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Solving Problems on a Cruise Vacation: What to Expect

Boardwalk on Harmony of the Seas
Boardwalk on Harmony of the Seas
Cruise Critic

Last updated
Feb 27, 2020

What do I do if my luggage gets lost and doesn't make it to my cruise ship cabin?

What to do about lost luggage depends on who lost it. If the airline lost it, you must file a lost bag claim at the airport, and the airline will try to have the bags delivered to the cruise ship or to a port of call. Notify the front desk when you board the cruise ship. Some cruise ship reception staff can help you work with the airline to obtain the lost bags.

If you gave your bags to a porter on the pier, the bags likely are on the ship. (Only in very rare instances do bags get left behind on the dock or fall in the water.) It never hurts to walk your hallway looking at bags remaining outside cabin doors in case it was delivered to the wrong cabin.

Missing bags may have been flagged for containing items not allowed onboard. Your cabin steward can help you determine if all bags have been delivered to the floor yet, keep an eye out for your luggage, and direct you to the proper floor and desk where bags containing contraband are held for pickup by their owners. Again, a visit to the reception desk may be in order if your bag truly cannot be located.

If your bags are indeed lost, many cruise ships will help you out by offering you some travel essentials (like a toothbrush) for free. Otherwise, you'll have to rely on shipboard or in-port stores to buy clothing and other items.

You can minimize the effects of a lost bag by packing a change of clothes and other important items in a carry-on and by packing some of each traveler's belongings in each suitcase you're bringing.

What do I do if I get sick or injured onboard my cruise ship?

Most cruise ships (barring river boats, super-small expedition ships and the like) have a medical center onboard staffed with trained professionals. If you get sick or injured, you can be seen and treated there.

A few key things to note: Cruise ship medical centers will not take your medical insurance. You'll have to pay up front or charges will be added to your onboard account; you can try to get reimbursed by your insurance later.

If onboard doctors determine you're too sick or hurt to be treated in their limited facilities, they will put you off the ship to obtain treatment in the current port or the next one (if you're at sea). If the situation is very serious and you're out at sea, the ship may radio a nearby coast guard to evacuate you by helicopter to a land-based hospital. For more, see our story on Getting Sick on a Cruise.

What if I forgot to pack something important, like medicine, for my cruise?

If you leave important medications at home, you might be able to obtain them from the cruise ship's onboard pharmacy, but you'll have to pay up front. If the cruise ship does not carry what you need, you might need to ask your doctor to call in a prescription to a pharmacy in a port of call, if possible.

If you bought travel insurance, the company's assistance line might be able to help you sort this out; it also helps if you bring written prescriptions on your travels.

If you forgot shoes, clothing, toiletries or over-the-counter meds, you might be able to purchase what you need from an onboard shop, rent it from the ship if available (some rent formal clothing and shoes) or seek out a store at your first port of call.

What do I do if I don't like my dinner tablemates?

If you don't like your tablemates at dinner (or your dining time, table size or table location), you can speak to the maitre d' about a change. Usually, the maitre d' is available on the first day of the cruise to meet with passengers about dining changes; if you can't find him or her, inquire at the reception desk.

Cruise ship staff will do their best to accommodate requests, but if the ship is full, they might have little leeway for changes. You might have to be flexible, such as agreeing to change dinner times or switch from set seating to open dining in order to not get stuck with incompatible tablemates.

If a switch isn't possible, you don't have to suffer through awkward dinners every night. You can take advantage of other included dining venues on the ship, such as the buffet or pizzerias (like Royal Caribbean's Sorrento's or Princess' Alfredo's). You can order room service, though some cruise lines charge for some or all orders.

Or, splurge a few nights on an extra-fee specialty restaurant where you can request a table just for your dining party.

What do I do if I'm unhappy with the food on my cruise?

Again, you should speak to the maitre d' or the food and beverage manager about any dining problems you have. If you have special dietary restrictions, the cruise ship staff can help you identify food you can eat, and if you have special meal requests, dining staff may be able to prepare something special for you.

If you simply think the food in the main dining room is bad, there's not much you can do, other than try dining in other venues (such as a for-fee specialty restaurant or the buffet), or dine in port if your ship is docked during mealtimes. You won't get a refund if you book a cruise and find out mid-vacation that the food isn't up to your standards.

What do I do if I have a problem with the service on the ship?

If you have a problem with a waiter, cabin steward, bartender or other crewmember, the best thing to do is go to Reception and ask to speak with the hotel director. He or she can handle the situation on the spot; there's not much a cruise line can do once you've ended your cruise.

You can also write comments and give low marks on the comment cards handed out at the end of the cruise. The cruise lines do look at these.

What do I do if something is broken in my room?

If something is broken or not working properly in your room, notify your cabin steward. He or she can replace the item or arrange to have it fixed. If it is not fixed in a timely manner, reach out to Reception.

What happens if I put something in the cabin safe, but can’t get it open again?

This happens more often than you think. One wrong button pushed while programming your combination and the code you think will open the safe suddenly will not. Let your cabin steward know or call Reception on your cabin phone. They will send a security officer who has a method of opening the safe in your presence.

