Scoring an Early Boarding Time on Royal Caribbean

We know you’re eager to arrive at the cruise port for your Royal Caribbean cruise. But how early can you board the cruise ship?

Royal Caribbean International allows cruisers to choose a port arrival time during online check-in. While this isn’t necessarily the time in which you will board the ship, it is a good indicator of when you will be allowed to embark.

So, how do you secure an early arrival time so that you can board the ship as soon as possible? In this post, we will walk you through the whole embarkation process so that you’re prepared for your first day on board.

We will also provide tips for scoring the earliest boarding time on Royal Caribbean based on our recent experience on the Oasis of the Seas at the cruise terminal in Port of Miami.

So, continue reading below to find out everything you need to know about how to get an early boarding time on Royal Caribbean, so you can get started on your vacation as soon as possible!

(This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Please see my disclosure policy at the bottom of this page for more details.)

Cruise Check-in

If you have a cruise booked with Royal Caribbean, you can typically check-in around 45 days before your sail date. The online check-in process is super simple and consists of filling out personal information among other tasks.

This online check-in is when you choose your port arrival time. Royal Caribbean typically allows cruisers to choose arrival times in thirty-minute blocks as shown in the image below. 

Guests can choose boarding times in the afternoon or earlier times of 10:30 or 11:00. It’s important to note that these times that you choose during online check-in are only port arrival times. 

Royal Caribbean Port Arrival Time Blocks

These are not the times you actually board the ship. However, the earlier your arrival time, the sooner you are usually able to embark on the ship.

There are a few tricks to scoring early arrival times if you are eager to be one of the first passengers on the ship. First, we recommend choosing your port arrival time before completing anything else during online check in.

Since the online check-in time usually opens up at midnight (EST) 45 days before your cruise, you’ll want to login at this time. You will then go straight to the section on choosing your arrival time and pick the one you want.

boarding day pictures with text Embarkation Day Guide and Tips

You can then save this information and complete the rest of the check-in process at a later date. A second way to grab an early port arrival time is by purchasing The Key. Guests who pay for this upgraded status typically receive priority access upon arrival on embarkation day.

Another tip for securing an early arrival time is to book a suite. One of the Royal Caribbean suite perks is that suite guests are permitted to enter the terminal one hour before their official port arrival time.

Arriving at the Port

Depending on the arrival time you chose during online check-in, you can show up at the cruise terminal as early as 10:00 am for your cruise vacation. On my most recent cruise on Oasis of the Seas, my family and I had junior suites booked with a 10:30 am port arrival time.

We were technically allowed to arrive an hour before this 10:30 slot since we were suite guests. However, the cruise terminal in Miami did not open its doors until 10:00 am.

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Printable Cruise Planner

Knowing this, we decided to reserve a shuttle service to pick us up at our Miami hotel at 9:30 on embarkation day. Our hotel (Intercontinental Miami) was a short 15-minute drive to the Port of Miami.

Our driver dropped us off with the porters at the terminal who checked that all of our bags held luggage tags, which we had printed from our online account. (The porters also have luggage tags in case you forget to print yours.) 

The porter told us our luggage should be in our cabin fairly early since we were some of the first to arrive at the ship. (He was right!) He also directed us on exactly where to go and made certain we understood we needed passports/identification documents.

Cruise ship at sea

Once we walked to the entrance of Terminal Building A, we saw two separate lines: a LONG line on the left and a short line on the right. Since we were in a suite, we were able to stand in the super short line on the right.

Employees come over to make you show that you are in a suite. So, anyone in the wrong line was asked to move.

That being said, my sister had a junior suite AND an oceanview room booked. Her whole family, including the oceanview cabin guests, were permitted to stand in the suite line.

Boarding Process

At 10:00, the doors to the terminal opened, and the suite guests were escorted to an elevator that took us to a separate security line. This was a really fast process that took less than five minutes.

Then, we walked right into the suite waiting area. This large room consisted of plenty of seating options, refreshments, and restrooms.

refreshments in Royal Caribbean cruise terminal

A Royal Caribbean employee came over to our large group and checked in each party using her tablet. We didn’t even have to get off the couch. This was a huge relief from the typical check-in desk with long check-in lines we have experienced in the past.

