We've all been there: almost getting your Romanian spouse forcibly debarked -- and expatriated; sprinting through St. Thomas to catch your departing ship; eating three of Guy Fieri's 1,000-calorie burgers in one sitting. Okay, perhaps not, but as Bram Stoker wrote in Dracula, "We learn from failure, not from success!"
What has failure taught Cruise Critic's editors and contributors when it comes to cruising? Do your homework on visa requirements, and triple check that you know how to get where you're embarking. Be careful what you eat and what you book. Read our seven mini-stories of supreme stupidity, have a laugh at our expense, and vow never to make the same mistakes we did.
No Money, Mo' Problems
I generally wait until arriving at the airport to get foreign currency; ATM's abound, and my check and credit cards offer decent exchange rates. This strategy backfired when I traveled to Budapest for a Danube River cruise. Every ATM in the airport was broken. So, when my prearranged port transfer didn't show up, I had no Hungarian Forint with which to pay for alternate transport and no U.S. dollars to exchange. I finally found a taxi driver with a credit card machine, but he couldn't find the ship. Imagine the scene: penniless American and non-English-speaking cabbie driving up and down the Danube, in a torrential downpour, as the clock ticked closer to departure. After convincing the driver not to leave me on the side of the river (tears were effective), we finally found the boat. Looking back, I should have cried a bit more and finagled a bank stopover, too. The itinerary was heavily focused on out-of-the-way coastal villages, so we were mid-cruise before I could access an ATM.
--Melissa Paloti, Director of Product Development
A Queen, a Princess and a Fool
I was set to cruise on Hebridean Princess from Scotland right after getting off QE2 in Southampton (a two-ship B2B). I booked a connecting flight to Glasgow that I knew would be tight, and, sure enough, I missed the plane. A later departure was cost prohibitive. The only option was to rent a stick-shift car and drive nearly the ENTIRE length of the U.K., a journey the rental people said would take six hours. Only I had never driven stick before, and my girlfriend had never driven on the left side of the road. We were up late on QE2 the night before, now running on fumes. After a few hours driving on the wrong side of the road, my girlfriend started nodding off. I took over, merging onto a highway with no previous experience with shifters, clutches and feathering. Somehow we arrived in 10 hours. Somehow Hebridean Princess was still there.
--Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic Contributor
Mal de Ginger
Seasickness has always been my unwanted shipmate. Having previously taken medications with sleepy side effects, I was hopeful during a trip to the Arctic when the maitre d' of Silversea Cruies' Prince Albert II suggested I nibble on some crystallized ginger to quell my queasy stomach. He pointed me to a large silver bowl of soft, sugary ginger in the dining room. Always preferring natural remedies over medication, I scooped out a big handful of ginger and went back to my cabin, where I ate it all -- and ended up with a gut-wrenching stomachache for the rest of the night. (I now stick with acupressure bands around my wrists.)
Getting Clocked by Ship's Time
In St. Thomas, I learned to tell time. It was rush hour, 4:50 p.m., and I had 40 minutes to cover 4 miles by safari cab from Duffy's Love Shack (of 64-ounce "Shark Tank" notoriety) to the pier. The jungle hills rolled. We lurched and stopped, lurched, stopped, and my thoughts sickened: I was going to miss the ship. When we rounded the 40th switchback with five minutes to spare, my smoke-belching ship materialized through the haze. I de-cabbed, jumped turnstiles, slalomed by palm trees, tore into prickers and hyperventilated past guffawing locals. Gasping, I stumbled onto the ship just in time. Only the clock read 4:35. Apparently not all lines switch ship clocks to local times; on this Eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival Victory, we didn't deviate from EST. Guest services (or the ship's daily newsletter) can help you set your watch.
--Dan Askin, Senior Editor
Guy Fieri's Revenge
On a Carnival cruise, a fellow passenger boasted that he had eaten three burgers in one sitting at celebrity chef Guy Fieri's poolside burger joint. Three coronary-inducing, 1,000-plus-calorie burgers slathered in multiple layers of fat (beef, Cheez Whiz, mayo, bacon and so forth). I insisted I could match or beat his record. The first burger was wonderful, the second was a bit uncomfortable, and the third had me thinking all three would reappear again at some point. Fortunately they didn't, but I spent the rest of the day in my cabin, moaning about the worst stomachache ever.
--Ashley Kosciolek, Associate Editor
On my first cruise to Europe, I booked the ship's tours in five ports. Little did I realize that these sightseeing excurions were geared toward older travelers -- not young, independent explorers. I spent hours on buses or ambling at a glacial place behind umbrella-waving guides. "Free time" was not long enough to check out each destination, but much longer than my limited interest in souvenir shopping. Despite arriving back at our bus exactly on time, my friend and I were always the last ones aboard, with several grey-haired tourists giving us the evil eye as we wended our way to the back. From then on, I've always read tour descriptions carefully and am very picky about which tours I choose.
--Erica Silverstein, Features Editor
A Visa: Don't Leave Romania Without It
It's never a good sign when a purser makes you cry the first afternoon of your honeymoon cruise around the British Isles and Norway. Not that it was his fault; I was the idiot who didn't do my research. Turns out my Romanian husband needed a transit visa to get off the cruise ship during port calls to Cork, Belfast and Glasgow. Worse than missing ports was the U.K. government threatening to expatriate him. Though the threats lasted the entire two weeks of our cruise, the U.K. ultimately just slapped a warning into his passport, which simply meant avoiding flying through London for the six months until Romania got into the Euro Zone.
--Dori Saltzman, News Editor
Looking for ways to cruise error-free? Here are some of our top advice pieces, meant to keep you on the right track. And don't forget to ask the collective cruise brain of Cruise Critic's message boards for answers to all your pre-cruise questions.