- With all-you-can-eat buffets, late-night dance parties, and beautiful ocean views, cruise vacations can be memorable experiences with something for all ages. There are some things passengers should know, however, in order to make the most of their trip.
- Travellers should be aware of cruise offerings that may not be worth the money, like casinos with notoriously bad odds and fancy alcoholic drinks that add up in price (and calories) quickly.
- Cruise-goers who fail to do their research beforehand – whether it’s informing the crew about dietary restrictions or planning an off-ship excursion – may be putting their health and safety at risk.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Whether you’re organising a getaway with friends or preparing for a long-awaited family trip, cruise vacations are fun for the whole group. There are some serious things, however, that passengers should avoid doing at all costs. In order for the cruise experience to be smooth sailing for the whole group (and ship), travellers should know what exactly they should and shouldn’t do before packing their bags, boarding, and exploring the ports.
In addition to gathering some of the biggest cruise faux-pas for prospective passengers, we also spoke with Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor at Cruise Critic, who shared the most important behaviours travellers should avoid in order to save money and stay healthy and safe while at sea.
Don’t be afraid to speak up about dietary restrictions — but don’t wait until you board the ship to make arrangements, either.
Most cruises can accommodate a wide range of diets and have separate cooking areas for handling allergies and food restrictions, according to Erica Silverstein, senior editor at Cruise Critic. She said travellers who have a simple restriction, like being vegetarian or low-carb, don’t need to call the cruise line in advance to ask about ingredients (unless they want to), as those are relatively easy changes for the dining staff to make at each meal.
On the other hand, travellers who have a severe allergy or dietary restriction – like being allergic to dairy or nuts or needing kosher meat – will need to contact the cruise line before setting sail.
“You will want to contact your cruise line a couple of months before sailing to alert the ship and arrange for any necessary items to be brought onboard,” she said. “Pre-prepared kosher meals must be ordered in advance, and the deadline varies according to each line.”
Silverstein also recommended that travellers with dietary restrictions meet with the restaurant manager or ship’s food and beverage director once onboard.
“They will tell you where to find special foods or which to ask for, and they can leave advance copies of menus in your cabin for you to mark up in advance so the chefs can make necessary adjustments,” she said.
Don’t lie about your health on the pre-boarding questionnaire.
During the check-in process on embarkation day, all guests will fill out a health questionnaire. Don’t downplay any complications or signs of illness you may have, or else you could put yourself or other passengers at risk.
“It’s important for all guests to take that questionnaire seriously,” Silverstein said, “some signs of illness won’t be an issue and won’t impact your ability to board the ship, but this is a way for the cruise line to protect the health of passengers onboard.”
“Just as you’d want others you’re sailing with to be honest with their answers,” she added, “it’s important that you do the same.”
Don’t pack everything in your checked luggage. The day you board the ship, be sure to have a smaller bag with a change of clothes, valuables, and medicine.
After you board the ship, you’ll likely want to eat lunch, explore the ship, and relax at the pool. Be sure you have a backpack or smaller bag with anything you’ll need for the afternoon – i.e. a change of clothes, bathing suit, sunscreen, valuables, medication – until your checked luggage arrives at your cabin.
“If you can’t live without something for a few hours or a few days, pack it in your carry-on and keep it with you,”Silverstein recommends in a Cruise Critic article.
Don’t skip the sail-away party on the first day.
After a long morning of checking in, waiting in long lines, and crossing your fingers that your checked bag didn’t get lost along the way, listening to loud cabana music and doing a line dance with a bunch of strangers may not be your ideal way to spend the afternoon.
However, the sail-away party – something most cruise lines do as the ship leaves the dock – often includes special drink deals and fun snacks you won’t find elsewhere on the ship.
Don’t bring prohibited beverages on the ship.
Each cruise line has specific policies outlining what beverages passengers can and cannot bring onboard on embarkation day, and it’s crucial to know your ship’s rules, Silverstein said.
