It’s prime cruise season and my friend at work just got back from a Jamaica cruise. Apart from being horribly jealous, it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write this post about all the rookie mistakes I see people making on cruises. Maybe it will help you as you are planning your own cruise.
Rookie Mistakes – #1 Cell Phones.
I get it – we are a cell phone-based society. All you have to do is drive around town and see people using the dang things while they’re actually DRIVING a car (blows my mind every single time!). This is a clear signal that cell phone use is way out of control. However, if you use a cell phone at sea like you use it on land, you will be in for a very nasty BILL SHOCK.
Even though some ships are starting to offer cell phone bundles or plans, it’s still going to be RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE to be Facebooking or Instagramming your way through a cruise. It is going to be HARD, especially if you get bored easily. But put the phone DOWN and find other things to do. It’s a communications device – NOT an oxygen tank! Read a book, play a card game, take some pictures, take a nap. It takes a few days to get used to. But it’s actually pretty refreshing to be away from cell phones for a while.
And you still can use them (carefully!) in port. You will still get roaming charges and you have to be cautious about hackers stealing info from public WiFi. My company has started to forbid our Executives from using public WiFi in certain countries, like China, because the hackers are just rampant over there.
Being the parent of several phone-addicted teenagers, I don’t think I would trust them to stay off of them. If you think it might be a problem, maybe just hand them a camera and lock up the cell phones. There are some games you can load that can be played while in airport mode – those are fine to use. I played a lot of Sudoku on my last cruise, for example.
Rookie Mistakes – #2 Overpacking!
I’m totally guilty of this one. On our first cruise, we went waaaaaay overboard on packing. Especially now that airlines are charging so much for baggage. You want to be really SMART about packing. I have a great post about 25 Awesome Things to Pack for a Cruise – you should check it out next.
But the point is, be SMART about what you bring along for a cruise. We got carried away by the whole dress code thing and packed several dressy outfits for each kid for the dining room. Well, the kids only even SAW the dining room like once! Most of the time, they either ate with the other kids in the kids club. Or they wanted to eat at the buffet or other informal dining areas where they could eat pizza or mac ‘n cheese. So, they never even wore all that stuff we dragged along.
Same thing for us – there is a very limited amount of storage space in these tiny cabins. You can’t bring every outfit you own and fit it all in there. Be smart and plan your outfits sensibly. Lots of the time, you will just be in shorts and a tee shirt anyway. I’ve never been on a cruise to someplace cold. I think it would be a real challenge to pack for an Alaska cruise – brrrr!
Which brings up another point – be prepared for just about everything. Even in tropical areas, it rains, and it can be quite chilly on a windy day at sea. Be sure to pack a lightweight, but WARM jacket and maybe an umbrella.
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Rookie Mistakes – #3 Money Issues
This is another mistake I see people making all the time. Here is the best advice I can give you for a cruise – bring HALF the clothes and TWICE the money. Seriously!
I see a lot of glum faces on the last day of a cruise because that’s when the shipboard bills show up. So many times people get suckered into thinking that everything is FREE once they step on board a ship. If you think that you are CRAAAAAZY!
Shipboard life can be VERY expensive indeed. In my earlier post – How to Enjoy a Cruise Without Going Broke or Getting Fat, I talk a lot more in-depth about the money aspects of a cruise. So I’ll just hit the highlights. Here are some ways to spend a LOT of money on a cruise.
- Casino – the odds are MUCH worse than you would get anywhere else because you are a captive audience
- Bar bill – enjoy yourself, but don’t go crazy. Cruises make most of their money on overpriced alcohol
- Spa fees – it’s a fun way to pass the time, but figure a 100% markup from what you’re used to.
- Champagne Art Auction – seriously? Who buys art on a ship? You’d be surprised. You’d also be surprised at the prices. They also have other shopping “opportunities” that they will advertise heavily.
- Gym fees and fitness classes – You can walk or run on deck for FREE, so I never get this one. Pricey!
- Specialty Restaurants – This is fine for a one-time splurge, but these specialty restaurants have a very high markup. So unless you are a big-time foodie, stick to the main dining room and the free buffets.
- Tux Rental – Just don’t. My husband rented a tux for a week from a local shop for less than he could have gotten one for just ONE of the formal nights, and had a lot better selection.
- Shopping – You do want a few souvenirs, but don’t go CRAZY. Anything you buy, you have to get back home in one piece.
- Photography – This is another big ticket item. You will feel like a movie star fending off the paparazzi – they have a whole staff of photographers taking pictures constantly. But, it’s like $10-$15 bucks for an 8 X 10 glossy. Just say no. Although, I usually buy a few – they are pretty nice pictures, especially on formal night.
Honestly, I think this is the one place you SHOULD spend a lot of money on a cruise. I’m not going to travel halfway around the world to just go and sit on a beach somewhere.
Excursions aren’t cheap, but the experiences are so WORTH IT. Swim with the dolphins, zipline through the rain forest, visit a butterfly farm, take a catamaran or a jeep ride – to me, these are the POINT of the whole cruise.
