Ted, I just sailed the Ecstasy in December. If there are other ships boarding near the same time, it will seem like a zoo. You should be able to board however by 1:30. The terminal is fairly well organized and the line moves swiftly. Once on board, you may or may not have to wait for your cabin to be ready. Your cabin steward will give you a seperate key for the room safe. The lido deck will be serving a welcome buffet that features a wonderful roast beef. Go up there, eat and enjoy the fact that your vacation has formally begun.
Going by my mom's experience with the Miracle in November, we're planning on eating breakfast at the motel and heading over about noon. We'd rather get on the ship early than get caught in a rush by getting there late.
We always arrive at the Port by 11:00 a.m., it takes about an hour to check your luggage, check in, etc. You should be boarding anytime around 12:15 p.m.-1:00 p.m. Get on the ship early, the buffet is open, the bars are open, the music is playing....drop your carry-on in your room, have lunch and explore.
well, if you are afraid of missing the boat go early, but to be honest the ship won't leave before departure time and if you arrive during the last hour or so of boarding it won't take you more than 10 minutes!!! at least with royal caribbean that was my experience... some of us in the group got there at noon, and that was absolute rush hour. ridiculous lines, like an airport. the part of the group that came later had NO lines and amazing welcome service.