If you’re new to cruising, don’t fall prey to these potential pitfalls. Here are the top nine mistakes cruise newbies make and how to avoid them for smooth sailing, from the minute you walk up the gangway for the first time to the moment you disembark:
1. Not Prebooking Special Shore Excursions
If you want an aerial view of the Mendenhall glacier, book a flightseeing tour early. - Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto
If you know you really want to do the ship’s flightseeing excursion over the Mendenhall Glacier or tour the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, sign up online before your cruise, or the tour may be sold out once you get onboard. Just remember: Some cruise lines will issue a refund if you change your mind, but others won’t — so read the fine print.
2. Packing Oversized Suitcases
Packing smart can save you a lot of room in your cabin. - Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLTD / Thinkstock
Standard suitcases and duffel bags can be stowed under the beds, but oversized suitcases are too thick to fit there, or in the slim closets. You’ll have no place to stow them except out in the open.
3. Not Bringing Body Lotion or Hair Conditioner
Most lines will give you the bare essentials, which doesn't include lotion or conditioner. - Photo by PhotoEstelar / Thinkstock
Luxury lines stock all bathrooms with lots of decadent toiletries, but most major mainstream lines only provide a shampoo dispenser in the shower and a bar of soap in the bathroom. It’s up to you to pack any other products you’ll need.
4. Going for the Deal Without Considering the Weather
Cruising during hurricane season isn't dangerous, but you do run the risk of missed ports and rough seas. - Photo by egd / Shutterstock
Cruises to the Caribbean are cheaper between September and early December … for a reason. It’s hurricane season, and there’s a greater chance of rain. In Alaska, fares are lower at the beginning and end of the season — May and September — but it can be snowy and muddy in May and rainy in September. Cruising Europe during the off-season might mean fewer tourists and lower prices, but be prepared for cool temps and rougher seas.
5. Booking a Weekend Cruise for Peace and Quiet
If you want to take a weekend cruise, be sure to the right line. - Photo by Rawpixel / Shutterstock
Short three- to four-night cruises to warm-weather destinations like the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Caribbean attract lots of 20-somethings looking for a party. That said, shorter cruises in Europe and Asia — or on the Disney ships — won’t have the same party vibe.
6. Flying in the Same Day a European Cruise Starts
Leave yourself some time between arriving and embarking. - Photo by Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock
If your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost, you’ll be in a real bind if you book a night flight to Europe intending to start your cruise a few hours later. Fly in the day before to be on the safe side, and enjoy a day and night of sightseeing in the port of embarkation.
7. Expecting to Stay Dry in Alaska
The Alaskan wilderness can be unforgiving. - Photo by Svetlana Foote / Shutterstock
It rains a lot in Southeast Alaska, especially in Ketchikan, so bring an umbrella and raincoat and be prepared to do your excursions — whether hiking, kayaking, biking, or flightseeing — even in a downpour. The locals are used to the wet weather, and activities are rarely canceled. June is the driest month, but some rain is still likely.
8. Booking a Cruise During School Holidays
On school holidays, Disney isn't the only line with a high percentage of children. - Photo by Disney Cruise Line
If you don’t have kids of your own — or aren’t traveling with them — avoid summer and holiday cruises, when one-third of a ship’s passengers can be children. On the biggest ships, that means more than 1,000 kids filling the pools and hot tubs, packing playrooms, running in the hallways, and making mealtime a loud and chaotic experience.
9. Assuming Everything Is Included Onboard
While gyms are generally free, guided classes will cost extra. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises
Even if you book your own tours and don’t plan to use the specialty restaurants, you can still expect to run a bill over the course of your cruise. For example: Except on the all-inclusive, high-end cruise lines, you’ll be charged for what you drink in your cabin, whether it’s in the mini-fridge or on your dresser. (Depending on the size, sodas and bottled water will run you about $2 to $4 each.) Some onboard activities also incur fees. Case in point: fitness classes. Years ago, they were free, but no more. Zumba dance, spinning, boot camp, and yoga will cost you an extra $10 to $15 per session.