What do I do if my cabin isn't properly cleaned?

If there's something specific you'd like your cabin steward to do, you can speak to him or her directly. If you think your cabin steward is not doing a good job or if it's a systemic problem like moldy bath tiles, it's best to request an appointment with the hotel director to air your concerns. Always take photos, so you have examples to show (or post on social media if the issue is not solved onboard).

What do I do if I have a problem with an item I purchased in a shipboard shop?

If you notice a problem with an item purchased onboard while you're on a cruise, simply bring it back to the shop and see if you can exchange or return it. If you notice a problem once you're home, it's incredibly difficult to get an item returned or replaced, especially as you'll be dealing with the third-party provider who runs the onboard boutique rather than the cruise line directly.

Make sure you save all receipts from onboard purchases, so you have documentation should a problem arise. For high-end purchases, if you're not confident that you can assess the value or won't know if you're getting ripped off, play it safe and don't plunk down the cash.

What do I do if I have a problem with another cruise passenger?

If another passenger starts a fight with you, cruise ship security staff will step in to break it up. If you feel threatened by another guest or are having difficulties in a public venue like the pool or a bar, notify the first uniformed crew member you can find.

If you are having problems with the people in the neighboring room being too loud or smoking where they shouldn't, report the issue to the reception staff, who should be able to handle it or get the hotel director to step in.

What do I do if I'm a victim of a crime onboard?

Report the crime to the hotel director or reception staff immediately and visit the medical center if applicable. You will want to document any evidence yourself (or have a travel companion do it if you can't), as well as document all meetings you have with ship staff.

If the crime occurred in your cabin and ship staff offer to move you, request that they seal off the room pending an investigation. You will get the best results by being proactive and not depending on the cruise line to take matters into their own hands.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to investigate a crime on a ship that is always on the move with constant turnover of passengers and crewmembers. Cruise lines must report major crimes (homicide, sexual assault, major theft, etc.) to the FBI, but the FBI cannot get onboard right away to examine a crime scene, look for evidence or detain suspects. In cut-and-dried cases, the guilty party will be detained and either locked in his or her cabin or in the ship's jail.

It can also be tricky to determine which country has jurisdiction over a crime committed on a foreign-flagged ship in international waters, though if the victim is a U.S. citizen and the ship sailed from a U.S. port, the United States will always claim jurisdiction. If you are not satisfied with the handling of the matter during your cruise, report the crime to U.S. authorities in the home port as soon as the ship returns.

What do I do if I have a problem with a ship-sponsored shore excursion?

If it's a problem that can be fixed during the tour, talk to your tour guide as soon as possible. Otherwise, report the problem to your ship's shore excursions desk as soon as you get back on the ship. If possible, document any problems while on the tour to present once you've returned to the ship.

Tour providers are private operators that partner with the cruise line, so you might be forced to take up any problems you have directly with the owner of the tour company, as the cruise lines are not ultimately responsible. However, you do want to alert the cruise line in case your experience leads them to change their relations with the operator.

What do I do if I'm a victim of a theft in port?

Find the local police station and file a report for any theft; also report it at the Reception desk on your ship when you get back onboard. You might need a copy of the police report to get reimbursed for your loss from your insurance company. If your passport is stolen, you should also contact the local embassy or consulate to get a replacement. (You can do this in the next port of call if necessary.)

In addition, travel insurance plans usually provide a number to call in an emergency, and representatives can give you assistance. The ship's local port agent can help, too; his or her contact information is typically in your ship's daily newsletter. You'll want to call your bank or credit card company immediately to cancel any stolen cards and get new ones issued.

What do I do if I miss the ship?

If you miss the ship, either at its embarkation port or after a day touring in a port of call, you are on your own to meet up with the ship. If you have yet to check in for your cruise, call the cruise line or your travel agent to notify the ship that you want to join at the next port of call. Then, you'll need to make alternative flight plans or book a hotel; if you booked your airfare through the cruise line, its air department might be able to assist you.

If you return too late to the ship after a day touring in port, it might not wait for you. If you're on a ship-sponsored tour, the cruise ship will either wait for you to get back or make all arrangements for you to meet up with the ship at the next port.

If you were touring independently and ended up stranded, contact the ship's port agent, who can help you make arrangements to rejoin the ship. Again, you will need to pay for any expenses incurred for hotels or transportation to the next port of call. If your passport is still on the ship, you might need to reach out to a local embassy or consulate to see if you can travel without one.

What do I do if I'm still not satisfied with my cruise experience once I've returned home?

It's always best to take care of any problems during your trip. However, if you're unsatisfied with the results, you can write a letter to the cruise line with an explanation of the issue and a request for the type of compensation you require. Alternately, you can be candid about your experience in a post-cruise survey or on social media or take your case to a travel ombudsman. For more on what to do, see our feature on Solving Cruise Problems: Post-Cruise.

How do I find out more about solving problems on a cruise vacation?

You might like the following articles:

The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.

Publish date February 27, 2020
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