The Return of the Cruise Vacation
25 Common cruise vacation mistakes to avoid
Cruising is a great option for vacations, and we certainly do enjoy them for many reasons. We look forward to a day when can feel safe enough to return to sailing the seas. With Covid-19 taking a huge toll on the industry, cruise lines are really putting the push on getting people to book a cruise vacation through all their marketing techniques.
With so many options for cruise vacations, and people eager to just book their next vacation, there are a lot of mistakes people can make when they take a cruise, especially beginners or first-time cruisers:
1. Choosing the wrong kind of cruise
There are many different cruise lines, each catering to a different cruiser type. Depending on your tastes, attitudes, travel types, and tolerances, there are many options out there for you. Disney cruise lines cater to family vacations with children. Some cruise lines attract a retired and elderly crowd, while others are considered the ‘fun ship’ for people who prefer a more party atmosphere. There are even themed cruises that attract a very niche traveller. We prefer a more freestyle type of cruise vacation, in order to have more freedom and flexibility.
Booking the wrong type of cruise or cruise line for your very first cruise vacation will make for a memorable holiday – but not for good reasons. Do your research, and check the details before you book.
2. Booking wrong flight times
If you are flying to the cruise port of departure – make sure you have ample time between your flight and the cruise’s sailing. It is better to plan for more time than you think you need. You never know when there might be delays at the airport, lost luggage, traffic issues causing delays with taxiing to the cruise terminal. Others will have you thinking you need to fly in the day before – and while that is a great idea, it is not always necessary. You need to exercise an abundance of caution when booking.
When returning home, many cruises disembark very early in the morning, giving you more options for return flight times on the same day.
Staying overnight is a great option and allows you to spend some time exploring the port city with a 24 – 48 hour itinerary.
3. Booking the wrong stateroom
Cruise ship cabins (staterooms) are relatively small and, depending upon your comfort level and budget -the type of cabin you book can make or break your cruise vacation. Facts to consider when booking the type of stateroom – price, size, location on the ship, balcony or window. If you are at all claustrophobic, an interior cabin may not be suitable for you. Others who suffer from seasickness say staterooms mid-ship is best for that. A balcony room gives you a little extra space and the ability to enjoy the ocean views in private.
What to pack for a vacation is always a bit of a stressful situation. You don’t want to be without options, or not be prepared for different types of weather, or have outfits for special events, but you also don’t want to have too much. Large suitcases can quickly exceed the weight restrictions on airplanes, and they can be too cumbersome to move around. The best tips I can offer are to pack reusable clothing items you can wear more than once. Pack items that are lightweight that take up as little room in your suitcase as possible. If it is winter where you live, but you are heading somewhere warm – do not pack heavy, bulky clothing.
Know the long-range weather forecast for where you are going, pack appropriately, and for all typical weather options.
This is less of a concern – because underpacking can give you an excuse to go shopping at the many ports of call on your cruise and buy new items. The cruise ship also has stores on board, but the prices may not be fantastic.
6. Under planning (before you go)
This ties in nicely with what to pack. Not planning before you go is a big problem for cruise vacations. It is essential to know about your ports of call before you leave – Not all cruises will have the same weather at every port, and even if they are in the same climate area – it can vary. Alaskan and Nordic cruises are a perfect example – they seem like they would be cold -but they can also be quite warm – so you will need to be prepared for both options.
Before you book your cruise – think about what you hope to get out of it. Why this cruise itinerary? What do you want to see? What do you want to do? Look into the ports of call and try to learn more about them to help you decide how to make the most of your time there. Not all POCs are created equal, and this is important when booking excursions.
7. Not knowing what you are paying for
When booking a cruise, you will find options for packages and promotions that you can add on or that come included – drinks, meals, excursions, WIFI, etc. When you book, take a good look at these options, and choose the ones that are right for you. Do you need WIFI? – service is often spotty and slow. How much alcohol will you drink, and does the cost of unlimited outweigh what you will consume? Do you need the specialty meal package? The regular dining rooms offer exceptional cuisine included in your fare. Paying extra for specialty dining may not be necessary. Plus – one night of specialty dining isn’t that expensive if you want to try it. If you must pay extra for the amenity -evaluate if it will be of value to you. There are a lot of options included in the cruise price.