For example, Viking Ocean Cruises allows passengers to bring wine, Champagne, beer, and liquor onboard – and the cruise line doesn’t charge a corkage fee. But on a Carnival cruise, each passenger can bring one bottle of wine on the day of embarkation, and a $US15 corkage fee applies. Royal Caribbean has a similar policy; passengers can bring two bottles of wine or champagne on embarkation day (per cabin), and a $US15 corking fee applies.
Speaking of alcohol, don’t overdo it with the drinking.
Silverstein said one of her biggest tips for preventing sickness while on a cruise, in addition to hand-washing, is “keeping alcohol intake within a reasonable level.”
While beverage packages, colourful drinks, and the laid-back vacation lifestyle can make it tempting to drink from sunrise to sunset, know your limits (unless you want to spend the duration of your already paid-for trip on bed rest). Plus, unless you purchased an alcohol drink package, the price of individual drinks adds up quickly, which could lead to a not-so-fun bill.
Don’t book an excursion without reading the fine print.
Most cruise lines do charge more for excursions than non-ship-sponsored excursion companies, but as Cruise Critic contributor Elissa Garay says, the extra cost can be thought of as an insurance because cruise lines only book through companies they deem to be safe and reliable.
Passengers should also be aware that if they do book an excursion, whether through their cruise line or independently,they may not be refunded fully or at all if they get sick beforehand or if the activity is canceled for inclement weather.
Don’t wander around your ports without a plan.
When it comes to exploring the port, it’s better to be over prepared than to not have done any research at all about where the ship will be docked. For cruise itineraries with multiple port stops, Silverstein recommends not overloading the trip with too many activities.
“If your itinerary is port-intensive, factor in a mix of heavy sightseeing and more low-key days for wandering around town or enjoying a coffee with a view to prevent burnout and exhaustion,” she said.
Don’t use your cell phone before contacting your carrier first.
We get it – you want to let your friends know you’re on vacation by sending a Snapchat video of the sun setting over the Bahamas – but the post-cruise cell phone bill you might get in return is probably not worth it.
Silverstein said travellers need to figure out if their current cell phone plan allows for international roaming or what the price might look like. Most cruise lines also allow passengers to pay for Wi-Fi per-day.
“Decide in advance if you can handle disconnecting for a week or if you’re willing to pay a premium for Wi-Fi,” Silverstein said. “Know that you will incur hefty roaming charges if you don’t put your cell phone in aeroplane mode onboard – especially make sure your teen knows this!”
Don’t skimp on hand-washing.
In January 2019, more than 270 people were sick with a norovirus on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas ship. Silverstein’s biggest tip for preventing illness and staying healthy while onboard is to practice the same on-land hygiene procedures – and to take extra caution with hand-washing.
“Cruise lines make this easy by having hand-washing and sanitizer stations throughout the ship,” she said.
Don’t be a chair hog (even if it’s tempting).
The cruise pool deck is a beautiful, blissful place – until it’s not. At the crack of dawn, herds of passengers sprint to the pool to snag chairs for their entourage, and anyone who chose not to wake up at 6 a.m. to put towels and sunscreen on 10 beach chairs is out of luck. Though this behaviour is prevalent on most ships, crew members do know to look for it, and passengers can be penalised if they’re caught – they may not be allowed to check out towels, or there could be other punishments or even fines if they continue to hog chairs.
Some experts on Cruise Critic recommend forgoing the toxic chair-hogging wars by getting a cabin with a balcony or window – or by retreating to a less-crowded, non-pool deck to sunbathe.
Don’t book a cabin at the back of the ship if you get seasick.
Though most cruise ships are large enough in size to minimise feelings of rockiness, the Mayo Clinic recommends travellers who have experienced motion sickness in the past to request a cabin in the middle or front of the ship as close to water level as possible. Passengers who stay toward the top of the ship will feel most turbulence. Travellers with a history of motion sickness shouldn’t forget to pack armbands or other products that may help with seasickness.
Don’t forget to leave a tip.
On most cruise lines, passengers can choose to pay gratuities in advance, have daily gratuities automatically added to their account, or pay on-board with cash. Passengers may also choose to leave tips for a crew member they got to know personally or who was especially helpful during the trip. According to Frommer’s Travel Guides, gratuity suggestions vary by cruise line, but on average, cruise lines suggest tipping between $US10 and $US12 per day, per passenger (not per family or couple).
