Or What to expect when you’re embarking.
Hello my Ocean Bound Vagabonds,
I love cruising, but that first time you travel with a cruise line can be a little confusing; especially if you are new to the hustle and bustle that is cruising and customs. Every company does things a little differently, not every line even leaves from the same port in a particular city. So, from my experience, here’s what to expect on embarkation day with Royal Caribbean when you are travelling from Sydney, NSW.
The Explorer of the Seas was so large that it could not fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and we got to leave from the International Terminal in Circular Quay. Although I was a little disappointed that my kids would not get to sail under the bridge for their first cruise, it was delightful to be moored where we had a lovely view of both the Bridge and the Opera House out on deck. It also made it easier for anyone staying in the city before embarkation or catching public transport to get to the ship. White Bay is a particular pain in the hole to leave from with its lack of public transport and nonexistent onsite long term parking. My parents, who are not familiar with Sydney or the cattle crush that is the city, stayed in the city before embarkation and had navigated the whole process alone to check in before we even made it to the port from the Coast.
Upon arrival at the terminal it appeared to be a little chaotic with so many people getting out of taxis, limos and walking up from the train station. Before jumping into the fray, this is the ideal time to take the obligatory pictures of the ship in port, once you’ve gotten into the fracas it will be too late.
Before you enter the terminal you will be directed by staff to drop your checked luggage with them and line up. Once inside the terminal you will be given coloured cards and your Outgoing Passenger Card to fill in. If you’re a first time overseas traveller and you have not seen one of these before, there is an example from the Department of Immigration and Border Control here.
- make sure your documentation and any medication you might need in the next few hours aren’t inside your checked bags.
- Pack any bottles of alcohol you are bringing on in your carry on luggage otherwise you will need to go and collect your bags rather than having them delivered to your door.
Take a seat and fill in your card. And keep your ears open. When your colour is called, this is your cue to queue. It gets extremely noisy in there and it is hard to hear your colour being called above the cacophony of excited travellers.
- Where the Outgoing Passenger Card asks you what country you’re going to spend the most time in, unless you are doing a cruise that only goes to one place nearby, the answer is most likely ‘at sea’.
This is the point where I ran into a little hiccough. Because we didn’t hear our colour getting called we ended up waiting and waiting…. and waiting some more. And I got increasingly agitated as time went on. Because we had fought so hard to get passports for the girls, needing to get them without their father’s permission in the end, as time ticked on I became anxious that something was going to go wrong and we would be stopped from getting on the ship. Thank goodness for my beautiful supportive family. The noise and crowd in the terminal were messing with my anxiety enough without my brain trying to sabotage me by convincing me that we were going to be stopped from getting on board the ship.
If you’re not good with crowds and noise, this is the part of the trip that is a panic attack waiting. Steel yourself, be prepared and speak to the people who are handing the cards out to let them know you will need to go through as soon as possible due to your anxiety disorder. And in all honesty, if you get overwhelmed, no one is checking the card colours, queue jump if you have to. But if you don’t have a good reason, don’t be that person. You know the one. The one that thinks that they are above the rules simply because they are too special to have to wait. Don’t be that guy. That guy is a douche.
- Be organised. Have your passport handy. You will need this during the embarkation process. It is also good to have your lanyards handy too as you will get your passenger cards at this time.
All in all, it isn’t a bad system for organising everyone. It just doesn’t take into account the amount of excited and sometimes confused chatter going on in the terminal. It would be nice if they could display the colours being called on the television screens to avoid the hour wait you will have if you miss your colour being called the first time.
That is the worst of the embarkation process. After that, the customs and check-in processes are the smoothest I have experienced boarding a cruise ship. A quick presentation of your passports and outgoing passenger cards to a friendly man behind a desk and you are on your way to check in.
As long as you have your passports in hand and you haven’t packed anything you’re not supposed to have in your bags (like power boards, I know this from personal experience) this process is going to go smoothly. Your carry on bags will be scanned as you pass through the check-in process and if you have any of the items listed here, they will find them and you will have them stored for you until you return.
On the way into the ship, you will be coerced into having your photo taken at least twice against a green screen. If you love these kinds of things or want a souvenir of embarkation, you’ll be in heaven. If you prefer something with the actual Opera House or Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background, break out your own camera once you’ve checked in. The professional photos that they take at this time will cost you $20 each and can be purchased from Focus on Deck 3 using your newly acquired cruise card. No need to rush to get them, they’ll be available the whole duration of the cruise.
- You can politely decline to have these photos taken if you want to get straight to your room and begin the business of getting settled. But you’ll need to be firm as they try their best to get you to have the picture taken.
Once you’ve made it past the gauntlet of colour cards, customs and photographers all that is left to do is to find your room, unpack and make your way up on deck to enjoy the spectacular sight of cruising out of Sydney Harbour at sundown. For my money, this is when the best embarkation photos are to be had. Grab a cocktail and enjoy drifting out through the heads, leaving reality behind.
- Now is the time to get yourself sorted with a few little bits and pieces to make the rest of your cruise smooth and stress-free.