From the moment you lock eyes with your cruise ship on embarkation day, you want nothing more than to rush through the lines, get onboard and start your vacation quickly. Unless you’ve planned ahead, though, it might not be that easy. Little hurdles like forgetting to print your boarding pass or arriving at peak boarding time without realizing it can keep you in line longer, dragging out the boarding process.

Preparing ahead of time will make getting to your cruise ship a breeze, but there also are a few ways you can combat the lines, once you get to the terminal.

Follow these five tips to speed up the cruise embarkation process, so you can enjoy that umbrella drink on the pool deck sooner (and smirk at all the unprepared cruisers still stuck in line at the terminal).

1. Check in before you arrive at the terminal.

Cruise lines offer the ability to check in online at least a few days prior to sailing, so be sure to take advantage. By getting this step out of the way before you arrive, you’ll be able to fill out forms you otherwise have to do at the terminal. You also can print your boarding pass and luggage tags, which will help speed up the process as soon as you arrive. Make sure you attach those printed luggage tags (which indicate your cabin number) to your bags.

2. Avoid arriving at peak boarding time.

It’s hard to say when the best or worst time to board is — every cruise is different — but generally speaking, roughly noon (when regular check-in begins) to 2 p.m. is when most people show up, and when you’re bound to run into crowds and long lines. We recommend getting to the terminal either early (11 a.m. to noon), before the rush, or late (after 2 p.m.), when most people are already onboard. You might still have a little wait, but it won’t be anything compared to peak boarding time. Just don’t arrive too early, as you might find yourself waiting even longer for the previous cruise’s passengers to disembark.

3. Bypass the lines with priority boarding.

Priority boarding is a perk enjoyed by many suite passengers and upper-tier cruise line loyalty members, but a number of cruise lines allow regular passengers to pay for the same privileges. With priority boarding, you’ll have access to a dedicated security and check-in lane, which saves you from waiting in the usual lines. In some cases, this also means your accommodations will be ready before others. If you can’t avoid peak boarding time, or simply can’t stand to wait in line, upgrading to priority boarding is worth the splurge.

4. Drop off your luggage with the porters.

When you arrive at the terminal, porters will be there to greet you and take your luggage — which will be delivered to your cabin — so you don’t have to lug around all that weight yourself. (Don’t forget to tip the porters a few bucks.) You’re not obliged to hand over your bags; however, doing so will make it easier for you to move through the security and check-in lines. Our advice? Pack a comfortable carry-on bag with all your essentials, since there’s no guarantee how quickly your bags will arrive to your cabin.

5. Have your official documents handy.

You’ll be asked to show your official documents — passport or other legal form of ID, boarding pass and visa (if required) — more than once during check-in, so it’s a good idea to keep them somewhere easily accessible. This way, you’re not stuck digging for them at the bottom of your bag, when you could be moving swiftly through the lines.

cruise terminal parking, galveston cruise terminal parking, cruise parking galveston, galveston cruise parkingSeasoned cruisers know that booking the ultimate cruise deal is a tricky formula of aiming for the right destination at the right time of year; booking at the exact moment when good prices and excellent availability align; jumping on promotions; scoring perks like onboard credits; remaining vigilant for price drops; and sometimes, a dash of pure luck.

Simply browsing the web might not be enough to secure the ultimate deal. Heed our advice using these five cruise booking hacks and you might be able to find secret pricing, score double the bonuses and land the upgrade of a lifetime.

1. Book onboard; then switch to an agent.

Booking a cruise while you’re on vacation might seem impulsive, but it’s actually a great way to gather extra bonuses and discounts. When you book a cruise onboard, you not only earn onboard credit to use on that future sailing and often pay a reduced deposit, but you can transfer that booking to your preferred travel agent once you disembark. A travel agent can offer you even more perks on top of what you negotiated on the ship (more onboard credit, bottles of wine), and many times you can even adjust dates and ships without a penalty, if your plans change. It’s really a win-win situation if you know you want to cruise the same line again soon.

2. Call for hidden pricing.

When online agents tell you to call for pricing, it’s not a gimmick or another way of saying a ship is sold out. Through direct connections with cruise lines and marketing partners, agents and cruise specialists receive deals called “quiet offers” that they’re not allowed to publish. What that means for the consumer is that there might be even lower rates available than the listed bargain. In order to get in on the savings, you have to call to discuss your options. Agents are also privy to sales before they go public, and know about any additional savings you might be eligible for, such as a military or AARP discount. Picking up the phone might seem a bit archaic these days, but if you want to book a cruise at the lowest rate, it’s almost essential.

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3. Refer a friend (or get referred).

Referral programs exist for gyms, hair salons and apartment complexes, so why not cruises? Some companies, offer onboard credit in exchange for a new referral to their agency. Likewise, select cruise lines offer onboard credit to you and your friends when they are referred. If you’ve never been on a cruise but have friends who have, ask them if their cruise line or agency offers a referral program and chances are, you’ll all reap the benefits.

4. Scour for price drops.

Be your own bargain advocate. Sign up for cruise line e-letters, which will inform you about the latest deals, and even check their pages on social media. If you see a bargain that’s better than the one you have, call your agent to see if it’s possible to make a switch. Depending on the terms of a new fare or promotion, you might be able to score extra perks, get a price reduction, upgrade your cabin or receive the fare difference in onboard credit. While some travel agents might notify you of price drops, you’re the person most invested in your vacation, so it makes sense to monitor the price changes yourself.

5. Pay more for a lower total price.

Sure it sounds counterintuitive, but if you don’t mind shelling out a little extra on the base cruise fare, the upgrades and amenities included can make a significant impact on your total vacation expenses. If you’re on a super tight budget and plan on limiting onboard spending, then it might be important to adhere to low cruise rates, down to the last cent. However, if you have the ability to pay a bit more, the returns can be much greater than the difference in fares. You’ll hear it often from travel agents: The best deal isn’t always the sailing with the cheapest price. For example, pay slightly more for an ocean-view or balcony cabin, and on some lines you can receive an included drink package, internet or prepaid tips that aren’t available to inside cabin cruisers. The perks included in upper stateroom categories could add hundreds of dollars of value to your vacation. Think about what amenities you plan to buy (be it airfare or alcohol), and compare the total cost of a cheap fare plus all the add-ons with a pricier intro fare that includes more. The results might surprise you.