Oh my goodness, folks, what an experience this was! Since the ship is so big (14 levels), I wanted to write several different posts on the various aspects of cruising. This first post can fall under the auspices of “what to expect” when you first arrive at port.
I know this is going to sound completely nuts, but even though I’m from Ft. Lauderdale, I somehow avoided entering Port Everglades for my entire adult life. As a result, I completely underestimated the time it would take from reaching the port gate (anticipate a line of cars, tankers, delivery vehicles, and semi-trucks) to finding the terminal gate. I had the good fortune of being dropped off directly at my terminal (thanks dad!), but if you need to park and leave your vehicle, it’s probably a good idea to unload the baggage you are checking with a porter, and then drive over to the long-term parking. If you’re taking a hotel shuttle or taxi cab, you can just skip that little piece of advice.
Speaking of luggage, DO print your luggage tags at home prior to driving to the port. It will streamline the check-in process and earn you the love of the employees who are handling your bags. Also note that it might be many hours before your checked luggage makes its way up to your room. For that reason, it’s a good idea to bring anything that you might need right away –bathing suit, camera, book to read, etc…–in a backpack so that you don’t feel limited in what you can take advantage of on the ship.
Okay, back to the process of getting on board: Imagine going through airport security on the busiest day of the year. That’s pretty accurate of what the process is IF you wait until a couple of hours before departure to board. They recommend arriving 90 minutes prior to departure, but truly, I would arrive many hours earlier than that. For a 4pm departure, there was no line around 10:30am. By noon, the line was around the building. Royal Caribbean has a ton of helpful information on their website and it’s easy to find out the earliest time you can board. Once you enter the building, you will go through a security checkpoint (which includes a metal detector). Once you clear security, you will enter a second line to sign paperwork, provide your passport or birth certificate, receive your room key, provide a credit card as a deposit, and get your photo taken. When this line gets long, it will feel like going through customs at a major airport.
Don’t fear though, you’re almost aboard the ship! Once you receive your Sea Card (room key and charge account), you can finally come aboard. The feeling of victory is immense! From the moment that you board the ship, you’re free to drop your backpack off at your room or go to the open restaurant for a meal.
Here’s another tip: DO eat prior to arriving at the port. It really might take as long as 90 minutes to board the ship, so you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t starving during this process. There is a great selection of food once you make it to the restaurant, but don’t be like me and arrive there feeling like a famished lion.
One last thing before the ship sets sail – there is a safety drill that occurs approximately 30 minutes before departure. You will be asked to head over to your designated emergency area (there are lots of people to assist you in case you don’t know where to go). The drill lasts about 10 minutes and then you are free to move about the ship!
I thought this first post would also be a good place to include some tips on what to pack. I embarked on a 5-day/4-night cruise, so you can adjust this list accordingly based on how many days you’re cruising. As a note – I showered and went through more outfit changes than I anticipated, so I used up every bit of the clothing that I packed. From outdoor pool fun, to wandering around the ship, to evenings in the formal dining rooms – I felt like I was hosting the Oscars with how many times I switched it up around the day. Here’s what I found helpful to bring:
2 bathing suits (so that you always have a dry one)
2 bathing suit cover-ups for wandering to the pool and back
5 casual shirts/tank tops
4 pairs of shorts
2 pairs of casual pants/capris
3 causal dresses (or slacks and polos for men) for the main dining room
1 cocktail dress (or suit) for the formal night of the cruise
very comfortable shoes – the ship is huge and you will do a lot of walking
any special clothing/accessories for an excursion if you do one
twice the underwear that you would normally wear (I’ve been showering 3 times a day!)
In the ‘other than clothing’ category:
Contact lens solution
Tote bag or backpack
Since I’m often traveling on a tight schedule, I bring an array of medication with me so that I’m not trying to hunt down a pharmacy. Here is a sampling of what I usually bring:
Advil Cold & Sinus (AM/PM
Trust me, in my 35 years of travel, I needed them at least once. I’d rather have them and not need them than the alternative.
In the next post, we’ll talk all about what there is to do on the ship (answer: A LOT!). Stay tuned…
Disclaimer: I cruised with Royal Caribbean International as part of a press group. While my cruise was complimentary, I did not received monetary compensation and all opinions are my own. Naturally.