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Spotted: Royal Caribbean adds new express pass for even faster cruise ship check-in

02 Nov 2023

It looks like Royal Caribbean may have a new way to speed up getting you on the cruise ship.

Express Boarding

Royal Caribbean has steadily worked on developing ways to make the check-in and it looks like a new option may be on its way.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader Bridgetbien posted a screenshot of a new Express Boarding option that appeared in the Royal Caribbean app.

Express Boarding pass

The pass was available for the November 3 sailing of Freedom of the Seas from Miami.  Miami is also the same homeport that the new Icon of the Seas will use when she debuts in 2024.

Read moreWhat it's like to cruise on Freedom of the Seas in 2023

After activating the Express Boarding option, the Set Sail pass turned purple. 

Bridgetbien reported they are staying in a balcony cabin and are Gold level in Crown and Anchor Society, so this isn't necessarily a benefit for suite guests or top tier members.

Express Boarding pass

The new feature was activated after Bridgetbien completed the health questionnaire in the app, "We completed the health form and then the app showed confetti and balloons and that first screen popped up."

According to the pass, guests with this option can look for Express Boarding signs inside the Cruise Terminal.

Royal Caribbean has not formally announced this new Express Boarding pass option, and there's no clear indication who can get it or how to get it.  For the time being, it appears to be a limited test.

Not the first express check-in option

If a faster way to check-into your cruise sounds familiar, this isn't the first iteration.

In early 2020, Royal Caribbean began testing an Expedited Arrival option on select ships.

Guests that downloaded the Royal Caribbean app and filled out all the necessary information pre-cruise could qualify for an Expedited Arrival option.

Expedited Arrival pass

Similar to Walt Disney World's old Fastpass system, guests with Expedited Arrival got to bypass the regular check-in line in the cruise terminal and instead walk through accelerated checkpoints to get onto the ship faster.

The new feature began rolling out to a few ships right before the cruise industry shutdown in 2019.

Following the cruise industry restart in 2021, Expedited Arrival was not seen again.

A long-running effort to make check-in easier

Galveston, Texas terminal security

Royal Caribbean has been waging its own battle to make the embarkation day experience easier and faster.

In an industry centered around guest satisfaction and delivering fun, the check-in process has been a thorn in the side of that desire.

Royal Caribbean is fond of referring to its effort of getting passengers on the ship faster as going from "curb to ship".

Facial recognition

Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to implement facial recognition technology as part of the boarding process in select cruise terminals.

In fact, Royal Caribbean announced it would invest in facial recognition back in 2017 when they introduced a slew of new innovations coming to cruises over the next few years.

Prior to the pandemic, Royal Caribbean saw about 70% adoption rate of the cruise line app on a ship that had the app available. Since the restart of operations in 2021, the adoption rate jumped to the mid to upper 90s.

15 Royal Caribbean boarding process tips for a fast embarkation

06 May 2023

The day of your cruise has finally arrived! You are pulling up to the terminal and see the ship in the distance, only to be confronted by massive crowds waiting to get on the ship just like you. 

Embarkation split

You do not want to spend your precious vacation time waiting inside of the terminal when you could be sipping on a cocktail on the pool deck or getting acquainted with the ship before sail away. 

Boarding early also allows you to enjoy a more leisurely lunch before the Windjammer gets crowded, as well as attend to some check-list things, including confirming dining reservations and signing children up for Adventure Ocean programming. 

If you plan ahead, you might be able to reduce the amount of time spent checking in and get to the fun stuff faster! 

Related30 Do's and Don'ts for the first day of your cruise

Here are 15 ways to speed up the embarkation process and board your cruise ship faster. 

Arrive a day early

Underbelly of airplane

If you do not live within driving distance and are flying to your cruise port, you will want to ensure that you make arrangements to arrive the day before the ship is scheduled to depart.

Aside from any delays or cancellations that could cause you to miss the ship, by being in the vicinity of the ship first thing in the morning, you can secure an early check-in time and have time to relax at your hotel beforehand! 

Reserve a suite

Royal Suite on Liberty of the Seas

When you book a suite on a Royal Caribbean cruise, you are able to begin reaping the benefits before you even step onboard! The specific perks vary based on the ship and suite category, so it is important that you understand the differences if priority boarding is something you want to look forward to. 

All suites on Vision, Voyager, and Freedom Class ships get priority boarding as a benefit, regardless of whether it is a Junior Suite, Grand Suite, or Owner's Suite. 

Suites onboard Oasis and Quantum Class ships are part of what is referred to as the Royal Suite Class. All suites onboard are divided into three categories -- Sea, Sky, and Star -- that receive different perks. 