Just be sensible – read the online reviews on the cruise boards – ask the repeat cruisers which ones are the best value. Plan around your fitness level and the party of folks you are bringing – some things aren’t a good fit for restless kids, out-of-shape couch potatoes, or people who are older and have limited mobility. The Excursion Desk will be more than happy to help you with any questions. PS: For the best availability book your excursions about a month before your cruise. Some popular options will sell out quickly. Check out my post – 5 Tips for Cruising for Chubby People
My rule of thumb about the money is to plan on spending about the same amount as the cruise itself. This covers a modest bar bill, excursions, tips (which can add up, but I don’t mind – these folks work HARD), and a bit extra for shopping.
Rookie Mistakes – #4 Medical Issues
OK, this is the section that can really make or break your cruise – medical stuff. Being on a cruise where you are sick, injured, or in medical distress can be a real problem. There’s only so much you can do, but try your BEST to keep yourself healthy.
Sunburn is a big issue – you see them on every cruise. People go out and spend hours relaxing by the pool or on an excursion. Then they spend the rest of the cruise looking lobster red and moving very gingerly. Especially near the equator, the sun is much hotter and has a high UV rating, so you can get badly sunburned very quickly. Sun poisoning is a real thing and it is miserable. Just do all the sensible stuff – sunscreen, hats, shade, etc.
Stomach issues are also a problem. I’m lucky in that I’m not very prone to seasickness, but if you think you are, go to the drugstore before you leave and bring along EVERY REMEDY they offer. Then just try each one in rotation until you find the right combo. Also make a point to avoid the other things that can affect your digestion – overeating, excessive partying, eating unusual foods, and drinking local water. Check out my post on How to Prevent Seasickness on a Cruise
I did get sick on our first cruise and it was no fun. I think it was because I ate some soup with raw quail eggs. It was in the fancy dining room, so I thought it would be OK, but in retrospect, it wasn’t a good choice. If anything is the least bit questionable, just say no. Not being able to eat for days, or doing the Texas quickstep on board a ship is about the most miserable thing.
Injuries – every single cruise someone ends up getting hurt. Not usually on board – those things are so safety-rigged, it’s like a big adult playpen! But on shore, it’s a different issue. Other countries are not nearly as safety-conscious as the US – they don’t have railings everywhere, there are potholes and ruts in the streets, uneven steps, and all sorts of hazards we aren’t used to. Also, some of the excursions like ziplines are inherently dangerous because they know you can’t easily sue them if you get hurt. Trying to navigate a ship on crutches is no joke. Watch where you’re going, don’t do anything crazy, and plan to have fun, but show some good sense.
There are also just regular medical issues like heart attacks and strokes. I think every cruise we’ve been on has several folks taken away in an ambulance, and I think someone actually died on one trip. It happens. You’ve got a couple of thousand people, including a lot of elderly folks – there’s bound to be medical issues come up.
But keep in mind that sometimes you are in the middle of the OCEAN and are pretty far from medical help. They do have an infirmary on board, but they aren’t well equipped to deal with any kind of major trauma or serious conditions. And foreign hospitals are not the same as American hospitals – they just aren’t.
You can’t prevent every single thing – when it’s your time, it’s your time, but be smart and do what you can. Get a checkup before you go, bring any medicines you might need on board, and don’t run around drunk and running into stuff.
Rookie Mistakes – #5 Don’t just stay in your cabin
A friend of mine went on a cruise recently and she spent most of cruise in her cabin watching TV and movies. What the what? You’ve paid a ton of money to be on this gorgeous ship full of interesting people and you are doing exactly the same thing you do at home?
Granted, my husband and I are both pretty outgoing, so maybe it is different for introverts, but that’s part of the fun of a cruise to me. Even if I’m just sitting up on deck quietly reading a book, it’s just nice to have a change of scene and do some people-watching. Some people categorize at sea days as BORING. I think that’s a mistake. To me, nothing is boring and there are certainly enough things going on during the day to find something interesting to do.
I get that daily schedule and I immediately whip out my highlighter (What? You didn’t bring your highlighter and post-it notes? Better go check out my 25 Items to Pack Post). Then I pick out all the fun things I want to do around the ship. Of course, I always block out time for an afternoon nap – that’s my one indulgence on a cruise or really, anytime I’m on vacation!
Even if you’re a little bit shy, just smile at people, give the crew members a friendly greeting. I guarantee they will smile back and greet you warmly. I deliberately go to the dining room and ask for a large group table for breakfast and lunch. We’ve met some fun people that way. And if people end up being a pain (hey, it happens), then just drift quietly away. It’s a big ship so it’s pretty easy to ditch people you dislike. You are ON VACATION, so you get to do exactly what YOU want to do.
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So, I’m curious. Experienced cruisers – what other newbie mistakes have you seen? New cruisers, what are the rookie mistakes you are worried about making on your cruise?
Adrian, this is really helpful information! I got sick on my last vacation from what I think was eating an undercooked egg. So I’ll be sure to avoid that on a cruise. We leave tomorrow so this is timely. Fingers crossed that everything goes well and we have fun (like we usually do). My biggest concern is sea sickness but I’m armed and ready to fight it in case it happens.
I hope you had such a great time. Glad you’re prepared for the sea-sickness, but hopefully it doesn’t happen. I’ve been very lucky with that.