If this is not only your first New Kids cruise but your first cruise period, these tips will help you make the most of the weekend.
A couple weeks before we sail, you'll receive a link for online guest registration. Make sure everyone in the room completes these forms at home and print out copies before you go to present at check in. You also print out your luggage/bag tags at home and attach them before you even leave for Miami.
After you go through the x-ray machines (just like at the airport), you bring your paperwork, passport, and credit card to the check-in agent. If you are using cash rather than a credit card, you have to pay a deposit at check-in.
Once you're checked in, you will have your wrist band put on for you by the agent. Not sure if we will have colored zones this year, but it will at least show your dining group. Security was very careful to check that no one from the wrong group was trying to sneak into an extra show. (There was a bit of confusion last year because red and orange looked very similar and meant the difference between row 6 and back of the balcony.)
You will also receive your Sign and Sail card, which is both your room key and onboard credit card. You use this for anything you buy on the ship. They won't accept cash or other credit cards.
If your suitcase is bigger than carry-on size, you leave it with a porter to be delivered to your cabin. Most bags were delivered by dinner time, but make sure you bring a change of clothes and all your toiletries in a carry on if you want to use them before the sail away party.
Chances are, you won't be able to get into your cabin right away. So hang out and have a drink until 2:00 p.m. or so.
Soda and water are not free. Coffee, tea, iced tea, and juices are. There are drink stations around the buffet and pool area. If you are addicted to soda, you can buy an unlimited soda card for something like $25.
On the other hand, room service is free. I highly recommend hanging the order form on your door the night before so you can wake up to toast, fruit, and cereal -- and a pot of coffee.
Don't worry about tipping in the dining room. You pre-paid for tips through Rose Tours. However, the room service waiters will not turn down a few singles.
I don't typically get motion sick, but those that do relied on behind the ear patches on board. I've also heard ginger capsules work well. Sunday morning was especially rocky, and combined with lack of sleep and excessive drinking the night before, I was not feeling great. While we were waiting in the photo op line, I saw one person throw up and one pass out.
What I did not expect was to feel so strange 2-3 days AFTER the cruise. This is called Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, and it made me feel like I was on a moving walkway for much of the following week. Eventually it went away.
Most cruise articles will recommend you pre-book shore excursions months in advance to avoid waiting in line once on board and to make sure you can get the popular options. But don't do it for this one!
From Sarah in the comments: "I spoke with Jeannie right after we booked about shore excursions. She was quick to advise me NOT to book anything for Half Moon Cay because just about every option on the island will cause us to miss events planned on shore and the NKOTB functions."
Don't leave home without
A watch. There are were very few clocks on deck or around, and you won't want to have your cell phone turned on because of the outrageous roaming charges (even if you're not making calls).
A travel alarm clock. Even though you can request wake up calls, you'll need to make sure you're on time for all the activities. I read on a Carnival website that it needs to be battery powered because the electric ones will run slow.
A power strip. You get one outlet in the room. One.
A night light. The room is so dark at night you could think you've gone blind. Lots of deck party drinking leads to middle-of-the-night bathroom trips, and you don't want to break an arm.
A hair dryer. Unless you're in the penthouse or owner's suite, you won't get one in your room.
On Monday morning, be prepared to be booted from your cabin bright and early (think 8:00 a.m.). There will be lots of porters walking up and down the halls banging on doors and hurrying you out. But you can head up to the Lido deck for coffee and breakfast before you get back to solid ground.
Hope this helps you know what to expect. Experienced cruisers, please add your tips to the comments!