Don’t think you’re going to just walk right onto your ship, grab the best deck chair, and sit in the sun — preferably with a tasty rum punch. If you’re a suite passenger or other VIP you may get priority boarding, and those with mobility difficulties can also sometimes arrange expedited boarding. If you are cruising with Carnival, you can pay an additional fee to get on board first. Everyone else needs to get in line.
In general, boarding typically begins around 11:30 am or noon, and by then the throngs have arrived. If you arrive before 10 am hoping to be the first one on the ship, you’ll find early birds catch long waits.
Tip: Spending hours waiting in the terminal is not the best way to start your vacation. A better plan is to skip the mob scene by getting to the pier toward the end of the boarding window. By arriving closer to 2 pm you can avoid considerable hassle and hit the pool in a lot less time. So sleep in, or spend the morning sightseeing before heading to the ship.