Sea Class guests, or those staying in a Junior Suite, do not have any priority boarding boarding benefits. Likewise, Sky Class suite guests are only eligible for flexible arrival. Star Suites are the only suites onboard Oasis and Quantum Class ships that guarantee expedited boarding. 

Print your luggage tags in advance

When you finish the online check-in process, you will be able to print your luggage tags. These tags are what help ensure that your luggage gets delivered to the correct stateroom, and by having them ready, you will spend less time outside of the terminal-- you can simply drop off your bags with a porter and go.

Note: it is customary to tip porters $1 or $2 per bag, so you will want a few small bills on your person!

If you do not have them printed and attached upon arrival, you will have to wait to speak with a porter, who will have to fill out a tag and attach it to your luggage before collecting it. 

To make this process even easier, you can purchase luggage tag holders on Amazon. That way, you do not have to worry about them getting damaged. 

Do not take big bags through security

Luggage drop off at PortMiami

Speaking of porters, they exist for a reason! Do not try and take your big suitcases with you onboard. While trying to navigate the lines, physical check-in, and security, it is inevitable that these bags will slow you down. 

Moreover, you do not want to have to worry about lugging them around the ship with you until your stateroom is available! You should only bring a manageable carry-on bag with you that has all of your essentials--you will not need all of your belongings the second you board. 

Have your carry-on bag packed and ready

Before you get to the terminal, you will want to make sure that you have a separate carry-on bag packed with your essentials, such as medication, travel documentation, boarding passes, valuable items, and more.

You do not want to be scrambling to pull these items from your luggage at the last minute. That might require pulling out tons of stuff and having to repack it on the sidewalk! 

The carry-on bag is also a great place to pack some items that will keep younger children entertained during the boarding process and let you attend to the logistics without any distractions. This might include some snacks, toys, an iPad, etc. 

Know your stateroom number


If, by chance, you forgot to print your luggage tags, you will have to tell the porter your stateroom number. Instead of lengthening bag drop off even more, have your stateroom number handy. They will use it to fill out a luggage tag and staple it to the big. 

Even if you came prepared with the tags, there is a chance that someone will ask you your stateroom number at another point during the check-in process. 

Plus, once you get onboard, knowing your stateroom number will help you locate your cabin. You will not find yourself in a position where you walked too far forward or on the wrong side of the ship. 

Purchase The Key

Key entrance

The Key is a cruise add-on that guests may purchase to unlock (pun intended) some benefits meant to enhance their cruising experience, such as priority access into the terminal within a specific time frame.

When you get to the terminal, you will be able to wait in an exclusive area just for those who purchased The Key where employees will handle your in-person check-in procedures. When boarding begins, you will be let on first. 

The Key comes with other benefits, too, that may help justify the extra cost, such as a VOOM Surf & Stream internet package. Sometimes, the price difference between purchasing an internet package and The Key is so minimal that the upgrade is worth it. 

Plus, you will also be able to drop off your carry-on luggage in the Main Dining Room and have it delivered to your stateroom, enjoy an exclusive lunch in the Main Dining Room featuring the Chops Grille menu and private time at onboard activities, and be one of the first people off with priority departure from ship-to-shore at tender ports.

Other perks include VIP seats at shows in the Main Theater, AquaTheater, and Studio B, as well as a private à la carte breakfast and choice departure on disembarkation day. 

Related: I tried The Key (again) to see if it's worth it 

Strive to reach Pinnacle Club

Pinnacle logo

Pinnacle Club is the top-tier of Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society. To reach this level, you have to amass a whooping 700 cruise points! 

On embarkation day, Pinnacle Club members are able to arrive at the terminal up to an hour before or after their scheduled check-in time. 

Of course, there are other benefits that make reaching such a coveted tier worth the effort, including daily breakfast at a specialty restaurant, milestone certificates for free cruises, and others from lower tiers. 

Even if you are seemingly light years away from reaching Pinnacle Club, you should enroll in the Crown & Anchor society, as you will start to receive perks after your very first cruise. 

Complete your online check-in in advance 

Weeks before your cruise is scheduled to depart, you will be asked by Royal Caribbean to complete your online check-in. Here, you will input your home address, travel documentation (i.e., passport or birth certificate), emergency contact information, take a security photo, and confirm your date of birth. 

Making sure that this is done in advance will speed up your physical check-in time at the terminal. 

Have all of your documentation readily available

Even though you will submit your travel documentation online, you will still need to present it at the port. Do not waste your time or hold up the line by digging through your carry-on bag for your passport or birth certificate. If it is readily available, you can move through this part of the check-in process quicker. 

