The simplicity of cruise vacations is part of their appeal. You choose a ship going where you want to go…and it is easy to imagine that the planning virtually is complete. Unlike with most journeys, there is no need to choose hotels, reserve rental cars or even find restaurants.

But novice cruisers still can stumble into mistakes that make their voyages less enjoyable—or more expensive—than they should have been. Experienced cruisers sometimes make mistakes, too, particularly when they book trips on cruise lines that they have not sailed with previously.


Mistake: Booking with the wrong cruise line. Different cruise lines provide very different cruise experiences—even when they stop at the same ports. Perhaps most notably, some cruise lines strive to supply a high-energy environment for passengers…while others offer a more relaxing experience. Choose the wrong cruise line, and you could feel out of place. If you have not previously cruised on a particular line, speak to experienced cruisers about it…use search engines to find online reviews of it…and/or book through an experienced travel agent who can help you select an appropriate cruise line.

Examples: Carnival Cruise Line’s party atmosphere attracts people who want to be social, let down their hair and be silly…Disney Cruise Lines attracts primarily families. On the other hand, Crystal, Oceania, Seabourn and Silversea offer a relaxed atmosphere and higher pricing that tends to draw cruisers age 45 and older.

Helpful: Any cruise that is three weeks or longer is likely to be dominated by retirees. Few younger people can spare that much time.

Mistake: Picking the wrong cabin. Do not select a cabin based only on its size, cost and the presence of a porthole or balcony. Also, pay careful attention to the cabin’s location on the ship. Avoid cabins adjacent to elevator shafts, theaters, nightclubs, casinos or crew entrances, especially if you are a light sleeper. And don’t just look for potentially noisy neighbors such as those on a map of the cabin’s deck—also check the decks immediately above and below to make sure that the cabin is not under or over something that is likely to be loud. (Avoid cabins under pool decks, too—chairs scraping on these decks are a common source of annoyance for the occupants of cabins directly underneath.) Crew-only spaces such as staff storage rooms might not be labeled at all on ship maps, so be wary of rooms next to map “white spaces.” Ideally a cabin should be surrounded by other cabins.

If you are prone to motion sickness, avoid cabins that are high on the ship and/or near the front or rear of the ship—that’s where the nausea-inducing feeling of movement tends to be greatest. Cabins low and near midship will be much better for you.

Mistake: Failing to notice the downside of a special price. Read the fine print before snagging a cruise line special offer—special fares sometimes come with unexpected restrictions.

Examples: A special low fare might be nonrefundable…a special low-deposit requirement might mean that the deposit is nonrefundable…if the cruise line is running a special promotion, such as “$100 in free onboard credit upon booking,” this might not be included with certain discounted fares.

Mistake: Packing items that are not allowed. Many cruise lines impose severe restrictions on outside alcohol, such as allowing passengers to bring only one or two bottles of outside wine onboard and no outside beer or liquor. A few don’t allow any outside alcohol at all.

The portable surge protectors that many travelers use to protect their laptops and other electronics usually are not allowed on cruise ships. Shipboard electrical systems work somewhat differently from electrical systems on land (in part because there is no easy way to “ground” an electrical system at sea). One consequence of this is that surge protectors can create a fire risk. Non-surge-protecting power strips and plug adaptors generally are permitted.

Electrical devices that heat up, such as travel irons and coffeepots, are almost always banned for safety reasons—though curling irons usually are allowed and most cabins come equipped with hair dryers. Read the packing rules on the cruise line’s website for details. Cruise line employees do search bags, so don’t assume that you can sneak things aboard. Confiscated items generally can be reclaimed after the cruise.

Helpful: Some ships have self-service launderettes where passengers can use irons and ironing boards—Carnival has these fleetwide, for example.

Mistake: Failing to prebook reservations for shore excursions and/or onboard spa treatments and specialty restaurants. These sometimes fill up, so it’s worth investigating these options and booking as soon as the cruise line allows—often that’s when you make your final cruise payment, long before the ship sets sail.

It typically is possible to cancel these reservations later without penalty, so there likely is little downside to making these early reservations. This can vary, however, so it is worth reading the fine print to learn cancellation rules.

Mistake: Cutting your arrival too close. If your flight is scheduled to arrive in the departure port city the same day that the cruise begins, any delay could cause you to miss your ship. A much safer plan is to fly in the day before your ship departs—particularly during winter, when weather-related flight delays are common. Flying in a day early means that you must pay for lodging the night before, but a night in a port city is not a bad thing—it just means that your vacation is one day longer. Some people think that if their airfare is part of the cruise package and the plane is late, the ship automatically will be held in port until their arrival. That’s not so, but the cruise line typically will make arrangements to get you to the ship at the next port—always check the fine print before purchasing airfare from a cruise line.

Alternative: If you cannot fly in a day early, purchase travel insurance that will cover your losses if you miss your ship’s departure.

Mistake: Waiting for last-minute deals. In decades past, the best way to get big cruise discounts was to wait until a few weeks before departure dates and snap up remaining cabins for a fraction of their original price. But cruise lines have become much more aggressive about offering appealing deals earlier, so fewer cabins remain as departure dates near…and the cabins that do remain often are unappealing. If you are willing to be extremely patient and flexible, you still can find some attractive last-minute cruise deals from time to time. But for most travelers, the downside of waiting outweighs the upside. To find attractive prices, start to monitor prices on cruises of interest starting up to a year before the departure date. Buy when you see a special offer significantly below the usual rate. Locking in a cruise sooner also gives you time to shop for a good deal on airfare into and out of port cities.