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Congratulations—you’re all booked and gearing up for your very first time on a cruise. You’ve already done a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the logistics of cruise planning, like deciding on when to go and where, and on which ship to sail.

Now, it’s time to daydream about what it’s really like to be going on a cruise for the first time. It’s an exciting prospect to ponder, sure, but not knowing what to expect once you step foot on board can understandably be a little unnerving, too.

After all, nobody wants to show up for their first cruise completely unprepared for the voyage ahead. Happily, you don’t have to scratch your head or battle those pre-cruise jitters for too long. Read through this overview, and you’ll be properly prepped and ready to set sail into new horizons in no time.

Gathering Your Travel Documents

Man holding a passport

Cruises may offer one of the most seamless vacations out there, but you’ll still need to make sure that you’ve acquired all of the necessary travel documents well before your sailing date. This is especially important if you’re cruising internationally, where passports and perhaps advance travel visas come into play.

Or, if you’re traveling with a minor without the accompaniment of both parents, keep in mind that you might have to produce a special permission letter to authorize their travel, too.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises—like the worst-case scenario of being denied boarding on embarkation day—be sure to read the fine print to ensure that you have the documentation you need.

Don’t forget, too, to purchase a travel insurance policy for your first time on a cruise—it’s a small price to pay for the priceless peace of mind a good policy offers. It’s rare, but should a medical mishap, lost luggage incident, or weather-related flight delay crop up, an insurance policy can help navigate the financial and logistical hassles of such a hiccup.

Finally, don’t overlook filling out pre-departure questionnaires and other online forms that may be available to help expedite check-in. Having those documents all squared away ahead of time will help ensure that you breeze through the cruise terminal with ease come embarkation day.

Read: Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

Packing Smart

Woman packing clothes

Packing might seem like a daunting task, but using a cruise packing list will help ensure you bring everything you need before going on a cruise for the first time.

Just keep in mind that you’ll have to do some customization based on variables like climate variations between ports of call and the types of shore excursions and onboard activities that you’re planning.

The most immediate wardrobe consideration will be for embarkation day, so check the weather forecast for your cruise departure port a few days in advance of your trip and plan accordingly. You don’t want to be wearing a parka in T-shirt weather, after all. Layers are always a safe bet, so you can acclimate between sunny decks and air-conditioned restaurants with ease.

Read: What to Wear on a Cruise: The Ultimate Guide

Couple walking on cruise deck

Keep in mind that the nature of embarkation day typically involves some sort of travel, even if it’s just from an area hotel to the cruise ship. Not to mention that you’ll surely be eager to run around exploring the ship once you board. With that in mind, think comfortable and casual dress—and most especially so when it comes to your footwear.

You’ll have access to your stateroom the minute you step aboard with Celebrity Cruises Open Access, so be sure to pack a handheld carry-on with all of the necessities. Key items to tuck into your carry-on include important travel documents, glasses/sunglasses, electronic devices and chargers, medications, and toiletries. You may also throw in a few outfit options in case you want to freshen up and change before starting your long list of activities for the day.

People hanging out by the pool

Plus, if you’re boarding somewhere with pleasant pool weather, you might want to visit the pool deck right away. In that case, be sure to bring along your swimsuit, sunscreen, and a sunhat, too, so you don’t have to miss out on any precious pool time during your trip.

If you’re flying in directly from somewhere with a significantly different climate or have been in transit for some time and simply want to refresh, be sure to pack along a change of clothes in your carry-on, too.

Read: Expert Cruise Packing Tips

All Ready to Board: Checking in at Port

First time on a cruise - Embarkation day

The moment’s finally here: The ship’s literally in sight and you want to do everything right. A cruise terminal can be a bustling place, and the crowds and scale can feel overwhelming when it’s your first time on a cruise.

Have no fear: The port authority and crew will be sure to get you where you’re going with ease. Accordingly, there’ll be plenty of signage and personnel on hand to help funnel eager cruisers to where their ship awaits.

