items that are not permitted on board a Cunard cruise. You can find the full list here. Failure to comply may result in confiscation or, in extreme circumstances, denied boarding.
Travel documents and identification
Whether you have checked in online or not, we suggest bringing all the below with you, as you may be asked to show them at the terminal.
- Proof of travel insurance (this is mandatory for UK travellers)
- Visa and vaccination documents, if applicable
If you have checked in online, you’ll also need to bring:
- Luggage labels (these should be pre-printed and attached to each item of main luggage)
- Boarding pass (printed or on your mobile device)
Luggage handling and tags
Most cruise terminals operate a simple enough luggage system, but if you’ve not seen it before it can seem daunting. Don’t forget that terminal staff are always on hand to point you in the right direction if you are unsure.
Firstly, you will need to print off your luggage tags. These are available to print via My Cunard, once you have completed your online check-in. They include your name and stateroom number, and some simple instructions explaining how to fold and attach them to your luggage. You can print as many as you like - as long as your travels don’t include flights, you can take as much luggage as you wish on board (though each bag must weigh under 23kg).
Luggage is dropped off just outside the terminal doors, near to large, numbered signs. The numbers correspond to the deck your stateroom is on – this can be found on your boarding pass. Simply find the sign with your deck number on, ensure your luggage tags are firmly attached, and leave them near the sign, or hand them to a member of staff. The luggage will be loaded onto the ship and delivered straight to your suite or stateroom, as per the luggage tags. Voila!
What to wear on embarkation day
This will largely depend on your itinerary. If you’re embarking during a Barcelona summer or a Melbourne winter, for example, light, loose clothing, and a sunhat are advisable. Embarkations in cooler weather, in somewhere like Vancouver or New York, may call for additional layers. Check the local weather to see what is most appropriate. Whatever the forecast predicts, we suggest comfortable shoes in case of queues; and of course, you may find that you walk a lot on board as you explore your new home from home.
Embarkation day travel
Travelling to the cruise terminal should be planned in advance. Terminals may be accessible by train, air, or road. If you’ll be flying in, try to book a flight that is due to arrive in plenty of time, so that you still make your sailing if there are airport delays. Likewise, if you’ll be arriving by car, ensure you leave enough time to account for traffic - and book your parking in advance. It’s worth noting that if you book the Cunard Fare, you get parking or transfers included (subject to availability), making the journey even easier.
Navigating the embarkation process
Arrival at the cruise terminal/port
Precise locations and facilities depend on which cruise terminal or port you are sailing from. Usually, there will be long-stay car parking near to the terminal and staff will be outside to direct you. Local taxis will drop you off just outside the departures entrance. Most terminals have bus routes that stop very close by. If you are taking public transport, make sure you familiarise yourself with the route you need to take from the station or bus stop to the terminal. Alternatively, taxis will likely be on hand.
Most cruise terminals are fully accessible for mobility scooter and wheelchair users, with ramped walkways and elevators available. Some assistance is available; ensure you complete your On Board Needs questionnaire prior to sailing so that we are aware of any assistance required. Please note that we cannot offer assistance with hand luggage, so we advise this is kept to a manageable level for yourself and any travelling companions.
If we have a high number of guests requiring assistance at the terminal, you may be asked to wait in turn.
Visit our accessibility webpages for more information.
Security and check-in procedures
Checking in online via My Cunard is an easy way to minimise time spent at the terminal and is available to complete 21 days before sailing. However, if you’re unable to do this, or you’d prefer not to check in online, you can still check in at the terminal desk. Either way, ensure you have all your documentation with you on the day.
At the check-in desk, your boarding pass will be checked, if you have completed online check-in, against your passport details. Delays may occur if your My Cunard check-in information doesn’t match your passport. You may also be asked to re-take your photograph (another feature of online check-in) if the photo submitted doesn’t fit the requirements. If you haven’t checked in online you will also go through this process, your details will be taken, and your boarding pass handed to you. All UK residents must have travel insurance to travel; at this stage, you may be asked for proof of insurance, so make sure this is ready to show, if asked.
Once you’re checked in, you’ll be asked to wait to be called to security. The order is decided by stateroom grade and location. This is likely to be the longest wait you experience before boarding, so ensure you have drinks and snacks with you in case of delays.
Security consists of an airport-style X-ray conveyor belt for hand luggage. You’ll be asked to remove your belt, loose change, and other metal or electronic items on your person. You may also be asked to remove your shoes. You’ll then pass through a sensor gate, and security staff may check you over as an additional precaution.
Once you’ve collected your belongings after these checks, you’re free to proceed up the gangway and board your Cunard Queen.
Boarding the ship smoothly
There will be a short walk to your ship from the cruise terminal, and lifts will be available where required. Crew will meet you at the gangway to check your boarding pass, and they’ll also take your picture to enable fast boarding on shore days during your voyage. Once this is complete, you’ll walk on into the warmly lit, shining Grand Lobby of your Cunard Queen, welcomed by smiling crew members. You have arrived, and your voyage can now begin.