This includes your Set Sail pass, too, as it will have to be scanned in order for you to board the ship! You will not get your physical SeaPass card until staterooms become available. 

Cruise with a passport instead of a birth certificate 

Photo opp

While you technically can use a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID to take a closed-loop cruise in the United States, it is recommended that you use a passport.

Having a passport means not only a simpler embarkation and disembarkation process, but it protects you against an unexpected situation that may arise during your cruise vacation, such as a medical emergency in a foreign country. 

When boarding the cruise, the port agents will not have to spend more time verifying your birth certificate, meaning that those with passports will be able to start their vacation a little bit faster. 

RelatedDo you need a passport for a cruise?

Book private transfers


Making arrangements for a private transfer to the terminal will bring you peace of mind on embarkation day, especially if your cruise port is far from a major city (i.e., Rome to Civitavecchia) or airport. 

You will not have to worry about hiring a ride share service the morning of or hauling your luggage through train stations. You can enjoy your breakfast before your ride shows up at the requested time!

Plus, while cruise line transfers might seem convenient, they are often overpriced, and you will have to wait for the entire bus to fill up before you depart. 

Avoid peak check-in times

If you get to the cruise terminal around noon, do not be surprised to find that a large crowd has already gathered. While most cruise lines have implemented check-in windows to prevent this from happening, you cannot account for those who want to try and get on the ship earlier than they are scheduled to. 

Another way to speed up the time spent in the terminal is to select a later check-in time, as most people want to try and board as soon as they can. Do not, however, push this too far-- you might arrive to find that you missed the final call. 

Keep prohibited items at home


Before you are able to board the ship, you will be required to go through a security process similar to that at an airport. You will have to send your belongings through an x-ray scanner while you walk through a body screener. 

If you bring anything that is strictly prohibited -- like a clothes steamer, iron, alcoholic beverages (outside of one 750ml bottle of wine or champagne per person), drugs, candles, etc. -- this will delay your check-in process. Plus, you may even find yourself denied boarding. 

Before you leave home, read up on what is and is not allowed on Royal Caribbean ships and make sure that your packed belongings do not violate their guidelines. 

Finish the e-muster drill before you arrive at the terminal 

eMuster process

While completing the virtual muster drill in advance will not help you get on the ship any faster, it will allow you to spend more time on the ship doing what you want once you get through the boarding process, rather than watching a video regarding safety procedures when you would rather be getting a drink or exploring. 

Do not forget that you will still have to visit your physical muster station, though!

RelatedWhat to expect with Royal Caribbean’s virtual safety drill

30 cruise ship embarkation day do’s and don’ts

17 Aug 2022

The first day of a Royal Caribbean cruise is an exciting time. Your vacation has just begun and you have an entire cruise full of discovering new ports, eating delicious food, watching top-notch entertainment, and relaxing by the ocean ahead of you.

While it’s tempting to get onboard and immediately start partying and enjoying the day, there are a few things you can do to maximize your time, money, and vacation time later on.

From arriving at the cruise terminal to making dining reservations, exploring the ship, and finding the best spot for sailaway, here are some of the best do’s and don’ts for the first day of your Royal Caribbean cruise.

Do: Explore your embarkation port

If you arrived at your embarkation port the night before, take some time in the morning on embarkation day to explore the city. Walk around South Beach in Miami, visit the Opera House in Sydney, or shop at Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Treat the morning of embarkation day as an extra port stop as opposed to waiting around in your hotel.

Do: Have required documents easy to access at the terminal

Be sure to keep items like passports, negative Covid-19 test results, vaccine cards, etc. easily accessible at the terminal on embarkation day.

You’ll likely be asked to show these items several times throughout the check-in process, so keeping them all in one place is helpful.

Read moreDo you need a passport for a cruise?

Do: Drop off luggage with the porters

When you arrive at the cruise terminal on embarkation day, leave your luggage with the porters. We recommend taking a small carry-on bag (backpack or purse) on the ship with you, but leaving bigger luggage with the porters.

Bags will be delivered to your stateroom later in the day, so you won’t have to worry about lugging your big suitcase or duffel bag around the ship. It's customary to give a small tip for each bag you leave with the porters.

Related: Should you use the porters to take your luggage on your cruise ship?

Do: Pack important items in your carry-on

Carry-on suitcase

If you’re leaving your luggage with the porters at the cruise terminal, be sure to pack important items into your cruise carry-on. Passports, money, credit cards, medication, phone chargers, etc. should all be packed in a carry-on bag to ensure you have access to the items if your luggage encounters any delays getting to your stateroom.

