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Cruise Like a Pro: How to Avoid Common Cruising Mistakes

Updated: 4 days ago

A cruise ship sailing into an orange sunset

Cruising, for a long time, seemed like maybe it wouldn't bounce back after the pandemic hit the world hard in 2020. Thankfully, the masks are off, the ships are sailing, and the open water is beckoning again. Veteran cruisers rejoice in the revamped ship fleets and itineraries and novice or first-time cruisers are getting a taste of life at sea for the first time.

Whether a veteran who has been out of practice for awhile, or a new cruiser who needs a little advice to get comfortable with the cruise experience, this list of common mistakes cruisers make should help each type of traveler prepare for their upcoming cruise with less stress.

Note: Always Pack Tissues represents many tried and tested travel sites as what is called an 'affiliate' partner. That means if you click on my ads I may get a commission from a resulting sale.

Common Cruising Mistakes Starting With the Booking Process

Cruise ship room with a porthole window

Not All Ships Are Created Equal

The problem:

Worth at least a mention, not all ship brands are created equal. Don't choose Carnival just because it is the cheapest, or don't choose Azamara because it's the fanciest. You have to select a cruise line whose brand is synonymous with the type of travel you are looking for.

The solution:

Carnival is known as a party ship, especially for Mexico and Caribbean sailings. MSC, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are common middle-ground ships catering to all styles of passengers. Then you get into upper echelon levels of cruising - from river cruises like Viking, the majestic Cunard line, and so on.

Consider what you are into - Costa and MSC are Italian ships. You like Italian food and decor? Bingo. You want a water park and bowling alley on board? Try a Royal Caribbean. Want to sail with the dead or nearly dying? Go on the Cunard line. You get the point.

Choosing Your Stateroom At Random

The problem:

A lot of people don't consider the location when choosing a stateroom, opting to get a randomly generated room like you would if you were visiting a hotel.

There's a few problems with this:

  • Sea sickness - the higher the room or the further forward or back will cause you to feel more pitch and roll of the waves.

  • Obstructed view rooms - your room may say oceanview, but it could have a lifeboat blocking the window

  • Mobility - can you physically make it to the common areas up and down stairs as needed in an emergency?

  • Proximity to friends and family - are you all spread out?

  • Cheap doesn't mean good - booking an inside room is an awful idea. I don't care how cheap it is. There is no natural light entering the room, so you may as well be sleeping in a coffin.

The solution:

Choose a room with the following considerations:

  • Low floor, centralized

  • Look at the deck map - is there a lifeboat blocking your room? Are you on the promenade deck (people walking by your window all day)?

  • Look for adjoining rooms for families, or try to stay in the same area

  • Always splurge at least for an oceanview room

Common Cruising Mistakes When Packing

Woman packing a brown leather bag with other items on a bed

Expecting Bathroom Amenities OnBoard

The problem:

Don’t expect soap and shampoo in the shower, or even tissue boxes in the bathroom. COVID has changed all the rules.

The solution:

Be safe and bring your own stuff.

Forgetting Something Crucial

The problem:

One time I grabbed for a few extra diapers for my kid on the way out the door, thinking it was a supplement to the nearly 30 or more diapers I had already packed. The ship we were on was one of the first in Europe to allow sailing again, so we weren't allowed to get off the ship unless we were on an excursion. This meant no shopping in port, no finding a convenience store if you needed anything.

Well, I needed something. I needed diapers, because all I packed was those extra few "out the door" diapers. Yoinks! My kid was a champ and used only 6 diapers on a one week cruise, and we were still working on potty training. I got lucky. But what if I hadn't been so lucky?

The solution:

Although the situation was extreme, I did have the option to buy diapers on board, but believe me the diapers may as well have been made from silver or gold based on the price tag. The ship store will likely have what you need, but prepare to pay the price.

Common Cruising Mistakes On Embarkation Day

Boarding day is the most important day of your voyage. Take note that there are quite a few things to understand on this day.

View from a ship balcony

Arriving at the Port the Same Day You Arrive By Air

The problem:

Arriving by air the same day of the ship leaves is a huge no-no, especially if you're coming from overseas. You need to factor in delays, overcoming jet lag, and the possibility that you may actually miss the boat.

The solution:

Give yourself a one day buffer, always. Airlines are way too inconsistent these days. OR, some cruises like Princess offer airfare booking through their website.

