Caribbean Cruisin’: How to Have a Fabulous First Day of Your Cruise

Whether you’re a cruise newbie like we were, or on your 50th cruise, I think the best way to really enjoy your first day of the your cruise is to be in “cruise mode” right from the moment you wake up. Sure the itinerary says you’re setting sail at 4:30 pm, and you’re allowed on board around lunch time, but the adventure really begins much, much earlier! So wake up with a smile on your face and a spring in your step because it’s cruise day!

For those of you that might not quite have the cruise spirit just yet may I suggest a song to help you out? This is the song that L and I made up and you’re more than welcome to sing along. Bonus points to those of you who use it to a) wake your teenage kiddo up on the day of your cruise; and b) commit to singing it as many times as possible until the ship sails in order to drive said teenage kiddo crazy (secretly though he loves it he just can’t show it because he’s too cool for that). Extra, extra bonus points to those of you that actually manage to get the kiddo to join in with you, even if it is just in the hopes that if he sings with you you’ll finally stop because your singing is rubbish.

Let me present you with “We’re all going on a cruise today“…

We’re all going on a cruise today, cruise today, cruise today.

We’re all going on a cruise today. We’re going to sail away.

Yep, that’s it. Short, simple, yet effective. The tune doesn’t really matter. Just sing and you’ll smile. If you add a little dance in with it even better. :-)

Now that we’re all in “cruise mode” I’m going to share a few of the things we did and learned that made our first day on the cruise a fabulous one.

Arrive Early & Board Your Ship

If you’re coming in from out of town to join the ship I would definitely suggest flying in the night before. While the ship doesn’t sail until late afternoon you’ll want to be on board much before then and a flight delay could make for a stressful start to your trip, or delay it starting all together if you miss the ship. Don’t think of the hotel the night before as a hassle and an extra expense, think of it as part of the journey and part of the great trip you’re going to have. Your departure port is still a port so plan a little excursion or some sight seeing there too and you’ve just added another “port of call” to your trip. Bonus! Then have a nice dinner and relaxing evening and you’ll be all set to go early on boarding day.

On boarding day try to arrive as early as you can to get checked in and on board because there are a ton of things to see and do. Plus, and this is where you’ll need to have packed some patience, the check in lines can be quite long. I’d say it took us a couple of hours total to get checked in and through security so plan accordingly. In the check in area for Royal Caribbean they did offer some cool drinks and cookies while we stood in line, which is a nice gesture, but some might want to bring some portable entertainment for the wait (especially if you are traveling with kids).

longlines
Oh the lines! So many people.

At the terminal you’ll hand over the suitcases you want them to bring on board for you, just be sure to double check the signs so you’re at the right spot for your cruise line. Dragging heavy suitcases in the June heat of Texas up and down the terminal isn’t the ideal way to arrive for your Sea Pass card photo all fresh faced (oops!). From there you’ll make your way to the security line which will scan your carry-on baggage just like they do at airports. That goes through pretty quickly and then you’ll make your way to the queue to check in, present your documents, and get your Sea Pass card. After this it’s time to get on board!

From here on out your Sea Pass card (at least this is the name that Royal Caribbean calls it) is what you’ll use for a door key, money to pay for things, identification to get on and off the ship, in addition to displaying information about dining times, waivers you’ve signed, or drink packages you’ve purchased. They also offer, at a glance, info about whether a passenger is a minor or not (and therefore entitled to be in the kid/teen zones).

Packing Tips

As there are hundreds and hundreds of bags to be delivered it can take awhile for them to be delivered to your stateroom so the key is to be prepared with everything you’ll need for the first afternoon/early evening in your carry on. It likely goes without saying that all your important documents/passports/ID and medications should be in your carry on but also consider what you’d like to do your first few hours on board. If you’d like to head straight to the pool make sure your swimsuit and sunscreen are in your carry on. You won’t need towels though as they have those at the pool for you to use.

Some useful things to pack (though you don’t necessarily need them in your carry on) are things like:

  • A power strip and/or multi port USB charger. There weren’t that many power outlets in the room so if you are like us and have phones, cameras, tablets, flat irons, etc. then you might need some extra places to charge things or you’ll be playing musical chairs outlets for the whole cruise.
  • Large Ziploc bags. These are good for everything from putting wet swimsuits in on excursions to get them back to your cabin to corralling all the goodies you’ll get on board like your daily cruise itinerary, score sheets from very important card games, and other brochures and mementos you pick up along the way.
  • Some snacks like trail mix or granola bars. Although they have tons of food on board I didn’t really see anything like this and they come in so handy when you’re out on excursions and just need a little something to get you back to the ship for dinner.
  • Waterproof camera. If you’ll be doing any snorkeling, diving, or anything like that this can provide some really neat memories. Even the disposable ones work and aren’t too expensive to get some once in a lifetime pictures.

