Set a Wise Course

25 Cruise Ship Mistakes to Avoid for Smooth Sailing

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Set a Wise Course

set a wise course

Cruising is among the easiest ways to vacation. After all, you only have to unpack once, all the transportation from destination to destination is taken care of for you, and, for those who like to know where their next meal is coming from, that's made very simple on a cruise, as well. But you can still ruin a cruise by making rookie mistakes. Here are more than two dozen tips from travel experts to ensure your next cruise is nothing but smooth sailing (Sorry, we just couldn't pass up that cliché.)

Related: 25 Craziest Cruise Ship Amenities
Forgetting To Pack Essentials In Your Hand Luggage

forgetting to pack essentials in your hand luggage

A former purser on a cruise ship, James Ian had to deal with distraught passengers whose luggage had been lost on nearly every single cruise. All of which results in this bit of advice — pack any must-have essentials in your hand luggage, not your checked baggage. "And always pack toiletries, a T-shirt, and swimwear for tropical cruises in your hand luggage so that you have the cruise essentials with you just in case," said Ian, creator of the site Travel Collecting. "Luggage almost always made it to the ship at the first port of call, but that can be a couple of days, or more."

Related: Goodbye, Baggage Fees: 10 Carry-On Tips
Using Sunscreen Will Prevent Cancer

packing the wrong items

Yet another packing-related mistake, courtesy of Ali Andino, Latin America expert for the luxury travel agency Scott Dunn USA. "Packing the wrong items for a cruise can hinder the enjoyment of your vacation or lead to an unexpected and potentially expensive trip to the gift shop," Andino said. "Understand that weather at sea can be extreme. For example, in the Galapagos the sun can be incredibly strong as you are on the equator and winds can be very high. With this in mind, make sure you pack tons of sunscreen for those super bright days," Andino added. "Also make sure you pack a thin jacket or windbreaker in case you want to stargaze or spend time on the outside decks at night."

Forgetting Formalwear

forgetting formalwear

Did you think we had covered all the possible packing mistakes? There's still one more to keep in mind. Most cruises have at least one formal night when passengers get dressed up for dinner. "You don't necessarily have to bring a ball gown or tuxedo, although many guests do, but you'll definitely want formal attire," says Brooke Niemeyer, cruise and travel expert at Policygenius. "Depending on the length of your cruise, you may have more than one formal night, so it's good to check with your cruise line ahead of time. Don't forget formal shoes."

Skipping the Laundry Package

skipping the laundry package

Want to make your cruise even more effortless and simplify your packing process? Then don't skip the laundry package that's offered when booking your sailing says Travis La Marche, operations manager for Windstar Cruises. "With all the travel restrictions and weight allowances on airlines these days, it just makes it easier to pack light," when you have the laundry package, La Marche said.

Choosing the Wrong Room

choosing the wrong room

Be sure to do your research when it comes to selecting a stateroom, urges Andino, Latin America expert for Scott Dunn USA. "Rooms on ships tend to be more cramped," Andino said. "The most important part about choosing a cabin is space and windows. Large windows can make a room feel much more open and spacious. Balconies can also make a room feel much larger than it is. When in doubt, look at the square footage. The more, the better."

Selecting A Room Solely Based On Price

selecting a room solely based on price

Yet another big mistake cruisers make when choosing a room is making a decision based on price alone, says Brooke Niemeyer, cruise and travel expert at Policygenius. "Sure, that lower price tag may make it seem worthwhile, but it's worth looking into to find out why that room is such a bargain," Niemeyer said. "Are you below the gym or night club, so you'll get lots of noise? Is it on a level that will cause you to get motion sickness?" There are plenty of online forums where you can get information about specific rooms on a cruise ship. Or you can even call a booking agent to find out more, Niemeyer says.

Related: 17 Cruise Costs You Might Not See Coming
Booking a Cabin That's More Luxurious Than Necessary

booking a cabin that's more luxurious than necessary

At the other end of the spectrum are those folks who reserve a cabin that costs exorbitant amounts of money and yet never use all of the space or amenities it offers because, well, who spends that much time in their room when there is so much to do on the ship or in port? "For the most part, cabins all come with the same amenities, but the larger ones can sleep more guests," Niemeyer said. "Wanting a balcony is one thing, but getting a luxury suite for just a couple of people is probably an unnecessary expense."

