The excitement of going on your first cruise can be palpable and rightly so – it is exciting. But it can all come undone very quickly and turn into a nightmare if due diligence is not carried out on making sure you have ticked all the boxes to make sure you turn up at the terminal with everything you need to get your party onboard and straight to the fun.

Sydney has two cruise ship terminals – the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and the White Bay Cruise Terminal. Both are well managed and operated facilities, but there are some things you can do to make sure your passage through either terminal is quick, efficient and stress free.

Both terminals act very much like an airport and these days, security and processes are extremely robust in order to ensure the safety of all travellers. However, unlike an airport which sees consistently high levels of passenger traffic, cruise terminals see peaks at the beginning of the day when guests are disembarking from the previous voyage and then often again around lunchtime when people who haven’t read their documents turn up too early.

Cruise Advice spoke to Matt Halloran, one of the support workers who, whenever a cruise ship is in port and welcoming new passengers, works as part of a team of people to assist passengers through the terminal, answering questions, helping the less mobile and frail and generally pointing people in the right direction.

White Bay Cruise Terminal is located east of Darling Harbour.
Located just east of Darling Harbour is the White Bay Cruise Terminal.

Make sure your documents are printed, are with you and are valid.

In these days of state-of-the-art technology, especially when it comes to flying with mobile boarding passes, it is often considered acceptable to bring your cruise confirmations and documents in a soft-copy format where you simply show them on the screen of your phone or device to gain passage.

Unfortunately in many cases, cruising hasn’t quite moved at the pace of airlines and still rely on hard copy printouts of official documents emailed to guests, especially on pages where a barcode applies. Of course, you’ll only have these documents if you complete your online check-in, which will also significantly decrease the time it takes to get onboard.

Carry original photo ID cards and documents.

This is a problem which occurs far more often than one might imagine. Official state or federal government ID documents such as a Driver’s Licence is often carried by most people, however a photocopy is not sufficient. According to Halloran, one of the hardest parts of his job is informing people their photocopied ID can’t be accepted and they are unable to board. This forces people to go home to collect them or for those who have travelled a long way to join their cruise, to hastily look for a government office to obtain an emergency replacement.

While a government issued Driver’s Licence is valid as a form of ID, this doesn’t work if, like most cruises, you will be visiting another country such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Zealand or any others. For these, you will need your Australian Passport is the only way you will be permitted to board your ship, even if you say you won’t disembark in these countries.

Pack them in your carry-on, not in your checked bag.

At the Overseas Passenger Terminal, one of the first things you will do before entering the terminal to begin your embarkation process is drop your bag off at the area clearly marked “Bag Drop”. Once you leave your luggage, you won’t see it again until it is delivered to your stateroom, which is often after you board.

So if your passport or driver’s licence is packed snugly into your big suitcase, you can expect to be significantly delayed while your bags are located and returned so you can dig through it for your documents.

Be aware of the items you cannot take onboard your ship.

You’ve probably seen that poster at the airport which tells you what can and cannot be taken on an aircraft under any circumstances. A similar list of prohibited items exists for cruise ships and great care is taken both by port authorities and the cruise lines themselves to eliminate any chance of them slipping through the cracks.

Fire is the biggest fear of all cruise lines unless they are explicitly in control of the situation, so as such, anything which can ignite, spark or even heat up is a big no-no as far as guests bringing them onto a ship, even if they are completely harmless common household items. Such items on the banned list include an iron (you won’t find an ironing board in your room) and another is a multi-point powerboard. If these or other banned items are found in your bag (and they will be), they will be confiscated and returned to you at the end of your cruise.

Powerboards are banned from cruise ships.
While there are limited power outlets in rooms, powerboards like this are banned.

Check alcohol restrictions.

To some, the price of cruise line beverage packages may lead some enterprising passengers to try and surreptitiously smuggle their own libations onboard in advance and enough to last for their entire cruise. Some cruise lines don’t actually mind if you take some of your own liquor onboard, but only in limited quantities, so it’s wise to check this in advance.

P&O Cruises for example doesn’t allow any bottled liquids at all to be taken onboard, so the old trick of filling water bottles with vodka or clear tequila won’t work. Some cruise lines will let you bring up to 12 loose cans, unopened, of soft drink or alcohol, but not bottles. Again, when found, these will be taken away and returned when you get back.

Consider whether you may need a wheelchair for your own comfort.

Like an airport, the process from when you arrive at the terminal through to when you’re finally onboard can be lengthy, especially if there are delays. If you are elderly or less mobile and want to ensure you can sit down at the different stages of boarding, it may be worth booking a wheelchair with the cruise line, which will inform the port on how many they need.

While the Overseas Passenger Terminal is well equipped with escalators and elevators to help people move around, there can be extended periods of standing or walking so if this may be a problem, take the safe option and get a wheelchair to maximise your own comfort.

Stick to your marked check-in time and reconfirm a few days prior to arrival.

As mentioned earlier, cruise lines aim to minimise how many people are in the terminal at one time by staggering boarding times. It is highly advised to stick to this time and not to turn up beforehand to prevent being delayed if you’re hoping to get onboard earlier. If more people try their luck by turning up earlier, this causes the exact bottleneck that the staggered boarding system is designed to avoid, which leads to undue stress.

On rare occasions, a factor outside the control of the cruise line can force a ship to return to Sydney later than originally intended (such as weather or technical issues). Again, this is extremely rare but when it occurs, it can cause the staggered boarding times to be pushed back by up to several hours. Like most travel plans, it is wise to reconfirm your boarding time with your cruise line or travel agent (depending who you booked through) so that you don’t turn up to the terminal before your ship has even turned up.

Work together to minimise delays when boarding your cruise.
The check-in process can be over with quickly if everyone works together.