Do: Bring wine, soda, or water bottles onboard

Royal Caribbean allows guests to bring two 750ml bottles of wine or champagne onboard per stateroom.

In addition, guests can bring up to 12 standard (17 oz.) cans, bottles, or cartons of non-alcoholic beverages like soda or water per stateroom.

Keep these beverages with you in the cruise terminal instead of placing them in the luggage you give to the porters.

Read moreWhat food or drinks you're allowed to bring on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Do: Finish the eMuster drill early in the day

Royal Caribbean’s eMuster drill is easy and convenient, so be sure to complete all three steps early in the day once you get onboard. Don’t be the cause for constant announcements reminding guests to complete the drill!

Related: What to expect with Royal Caribbean’s virtual safety drill

Do: Reserve entertainment

inTENse show

As soon as you get onboard, open Royal Caribbean’s app and reserve entertainment shows for the week. Not all shows require a reservation, but the most popular productions (Two70 shows, AquaTheater shows, etc.) will require reservations.

Our recommendation is to make entertainment reservations for the first day of the show each week. Shows can be canceled due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances, so making reservations for early in the week will ensure you have plenty of time to see the show if it has to be rescheduled.

Do: Make dining reservations

If you have a dining package, be sure to make reservations as soon as you get onboard to ensure you can select the restaurants and dining times that work best for you. You don’t have to visit each individual specialty restaurant to make reservations, as the crew member at one restaurant can make reservations for other restaurants onboard.

The only exception to this is at Izumi Hibachi/Teppanyaki. Reservations for hibachi can only be made at Izumi, so it’s a good idea to head there first for dining reservations.

Related: Royal Caribbean specialty dining packages guide

Do: Pack a swimsuit in your carry-on

Pools, whirlpools, and water slides are available to use on embarkation day, and you’ll often find that they are much less crowded than other days onboard. Make sure to pack a swimsuit in your carry-on bag so you can start your vacation right away with a sunny afternoon at the pool.

Related: The Ultimate Cruise Packing List

Do: Enjoy lunch onboard

One of the first things many passengers do once onboard is eat lunch. Many venues are open on embarkation day, including the Windjammer, Park Cafe, Cafe @ Two70, Cafe Promenade, Sorrento’s Pizza, some specialty restaurants, and more!

Do: Confirm Main Dining Room reservations

While exploring the ship on embarkation day, be sure to head to the Main Dining Room to confirm your dining reservation and table. If you would prefer your own table but are seated at a table with other passengers, see if the staff can accommodate your request.

If you have any dietary restrictions that you informed Royal Caribbean of in advance, be sure to confirm that the request has been received.

Related: Top 10 insider tips for Royal Caribbean’s Main Dining Room

Do: Meet your stateroom attendant

Junior Suite on Symphony of the Seas

Your stateroom attendant will visit your cabin twice a day for housekeeping service. It’s recommended to meet your stateroom attendant on the first day of your cruise to introduce yourself.

Stateroom attendants will go door to door to try and meet everyone in the cabins they service on embarkation day, so take a minute to say hello!

Do: Check your cabin

Once cabins are ready on embarkation day, do a quick check to make sure everything is working properly. Test the lights, outlets, television, etc. If you need beds separated or have any additional preferences, make sure to let your stateroom attendant know.

Related: 8 things you should know about your cruise ship cabin

Do: Walk around the ship

Taking some time to explore the ship on embarkation day can give you a better sense of what is available onboard and where everything is located.

Exploring the ship will probably come naturally throughout the day as you make your way to and from your cabin, the pool deck, lunch, entertainment shows, etc.

Do: Register kids at Adventure Ocean

Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean programming for kids holds an “open house” on embarkation day where you can explore the facilities and sign your children up for Adventure Ocean.

It only takes a few minutes to register kids for Adventure Ocean, so it’s a good idea even if you aren’t sure that your kids will attend.

Plus, sending your kids to Adventure Ocean on the first day of the cruise can allow them to make friends right away, as the first day is a prime time for making new friends onboard.

Read more7 Best Royal Caribbean cruise ships for Kids

Do: Unpack

Quantum of the Seas cabin drawers

Once your luggage is delivered to your stateroom, take some time to unpack your belongings. While it’s acceptable to live out of your suitcase all week, taking time to unpack clothes and other personal items into your stateroom’s closets and drawers can help you feel more “at home” in your cabin.

Do: Enjoy an embarkation day drink

Nothing screams “cruise vacation” quite like a tropical cocktail by the pool, and that’s exactly what you should enjoy on embarkation day!

After having lunch onboard, head to one of the many bars on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship to order a cocktail (or mocktail!) and get your vacation off to a fantastic start.