Arrival on board
Welcome on board
After you step onto your Cunard Queen for the first time, enjoy that one-of-a-kind sensation. That feeling when you know you’re at the start of your holiday, with days or perhaps even weeks ahead that you can spend however you please. But, before you can find your new favourite bar at sea, explore the spacious decks, or tuck into the buffet, you need to find your suite or stateroom.
The gleaming bellhops and other crew members in the Grand Lobby will direct you to the elevators. The first digit of your stateroom number (shown on your boarding documents) tells you which deck you need. You may be greeted by more crew when you reach the correct deck, but if not don’t worry – staterooms are signposted to your left and right when you exit the elevators.
Once you find your room, you’ll see an envelope in the pigeonhole just outside. This contains a swipe key card for each person in the stateroom – use one to gain entry. Welcome to your home from home.
Inside the suite or stateroom, you will find several useful documents: a welcome letter, a guide to My Voyage (our mobile-friendly voyage planner and booking tool), and your first Daily Programme, showing all the different activities you could choose to do that evening. This programme will be delivered afresh to your room each evening for the following day, and each one is full of things to do on board during your voyage. You could do as much or as little as you like – it’s entirely up to you.
Soon after you arrive, your steward will come to greet you (or, if you are a Queens Grill guest, your butler). They will introduce themselves, show you around your suite or stateroom, and invite you to ask any questions you might have. They will also give you their on board phone number, so you can call them if you require anything during your stay. Your steward will turn down your room twice a day for the duration of your voyage, and they are your first point of contact for any stateroom-related queries or problems.
You could stay to unpack with a glass of the sparkling wine left for you to enjoy, or perhaps you’d prefer to start exploring the ship straight away. Of course, if you are a Queens Grill Suite guest, your butler could unpack for you.
Safety drills and procedures
Once you’ve found your accommodation, you have a couple of safety tasks to complete before the ship sets sail. The first is to find your muster station.
Muster stations are set locations around the ship where guests need to report to in the case of an emergency. Your muster station is written on your cruise key card, which you’ll have found outside your stateroom. You should report to your muster station as soon as you can, and before the ship sets sail. Crew members will meet you there to scan your card and give you some key information.
In addition to this, a video will be playing on the television in your suite or stateroom, giving you additional information about emergency procedures, including evacuation routes and lifejacket locations. We ask that you watch this video in its entirety before your ship sets sail. You will also notice an evacuation route displayed on or near your door. Again, please make note of this and ask your steward if you have any concerns.
A safety drill may take place on embarkation day. Please listen to crew members during this drill and follow instructions as required.
Exploring the ship
Most of the ship is open on embarkation day for you to explore. Once you have found your suite or stateroom, you are free to rest or roam as you please. Perhaps you wish to go to the top decks to breathe in the sea air and enjoy a cocktail at the poolside bar. Or maybe you wish to find a coffee and a cosy nook at Café Carinthia, or visit one of the largest libraries at sea to find your perfect holiday read? You could explore the many bars and restaurants available on board; the embarkation day buffet at the Lido (Queens Elizabeth and Victoria) or Kings Court (Queen Mary 2) is ideal for a spot of lunch after the embarkation process.
Though the ship seems large, you’re invited to relax wherever you find yourself. You have plenty of time ahead to explore and orient yourself – all entirely at your own pace. It’s your holiday, after all.
Reservations and activities on board
Many activities, such as the spa and alternative dining, can be booked ahead of your voyage on My Cunard. However, these and various other experiences can also be booked on board if you prefer. You could do this using your phone and the My Voyage app (you will find instructions on how to find and use this in your stateroom) or via the Purser’s Desk on board. Grills guests have the added personal touch of a Grills concierge, or a dedicated butler to help them with bookings too. Spa treatments, Shore Experiences, selected dining options, internet packages, drinks packages, and selected entertainment and events are all bookable. For families, children’s clubs are also available to book daily: again, use My Voyage or call the reception desk for assistance.
The buffet opens in the early afternoon, as do the pools and deck bars (in fine weather), and cafes. Mareel Wellness and Beauty may not be open for treatments, but it should be open for tours and for you to browse their extensive menu. Why not pick the perfect way to pamper yourself later on in the voyage, and perhaps even enjoy a special discount? Multiple parties and sailaway events begin in the late afternoon, and live music – which you’ll find throughout many on board venues – begins in earnest in the evening. Not to mention the restaurants. Be welcomed into a world of culinary delights night after night, all served with a generous helping of our famous White Star Service.
The on board shops and casinos are not open straight away, but will be ready to welcome you when the ship is 12 miles out to sea.
Our top tips for a stress-free embarkation day
Check in online
As mentioned above, this one is a big time-saver at the cruise terminal. Check in online via My Cunard from 21 days before your sail date to save additional queuing and paperwork at the check-in desk. Filling in your complete information will also help speed the process along on the day itself.
