Whether it’s your first time sailing or you’re a veteran of the seas, cruises can be a bit tricky to figure out. After all, the biggest ships are like floating cities, filled with restaurants, bars, shows, spas, and other perks to enjoy on your journey. That being said, it’s easy to get sucked into the endless array of options, meaning you can waste time and money on some costly gimmicks if you don’t know better. Follow this advice on what not to do, and your next cruise will be a truly relaxing experience.
DON’T OVERDO THE SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS
Recently, more and more celebrity chefs have entered the gangway, setting up sea-based extensions of their land-based empires, and the results are decidedly mixed. The fanfare and sticker shock (averaging around $30–$40 per person for a three-course meal) of many of these entrants do not always equal the value provided. Why pay up to $40 when the menus at the included dining rooms are just as competitive? The main dining room is included in the standard fare and offers a rotating menu, often with big-ticket selections, such as lobster night and filet mignon. Surprisingly, you’ll find the quality on par with the specialty restaurants and a standard of service met ship-wide. So while a night or two in a specialty restaurant provides a nice change of scenery, don’t overspend sampling all of them.
DON’T BOOK SPA TREATMENTS ONBOARD
The first day on any cruise is always the busiest for the spa, as hundreds of people attempt to schedule massages, facials, and other specialized treatments. Research the spa’s services and make your reservation ahead of time, prior to boarding, to guarantee placement and avoid the long queue that forms at the reception desk. If you’re looking for some extended relaxation for the duration of your voyage, opt for a spa pass, but because quantities are limited, make the reservation prior to boarding.
DON’T WORRY IF A SHOW IS SOLD OUT
You can only plan so much on a cruise before it starts to feel hectic. With mainstage comedy shows, concerts, and Broadway-style performances onboard, most cruise lines encourage you to reserve your spot ahead of time, usually requiring guests to stand in long queues to make reservations. Take comfort in knowing that for all of these must-see events, spontaneity is encouraged with a standby line that forms about 30 minutes prior to curtain. These standby lines are practically a guarantee into the night’s entertainment, as a large portion of those who have reserved their spot are no shows. Don’t fret because you didn’t book in advance; grab a cocktail and relax in the queue.
DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE FITNESS CENTER
The fitness facilities on cruises often feature top-of-the-line exercise equipment and panoramic views of the ocean. Yet it’s good to take note that the trainers on hand are there to sell the cruise’s health products. Stay skeptical of the health regimes and any sort of secret to a healthier being. The main goal is get you to buy into expensive health programs that often tout extreme weight loss and wellness through natural herbal supplements. Spend your money on a fitness class instead and save your skepticism for a local trainer or nutritionist.
DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST
Throughout your voyage, the smartest way to arrange for a wake-up call is to order room service the night prior—easiest on a printed menu to specify specialty requests. Your custom omelet and fresh baked sweets start the day off right as you’re awoken by a knock on your cabin door. Note that room service is cut off the morning of arrival at your final port. So when you arrive at your final destination, take note of the breakfast options and seize the opportunity for one final meal. Unfortunately, you can’t take any food off the ship, per customs regulations, so be sure to eat enough onboard.
DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO SHORE EXCURSIONS
Colorful leaflets and brochures fill each ship with appealing excursions that promise adventure, exploration, and discovery within the span of a few hours. Often overpriced and underwhelming, it’s usually the beach tours that vary widest in value. While all ports are unique, many in the Caribbean dock a few miles from the more popular beaches. Seek out the sand on your own accord with the help of a locally governed taxi, lined up at the port for a fraction of the cost of a guided tour (and be sure to make arrangements with your driver for a return trip after your fun concludes). It is imperative to note that when you buy into the official cruise excursions, the cruise doesn’t depart until you’re on board—not the same policy when you venture off on your own. Just be sure to keep an eye on the clock and anticipate rush hour traffic.