Related: 8 mocktails to try on your next Royal Caribbean cruise

Do: Find the best sailaway spot

Each class of Royal Caribbean cruise ships differ in layout and design, so be sure to scope out the best sailaway spot on embarkation day to ensure you have the best views of your ship leaving port.

Here are some of our favorite spots for sailaway:

  • Vision Class ships: deck 10 forward
  • Radiance, Voyager, and Freedom Class ships: helicopter pad
  • Quantum and Oasis Class ships: Solarium bridge wings

Do: Take time to relax

Vue Bar

Embarkation day can be a bit hectic onboard, with thousands of passengers navigating their way around the ship. From getting through the cruise terminal to making reservations, completing the eMuster drill, and unpacking, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Remember to take some time to relax on embarkation day, whether lounging on a pool chair, enjoying the hot tubs in the Solarium, or simply sitting in a lounge with a drink.

Do: Order multiple items in the Main Dining Room

One of our top tips about the Main Dining Room on a Royal Caribbean cruise is that you can order as much as you’d like. If you’re having trouble deciding between appetizers, main courses, or desserts on embarkation day, order multiple items!

After all, why choose between the key lime pie and chocolate hazelnut cake when you can have them both!

Related: 7 cruise ship Main Dining Room rules to follow– Plus 1 to break

Do: Sign up for onboard activities

While most onboard activities do not require making a reservation in advance, there are a few that do: RipCord by iFLY, North Star, Zone Zero, and the escape rooms.

Open the Royal Caribbean app on embarkation day and make reservations for these activities to ensure you can select the date and time that works best for your schedule.

RipCord by iFLY and North Star offer both complimentary and extra cost options, so if you don’t want to pay for these activities it’s recommended to reserve the activity ASAP once onboard.

Do: Take a spa tour

Massage at the spa

The Vitality Spa offers free tours of their facilities on embarkation day, which can be a nice way to see what the spa has to offer and learn more about which treatments are available.

This is also a good time to confirm your existing spa reservations or book an appointment.

Do: Download the Royal Caribbean app

The Royal Caribbean app is an extremely useful tool on your cruise, as it’s where you’ll find a list of daily activities, your billing information, deck maps, and more.

Having the Royal Caribbean app downloaded on your phone in preparation for the first day of your cruise is recommended so that you don’t waste any time once onboard.

Now that we’ve reviewed what you should do on the first day of your cruise, let's take a look at the don’ts.

Don’t: Fly to the port the same day as your cruise

One of the most critical things not to do is fly to the cruise port on the same day as your cruise. Unexpected delays, missed connections, and cancellations are extremely common in air travel, so be sure to arrive the day before your cruise to allow for some extra wiggle room.

Related: Why you shouldn’t fly to your cruise the same day it begins

Don’t: Arrive at the port before your check-in time

While it is hit or miss whether a departure port strictly adheres to the scheduled check-in time you picked when checking in online, it’s still best practice to show up to port at your scheduled check-in time.

If your check-in is at 12PM and you arrive at 11:15, you’ll probably be allowed to board. If your check-in time isn’t until 2PM, however, and you arrive at 10AM, you’ll most likely have to wait a while.

Don’t: Go to Guest Services on the first day

Guest Services is an extremely valuable service throughout the cruise, as crew members can answer any questions you may have, settle billing discrepancies, etc.

On the first day of the cruise, however, Guest Services can be prone to long lines. It’s best to save any questions for the second day of the cruise or go to Guest Services during less busy times of the day such as during dinner.

Don’t: Only consider the Windjammer for lunch

While the Windjammer buffet offers nearly endless choices, it can be extremely busy for embarkation day lunch. Consider skipping the crowds and eating at another venue instead, such as Park Cafe or Sorrento’s.

If you are hoping for a more relaxed feel to embarkation day lunch, make a reservation at a specialty restaurant for a much calmer atmosphere than what you’ll find at the buffet.

Related: Guide to Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer Cafe buffet

Don’t: Leave your phone service on

Remember to put your phone on airplane mode before sailaway! Even if you have international service, it most likely does not count cruises into the phone plan. Avoid extremely high phone bills by placing your phone on airplane mode.

Don’t: Try to do everything

It can be tempting to pack the first day of your cruise with activities. There are so many fun things to do on a cruise, from watching Broadway musicals to indoor skydiving, bumper cars, zip lining, surfing simulators, mini golf, and more.

Don’t try to do everything on the first day, though, and remember that you can spread out activities throughout the cruise. You are onboard to relax, after all, so don’t make yourself exhausted by trying to fit everything in one day!

