Southampton: A Guide To Embarkation Day For First Time Cruisers

Passports? Check. Tickets? Check. Travel Insurance? Check. Spending Money? Check. Luggage? Check. Transport? Check……. You’re all ready to travel to join the cruise ship. Here is a guide to what embarkation day consists of.

Arrival at Cruise Terminal:

Ocean Terminal

In Southampton, there are 4 cruise terminals in which you could be using to embark your cruise ship. They are QEII Terminal, Ocean Terminal, City Cruise Terminal and Mayflower Cruise Terminal. It is important to remember where you are embarking your ship and this will be noted on your e-ticket. If however the ship has to change terminal for whatever reason, the cruise line will be contact you via email or phone to advise you of the change of terminal and they will do this with as much notice as possible but sometimes circumstances dictate that this could be very short notice.


Don't worry, this won't happen. Very rare this happens.
Don’t worry, this won’t happen. Very rare this happens.

When you arrive at the cruise terminal, you don’t have to carry your luggage on board. Instead, there are a team of porters who will assist you by taking the luggage and the next time you will see it will be in your cabin on board the ship.  (And don’t worry, it won’t end up in the water like the picture) Pretty handy eh? Certainly takes the strain out of lugging it on board yourself.

Entering Cruise Terminal: 

This is where the adventure starts but there are a few things you have to do before you get on the ship. There is a case of checking in. Now this could either precede going through security if you are at Ocean and QEII Terminals but at City and Mayflower, you will proceed to check-in before going through security.  Going through security screening is nothing to be frightened or anxious about. It is similar to that of airport security and doesn’t generally take too long to pass through. Checking in will require you to have your travel documents, i.e e-ticket and passports ready and also a credit or debit card to register for your on board account.  As no cash is used on board, you are issued with a card which will be both your identification card for embarking and disembarking at ports of call and also your on board account, where it is swiped and then you sign for when making a purchase on board. A photo for identification purposes will also be taken at check-in and this will be linked to your card and on board computers at the gangways. The majority of those cards also now act as keys for the cabin too.  You will also be asked to fill out a health questionnaire to minimize the risk of any contagious illness or disease from being brought on board the ship.

At Ocean Terminal, you will be handed a numbered lettered or numbered card. This is to accommodate a staggered embarkation process. Once your card has been called, you are then invited to check-in and then after security, proceed to embark the ship. At QEII, City and Mayflower it is the general case you will be issued with a number coloured card after check in and then are required to wait in the departure lounge where you will wait until your card is called to embark the ship. Now, certain cruise lines from City Cruise Terminal (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity) will allow for a straight through embarkation from check-in and therefore no need to wait in the lounge.

Embarking the ship:

This is where the excitement is really building. It’s so close, you can almost taste it. Just a few more minutes and metres to wait and you’ll be on board!

When proceeding to embark, there will be usually be the ship’s photographers on hand to take an embarkation photograph. Now, it’s not obligatory for it to be taken nor is it obligatory for you to buy it if you so wish your photo to be taken. However, it adds to the excitement and build up to the cruise and can often be a nice memento of the cruise. There will be a hand sanitizer at the gangway for you to wash your hands, this is to minimise the threat of any nasty illness being brought on board that can be easily spread.  Your ID’s will be checked prior to going onto the airbridge/gangway and then as you get on the ship. Once checked by the security at gangway, you are then on board the ship!

On board the ship:


Usually when on board, you'll soon discover the main hub of the ship and for Emerald Princess, it was The Piazza.
Usually when on board, you’ll soon discover the main hub of the ship and for Emerald Princess, it was The Piazza.

Wahoo, way to go, you’ve finally made it on board the ship. The question is where do I go now and what to do? When you do embark the ship, most people would tend to quickly go to find their cabin and put their hand luggage and stuff in there. However, some cruise lines may not have the cabins ready at the initial boarding time and therefore won’t be accessible until an announcement is made on board. If this is the case, then there is no other better place to go to than the buffet. This generally would be the first place passengers would visit after seeking their cabin out. It’s generally the ‘law of the sea’  and generally most people will be getting peckish at that time as most embarkations will start around 11am and finish at 15.00. This is a good chance to get some much needed fuel for the exploration ahead. If you are on a very large cruise ship such as Independence of the Seas or Britannia, then you’ll need a good feed before even attempting to explore the ship!

Muster Drill:


Our editor at muster drill on Aurora in 2013.
Our editor at muster drill on Aurora in 2013.

Now, generally by this time, everyone has had good, ample time to have an initial general exploration of the ship. Muster drill is mandatory by international maritime law and passengers embarking that day are required to attend, it’s a must. Now, different cruise lines vary the layout of a muster drill and will also vary the times but generally on a sailing departing Southampton, muster drill will take place around 16.00. It has to take place before the ship sails. Information regarding the muster drill will be found on the on board daily program, which sets out the daily activities on board and opening times or restaurants and bars etc. An announcement will be made over the PA system around 45 minutes before the drill starts and then again around 15 minutes before to remind passengers of the drill. Details of where to muster will be on the back of your cabin door. Once muster starts, an alarm consisting of seven short blasts and one long blast on the ships horn and whistle will sound. This is to alert passengers to go to their cabins, collect their life jackets and proceed to their muster station. Some cruise lines however won’t require you to take your life jacket with you and thus you will only have to proceed to your muster station. Once you are at muster, your cabin number and name will be ticked off and then wait from instructions from the bridge and crew at your muster stations. The captain or cruise director will brief the passengers across the PA systems regarding the emergency procedures, fires on board and health awareness on board to avoid contagious illness spreading. i.e Norovirus. A life jacket safety demonstration will take place and if you have your life jackets there, you will have the opportunity to try them on. Cue enormous chorus of Velcro strips being prized apart. Some cruise lines may muster below the lifeboats and some cruise lines who muster inside will guide passengers to the lifeboats using a crocodile system. Once the drill is over, you will be excused and the start of the cruise can ‘officially’ begin!



Sail away on Azura, April 2013.
Sail away on Azura, April 2013.

Finally,  generally before dinner and the evening’s entertainment takes place, there is the small case of the sail away party. This is a must. Live music, singing, flag waving and perhaps doing the conga are all part and parcel of the sail away experience. It does help if the weather is favorable though! Sip on a glass of champagne whilst partying away as the ship glides down Southampton Water. This is a great opportunity to let your hair down and if you are lucky, the ship’s captain will blast the ships’ horn but be aware, there is no advanced warning of this and it could blow at anytime, make sure you are prepared as the horn is VERY loud.  It’s a great way to start your cruise and you can finally relax and enjoy your home from home for the next week or two. We are pretty confident you’ll enjoy it. Chances are once back home, you’ll want to book another cruise or if you’re very keen, you might book on board the ship. It’s a very addictive way of travelling. Once bitten by the bug, it’s hard to resist returning.


We hope this short guide has been helpful for first time cruisers.

We hope you have a great cruise!

Bon Voyage!