Checking in for a cruise is in many ways similar to other things you may have checked in for before. But because a cruise has a lot more moving parts than say, an airplane flight, there are some noticeable differences.
One of them is timing: You’ll want to check in for your cruise about 1 to 2 weeks before your scheduled departure date. Many cruise lines will close the online check-in window 72 or 48 hours before your sail away, so make sure that you don’t leave this until the last minute. You can also check in earlier too, often up to a few weeks or sometimes months before your cruise. (You’ll usually see a link to check-in for your cruise on your online cruise planner.)
In order to check in online for your cruise, you’ll need to have your passport (or other identifying documents if you’re taking a short Bahamas cruise) and the credit card you’ll be using for your online expenses. This will be the primary info you’ll need to input during the online check-in. You’ll also need to tell the cruise line what your transportation plans before and after the cruise are.
Here’s a little secret about online check in – they ask you a LOT of questions, but you don’t have to answer them all. They try to throw in some sneaky marketing questions, like asking you how many cruises you’ve been on before – don’t spend your brain power trying to count them in your head if you don’t know the number right away. Many of the fields in your online check-in are nonessential and you can leave them blank.
You’ll also be asked to designate an emergency contact – this has to be someone who is not on the cruise with you – and provide a phone number for that person.
As part of the process, you’ll be asked to accept a contract that sets out the terms of your cruise – one day, I’m going to have one of my lawyer friends read this and write a blog post on what it actually says. But for now, since you won’t be able to check in unless you accept it, you might as well go ahead.
You’ll enter each passenger’s passport info and add a credit card for your onboard account (if you want, each passenger can have a separate card) before you finish the process. When you’re done, you’ll have two things. The first is something that’s akin to a boarding pass – each cruise line has its own name for this document. You’ll print this out, sign it, and bring it with you to your cruise.
You’ll also get paper baggage tags that you can print out and affix to the luggage that you’re bringing on your cruise; you’ll want to print these out too, one for every piece of luggage you’re planning to bring, and preferably in color if possible. (You don’t need a tag for smaller bags that you plan to carry on the ship.) These tags are for your “checked” luggage, which will be dropped off at the terminal when you arrive and later delivered to your cabin on the ship.
Checking bags onto a cruise ship works a little differently than on, say, an airplane flight. When you get to the cruise port, before you go inside the terminal, you hand your larger bags off to a porter, who will put it on a large cart full of luggage to be taken onto the ship. It must have a bag tag attached, or the porter will write one out for you. Only bags small enough to fit through a standard scanner (like you’d find at an airport) can be carried on to the ship.
The tagged baggage you give to the porter will show up later in the day at your door, but keep in mind that it might be a while, so you might want to bring a swimsuit or a change of clothes in your carry-on bag for the first day. You should also to make sure to keep any important medicines with you in your carry-on, just in case your bag gets misplaced!
Once you’re checked in, and your boarding pass and luggage tags are printed up, you’re ready to go on your cruise! I recommend putting your boarding pass in the same place as your passports, so you’ll make sure to bring both of them with you. Happy cruising!