Don’t panic. Go directly to the cruise line’s port agent at the pier (the name, phone number, and address of the port agent should be listed in your cruise documents). You may be put up in a hotel for the night at your expense (unless you booked air through the cruise line) and provided with other transportation to the next port of call. If you booked your flight on your own, you will likely be charged for this service. Keep in mind that on some itineraries (like transatlantic crossings or cruises to Antarctica), joining the ship late simply isn’t possible.
At the Pier
Most ships start embarkation in the early afernoon and depart between 4 and 6pm You will not be able to board the ship before the scheduled embarkation time, usually about 3 or 4 hours before sailing, and even then it’s likely that you’ll have to wait in line; unless, that is, you’re sailing on a small ship carrying very few passengers.
If you’ve booked a suite, you may get priority boarding at a special desk. Special-needs passengers may also be processed separately. Ship personnel will check your boarding tickets and ID and collect any documents you’ve been sent to fill out in advance. You will then be given a boarding card and your cabin key. (On some lines, your key may be waiting in your cabin.)
You have up to 90 minutes before departure to board, but there are some advantages to boarding earlier, like getting first dibs on spa-treatment times. Plus, if you’re early enough, you can eat lunch on the ship. Conversely, if you hate lines you might want to hold off until the mad rush has evaporated; we’ve had decent luck checking in for our cruise about 3 hours before departure.