Don’t: Wait to book excursions

Every Royal Caribbean ship has a Shore Excursions area onboard where you can learn more about which excursions are available, talk to crew members specializing in excursions, and book tours for your cruise itinerary.

It’s recommended that you book excursions in advance instead of waiting to do so on the ship so that the excursions you are interested in do not sell out. While it can be helpful to talk to crew members about the tours in more detail, you run the risk of far fewer tours being available compared to booking ahead of time.

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise? Start here:

Royal Caribbean's online check-in requires a negative covid test before arriving to the cruise terminal

17 Feb 2021

Many aspects of the cruise experience are going to change, including the check-in process at the pier.

Between what has changed with Quantum of the Seas sailings in Singapore and comments from Royal Caribbean executives, we have known arriving at the cruise terminal was going to undergo significant changes to spread guests out and ensure everyone is healthy to board.

Royal Caribbean recently updated its online check-in process, and some guests who have cruises booked for May 2021 are seeing some of the changes listed.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader Leroyr55 shared a screenshot of the check-in process that lists a few notable changes.

Wellness check

Guests arriving on embarkation day have always been asked some common questions about their health, but that process is now much more elaborate.

The wellness check is part of your pre-selected check-in time at the cruise terminal.

"We’re doing everything we can to ensure our ships sail with healthy guests and crew by implementing wellness checks for all guests."

Your arrival time is also when you take your pre-cruise wellness check.

What exactly the wellness check entails remains to be seen, but Royal Caribbean's cruise contract indicates it will likely include:

  • Providing an accurate, truthful and complete health questionnaire in a form
  • Pre-embarkation testing and temperature checks of each passenger

Read moreRoyal Caribbean adds COVID-19 into cruise contract for all passengers

Negative test required

Another major step is a negative covid test is required when you arrive to prove you have recently tested negative.

"We require all guests to complete SARS-CoV-2 (rtPCR) testing prior to sailing and bring the results to the pier prior to boarding."

Royal Caribbean committed to fully testing all passengers and crew in October 2020 (along with the entire cruise industry).

The check-in process does not indicate if the test taken before you arrive to the cruise terminal will be paid by the cruise line or by the guest, nor where they can get one done.

On-time arrivals

Another change is the check-in times matter.

Before the global health crisis, check-in times were never enforced, but now it appears that has changed.

"Your arrival time is also when you take your pre-cruise wellness check. Please plan to get to the terminal during that time window - not before or after - so you board smoothly."

You can get an arrival time by completing the online check-in before the cruise via Royal Caribbean's app.

Read moreRoyal Caribbean says its app is required when cruises restart

Should you use the porters to take your luggage on your cruise ship?

29 Sep 2020

When you arrive at the cruise terminal for the first day of your cruise, there are porters waiting to take your luggage so that it can be delivered to your stateroom on the ship.

Should you use their services, and if so, what is the "catch"?

They're there to make things easier

Porters are a convenience meant to simplify the process of getting your belongings on a cruise ship.

Think of porters like curbside luggage check-in at the airport.  You drive up to them, drop off all of your checked luggage and they lug the bags to be delivered to the ship.

There is no fee for their services, but a tip is customary for their services.  Usually $1-2 per bag is what most people pay.

You will give them anything you will not need for the first few hours after getting onboard.  Luggage gets delivered onboard the ship in the afternoon and early evening, once it gets scanned by security and delivered to the appropriate deck.

Be sure that each piece of luggage is tagged with luggage tags. If not, a porter can provide one on the spot.

What if you don't use a porter?

If you opt not to use a porter, you will have to take your luggage by yourself through the cruise terminal and onto the ship.

Keep in mind your luggage must be able to fit through the security x-ray machine in the cruise terminal, so if it cannot, you will have to send your luggage with the porters.

After the cruise is over

Upon disembarking your cruise ship on the last morning of your cruise, there will be porters available to help you with your luggage.

Just like on embarkation day, there is no fee to use their services, but tipping is expected.

Not only will porters make things easier on you on that final morning, but in many cruise ports, porters have their own line for getting through customs which can greatly speed up exiting the terminal.

Should you use a porter?

I always use porters on embarkation day or on disembarkation for the convenience they provide at very reasonable cost.

For $1-2 per bag, it is a bargain to have someone else lift and drag my bags around. 

Plus, I have found porters to be invaluable on the final day to get through customs faster. In some terminals there are special lines for them, and even when there is not, porters often shave time off by knowing where to go and when to expedite the process.

All too often I see some family with all of their bags dragging them through the ship, into the elevators, and stacking them on the pool deck or in the Windjammer while they wait for the room to be ready. 