Other than these things we didn’t really pack anything extra that we wouldn’t pack for any other trip and I didn’t feel like there was anything I wished we had brought. We did purchase some walkie-talkies before we left because we knew our phones wouldn’t work and we’d want to be able to reach the kiddo if he was off doing his own thing. In the end these didn’t really get used (so I wouldn’t recommend spending the money on them) and the old fashioned method of setting a meeting time and turning up on time worked much better. We also would tell each other where we planned to be and then if that plan changed we came back to our stateroom and left a note so we’d always know where everyone was. Simple and it worked.

Welcome Aboard!

Once on board it is time to start soaking it all in, especially if it’s your first time on that ship, or any ship, like it was for us. Our cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas and it was spectacular! It had recently been refurbished too so I’m sure that only helped to show it in its best light.

The first thing we did was head for our staterooms to see if they were ready for us to go in so we could drop our bags off. Sometimes the rooms aren’t quite ready if you’re on early (remember other people just left the ship that morning and there are hundreds of rooms to clean) but ours was all set so we were able to start unpacking and checking out our little home away from home. We also met our stateroom steward and he was awesome! I’ve heard that the staff on cruise ships are great but really between him and our head waiter at dinner every night we couldn’t have asked for two nicer guys who just made us feel like the most important guests on the ship with every interaction.

Cruising with kids tip– If possible, get them their own room. With the kiddo being 13 years old we figured one of the bunks that popped out of the ceiling might not be that comfortable. We then looked for rooms with a sofa bed but after going up several room categories to get to an available one the thought struck us “hey maybe we could just get him his own room“. Brilliant. Since we had opted for an inside stateroom this meant we weren’t all crammed in there, plus we had our privacy, and the kiddo thought he was the coolest kid on the ship with a room all to himself.

We booked the inside stateroom and thought it was quite adequate for two adults sharing the room. There was lots of room in the closet to hang up or store our clothes on the shelves and to put our large suitcase out of the way. Other smaller bags were easily tucked under the bed so there wasn’t any luggage to have to work around in the room. We figured we wouldn’t be in the room that much during the trip anyway, and we really weren’t. There are too many other things to do and places to explore on board to stay in your room all day.

stateroom
Interior Stateroom #9675 on Navigator of the Seas (click here for more information about the room)

Before heading off to lunch we checked out all the information that had been left in our room like a cruise planner, information about the officers and some staff, and our first of the daily ‘Cruise Compass‘ newsletters we’d get every day on board. These tell you everything. From the forecast, weather, sunrise and sunset times (so you can plan your romantic sunset walk on the deck), information about where to pick up tickets for events (even though they are free there can be limited seating), special offers for the day, show times, shop hours, restaurant hours, and a detailed itinerary of all the events happening on board that day…and there are a lot!

Cruising with kids tip– The kiddos have their own activities so be sure to pick up a copy of their itinerary too so they start planning all the times they are going to “ditch” you, their terribly unhip parents, to do their own thing. Ah bummer. Ditch us? You mean ditch us so it’ll actually be just the two of us for that romantic sunset walk on the deck? How awful. Not! :-) Of course this also depends on the age of your child whether they can come and go as they please. 12 years and up don’t require a parent to check them in and out of activities so the kiddo just decided what he wanted to do for the day and off he went. Sometimes he hung out with us but more often than not the teen activities looked much more exciting than hanging out with the old folks.

After reading about all the fun stuff you’re going to get to do while at sea it is also important to read up on the muster drill so you’ll know when and where you need to be. This is mandatory and they do take roll call once you’re out there. It really doesn’t take that long anyway and better safe than sorry. There are also some safety videos and information on your stateroom television that are very informative.

Lunch Time!

Once you’ve read up on the safety information it’s time to find the café (called the Windjammer on our ship) so you can have lots of energy for exploring the ship in the afternoon. There are a TON of choices at each meal so walk around and see what all is on offer. For my first lunch I opted for this very delicious salad. I just wish I could say I kept up this healthy eating for the rest of the trip (I *may* have eaten my fair share of escargot and perhaps a few pre-dinner brownies as the cruise went on). This is also a good time to check out the drink packages, especially for the kids. We ended up getting the kiddo the soda pop package which meant he could refill his Royal Caribbean cup with pop any time he wanted for the whole week. For us, we opted to just go with the free iced tea and juice offered at meal times. They also have packages available for alcoholic beverages which would likely be a good deal if you plan to drink several drinks a day as they are expensive!

salad
Yum! But maybe not quite as yummy as those brownies. :-)

Explore the Ship!

Now is the time to start exploring the ship because there is just so much to see. You were likely given a map of the deck plan which is helpful and then along with that the Navigator of the Seas was equipped with Wayfinder, which are interactive touch screen maps located at all elevator lobbies. They enable you to instantly view the map of the whole ship, certain parts of the ship, and will even draw a route for you if you get lost.