The single most important piece of advice for first-time cruisers is to not be late. Adhere to the time of arrival as outlined on your cruise documents. If you show up late, you might be denied boarding because of port regulations. Or, you could literally miss the boat—the ship doesn’t wait.

Couple walking down Spanish Steps

Rome, Italy

Accordingly, for cruise departure ports not set within easy driving distance, consider arriving at least a day before your scheduled sailing date and booking a nearby hotel for an overnight stay. You’ll keep the stress levels down and have a bonus day to explore a new city. And, besides, you’ll want every minute you can get on the ship to kick off your vacation.

You’ll have to go through a security screening, and then it’s time to present your travel documents, passport, and credit card (to cover onboard charges) for check-in. Your best bet is to streamline your check-in process with the Celebrity Cruises app, which is available on most Celebrity ships.

Without further ado (apart from a souvenir photo or two), it’s time to step on board.

Read: How to Enhance Your Cruise With the Celebrity Cruises App

Getting Settled in on Board

After you’re checked in and crossed the gangway to board, the fun can really begin. It’s time to settle in and explore your new vacation home base.

Butler serving family inside Suite

Celebrity Cruises Suite

Crew will be on hand to greet and help orient you. Your stateroom will likely be your first stop. There, you’ll have a chance to refresh and put down your belongings.

Your assigned stateroom attendant will be sure to greet you the first chance they get. When they do, it’s a good time to let them know about any preferences or concerns that you may have.

Family eating at Seaside Restaurant aboard Celebrity Flora

Celebrity Flora

You’ll then likely want to grab a bite to eat. Consult with the ship’s daily program for a full listing of the day’s dining venue hours, activities, and entertainment; copies are available in the stateroom, at the guest relations desk, and on the Celebrity Cruises app.

Note that these programs will be reissued every evening, outlining the next day’s activities, so you’ll have a chance to plan ahead. Just keep in mind that there’s no way to do everything on the schedule, nor are you meant to, so don’t feel overwhelmed by choice.

People drinking cocktails on a cruise

Sunset Bar

One thing you absolutely shouldn’t miss, though, is the sail-away party on deck as you pull out of port and out to sea. With live music and free-flowing drinks, it’s a festive way to kick off your trip.

Use those hours before sail away to give yourself a self-guided ship tour to get a lay of the land, or visit a spot that you’ve been eager to see, like the pool deck. This is also a good time to sort out any pending reservations for dining, shore excursions, or spa treatments.

Read: What Is Food on a Cruise Really Like?

Pre-Booking Activities Before You Leave Home

People relaxing inside a spa

SEA Thermal Spa

If you’re a planner, note that you can pre-book specialty dining, shore excursions, and even spa treatments well before you set foot on the ship.

Not only will this advance planning get you first dibs on your preferred activities, but you’ll save yourself precious vacation time by not having to attend to these matters once you board.

On Celebrity, you can book all of the above online before your sailing, along with salon appointments and fitness classes, too.

Going Cashless

People toasting at the dinner table

Cruise ships are generally cashless environments. Your stateroom key doubles as your onboard charge card, so there’s no need to carry your wallet around onboard. Better still, on Celebrity, drinks, Wi-Fi, and tips are included.

You’ll use your SeaPass® card to charge extras like spa treatments, shore excursions, fitness classes, and specialty restaurants.

Leaving Your Cell Service Behind

First time on a cruise - family

Be sure to contact your cell phone service provider ahead of your sailing to inquire about any special roaming plans that they offer associated with the ship you’re sailing on. Your regular service won’t cover you once you sail out to sea.

If you don’t have a special plan set up, avoid roaming charges by either turning your phone off or setting it to airplane mode. On Celebrity, if you booked your cruise after November 17, 2020, Wi-Fi is free, so you can connect your phone to the ship’s Wi-Fi service when you board to avoid any roaming data charges there, too.

Celebrity Apex ship exterior

Celebrity Apex

Ready to set out for your first time on a cruise? Our luxury cruise ships sail to more than 300 destinations around the globe—browse our itineraries for the perfect first-time cruise itinerary for you.

Free Vacation Planning Services

Free Vacation Planning Services