Don’t book the wrong cruise trip for your group.
Just because you found a cruise line and itinerary that matches your ideal travel dates doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right vacation for you. If you’re travelling with kids or a big family group, consider choosing a cruise line or ship with specific features – like Disney Cruise Line’s exclusive adult areas and experiences – that will be sure to make for an entertaining and relaxing trip. According to Cruise Critic, among the best cruise ships for families include the Disney Magic, Regal Princess, Ruby Princess,Symphony of the Seas, and the Disney Dream.
Don’t go on the cruise just for the pool.
While the cruise ship pool is a sun-bather’s dream – especially on a cloudless day – ships have much more to offer. Whether the cruise is sailing in the middle of summer in the Caribbean or through a mountainous, cold climate, the pools and hot tubs on-board aren’t guaranteed to be relaxing or even functioning.
“If there is just one small heated pool on a cold climate cruise, you might find it’s too popular and overcrowded when you want to use it anyway, so I wouldn’t call it guaranteed,” said one TripAdvisor user.
Don’t spend on items you could get anywhere. Do buy artisan crafts or snacks that are unique to the port.
When in port, it can be tempting to snag shot glasses and tie-dye t-shirts, but Silverstein recommends steering clear of some souvenir items in order to get the most bang for your buck (and to not live up to the tacky tourist stereotype).
“In port, look for handicrafts or food items made locally – especially items you can only purchase in that destination and nowhere else. Bonus if you can meet the artist,” she said. “This isn’t a splurge, but grocery stores can be fun places to pick up fun local treats like candy. Packaged food can be brought back onboard and into the US.”
Don’t go to the dining room right before it closes.
Out of courtesy to the ship crew members – who work excruciating hours to clean and ensure the ship is in tip-top shape – don’t be that person who makes a mess at the buffet just minutes before closing time. Instead, know the hours for each dining area beforehand by asking at the front desk or referring to a monitor or pamphlet. Most cruise ships make things like activity and dining hours very clear and easy to find, Silverstein said.
Don’t let your ship sail away without you. Seriously.
It may sound ridiculous, but it can happen. Whether you’re exploring the port with your own group or travelling with a ship-sponsored excursion, Cruise Critic recommends passengers have copies of passports, driver’s licenses, credit cards, and cruise information. This way, passengers can get help from a port agent. It may sound obvious, but passengers should also be sure to wear a watch (with the correct local time – taking into account time changes if necessary) when they leave the ship.
Don’t blow all your money in the onboard casino.
According to Cruise Critic, most large cruise ships, except for the Disney Cruise Line, have casinos with slot machines and table card games. For passengers who don’t live close to a casino on land, gambling on a cruise vacation may seem like a perfect opportunity. However, passengers should be wary of how much they’re betting – gamblers at cruise ship casinos don’t always win big money.
To ensure you don’t spend all your money in one sitting, set aside an amount you’re comfortable with, and use that as your gambling budget. You may find after your first cruise casino outing that it’s not worth spending the rest of the money you set aside in the first place.
And please, for your own good, do not skip the mandatory muster drill.
The muster drill is a safety procedure that’s mandatory for all cruise passengers to attend the day the ship embarks. The drill is required by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and it requires passengers to locate their designated emergency meeting point on the ship.
“Attending the muster drill is an absolute necessity on a cruise. Beyond being mandatory for all guests, it’s also incredibly important for travellers to be familiar with emergency procedures. Be sure to take the muster drill seriously,” Silverstein said. “Talking about emergencies isn’t the most exciting topic of conversation to kick off your cruise, but it’s a relatively short procedure that can have a significant impact in the chance an emergency does arise.”
- Read more:
- Martha Stewart shares her top cruise ship packing tip: ‘the lighter the better’
- Cruise line workers reveal one of the biggest disadvantages of living on a cruise ship
- Carnival Cruise Line now lets guests order beer and pizza anywhere they are on the ship so they don’t have to move
- Cruise ship employees reveal the wildest things they have seen on the job
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.