Arriving In Port Without Doing Advance Research
Joel Carillet/istockphoto

arriving in port without doing advance research

First-time cruisers often arrive in a port for a visit having done little research regarding the excursions that are available. This can be a big mistake, says Illana Schattauer, creator of the cruise and travel blog Life Well Cruised. "Many people get off the ship and wing it, but then end up wandering around the cruise port aimlessly for an hour, before heading back to the ship disappointed," Schattauer said. It's a good idea to review the shore excursions offered by the cruise line ahead of time, when you're still at home getting ready for the cruise. Even for travelers who prefer to book excursions that are independent of the cruise line, a little research can provide insight regarding the most popular things to do in a particular cruise port.

Choosing The Wrong Meal Plan

choosing the wrong meal plan

When you're on a cruise, hopping in and out of the pool and running around the ship participating in activities, the last thing you want to worry about is carrying a wallet and having money on hand to purchase food, Andino says. "Some ships will let you run a tab that you can pay at the very end of the journey. This works for some people, however, I've always found that I lose track of my spending and am often rudely awakened when it's time to pay the tab at the end of the voyage," Andino said. With this in mind, it's a good idea to review meal plan options carefully when booking a cruise, and choose one that will make the most sense in terms of both budget and overall relaxation.

Not Doing The Math When Considering Drink Packages

not doing the math when considering drink packages

While on the topic of selecting food and beverage for a cruise, keep in mind that most ships offer drink packages, which can be a wise purchase depending on how much you intend to drink, says Tanner Callais, founder of the site Cruzely. "A mistake that many first-time cruisers make is they don't run the math when it comes to drink packages," Callais explained. "For one daily price, you can get all that you care to drink. Still, you have to pay for the package each day of the cruise, including days when you're in port, and sometimes both adults in a cabin have to buy the package, if one person does." Bottom line: Many people simply don't get their money's worth when investing in the drink package. It's a good idea to figure out how much you'll drink each day, on average, and compare that to the daily cost of the package to determine whether the expense makes sense.

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Not Obtaining Cruise Travel Insurance

not obtaining cruise travel insurance

Cruise travel insurance may seem like a frivolous expense, but it can help ensure that you're not financially out of luck if something prevents you from setting sail, Niemeyer says. "You may think nothing will prevent you from getting on that ship, but you don't know what mistakes the airlines will make, and you certainly can't predict any illnesses," Niemeyer said.

Waiting to Report Problems

waiting to report problems

If you're having problems in your cabin, report them right away, Niemeyer says. "Waiting can mean you won't be able to get them fixed while still onboard or even cut your chances of getting any compensation for the problem," she said.

Underestimating The Power Of The Sun
Joel Carillet/istockphoto

underestimating the power of the sun

Don't neglect the sunblock, says Cruzely founder Tanner Callais. "One of the big mistakes many people make on a cruise is underestimating the power of the sun," he explained. "If you head to the Caribbean, the sun is much more powerful at lower latitudes than it is back home. Get burnt, and you can spend the rest of your cruise indoors trying to avoid the sun." Instead, apply sunscreen early and often when on a cruise, Callais urges. It's much better to head back home a little less tan, than burned to a crisp.

Getting Left Behind In Port

getting left behind in port

This would seem obvious, but it's a good idea to be punctual returning to the ship at the end of a day in port. There's a variety of good reasons for this bit of advice from Mitch Krayton, owner of Denver-based Krayton Travel. "You could make the entire ship angry at you (if you're late), or worse, you could be left behind," Krayton explained. And once the ship shoves away from the pier, there's no way to get onboard, the ship will not come back. "You will have to make it, on your own, to the next stop," Krayton said.

Taking Too Much Money Into Port

taking too much money into port

Another tip when it comes to port visits, leave the majority of your money, credit cards and important identification, in the stateroom safe, says Krayton, owner of Denver-based Krayton Travel. "Pickpockets and thieves know this and prey on travelers," Krayton said. "That's why I recommend you leave your jewelry and most of your money in your room's safe and have just enough cash to buy the things you may want or need for that day." Consider taking just one credit card with you so you can pay for larger expenses if needed or visit an ATM to get additional cash.

