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7 Tips for Cruising With Friends

Marissa Wright

Jul 7, 2023

Read time
8 min read

Taking a cruise with friends is a no-brainer. After all, as they say, you can't choose your family, but you can certainly choose your compadres.

But the truth is, cruising with friends can be deceivingly complicated and you'll need to answer many questions beforehand to ensure everyone has a good time. Have you cruised with this group before? Does everyone have the same travel style? Have you already agreed upon the excursions you will take and are you all going together?

It's never fun arguing with your friends, but it somehow feels even worse to do when you're all on vacation together. Do whatever you can to minimize that from happening on your group cruise. Consider the following seven tips for cruising with friends to ensure smooth sailing on your cruise.

1. Know Your Group's Dynamic

Friends share drinks at a nightclub on a Cunard cruise ship. (Photo: Cunard)

If you've already traveled with this group before, chances are you know what to expect and how to avoid conflict. If you are part of a posse with a few outliers -- new partner or a friend-of-a-friend thrown into the mix -- it might help to get together as a group before you board your cruise ship.

With busy schedules and an impending vacation, it might seem exaggerated to test the waters, so to speak, with your cruise friends. But a ship can feel small if there's someone you don't entirely gel with.

Discuss any "butting heads" potential with the rest of the group before the sailing, or prepare to keep your distance once onboard. On the flip side, if you get to know everyone's interests ahead of the voyage, you'll know which friend to grab for an afternoon at the spa or a race down the water slides.

Understanding the overall group dynamics helps clear the way for smooth sailing. It allows everyone to participate in activities that speak to their soul and enjoy events like early formal dining or culinary classes (or whatever activity tickles your fancy).

2. Understand (and Respect) All of Your Cruise Friends' Travel Styles

Dealing with different travel styles (Photo: Dasha Petrenko/Shutterstock.com)

The benefits of various travel styles might mean one person encourages a little organization where there is none, or someone else pushes for some flexibility in a tight trip agenda. However, it's important to nail down some ground rules before the cruise begins, so you can all maintain fair expectations of one another.

Being on time is one quality that people don't share equally on a sea day; it matters less than on embarkation day or when heading to the airport. It might be tempting to party the night before your cruise, but if your group is going to be tired, cranky and hungover getting to the ship, it might be better to save the fiesta for onboard.

If you have a tight-knit group of friends, but you've never cruised together before, prepare to uncover some potentially ugly travel truths. As the saying goes, prepare for the worst but hope for the best.

3. Cruise Outfits: Go All in With Matching Swag and Attitude

Once your cruise group is all on the same page and you're ready for your friendcation, nothing is holding you back from going a little over the top.

A hallmark of group cruising is matching T-shirts. This works best for a larger friend group -- to spot one another across the Lido Deck -- but it's also a fun way to mark an occasion (birthday, reunion, wedding, bachelor/bachelorette, etc.) regardless if there is one or not.

If you're not up for flashy shirts, consider coordinated lanyards for your cruise card, luggage tags or tote bags. Swag aside, the "go all in" mentality also translates to attitude.

Matching swag is also a great souvenir to take home and keep as a fond memory of your cruise. While matching shirts may not be the cutest outfit you wear while cruising, they’ll certainly help you get into the holiday, fun-time mood. We recommend opting for a bright color so it’s easy to spot different members of your party, especially if it includes families and children.

Try something new with your friends by your side in matching items, organize a pub crawl or splurge on a suite, or try out connecting cabins to have twice the balcony space.

Remember, you might not be on board with your kids or spouse -- take advantage of cruising with friends and revel in the freedom. That upcharge cheese plate isn't going to eat itself.

4. Have a Plan to Keep in Touch on Your Cruise Ship

Keeping in touch onboard (Photo: carol.anne/Shutterstock.com)

Many cruisers remember what it was like to plan a get-together before the age of instant messaging and smartphones. The lack of free messaging services can throw some cruisers for a loop and makes staying in contact much harder.

Have a plan for getting in touch with your cruising amigos while sailing at sea or in a foreign port of call; waiting until you're already onboard to develop a system could get frustrating. If you all aren't willing to purchase the onboard Wi-Fi package beforehand, there are other ways of communicating while on your cruise ship without it.

One useful idea includes a whiteboard with a marker for your door so you can write where you're headed, when you'll be back, or a time and place to meet.

Other cruisers swear by walkie-talkies. Sure, you can always dial your friends' cabin number on your room phone, but unless they're there at the same time (and not in the middle of a nap!), it could get tricky to track them down.

Many cruise lines offer a free app and charge just a few additional dollars for anytime messaging capabilities. (The key with cruise ship apps is to download them before you board.) The app should work without paying for Wi-Fi, but functionality varies by cruise line.

5. Maintain Some Personal Space When Necessary

Time on your own is important on a cruise ship just as it is in your day-to-day life. We know you booked this cruise to be with your besties, but being together 24/7 is not always as relaxing as it might seem.

Even if most of your time is spent interacting as a friend unit, schedule some time for a solo walk on deck or a private dinner with your significant other.

This time apart allows the group to breathe a little and for any slight annoyances to wash away with the wake. If you have a lot planned in port, consider booking one shore tour on your own, as a couple or as a family (if you're cruising with other families).

However you budget those "friend breaks," they could become a lifesaver. You’ll have something new to discuss the next time you get together. It’s also a great way to reduce spending if the group's chosen activity doesn’t interest you. Instead, you can book an exciting, affordable excursion for you, you and your partner or family.

6. Settle Up First: Discuss the Cruise Bill Beforehand

Money makes cruising possible, but don't let money matters interfere with your friendships. To avoid the awkward question of who is paying for this round of drinks or how you will split dinner or tip the tour guides, address budgeting and booking before you board.

We assume you managed to book transportation and cruise fare, so consider prepaying for packages that include onboard amenities like drinks, tips and even specialty dining meals. That way, you know what's included and it's already covered. This also goes for booking any shore excursions.

If you're going to spend a day in port playing it by ear, make sure everyone is OK with that. Don't expect to book a pricey tour last minute and your buddies being fine with coughing up the same expenses. Being sensitive to different travel budgets is key to a hassle-free friend cruise, too.

We also recommend linking a separate credit card to each room key. Even if you're sharing a cabin, unless you're sharing a bank account, splitting onboard charges after the fact could become a headache that leads to heartache. It will cause less tension to know that everyone is covering their own expenses.

Money can make or break all types of relationships, including friendships. Setting up clear expectations and tools for communication can help you avoid big blowouts or misunderstandings about who's footing the bill.

7. Find Strength in Numbers and Have Fun on Your Group Cruise

Flip cup tournament team on Impractical Jokers Cruise 4 (Photo: Christina Janansky)

Despite the red flags we have raised about the potential for tardiness or tactlessness, friends are proof that someone else actually gets us and loves us -- and they serve as a delightful buffer for making fools of ourselves on a cruise.

They're there to share when you order everything on the main dining menu at dinner, be an accomplice when taking silly portraits on formal night, make instant teams for trivia or other onboard games, be your cheering section for the hairy chest contest, and be built-in backup singers or dancers during your karaoke debut (or third or fourth performance).

Friends have our backs and, hopefully, remind us about what's fun in life. Cruising with friends is not just the basis for a fantastic getaway; it's integral in creating a total escape from reality; friends keep us in the cruise vacation mindset and advocate for making questionable but memorable choices.

There might be tens, hundreds or likely thousands of other people on your cruise ship, but all you need are a few friends to make your sailing the best it can be.

Updated July 07, 2023
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