Avoid these blunders on your next cruise.
Cruising can be a convenient and stress-free way to see the world, with entertainment, meals, lodging and transportation costs wrapped up into one all-inclusive rate. Still, it's easy to make rookie mistakes, from overpacking to overspending on unnecessary items to forgetting to reserve shore excursions. Most of these cruise pitfalls are preventable. Whether you're a first-time cruiser or a seasoned veteran, here are a few blunders to avoid on the high seas.
Fly into port the day of departure.
"Cruise departure times are unyielding and companies typically never wait for delayed flights," says Julie Loffredi, editor at travel insurance site InsureMyTrip.com and former contributor to U.S. News Travel. Loffredi recommends flying in the day before the ship is scheduled to depart. If you're still worried about the possibility of getting delayed, sign up for a travel insurance plan that offers coverage for missed connections.
Throw anything overboard.
Because of maritime law and international laws, the consequences of littering at sea can be a lot stricter than the consequences of littering on land. Even something as small as a piece of gum can get you kicked off the ship. In June 2016, an Australian man was kicked off a P&O cruise in Southeast Asia after he flicked a cigarette butt overboard. His poor judgment cost him seven vacation days and left him stranded on an island and responsible for finding his own way home.
Due to the close quarters on cruise ships, germs can spread quickly. For this reason, it's not considered rude to refrain from shaking hands with anyone you meet on board. Crystal Cruises' Captain Birger J. Vorland, for example, prefers to greet his guests with a smile and an elbow bump. Also, make sure to use plenty of hand sanitizer throughout your trip to stay healthy.
Avoid talking about being sick to fellow passengers.
If you do start to feel a little under the weather, don't broadcast your symptoms to others. Doing so could get you sent to quarantine – regardless of whether or not your condition warrants being there. Cruise companies err on the side of extreme caution when it comes to germs, so only visit the cruise ship doctor if you truly feel like you have an issue you can't solve yourself. "Pack a supply of over-the-counter treatments just in case you need them," advises travel writer Charles McCool. And if you're prone to sea sickness, stay proactive by packing effective prescription drugs or a drug-free Sea-Band wristband with you.
Be afraid of days at sea.
"If you're a new cruiser, you may be worried that you'll get bored on days at sea," says Tynan Smith, founder of cruise-deal site CruiseSheet.com. "But many experienced cruisers like myself actually prefer sea days," he adds. Between the lectures, workshops, pools, casino and shops, there's never a shortage of things to do. Plus it's nice to have a day or two of downtime in between busy port days crammed with sightseeing.
Limit yourself to the main dining room.
To differentiate themselves from their peers and entice food-obsessed travelers, cruise companies often supplement their traditional dining room service with unique culinary offerings and specialty venues. For example, Holland America has a Culinary Arts Center boasting immersive ship-to-table meals, and Crystal Cruises has specialty restaurants including Silk Road, a collaboration with celebrity chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa. Seating is often limited at these venues, so it pays to reserve in advance, and be prepared to pay extra for these premium experiences.
Wait until the last minute to sign up for shore excursions.
It's OK to procrastinate on things like packing, but when it comes to shore excursions offered by the ship, sign up well in advance. Space is often limited to groups of 12 to 15 passengers, and on a ship with more than 1,000 passengers, it doesn't take long to fill up tours. Just keep in mind, most cruise lines have strict shore excursion cancellation policies, so make sure the tour is really something you – and your travel companions – want to do before you sign your names on the dotted line.
Sign up for spa treatments on the first day of your trip.
It's tempting to kick-start your vacation with a massage or manicure. But, according to Karen Malone, a travel agent with the Travel Leaders agency, you get more for your money if you wait until the spa announces its specials. These are usually published in the ship's daily onboard program. Treatments also tend to be cheaper on port days when the spa is less busy. Also, don't miss the free spa facilities. The locker room saunas and steam rooms are usually open to everyone, even those who aren't getting treatments. Sailing aboard the ocean-based Viking Star? Visit the complimentary snow grotto.
Skip the muster drill.
Attending muster drills are mandatory on cruise ships. Usually scheduled on the first day of a sailing, the muster drill is where you learn which lifeboat you're assigned to and what to do in case of an emergency. The ship's crew will take attendance, so your absence will not go unnoticed, and consequences for skipping the drill can be serious. In 2012, an elderly couple was kicked off of a voyage with Seabourn Cruise Line for refusing to attend their muster drill.
Let your kids run wild.
"Parents shouldn't assume that the closed and relatively safe environs of a cruise ship gives them the ability to let their kids roam freely," says David Yeskel, a veteran travel journalist and creator of the travel advice blog, The Cruise Guru. "Instead, responsible parents should encourage their kids to attend the free, age-tiered and supervised kids clubs where programming is designed to occupy and engage children while preserving the sanity of everyone else aboard," Yeskel says.