6 Sources of Cruise Stress (And How to Beat Them)

common sources cruise stress how to beat them
Do these things and you're guaranteed smoother sailing during your cruise! - Photo by Royal Caribbean

Cruising means vacation, and vacation means “hakuna matata.” No worries…. right? Only in a perfect world! Even the most fun, relaxing getaways can come with some stress, and cruises are no exception. We’ve identified some of the top sources of cruise stress, and how you can beat them before they put a damper on your trip. 

1. Getting to the ship on time at embarkation

radiance of the seas port miami royal caribbean
Photo by Royal Caribbean

One of the top sources of cruise stress begins before you even get to the pier: making sure you arrive with plenty of time before the ship departs. Our number one tip for this is to arrive to the homeport city the night before embarkation day. You want to assure that unexpected travel delays will not cause you to miss the ship, whether you’re flying in or driving a long distance. On embarkation day, plan to get to the cruise terminal around lunchtime if possible. Early afternoon is fine, but aiming for late morning as soon as the check-in process opens up allows for traffic, last-minute runs to the store, and other delays. Plus, it means you’ll have more time to enjoy the ship!


2. Getting back to the ship on time in ports

quantum royal caribbean st thomas cruise stress
Photo by Royal Caribbean

Going along with arriving to the ship on time for embarkation, you also need to make sure you’ll be back to the ship on time in ports of call. If all you’re doing is an excursion with the line and you go straight back to the ship afterwards, you don’t have to worry at all. If cruise line tours have a delay, the ship will wait until the tour group returns. Reputable third-party tour companies also have strict schedules and will make sure you get back to the ship in time. If something unexpected happens (which is very rare), the ship isn't obligated to wait, but many times it will for a large tour group. Plus, many tour companies, including those featured on Cruiseline.com, have their own guarantees where even if the ship does leave, they’ll pay for you to meet it at the next port.

If you’re venturing out on your own, we recommend you set an alarm that will have you back on the ship at least 30-60 minutes before “all aboard” time. Just to be clear, we’re suggesting that you are back ON the ship 30-60 minutes before then, not leaving your activity or spot at the bar 10 miles away to head back 30 minutes beforehand. Note that all aboard time is NOT sailaway time — sailaway time is usually 30 minutes after all aboard time, when, as it sounds, they expect everyone to be back on the ship.

Tip: Remember that you need to be on the ship’s time, even if it differs from the local time. You can do this by manually setting your watch or phone to the time zone the ship is on (not letting it automatically update to the one you’re in), or just remembering the time difference it you’re really confident.


3. Figuring out excursions

snorkel dive swimming excursion cozumel mexico
Photo by Royal Caribbean

The easiest way to get your excursions locked down and not have to worry about them on your cruise is to book them before you even step aboard. You can always book through the cruise line, but there are also a number of trusted and established third party excursions in most ports, such as the ones you can browse on our Ship Mate app. There will be times when you still may need to book something onboard. Occasionally, excursions will be canceled after you get on the ship, or the ship needs to skip a port and substitutes it with another that you want to do an organized tour in. In general though, you will always have the opportunity to book tours and activities ahead of time, and you should do it to save yourself the stress. Plus, who wants to be wasting precious cruise time standing in line at the excursions desk?

READ MORE: 6 Frustrating Things About Booking a Cruise (and How We Fixed Them)


4. Deciding where to eat 

symphony of the seas el loco fresh mexican
Photo by Royal Caribbean

Specialty venues, casual poolside eateries, and a variety of internationally-inspired restaurants have become commonplace on most cruise lines, and deciding where to spend your meal times can be overwhelming. Look at a list of available venues ahead of time, and decide with your travel companions which you’re interested in. Don’t forget that you can also read venue reviews from past cruisers here on our site to get a feel for how they rate among recent guests. You’ll find them on the ship’s detail page under the “dining” tab. As with excursions, see about booking specialty restaurants before the voyage if your cruise line allows for that — some of the most popular specialty venues are often completely reserved for the entire cruise by the first night.

Once you’ve chosen any specialty restaurants, look into what other venues suit your tastes, and keep in mind the time of day they’re open. Some dining locations are only open at lunchtime, some only serve dinner, and so on. And don’t forget that the buffet is always a standby when you want variety! Once you’re on board, you’ll already have a good sense of what’s available and can then easily find whatever you’re in the mood for.


5. Knowing how to spend your sea days

symphony mini golf putt putt activities cruise stress
Photo by Royal Caribbean

So many activities, so little time! Even when you have an entire day to rule the ship and do whatever you please, it can be overwhelming trying to decide what to do among the many activities and entertainment choices available. With some ships, certain activities or shows will require reservations in advance, and your best bet is to make as many of those as you can before the cruise, or first thing on embarkation day at the latest. That alone will add some structure to the day, and you can plan your other activities around them. 

Most of the time though, whatever you want to do is at your beck and call. Do some research ahead of time, and get an idea for what types of amenities are offered onboard. The best place to start your research is by taking a look at the “tips” tab on our ship pages (like this one for Carnival Breeze), where past passengers on that ship have insider tips and tricks to share. Each evening after dinner, you’ll receive a newsletter in your cabin which details what’s on the roster for the next day. Go over it that night or first thing in the morning, and highlight the things you don’t want to miss. Build your day around those activities that interest you the most, but also note the things you’re interested in if you’re still in the mood when the time comes. Don’t forget, relaxation is important, so make time for that too!


6. Cruising with kids

harmony of the seas perfect storm waterslides kids
Photo by Royal Caribbean

It’s no secret that traveling anywhere with kids can be a little stressful, and cruises are no exception. When planning a cruise for the family, possibly the most important thing is choosing the right ship. Picking a ship that doesn’t cater to the needs of all members of the family could result in a rough vacation. One easy way to help you decide is to read Cruiseline.com reviews on the ships you’re considering, and (this part is important) sorting them by only members who sailed as a family with the “traveler type” sort criteria. You can even sort by families with younger kids or older kids. Before you choose a ship, look further into what exactly is offered in the youth clubs, and which onboard areas and activities cater to kids. It can be hard to get young cruisers excited if they don’t know what to expect from the trip, so be sure to loop them in on the fun that’s ahead!

sort review family young older kids
On our ship page review tab, you can sort by a number of criteria, including traveler type. 

One great thing about cruise ships is that you can leave your young ones in the kid’s clubs, which gives parents an opportunity to have a well-deserved date night. When you get onboard, swing by the kid’s clubs right away and take a tour - they’re open for visits on embarkation day so that parents can see what their kids will be enjoying there during the cruise, and kids can get comfortable with the space and its amenities. Also, don’t forget to check out shipboard amenities available for the whole family (depending on the ship), like onboard ropes courses, movies, mini golf, and water parks. 

Tip: You can usually get a schedule of kid’s activities that will be offered at certain times during the voyage, so that you can decide with your children what the “must do’s” are.


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Have you ever had to deal with one of these stressors, and wish you had done things differently?

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