By booking through the cruise line they will guarantee your arrival at port on time, make sure you get your money back or catch you up with the ship in the event of delays or disaster.

Not Knowing The Pier Location

The problem:

Assuming you know the pier location usually ends in arrival day confusion. Sometimes it's just a matter of knowing which terminal to go to - is it A, B or C? Signs can direct you, or you could always just look out the window...if you see your ship, drive towards it.

But then there's the issue of pier location. Think of it like this - a city like New York has Newark airport, La Guardia and JFK. So your ship sails from New York. Do you know where?

The solution:

Check the cruise itinerary details multiple times before you sail. I used a site called for a recent cruise and it helped me determine general pier locations, but lo and behold - I had the wrong port in Tokyo/Yokohama.

Just like the JFK/La Guardia example, I neglected to notice the pier location was Daikoku instead of Osanbashi. By diligently checking the cruise site and my itinerary multiple times before travel, I avoided the massive mistake of going to the wrong cruise terminal, which made a difference of a good 20 minutes in the car if I had gone to the wrong place, and taxis aren't cheap in Japan!

Lesson learned - always know exactly where you need to check-in for boarding.

Not Using the Luggage Porters

The problem:

Bringing all your luggage on the ship maybe seem like a good idea - you can keep an eye on your stuff and there's no waiting for your cosmetics and evening gown to arrive. But honestly, when you get on board guess what - everyone else is getting on board too. That means the elevators are full with long waits and the buffet is crammed with people.

The assumption is that you can drop your stuff in your room right away but that isn't typically the case.

The solution:

Once you get on board you may need to wait an hour or more before you can go to your room, so bring only what you can comfortably carry and check the rest with the porters at the check-in area before you get on board. You'll see your bags before dinner.

Note: don't forget to print your luggage tags before you leave home!!

Boarding Close to Sailing Time

The problem:

Cruise ships do not operate like airplanes. Because the ship sets sail at 5pm doesn't mean you show up at 4pm. Typically all aboard is about an hour before any sailing time, whether a port day or embarkation day.

The solution:

On departure day, choose a noonish boarding time. This allows you ample time to go through the lengthier COVID checks that ships now require, along with any other preliminary documentation and security checks.

Once on board, you'll have time to hit the buffet lunch, which is typically the only food option open until setting sail.

Bringing Produce or Alcohol on Board

The problem:

Especially as a parent, it's typical to want to pack snacks for your kids. Kids love bananas, clementines, apples and grab and go snacks like carrots. Unfortunately, bringing these items on board threaten the sanctity of the onboard kitchen and also break agricultural laws. Because even the Caribbean ships are leaving the country, taking fruit or vegetables on board is essentially smuggling contraband into another country.

The same goes for cheese, things from a farm, and meats. Just consider that if you wouldn't take it through a TSA security check on an airplane crossing borders, then the same applies on a cruise ship.

As for alcohol, liquor is not allowed but wine is. Check the limits on the cruise website, but generally one bottle per adult passenger is acceptable for consumption in your stateroom only.

The solution:

Leave any type of fresh food at home. There is plenty on board.

Don't push the alcohol limits or your stuff could get confiscated.

Consider Cell Coverage

The problem:

Forgetting to set your phone to airplane mode before you sail is a huge rookie mistake cruisers make. You think, I can literally see the coastline, so I must be fine to set my plane to regular cell coverage. I've made this mistake on ferry boats and cruises that stay close to shore. BIG mistake.

The problem is, if you don't put your phone in airplane mode then you will get nailed with sometimes hundreds of dollars in roaming fees.

The solution:

Go off the grid. Shut it down or stay in airplane mode. If you need to communicate with family or friends on the ship, many ships like MSC and Princess are now providing an on-cruise app. You can chat with people and also arrange your events for the day within the app.

No app? Go old school and use dry erase boards on your door to tell your family where you are. Or, use the in-room phones.

Don't bother with the internet cafe on board or buying into the wifi package. It's not worth the cost. Just wait until you get to shore, turn off your airplane mode and do what you need to do before the ship sets sail again.

