Avid cruisers like to think they know everything. Admit you’re a newbie, and they’re happy to impart their hard-won cruise advice. Sometimes, these tips are eye-opening, revealing cruising secrets only experts would know. But often, you’ll hear worn-out platitudes about the best way to cruise that aren’t always useful to you.
Considering the cruise wisdom I’ve heard — and even written about — here are seven pieces of bad cruise advice you should never take … or at least consider with caveats.
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Always book the ship’s tours
This tip is influenced by cruise line propaganda, which tries to scare first-timers by warning them that the ship will not wait for late tours that aren’t booked through the ship. While it’s true that traffic and unexpected delays on an independent tour could result in you missing sailaway from port, there are many ways to ensure that does not happen.
Choose a half-day tour, or instruct your operator that you need to be pier side an hour or two prior to sailaway. That builds in wiggle room for delays. Look for tour operators vetted by other travelers or industry organizations to ensure safety and reliability if that’s a concern about venturing out on your own.
Booking an independent tour can often be cheaper than ship-sponsored shore excursions, as well as smaller, more personal and more customizable. Also, you might be able to find a tour that the ship does not offer. You should never completely overlook the independent options.
Never book the ship’s tours
On the flip side, some experienced cruisers will brag that they never take the ship’s tours and encourage you to take taxi tours or seek out independent tour providers. While these are good tips, the ship’s tours are excellent options in several circumstances and should not be ruled out.
To the previous point, if you’re looking at an all-day tour that ventures into neighboring cities or countryside (such as a trip to Florence from the port of Livorno), you might want that safety net of knowing you can maximize your time ashore without risking the ship leaving without you. The same principle holds true if you’re simply not sure of timing, such as whether you can get back from that island beach in time.
Novice travelers who are uncomfortable researching and booking independent tours in foreign countries should, for sure, rely on the ship’s tours as an easy source for activities in port. Also, should your itinerary change while on board, it’s much simpler to book a tour in the new port through the ship rather than spend your sea day researching independent options.
Book an inside cabin because you won’t spend time there
I see what people are going for with this advice. Why spend money on an amenity you won’t use? But here’s the catch: Everyone spends time in their cabin sleeping. And I hate sleeping in a room without natural light, which is what you get with a windowless inside cabin.
If this doesn’t apply to you, then perhaps you should take this advice. However, for me, and many people (or the children traveling with them), it’s a little creepy sleeping in the pitch dark of a room with zero natural light. Even worse, it’s incredibly difficult to wake up in the morning when you can’t tell the difference between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. because it’s equally dark at both hours.
Even if you don’t intend to spend much time in your cabin, consider whether it’s worth going without natural light to save money or if there’s an ocean-view cabin with a picture window that’s not too much more that could be a better choice.
Book your cruise a year or more in advance
The recommendation to book early is not the worst cruise advice you could get. You definitely want to book those one-of-a-kind suites or limited-supply family or solo cabins before they’re sold out. However, know that the only thing that booking 12 to 24 months in advance gets you is the better cabin availability — and not always the best price.
You can’t predict the future. You don’t know if your sail date and cabin category will be hotly sought after or not. You don’t know what world events might cause your sailing to be especially popular or particularly empty. I’ve also heard from travelers who booked sailings — even wedding cruises — far in advance, only to be kicked off their cruise due to a full-ship charter or rescheduled dry dock.
Cruise lines run enough deals on close-in sailings that you shouldn’t assume the initial price is always the lowest (though it can be). If you’re flexible on cabin type and location, you can find great prices at any time.
Board your ship late to avoid lines
If you’re sailing on a megaship and you can’t handle lines, you’ve picked the wrong vacation. You certainly don’t want to miss out on a few hours on board just to avoid lines in the terminal.
This advice is bad for a few reasons. First, many cruise lines now stagger guest arrivals by assigning arrival times. That means you’ll experience less of a crush early on and get less of a reprieve arriving later.
Additionally, the earlier you board, the longer you get to enjoy the ship … with fewer people around. All cruise passengers have to go through the embarkation process, but once on board, they scatter. Board early, and you’ll find fewer queues at the spa desk, at the kids club sign-in or at the shore excursions desk. Those lines only get longer as the embarkation afternoon wears on — meaning you’re just trading one line for another.
Buy the drinks package to save money
This cruise advice is useful only for the heaviest of drinkers. For the average Joe who enjoys a cocktail or two on vacation with maybe a glass of wine at dinner, pricy cruise ship drink packages do not make financial sense.
For example, Carnival’s Cheers! beverage package costs $59.95 per person per day when purchased pre-cruise; an 18% gratuity is added, just as it is with drinks purchased a la carte on board. Cocktails run from $10.50 to $12.50 per drink. So you’d need to drink five or six drinks each day to break even; more to get value.
Think you’d drink that much? Could you still drink that much if you spend all day in port? How about if you booked an excursion to an all-inclusive beach break with unlimited drinks? Could you still down six cocktails if you got a free bottle of wine at the steakhouse because you dined there on the first night of your cruise? What if you prefer beer and need to chug at least eight each day?
If the answer is yes to all of those, then take the advice and buy the drinks package. If the answer is no, this advice is no good, and you will save by purchasing your beverages a la carte.
Pack an over-the-door organizer for more storage
Nearly every packing hacks article I’ve read urges cruisers to pack over-the-door shoe organizers to hang on the bathroom door and create extra storage space for sunscreen, flip-flops and other knickknacks. I don’t know anyone who actually does this.
To start, over-the-door organizers are not always the most compact things to pack. Plus, cruise lines really don’t want you scratching their doors with the associated metal hangers. To do this, you’d actually have to pack magnetic hooks and attach the organizer directly to the metal door. I imagine at least once per cruise, this would get knocked off, sending all your items flying.
Finally, most modern cruise ships have plenty of shelves and drawers for the small items that would fit in a door organizer. It’s clothing that I’m always struggling to find places for — or larger items like snorkel gear that wouldn’t fit in a shoe organizer. Also, no one in my family ever puts their shoes anywhere but in the middle of the floor, so I can’t imagine the organizer would actually help with its original purpose — keeping shoes neatly arranged.
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