9 Boneheaded Blunders Made by First-Time Cruisers

rookie mistakes first time new cruisers
These mistakes are easily avoided if you do your homework. - Photo by Shutterstock

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

cruise grease royal caribbean anthem

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

cruise packing overstuffed suitcase rookie mistake

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

rough seas weather caribbean cruise

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 

weekend cruise rookie mistake peace 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

venice fly in cruise same day

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.


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6. Expecting to Stay Dry in Alaska

alaska clouds rain cruise

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

cruise school holidays rookie mistake

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

carnival cruise imax theater

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

carnival fun times

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.

Join the discussion

What was the worst mistake you made as a first-time cruiser?


Posted by cruisernew

November what are the chances of a ship full of kids on the royal carribean this year November?

Posted by SimonTravels

Hi cruisernew... It depends on a lot of factors, including the specific sail date, itinerary, port of embarkation, etc. Unless it's a long (10+ night) exotic itinerary, chances are there will be plenty of kids onboard.

Posted by GeckoHiker

Great tips! I'm always happier when I pack only what I need, and pack everything I need. That's a hard fence to balance on. We are planning an Alaska cruise, and plan to take rain pants, rain jackets, small umbrellas, and wear waterproof hiking boots for our excursions. Carrying a small, collapsible, lightweight backpack is a good idea for carrying items with you on excursions. Since we are from Missouri where the weather changes every hour, it doesn't hurt to dress for 55 degree weather, but be prepared for either 75 or 35 degree weather.

Posted by sfbay

Oh! You mean on ships.

Posted by Snoozecruzer

Bring an inexpensive "water bottle" for water,juice,lemonade,iced tea etc.....but always use a cup to fill your bottle,not directly from the dispensers as "most" everyone does.Also although tips are prepaid,some well placed small bills ($1-$5) do wonders for your service.In addition,"high tech" nylon material,tee shirts,gym shorts and walking shorts,pack light and are easy to wash,dry and re-wear,cutting down on packing.Also "travel underwear" both mens and womes available at places like "ex -officio" allow light packing...just a few things that have really enhanced our many cruises...Bon Voyage...S

Posted by rohrbethany

I just got back from my cruise. Dates Mar 28- April 2. So many kids. Everyone said spring break. It was the best dates for us but NUTS. All the kiddos took over every area possible.

Posted by DVCruise

Using a "Wheeled Duffle Bag" or "Too Many Carry-on Bags" if you are disembarking on your own. Took the huge wheeled bag thinking no room to store hard sided luggage - checked luggage embarking but had to lug off when disembarking and way too cumbersome to manage. Meanwhile on both Crown Princess and Ruby Princess, there is ample room for storing empty suitcases so stuffing under the bed is unnecessary. Closets on Princess Cruises are more than adequate - just traveled in a group of 3 women and we had plenty of room even though we way overpacked!

Posted by gocruise2017

Are there lockers on Half Moon Cay? Thanks

Posted by Munseyflora

Certainly, avoiding times when kids are out of school is a good idea to make certain they don't overrun ships, but some cruise lines will inherently have fewer kids than others; e.g. Holland America is less kid-oriented than say, Carnival. Really high-end cruise lines and longer cruises will generally have fewer kids as well. Some itineraries will also be less attractive to kids and families than others; fewer kids will be visiting itineraries including Livorno than a private party port such as Coco Cay or Labadee. River cruises might also be a minimal-kids option.

Posted by captanang

Simple Tip: Pack your own over sized coffee mug. Priceless

Posted by mcampbell53

The reason of a vacation is to relax right? There is no pressure to do anything! Don't want to eat in MDR- Main Dining Room, you go to buffet. Do as much as you want or as little as you want. Want deck time by yourselves, stay on the boat at ports. Have fun and enjoy. A cruise is what you make it!

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