Cruise Lines are getting bigger and bolder. They are heading to more exotic ports all over the globe. The majority of cruisers will have a great time and be pleased with their experience. What these passengers don’t know is that there is an underbelly to this industry that you won’t find in the glossy brochures or promotional websites. We’re not saying you should steer clear of ever setting sail, we just feel you should be aware of some of the issues, concerns and quirks of cruising before you decide if that’s the kind of vacation you want to sign up for.
30. Balconies are Overrated
You can expect to pay at least 25% more to stay in a cruise cabin with a balcony. Many die-hard cruisers swear by its up-sell. Others feel it’s an unnecessary expense. Cruise lines will always try to persuade you on the fresh air, the view and the extra sliver of square footage.
What most people don’t think of is with all the on-board activities and ports of call to explore, consider how little time you will likely spend in your stateroom. If you decide to splurge on this, remember to make sure your view isn’t obstructed (ex. Pool deck overhang or lifeboats). Also make sure you won’t be too exposed to other passengers to enjoy any privacy. If you’re downwind from a smoker, things may get a bit unpleasant. Some cruise lines prohibit balcony smoking, but sometimes it happens.
29. Cabin Quality Varies
It can be a mindboggling endeavor to choose the right cabin for you. Some ships have more than 30 different subcategories they offer and over 9 or more decks. Most of the time passengers go with whatever is allotted to them after they’ve selected a general “inside, outside, balcony or suite” option.
Sometimes it pays to do a little research to hone in on the best cabin available in your price-range and category. Remember that sometimes “upgrades” aren’t always what you want. You wouldn’t want to get stuck near an elevator, pool deck, promenade, dining room, dance floor, laundry room or the engines. You also don’t want to be bothered by stomping feet, late-night revelers and mechanical noises. Usually cabins near the front and back of the ship have different layouts than the standard staterooms you might expect. If you suffer from seasickness, consider a lower mid-ship cabin. Be sure to check out websites like cruisedeckplans.com or work with a reputable cruise specialist to get the most convenient, comfort and amenity bang for your cruising bucks.
28. Shipboard Casinos Don’t Play by the Rules
Cruise line casinos are a huge profit center. The odds will always be less in your favor than on land. Cruise lines operate on international waters with no gaming commission or governmental agency overseeing the action. A lot of insiders have mentioned tampered decks, rigged games and tighter-than-usual slots.
However, some people HAVE to win. This is how they lure you in. Casinos on cruise ships are pros at tempting novice gamblers to part with more cash than they intended to. If you’re not prepared to lose, consider walking away. The ship will always win in the end.
27. Careful, or You Might Miss the Boat
If you look closely to the fine print, you will notice it says to take embarkation time seriously. They don’t care if you’re stuck in traffic, sidetracked by a flight delay or impacted by the weather. The ship will sail without you if you’re not punctual. The best thing to do is arrive a day before your cruise departs. That way you don’t have to worry about close calls or missing the boat.
There are often a few tardy passengers who lose track of time at the souvenir shops or port-of-call bars, or don’t leave sufficient time to get back from far-flung excursions. This can cause some expensive consequences. The money spent traveling to meet up with the ship at the next port is on your own dime.
26. Cruise Ships Aren’t Immune to Crime
Remember, just because you’re on vacation, you can’t let your guard down or abandon your street smarts. Due to high level of passengers and crew on board a ship, the amount of people come with a certain level of petty and not-so-petty crime. Theft, sexual assault, missing person, murders, piracy, port robberies and the like can and do happen occasionally on board a cruise.
Of course, they don’t like to talk about it. There have only been a few voluntary release crime statistics. Recent studies have shown that only a tiny portion of alleged cruise crimes were publicly enclosed. There have been 959 crimes reported to the FBI since 2011, only 31 were revealed on a U.S. Coast Guard web site. It’s hard to ascertain a cruise line’s safety record without accountability. We’re not trying to scare you. Crime is more likely to occur on land than at sea. The problem is when something occurs on a ship it presents unique problems. It’s not like you can call 911 if something happens. That means you’ll be dealing with the ship’s security officers who are on the cruise line’s payroll and might not be so apt to rock the boat if crew are involved. When you’re on international waters, the same protocols or laws you might expect on land or back home do not protect you. You’ll be dealing with a series of authorities at various ports of call along your voyage, none that are incentivized to get involved in an international incident. The FBI may be called depending on the severity of the crime involving Americans. Unfortunately, they often seem more interested in protecting the cruise lines’ reputation than the investigation itself.