8. Not enough planning (onboard)
We don’t believe in scheduling ourselves within an inch of our lives. We tend to follow a very relaxed idea of vacationing. A more flexible outlook can help reduce the vacationing stress that can easily take away some enjoyment from being on holiday. However, not planning enough can also take away some of the joy.
There are plenty of activities, events, parties, demonstrations, and social gatherings available to guests on board a cruise ship, and depending upon what you enjoy doing, you will want to plan your days around the ship’s entertainment schedule. We love going to the theatre, so we always plan our meals and activities that allow us to enjoy the shows.
Cruise lines provide you with a daily schedule of events the night before so that you can arrange your day according to the activities you might like to participate in, so you don’t miss out on the things you enjoy most.
Excursions & Tours
Every cruise offers excursions that you can take at each POC. It won’t be necessary to do excursions at every port, but I highly recommend knowing all of the excursion options you have before you begin to book them – so you can prioritize how to best spend your money. Many excursions will be available to book last minute, but if there is an adventure that you really want to do – do not wait! Book these excursions early so you won’t be disappointed. Popular tours sell out quickly.
While many travellers will feel more comfortable booking their excursions through the cruise line, or a travel agent, there is another option you may want to consider. At every POC, tour companies will offer excursions of different kinds for visitors who forgot to book something. While most of these tour companies are reputable, there is no guarantee. Our favourite POC adventures were through local tour companies that we booked ourselves at the shore. These local tour companies offer you a more intimate, less crowded tour, and you can (better) support local businesses (which is very important to us).
Part of researching the POCs you will visit is checking out what you can do independently. Some ports are very easily navigable, and you will have no trouble finding things to do that won’t cost you a lot and can be rather enjoyable. You can take a bus trip to the major city nearby and enjoy the best of the city or do a Hop-on/hop-off bus ride. It all depends on what you like doing and your comfort level with going it out independently. This will give you a more authentic travel experience.
Every cruise sponsored excursion has a ‘difficulty level’ assigned to it to help travellers choose the best excursions suited to their abilities. Not all tours are for all people – everyone has different physical fitness levels and abilities. If you select excursions that exceed your fitness level, you will not have fun, get exhaustion, and it could lead to physical harm, and money poorly spent.
13. Trying to Do Too Much
If this is your first cruise, the excitement will probably make you want to pack as much in as possible. Overdoing it can lead to exhaustion and fatigue if you do too much. Vacation is a time to relax as well as do site seeing. The more POCs there are in your cruise itinerary, you may feel you need to do excursions at every port, more onboard activities, more shopping etc. You don’t want to end up injured or unable to do much because you overdid it on the first day.
There is no way to do everything on one cruise, so prioritize your activities, but also – prioritize “Me Time”. Take the sea days an opportunity to relax and recuperate from all your activities. Sea days are a great time to lay back and enjoy the time off. You can relax by the pool, read a book, play games in the game room, book a spa treatment, sit and enjoy a cocktail, or anything that helps you relax after a long day of visiting the ports.
15. Not appreciating seasickness
Seasickness can put you out of commission and ruin your vacation. It would really suck to go on your first cruise and have that be how you find out that you are susceptible to seasickness. Not everyone will be affected by seasickness, and not everyone is affected every time. If the wind is strong or the waves are rushing, you are probably more likely to feel seasick than when the ocean is calm. So, pack your seasickness pills or patches, and be prepared.
