As an experienced cruiser, I've got tons of tips to make your next cruise vacation a breeze.
I'm definitely not going to tell you what the basic rules for being a decent human are, because we are all adults capable of basic courtesy even if they choose not to use it.
It's your holiday so you are entitled to enjoy it however you want, but just remember that everyone around you can make that choice too, and if that happens it is going to be a pain in the butt.
Just remember that I tried to help you here, by outlining some of the things that people have been known to do on a cruise that are better left at home.
Don’t fly in the day of the cruise
When murphy's law rules, anything can happen. Delays due to weather, planes breaking down on the tarmac, and staff going on strike, I think we all have at least one story of air travel going wrong.
Best to put your money towards reducing the chances of this happening by not flying in on the day of your cruise and booking a night's accommodation in the city of your departure. If you do fly in on the day you are bound to find yourself freaking out about getting there on time and that just isn't in the spirit of a great cruise holiday.
Being sure to schedule a flight for the day before, gives you a bit of play for those things that you just can't plan for. It also gives you a chance to wander around the departure port of the cruise, which for me is Sydney Harbour for the most part, which is a beautiful place any time of the year.
Don’t arrive too early to check-in
These days, many cruise lines have moved toward “staggered” check-in, and my guess would be with concerns around COVID-19 there will be a lot of changes around the way that embarkation day is handled. Before staggered boarding times, you used to just show up at port anytime during the boarding hours (usually something like 12 – 4 p.m), to make things smoother many lines now provide a 30-minute boarding window.
While it’s tempting, don’t show up before it’s your time to board. If you do, you’ll likely be asked to return at the appropriate time, which will leave you in the lurch and if a few people end up doing that, it will just slow down the entire process.
Don’t forget a nightlight
I think we have all been in a room at night that is a little less than familiar. Being on holiday is no exception. Having even a tiny pocket torch is going to save your life, well maybe just your toes and shins at least.
When you get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities, you are bound to run into something especially if the motion of the ocean is against you and you forget where the corner of the desk or coffee table is in your stateroom.
It is far better to be able to just reach over to the side table and grab a torch or nightlight without disturbing others just make sure they aren't too bright. In a pinch, you can use your phone's torch but I think that it is a bit too bright and can often bring people out of their peaceful slumber.
Don’t forget an outlet adapter - I need more power
An outlet adapter seems like a tiny little thing but cabins on cruise ships are a real pain when it comes to not having enough plugs.
In this day and age, it is almost impossible to keep all of your devices charged on just two wall sockets. So I would suggest bringing at least one outlet adapter that plugs in gives you a few more outlets to plug into. Surge protected adapter are not allowed on the ships, so check that it doesn't have that before you pack it as it will just get confiscated and for good reason as they can create problems.
If you don't think to pack one, make your way down to guest services as soon as you can as they might have a suitable solution for you.
Worth looking into what kind of sockets your ship will have on it also as some ships will only have US power sockets. I bought myself a very handy universal power adapter that I have been using whenever I go on holiday and find it to be a lifesaver. Whilst being fantastic as a power adapter it also has the added bonus of USB ports on it which can be used to charge phones and cameras as long as you remember to bring your charger cable with you.
The TV's on cruise ships would seem to be a bit of a waste of time for most people when you have beautiful sights just outside, but other than keeping up to date with the goings-on around the cruise ship you can also charge your devices using the USB port on them. Just be aware that most won't charge unless the tv is powered on.
Don't dawdle - move it or lose it buddy!
Space is finite on a cruise ship and elevators are a major component of keeping things following efficiently and without any real disorder. With most cruise ships containing at least 12 decks including accommodation decks, which means you will be riding elevators a fair amount on a daily basis unless you are motivated to burn off those excess calories from the buffet several times a day to get around.
For the love of all that is good in the world, if you do choose to use an elevator on a cruise ship, please wait at the side of the door whilst those that are on it disembark. I have lost count of the number of times that I have gone to walk out of the elevator only to be met by the impatient face of a fellow traveler that wants to ensure they get on the lift before anyone else. Take a leaf from Japan, where when you take a train you line up to the side of the door so that everyone can exit efficiently. It is a system that works, I don't think I've ever seen a train in Japan run late.
Don’t think that every port you visit will be a shining jewel
It pays to keep in mind that not every port on your cruise holiday is going to be amazing. When you are on a ship it is easy to just think that everything is going to be super polished and to the highest standard.
Unfortunately, when you are visiting locations that aren't exactly in the first world, you will just have to take it as it is and do your best to support these communities as they quite often rely solely on the tourist dollar.
Places closest to the port that you pull up at are going to be the most polished, but the further out you go the more likely you are to see the more authentic and sometimes impoverished parts. For example, in the South Pacific, they will quite often as part of the tours take you to visit a local school, keep this in mind and maybe even pack some pencils, coloring books, and small toys for the children.
Keep in mind that you are guests in these people's villages and hometowns, so be respectful and do your best to be aware of the differences between your cultural background and theirs. This way you can have the chance to enrich each other's lives.
