Mistakes? On a vacation? How exactly does that work?
The good news is that the mistakes many people make on a cruise won’t completely ruin your trip. But you may not realize just how much time or money they can cost you, or how much more enjoyable they can make your vacation if you avoid them altogether.
That’s why we’ve rounded up 11 of them that you absolutely want to avoid…
Sail An Older Ship (If You Don’t Cruise Often)
There are some folks who simply book the cheapest trip they can find, which is almost always on an older ship. And while a cruise on an older ship can be a blast, if you don’t sail that often, then sailing on older ships can be a big mistake for many people.
Just like a car built in 2003 is way different than a car built in 2023, a cruise ship built in 2023 is completely different than one built 20 years ago.
Yes, ships have gotten a lot larger and not everyone likes that. But they’ve no doubt gotten more impressive. From aqua shows on Royal Caribbean, roller coasters on Carnival, and go-karts on Norwegian, it’s amazing what’s possible. But it’s not just flashy attractions. The newest and greatest restaurants, entertainment, and amenities are also on newer ships.
Remember, during your cruise, you’ll spend much more time on the ship compared to in port. We suggest focusing on the ship more… within reason.
Going ‘Cheap’ Once on a Cruise
Let’s face it: Buying a cruise and then having to pay more for things like drinks and shore excursions and specialty restaurants is no fun. That’s why many cruise lines have turned toward packages that include these things bundled in your cruise fare. But not all do, and frankly, spending more once on a cruise has just become a fact of life.
But one mistake that many people make is fighting this. When you cruise, you are going to spend money on the ship. And yes, while you can avoid it, spending money on the ship is going to directly relate to how much fun you have.
After all, what’s a cruise without having drinks? Or exploring a port of call on an excursion? Or spending a few bucks to eat at the better restaurants?
We hate having to spend more just as much as anyone. But we’ve also figured out it’s a much more enjoyable trip when we do spend a little extra.
Picking the Wrong Cruise Line
We’ve been fortunate enough to sail a lot of different cruise lines, including Carnival, Princess, Royal, MSC, and NCL. What have we learned? There’s a lot that’s similar across every cruise line… but they are far from being the same.
Just like people, the cruise lines each have different personalities. And just like you enjoy being around some people but not around others, there are some cruise lines you will like and others that just won’t be a fit.
So if you’re wanting the best cruise, don’t make the mistake of sailing a cruise line that doesn’t fit.
Wasting Time at Guest Services
Guest Services is where you go when you have an issue on the ship. Think of them as the front desk of a typical hotel.
It’s not unusual to have an issue here or there that you might have to address with Guest Services. For instance, it seems like once every few cruises there’s an incorrect charge on our account that we have to go get removed.
But what jumps out is how long the lines at the desk are right at the start of the cruise. We’ve heard it is for people setting up onboard accounts with cash deposits… but honestly, don’t really know. What we do know is that by the next morning, there is nobody waiting.
If your issue can wait, don’t waste your time standing in line on day one.
Not Booking Items Ahead of Time
One mistake that people make is something unbelievably simple that can save you a lot of money. Above, it was mentioned that you’re going to spend money on the ship on things like wi-fi, excursions, drink packages, and more.
If you know you’re going to purchase these sorts of things, then it pays to do it ahead of time. Cruise lines offer discounts for booking packages before you board the ship. They do this because passengers who book items early then have what’s known as a “fresh wallet” when they actually board the ship and end up spending more overall.
But for passengers, the savings can be significant in some cases. So don’t make the mistake of waiting until you board to book and then paying a higher price.
Not Packing Cruise-Specific Items
Cruising is a little different than any other vacation, and that means having to pack a little differently than any other vacation. For one, you can’t just run out and get something you forget, so you need to pack everything you might need.
But also, there are some special features of cruising that you’ll want to be prepared for. For instance many older ships can have only a single power outlet, so a plug adapter that offers more spots is important. Towel clips are vital on days at sea when the wind is strong as the ship is cruising. Magnetic hangers can attach around the cabin and offer up a spot to hang items to dry. And one of our favorites, a shoe organizer, which doesn’t seem to make sense but offers a great place to store things instead of cluttering up the cabin.
