The Situation: The ship has sailed and I still haven't received my luggage.
The Rules: Most cruise lines ask passengers to be patient for the first two or three hours after sailing (the bigger and fuller the ship the longer it may take).
The Remedy: First, before you hand your bags over, make sure your luggage tags -- and all cruise lines provide them -- are filled out correctly (and that includes the proper stateroom). If your luggage hasn't arrived within the two-to-three-hour parameters (and some lines, like Princess, say they should be delivered by the time the ship sails), contact the purser, hotel director or front desk. The cruise line will then begin tracing its whereabouts and, between it and the airline, will have it delivered at the next port. If, indeed, your luggage is not onboard, it can't hurt to ask the cruise line for onboard credit so you can buy essentials (we've also heard of cruise lines that have provided loaners, from formal-night outfits to cameras). If for some reason you had a relatively last-minute cabin change (within the past 24 hours) you may want to ask the ship staff to check outside the previously assigned stateroom; the switch may not have been relayed to luggage handlers. Finally, never, ever, pack in checked luggage items you cannot live without -- in particular we cite prescribed medicines, but it's also helpful to carry-on a bag with an outfit or two plus hygienic essentials.
The Situation: My cabin has twin beds and we want a double!
The Rules: Most, if not all, cruise ships are outfitted with beds that can handily be split apart to become twin beds -- and pushed together to make a queen-sized one. Just note: The twins are slightly narrower than the typical American style.
The Remedy: Call your cabin steward and ask him to reconfigure the bed. It can be accomplished in 15 minutes or less.
The Situation: We requested second seating at dinner and got first.
The Rules: Typically, passengers request first or second seating dinner in the main dining room (most ships have open seating arrangements for breakfast and lunch) when they purchase their cruise. The cruise lines tend to react on a first-come, first-serve basis, which means if you booked a trip a year in advance you are more likely to get that first request than if you booked a month prior.
The Remedy: On many ships, the maitre d' will set up in a common room on the day of embarkation and try to accommodate requests for change. Beyond that, cruise lines are offering many more flexible options. Some have flex-time programs (Carnival is in the process of expanding a four-seating option across its fleet). Others have alternative cafes that range from merely dressing up the lido eatery to boutique-restaurant-style operations. Or pick a line that offers open seating; these range from Cunard's Caronia to Norwegian.
The Situation: We don't like the people at our assigned dining table.
The Rules: Cruise line maitre d's typically are happy to switch your table.
The Remedy: Beyond asking the maitre d' to change your table, we advise, just for comfort's sake, that you let your "unsavory" tablemates know you are switching (make up an excuse) because it can be uncomfortable to run into them later on the cruise when you've obviously ditched them. One good excuse -- and often a real one -- is "We were invited by some friends to dine with them."
The Situation: We have dietary restrictions (salt-free, diabetic, vegetarian, kosher).
The Rules: Most cruise lines require advance notification of at least a couple of weeks for the more challenging restrictions, such as kosher or salt-free. Most offer at least one vegetarian selection on every menu. While cruise lines won't, for instance, be able to create a kosher kitchen in your honor, they can, according to Regent Seven Seas Cruises, request in advance some "special pre-packed kosher meals."
The Remedy: The easiest of all is the low-fat or vegetarian diet; nearly every cruise menu features options there (Celebrity's Millennium-class ships even have spa cafes, where the menus offer calories and fat content). For other dietary restrictions, follow the rules and alert your cruise line in advance. Make sure you get confirmation about your request in writing (and take it with you just to be safe).
The Situation: We can't get a reservation at the alternative restaurant.
The Rules: They vary. Because the alternative restaurant craze has become so popular, some cruise lines establish a rule limiting guests to one visit (though they don't always enforce it, particularly if you occupy a suite or high-category stateroom). Others have begun charging hefty service fees to diminish the appeal; Cunard's Queen Mary 2 charges the highest tariff, with dinner at its Todd English restaurant running $30 per person.
The Remedy: Book your reservation immediately upon embarking on the ship. If there's no availability for the night of choice (and you can't be flexible), ask the restaurant's maitre d' if he has a waiting list. If you're really determined, visit the maitre d' personally (just before the restaurant opens is a good time) and see if there are any last-minute cancellations.
The Situation: My shore excursion of choice is sold out.
The Rules: Tough luck, you're on your own. In some ports, depending on how many other ships are in that day or how limited the tour fare is, it's definitely first-come, first served.
The Remedy: Which means...book your shore excursions -- typically that desk is located near the ship's main desk -- as soon as it opens. Second option: Ask to be put on a waiting list. A cool new trend, however, is online pre-booking; Princess and Celebrity offer that alternative (interestingly, you may be required to pay up front, with a credit card, when you book online in advance). Another option: There are a handful of independent excursion companies, such as Port Promotions (www.portpromotions.com) that basically offer the same kind of tours at about 10 - 20 percent off the cruise line cost. A final suggestion: Independent-minded travelers should research their destination via tourist boards and Cruise Critic travel boards.
The Situation: My shore excursion was a bust.
The Rules: Cruise lines we queried say refunds (full or partial) are handled on a case-by-case basis.
The Remedy: Certainly, make sure you report your dissatisfaction immediately upon returning from the shore excursion to that desk. Be clear and concise about the precise nature of the problem. If there are a number of people on your tour who agree, there's more power in numbers.
The Situation: My waiter (or steward) or a bartender was rude or inattentive.
The Rules: You are responsible for reporting bad service.
The Remedy: If it's a problem with your waiter, have a chat with the maitre d'. Otherwise, contact the hotel director or the front desk staff and relay the nature of your problem. If the problem is not resolved in a satisfactory way, put it in writing (and make sure you get a copy), then follow up with the line itself when you return from the trip. Know this: The cruise line will try harder to respond if there's a record that you attempted to solve the problem onboard.
The Situation: The television (or toilet, or air conditioning) in my cabin doesn't work properly.
The Rules: Once a passenger reports a problem, most cruise lines have time limits for responding. Regent Seven Seas is one cruise line that actually monitors response time to these problems via a computer software program. If the problem can't be fixed, cruise lines will typically move you to a same-or-better cabin. If that's not available, they'll often (you may have to ask) provide a "gift" of additional onboard credit or a discount on a future cruise.
The Remedy: Call the front desk or the hotel director. If you are seriously inconvenienced, don't be shy about asking for the aforementioned onboard credit.
The Situation: Our ship missed a scheduled port. Will we be reimbursed?
The Rules: In the fine print every cruise line will tell you the answer is...no! They reserve the right to reschedule itineraries with minimal or no notice. So if you're planning to get married on St. Thomas on the first Thursday in October and a hurricane is approaching...you are out of luck.
The Remedy If a particular port is super-important, don't chance it. Just do a land trip. If that's not possible, try to research seasonal weather patterns and avoid traveling during monsoon or hurricane seasons in regions that are so affected.
The Situation I visited the ship's medical facility. Can the cost be billed to my insurance company?
The Rules No, almost never. Cruise lines typically will require passengers to pay medical fees as part of their onboard charges -- and then suggest you turn in your receipts to your insurance company for reimbursement.
The Remedy: In addition, buy a travel insurance policy that will cover any expenses not included on your own healthcare policy.