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Cruise Like a Pro: How to Avoid Common Cruising Mistakes

Updated: May 2

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.