Embarkation Day can and should be one of the highlights of your cruise!

The first day of a cruise is often the most overlooked and under enjoyed part of an entire cruise.

Think about it. You may have spent a good chunk of your day traveling just to get to the departure port. Then you arrive in time to wait in line, after line, after line. Finally, once you do board, you feel like cattle being prodded one way or another, and all you really want to do is get to your room, take a shower, and relax for the evening. After all, you have the whole rest of the cruise to enjoy everything on board. Today I’m just going to take it easy and I’ll start my vacation tomorrow.

Well, I for one, and my wife for two, see this as a wasted opportunity. There is so much excitement to be had that first day, and gosh darn it, we’re gonna find it! Embarkation Day is the day to start this incredible cruise journey, and heck, I paid for the day, so enjoy it to its fullest!

For us, vacation begins the moment we stop working, even when we’re still home. We might have a nice dinner or see a show or something before we even leave home! We like to arrive to the departure port at least the night before embarkation, so our traveling is completed already when we arrive. We try to find something fun to eat in town, maybe a local craft beer, and enjoy the fact that we’re already on vacation. We might do some last minute shopping for sunscreen or extra t-shirts, or a flat of bottled water. We put our luggage tags on our bags. Basically, we start relaxing right away. Our morning of embarkation involves a fun little ritual where we stop for a good bagel to start our day. We know the next week or so will be filled with eating, so we never overdo it at breakfast. Finally, we load our rental car, or taxi, and head for port! We always aim for the earliest time you can embark, so we can enjoy the day to its fullest!

Upon arrival to the port, we make sure we’ve packed properly, so that our carry on is minimal. We carry on our water (if they won’t let us check it), and usually each have a bag with a few important things. You never know how long it will take to get your luggage delivered to your room that day, so always pack the most important items in the carryon bag. A swimsuit is a good idea if you think you might want to swim once you board. We also like to wear something fun for our embarkation photo, and purchase it on every cruise. We even have a neat little photo album to hold our first day cruise photos! And then we settle into the terminal for what could be a long wait. But it’s worth the wait. Sometimes the lines move really quickly. Sometimes much slower. But ultimately, you’ll be onboard soon enough. We follow the rules, listen for our number or group to be called, and anxiously await boarding!

Once we do board, we sprint to the buffet… oh wait, that’s what EVERYONE ELSE does. No, we leisurely stroll around the ship, taking in everything as we go. I like to see everything quickly, and then go back around to see certain things more carefully. Nicole likes to take her time as we go. But we both like the thrill of seeing all the onboard venues, watching the people we’ll inevitably run into over and over again, and start planning for the things we know we want to see again! Embarkation day is a good time to make specialty dinner reservations, buy beverage packages, and set up spa or excursion appointments.

One little trick to avoiding the longest lines all over the ship – don’t try to buy your packages or make reservations in the main common areas. Everybody is milling around, asking questions, and creating stress all over. Visit the specialty dining rooms, which are usually much emptier. Visit the spa itself. Visit a smaller, off the beaten path bar. They all will sell the same things, but fewer people know to go there first. And of course, if you’re buying a beverage package, or even if you’re not, those bars always are eager to serve you since they have less traffic. Speaking of avoiding lines, we like to hit one of the alternative dining venues for lunch or a snack. While most people hit the buffet on the lido deck, there are usually plenty of other options, which are much less crowded. Of course they have fewer options, but they also tend to have more unique options. One thing I hear from guests too often, is that they never realized these alternatives existed, or assumed they were not complimentary. We like to try all the various options. And even if something doesn’t sound good to us, we at least know it’s an option.

Make sure to read the embarkation daily sheet for special events related to setting sail. Sometimes there are specials on photos, or specialty dining, or get-togethers to celebrate the cruise. Usually this page will introduce you to the cruise director, and the entertainment to expect. Watch the daily sheets for hours of the dining venues, pools, shows, etc.

Above all, whether you want to relax on your balcony, or explore the ship, make sure not to overlook the first day. Yes, you do have the entire rest of the cruise to look forward to, but getting your bearings of the ship the first day, exploring the options, and settling into the ship environment, at least in my opinion, is part of the fun of being on a cruise. You wouldn’t go to a new city and sit in your hotel room all day, right? Try something new, consider starting a routine, and take in every moment of your cruise vacation – and of course, don’t forget to consult Atlas Cruising when you get the itch to book that next cruise. I’ll work to get you the best deal, and make sure you are completely ready to make new memories onboard!

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