Cruising 101 Tips: Carnival Cruise Embarkation Day

Carnival Cruise Embarkation Day Tips

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First time cruiser?  You’ve got a million questions about your Carnival Cruise embarkation day!   The Cruising 101 Tips series is designed to help answer all your questions as you plan for your cruise.

This post is all about a Carnival Cruise Embarkation Day.  (The Charleston port will be my reference point but all the ports I’ve been to are pretty similar.)  We drive in using our personal vehicle and park it on site.

Before my first cruise I pestered my sister, a seasoned Carnival cruiser, with non-stop mundane questions in the weeks and months leading to our trip.  I’d lie awake at night worried about being the only person on the ship who did everything wrong at all times.

I was also sure there would be a spotlight over my head as I did the wrong thing and the other 2999 passengers would see.  I promise though, it won’t happen, follow my tips for a smooth embarkation day!

Interestingly enough, now that I have a number of cruises under my belt I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon.  Everyone on the ship looks like a seasoned pro within 24 hours.

You spend day one figuring out where your stateroom is, where the Lido deck is and anything else that’s important to you (Serenity Deck, Spa, Casino, Pool, Kids area, etc.)  Everything else falls into place while you’re finding those things.  And by breakfast the next morning you’ve got it all under control.

Carnival Cruise Embarkation Day (getting on the ship)

When you reach the port of Charleston you’ll see signs directing you towards the cruise ship area.  You should have all of your paperwork handy and ready to go at this point.

You’ll be stopped by a uniformed Port Police officer as you pull through the gates and directed towards the staging area.  I’ve been in this area looping around for an hour and other times I’ve been through it in under 10 minutes.

The first thing you’ll need to show is your:

  • Photo ID and proof of citizenship (we bring passports)
  • Boarding Pass

Parking at the cruise terminal

Next you’re waved forward and you either pay for parking at this time or you show your pre-paid receipt.  You can pay in advance in Charleston at the South Carolina Port website and show your receipt. This port does provide complimentary parking for vehicles displaying a valid handicap placard or license plate with ID.

Currently, the cost is $20 a day for passenger vehicles and $50 a day for oversized vehicles (campers, RV’s, buses).  Our 5 day cruise cost $100 in parking. Keep points like this in mind as you consider the true cost of your cruise.

Do you tip?

You pull through to the next line and are met by an employee who takes all of your suitcases from your car.  These suitcases will be delivered to your stateroom.  INSIDER TIP:  Have a couple of one dollar bills handy as this person is the first that you will likely wish to tip.

4-wheel 360° Spinner Luggage with TSA approved lock

What do I do with my luggage tags?

Under “Manage My Booking” Carnival will have pre-printed luggage tags that you need to print at home and attach to your luggage.  I used to laminate mine with a laminating machine and it was a pain, but I now use these luggage tags and would never go back.  They’re waterproof and you just slip the printed luggage tag in the plastic case, press it close and attach the loop to your bag and suitcase.  I like these because they are sized to accept luggage tags from multiple cruise lines, as well.  You can’t check suitcases without luggage tags attached and these make it so easy!

12-pack Cruise Luggage Tags

At this point the only things you should still have are your paperwork and your carry on bag.  If you are bringing a 12-pack of soda (remember, only cans!) or a bottle of wine you need to have them as part of your carry on.

Where do you park?

From here you will be directed on where to park your vehicle.  In Charleston there is limited indoor parking (looks like two big warehouses) and outdoor parking.  Both are located within a gated area.  You will be directed on exactly where to park, right down to the parking spot, it’s very easy.

You’ll have the option to take a shuttle bus or walk over to the ship if you come from the indoor parking but we’ve always been told we have to shuttle from the outdoor parking.  Which is funny because only about 20 feet separate the two.

We don’t mind walking because it’s close and we’re excited to get on board but either are fine.

The shuttle is free.  You will be asked to tip your driver (by the driver) if you enjoyed him or her on the way over. They do not work for Carnival. They are usually very friendly and amusing and you’re on vacation so we always give a couple of dollars here as well.

We’ve had to wait at another line once we get to the pier in years past, but the last few years we’ve walked across the water and gotten in line to get checked in up at the building.  This is where the regular passengers get separated from the priority boarding passengers.  (Platinum, Diamond, Deluxe Suite and Faster to the Fun).  I know it sounds like a lot of things to do on embarkation day, but there will be people guiding you on where to go throughout the process.

Cruising 101: Embarkation Day on Carnival |

When it’s your turn, you put your bag through the X-ray machine and walk through a metal detector scanner.  You then queue up again and wait to speak with an agent where they take your picture.  Carnival has been working hard to improve embarkation and you no longer receive your Sail and Sign card at this point, it will now be waiting at your room for you.

Cruising 101: Embarkation Day on Carnival |

Cruising 101: Embarkation Day on Carnival | Dishanddelish.comThen you board the ship at the atrium level and you’re on your way.  Grab a drink and make a toast, you’re cruise is just about to begin, you survived embarkation day!

Cruising 101: Embarkation Day on Carnival |

By the way, a lot of cruisers make it a ritual to make their first stop lunch at Guy’s Burgers on the Lido deck. Carnival teamed up with Food Network personality Guy Fieri to bring the appeal of a roadside burger shack complete with hand-cut fries to nearly every one of their cruise ships!

Guys Burgers on the Lido deck

Smart to have:

Luggage Tag Holders

See also:

So what do you think?  Ready to rock embarkation like a pro? Tag me on Instagram @dishanddelish with your cruise pics, I’d LOVE to see the fun you’re having!

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