Whether you’re new to cruising or a seasoned sailor, there are always a few things to take on board when planning your next cruise adventure. From choosing the right ship and cabin type to planning your excursion list in advance, we’ve collated all of our years of experience and knowledge into one handy complete guide to cruising

In part three, we take a look at everything you need to know about sailing on your cruise, from how to book a spa treatment to choosing a restaurant for your evening meal.

Take a look at all of our cruises


A lifejacket on board a cruise ship



Part three -setting sail

When can I embark?

The day has finally arrived for you to step on board and set sail on your cruise. After lots of planning and plenty of preparation, it’s time to travel to the port ready for embarkation. To avoid overly long queues (imagine 4,000 + people all arriving at the same time to go on board), your cruise line will invite you to join the ship at a specific embarkation time. It’s important to ensure you arrive in plenty of time to join your allocated embarkation slot, so if you’re driving yourself or travelling on public transport, ensure you leave in plenty of time and check for delays in advance. 

Once you arrive at the port, there are likely going to be various tasks you need to complete before you make your way to the embarkation point, such as ensuring you have a parking ticket in place or having a pre-embarkation COVID-19 test at an independent site close to the port. Make sure you have factored this into your travel time and perhaps purchase parking prior to arrival. Once you have completed all pre-cruise requirements, make your way to the embarkation lounge ready for passport control and relax knowing that you’ve now completed everything needed ready to enjoy your cruise.

What should I wear on embarkation day?

As well as travelling to the port and needing to complete all pre-cruise requirements, you’ll need to do a bit of hanging around on embarkation day, so make sure you’re dressed in comfortable clothes, especially footwear, as they’ll also be a bit of walking to do.

Once on board, it can take a bit of time for your luggage to reach your cabin, so we recommend dressing in smart/casual clothes, just in case you want to have an early dinner in the buffet. In addition, if you’re keen to hit the gym or swimming pools, then it may be an idea to wear your swimwear or gym clothes underneath your day clothes, just in case. 

What happens once we’re on board our cruise ship?

Once you’ve cleared passport control and have been logged onto your cruise ship, you’ll be given your cabin number (if you don’t already have it) and key. Once you have these, you are free to explore your new home, and, if you’ve done your homework, you’ll know exactly which areas you are keen to visit, so you may want to plan your route from your cabin to those first. 

Once everyone has embarked and the ship is ready to depart, you’ll need to take part in an emergency drill,  to ensure that, in the very unlikely event of an emergency, you know which muster station to head to and what will be required if you need to abandon ship. These drills are completely normal and must by law, be undertaken before or just as the ship departs (a bit like on an aeroplane). Following this, you’ll be free to do as you please for the remainder of your cruise, so kick back, relax and enjoy. 

What will be open when I first get on board?

Depending on which cruise line you are travelling with and indeed, where you are departing from, there may or may not be restrictions on what can and can’t be opened before you set sail. Normally, any outlets that sell tax free products such as cigarettes and alcohol (by the bottle) cannot open until the ship is classed as being in foreign waters, so you may have to wait to fill up on stock! 


Some cruise lines have a handy app for guests to use prior to embarkation where they can check out which areas on board need to be booked. We particularly love the new Virgin Voyages app, where you can see everything you need for your upcoming cruise and includes event details and in-app booking so you can plan your cruise and book everything you want to experience before you step on board.

How do I find out what’s on?

As mentioned above, some cruise lines have an online or app portal for you to check out everything that is going on while on your cruise. If technology isn’t your thing, most cruise lines print a daily schedule out for the upcoming 48-hrs. These will normally be put in your cabin by your cabin steward on a daily basis but spare copies are always available from reception. 

What happens if my luggage has not arrived in time for dinner?

You’re on board, have found your cabin and explored some areas of the ship - now it’s time for dinner. But, oh no! Your luggage still hasn’t arrived in your cabin so all you have to wear are the clothes on your back! For this reason, we always recommended wearing smart/casual clothes for embarkation. Most cruise lines don’t throw any gala dinners until at least the second night on board so that you aren’t caught short with delayed luggage. 

How do I book the specialty restaurants and facilities?

If you’re looking to try some of the exclusive on board experiences, you may need to book in advance. As mentioned previously, many cruise lines now offer online or in-app booking prior to embarkation, meaning you can plan everything you want to do before setting sail, leaving the worry of whether they’ll be availability for dinner in the Asian Fusion restaurant or on the cocktail making class, at home!

What happens if I want to cancel a booking or an excursion?

While booking in advance has its benefits, it does mean that, should your circumstances change while on board and you can’t attend, you will need to let the relevant team know as soon as possible. Some excursions or on board activities may require additional payment which will likely be added to your cabin bill for payment on disembarkation. If you fail to cancel any bookings that require additional payment within good time, you may still be charged.

As well as avoiding unnecessary costs, cancelling any bookings that are no longer required will free up room for other passengers to take advantage of.

Do I need to tip while on board?

Most cruise lines recommend tipping certain crew members while on board and the average suggested amount is 10-15%. However, when you consider that you may wish to tip your cabin steward, cocktail waiter and favourite restaurant steward, it soon becomes clear that you’ll be adding a significant amount of additional spend to your budget.

For this reason, some cruise lines now offer included gratuities within the cost of the cruise, so there are now nasty surprises when it comes to paying your bill on disembarkation. Celebrity Cruises and P&O Cruises are two of the lines that currently offer this.

What happens if I am ill while on a cruise?

Due to the nature of a cruise and passengers being in close proximity to one another for an extended period of time, it is an unfortunate fact that bugs can circulate very quickly while on board. It’s important to let the reception staff know if you have any  gastrointestinal illness such as the dreaded D&V so that steps can be taken to ensure both you and other passengers are looked after. 

Depending on what type of illness you have, your cruise line may ask you to isolate yourself in your cabin. If you are required to isolate, stewards will ensure you receive all meals in your cabin via room service and no additional charges are likely to be made. In the unfortunate event that you come down with COVID-19 symptoms, you will need to advise staff immediately and stay in your cabin until a test can be done. If your test comes back positive, you will need to stay there for the required amount of time.

For medical emergencies, there will be a direct line to the on board doctor from your cabin or if in the public areas, one of the stewards will be there to assist you while you wait for the doctor.  To minimise the spread of illness on board, we ask all of our customers to ensure they maintain proper hygiene, following all sanitation processes required throughout their cruise. 

What happens at disembarkation?

As with embarkation, you will be advised of a set disembarkation slot before the end of your cruise. This will normally be left in your cabin for you by your steward a few days in advance. On the morning of disembarkation you will receive an invoice for any charges incurred while on board. You will likely have left credit card details on arrival, so any costs will be debited from your account. In the event that you have any queries regarding your invoice, please contact reception who will be happy to assist.

Shortly before your disembarkation slot, make your way to the passenger gangway (normally the same as the one used for embarkation) where you will be required to wait until you are called. Once you have been called, the crew will sign you off of the ship and you’ll make your way out towards passport control and customs. If you are travelling on a cruise that includes return travel from the port to your home, you will be met by your chauffeur once you have passed through the necessary checkpoints. All that remains then, is to start planning your next cruise.

Find out more 

If you’d like to find out more about the cruises we offer, take a look around our website or call our knowledgeable team on 01737 646412.

Previous: A complete guide to cruising - part two: planning your cruise