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Royal Caribbean boarding time: How early can I board my cruise?

12 Feb 2020
Matt Hochberg

You're excited to go on your cruise, so how do you get an early Royal Caribbean boarding time?

Allure of the Seas in Galveston cruise terminal

The day your cruise begins is full of excitement, and naturally, you may be wondering what time you can board the ship.

Many guests are curious how early they can board a Royal Caribbean ship on embarkation day, and more importantly, how early they can board the ship.

The embarkation process has changed a bit since 2021, but after taking dozens of cruises, here is a guide for what to expect.

Cruise check-in times

Galveston terminal entry

In the weeks leading up to your cruise, be sure to complete online check-in. Check-in opens up 45 days before your cruise begins.

Online check-in is a very simple process, and requires just a few bits of information to complete.

You can get a check-in time via the Royal Caribbean app or the website, but the app is much easier.

Depending on when you go to select a time, there will be variety of 30 minute windows for you to choose from. 

Check-in times for Royal Caribbean

Typically, the earliest check-in time will be 10:30am, although sometimes it could be 11am. Remember, these are the times to arrive at the terminal for check-in and should not be confused with what time you will board the ship.

The check-in time you select is not the time you actually board the ship. However, the earlier your arrival time, the sooner you are usually able to embark on the ship.

Tip: If you select a time in the app, you can select a check-in time and return later to fill in other information.

You'll want to do this as early as you can in order to get an early check-in time and avoid wasting time in the cruise terminal.

Royal Caribbean opens up the check-in at midnight (or 5-10 minutes after) based on the ship's home port time.

If you do not complete check-in online, you will be required to complete this process at the pier at least two hours prior to the published sailing time. 

When you complete online check-in, you will be assigned a check-in time.  Since 2021, Royal Caribbean has mostly been enforcing check-in times, so it's important to get a good time as early as you can.

Can I show up earlier than my check-in time?

Royal Caribbean asks its guests to arrive within their check-in window to avoid crowding in the terminal.

Most cruise terminals enforce the boarding times, but occasionally you find situations where a particular pier agent doesn't pay attention to the check-in time or say anything about it.

While frustrating to not have the rules enforced across the board, we still recommend adhering to the check-in time window to avoid any possible denial of boarding until later.

What if I'm late and miss my check-in time?

While showing up early can be a problem, coming in later is not as much of a concern.

Try your best to adhere to the check-in time, but they will still admit you for check-in if you were to arrive later. Royal Caribbean warns there could be a delay in beginning the check-in procedure if you're late, but you will still be able to get to the cruise.

I only see check-in times later than I want. Will earlier times be added?

Possibly, but not likely.

If someone cancels their cruise, their check-in time goes back into the system for someone else to grab. There's no way to know that's happened without checking manually.

As for Royal Caribbean opening up additional earlier times, it's not usually the case.

Should I get The Key for an earlier check-in?

The Key is an optional add-on you can purchase to get VIP benefits, including an early check-in time.

Usually, guests who book The Key are allowed to check-in with the first group (an exact time will be emailed later).

There are two problems with buying The Key for an early check-in.

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First, if you miss The Key check-in window, you have to fall back to whatever time you had before. 

Second, you're spending extra money for a benefit that is not cheap. You'll need to buy The Key for every guest in the cabin (age 6 and above) for every night of the cruise. That seems like a lot to save an hour or two on embarkation day.

Read moreHere’s what ‘The Key’ is (and why some cruisers like it)

What time can I check-in for my cruise if I'm staying in a suite?

Suite guests still need to get a check-in time for their sailing, but usually they will be give more flexibility in their times.

About a week before the cruise, the Suite Concierge will email suite guests with an introduction and outline basic suite policies, including a flexible arrival policy, where suite guests can arrive one hour before or after their check-in time.

When you get the terminal, be sure to tell the pier agent you are staying in a suite so you can be directed to the right place.

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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