DON’T SHOP IN PORT SHOPS
Brought to life with the ship’s arrival, port cities thrive on the thousands of tourists that leap off the ship demanding fine jewelry, souvenirs, and a taste of local bargaining. Well-tread salespeople know the score and have a penchant for fabricating truths to close a sale. For the best deals on souvenirs and local goods, avoid the inner-port shops, as their premium rent costs are passed on to the customer. Seek out stalls and shops in the city center for a wider variety of genuine goods at lower prices.
DON’T LEAVE YOUR CABIN BALCONY DOOR OPEN
It’s nice to have a balcony in your cabin—you can take in the sunrise and sunset, enjoy room service waterside, and get the best views of the day’s port in privacy. But when you’re not in the cabin or when you’re going to bed for the night, make sure you close your balcony door. Though the lull of the waves might be hard to resist, there is a real risk in leaving the doors open as insects, bad weather, and wind tunnels can be dangerous. It’s an industry standard that balcony doors remain shut for those reasons, in addition to preventing wasted energy.
DON’T PLAY BINGO
Age-old cruise ship activities such as shuffleboard, ping-pong, and hot tubs remain steadfast musts on every cruise. A word to the pennywise: Many ships’ bingo operations have lost their charm. Ushering in a new era of technologically advanced gaming, many ships have installed electronic bingo game cards that function automatically. With the machine taking control of your board, the players listlessly sit there, waiting for their machine to alert them of a winning card. Effortless, and remarkably expensive per game, you’re better taking the money you’d spend on bingo and playing it in the casino, where there’s a lively atmosphere and the high-tech slot machines grow more interactive by the year.
DON’T GET YOUR TEETH WHITENED
Among the many enticing spa treatments that are standard on every cruise, be wary of the teeth-whitening packages that promise to brighten your smile. There’s conjecture over their effectiveness, but more importantly, the bleach used can affect your gums’ sensitivity for a few days after the treatment. With compromised gums, cruise enjoyment plummets as the endless food options become painful to ingest. If you’re looking for a quick cosmetic fix at the spa, opt for one of the eyebrow specialists to transform your face, or a spray tan that will provide a healthy-looking base for your skin.
CONSIDER YOUR CRUISE CABIN’S LOCATION
Picking a cabin category on some lines can be tough—the newest mega-ship builds can have more than 30 categories—but once you figure out which category is best for you, it’s important to look at the individual cabin location. Consider where you will spending your time on board, and be sure to avoid staterooms that are under the pool deck or the nightclub, as well as any highly trafficked areas.
DON’T OVER-PACK FOR YOUR TRIP
Cruise ship cabins are small—in some cases, very small. Check out the cruise ship dress codes, and pack exactly what you need. Then edit out anything you don’t really need, such as extra shoes and alternate outfits, or risk feeling like the things you brought make your cabin feel claustrophobic. Plus, if you pack light enough, you can use a carry-on bag and not risk that your stuff will miss the ship.
FORGET TO PLAN IN ADVANCE FOR LIMITED INTERNET ACCESS
Most cruise ships still charge whopping rates for Wi-Fi, which can be spotty at best and, at worst, totally unavailable for large swaths of time. Be sure to take care of everything you need before you go, and turn on your out-of-office message on your work and home emails, so that you don’t waste your precious vacation time hunting down a hot spot in port.
DON’T HOG THE BEST DECK CHAIRS
On most ships, there aren’t enough perfectly placed lounge chairs to go around. The fastest way to make enemies onboard? Put your stuff down in the morning of a sea day, and then disappear for hours—to breakfast, the gym, the spa, for lunch. Return in the afternoon and, if the staff hasn’t taken your belongings off the chair, the scowls from fellow passengers will make you wish they had.
DON’T DRINK THE WATER
You’ve heard this before, but if you’re in a developing country, tap water, fountain drinks, freshly squeezed juice, and any beverage with ice in it can make you ill if the water is contaminated. The water on the ship will be safe to drink, but it’s recommended that when you’re on land, you opt for the safest possible option: bottled sparkling water.