25. You Will Gain Weight
Cruise lines offer all-you-can-eat buffets, fruity drinks, five course dining room meals, self-serve ice cream machines and late-night munchies. Despite your efforts to watch what you indulge and actually eat sensibly, even the most self-disciplined among us are bound to go overboard with excessive treats.
Might as well squeeze every drop of value out of your cruise, right? Just remember that you’ll have to squeeze in to your clothes at the end of the week and it’ll probably take you months to get back into your pre-cruise shape. On average, passengers gain 5 to 10 pounds on a 7-day cruise, despite all the walking tracks, yoga classes, gyms and salad bars.
24. Cruise Ship Bathrooms Kind of Stink
Most stateroom configurations rarely offer bathrooms that have a window or proper ventilation. These tiny spaces fill up with moisture and the lack of airflow can make them quite stinky, even before you add you own “contributions” to the mix.
We’re not saying all cabins have this problem, but it is a common issue on cruise ships. Be sure to bring some air fresheners along to help mask the sewer-like odors that might plague you in a cruise commode.
23. That Private Island Might Not Seem so Private
A lot of cruise lines in the Caribbean offer private islands on their itineraries that sound like secluded slices of paradise. However, remember that when a ship of 3000+ passengers descends upon it, you won’t be living out any Robinson Crusoe fantasies. Chances are you also won’t be the only ship docking there, so you may be sharing the sand with thousands more.
These private islands will be just as crowded and chaotic as any other beach resort catering to those kinds of numbers.
22. Self-Arranged Excursions Are Often Better/Cheaper than the Ship-Sponsored Tours
Cruises usually try to sell you on their own packaged shore excursions. They sell you on the idea that they’re the only ones that guarantee the ship won’t leave without you should some unforeseen delay occur. These excursions are way overpriced compared to similar tours you could easily arrange on your own without the cruise line mark-up.
The cruise line excursions usually involve crowded motor coaches with flocks of cruisers following a tour guide’s flag around a set itinerary like sheep. A lot of times, factory gift shops and tourist-trap restaurants are on the agenda. When you arrange your own tour, you have more freedom and flexibility to design the more intimate, authentic, self-paced experience you want. A lot of tour professionals want to treat you right just so you don’t give them a bad review online which could impact their business.
21. The Environmental Impact of the Cruise Industry is Alarming
You can’t really deny the amount of environmental costs to this controversial industry. Over 1-billion gallons of sewage were generated in 2014, and most it was poorly treated. A single cruise ship produces about 13 million cars worth of CO2 in one day!
Sewage, grey water, oily bilge water and at emissions are a concern both while the ship is at sea or docked in port. Due to lax laws and regulations, ships can dump sewage into international waters three miles offshore from the hot spots they promote as vacation destinations. These massive ships overwhelm small ports and undermine the very natural beauty and culture they’re trying to sell. On the bright side, there are signs of improvement. Newer energy-efficient ships boast better waste-treatment technology. However, 40% of these ships plying the waters today are older vessels with 35-year-old waste-treatment systems. Transparency on these issues through various cruise lines is slim and stirs up murky waters.
20. You Might Skip That Port
If you have your heart set on a certain destination, know that although it doesn’t happen often, cruise ships sometimes have to change their itineraries on the fly. Usually this is due to inclement weather, mechanical difficulties, political instability or other issues that impact the passenger’s safety, so we can’t blame the cruise lines for this one.
Just know that it could happen and there’s no compensation or recourse for this change in plans. When plans change cruise lines usually just spend a free day at sea instead of exploring an alternate port of call.
19. Crew Are Somewhat Exploited
Crewmembers on a cruise are some of the hardest working people around. Whether it’s the waiters, cabin stewards, deck hands, engine wipers, they normally come from developing countries. They normally earn as little as $500-$1000 per month for 10 to 14 hour days on yearlong stretches. Cruise lines like to defend this practice. They claim that with free room and board this is more than they could hope to earn back home.
