It is completely natural to feel a sense of excitement as you’re boarding your cruise ship. However, there are a few essential things you should keep in mind when boarding your ship, and they can set a joyful tone for your journey ahead.

Embarking on a cruise isn’t just about unpacking and lounging by the pool deck (though that’s certainly part of the fun). It’s about making smart, strategic moves that can enhance your entire experience. From checking into your cabin to exploring the ship, each step holds the potential to make your voyage unforgettable. So today, we’ll dive deeper into the 10 essential things you must do immediately after you board a cruise ship.

What Is the First Thing You Do When You Go on a Cruise?

The first thing everyone should do is familiarize themselves with their surroundings. However, there are a few other vital things one should do when they first board a cruise ship. We’ll instead explore the top 10 actions you should take when you go on a cruise.

1. Explore the Ship

Family of three going on a cruise

When I board a cruise ship, my first order of business is taking a good look around. I begin by checking the daily schedule or using the cruise line’s app, which has all the important info I will need to reference. This includes things like what places are open and closed at what times while helping me plan my days and nights for maximum enjoyment. 

So, I mostly start exploring from the top deck, where I can see everything, and then I gradually move down the ship. This way, I do not miss anything and don’t have to tire myself out or experience leg cramps due to climbing several flights of stairs at once. As I walk around, I take mental notes of the bars and restaurants that seem attractive to me, so I don’t miss out on them. I also make it a point to locate the gym on the cruise ship, as staying active is important to me, even on vacation.

Walking through the ship, I take the time to get a feel for it. I look out for specialty restaurants I might want to dine at and exciting activities to try. It’s also essential to find those serene spots, quiet corners away from the bustling main areas, perfect for those moments when I crave a bit of tranquility.

A pro tip for fellow cruisers: some ships offer a complimentary orientation tour on embarkation day. I’ve found these tours incredibly helpful, not just for getting acquainted with the ship’s layout but also for the opportunity to ask crew members any burning questions.

This initial tour isn’t just about familiarizing yourself with the ship; it’s about building anticipation for the days to come, getting excited about the experiences you’ll have, and starting to weave the narrative of your cruise adventure.

2. Check into Your Cabin

white haired woman pointing to a distance

My next step is always to check into my cabin. This is more than just a formality; it’s about ensuring that my personal space on the ship is ready for the journey. I make a point to inspect the cabin thoroughly, checking that everything is clean and functional – the lights, outlets, and the all-important TV. It’s crucial to report any issues immediately, so they can be fixed and not hinder your cruise experience. Additionally, it’s wise to be mindful of the cabin’s location. On a Carnival cruise, for example, you might want to avoid rooms near the elevators, under the gym, or above the nightclubs to ensure a peaceful and restful stay, free from the disturbances of noise and foot traffic.

Most cruise lines allow you to access your cabin as soon as you board. It’s a great convenience, especially for dropping off your carry-on bag and other items. This way, I can roam the ship and grab some lunch without the extra weight of my luggage.

In cases where cabin access is delayed, usually until around 1:00 pm, I find it’s a good opportunity to relax in a bar or dine, enjoying those first few hours onboard. As soon as I can access my cabin, the priority on my list is safeguarding my valuables in the stateroom safe. This includes things like my passport, government ID, my wallet carrying cash and credit cards, or even the keys to my home and car. For those who bring along precious jewelry, it’s just as essential to tuck it safely into the safe to avoid theft or loss.

Securing my belongings not only gives me peace of mind but also means I’m free to immerse myself in the cruise experience without any worries. It’s a small step that makes a big difference in enjoying the cruise to the fullest.

3. Attend the Mandatory Safety Drill

old couple wearing a life jacket

A crucial, non-negotiable part of the cruise experience is the mandatory safety drill. Recently, there’s been a shift in how these drills are conducted on many cruise ships. Instead of the traditional, group muster drills that we used to gather for, now it’s often an electronic safety drill. This modern approach allows you to complete the drill via your mobile phone or the stateroom TV, adding convenience without compromising safety. I admit the muster drill can feel a bit routine, but it’s essential and mandatory for everyone, regardless of cruising experience. During this drill, vital safety information is conveyed, ensuring that all passengers know what to do and where to go in case of an emergency. It’s also an opportunity to learn about the medical facilities onboard, including how to access care and the location of the ship’s hospital, which is equipped to handle a range of medical issues, ensuring peace of mind throughout your journey.

