Our most trusted cruise expert shares the get-away gaffes you must avoid.

By Janice Wald Henderson
February 19, 2019
All Rights Reserved.
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New to cruising? Steer clear of these eight common mistakes, and you'll vacation like a seasoned sailor — and ensure your first cruise is the beginning of many fabulous voyages ahead.

1. Selecting the Wrong Ship

Rookies commonly focus on three things: When they can travel, the cruise cost, and the itinerary. Make the ship’s style equally important in your selection process. Do you seek an intimate yachting or sailing ship experience with just a few hundred passengers, or the electric energy of a big buzzy ocean liner with roller coasters, shopping malls, and thousands of potential new friends? Do you fantasize about chilling on a deck chair for blissfully relaxing days at sea, or do you dream of waking up every day for an on-shore adventure in a new city or country? Factor in other wants or musts — like spin classes or vegan menus — to ensure you pick the perfect floating paradise.

2. Choosing a Cabin by Price Only

Cabin location plays a key role in an overall cruise experience. Peruse deck plans carefully to find the ideal digs. If unsure about your sea legs, pick a midship locale for the smoothest sail. Early to bed, love to nap, or treasure sleeping in? Think twice about choosing accommodations located directly under the gym, bar, or dance floor. And here’s a great insider tip: See if your ship offers forward and aft cabins with easy access to small, more private sundecks that passengers bunking on other decks forget to frequent.

3. Overpacking

Little feels worse than paying excess baggage fees for heavy or multiple suitcases filled with fancy outfits, only to discover most passengers wear jeans day and night. (Plus, most cabins provide little storage space other than beneath beds.) Check dress code requirements (they can differ from ship to ship) in advance and pack strategically. Select items that you can wear more than once, and bring pre-packaged laundry soap for cabin sink hand-washing. (Most bathrooms feature built-in clotheslines.) Complimentary or minimal-fee laundry rooms are usually available, as are wash and fold services via your cabin steward.

Related: How to Get a Great Deal on the Cruise of Your Dreams

4. Not Making Advance Reservations

Novice cruisers often assume they can readily make dining, spa, and shore excursion reservations once onboard. You may get lucky, but odds are you’ll find the word waitlist is your new BFF. Immediately after booking a cruise, act like a savvy cruiser; discover how far in advance specialty restaurants, massages, and sightseeing outings are bookable, and do it asap. It’s better to lock in too much (know the window for free cancellations, and don’t book anything without free cancellation unless you’re certain you’ll show), than wind up with zip.

5. Arriving on Embarkation Day

Many first-timers plan on arriving into port on embarkation day, even if traveling from afar. After all, if your flight’s due to land in the morning, why wouldn’t you be lifting a champagne glass at the sail-away deck party at dusk? Except, stuff happens. Flights and trains get delayed or canceled, connections get missed, and road mishaps can occur. Avoid any possible nightmares by arriving into port the day before the ship sails. Catch up on sleep, tackle jet lag with a jog, buy a necessity you forgot (like sunscreen), or simply soak up city highlights. Enjoy the exhale.

6. Counting on Calm Seas

Captains always aim to deliver smooth seas. However, unexpected weather events can occur, even if you’re cruising in traditionally calm waters, like the Med in summertime. Follow a cruisers’ Murphy’s Law; bring seasickness medication, and you probably won’t need it. Consult with your physician for advice or prescription meds in advance. (In a pinch, know that almost every ship offers over-the-counter remedies and an onboard doctor.)

7. Packing Valuables in Suitcases

Always stash cash, credit cards, medicine, passports, cruise tickets, jewelry, and other necessities and valuables in your handbag, backpack, or rollaboard. Even with airline baggage tracking systems and TSA-approved locks, suitcases can get pilfered, misplaced—or worse, lost. (Always pack fresh undergarments in your rollaboard, too.)

8. Scheduling Morning Flights on Disembarkation Day

Cruise ships usually arrive early into disembarkation ports — 5 a.m. could be typical — but they must follow strict port protocol, plus unload all passenger baggage, before you can debark. If arranging your own airport transfers and flights, only book an afternoon departure. Add time for a potentially long taxi line, the airport’s distance, and potential rush hour traffic.