16. Stuffing yourself at the buffet
Overindulging is one of the most common mistakes people make on a cruise. We all do it. We get on a cruise, and we gravitate to the buffet table. All of that delicious food is so enticing and exciting. The main grand buffet has so many different stations offering many kinds of food, salads, meats, cheeses, desserts, and pastries that we find ourselves overwhelmed with options. We then pile the food on our plate – more food than you would ever normally eat. We did it on our first cruise too, but we made a plan to only eat proper portions on our second. It is said that the average cruise passenger will gain 1 to 2 pounds per day of their cruise. Nobody wants that – but you do want to enjoy yourself. So, watch yourself at the buffet tables.
17. Drinking too much
Unlimited drink packages are enticing for adult cruisers who want to enjoy cocktails on vacation. For an extra fee (or maybe you get it as a promotion), you can have all the alcoholic beverages you want. However, some people (far too many) cannot control their liquor consumption and end up drunk, belligerent, obnoxious, and even sick. Other guests will be annoyed by you; people will avoid you, and depending upon how bad you get when you are drunk -you might even get privileges revoked.
18. Ignoring staff on the ship
First – being rude to the service staff is never an option. So, be kind to your cruise staff. The team are there to help you have a good time and a safe voyage. Tips are included in your end of cruise bill, but there is no reason why you can’t tip extra. You may have noticed the staff are from all parts of the world. Many are working to send money to their struggling families back home. Take time to know your staff and their stories, show some empathy for their situations, and show them the dignity and respect that they (and all people) deserve. Do not be a spoiled brat who feels a sense of entitlement and privilege.
Making friends with the crew may get you perks other passengers do not get, tips on places to go and see, and a more personal experience during your vacation.
19. Too much time on devices
Be present in the moment. You are on vacation, so put down the laptop, the cell phone, the iPad, and enjoy your holiday. Do not do work or spend time scrolling through social media. Use your cruise to detox from the internet and a break from work, and have a relaxing holiday.
You never know when or if you will ever be back to this particular spot that the ship has docked, so enjoy It while you can. You may not have much time there, but a few hours in port is still more fun than staying on the ship. Enjoy a local meal, do some shopping for souvenirs, and take advantage of the time in a new destination.
21. Not understanding the end of cruise bill
Everything you buy onboard the ship, all excursions you book with the concierge, the drinks you consume, the specialty dining, the photos you purchase, the room gratuities… all get charged to your room card. At the end of the cruise, you will receive a bill for all items NOT part of a promotion. This bill can cause some real sticker shock if you are not careful. These things add up fast and can really blow your vacation budget if you are not adequately prepared or expecting it. (read the fine print)
22. Not carrying some cash
You do not need cash onboard the cruise ship; everything is charged to your room key. However, at the POCs, this is a different story. It would help if you had some cash on hand for incidentals like tipping a tour guide, paying for small hand-crafted items at a marketplace, buying trinkets, etc. In many POCs, USD is ubiquitous, but obviously, the local currency is best.
Everyone needs some good quality me time. The cruise ship is enormous, and there are a lot of activities and amenities you can take advantage of, and not everyone is going to enjoy the same things. There is nothing wrong with getting away from your travel companions, sitting by the pool with a good book, enjoying a relaxing massage in the spa, or taking a nap. You can do whatever makes you happy.
You are having the dream vacation of a lifetime, visiting places you may never be again. You will want the memories of these fantastic destinations to linger on, and souvenirs are a great way to do that. Finding the perfect souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home is all part of the fun of taking a vacation. Don’t forget to support the local economy and buy from independent sellers, craftspeople, and artisans for that truly unique travel memento.
The ship has a schedule to keep, so when they say ‘return to ship time is…..” after a visit to a port, RESPECT IT. It is not unheard of for tardy cruisers to get left behind, and they are responsible for their own transportation from this spot. You do not want to make this cruise vacation mistake and incur the additional costs – so respect the return to ship times.
Before you book your cruise, doing a little more research will help you avoid making many of the common cruise vacation mistakes that first-time cruisers make. We often book direct with Norwegian cruiselines to ensure we are getting the best prices, deals, upgrades, perks, packages, and POINTS. A TICO certified travel agent will be able to assist you with the booking process.