Another key step I always take is to check the evacuation map located on the back of my cabin door. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these routes, as they are your lifeline in an unlikely emergency. Taking a few moments to review these procedures may seem trivial, but it’s a fundamental aspect of ensuring your safety on board.

4. Make Dining Reservations

a reserved dinner table

Another one of my top priorities is to sort out my dining plans. Trust me, heading straight to the buffet on embarkation day is a rookie move – it’s usually packed with every hungry passenger on board. Instead, I take a different route to explore other dining options. Often, less crowded venues are open for lunch at the main dining room on the first day, offering a more relaxed atmosphere.

I’ve learned that some cruise ships have exclusive adult-only areas like the Vibe Beach Club on Norwegian Cruise Line as well as the Sanctuary on Princess Cruises. These spots are so popular they can sell out rapidly! On one of my cruises, I made the mistake of waiting until after lunch to check out the Sanctuary, only to find it was already fully booked. Lesson learned – now I make it a point to reserve such spots as soon as I get on board. This feature makes these cruises particularly appealing to young adults seeking a more serene and sophisticated ambiance, away from the family-centric activities, ensuring a tranquil and exclusive experience.

Making specialty dining reservations is also crucial, especially if you haven’t booked them online beforehand. The best dining times can fill up quickly, and there’s nothing more disappointing than missing out on a culinary experience you’ve been eyeing.

And here’s a tip: don’t settle for dinner seatings that don’t match your preference. I remember once being assigned a late seating when I preferred dining early. Thankfully, the maitre d’ is usually available on embarkation day to address such issues. Whether it’s changing from set seating to flexible dining or addressing dietary restrictions, they’re there to help. It’s a relief to know that your dining experience is tailored to your liking right from the start.

5. Explore Activity and Entertainment Options

groups of people on a water activity

My next priority is to explore the sea of activities and entertainment options on the ship. This becomes even more important when you have some little ones with you on a cruise who will definitely enjoy the kids’ club experiences. The first day typically has a short orientation session, where kids and parents can meet the kind counselors and familiarize themselves with all the available facilities. Getting registered on that very first day provides more convenience and freedom. Beyond the kids’ clubs, cruises offer a plethora of fun activities for all ages, making them an enjoyable vacation choice. From live shows and theme nights to pools and water slides, there’s something to keep everyone entertained, affirming the fact that cruises are indeed a fun way to travel.

For those of us who love exploring ashore, checking out the shore excursions early is key. I remember once waiting too long to book a tour and missing out on a fantastic hiking adventure. Lesson learned – now I head to the tour desk as soon as possible to secure my spot and ask any questions. Remember, some tours have limited availability and can sell out quickly.

And here’s a hot tip for entertainment lovers: On some cruise lines, you can make reservations for shows in advance. If there’s a performance or show you’re eager to see, it’s wise to book it before you even board the ship. I once had the pleasure of watching a spectacular live music show on a cruise, all because I reserved my spot early.

Also, don’t forget to switch your phone to airplane mode to avoid roaming charges, especially when you’re busy exploring the ship or enjoying a sailaway party. It’s these little details that ensure a hassle-free day onboard.

6. Schedule Spa Treatments or Wellness Activities

woman with closed eyes on a spa

Stepping into the spa area of the ship always feels like entering a realm of tranquility. To ensure I don’t miss this slice of paradise, I promptly arrange my spa and salon appointments upon embarkation. The most sought-after treatment times fill up quickly and being proactive means securing those prime relaxation slots.

7. Set Up Onboard Communication

woman smiling at her phone

Establishing effective communication onboard is a key part of the cruise experience. For me, this often involves tapping into the digital community. Joining cruise-specific Facebook groups has been a game-changer. These platforms are perfect for getting to know fellow cruisers, sharing tips, and even planning meetups for special interest groups, like senior cruises or singles cruises.

I also explore the cruise line’s communication tools. Most cruise lines now offer apps that not only keep you updated on daily activities and events but also allow you to chat with other passengers. It’s a fun way to meet people who share similar interests, be it a fitness class on the pool deck or a wine-tasting event. To fully utilize these digital tools, purchasing a wifi package on a Carnival Cruise, for example, becomes essential. This enables seamless connectivity, ensuring you stay in touch, share moments instantly, and make the most of your cruise experience without missing out on any social gatherings or important updates.

