How to Take a Cruise With Your S.O. and Not Break Up Halfway Through

The most famous TV show about cruising was obviously Shipmates. But after that, it was probably The Love Boat. An interesting choice, given if you ask anyone who’s been on a couples’ cruise gone wrong, they’ll tell you it turns into the Divorce Boat faster than you can say “Captain Stubing.”

No amount of traveling together can prepare you for the nonstop togetherness that comes with sharing a small room on a ship from which there’s no escape. With the right amount of planning it can make for a fantastic vacation -- you just have to know the variables on cruise ships that don’t exist on land, and how to manage them. We asked couples who’ve gone successfully (and unsuccessfully) for some advice for those embarking on their first cruise with a partner.

Book a cruise that's on the short side

If you haven’t cruised with someone before, you have absolutely no idea how the two of you will react to the cozy confines and the general feeling of isolation until you go. You might love it so much, you end up being one of those couples they call out at dinner for being on your 100th trip to Nassau. Or you might realize it was a garbage idea by the end of the first night, and spend the rest of the cruise making tally marks on the wall, counting the days until you’re free, even if you’re on one of the coolest cruise ships in the world.

To hedge against absolute disaster, go for the quick weekend cruise. Even if it goes south, you’re only a day or so away from it being over. And it’s a lot easier than trying to find a one-way flight home from Ocho Rios.

Do some homework on your shipmates

Like open-plan offices and college dorms, your experience on a ship is more dictated by the people it houses than the amenities it offers. A ship with a 20-story waterslide, inversion roller coaster, 18-hole golf course, and restaurants from the King of Tonga’s personal chef is still pretty miserable if you can’t make conversation with a single other person on board.

We’re not going to judge for you what “good” and “bad” crowds are; that’s all relative. Just note that longer cruises tend to have older crowds, which can be nice if you’re on a honeymoon. Cruises in March and April tend to be full of spring breakers and families. And different cruise lines tend to attract different clientele. Go on TripAdvisor and see what people say about the passengers who frequent the ship you’re looking at. If they’re not your kind of people, move on.

Book a balcony      

Does it cost more? Sure. Does it allow you and your partner to share breakfast on the water every day, sipping coffee in plush bathrobes, then close the night with private champagne toasts? Yeah, it does that too. It will also give each of you a place to get some real alone time, without said “alone time” involving the other 3,000 passengers. Or just provide a place to get fresh air first thing in the morning. In terms of upgrades, there’s not a more valuable one for couples.

Find a ship with great entertainment

There was a time when cruise ship entertainment consisted of washed-up ballet dancers and comedians whose last regular gig was in the Catskills. That reputation, thankfully, is horribly outdated -- the entertainers on cruise ships are now a big deal. Ships now will hit you with an ice skating show, a go-kart track, an original production of Jersey Boys, laser tag, and on and on.

This benefits any couple that values their time apart. Rather than sitting in your cabin playing “What do you want to do” ping-pong, varied entertainment gives you something to schedule your night around. Big shows act as a centerpiece to the night, making each evening a date night full of drinks, a nice dinner, and a great show. Effectively creating an entire vacation made up of special occasions.

Princess Cruise Line, Fort Lauderdale
Princess Cruise Line, Fort Lauderdale | Ritu Manoj Jethani/

Don't overpack

Storage space in most cruise cabins lies somewhere between “Manhattan studio” and “correctional facility.” Meaning if you both brought four changes of clothes a day, you’re getting into your first fight before you’ve even unpacked. Instead, scope out the itinerary and figure out exactly what you’ll need to pack based on what you plan to do.

You’ll each get a closet, which should be enough for a night’s worth of formal attire, and dinner clothes for other nights. Also, most ships have a small passenger laundry on each deck. So for longer cruises only pack about two-to-three days worth of washable stuff. Add in a shelf for shoes, and you can easily manage with the space provided.

Know the dining options

Perhaps you have images of romantic dinners for two, where you and your special someone dine next to a moonlit ocean zipping past your window. And that certainly CAN happen on a cruise ship. But if you’re not dining in your room or at a specialty restaurant, you may find yourself at a large table full of strangers, forced to make small talk with someone’s opinionated uncle from Tulsa.

OR, you do get that table for two... exactly 6 inches away from a couple who’s run out of things to talk about after 28 years, and is using your conversation as their dinnertime entertainment. Either way, intimate it’s not. If your ship has a common dining room, scope out the seating situation before you book. If you like making new friends over multiple entrees, then go for it. If not, you might want to opt for a different ship (not unlike people who actually work in those cruise ship restaurants).

Lock up the phones

Wi-Fi on cruise ships can cost upwards of $10 AN HOUR, and run roughly at the same speed it did in 1999. That seems like a lot of money and aggravation to avoid talking to each other. Though putting the phones in the safe and never taking them out is great advice for any couples’ vacation, on a cruise it also saves money and stress. And might make you do something crazy like learn stuff about your partner you never knew.

Be comfortable with the bathroom

Hate to break it to ya, ladies, but your secret is out. We know you’re not in the bathroom running the faucet for 10 minutes because you’re extra meticulous about washing your hands, unless we’re dating Lady Macbeth. If you haven’t crossed the “pooping around each other” line yet, you might want to ahead of time. When you’re in a small room with an even smaller bathroom, well, shit happens. Deal with it.

Margerie Glacier, Alaska
Margerie Glacier, Alaska | Pixeljoy/

Plan time away from each other

No matter how much you like each other, if you don’t spend time apart by the end of the cruise you’ll find yourself saying things like “Why do you have to BREATHE so much? Can you Just. Stop. Breathing?!”

Even if it means going for a workout while the other person reads by the pool, or god forbid going for a meal solo, plan at least a third of the day away from each other. Even separate shore excursions can be a good idea. It’ll give you something to talk about at dinner, so that boring couple next to you can get some solid entertainment.

Keep your expectations modest

That’s not to say cruising together can’t be a magical time where you deepen your bond and come out a stronger couple than you were before. It’s saying cruising might not be four days of seabound bliss. It might rain the whole time. You might get seasick. You might immediately realize you’re  stuck on a ship full of loud families in matching T-shirts. But if you keep a sense of humor, and look at it as a new adventure the two of you can share no matter what else happens, you just might leave with your relationship intact.

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who literally got a fortune cookie on his last cruise that said, “Keep expectations low.” Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.