The day you arrive for your cruise is a big day. Odds are you've been looking forward to it for weeks, months, and in some cases, years so it makes sense for you to want to make this day as perfect as you can make it.
When to Arrive
When to arrive to the port depends on how cavalier you want to be. Many experts suggest arriving to the port the day before because that way, you don't have to worry about your flight being delayed or traffic holding you back. In addition, arriving a day early allows you to be more relaxed and ready to get your vacation started right. On the other hand, arriving a day early can cost you more money for hotel accommodations, rental car, etc. The bottom line is you want to be able to be at port and checked-in well in advance of the time the cruise line says the ship will leave.
Personally, I like to arrive the day before the cruise and on the day of the cruise's embarkation, arrive at the port in the late morning so I can be one of the first to board the ship. By arriving early, it maximizes the time I have on the ship that first day and the first day is usually a busy day on the ship. First, by boarding the ship around noon or so, you can have lunch on board the ship (instead of paying more money out of pocket to eat lunch somewhere else). Second, you'll be in prime position to book amenities on the ship if you haven't done so in advance such as spa appointments, excursions or to change dining requests.
Getting on board
Once you are on board the ship, there's lots to see and do. I already mentioned grabbing lunch and booking various things as possibilities. If you're new to the ship, be sure to take some time to explore the ship, especially since your cabin may not be ready yet for you to get into. Take a walk around the decks that circumnavigate the ship and get a feel for where things are and even scope out some things you'd like to do during your cruise. This is also a good time to take a tour of the spa, although be forewarned that the sales pitch can be a little heavy handed but there's nothing wrong with simply looking around.
Eventually, your cabin will be ready for you so you can see where you'll be calling home for the next few days. It's also a good opportunity to meet your steward, who will be keeping your room in the condition you'd like. If there are any special requests needed, now is a good time to mention it to him or her.
As the ship approaches the time to leave port, it's hard to beat the sail away party that occurs on the pool deck or if you have a cabin with a balcony, enjoy the view from there. Either way, you'll want to enjoy the fun of leaving port and getting the cruise started.