Also, don’t make the mistake of forgetting to bring over the counter medicines for everything from headache to upset stomach to toothache. You don’t want to be out at sea and not having these items readily available.
Failing to Do Drink Package Math
If you’ve already bought your cruise, then it’s almost assured that you’ve seen offers for the drink package. You pay one price — hundreds of dollars, depending on the cruise length — and get what you want to drink on the ship without having to shell out each time you order. But before you buy, it’s a mistake not to do the math on the offer.
For some people the drink packages are no brainers and will save a ton. For others, they are a lousy deal.
First, know that if one person buys the package, all adults in the cabin has to buy it too. So if a husband drinks and the wife doesn’t, you still have to buy two drink packages. Plus, you have to buy it for every day of the cruise, even when you’re off the ship.
Drinks onboard will vary, but it’s about $7-8 for a beer and $10-14 for a cocktail. For a $75 drink package, you have to drink 9-10 beers or 5-7 mixed drinks each day to break even. Then you also want to figure what non-alcoholic drinks you might buy.
As you can see, it’s not as simple as saying the drink package is or isn’t worth it. It will vary by person. (You can see our drink package calculator here to figure if it’s worth it for your cruise.)
Limiting Dining to Only Included Restaurants
It used to be that most if not all food was included. Those days are over. In fact, some cruise lines have the buffet and dining room included… and then everything else is an extra charge.
That makes it tempting to avoid the for-pay spots, but we think that’s a mistake. We’ll be honest, our two least favorite spots to eat are the buffet and the dining room. They can be hit and miss. Any time you are mass producing food for literally thousands of passengers, the quality is going to suffer. We’ve definitely had some great meals… but also some lousy ones.
At specialty restaurants, however, everything is made to order in smaller quantities. The quality seems much higher, and we also like dining in smaller venues. Not every meal has to be in a specialty spot, but on a 7-day cruise, we’d recommend at least 2-3 times to break up eating the same places over and over.
Booking Cruise Line Transfers
If you’re flying in for your cruise, of course you need to figure out how to get from the airport to the cruise port and vice versa. In that case, don’t make the mistake of booking one of the transfers through the cruise line.
These rides are tempting because they operate through the cruise line, so you can book them easily. The issue is that they only run between the airport and cruise port, only on the day of your cruise, and they are also expensive.
Carnival charges $23 per person, each way from the Miami airport to the cruise port, which is only about 10-15 minutes away. So a family of four would pay about $100 one way. An Uber or Lyft costs only around $20-25 for the group.
In addition, Uber and Lyft or taxis are also flexible in that they can give you a ride to a hotel and are available if you come in the day before your sailing.
Not Price Checking After Buying
Similar to airlines, cruise fares will vary up and down… though not as dramatically. Still, prices do move and while no one wants to see the price of their trip fall after they’ve booked, you certainly want to know if it does.
You should be monitoring the price of your cruise after you book. We’re not saying to check it every day, but once or twice a month is sufficient.
If you run across a price drop, then you should contact the cruise line immediately. Many times the cruise lines will work with you to compensate for the lower fare, even though they often aren’t obligated to do so. If you’re lucky, they can refund the difference or offer onboard credit to make you happy. But if you’re not price checking, you’d never know.
Buying ‘Low-Tier’ Internet
These days, lots of us want to be connected and cruise lines are happy to offer service… for a price. But instead of keeping it simple and offering you Internet access for a fee, they have to complicate things by offering different tiers of access. This usually includes a basic package with limited access and a higher-priced offer that has faster speed and streaming.
Make no mistake, the prices charged for the internet are wild on a cruise. Seeing costs of $20 per day is not unusual. That would be like a monthly bill of $600 for your home internet.
Even so, we still think if you do want to purchase access, you will want the fastest — and most expensive package. It’s a mistake to go lower-tier.
That’s because no matter which service you buy, it’s going to be slow compared to what you’re used to. Most times it’s between 3-5 megabits per second. But we’ve been on slower connections that are closer to one Mbps and just about unusable.