Not Allowing Enough Time To Wait In Lines

not allowing enough time to wait in lines

Lines are a reality on a cruise and you'll need to allow time to wait in them, advises Wilko Van De Kamp, author of "The Freedom Project" books. "Your cruise will probably start with a line. The immigration and security formalities can be extremely time-consuming. There are often lines for dinners and special events. There are lines to leave the boat when stopped in ports, lines for excursions, and lines to wait in when returning to the boat," Van De Kamp explained. "As long as you're prepared for them and have patience, you should be fine."

Booking Excursions In Every Port

booking excursions in every port

Yes, port excursions are fun. But they can also be expensive and crowded, says Van De Kamp, author of "The Freedom Project" books. "Book the ones that are important to you, but also allow some time to explore some of the ports on your own. Most ports offer shopping, sightseeing, and a taste of the local culture all within walking distance," Van De Kamp said. "This game plan adds a nice mix of variety to your cruising experience, and it makes things easier on the pocketbook, too."

Not Preparing For Rough Seas

not preparing for rough seas

While it's rare that cruise ships actually experience "rough seas," some people are bothered by even the slightest of gentle rocking motions and don't realize that until it's too late, Van De Kamp says. "Be sure to pack some medication for sea sickness 'just in case.' Even if you're confident you have good sea legs," Van De Kamp explained. "You want to be able to enjoy your vacation relaxing and enjoying the sights. It's less expensive to buy the medication at home and pack it than having to buy it on board."

Bringing Your Own Alcohol Onboard

bringing your own alcohol onboard

Don't be caught off guard — you're not allowed to bring your own alcohol on board the ship, Van De Kamp says. "This includes any alcohol you buy in a port or any alcohol you purchase from the onboard liquor store. They will take your purchases away from you and return it to you at the end of the cruise," he explained. "There is no way to beat these liquor restrictions. This is not to say don't buy any alcohol. Just be prepared to not see it until the end of your cruise."

Missing Out On Specialty Restaurants

missing out on specialty restaurants

While it is natural to try and minimize expenses when going on a cruise, don't miss out on specialty restaurants, despite their small upcharge, says Matthew Phillips, director of travel for AARP Services. "A fabulous meal during the cruising experience is something that should definitely be considered," Phillips explained.

Cruise Ships

forgetting to disconnect

Unless you really need to stay connected to do some required work or stay aware of a situation, take advantage of the ability to not have your favorite device(s) always connected, says Phillips, director of travel for AARP Services. "Not only will this help you save some dollars, it can help you mentally decompress and magnify the positive impacts of taking a vacation to begin with," Phillips said.

Connecting To Free Wi-Fi In Port

connecting to free wi-fi in port

One more bit of advice when it comes to where and how you connect to the internet while on a cruise vacation. Be leery of free Wi-Fi. "I've seen several pieces of advice around waiting until you're in port to connect to free Wi-Fi. Beware, this could be a hacker's dream," Phillips said. "Connecting to an unknown, unsecure network could expose you to unwanted vulnerabilities."

Not Reviewing Your Final Bill Carefully

not reviewing your final bill carefully

At the end of a cruise, your bill is slipped under the door of your stateroom, just like at a hotel. Many people don't review the itemized costs carefully and simply pay the entire bill, says Jolie Starrett, creator of the site Always Take the Trip. "What most people do not realize is that you can go to the customer service or purser's desk and ask them to take off all of the gratuity that is automatically added and put your own amount on there that you would like to pay," Starrett said.

Paying Full Price For A Cruise

paying full price for a cruise

There are so many good deals available when booking a cruise that paying full price would be a mistake, Van De Kamp says. There are countless online booking platforms competing for your business, so be sure to shop around. Paying full price is only for the uninitiated. "If you have flexibility with your travel dates, you can often find even more discounts if you book during certain off-season dates," he said.

Related: 30 Things You're Doing Wrong When Planning a Vacation
Forgetting To Be Adventurous

forgetting to be adventurous

Many seasoned cruisers tend to find a "home," says Phillips, director of travel for AARP Services. These are people who only sail with their favorite, trusted cruise line. This approach however, is very limiting and often means missing out on the increasingly diverse variety of cruise ship brands and offerings now available. "Don't be afraid to venture out and go on a cruise through another brand," Phillips said.