The Navigator of the Seas was equipped with the following:

  • Skylight chapel
  • Several clubs and lounges on various decks
  • Several specialty restaurants (in addition to the Windjammer Café and the Sapphire Dining Room)
  • Flowrider (surfing ride), Sports courts, rock climbing wall, and jogging track
  • Adventure Ocean (for little kids) and video arcade, the Living Room and Optix lounges (for teens)
  • Main pool deck and Solarium pool (for adults only). Pool decks also had hot tubs.
  • Spa and fitness center
  • Art Gallery
  • Library and Card Room
  • Casino Royale
  • Photo Gallery (for purchasing pictures that were taken on board by staff)
  • Royal Promenade
  • Theatre
  • Ice Skating Rink
  • Medical Facilities

All this on one ship! Still can’t quite wrap my head around how they get that all packed in there, in addition to kitchens, staff areas, and crew cabins! Even if you’re not cruising on the Navigator of the Seas your ship is sure to be just as jam packed with similar areas so definitely take a couple of hours to just roam the decks and halls and see everything there is to see. Because there is so much to show you from this ship I’m going to have a separate post that will just be a photo tour of the ship. I must have taken a good 100 photos around the ship alone. Don’t worry I won’t put them ALL on here! :-) Here is a little sneak peek though …it really is a beautiful ship.

Café Promenade (THE place to go for all your before dinner cookie and brownie needs)
Café Promenade (THE place to go for all your before dinner cookie and brownie needs)

 

Main Pool Deck
Main Pool Deck

 

Sapphire Dining Room
Sapphire Dining Room

After an afternoon of exploring it’s time to head to your muster station for the mandatory safety drill. This won’t take too long and then I suggest you head to the bridge to see if your ship gives you a view inside. Here you can watch the action (although there was really very little that happened) as the ship leaves port. OR check your planner because there is going to be a Set Sail party somewhere on board too, most likely it’ll be poolside.

The Bridge
The Bridge

After this it’s time to go out to the bow of the ship and take the mandatory “I’m the King of the World!” photo with the wind whipping through your hair (and no doubt everyone on the bridge looking down and thinking “yep, there goes another one” and then they shake their heads with a little smile). Did we do this? You bet we did! Am I going to share the photos? Heck no! We didn’t quite pull it off like Kate and Leo did.

Dinner and Evening Entertainment

Now that you’ve really messed up your hair pretending to be Kate in Leo’s arms it’ll be time to make your way back to the cabin to decide what you’ll have for dinner. Should you do the main dining room? A specialty restaurant or head to the casual café? Well of course it’s up to you but I suggest the dining room. They really know how to make you feel special and give you a great dining experience. Plus the food was delicious! This is also a good time to try some of those things you might not have been brave enough to try before- like escargot! What have you got to lose? If you don’t like it, they’ll just bring you something else. And if you do like it, well, they’ll bring you more! Don’t fret too much about the attire for dinner either. While you’re not allowed in with shorts, bare feet, and tank tops you also don’t have to bring a tux and ball gown if you don’t want to. For the dressiest nights I wore a skirt and the guys wore collared shirts and trousers and there weren’t any issues. It’s vacation- don’t feel like you have to dress up if you don’t want to. Relax!

After dinner it’ll be time to take in the evening’s main entertainment at the theatre. For our Welcome Aboard show they featured a comedian but other acts during the week included musicians, a comedy duo, and shows with audience participation. Time to just sit back and enjoy!

And with that your first day on board will be coming to an end, unless you have a little more energy than we did and you opt to stay out even later dancing the night away at the club or enjoying a drink in one of the lounges. For us the big comfy bed was calling our names and we called it a night before midnight. What a FABULOUS first day to kick off our cruise!

One final tip before you head off to bed… put any empty hangers you have in the closet on the floor or they will rattle and bang against each other as the ship vibrates during the night. It’ll make for a much quieter night if you do.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you been on a cruise? How was your first day on board? Is there anything else we should do on our next cruise to enjoy the day even more?

To read more about  our Caribbean Cruisin’ adventures, please feel free to check out these posts:

Photo Tour of the Navigator of the Seas: Part 1 and Part 2

Ports of Call: Roatan, Honduras  Belize City, Belize  |  Cozumel, Mexico

Fabulous First Day of the Cruise  |  Fun Days at Sea

2 Comments

  • Elaine Ross says:

    Were are going on our first ever cruise on this ship in June. After reading this, I’m even more excited if that’s possible. This is my retirement treat after 40 years of working for the NHS. This blog has been so informative, so thank you. My husband hates the idea of formal dining, so to know that he will get away with smart casual to dine is reassuring

    • I’m so happy to hear you say you are even more excited. That just makes me smile. :-)

      Congratulations on your retirement and what a great treat to take as a reward. Where will you be cruising to?

      Yes, he can definitely opt for smart casual, or at least Royal Caribbean didn’t seem to mind. You guys can simply relax and enjoy the wonderful dining experience. The food is sooooo good!

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