5 Cruises to Avoid

cruises to avoid spring break
First on the list? Spring Break cruises. - Photo by Thinkstock

Any experienced cruiser is sure to have a nightmare story about a cruise they wish they had never taken. Obnoxious passengers, terrible weather, crowded ports, shipboard malfunctions, terrible cabin locations — we’ve heard them all. While many issues are impossible to predict, there are certain sailings where your odds of dealing with one of these problems are exponentially higher. We recommend using extreme caution when booking one of the following cruises, especially if it’s your first time at sea.


1. Short Cruises During Spring Break

spring break cruises

Do we really need to explain how a Spring Break cruise can go terribly wrong? - Photo by Thinkstock

Risk Level: High

Why It Sounds Like a Good Idea: The weather is perfect in the Caribbean, the ports aren’t quite as crowded, and if you have kids, they’ll have some time off from school. 

Why It’s Not: Children aren’t the only ones who get a Spring Break. Mainstream lines like Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean will be overflowing with college students determined to make the lido deck into their own version of Panama City Beach. If your idea of a vacation isn’t a 3-night, non-stop party with plenty of noise, drinking, and debauchery, avoid these cruises at all costs.

Telling Quote: "Unfortunately for us, we were placed across from a huge sorority/fraternity that had multiple rooms. We expected them to be a little loud, what we didn't expect was how bad it would get. We got NO sleep the entire trip. They screamed, partied and hung out in the hallway pumping music. They were drunk all the time which caused them to fight regularly as well." - ajeff

Book This Instead: January is the best time for a Caribbean cruise, but if you absolutely must take a short cruise over Spring Break, book a less party-centric line like Disney, Princess, or Celebrity.


2. Inaugural / "Shakedown" Cruises

oasis of the seas dry dock

Oasis of the Seas in dry dock - Photo by Royal Caribbean

Risk Level: Medium

Why It Sounds Like a Good Idea: Being the first to sail on a brand-new ship sounds great in theory. Not only will you be the first to stay in your cabin and experience the new onboard activities, you’ll have bragging rights for life! And when it comes to newly-refurbished ships, it stands to reason that you can expect a higher level of cleanliness than a ship that’s been sailing non-stop for years.

Why It’s Not: You may end up having a great time, but booking the first sailing is almost like going to a dress rehearsal rather than opening night. The staff are just getting into their rhythm, entertainers are working out the kinks in their acts, and a small degree of chaos at the pursers desk is to be expected. This warning applies to refurbished ships as well. Cruise lines try to schedule dry docks for as short a time as possible so the ship isn't out of service (i.e. not making money) for too long, but if the work isn’t finished in time it can spill over into the first cruise. These sailings have earned the unflattering nickname “shakedown cruises” because they’re designed to shakedown the ship and find problems or opportunities for improvement.

Telling Quote: “The boat is an older, tired, shabby vessel despite the staff's continued efforts cleaning and polishing.  It was just out of dry-dock and renovation work was not completed, so they brought the contractors to work during the cruise. Access to the Crow's Nest was not available as renovations were not completed... There were leaks of all sorts on the floor on the Lido (food) deck creating many slip hazards.  The contractors working during the cruise created immense amounts of constant banging and cutting noises. The very unpleasant odour of fresh paint was pervasive, especially on the 9th deck eating area.” - DRWandLDG

Book This Instead: Be sure to let a sailing or two go by before you book a new or refurbished ship.


3. Mid-Summer Cruises in the Mediterranean

rome crowds

A crowded street in Rome - Photo by Diane Cramer / Shutterstock

Risk Level: Medium

Why It Sounds Like a Good Idea: The kids are out of school so families can plan extended trips, and more ships in the region means more choices for itineraries and dates.

Why It’s Not: Unlike the Caribbean, European port cities attract all sorts of tourists, not just cruise passengers. In July, you can count on large cities like Venice, Rome, and Barcelona being overcrowded, regardless of how many cruise ships are in port. Add hot and muggy weather into the mix, and you’ll spend most of your time sweating and waiting in line.

Telling Quote: “Loved seeing all the sites [in Rome], but the crowds were distracting and made the visit less than enjoyable.” - Tibow

Book This Instead: Sail from May to June or August to September to avoid the heat and crowds. 


4. First / Last Alaska Cruises of the Season

alaska cloudy

Alaska is beautiful rain or shine, but it can be a little tougher to enjoy when you're shivering. - Photo by Thinkstock

Risk Level: Medium

Why It Sounds Like a Good Idea: Cruises in May and September are priced lower than sailings in June, July, or August. Since Alaska itineraries are more expensive than their Caribbean counterparts, it can be tempting to spring for these cheaper cruises if you’re flexible with dates. 

Why It’s Not: The chance of bad weather is significantly higher. May is likely to be slightly colder, and September can be cold and rainy. Plus, if you like shopping in port, tourism in Alaska is very seasonal. At the beginning of the season, port shops may not be fully stocked yet. By September, they're sold out of the prime goods and won't restock until next spring. In fact, some shops, restaurants, and attractions may not even be open in May and September. 

