Guide to Carnival’s “Staggered” Check-in

There was a major problem when it comes to getting on a cruise ship, and Carnival has sought to fix it.

If you’ve taken a cruise before, think back to your last embarkation day. There was that rush of excitement. You couldn’t wait to get onboard, find your room, grab a drink, and explore the ship. In fact, even though you likely had a 3-4 hour boarding window (usually from 12:00-4:00 on cruise day), we’re guessing you got there early. If you weren’t there before the embarkation window, then we’d wager you were there within an hour of it opening.

Therein lies the problem. People are excited about their cruises. They can’t wait to get aboard. That leads to major issues for the cruise line. Instead of a nice even flow of people over the boarding window, there’s a mad rush of passengers at the start, that then slows to a trickle as the day drags on.

Don’t get us wrong; it’s good that people are excited about cruising. But that excitement causes major logistical issues. That’s why to smooth things out, Carnival has now implemented a “staggered” check-in.

Originally piloted in Galveston (and now being rolled out to almost every port Carnival operates), this new method of boarding the ship involves passengers selecting boarding times in 30-minute intervals. The concept is easy. When you check-in for your cruise, you’ll be able to pick an arrival time that works best for you. Instead of a 3-4 hour boarding window, you now have a much smaller 30-minute time to get to the ship.

With this new method the flow of passengers to the ship will be more evened out, instead of long lines at the start of embarkation.

staggered check in

Of course, as with any procedure, there are always some questions that will come up. Carnival put together this handy FAQ, but we’ll also answer some of the biggest questions here.

How do I select a time?

To select a boarding time, you’ll need to check-in online and select your boarding window. They are first come, first served, so if your preferred timeslot isn’t open, you’ll have to choose another.

What happens if show up before my boarding time?

According to Carnival, passengers who arrive early will be turned away from the terminal if they arrive before their scheduled departure time. They will be asked to return during their specified boarding window.

What happens if I show up after my boarding time?

Don’t worry, as long as you are still within the total embarkation window (one hour before the ship is set to leave) then you will still be able to board if you show up late. As Carnival says, late passengers “will be accommodated.”

I have special status on Carnival. Does that mean I can’t board first?

If you have special status on Carnival, such as being part of their Priority Program or buying the “Faster to the Fun” package won’t really see a change in boarding. While the cruise line would still like you to choose a boarding time so they know when to expect you, you can show up at anytime during the embarkation window and board.

One update for those of you still fighting the change, its doing exactly what Carnival was hoping. The following was posted by Carnival’s John Heald in regards to the change:

As you know we have been underway with our staggered check in system for ships sailing out of Galveston for some time now. I know change is never always easy to accept; there is no doubt that it has for the most part eased congestion, lines have diminished, and the whole process has been made much easier.

Have you gone through the new staggered check-in? Share your experience (good or bad) in the comments below.

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  1. We cruised out of Tampa and our check in time was at 12pm. We showed up at the port around 11am and was allowed to check in and was actually on the ship before 12pm. We was not turned away and actually boarded right after the faster to the fun group did.

    • I had the same experience at the Port in Long Beach/Lost Angeles. We arrived an hour or so before our boarding window because our flight got in early. We had our day bags along with us, our 12 packs of soda, and wine. We wandered around the cruise terminal looking for a bar to sit at and wait, but there wasn’t much open at that hour. We decided to give it a go for check in and were not turned away. In fact, there was a line titled “I arrived too early” and were directed to that line. We were permitted to check in, go through security, and board the ship about 2 hours before our scheduled time. If we were not permitted to board, we would be sitting around outside with all of our things.

  2. I wonder if any of your readers can verify that things have changed further in Galveston. I have heard that now if you are early OR late for your window, that you are put in another line. It used to be that if you arrived late, you were allowed on the regular non priority line. It appears as though this may have changed. I would like verification from some recent cruisers so I can share correct info with a group I am taking with me.


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