The Muster Drill is basically an adult cruiser version of the elementary school fire drill — passengers and crew practice the steps they would take in an emergency situation. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea requires the Muster Drill to happen within 24 hours of departure, but is ‘usually’ done about a half hour prior to sailing.
When it is time for the Muster Drill, all of the services on board, including the bars, will close and you will go to your assigned Muster Station on the ship (again check your key card for the location). The cruise lines take these drills VERY seriously, and so should you – after all, it’s your safety their talking about!
On your key card, as well as in your cabin, you will find instructions on where your Muster Station is onboard. Signs will be posted all over the ship directing you to the various Muster Stations. Participation is mandatory, and crew members DO come around to check that people are not in their cabin! Each ship will have a different procedure, so even seasoned passengers must attend.
Whether or not you need to actually bring your life jacket and/or put it on will depend on the ship and the cruise line, but just follow the instructions as they are given during the drill.
Because this is a very serious procedure, and the cruise lines DO take it seriously, heeding the instructions you are given and being respectful and quiet during the drill are important (although there is usually some bozo that has had too much to drink that can not keep it together).
The Muster Drill is the only ‘required’ activity you must do when on your cruise, but as we saw with the Concordia incident, it is crucial for knowing what to do and where to go in case of an emergency.
The good news is that once the drill is over, you’re about ready to sail, so if you DO have your life jacket, take it back to your cabin and get back up on deck so you can watch the sailaway!