Talk to the Maitre'D in the Dining Room

The problem:

Many passengers don't understand how dining works on board a cruise ship. Some offer flexible dining where you can arrive any time you want like at a restaurant, others are reservation only, and then there's the standard set 'early' or 'late' seating times. You need to select this in advance or it will be chosen for you. It could mean the difference between a 5:30pm dinner or an 8:30pm dinner.

Food for thought: If you like to catch a show after your meal, you're going to want the early seating. If you want to watch a show before your meal, take the later dinner time.

Also, if you do not specify, you could be assigned to a table of random people. If you have people you are traveling with or prefer to dine alone, you need to talk to the maitre'd to sort this out before your first night's dinner.

The solution:

There will be a queue at the dining room a little before setting sail. Get in line and sweet talk the maitre'd into whatever you want. Ask him where your table is and go look at it. Is it by the dish pit? Would you prefer a table by the window? Now is the time to make changes.

Keep in mind that if you are still unhappy after the first night, the maitre'd is available to help you make changes at any point in your voyage.

Common Cruising Mistakes Mid-Trip

happy older couple on a cruise

Booking Excursions On Board

The problem:

One of the biggest mistakes I see all the time is passengers thinking they'll just book their excursions once they get on the ship, instead of weeks before setting sail.

The biggest reasons to book in advance are:

  • Excursions sell out

  • Lines at the concierge desk will be tremendously long

  • Prices for the excursions go up once you set sail

  • Remaining options for day trips will be slim

The solution:

Always book your excursions in advance of the cruise. If you aren't the excursion sort of person, by all means take to the shore by yourself.

Buying the Drink Package

The problem:

Can you drink six or more cocktails a day? Maybe the drink package is for you. Do you like to choose from a wine list or is a list of two or three options sufficient?

The drink packages are tailored to sound appealing but are actually a well-greased sales machine. You will get hit hard the first two days from every server, bartender and cruise ship worker, all of them trying to get you on board with the drink package.

The solution:

My advice? Skip it. You'll find that your bottom dollar will be much less if you do the math of what you know you can drink. Check the bottle of wine prices, check the per drink rates, and add it up.

Ignoring the Daily Program

The problem:

I'm always confused why people throw these away. The daily program is provided to you at turn down service (while you are at dinner) and details all the happenings for the following day.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • The port of call information for tomorrow

  • The weather for tomorrow

  • Sailing speed and distance traveled that night

  • Free giveaways happening the next day

  • Events like trivia or bingo

  • Happy hour details - where and when (sometimes it changes each night)

  • Show times and details about the shows

The solution:

This valuable pamphlet is my favorite thing to read before bed. I get out my pen and circle all the great things I want to do the next day. Read it!

Taking All the Photo Ops

The problem:

It can be fun to pose for photos on formal nights or when you get to port, but the price of the photos is really expensive.

The solution:

Consider finding out (from your trusty cruise program) when the free photo nights are. Frequent passenger programs will offer free photos from the dinner table on formal nights, or there will be photo package deals occasionally.

Don't go nuts buying photos. If anything, take the photos and then browse the gallery later. It's fun to go searching for them!

Not Taking Advantage of Free Casino Play

The problem:

Another thing often advertised in the ship program is when the casino has offers. Most of the time to get you into the casino they will put $5 or so on every passenger room card to get you started.

The solution:

Free casino play is waiting for you. Go have fun!

Common Cruising Mistakes At The End Of The Trip

smiling girl leaning on a cruise ship railing


The problem:

Cruisers are often caught off guard by the final tab at the end of the cruise.

The solution:

Don't forget to factor in daily tips per passenger to your bottom dollar. Generally this ranges around $15 or $20 per passenger per day.

It used to be that passengers put cash in an envelope on the last day, but now this fee is automatically added to your bill. Talk to the ship's concierge if you have questions or want to make adjustments.

The Bottom Line

Cruising is meant to be a worry free experience, so armed with a little knowledge and know-how in advance, your trip is surely to be smooth sailing ahead. Whether you are a veteran or first-time cruiser, understanding the common cruising mistakes that cruisers make and how to avoid them is the key to enjoying your trip.

Ready to Book a Cruise?

Browse available options on a cruise aggregator tool like VacationsToGo. Then, be sure to review my tips on how to book a cruise. You're ready to set sail. Bon voyage!


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Hi, I'm Maria!

Globetrotting since 1995, I'm not a digital nomad or a social influencer.

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