When you're cruising with the rich and glamourous, you don't want to out yourself as a country bumpkin. Even well-heeled, well-traveled folks might not know all the unwritten rules of luxury cruise ship life if it's your first time onboard. So how do you keep yourself from committing an embarrassing faux pas -- or missing out on an opportunity that will enhance your cruise vacation?
Cruise Critic to the rescue! With many sailings on high-end vessels under our belts, the following things are what not to do on a luxury cruise.
Luxury cruise lines are proud of their all-inclusive policies. If people start tipping above the included gratuities and the crew start to expect the extra cash, it changes the whole system these companies have carefully crafted to keep your cruise hassle-free. Not to mention, you've already paid your share of crew salaries with your hefty fares. If you want to show your appreciation, make a contribution to the crew fund, which benefits all staff onboard, or write a thank-you note.
On cruise lines that cover all beverages in their fares, the bar and wait staff are taught to keep your wineglasses full and the booze flowing. If you like to drink only a little, the best thing you can do is to accept a glass and just sip it. Otherwise, bar staff will be breathing down your neck to see if they can fill your empty glass. (If you don't drink at all, just tell the wait staff on day one, and they'll leave you alone.)
Luxury cruises are usually social. Travelers love to make new friends, talk to their shipmates over a drink or team up to play trivia. So don't be shy. Strike up a conversation or invite someone to dinner. It makes the cruise more fun.
Or, to put it differently, don't go cheap on your vacationwear. Luxury cruisers take their vacations seriously. Ladies will have hit the salon for pre-trip mani-pedis and other beautifying. Everyone will be sporting designer duds, trendy sandals or new swimsuits. If you're wearing a ratty T-shirt as your cover-up at the pool or walking around in flip-flops from Wal-Mart with no toenail polish, you will feel out of place.
On a similar note, all luxury cruise lines have an evening dress code, whether it be a mix of formal and dressy casual evenings, or relaxed dress all the time. You will feel out of place -- and will likely cause a few raised eyebrows -- if you don't adhere. If the dress code states jacket required, pack that blazer even if you detest it (or prepare to eat your meals in more casual venues). If the dress code says "resort casual," leave your beloved tuxedo at home. Regardless of whether dress is formal or not, we find that many luxury travelers look expensive -- thanks to famous-name labels and trendy styles. Splurge a bit on your cruisewear and you'll fit right in.
Fine dining is a luxury cruise strong suit. From main dining rooms awash in Champagne and caviar to specialty restaurants helmed by famous chefs like Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa, onboard restaurants are not to be missed. Some luxury lines restrict reservations to one meal per passenger in an alternative venue (unless you're in a top suite), and the prime dining times go quickly. As soon as online reservations open, you'll want to make your dinner plans, and once onboard, make sure you try all of the available dining options. Even pool grills are tastier -- and offer more options -- than on mainstream ships.
Room service is always a luxury -- breakfast in bed, anyone? -- but on luxury lines, it's even more of a treat. Not only can you often order in from the main dining room or even a specialty restaurant, but you can arrange for a multicourse dinner to be served in your suite or on your balcony with course by course delivery. White tablecloth service while you're in your PJs? It's a must-do.
Whether you'd like to arrange a special dinner, order a favorite wine or improve an area of less-than-stellar service, luxury cruise crew don't want you to keep silent. They want to provide you with the best vacation experience, but they can't anticipate all your needs and complaints. If there's something you'd like to request to make your cruise that much better, just ask and we guarantee the ship's staff will bend over backward to accommodate you. If you encounter a rare problem, don't stew on it and write a bad review when you return home. Bring the issue up with the hotel director, maitre d' or relevant staffer, so they can make things right.
Luxury cruises are often destination intensive. Unless you're on a transoceanic voyage or someplace with ports far apart, you will find few sea days. With many long days of touring in a row, it's easy to do too much and find yourself exhausted and not taking advantage of the pampering life onboard. To properly enjoy your vacation, schedule in some free time to lounge on the ship, get a massage or laze by the pool with a book. You might have to skip a port or trade a full-day tour for a half-day one, but you'll feel more relaxed for it.
The destinations managers are not only trying to sell you shore excursions -- especially if tours are included in your cruise fare. They want to make sure you make the most of your time onshore. These crew members have a wealth of knowledge about each port. In addition to giving you more details on the ship's tours, they can give you recommendations for a special lunch spot, city walking tour or hike, or how to manage public transportation to make the most of your time ashore. They can provide maps and alert you to free shuttles from the port to the city center. And if they don't know it all, often they bring in a representative from the city's tourist information center to direct independent travelers to hotspots in town.
The combination of an older clientele and port-intensive itineraries with long days in port means nightlife is pretty quiet on most luxury cruises. Generally, people will go to dinner and then the show and they might socialize and drink in one of the lounges for a bit, but the ship will be a ghost town by midnight. Sometimes a large group or magic combination of passengers means a lounge will be hopping into the wee hours, but it's not the norm. That won't stop entertainment staff from scheduling karaoke or playing dance music -- but you might not get any takers.
You might be richer than god, but you're still sharing a ship with hundreds of other travelers and crew members and you need to play nice. Don't get so loud and rowdy with your group at dinner that it disturbs other diners. Don't let your children splash in the pool or drive others out of the hot tub. Don't brag about the amazing deal you got on this cruise, or pester a new acquaintance into a business deal. And always treat the crew members with respect -- they're not your indentured servants, but hard-working people trying to do their job.
It's easy to get a complex on a luxury cruise. There will always be another passenger who is richer, more beautiful and better dressed than you. If your luxury cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime splurge -- or only affordable in the lowest category cabin -- you might begin to wonder if you belong. Don't. If you've booked, you are welcome, and most travelers will be friendly whether this is your first luxury cruise or your tenth. No one will ask you which cabin you're in or judge you based you on your suite deck. Get into the spirit, enjoy the pampering and have a fabulous vacation!
Updated September 21, 2017