It also pays to do your research to make sure that you don't get scammed by those that are just looking to make a quick dollar, like the Egypt carriage ride scam, where they take you on a 5-minute ride and then try to charge you 3 times the normal fee for the service.
Don’t be a creature of habit and eat at one place
There are literally mounds of food on cruise ships. So always be willing to dive into one of the many different foods on offer. On one cruise, I saw a man freak out because the McDonalds-like burgers on this particular day had not been put out and he shouted out 'what am I going to eat now, there is nothing to eat' whilst standing in a buffet full of other foods. I saw him a number of times on that cruise, always with a burger.
From buffets to specialty restaurants and the main dining room there is plenty of choices and something for everyone even those that might be considered a little fussy. it also pays to take to the staff if you have any food intolerances or allergies as they will always do their best to accommodate the requirements of their passengers where ever possible.
Don’t forget to wash your hands - washy washy
Yeah, it doesn't take much to wash your hands, but on cruise ships it seems like some people find it a massive inconvenience. It is an unfortunate and unavoidable side effect of having a tonne of humans all in one place and all touching the same things that someone will catch something.
It can make it a little bit of a breeding ground of illness if we aren't all careful. I always suggest that you just get in the habit of wash your hands at every chance.
As well, of course, using the many hand sanitiser dispensers that are available around the ship. It is also good value to have a little personal hand sanitiser bottle so that you can use it whilst you are visiting the ports during your cruise.
Don’t go flashing your bits on the balcony
Each to their own but remember that you are surrounded by people and even on occasion other ships will pass by quite closely or even sit across from you at certain ports. If you really want to make sure you have no tan lines just make sure you are aware of your surroundings as the balcony dividers, for the most part, are not that good and on more than one occasion I have had a neighbour pop their head around the edge of it as they are trying to take a photo of the scenery.
It is also worth keeping in mind the staff that may come to tend to your room at certain times and also there are maintenance staff that will literally walk through the balcony dividers as they are washing and cleaning the outside of the ship. Don't worry too much about that last one though because they will put something in your cabin to warn you that they will be doing something on any particular day.
Don’t stay on your mobile devices for the whole trip
It is a bit of a same in our society at the moment that we can go to a amazing location or experience and then default to viewing through our screens whilst we try to capture it in images instead of just experiencing it. Phones and mobile devices make up a large part of our lives these day.
On cruises, wi-fi has become more accessible and faster meanings even in the middle of the ocean you can stay connected. We suggest putting the phone down and unplugging for your trip. Enjoy the relaxation that comes with being hundreds of miles away from you normal day-to-day.
Don’t miss the muster drill
I'm not the first person to own up to the fact that the Muster drill sucks, but it is a necessary and compulsory part of what will be a great cruise holiday, though how it is done may change some with the introduction of COVID-19 in our daily life. Muster drill is done before you depart your home port and show you the best and most efficient route to make sure that in the case of an emergency you can be kept safe and escape the ship efficiently if god forbid there was a disaster of some kind.
Muster drill is pretty simple with staff doing a count to ensure that everyone is accounted for, followed by a short instruction similar to what you received upon boarding a plane. You must participate in the drill and unfortunately, you will not be able to avoid it, however, if you have a medical concern you can speak to staff and they will arrange something to make it easier.
Usually, a muster is held in the main dining room for those that are unable to stand for long periods of time, especially given it can become quite warm when you are stuck standing in a large group of people on the outside of the ship.
Don’t wear clothing that might be considered offensive in port
Some ports that you visit will no doubt be very culturally different from that of your home location, and that is worth keeping in mind when you dress for a port day especially. In a lot of ports, wearing clothes with offensive images or slogan and words is considered offensive and can land you in a lot of hot water. It is also worth being aware that camo clothing and things of that nature are even illegal in some countries.
Don’t hog the sun lounges or pods
We all know that finding and keeping a great spot near the pool can be a bit of a battle but that doesn't mean treating the deck chairs like territory that you must defend at all costs. Let other people have the opportunity to have those choice locations on occasion.
There is a percentage of cruisers that will wake up early and reserve their spot with a towel, leaving it empty for ages until they are ready to go up and actually use that spot.
If you do this you will easily become one of the most hated people on the ship and if you happen to leave your stuff up there with your towel for hours then expect to have to go find it at the towel dispensary or service desk, because there are people that will enforce the no hogging rule.
Don’t freak out about your bill at the end of the cruise
Cruise ships utilize sail and sign cards to allow you to use the services and purchase food and drinks without having to deal with money whilst on the ship.
If you link your Sail and Sign card to your credit card or bank account then don't be surprised by the double up on fees that might appear after your cruise has finished, throughout the cruise, the cruise line will put a hold on your account for a couple of hundred dollars or so to make sure you have money available in your account to pay. This amount will clear after a week or two and the true amount will be deducted at the end of your cruise but it may look like you paid for everything twice for a little while.
I find it better to use a credit card with a suitable limit instead of letting it lock up my normal savings account, just for peace of mind that I won't run out of money, but you can just use cash and charge up the sail and sign card when needed which can be just as easy if you plan accordingly.
