Not everyone travels only with a husband/wife/long-term partner, whose habits and foibles are so familiar we take them for granted. Many cruise regularly with friends or family members we don't live with at home, so it's important to develop some sensitivity to behavior that you wouldn't normally think twice about. For example, you may think nothing of bouncing out of bed bright and early in the morning, but your cruise companion might appreciate a quiet lie-in and cringe at your pre-coffee enthusiasm. Similarly, while your long-term partner finds the sight of your undies hanging up to dry in the shower quite endearing, not everyone else will.
I happen to be writing this on a SeaDream II Mediterranean voyage, where my cruise companion is my much-loved sister-in-law -- and we've already encountered a few little questions of cabin-sharing etiquette that had to be addressed. Perhaps we should have hashed out such things in advance. Having discussed cabin-sharing manners with quite a few cruisers, I've found the consensus is that it's always best to talk about potential pitfalls before you even book the cruise.
If you're not sure what to bring up -- because, after all, you are perfect -- here are a few etiquette tips to employ when you're cruising with someone for the first time.
Space is necessarily limited in the majority of cabins, but even if you have the biggest suite on the ship, you still have to divvy up the storage space. No hanger-hogging allowed! If you need more hangers, just ask your room steward, and he or she will happily oblige with some spares. Check with your cruise companion about who will have which drawers and shelves (not everyone likes the lowest ones) and while you might drape your just-worn clothes on a bedroom chair at home, it will be much appreciated if you keep everything shipshape and stowed away in your cabin. The same goes for shoes: when you slip them off, put them away.
Take Turns Recharging
There never seem to be enough electric sockets for recharging all the camera equipment, smart phones, tablets and laptops we travel with, let alone enough desk or dressing-table space for the stuff two people take along. What to do? The easiest thing is to take it in turns and stash the equipment in a drawer when it's not in use. I always forget to use bedside cupboards, but it's amazing how much you can hide away in them. If you are especially laden with electronic devices, consider bringing your own power strip onboard so multiple items can charge at once.
Employ Good Bathroom Behavior
When you're unpacking your cosmetics and toiletries in the bathroom, try to curb the urge to spread all your own stuff on the most accessible shelves. Worried about space? Bring an over-the-door shoe bag to stow small items. If you like to wash your undies and hang them up to dry in the shower, check with your cruise companion first. She might not enjoy the sight of dripping bras, panties and boxers in your pristine bathroom. You may also want to have a conversation on day one about shower time preferences so you don't find yourselves fighting over the bathroom 20 minutes before your shore tour leaves or dinner is scheduled to begin.
Keep It Fresh
Speaking of bathroom etiquette, my various cruise companions and I always agree to use a public bathroom for the "poo loo," to avoid creating noxious fumes in the cabin. One friend even brings a mini canister of air freshener, but if one of you is sensitive to fragrances, this can be just as irritating as more natural smells. On that note, many people can't tolerate perfumes, so check if this is the case before you spray yourself liberally with deodorant or your favorite scent or aftershave.
Admit to Snoring in Advance
My husband and I both snore, and we both insist the other person has the worst problem about being kept awake. We have learned to live with it (just!) and are happy to give the snorer a hefty shove, but nudging or yelling at a friend (or sister-in-law) can lead to trouble. Apart from discussing it and warning your cruise companion that snoring is a distinct possibility, you could also take a pack of nasal strips and earplugs (for the victim) with you.
Turn Out the Lights
I have a habit of reading and then falling asleep with the light on, which can be extremely annoying for my cruise companions. Your life partner might not mind leaning over and turning the light off, but one friend said she felt very awkward about looming over me in the middle of the night. Some cabins have small individual bedside reading lights, so it's not such a problem; otherwise, sleeping masks could be a solution if the reader really can't kick the habit for the duration of the cruise. But do try your best to be courteous, and turn the lights out if you're the last to bed.
Night Owls and Early Birds -- Mind the Noise
If one of you likes to party late into the night and the other doesn't, you'll need to come to an arrangement about coming in to your cabin quietly. There's nothing worse than being woken up by a tipsy friend who crashes around the cabin in the dark, so leave one light on when you turn in. If you're one of those who can't sleep with a light on, resort to the sleeping mask and earplugs again. Same goes for early risers -- keep the noise to a minimum, and turn on lights judiciously when you're getting ready at 6 a.m. This could be a great time to slip out to the balcony to not disturb a travelmate who's still in dreamland.
Set Rules for Romance
What do you do if your single cruisemate meets someone gorgeous on your trip and wants to spend some time with him or her? You don't want to cramp their style, but neither do you want to be left to your own devices the whole time (or, worse, locked out of your cabin for hours on end). If your companion is on the lookout for romance, it's definitely a good idea to talk this through before you embark, and set a few mutually acceptable rules. For example, you might want to establish times when the lovebirds can have some privacy in your cabin without leaving you homeless for too long.
Discuss the Naked Truth
A friend I travel with likes to not only sleep naked but to stroll around the cabin sans clothing. She's obviously totally uninhibited about undressing in front of her cruise companion, but most people tend to be a little more self-conscious about stripping down in front of friends. Some employ a degree of artful maneuvering around one another in the confined space of a cabin. One cruiser says she always buries her head in a book when her cruise companion is changing in the cabin; another always retreats to the bathroom to dress. Especially if you fall on the extreme end of the modest/uninhibited spectrum, you might want to discuss dressing arrangements in advance.
My husband and I are quite used to reading over breakfast and don't tend to chat until we've had at least two cups of tea and a coffee. Definitely alert a new travel companion to your talking taboos in advance, lest they think you're giving them the cold shoulder or chatter cheerily at you while you're still clearing the fuzz from your head. It's also perfectly acceptable to seek out alone time now and then on the trip. Just tell your buddy that you need to indulge in some "me time," rather than disappearing unexpectedly.
As with all the habits mentioned above, the best thing to do when you're cruising with someone for the first time is discuss what annoys you, laugh about it and make a plan. Remember -- you want your friendship to last beyond the duration of your cruise!