We love cruising yet there will always be those things that irk us when we're onboard. We know we should be grateful to be on vacation at all, to have lots of "free" food thrown our way and nearly limitless activities. But sooner or later, we find ourselves grumbling about this or that -- those daily annoyances that we can survive, but wish we could avoid.
So let's put it all out on the table and commiserate together, so we can get it out of our systems and just enjoy our next cruise. Here are 15 things that drive people nuts on a cruise -- and how to get Zen about them.
It's getting better, but on many ships, cruisers continue to experience slow-loading pages, dropped connections and error messages when trying to surf the web and post photos online while onboard.
Find your Zen: Schedule time to connect online while you're in port; a coffee or cocktail can easily buy you a date with free Wi-Fi. Or, enjoy a blissful break from world news, family drama and work emails as you check out on your vacation. For your next cruise, choose a ship with enhanced internet access, such as Royal Caribbean's Voom.
We can't decide what bugs us more: the photographers who take photos at dinner when you have spinach in your teeth and a half-eaten burger in front of you; the ones who practically pull you off the gangway to make you pose with a crew member in a pirate costume; those who block all the main stairways with their formal night setups; or just any photographer who won't take no for answer.
Find your Zen: Say no thank you and keep moving, or grin and bear it and never check the photo gallery to see just how awful your hair looked in that pic. To give them the slip, plan to spend a lot of time in the spa where the photographers don't go. Or consider disembarking the ship late, once all the fanfare has died down.
On mainstream cruise lines, the cruise director and captain are constantly piped into your cabin to remind you of upcoming bingo games, flash sales in the onboard boutiques, the ship's global positioning and information you can just as easily read in your daily newsletter. The worst is when they wake you up with early-morning announcements about gangway location or disembarkation procedures.
Find your Zen: A portable white noise machine or app and earplugs can help muffle those early-morning broadcasts. Or, escape to your balcony where the PA system can't reach.
You've just had a wonderfully relaxing massage or facial, but after you get dressed, the spa therapist starts telling you how awful your skin is and tries to sell you a range of overpriced products to fix your flaws.
Find your Zen: Tell your therapist before your treatment that you do not want a product pitch and will not be buying any lotions or potions. If she stresses you out with an upsell attempt, regain your Zen with a post-spa stint in the spa's sauna or thalassotherapy pool.
Your family might be perfect angels, but the people in the cabin next door are always blaring the TV, slamming doors, talking loudly or leaving the bright balcony lights on all night long. Even worse, some of them smoke on their balconies when it's expressly forbidden.
Find your Zen: Earplugs and eye masks are always your friend, but a call to your cabin steward is one way to get someone else to ask your neighbors to turn it down or turn it off. If you think they're breaking cruise rules or fighting, call ship security. For your next cruise, consider booking a large suite where your sleeping space might not be so close to your neighbor's room.
They're not just at the pool! We are seriously irked by people who not only reserve deck chairs for all hours only to make a 15-minute afternoon appearance, but also those folks who save half a row of seats at the front of the theater or won't let you share their table at the buffet even when the place is packed to the gills and they're not expecting friends.
Find your Zen: Pay your way to Zen by booking passes to an exclusive sun-deck area without the crowds or a suite that comes with priority seating privileges. Otherwise, get where you're going early to snag a seat, chair hogs be darned, and enjoy a drink and a chat with your travel companion, or learn to accept that any seat is OK when you get to spend a day in the sun or a night at the theater.
With Norovirus threatening to ruin anyone's cruise, we cringe every time we see people walk right by the hand sanitizer stations or leave the loo without washing their hands. Don't you practice good hygiene at home?!
Find your Zen: Stalk those folks and then get into whatever buffet line they're not. And make sure you wash your hands frequently. If all else fails, avoid the buffet.
After years of cruising, it still takes us days and days to remember which way to turn at the top of the stairs to get to our cabin or which floor the main dining room is on. And if it's an older ship where the galley's in the middle and you can't walk all the way across certain decks, we're likely to break down crying and never make it to meals on time.
