Best time for boarding Cruise: How early can you board?

Best time for Boarding Cruise: Thousands of passengers will be getting off the cruise ship on the day you embark. The staff needs to get ready to welcome you and thousands of other visitors on board the ship when those people disembark.

As you wait in the cruise port for your turn to embark, the excitement might be unbearable.

This raises the question of how early a cruise ship can be boarded.

A cruise ship usually opens for business 4-5 hours ahead of its scheduled departure time. The earliest you can board a cruise ship, however, depends on several circumstances.

This article will go into more detail on the ideal time to board a cruise ship and how early you can board. Stay tuned as we also contrast the experiences of early and late boarding to help you get a feel for what to expect when you arrive at the cruise terminal.

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(Credit: Strong Island)

Cruise ships depart at different times; however, passengers can board as late as 90 minutes to two hours before the planned departure time. That is usually around 4:00 pm, however, to be sure of the precise departure time, it is important to verify with the cruise operator.

All cruise lines must give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security a finalized passenger manifest at least an hour before ship departure.

Therefore, to present a comprehensive passenger manifest, cruise ships ask guests to arrive at least two hours before to leaving.

You may be allowed to board 60–90 minutes before departure if you completed the online check-in procedure. But federal regulations state that you cannot board your cruise ship an hour before departure.

That being said, you can inform the cruise line at the check-in desk if a friend or family member is going to be late. The cruise line may postpone mailing the passenger manifest for a short while if the late traveler checked in online before embarkation day.

Don’t expect them to wait for very long, though. You won’t be able to board the ship if you miss the window. The majority of cruise lines advise guests to arrive well in advance of the planned departure to prevent missing the boat.

And one of the reasons we advise everyone to set out early is the stress of arriving late. It is always best to arrive at the cruise port by plane the day prior. To reduce the chance of missing the ship, we advise selecting an early flight if you must book a flight that arrives on the day your trip departs.

When Is the Best Time to Get to the Port for Cruise?

The normal time for cruise ships to start boarding is four hours before the planned departure time, which is normally between 12:00 and 1:00 pm. The general rule of thumb is to arrive one day early if you’re flying into your departing port. Naturally, only when it’s feasible.

This lessens some of the anxiety associated with flying, as real arrival times can be somewhat erratic. You can unwind and revitalize the day before you board the ship by arriving at your departure port by plane early. On your first day at sea, you don’t want to get to bed at 7 p.m.! There are shows to see, a ship to explore, food to eat, and disco dancing to do.

Nine times out of ten, you will want your flight to arrive no later than midnight on the day of departure if arriving a day early is not a possibility. Once more, make sure to factor in time for delays, luggage pickup, and transportation to the dock. You can either take the next available cab or pre-purchase cruise line transfers to get you to the pier. Which is more economical will depend on each specific departure port; your cruise professional can clarify this.

Plan to arrive by midday if you’re driving to the cruise terminal to account for traffic and any other unforeseen circumstances. We offer a comprehensive list of all departure ports, parking costs, and other relevant information if you need directions.

When Do Cruise Ships Leave?

Alaska cruise port
(Credit: Cruise Hive)

Make sure you regularly verify the precise departure times in your cruise documentation. Cruise ships departing from ports such as San Juan, Puerto Rico, or those in the Mediterranean may not leave until 8:00 p.m. or later. Most cruise ships in the Bahamas or Caribbean leave at 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m.

However, it’s not always that simple when it comes to cruise boarding schedules. Every cruise line has its regulations, so you must be aware of your specific cruise line’s boarding requirements while making other travel plans and booking your trip.

For instance, staggered boarding times are chosen in advance on some cruise lines, like Carnival Cruise Line, and you are not permitted to embark after the window you have been assigned. Therefore, if you arrive at 12:00 p.m. and your boarding window starts at 1:00 p.m., you probably have to wait.

In general, if you’re on a cruise line that doesn’t need pre-selected boarding times, the earlier you arrive or the earlier you choose your boarding time, the better. This will give you more time to take advantage of everything your cruise has to offer and will help you avoid any issues as the departure time draws near.

It’s debatable when is the best time to visit to avoid large queues. Thus, to avoid missing your cruise, make sure you arrive on time if you decide to board later or arrive later.

Barding times of diffrent cruise Lines

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Carnival Cruise Line

When it comes to designated boarding times, Carnival Cruise Line is the strictest cruise line. When checking in online with Carnival, visitors must choose a boarding time and pre-register. Travelers are required to board within the specified window for check-in.

You might not be allowed to check in and board until your Arrival Appointment, even if you arrive early.

Although they are not restricted by the check-in window, guests who have a suite reservation, purchase Carnival’s Faster to the Fun perk package, or are Diamond or Platinum VIFP club members must choose a check-in time.