These workers live in squaller below deck, and are locked into contracts where they have minimal time off and never see their families. Sometimes they even have to pay back a “crewing agent.” The crewing agent is the person who signed them up for the job. A lot of times they can’t even begin to save money until well into their stint. It reeks of indentured servitude. Cruises are mostly registered in offshore jurisdictions, so are not subjected to minimum wage laws, labor standards, corporate taxes or environmental regulations. On the bright side, Maritime Labor Convention has started to enforce better minimum standards for cruise ships workers. Hopefully this will help improve these issues. Unfortunately, even with this convention, these hard working people really deserve a better living wage for what they do. So remember to tip well at least until these new laws are enforced. Most of these workers rely on “tips” to make ends meet. Anyone who sees how hard they work should compensate them generously.
18. Don’t Expect to Get a Seat by the Pool
Getting a seat by the pool can be quite the task. The deck chairs are usually snapped up by early birds who stake out their territory before you’ve even thought about having your morning cup of joe. Cruise lines don’t allow you to save chairs with a towel for later use, but it’s kind of awkward to move a stranger’s belongings to claim an otherwise vacant seat.
If you think about it, you really shouldn’t strive to be poolside anyway. Pools and hot tubs on cruise ships are much like a vat of “people soup.” They are usually small and crowded sloshing waterholes with wall-to-wall bodies of splashing kids and hung over adults. You may want to consider seeking out a quiet deck far away from the fray, or opt for one of those adults-only sanctuaries that are popping on many cruise lines.
17. Sickness Can Spread Like Wildfire on a Ship
A lot of cruise-enthusiasts try to quickly whitewash the issue of on board epidemics, but there’s a reason why these ships are called “floating Petri dishes.” It’s not that it’s more likely for illnesses to plague these ships, but being trapped on a ship in the middle of the ocean, there’s nowhere to go!
There’s no control over hygiene practices of you fellow passengers, crew and kitchen staff. You have no clue whether the last person who touched the stair railing, doorknob, elevator button, faucet or fork washed their hands or not. It only takes a few people who contract a bug to quickly spread throughout the ship for a boatload of trouble.
16. People Do Go Overboard – LITERALLY
Although it’s rare, falling overboard on a ship really happens! Usually alcohol plays a role on this unfortunate mishap, but sometimes suicidal impulses or a balcony-climbing shenanigan gone wrong take place.
These aren’t always fatal. One rescue happened after 18 hours in the water, yet surprisingly these situations do not have happy endings. Since the year 2000 there have been almost 90 known incidents. Carnival alone has had 33! Of course, cruise lines don’t show these statistics in their marketing material.
15. You’ll Spend More than you Planned
Most people think they pay for the majority of the cruise expenses upfront. However, there is a lot of nickel and diming on a ship. Never consider a cruise line to be all-inclusive.
Cocktails, wine, photographers, cappuccinos, sodas, specialty restaurants, on board jewelry shops, art auctions, spa treatments, casino trips, shore excursions etc. can easily add up on a cruise. Plus, it’s hard to keep tabs on your spending when you defer payment to the end of the cruise. A lot of high-pressure sales tactics happen at every turn, and you’ll think you don’t want to miss out on duty-free deals. These guys are pros at doing what they do, which is to make a profit off of you. If you’re disciplined enough to stick to what they originally offer, a cruise can have great value. However, most of us like to splurge on all the extras, so brace yourself for some sticker shock when the final bill comes.
14. Your Cabin May Be Noisy
Cruise lines have to cram thousands of passengers and crew members into a relatively small space. This opens the door to potential noise issues. If you’re like me, you need your sleep, so if you’re a light sleeper, consider a cabin that’s not near stairwells, elevators or major destinations such as dining rooms and the spa.
Also try to get a cabin that doesn’t have a non-cabin deck above. This will limit the amount of people tromping over your head at wee hours of the night and even at times jogging if you’re beneath a promenade. Also be aware that connecting cabins are notoriously not private, so unless you want to hear your neighbors sneeze, book a cabin that can’t be expanded next door.
