Unless you’re a seasoned cruiser, cruise ship life can seem a little mysterious - a bit like a secret society. Your options and limitations aren’t always spelled out for you, and it can seem like everyone is in the know, except you.
The truth is, regulars on the high seas probably do know more than you. Every ship has insider secrets that the cruise line won’t tell you about, but knowing them will make your cruise even more enjoyable, and frequent cruisers are experts on how to cut costs, skip queues and get the very best cruise ship deals.
The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets operators don't tell you. However, there are some facts about holidaying on the high seas that not even experienced passengers might know.
There is a gritty underbelly to cruise holidays that are usually invisible to holidaymakers. We’ve rooted out some of the ugly truths cruise operators don’t really want you to hear, as well as some awesome facts they’re all too happy to shout about.
So whether you’re a first-timer or an old sea dog, read on and discover something you never knew about the glamour and grime of cruising.
20 20. Choose Your Cabin Very Carefully
If you go to bed early, or you're a light sleeper, or you’re travelling with children, you may want to check the ship’s deck plan before you choose your cabin. Cruise operators might not mention it, but some locations are much noisier than others.
There is typically more noise if your cabin is located in the aft or back end of the ship, particularly if the ship is powered by diesel engines rather than the latest pod propulsion systems, which cause little or no vibration. Also, avoid picking a cabin near public areas, especially late-night venues. Noise pollution can be bad if your cabin is located above, below, or adjacent to the ship’s disco, galley kitchen, gym, the pool deck, or engine room casing.
19 19. Bypass Your Cruise Operator For Cheaper Excursion Packages
You can book many of the same land excursions cruise ships offer for a fraction of the cost by arranging them privately with tour companies beforehand. Cruise lines will almost always charge more than booking a similar - or sometimes, the exact same - tour elsewhere.
Booking independently gives you more options and saves money. For example, perhaps you don’t like the itinerary offered, or maybe you did like it but wanted it earlier in the day, or later. Go it alone and find a tour online that better suits your taste and schedule. Websites like ShoreTrips.com not only allow you to search many great options by simply selecting the cruise you’re taking, but they also guarantee your timely return to the ship, and transportation to the next port in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
18 18. Please Wash Your Hands. Seriously.
There have been nine outbreaks of Norovirus on cruise ships so far this year. In 2017, there were 21 reported incidents, which affected a total of 2,339 people. Gross, huh? Operators don't put that in the brochure.
Norovirus is a highly contagious bug that causes severe stomach issues, and in the tight quarters of a cruise ship, infectious illnesses can spread fast. That's why frequent hand-washing is so important. Wash your hands before and after eating, smoking, going to the bathroom - and, of course, anytime your hands get dirty.
17 17. Save Money And Save Your Bottle of Wine For Another Night
If you want to enjoy a glass of wine of an evening - and it’s your holiday, so who could blame you? - it’s often cheaper to buy a bottle than a couple of glasses. But unless you’re up for the task of finishing a bottle, this might put you off. What the waiter might not tell you is that the bottle can be marked with your cabin number and saved for you to finish at dinner another night. Don’t worry if you aren’t planning to go to the same restaurant, you can usually get your wine sent to whichever onboard venue you are dining at.
16 16. The Ship Will Leave Without You
Mistakes happen, in spite of the best-laid plans, so it’s not uncommon for passengers to find themselves still on dry land while their ship sails off into the sunset. The truth is, a few tardy passengers, in the bigger scheme of things, aren’t that important, so please don’t expect your floating palace to wait for you.
Whether or not a ship will wait for late passengers depends on a number of factors, including port regulations and schedules, the number of passengers who are late, and the whims of the captain. Procedures for dealing with late passengers does vary from cruise line to cruise line.
15 15. Staff Are Seriously Overworked And Need Your Tips
Thanks to laws that allow operators to register their ships in foreign nations, they don’t have to comply with U.S. labour regulations, so crew members typically work 12 to 13 hours every day. Cabin attendants, galley employees, waiters and other crew members work seven days a week, for eight to ten months a year. They have no time off.
Some crew members working these insane hours are often paid exclusively by passenger tips. Plus, cruise lines provide few, if any benefits to crew members. And yet, they grin and bear, remaining an invaluable part of any cruise passenger’s onboard experience. So please remember this, next time you feel reluctant about tipping.
