Your cruise has been booked for months. You've spent those months anticipating this cruise, perhaps like no vacation before it. When your documents were delivered you read every word over and over, until you became concerned the cruise line representative at check-in might not be able to read them for the wear. Your entire kitchen has become magnetized because of the numerous magnets used to hold shopping lists, packing lists, and document lists hanging on your refrigerator door.
At last the day arrives. You leave home, to begin your cruise vacation. You ask yourself; What can I expect?
To begin with, as you approach the cruise terminal you can expect to see masses of excited people handing their luggage to porters, who place the luggage in bins. When full, these bins will be loaded onto the ship, for delivery to your cabin later. When you hand the porter your luggage, don't worry; it will be delivered to your cabin. They're not going to load that luggage into a truck and drive it back to the airport. Off course, offering the porter a tip of about $1 per bag might ensure that!
The next step is to enter the terminal building, and get in line to go through the embarkation process. You'll proceed through an x-ray machine and metal detector, just like those at the airport. (For my first few cruises I wasn't convinced these machines were actually functional. But lately, with the cruise lines tightening their policies regarding guests bringing their own liquor onboard, it appears they've purchased machines that work. As an experiment, I'd like to build a shoebox that appears to be a bomb, with wires hanging from it, and pack it in my carry-on, next to a bottle of liquor to see what happens going through the cruise line x-ray machine. I'm guessing they'd confiscate my booze and send me on my way.)
Once you've cleared the metal detector, you're ready for the check-in desk. Hopefully as you step up to register, you'll have all your cruise documents already filled in, and just hand them to the staff member, along with your identification and a credit card. Once this is done, you'll be given your "shipboard charge card." These serve as ID, and as your mechanisms for shipboard purchases. In some cases, the same card acts as the key to your cabin. Presuming that you have all the documentation, this procedure should take only a few moments.
The next step depends on your arrival time at the pier. If you're at the pier before they've begun boarding the ship, you'll be given a number or letter, and asked to wait in an Embarkation Lounge until your number/letter is called for boarding. If you arrive after initial boarding has started, you'll just follow the signs to the gangway. You'll know you're close to being onboard when you see the ship's photographers waiting to take a shot of how tattered and battered you look after the completing the embarkation process.
Now you're all set to enter the ship. Walking onboard, you'll be greeted by cruise line personnel. Some cruise lines welcome you onboard, hand you a mini-map, and dare you to find your cabin before bedtime. Others will have white-gloved attendants present to lead you to your cabin, and assist with your carry-ons.
Unless you've booked the Penthouse or Owner's suite, when you enter your cabin you'll see an area smaller than most standard hotel rooms. In fact, many cabins I've had wouldn't have room for the TV set I have in my bedroom at home. Yes, indeed, this is the luxury you've spent thousands of your vacation dollars for: to sleep in a big furnished box.
But, oddly, as you look around you're likely to find that these accommodations are quite comfortable, and quite complete. There's normally plenty of well-thought-out storage space, and after you have a few minutes to adjust to the size, the cabins do begin to feel luxurious (it must have something to do with the hallucinogenic qualities of sea air).
All right, I've managed to get you to your cabin. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll tell you what to expect as you step out of your cabin, to enjoy the rest of your cruise.