If you’re keen to get on board as quickly as possible, the best way to do so is to with priority embarkation. Guests staying in our Princess or Queens Grill Suites get priority embarkation, sometimes having a boarding time as early as midday. This means fewer queues and more time exploring on board.
Platinum or Diamond Cunard World Club members also get priority embarkation. View our loyalty benefits to find out more.
Couples getting married on board with our Celebrations at Sea package also get priority embarkation.
Arriving early vs. arriving later
This one is easy: try your best to arrive at the cruise terminal on time! Your boarding pass, available on My Cunard once you check in, will give you a set arrival time. Your boarding time will depend on which stateroom grade you are (Grills guests get priority embarkation, and so will board earlier in the day), and on where in the ship your stateroom is located. This system helps the terminal staff to get everyone boarded safely and quickly and prevents a build-up of queues in the terminal and on the gangways.
If you arrive early, thinking you will get on board quicker, think again – staff are likely to ask you to wait until your allocated boarding slot. If you arrive too late you risk being denied boarding, so do what you can and plan for traffic or other eventualities.
Prepare to wait
Even if you check in online, arrive in the correct timeslot, and have all your documents ready, you may still experience some queues during the embarkation process. The best way to deal with this is to be prepared. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, bring a drink to stay hydrated, a few snacks to stave off hunger, and something to keep you occupied, like a good holiday read.
Know your stateroom number
Some bookings may have a stateroom assigned weeks before sailing, and some only just before, if you are fortunate to win a last-minute upgrade. Either way, check and re-check your boarding pass so that you become familiar with your stateroom number. The first number is your deck, and knowing this will make it much easier once on board to find your stateroom. The last number is also helpful: odd numbers are found on the starboard (right) side of your ship, whereas even numbers are on the port (left) side.
Consider alternative dining
The embarkation buffet on board with Cunard is a cut above what you would normally expect, but despite the generous size it can get busy, particularly around mid-afternoon when most guests are on board. Your stateroom restaurant (Britannia, Britannia Club, Princess or Queens Grill) will also be open from around 1pm and may provide a more comfortable option. Booking an elevated meal on your first night is also a brilliant tip – Steakhouse at the Verandah, for example, is often booked up later in the voyage, but on embarkation night has space to spare. Book it ahead of time on My Cunard or try your luck once on board.
Put your phone on airplane mode
Unless you have purchased one of our internet packages, you will be charged maritime roaming rates if you fail to switch off your data roaming on your mobile or tablet device. This can rack up an unpleasant bill by the end of your voyage, so we strongly suggest switching on airplane mode once your ship leaves port. Don’t worry – My Voyage works on the ship’s WiFi at no additional charge, so you can use this service to book and plan activities without concern.
What should I bring with me on embarkation day?
Apart from your main luggage, we suggest that you keep the following in your hand luggage for embarkation day:
- Documentation – passport, boarding pass (if you’ve checked in online), proof of insurance, any required visa or vaccination information
- Drink and snacks
- Weather-suitable items: jacket/cardigan, suncream, sunhat
- Swimming costume
Can I board the ship early?
No; you will be permitted on board the ship according to the arrival time stated on your boarding pass. Please ensure you check this before you depart for the terminal to reduce your waiting time.
Are there any age restrictions for embarkation?
Guests under 18 cannot check in by themselves; they must check in at the same time as the accompanying adult on their booking.
Can I bring my own food and drinks?
Yes, you can, and we recommend bringing water and snacks in case of terminal queues. You can also bring a bottle of alcohol (1 litre per guest) on board to enjoy in your stateroom, or (for a corkage fee) in one of our restaurants. We strongly recommend that glass bottles are carried in your hand luggage, as we cannot be held liable for any breakages that may occur in main luggage items.
Is there storage available for carry-on bags during embarkation?
Similar to most airports, cruise terminals do not include storage for hand luggage. Unattended items of any kind are considered a security risk and will be removed and may be destroyed. Ensure you pack suitably for your hand luggage, and that your bags are not too large or too heavy for you to handle until you reach your suite or stateroom.
Can I change dining or activity reservations on embarkation day?
Yes, you can. Any reservations made via My Cunard in the lead up to your cruise can be changed either on My Voyage or by contacting reception once on board (Grills guests can enjoy the service of their concierge to assist them). My Voyage will be available once you board, so you can make new reservations on there as well for the days ahead.
What time are staterooms ready on embarkation day?
Typically, suites and staterooms are available as early as 1pm. Grills Suites will be made available first. If your stateroom is not ready for you when you board, you can relax in one of our on board venues instead, take lunch at the buffet or main dining restaurants, or enjoy a dip in the pool while you wait – remember to pack your swimming costume in your hand luggage!
What if I miss my embarkation time?
Please make sure you check the arrival and final boarding times on your boarding pass. We will do our utmost to get you checked in on arrival, but cannot guarantee boarding if you miss the final embarkation time.