After we completed this check-in procedure, our family sat in the waiting area until it was our turn to board the ship. At 11:00, crew members instructed all of the suite guests to form a line. Each cruiser scanned his/her SetSail Pass (from the Royal Caribbean app) and was permitted to board the ship.

suite waiting room at Royal Caribbean terminal in Miami
Suite Waiting Area at Port of Miami

Note that boarding did come to a stop at one point. Guests who were sailing in Star Class and had access to a Royal Genie were permitted to move to the front of the line in order to receive the priority boarding that was included in their suite perks.

This didn’t take long at all, and our whole group was onboard the ship shortly after 11:00.

Embarkation Day Tips

Once you board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, you’ll want to take care of a few chores. We completed our Muster Drill requirements immediately after boarding.

This was super fast and easy as the Muster Stations were all clearly labeled and close to where we walked onto the ship. Once at the Muster Station, you just scan your SetSail Pass. (Make sure you watched and marked off the Safety video in the app the morning of your cruise.)

Pool on Oasis of the Seas with pink waterslide in background

Our family chose to eat lunch at Windjammer Marketplace after boarding. This buffet wasn’t crowded at all during these early hours, and it offered a large variety of food for our big travel group.

Then, the dads in our group took the kids to the pool so that they could swim in virtually empty swimming areas. This is by far the least crowded time to swim on the cruise ship. You’ll also find that the water slides don’t have long lines at this time on embarkation day.

My kids wear their bathing suits onto the ship underneath their clothes. This makes it easy to undress them poolside, and they can hop right in.

Crown Loft suite living and dining area
Crown Loft Suite

The moms in our group then “ran errands” to take care of some items. This is the perfect time to make dining changes/requests, book activities and specialty restaurants, secure shore excursions, etc.

Our rooms then opened up at around 1:00 that afternoon. We found our SeaPass cards in the room, which are used during the cruise as your room key, identification, credit card, etc.

Carry-on Bag

We like to carry a backpack onboard the ship on embarkation day. This allows us to keep our things organized and within easy access.

We make sure to pack several items in our backpack, which I will include below:

  • Lanyards to hold SeaPass Card
  • sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair brush
  • Cell phone
  • Kids’ undergarments in Ziploc bag 
  • prescription medications 
  • seasickness remedies
  • chargers for electronic devices
  • identification
  • dollar bills- to tip driver and porters
  • Cardigan or jacket for dinner

You’ll notice that many of the items listed above are needed because our kids swim on embarkation day. If you don’t plan on using the pools, you may not need nearly as many items as we do.

I pack sunscreen to apply before swimming, and we carry on other essentials that we need before dinner. Since your luggage isn’t guaranteed to arrive in your room before dinner, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need ahead of time.

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Printable Cruise Planner

I pack my kids’ undergarments for them to put on after they swim. They also re-wear their embarkation clothes since this first day is typically not dressy at all.

I use the Ziploc bag to hold wet swimsuits until our room is ready, so you won’t need this item if you don’t have a wet bathing suit to store. We also use the hairbrush for the kids’ hair after swimming.

For a full list of items that my family and I pack on a cruise vacation, you can check out my Cruise Packing List article. In that post, we provide tips for staying organized and packing for your trip. You’ll also find a free printable cruise packing list!

For additional packing tips and cruise hacks, check out our post on Royal Caribbean Tips for First Timers.

Final Thoughts on Your Royal Caribbean Boarding Time

Embarkation day is often full of a lot of chaos and stress, especially if you are a first time cruiser. However, once you finally arrive at the port and board the ship, all your worries are washed away.

You can even start using your drink packages right away to help you get into vacation mode even faster!

cruise terminal and ship with text How Early Can you Board Royal Caribbean

It’s also important to note that there’s no best time to board the Royal Caribbean ship. Some families prefer to arrive in the afternoon, so they don’t have to navigate crowds at the terminal.

Other families, like mine, like to get the process started as soon as possible. We enjoy being on the ship early to take advantage of as much time on board as possible.

Either way, you should have plenty of time to enjoy all the entertainment and activities onboard the ship. Whether this is your first cruise or you’re a seasoned pro, we hope you have a great trip!

So, what do you prefer?

How early do you board the Royal Caribbean ship?

Comment below to share your tips with us!

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