In short, the low cost of having to tip is worth using them.

Helpful tips for using porters

  • Make sure your luggage tags are affixed to every piece of luggage before you get to the terminal.
  • If you run out of luggage tags (or forget them), porters can provide ones for you.
  • Luggage may not be delivered until the evening, so keep anything important with you (medicine, sunscreen, swimsuits, anything you need for dinner).
  • Keep a few small bills for porters for easy tipping.

The best spot for sailaway on every Royal Caribbean cruise ship

25 Sep 2020

When your Royal Caribbean cruise ship begins to sail away from port and your cruise actually begins, you will probably want to have the best spot to enjoy the view as your ship departs.

There is plenty going on during sailaway on a Royal Caribbean ship, and if you want to find my recommendation for the best spot to enjoy sailaway, here is a list of the top spot on every ship in the fleet.

Keep in mind that this is a very subjective list, as there is no way to qualitatively determine the superior spot. I have chosen some good places that should fit most people's needs, but keep in mind you should scout out your own spot ahead of sailaway and determine what you want in a sailaway spot.

Some people prefer there to be music and a party, ample beverages available, or perhaps the best view possible.

Top sailaway spots for every ship

Spectrum of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Symphony of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Ovation of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Harmony of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Anthem of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Quantum of the Seas: Bridge wings near Solarium, or anywhere on top deck

Allure of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Oasis of the Seas: Bridge wings on deck 14

Independence of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Liberty of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Freedom of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Jewel of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Serenade of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Mariner of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Brilliance of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Navigator of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Radiance of the Seas: Helipad on deck 5

Adventure of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Explorer of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Voyager of the Seas: Helipad on deck 4

Vision of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Enchantment of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Rhapsody of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Grandeur of the Seas: Solarium or anywhere on top deck

Majesty of the Seas: Viking Crown Lounge

Empress of the Seas: Anywhere on top deck

Other great spots for sailaway on any ship

Your balcony

If you are staying in a balcony or suite cabin, you have access to your own private spot to enjoy sailaway.

Having a balcony is a quieter experience than sailaway on other decks of the ship, and it allows you to see the scenery going by from the comfort of your balcony, or even from inside the room with the blinds open.

Families with young children may find sailaway from their balcony room a great choice, since the child can nap or play quietly while you still get to see everything going by.

Pool deck party

Weather permitting, there will be a party somewhere on the ship that coincides with sailaway. 

You can expect a DJ playing fun music and crew members leading everyone in dancing.  In addition, the nearby bars are open and waiters taking drink orders as well.

The sailaway party is usually a safe bet if you are new to cruising, or looking for where to go where most others will congregate.


If you are looking for an alternative way to enjoy sailaway, how about from the massage table at the Vitality Spa?

The spa is open on embarkation day, and some of the best deals are offered to anyone who wants to book a treatment on the first day of the cruise, especially during sailaway. Since there are less people willing to skip sailaway, the deals can be quite lucrative.

Plus, getting a massage is a fun and relaxing way to kick off your cruise vacation.

What is your favorite sailaway spot?

Which sailaway spot do you love to go to? Share the ship and place you love to go for sailaway in the comments!

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

12 Feb 2020

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.

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.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Embarkation Day tips & advice

29 Jan 2020

Listen to the Show

The first day of your cruise is filled with excitement, plenty of anticipation and lots to see and do.  This week, Matt offers advice on how to tackle your first day onboard with important do's and don'ts.

Share with me your thoughts, questions and comments via...

On this episode:
Running time:

How Royal Caribbean will make check-in, Adventure Ocean and its app easier & faster

27 Nov 2019

Royal Caribbean has a reputation for being a leader in a variety of areas, including integrating technology to make the guest experience easier.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. SVP Digital Experience Jay Schneider has been at the helm of Royal Caribbean's next-gen tech, known as Project Excalibur, for three years and shared the plans, challenges, and successes the company has with leveraging technology.

The origins of Project Excalibur

All good stories have a beginning, and Project Excalibur began with a simple task from the very top of Royal Caribbean.

"Project Excalibur started as a result of really a passion from Richard (Fain); Seeing what was happening elsewhere, both across the industry, travel and hospitality overall, and just frankly, the planet. With more and more Millennials sailing with us, with more and more digitally enabled consumers at all ages, it really became an opportunity for us to step back and look at how do we transform our company through the use of technology."

"It really became an opportunity for us to step back and look at how do we transform our company through the use of technology."

"It wasn't really an idea of what it exactly meant, but the goal was to unpacking how to digitize everything. Digitize the things that we could remove the hassles from guests, put them on vacation faster, pull friction out of the experience."