For more traditional methods, I always check the daily planner provided in my cabin. It lists all the activities, from live music at cruise ship bars to special gatherings like a sailaway party. It’s a simple yet effective way to plan my day and connect with the onboard community, ensuring I don’t miss out on any interesting events or opportunities to socialize.

8. Sip a Drink 

orange cocktail drink beside a pink flower

There’s something symbolically celebratory about enjoying that first drink as you begin your cruise adventure. For me, it’s a delightful ritual to pause and savor a cocktail with family or friends before we fully dive into exploring the ship.

I love starting the holiday with something vibrant and tropical – a drink served in a colorful glass, adorned with umbrellas, and maybe even a plastic monkey or two for added fun. I often find myself gravitating towards a refreshing Mojito. It’s my go-to order – the perfect blend of minty freshness and zesty lime, with just the right kick of rum. This classic cocktail, served in a chilled glass, becomes the symbol of my vacation beginning. It’s important, though, to remember that these eye-catching drinks, often offered by waiters roaming near the pool deck or in the open decks, are usually not complimentary.

In my experience, you can often find more wallet-friendly options by choosing a regular, non-souvenir glass. The cruise lines know how to set the mood with servers carrying trays of these tempting tropical drinks, making it a popular tradition among many cruisers. It’s a simple yet perfect way to toast the start of a memorable vacation, feeling the excitement and anticipation of the days ahead.

However, it’s essential to be aware of the drinking age on the cruise ship; while in international waters, some cruise lines may allow drinking at 18, depending on the ship’s registry and destination, so always check the specific policy of your cruise line before indulging.

9. Check the Dress Codes for Events

hand fixing a black tie

Cruises have dress codes, and knowing the dress codes for each of the cruise events is vital for a complete experience. It’s fun to observe how clothing styles change, sometimes it’s a relaxing day at the pool in a swimsuit other times you are all suited up in a fancier outfit for the captain’s dinner.

I make sure to pack various outfits in my carry-on bags, which makes me prepared for everything from casual outings to classy nights. If you follow the dress codes it will help you seamlessly fit right into the ship’s vibe, no matter if you’re sailing internationally or stopped at a port like Port Everglades.

10. Meet Your Cabin Steward and Other Crew Members

hotel service crew in uniform

My first encounter with the cabin steward, usually right after the muster drill near the cruise terminal, sets the tone for my stay. I find this interaction crucial — a friendly introduction and a brief chat about any specific needs for my cabin. This could range from extra pillows to quick service requests. It’s also a good moment to understand the cruise line’s policy on gratuities, as these are often automatically added to your onboard account to cover the exceptional service provided by the crew, including your cabin steward, the dining room staff, and others who contribute to making your cruise a memorable experience.

I like getting acquainted with the crew members like the waitstaff in the dining room, the cabin steward for your state room’s upkeep, and even the kind folks at the front desk, which truly enriches my cruise experience.

Getting to know all the staff onboard can add a personal touch to their exceptional service, who knows you might have a complimentary pie with your name on it. The staff can also provide insightful tips for your journey both onboard and ashore. I’ve found their advice to be some of the very best since they are more familiar with the ship than any online article will ever be.

Essential Items to Pack for Your Cruise Adventure

  • Packing cubes: For organized and efficient packing.
  • Medications: Including any prescription meds and over-the-counter remedies.
  • Luggage tags: Essential for easy identification of your bags.
  • Sunblock: A must-have for protection against the sun.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Ideal for exploring ports and on-deck activities.
  • Formal attire: For special dinners and events on the cruise.


As we wrap up our guide to the essential things to do immediately after boarding a cruise, it’s clear that a little planning and proactivity go a long way. From touring the ship and checking into your cabin to making dining reservations and attending the safety drill, each step paves the way for a seamless and enriching cruise experience.

Remember, your cruise adventure begins the moment you step on board, so make the most of these initial hours. They set the tone for your entire journey, turning a simple vacation into an unforgettable adventure. Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a usual traveler, these steps will ensure your cruise is nothing short of spectacular. Happy cruising!