I worked on cruise ships for 6 years. Here are 10 big mistakes I always see guests make.

Sharon Waugh smiling on cruise ship
For six years, I worked as a crew member on cruise ships.Sharon Waugh
  • During my six years working on cruise ships, I witnessed guests repeatedly make the same mistakes.

  • Many didn't familiarize themselves with the ship and missed out on daily onboard activities.

  • Some cruisers let a missed port or last-minute itinerary change ruin their entire cruise experience.

After working for two different cruise lines in the span of six years, I've seen guests make the same mistakes over and over.

Here's a list of the top 10 things you should avoid doing to make the most of your cruise.

Trying to resolve problems immediately upon embarkation 

Keep in mind that your embarkation day is also usually the previous travelers' debarkation day, so the staff has to turn the entire ship around and prepare it for new guests in just a few hours.

If your luggage hasn't been delivered to your room or you want your double bed split into two singles, it's possible that the crew is aware of the issue but hasn't had a chance to address it yet.

The guest service line can get long on the first day, so I recommend waiting to resolve non-urgent issues until dinnertime, when lines are shorter. Chances are that your situation may be resolved without you having to do anything at all.

Also, instead of standing in line at the internet cafe to connect to the Wi-Fi, do your best to figure it out yourself.

Not pacing alcohol consumption on the first day

pool party on cruise deck
Some cruises have parties or planned gatherings.Sharon Waugh

Some cruise fares include unlimited alcoholic beverages, and others offer drink packages for an additional fee.

Either way, I've seen many people get embarrassingly drunk — urinating in public and riding prop motorcycles — before the embarkation port is even out of sight.

The next day, they're so hungover that they can't enjoy themselves. So, pace yourself and don't try to get your money's worth of alcohol on the first day.

Failing to familiarize themselves with the ship and missing out on onboard offerings

You don't want to wait until the last day of your cruise to locate the karaoke bar, nor do you want to find out about an epic party the morning after it happened. So, explore the ship early in your cruise and familiarize yourself with all available attractions. You may even find hot tubs in unexpected places.

Secondly, make sure you read the ship's activity schedule.

Activity guides and newsletters — like the Royal Caribbean's Cruise Compass, Norwegian Cruise Line's Freestyle Daily, and Carnival Cruise Line's Fun Times — come in handy.

Experienced cruisers pack highlighters to mark their desired attractions and events, and many know how to use the cruise-specific app.

Not informing their bank that they're leaving the country prior to departure

On many cruises, you use your room key card for onboard purchases. At the end of the cruise, your account is billed to your credit card.

If you use your credit card in port in a country that your bank doesn't expect you to be in, there's a good chance they'll assume that it's a fraudulent transaction and block your card.

If the credit card attached to your onboard account is blocked, you're likely to get a call from guest services. You can avoid this blunder by making sure your bank knows where you're going ahead of time.

Forgetting to read their excursion tickets to avoid going to the wrong place at the wrong time

Shore excursion tickets tell you where to meet for your tour. People often assume that the meeting point they went to on the first port day is the same place they'll meet on subsequent port days, but that's not always the case.

If you don't want to miss your tour, read the instructions on your excursion ticket carefully.

Dressing inappropriately in the ship's dining venues

cruise dining area
Most cruise restaurants and dining rooms have dress codes.Sharon Waugh

If you head to the buffet in your bathing suit or try to enter the dining room's formal night in flip-flops, you'll likely be asked to leave or change.

Even the dining venues on the most relaxed cruise lines have a dress code, which can be found on the daily schedule along with restaurants' locations and operating hours.

Having unrealistic expectations about the ports

Sometimes people have some strange ideas about what they'll see in port cities.

One cruiser asked me where they could find a Starbucks in Havana, Cuba. Another person thought the cruise line owned an independent island nation that we visited.

It's worth researching your destinations (including the local currency) prior to your cruise and going in with an open mind.

Returning from excursions after the designated boarding time

two big white cruise ships with people walking between them
Cruises will often wait for travelers if their bus arrives late from an excursion.Sharon Waugh

The general rule is that if you go on a cruise-line-organized shore excursion and the bus is late in returning you to the port, the ship has to wait for you.

It may leave without you, however, if you've gone off on your own and forgotten what time the ship sets sail. And booking flights and hotels to rejoin the ship in the next port can be pricey and stressful.

If you travel to locations in different time zones, make sure that your watch is set to the right time. Even if the "ship time" remains set in the time zone in the embarkation port, your phone may automatically change time zones without your knowledge.

Letting a missed port or an itinerary change ruin the entire cruise

cruise ship deck
Explore all parts of the ship to make sure you don't miss out on anything.Sharon Waugh

Inclement weather is the most common reason a ship misses a port.

During hurricane season, some cruise itineraries are completely redirected to avoid a storm. When this happens, the cruise line usually replaces the scheduled ports of call with other stops that are further from the storm's projected path.

Smaller weather systems that prevent a ship from visiting a specific port are far more common, especially in tender ports, where the ship drops anchor off the coast and guests ferry to the port on smaller boats. Rough seas can make tendering unsafe.

No one can deny that it's disappointing when a port day becomes a sea day, but shouting at staff isn't going to get you to the destination or get you a refund on your trip.

When you book your cruise, mentally prepare yourself for the possibility that the itinerary may change with little notice. Also take note of which ports are tender ports, as there's a higher chance of missing them.

Not taking the time to understand the debarkation procedure before making plans

Regardless of whether you carry your own luggage off the ship or you want it delivered to the port terminal for you, there's a specific schedule to avoid too much congestion on the ship.

On every cruise I've worked on, some guests have disregarded the information we've given them about debarkation and then argued when our policies clashed with their arrangements.

If you have plans for the day of debarkation, make sure you check the ship's debarkation procedure first.

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