"We see friction in a number of different ways; It's interacting with the Cruise Planner website, it's doing your check-in process... Friction can be digital, it can be physical. There's real friction: your key doesn't work, you'll have to go Guest Services. Sitting through muster is friction. Not being able to get into your room is friction. Not wanting to have to wait in line for a cocktail, or have to run down to Sorrentos, is friction."

App development isn't easy

Like all software development, creating a brand new Royal Caribbean app that sought to simplify the cruise experience for guests is not an overnight task. Moreover, developing an app to work on a cruise ship comes with its own set of challenges.

"Everything you expected on land, is designed for you to be on land. Your phone wakes up through a push notification, because you're connected to the cloud somewhere, whether through WiFi or cellular. There are so many ways where technology on land is easier."

"The problem is we also operate 50 data centers at sea that have to work in a redundant way, and so if you think about that, our challenge is to figure out how, you, the consumer can work with us when you're on land and then when the guest is onboard, how everything is localized."

How close are we to chat across the fleet

One of the most-requested features for Royal Caribbean to offer is a guest-to-guest chat communication feature. Royal Caribbean has been testing a chat function in its app on Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas for months, so we asked Mr. Schneider when chat will roll out to the entire fleet.

"One of the things we've gotten complaints for, is the pace of our evolution. In fact, the number one reason people rate us poorly in the app store is, 'You're not on my ship.' That's deliberate. We want to make sure that the technology we put onboard every ship works flawlessly, and chat isn't there yet."

"We know people want chat. We know it's the number one feature they ask for, and it's something we're trying to rush to the market."

"I hope in early 2020, we will be able to light chat up on every ship that has the app. I think we're a couple months away of final testing."

"You asked the question around why it's hard to put technology on a ship, chat is the hardest. There is a number of ways Apple, and even Google on an Android platform, expect you to operate that doesn't exist at sea in the ocean."

"We know people want chat. We know it's the number one feature they ask for, and it's something we're trying to rush to the market."

How to make embarkation super smooth

We asked Mr. Schneider how his team's work is making embarkation as easy as possible, and he shared a few easy tasks anyone can do to take advantage of the cruise line's expedited arrival process.

1. Create a guest account with Royal Caribbean before the cruise.

2. Download the Royal Caribbean app from either the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store.

3. Begin check-in and make sure you do a few steps:

a. Fill out all the questions in the short form provided.
b. Scan your passport with the app (do not manually enter the passport information).
c. Take a security selfie photo. Make sure you do not have a hat on or sunglasses, and have as muted a background as possible.

Adventure Ocean: A new challenge

On Oasis of the Seas, the Project Excalibur team faced a brand new challenge: Adventure Ocean kids programming.

"The reboot of Adventure Ocean on Oasis is amazing...We wanted to bring technology to the experience that was contextual for each of the different age ranges that we serve."

"We wanted canvases that we could continue to tell amazing creative on, and digital gives us the ability to do that."

"You'll see technology that we've partnered with companies and bought. You'll see custom content that we've created. We wanted canvases that we could continue to tell amazing creative on, and digital gives us the ability to do that."

"I think one of the game changers is kids registration, instead of filling paper out for parents. Parents no longer have to fill paper out, it's tap your SeaPass card, we know who you are; tell us what we need to know about your kid and go on.  Eventually that'll be available pre-arrival in the app, so you could just do it pre-arrival and not even hassle onboard."

"For kids, there's games they've never played before, stories they haven't come through yet, really ways to entertain them that we haven't put on ships yet, that I think is going to be awesome."

Royal Caribbean offering guest expedited arrival options to speed up check-in process

12 Mar 2019

Royal Caribbean is now offering an expedited arrival option on about a half dozen of its ships that aim to get guests onboard quicker than ever.

With expedited arrival, available for select ships and terminals, guests can go from sidewalk to ship faster and easier than ever. All it takes is three simple steps:

Step One: Download and check-in via the Royal Caribbean International app to obtain their mobile SetSail Pass. 

The app is available on the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

Step Two: If eligible for Expedited Arrival (indicated on their mobile SetSail Pass), follow the Expedited Arrival signs at the terminal to pass through accelerated checkpoints.

Step Three: Skip the check-in desk, scan their SetSail Pass at the gangway, and board the ship!

Expedited Arrival is currently available when embarking the following ships at these terminals:

PortMiami (Terminal A)

  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Allure of the Seas
  • Symphony of the Seas
  • Mariner of the Seas

Port Everglades (Terminal 18)

  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Serenade of the Seas
  • Independence of the Seas

Port Canaveral (CT1)

  • Enchantment of the Seas
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