Find your Zen: Religiously study the deck plans prior to your cruise, and get a pocket-sized map from Reception to take everywhere you go. And remember -- it's the journey, not the destination that's important. Even if you can't find that specialty restaurant, you're sure to stumble up on some food somewhere.
On a mainstream mega-ship, kids seem to be everywhere -- taking over the hot tubs, blocking the stairwells and camping out in the hallways. Don't these ships have kids clubs and teen lounges?
Find your Zen: Repeat this mantra to yourself, "It's their vacation, too, and they're just trying to have fun." But if you just can't bear to trip over another tyke, retreat to the areas of the ship with age minimums, like the spa, gym, casino and adults-only sun decks or solariums.
What's with cruise ships attracting so many ill-mannered folks? You've seen them, we bet: the ones who use flash photography or back-lit camera screens during onboard shows, who cut in line at the buffet and grab food with their bare hands (ick!), who are rude to crew members and complain incessantly to everyone else, and who talk loudly during the safety drill.
Find your Zen: Feel superior and spend as much time as possible in your suite.
You just want a decent cup of coffee -- so why do you have to spend a few bucks every morning on a food-inclusive cruise? And what's up with paying several dollars -- plus gratuity! -- when you just need a soda or a seltzer water? And did that cocktail just cost more than your usual workday lunch?
Find your Zen: Try to book a cruise when the line is offering a free beverage package deal so all your drinks will be included. Other options include bringing your own coffee and French press (hot water is free!) or booking on a line that will let you bring cans of soda onboard. Otherwise, learn to accept the high prices as part of the vacation deal -- the extra fee is not for the drink but for that amazing sea view and break from work.
Not since your school days have you stood in so many lines -- to get food at the buffet, to get a seat at the restaurant, to leave the ship, to get back on the ship, to buy bingo cards. All that waiting brings out the inner whiner in all of us.
Find your Zen: Again, money will solve all your problems: pay for a suite or a program like Carnival's Faster to the Fun to get priority embarkation and debarkation, or even exclusive dining options so you don't have to brave the buffet crowds. If you can't spare the cash, you'll just have to use those wait times as an opportunity to practice your yoga breath or to catch up on the latest gossip with your travel companion.
You can't walk past certain areas of the ship -- the casino, the starboard side of the pool deck -- without putting on a full face mask to avoid the cigarette smoke and fumes.
Find your Zen: With cruise lines restricting smoking in more and more places, you can fairly easily avoid the smoky corridors. And practice your gratitude: Discos, bars and cabin balconies used to be smoke-friendly, so it could be a lot worse.
We travel with so many electronics, yet cruise ships seem not to be aware of our need for electrical outlets. Not only does the one measly U.S. outlet not suffice for our phone, tablet, e-reader, battery charger and hair dryer, but the cabin steward is constantly unplugging the devices we left charging while we headed out to breakfast or the pool.
Find your Zen: Unplug! Take a break from your phone on your beach vacation. Otherwise, we recommend bringing your own USB power port -- or a converter so you can use the European outlet in addition to the U.S. one.
One of our biggest pet peeves is when we find out about a cool cruise experience -- and it's already sold out. Maybe it's that neat shore excursion or a specialty dining restaurant or an exclusive-access sun deck. How did everyone else find out about and book these things before us?
Find your Zen: If you're already onboard, the only thing you can do is get on a waitlist, agree to eat at less-than-ideal times and enjoy the free, no-booking-required activities and dining options that abound on a cruise. You might find fun in unexpected places. If you're planning another cruise, book early, find out when online bookings open and reserve the most important shore excursions and specialty dining as soon as you can. Booking a suite might get you priority for pre-cruise bookings. And don't forget to read Cruise Critic to find out about those limited-access sun deck passes or cabana rentals, so you never miss out on the fun again.