Another thing to keep an eye on is your spending habits, as it can be really easy to overspend whilst on a cruise ship with a sail and sign card.
Between drinks and recreation opportunities like playing the skill tester machines that take a few dollars at a time, it all adds up if you're not careful. If you are going to play skill testers or anything that charges in increments be sure to keep an eye on your spending or set a budget beforehand.
Don’t think the ship is your babysitter
I think we can all agree just how fun cruises can be for everyone. Families especially can find them to be relaxing if they plan accordingly and make sure there is plenty of things for everyone to do.
The only problem is that if you don't plan ahead some children can go a little ship crazy and start thinking that they can get away with anything. Like playing on the lifts or running and yelling up and down the halls.
There are spaces allotted for kids to enjoy themselves without disrupting others trying to enjoy their cruise so don't bring them into the over 18 spaces and make sure they know that they are expected to behave properly throughout the remainder of the ship. Just because the ship acts like a giant playpen doesn't mean that you can just let them go running around someone else annoying them whilst you sit down and enjoy your drink in peace.
Don’t get upset if things aren’t fairytale perfect
You might have been waiting for this holiday for ages, daydreaming about how perfect every moment of it was going to be but I implore you to not get too frustrated if things don't go exactly the way you had hoped.Things happen, and occasionally a port might be skipped or a shore excursion might be completely booked out. It is impossible for everything to go perfectly all of the time.
Just remember not let it get to you and enjoy everything else your cruise holiday has to offer. Cruise lines will do everything they can to make sure that all of its passengers disembark the ship having had the best time possible, so if something bad is bothering you, let them know, they may be able to help. Just bare in mind that they can't work miracles everytime and you aren't the only person on the ship.
If you have a legitimate reason that something isn't as good as it should be or some service isn't being offered, then let someone know that can try to help. Don’t let a small issue wreck an otherwise amazing cruise.
Don’t go booking the first flight in the morning of your return to your home port
I've seen people try to arrange this and it is madness. I have to fly into my departure port every time I go on a cruise, unfortunately. The downside of living in the amazing location of Tasmania. Make sure you take note of the times that they arrive and depart you will want to know when you are getting to and able to leave the port. Customs line up's are the best... not, the problem is you can't dodge them, they take as long as they take, which means more time is needed to get off the ship at the end of the cruise so make sure you are aware of that. I think it is always best if you can't stay another day in the port, that you book a flight home for some time in the afternoon. Giving you time to get out and not have to rush. I would also at this point make sure that you take the option if you can to self disembark the ship as this is way faster as you just take all of your stuff of the ship with you in one go.
For more helpful hints visit the following articles:
- How to Take the Stress out of Embarkation Day on Your Cruise Holiday
Ahoy there, my fellow cruisers! Embarkation day can be stressful, but it doesn't need to be. In this article, I'll tell you what to expect and share some tips to help make the first day of your cruise holiday a breeze. So sit back and enjoy!
- How to Get Free Things on Your Next Cruise Ship Vacation
Cruising can cost you, and finding value can be hard. But you deserve to have your cake and eat it too, so read on to learn a few techniques that will help you get the most out of your next cruise holiday.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Paddy Michelson
Ivan on February 05, 2020:
Good advice .
12 cruisers between us and everything you say is correct.
Anya Ali from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 02, 2020:
I wish I could be a teacher on a ship. I love the idea of travelling to different countries - who doesn't? Useful article - thank you for posting it here.
Liz Westwood from UK on January 12, 2020:
I am sorry to hear about your family member.
It seems that cost has to be balanced against peace of mind. We have friends who chose to travel to the port on a transfer of over 150 miles, arranged via the cruise company. It cost more than booking separately, but they were prepared to pay to save on stress. We tend to book travel elements separately to save money. Although, if an expensive cruise were at stake, we might reconsider. Then again, we're the ones who stay near the airport to avoid holdups on the road, even if our flight isn't til after noon the following day.
Paddy Michelson (author) from Australia on January 08, 2020:
Hi Liz, sorry I am a bit slow in replying, I have a family member in hospital at the moment.
It shouldn't be a problem but there can still be mechanical issues etc. that might get in the way. I do prefer to book things separately in Australia, in general it can be cheaper. It is the same with transfers to the airport it is much cheaper as a rule to book your own cab/train/transfer separately, rather than through the cruise company for example.
Liz Westwood from UK on January 07, 2020:
This is a really useful article for anyone thinking of going on a cruise. One thing puzzled me though. From the UK some cruises involve a flight to the departure port in the Mediterranean. Presumably if you book a flight/cruise package you should have no worries about connecting with your cruise? I can understand though, that if you book the elements separately yourself, you might be taking a chance.
ALAN B Mitchell from THORNTON on January 06, 2020:
Paddy Michelson (author) from Australia on January 06, 2020:
Thanks Carolyn, I appreciate your comment.
Carolyn Fields from South Dakota, USA on January 06, 2020:
Great tips! Thanks!