Telling Quote: “We did the raft trip to [Mendenhall] Glacier and it was beautiful but it rained the whole time and was cold.” - angelcrowson1

Book This Instead: To reduce the risk of bad weather, sail to Alaska in June, July, or August.


5. Cruises to Nowhere

cruises to nowhere breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway does short cruises to nowhere out of New York. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Update: Beginning in 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection cracked down on the enforcement of maritime laws, and foreign-flagged ships could no longer sail without calling in a foreign port along the way. See more on cruises to nowhere.

Risk Level: Low

Why It Sounds Like a Good Idea: Many first-time cruisers have the idea of trying a short cruise to nowhere to get their feet wet.  If they have a great time, they’ll book a full-length cruise later on. If they don’t, they won’t waste a week of vacation days and a boatload of cash for a vacation they don’t even like. 

Why It’s Not: Even if it’s not your first cruise, 1-2 days is simply not enough time to experience all the ship has to offer. In fact, modern ships are so large that a full week is barely enough to try out all of the restaurants, bars, activities, and entertainment you can find on board. Even if you do manage to get a good feel for the ship, you’re completely missing out on visiting ports, which is half of the cruise experience. You probably won’t have a bad time, but you’ll leave feeling somewhat unfulfilled.

Telling Quote: “It was my first big cruise. ...and i will remember it forever. ....i loved everything about it except just too short hence the reason am already planning my 7 days cruise.” - jregina32

Book This Instead: Book a 7-night cruise to the Caribbean since you'll probably end up doing it anyway. If time is a factor, you should at least try a short cruise to the Bahamas.

Join the discussion

Have you ever taken one of these cruises?


Posted by EatSleepCruise

We did the second to last Alaskan cruise on Celebrity Solstice in September of 2014 and had a great time. Yes, one shore excursion was canceled due to weather, but besides that, we had great time, all the sites were magnificent, and we got plenty of shopping completed. Not to mention, we saved probably a thousand dollars on the cruise fare with all of the perks we received sailing late in the season.

Posted by rickandjune

I disagree with 4 and 5. 4. We did the end of season to Alaska and the weather was perfect! We saw Denali every day even though that's supposed to be very unlikely. There were "end of season" sales at all the shops and we got great bargains. It couldn't have gone better. 5. We carried a couple of non-cruiser friends on a cruise to nowhere and let them see what it was like. It was just a long weekend, but we had great food and a great time. We enjoyed the shows and my friends decided to book something longer.

Posted by NewShip

We thought a new ship would be nice until their computers didn't work. They had all the guests in the lobby trying to see why their room keys didn't work. They set up temporary stations to re-program room keys. After waiting 1 1/2 hrs they announced all lines would shut down for the emergency drill and then you would have to start all over again on a new line. Problem was no one could get in their room for life jackets or to see what muster station you belonged in. We weren't compensated for all the set backs, delay in dinner, electrical cords all over, no where to go. End of that Cruise Line for us.

Posted by TravlinArchitec

I could not DISAGREE more with 1 and 2. We have done both, and they have been two of the better cruises we have ever taken. 1 - SP. Break 2015. We had a conference in LA, so looked for a cruise, since we already had paid the air from Chicago. The ONLY cruise, from LA, at that time was, of course a Sp. Break 4-day PARTY!!! Wife and I are 50ish. There were over 100 kids from Univ. of Utah alone. We have never had so much fun, partied, so hard, and enjoyed ourselves so much in the span of 4 days. Did we expect a party boat HECK YES!!! And did we pick a room at the end of a dead end corridor - of course. We got EXACTLY what we expected - a Carnival FUN SHIP. 2 - Inaugural Cruise: We were on the THIRD bookable sailing for a brand new ship. Since it is the inaugural voyage, there is not set itinerary, yet. The ship did two one-weeks in the Mediterranean, then a transatlantic, (OUR cruise), then a bunch of Caribbean, then worked its was to LA. All this took a year. Staff "BIDS" for jobs on new ships. New ships are better. New ships cost more. They get customers with more money. This means MOST of our staff had 10 years with the cruise line. They were the BEST crew we have ever had in 25 years of cruising.

Posted by jaffa67

We did the next-to-the-last Alaskan cruise last September on Voyager of the Seas. The weather was ok, we expected it to be on the cool side. It did rain all day the day we were in Skagway, and we were soaked to the skin, but we still did our excursion, climbing up a mountainside to pan for gold in a creek and then climbing a bit higher to have a breakfast cooked over a wood fire outside, which was one of the best breakfasts I've ever had! Problem was the crew members; I think most of them had their contracts expiring the next week and were anxious to get the heck off the ship and go home, and this was reflected in their attitude until towards the end of the week they started thinking about gratuities and shaped up a bit, but too late! Also, the ship was too big to fit up the inside passage, so we didn't see any of the beautiful scenery or even come close to the glacier! They made the excuse that it was foggy further into the passage, but I've cruised up there before and that was bunk! RC had enlarged that ship at some point and it's too big for up there! Could only get into 2 ports as well. All the stores in the ports were still open, and everything was on sale so we got some deals (except the jewelry stores).

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