13. You Won’t Be Alone
Even cruise enthusiasts are, at times, confounded by how many people they have to share pool space with. You may want to consider staying on board during a port of call for some alone time.
Also be sure to check that you haven’t signed up for a themed cruise. Theme cruises are notorious for spending a vacation with thousands of Kid Rock or I Love Lucy Fans.
12. Booze is Big Business
Cruise lines are usually open bar and cruisers love to try out the drink of the day or sample off the wine menu.
Be prepared to spend some rowdy times on board.
11. Food is Far from Gourmet
Cruise lines love to entice travelers with promises of fine dining experiences on board. Unfortunately, this is usually far from the truth.
A lot of the food they prepare on board is prepared in advance. This is done to accommodate the thousands of diners.
10. Don’t Hire the Tour Guides
Most cruise lines offer plenty of great destinations to explore on shore. A lot of people like to hire a tour guide to show them around.
Be aware of hiring through the cruise line. The cost for these guides are incredibly inflated.
9. There’s Little Opportunity for “Alone Time”
If you’re looking for some real R&R you’ll have to book a spa day or stay on board during a port call.
Again, make sure you’re not booking a cabin on a themed cruise. You could be spending your time with thousands of rowdy college kids.
8. Beaches Will Always Be Crowded
Even if you do your homework and ask around to see which beaches are the best and most secluded, remember you’re not the only one that’s going to be there. You’ll never have a quiet and isolated beach.
When you reach a port, there are usually other cruise lines with you. This means the beaches can be awfully crowded and noisy. Be aware that if you’re looking for a peaceful trip at a remote island, this is not the best choice for you.
7. Ships Have Morgues
Hopefully you won’t die on a cruise ship, but in the unlikely event that you did, your body would be interred in the shipboard morgue.
This morgue consists of refrigerated storage space that most ships have to keep up to three bodies from decomposing until they reach their final port of call.
6. Ships Have Jails
Almost all cruise lines have a jail, or what some might call a brig.
This is where criminals and suspects can be locked up to be handed over to authorities on land.
5. Dirty Bunker Fuel
If you think the cruise industry would use modern efficient fuel to move thousands of passengers through the ocean, you’re wrong! Most cruise lines today use “Bunker Fuel.”
This is a thick, black, inefficient and extremely polluting petroleum product. Bunker fuel uses 4-5 thousand times more sulfur than in automotive gasoline. The only reason it’s used is because it’s cheap!
4. Tax Dodging
One of the main ways cruise lines keep their prices low is by dodging United States taxes. They get away with this by incorporating in countries that have notoriously lax banking laws. The loophole is the U.S tax code allows, “shipping companies,” which is exactly what cruise lines classify themselves as.
They take advantage of the benefits here in the US, such as protection of the Coast Guard and infrastructure in ports. A lot of legislators actually want to level the playing field and are trying to push for cruise companies to start paying their fair share.
3. Ship Doctors Are Not Regulated
It’s great that most cruise ships offer medical personnel on staff to hand any emergency situations that may come up. Unfortunately, if you look into the rules and regulations that govern these doctors, you’ll realize they’re not so good.
A lot of cruise line doctors get their degrees from foreign medical schools with lax standards and work in facilities that are inadequately equipped.
What’s worse is cruise companies classify doctors as independent contractors. This means that the cruise has no liability for any treatment you may receive. If malpractice happens as a result for bad treatment, you would be forced to take the doctor to court in their home country. This is very inconvenient, if you ask me.
2. Cancellation Policies
Sometimes unexpected events force you to cancel your cruise at the last minute, forcing you to lose the entire cost. This happens because cruise lines have draconian cancellation policies.
These policies require customers to cancel their reservations as long as 120 days before departure to get all of their money back. That’s about four months, so if you need to cancel, you will be charged for hotels, shore excursions and any other amenities that you will never use.
1. Photos Are Expensive
Many cruise lines offer photographs, as well as paraphernalia for a camera. Beware! These items are way overpriced on a cruise ship. If you want photos of your vacation, make sure you bring your own camera and bring extra batteries.
Taking your own photos will save you a ton of money. Photographers are usually stationed at the entrance when you board, at the exits when you depart the ship at every port, at meals in restaurants and around the ship for various activities. Just say no!