If you’re new to cruising, don’t fall prey to these potential pitfalls. Here are nine of the top 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 Planning Ahead
Want to catch a performance of Grease on your cruise? Be sure to reserve your show ahead of time. - Photo by Royal Caribbean
As the ships get bigger and technology evolves, it’s essential to plan important elements of your cruise before you even get to the port. On ships like Harmony of the Seas and Norwegian Escape, you can (and should) pre-book your shows and speciality dining reservations at least 30 days before your cruise. And 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.
Tip: Some cruise lines will issue a refund for pre-booked shore excursions 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 easily stowed under the beds or at the bottom of closets, but oversized suitcases are too thick to fit. You’ll have no place to stow them except out in the open.
3. 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 cold 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.
4. 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 cruises to warm-weather destinations like the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Caribbean attract lots of 20-somethings looking for a party, especially three-night cruises that start on Friday. That said, four-night cruises that start on Monday tend to attract fewer partiers, and most shorter cruises in Europe and Asia — or on the Disney ships — won’t have the same party vibe.
5. Flying in the Same Day Your 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 flight 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Not Budgeting for Onboard Extras
The new IMAX theater on Carnival Vista is a great addition, but it will cost you extra. - Photo by Carnival
In recent years, cruise lines have added more activities and options onboard, but many come with additional charges. Chances are, you’ll want to experience one or two of the specialty restaurants, watch an IMAX movie, or perhaps take a fitness class onboard.
Cruise newbies sometimes assume everything is included, but it’s quite easy to run a bill over the course of your cruise. Smart cruisers budget for onboard expenses.
9. Not Taking Advantage of Everything That IS Included in Your Cruise Fare
Be sure to check your daily newsletter so you don't miss out. - Photo by Carnival
We’ve seen reviews from passengers who ate in the buffet for every meal because they assumed that the main dining room was an extra charge (it’s free on virtually all ships). And we’ve heard of passengers who didn’t attend any of the shows as they assumed they would need to purchase a ticket (you might need a reservation, but most shows on most ships are included). Read the ship’s daily newsletter delivered to your cabin each night to find out what’s going on the next day, and if you have questions about whether something is included, check with guest services.
This article was updated with reporting from Simon Duvall.