Updated October 10, 2019
Some people turn complaining into an art form. It's true for travelers, too -- no matter how beautiful the location, how luxurious the cruise ship, how exquisite the food, they will find something wrong.
It's unclear whether these glass-half-empty types just love a good moan or if they desperately want things to be perfect, and their high expectations simply can't be met. Either way, we thought we'd help out. If you want to have a miserable cruise vacation, with vacation-from-hell stories that will last for years to come, here are our 12 tips to making that happen. They are an assortment of actions and attitudes guaranteed to put you in a foul mood.
And if, heaven forbid, you just might want to have a terrific cruise with no major complaints, we suggest you do the opposite.
1. Assume there will be beautiful weather every day on your cruise.
News flash: It rains in the Caribbean. Occasionally, it's chilly. Hurricanes can make seas rough and destroy tourist attractions, and high winds can prevent you from tendering. If you can't have fun while wet or adapt to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, you could be in for trouble if the sun chooses to hide its face a few days into your vacation.
To learn when weather is likely to be better or worse on your cruise, discover the best times to cruise.
2. Expect everyone onboard to be just like you.
Your shipmates will not necessarily interpret the dress code rules as you do, and their fashion style might not be to your liking. Some travelers like to party and have fun in ways you disapprove of; others have different interpretations of etiquette, manners, appropriate voice levels and acceptable dinner conversation topics. You could let someone else's baseball cap in the dining room or drunken night out ruin your cruise -- but where's the fun in that? We prefer to ignore (or laugh about) other people on our cruise and focus on our own fun times.
3. Adopt the attitude that you're too cool for cruising.
Do you turn up your nose at pool-deck activities like beanbag-tosses and belly flop contests? Do you sit stony-faced while your tablemates wave their napkins and cheer your waiters during main dining room parades? Worse yet, were you dragged onboard this ship because your family members made you go, and you know you're going to hate such a mass-market vacation? Get over yourself. If you let yourself get a bit silly and embrace the cruise spirit, you might actually -- gasp! -- enjoy cruising. (Same advice goes for people who take onboard games and trivia contests too seriously. It is not the end of the world if you lose the Battle of the Sexes by a few points or the other team wins the souvenir pens.)
4. Never check your onboard account.
It's so easy to swipe your cruise card again and again, as if it's a pretend credit card and you're spending play money. But all those charges add up and find their way onto the bill you get on the final day of the cruise. Your wonderful vacation can be ruined in a minute when you realize you've spent five times your allocated budget on souvenir photos, spa treatments and T-shirts you might never wear again. So check your statement a few times throughout your sailing, just to make sure you're on financial track -- and to avoid those unpleasant surprises on the last evening aboard.
Learn how to avoid the hidden costs of cruising in the first place.
5. Book the cheapest cabin available -- rather than the cheapest one that suits you.
Some people are quite happy with an inside cabin; they like sleeping in pitch-dark rooms and don't spend much time indoors to worry about small spaces. But if you're claustrophobic, need natural light and fresh air in your stateroom, or are squeezing four into a cabin and need room to move around, the lowest-category cabins might not be worth even the rock-bottom fare you see online. If your cabin doesn't suit, it's hard to enjoy your trip, so splash out on a cabin you'll actually enjoy.
Here's what you need to know about choosing a cabin.
6. Think dinner seating doesn't matter.
Oh, it does. Some people can't stand rushing back from port to change for early dinner; others wilt from hunger waiting until 8 p.m. for late seating. Free spirits hate having to eat at set times; traditionalists don't want to have to wait in line if the dining room is packed when they arrive for anytime dining. And never ask for a large table if you don't want to make small talk with strangers every day. Cruises have been ruined over less; choosing your dinner seating smartly can save you a lot of grief.
7. Expect that cruise staff can read your mind.
They can't. And the bartenders, cabin stewards and reception desk staffers are dealing with thousands of different people, with different needs -- not to mention different native tongues and cultures. So you could get all mopey that the cabin steward rearranged your belongings or the bartender didn't put an extra olive in your martini ... or you could simply tell them what you need.
8. Save all your complaints until after your cruise has ended.
In a similar vein, don't keep quiet if there's something wrong with your cruise. Perhaps your cabin air-conditioning is on the fritz, or you don't like your dinnermates, or a crewmember was rude to you. It's hard for a cruise line to fix the problem after you've disembarked, texting all your friends about "that cruise from hell." But if you let the ship's staff know about any issues while you're still onboard, they can try to fix the problem and save your vacation.
9. Fall for every sales pitch.
In the excitement of the moment, it's so easy to believe the marketing hype and hand over your credit card. Then you get home and wonder why you spent $100 on face cream, $50 for a Hawaiian shirt you'll never wear in Minnesota or $20 for an 8-by-10 of you with a Filipino crewmember dressed as a pegleg pirate or an Alaskan Good Time Girl. Impulse buys can quickly add up, as cruise lines love to nickel and dime, hyping everything from shore tours, wine-tastings and specialty restaurant dinners to bingo, spa treatments, souvenirs and priority boarding. Pick your splurges carefully, and you'll be far happier.
How much does a spendy day onboard add up to? We've tallied up the real cost of cruising to show you.
10. Set your heart on doing one specific thing.
If you book your vacation thinking, "I am booking this trip because I want to do this one specific thing -- and if it doesn't happen, my vacation will be an utter loss," you're setting yourself up for failure. Cruising can be unpredictable. Shore tours get canceled, ports can be missed, and spa appointments book up. If you can't be flexible, you'll likely end up sorely disappointed.
11. Ignore your ship's boarding time.
Did you know that for some avid cruisers, one of their favorite onboard pastimes is sitting on their balconies with drinks at sailaway time, watching all the latecomers run desperately down the pier trying to make the ship before it pulls anchor and steams away? If you don't get back to your ship on time, it won't wait, and there's no buzz kill greater than watching your ship pull away, realizing that you're stranded in a foreign country while your belongings (and possibly a credit card and passport) remain onboard. So note the all-aboard time before you proceed ashore, and build in a cushion to get back from your independent excursion, liquid lunch at Margaritaville or beach day with plenty of time before sailaway.
12. Never wash your hands.
We've seen cruisers flat-out ignore the hand sanitizing stations in front of dining rooms and buffet restaurants -- or worse, leave the bathroom without washing up. While we can't guarantee this behavior will make you sick, we do know that cleaning your hands with soap or sanitizer is the best way to avoid contracting or spreading germs and viruses. Anyone who has spent 24 to 48 hours lying in their cabin bathroom sick with Norovirus can attest it's a surefire way to have a miserable cruise.