The Biggest Mistakes Everyone Makes on Cruise Ships
With apologies to road trips, taking a cruise may be the great American vacation. You pay a set rate to sit in the sun and eat massive amounts of food, while only spending a minimal amount of time on foreign soil. And if you're not into that, well, it's also four days to rattle around a boat with nothing but booze and people you'll never see again. How could it go wrong?
While it's hard to truly mess up a cruise, having the right info before you go in can make for... OK, we're not going to say "smooth sailing," but you get the idea. So here are some common mistakes to avoid to make sure you get the most out of your cruising experience.
Booking shore excursions through the ship
Though the shore excursions the ship offers might look enticing (oooh! A make-your-own straw hat class!) they are also the most marked up and oftentimes leave at times that are, well, earlier than you want to get up on a cruise. There's this crazy thing called the internet now where you can research things to do in your ports of call and compare the operators who run them. Booking this way not only gets you a better price, it also might expose you to some cool stuff you won't find at the excursion desk.
Drinking like there's an open bar
Cruise lines promote their big floating cities as some sort of futuristic utopia where you never need to carry cash. So you can charge EVERYTHING to your room! Yay! So people forget how much they're spending, and then have a painfully sobering moment when they look at their checkout bill and say, "Wait, Bud Lights were $7?"
People enjoy boozing it up on cruises, but there's a reason the ship only charged you $200 for four nights in the Caribbean. Running up a high bar bill is easy when you're in vacation mode, so keep every receipt you get and take stock of how much you've spent at the end of each night.
Cramming more than two people into a room
The rooms on cruise ships are roughly the size of an undersized custom closet. And while it might seem tempting to have them turn down the bunk beds so you and three of your besties can save some money, what results is about as close to living like a commercially raised chicken as you'll ever get. True, you don't spend loads of time in your room, but most cruises have entire days at sea and having a comfortable space to go back to makes a big difference.
That's not even getting into the fun of four people sharing a bathroom, or the half-person's worth of closet space you'll have. And when every inch of your room is covered in clothing because you've got nowhere else to put it, your room becomes the most uncomfortable place on the ship.
Not exploring your ports of call
Every single cruise port from Skagway to St. Lucia looks exactly the same. Jewelry stores. Cheap T-shirt stands. Dudes with plastic cards offering to take you somewhere you can't pronounce. And rarely are they the nicest, or most interesting part of the city. Granted, sometimes you have limited time in a port of call, and going on an eight-hour volcano hike just isn't in the cards. But do a little research before you go on what there is to see beyond the usual tourist traps, and you'll get a lot more out of your cruise vacation than tacky souvenirs.
Booking at the wrong times
If you don't have kids, and book during the holidays, early April, or summer vacation, guess what your cruise is going to have a ton of? Not hot single people looking for weekend flings, that's for sure. Similarly, if you're looking for a family cruise and book during March (aka college spring break) prepare to explain to your 6-year-old what a beer bong is. And weekend cruises? Those are big floating trips to Vegas that won't have you leaving feeling refreshed.
Along the same lines, remember that sometimes cruises offer cheaper fares when the weather is terrible. While no sane person is taking an Alaska cruise in January, booking for the Caribbean in July could well have you looking at overcast skies and rain all day. Or, worse, get you caught in some nasty tropical depressions.
Flying in the same day you leave
If you haven't watched the news in the past, oh, decade, airlines aren't always 100% dependable in getting you to your destination on the day you're supposed to get there. And the gate agent doesn't much care that you've got a ship to catch at 4pm when the airport is shut down for a thunderstorm. Leave yourself a day's buffer to get to your ship. At worst, you'll get to explore all the wonders of an airport Hilton. At best, you can spend the rest of your life telling everyone you ever meet from Miami how much you enjoyed Bayside.
Forgetting to turn off data roaming
Just because your cellphone works once you get 20 miles offshore doesn't mean you're paying the same rates as you would at home. Even some international plans don't cover Cellular at Sea either. And as dopamine-flooding as it is to see how many people have reacted to your Snap Story from the lido deck, spending $2 a megabyte to do it will make you crash real quick. Same goes for phone calls: Completely sober-dialing your buddy back home at 3am to tell him about these crazy girls from Canada you just met can cost $20 or more. And the story will be better when you add the appropriate exaggerations and tell him in a week.
Expecting to use Wi-Fi
You will never, ever complain about having to pay $19.95 for in-room internet at a fancy hotel again. On many cruises, it costs upward of $25… per hour. And it moves at roughly the speed of 1997 dial-up, so in that hour you'll be lucky if you can return three emails and see half a boob. Some newer ships have faster -- and cheaper -- connections, so ask what the Wi-Fi situation is when you book. Or, do something completely crazy and disconnect for a few days. We guarantee after day two you'll wonder why you don't do it every vacation.
Bringing booze on board -- without planning
Like we said, cruises make a ton of cash on your onboard liquor purchases, so your bags will be X-rayed and searched for boozy carry-ons. You are allowed to bring a limited amount of wine on board, but the corkage fee at the restaurants is about on par with what a bottle of wine costs there. So pick your poison.
The best method is to buy bottles of liquor beforehand and transfer them into clear plastic pouches (also called mini-flasks), then spend the weekend mixing it with the free lemonade served in the dining room. Is it classy? No. Will it keep you entertained during an at-sea day without running up a $250 bar tab? Probably.
Forgetting -- then removing -- the daily service charge
You know why the crew on cruise ships tend to all be from other countries? Because cruise ships pay wages that would be illegal in the United States, so they sail under flags from other countries and hire non-US citizens. Nothing sinister about that, but it all works in part because they charge a daily "service charge" that covers your gratuities for maids, room valets, and pretty much everyone else. Be prepared to see a daily charge of anywhere from $15-$30 on your checkout bill, which you ought to pay without objection.
Technically you can have it taken off your bill, if you're the type of person who likes to take a few bucks away from someone making less than minimum wage. Think: If YOU were making $1,000 a month and some dude decided he'd spent too much at the bar and didn't want to tip you, how would you feel?
Hooking up with a fellow passenger on the first night
That's not to say that cruises aren't a great place to get your groove back with someone (or some people) you'll never see again. But if you hook up on the first night, "again" is still four to seven days away. On cruise ships, you see the same 50 people everywhere. And if you hook up the first night your options are either: A) have a cruise relationship, or B) spend the next five days awkwardly avoiding eye contact like you're passing in an eighth-grade hallway.
If you do opt for the "cruise relationship," remember: What happens on board stays on board. Do yourself a favor and don't try to "connect" with that person you shared the best three days and two nights of your life with. You may come back and find they're married. Or still in high school.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.