“Although guests may access the terminal at 10:30 am, boarding is scheduled to begin at approximately 12:30 am,” according to Carnival.

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Disney Cruise Line

Similar to Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line allows for online check-in with staggered boarding schedules. The cruise line gives priority to long-term passengers’ preferred boarding times, giving devoted Disney guests preferential boarding.

If you’ve taken a Disney Cruise ten times, for instance, you can select your boarding time 120 days prior to the day of embarkation. First-time passengers, on the other hand, select their boarding time 75 days before travel.

If passengers arrive at the terminal early, the cruise company requests that they wait for their planned boarding time.

On the majority of sailings, passengers can embark as early as 11:00 a.m. The precise time of embarkation, however, can change.

“Streamline the boarding process and select your port arrival time; we recommend that you complete My Online Check-In ahead of time,” is what Disney Cruise Line asks of its passengers. (Reference)

Holland America

The boarding permit issued by Holland America Line includes the time of boarding. On the other hand, you can board Holland America as early as 11:30 a.m. if you have the Early Embarkation package.

“We strongly encourage you to complete the check-in process at our website,,” says Holland America.

Norwegian Cruise Line

A guest’s boarding time is included in their cruise eDocs by Norwegian Cruise Line. When the terminal opens, you can board if your online check-in is complete.

After completing the online check-in process, guests are allowed to arrive up to one hour before to the scheduled departure time. According to the terms of the cruise paperwork, customers who have not finished the online check-in must “arrive at the cruise terminal no later than two (2) hours before the scheduled embarkation time.”

“All guests are required to complete check-in at the cruise terminal and be onboard the ship no later than one hour prior to the departure time noted on their cruise documents or they will not be permitted to sail,” says NCL. “This is to facilitate the embarkation process, the processing of your eDocs, and to comply with new government regulations governing departure manifest.” Please be aware that visitors must be at the port two (2) hours prior to sailing if they have not finished their online check-in. (Reference)

Princess Cruises

Early boarding is available to those who have reserved a suite or premium membership with Princess Cruises. However, regular passengers have a designated window of time to arrive and board.

Princess Cruises may also allow groups with a member with a particular need to board early. If so, you will have to make a call thirty days before to the departure of your cruise.

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean does not assign check-in time windows. As a result, you can board as soon as the cruise is prepared for guests to board the ship.

If you check in online before you arrive, the cruise line might even let you bypass the terminal check-in procedure.

All guests are given a boarding window by Royal Caribbean, and they are advised to adhere to the stated check-in windows. It is required by the cruise line that guests arrive at least sixty minutes in advance of the planned departure time.

It is recommended that guests arrive at the port at least sixty minutes before the scheduled sail time. When it comes to their E-docs (electronic paperwork), guests should follow the advertised check-in windows. Alternatively, they can comply with the general boarding schedule, which is contingent upon the ship’s sail time. (Reference)

Virgin Voyages: Among cruise lines, Virgin Voyages offers some of the newest boarding times. “At Virgin Voyages, we completely support our sailors’ desire for a late checkout,” the cruise operator claims. Thus, boarding usually starts at 2:00 p.m., but sailors have to arrive at the terminal at the time they have chosen.

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Is it required that you board at the appointed time?

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During embarkation day, the Liberty of the Seas cruise ship from Royal Caribbean is seen at the port of Miami. Certain cruise lines, such as Holland America Line and Royal Caribbean, offer windows for guests to check in, although they do need them to adhere to the designated time. The check-in timings are more of a recommendation, in our opinion.

For instance, we were able to start the check-in procedure an entire hour ahead of schedule during our Serenade of the Seas trip.

You can be requested to wait in the terminal until it’s your turn to board if you come earlier than expected. Additionally, you might have to wait in line a little longer than usual if you arrive late.

However, from what we’ve observed, it’s well acknowledged that you don’t have to arrive at your designated embarkation time.

But when it comes to boarding hours, Carnival Cruise Line is extremely rigid.

You will have to wait until it’s your turn to board if you get to the terminal early. Carnival is one of the rare exceptions.

Final Thoughts

When may one board a cruise ship, then?

You can probably board as early as 4-5 hours before the cruise ship is due to sail if you don’t have a designated check-in time.

Nevertheless, once the morning rush has subsided, the ideal time for you to board is somewhere in the afternoon. Likely, there won’t be a big line when you check in.

Nonetheless, certain cruise ships could have their own regulations and procedures for boarding. Therefore, carefully verify the arrival time at the terminal on your boarding pass.

Find your boarding paperwork, cruise documentation, and other relevant materials when you arrive at the terminal to ensure a seamless check-in experience.

The most crucial thing to remember is to make sure you’re on board and checked in no later than ninety minutes before the cruise leaves; if not, you can end up missing your holiday.

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