14 14. Surfing Online At Sea Will Cost You
Staying in touch with friends and family stuck on land, and even fellow passengers at sea, is easier than ever. Ships now have branded apps that allow cruisers to chat with each other onboard, super-fast high-bandwidth Wi-fi and even tablets for use at sea. But before you start posting seascape selfies on Instagram, know that cruise operators’ Wi-fi prices can be crazy high for subpar performance.
Most major cruise operators supply Wi-fi on a pay-as-you-browse basis, generally costing $0.65 to $0.75 per minute. Other operators offer daily or voyage-long packages, a few lines charge by bandwidth, and many major cruises also offer tiered usage packages. But unless you really don’t mind spending a fortune on connectivity, maybe it’s best to save your surfing for port days.
13 13. You Can Bring Your Own Booze
You might just assume your cruise line doesn’t let you bring any drinks on board, but don’t take it as fact. Some lines allow you to bring a certain amount of booze on board, though most companies draw the line at spirits.
If you can bring a couple of bottles of wine or champagne on the ship, be aware that you will probably be charged corkage. Some lines will also allow you to bring up to 12 cans of soft drink with you as well, although bottles aren’t usually allowed as it’s too easy to fill them with a clear spirit such as vodka or gin instead of water.
12 12. Order As Much Food As You Want. Yes, Really.
Can’t decide between two starters? Don’t know whether to choose fish or steak for your main course? One of the best things about cruises is that you don’t have to choose. That’s right, you can order pretty much whatever you want.
There are no rules stopping you ordering several starters to taste a few different things or even three desserts. You can also order starter-sized portions of main course dishes if you want to share a few with other people on your table. It’s a great way to try things that you wouldn’t normally order and make the most of your delicious cruise food.
11 11. For A Cheaper Deal, Book Early
Most cruise lines now favour early booking promotions over last-minute deals, and come out with their best fares when itineraries first go on sale about 18 months before departure. The least expensive rooms sell out first, and many cruise lines will raise the rates as the ships sell out - this is especially true with luxury cruises, new or popular mainstream ships and Disney cruises.
In addition to low introductory fares, cruise lines may also offer extra perks for early bookers, such as free airfare, a complimentary upgrade or onboard credit.
10 10. If The Price Of Your Cabin Does Drop After Booking, You May Qualify For An Upgrade
Before you book, check to see if you qualify for any discounts. Cruise ships offer discounts to senior citizens, active or retired military, residents who live in the same state as a port city, firefighters, police officers, or teachers. Also, ask for a price adjustment or upgrade if the price of your room drops after you book.
Set a price alert at cruiseline.com to get notified if the cost of your cruise drops below the level that you paid.
9 9. There’s A Hidden Bar With Cheap Drinks…But It’s Just For The Crew
We all know the average cruise ship has numerous bars. What you may not know is that there are additional bars that you’ll never see, bars exclusively for the crew. And the lower decks are where the real partying and at-sea romances are going down.
Crew work long hours - 100-hour weeks are not unheard-of - so many cruise ship crew members blow off steam in the crew bar, where drinks are much more reasonably priced. But if you’re thinking of joining them, forget it—fraternising with guests is the fastest way for crew to get thrown off the ship.
8 8. People Do Occasionally Fall Overboard
Since 2000, reports say roughly 300 people on cruise ships have fallen overboard. There were 17 cases in 2017 and so far in 2018, there have been five. Thankfully, these stats are low, considering more than 20 million people take cruises each year.
Falling overboard is one of the rarest events that can happen on cruise ships, and there are specific safety standards in place to reduce the risk. High railings on public decks prevent passengers from getting blown or swept off accidentally, and security cameras record what’s going on in public places.
Overboard incidents are most commonly reckless induced by too many drinks or deliberate accidents.
7 7. They want us to know: Bar Guests Can't Outsmart The Bartenders
If you thought those all-you-can-drink beverage packages were directly correlated with drunk debauchery at sea, think again. Bartenders are always watching and passengers who've had too many can have their SeaPasses (onboard credit cards) temporarily disabled, barring them from being served at any of the ship’s bars.
Surprisingly, only 8 to 10 percent of passengers purchase unlimited booze packages - Royal Caribbean’s guests, for example, are largely family travellers - and those who do go for the full package are carefully monitored.
6 6. They want us to know: Crew Members Undergo Months Of Training
Obviously, officers and sailors and other members of the maritime team are trained to handle all types of emergency situations. However, most passengers probably don't realise that all crew members (such as waiters and room stewards) are very well equipped to deal with safety at sea.
New cruise ship employees embark on a training course to equip them with all the tools necessary for a successful career at sea. Courses typically last 13 weeks and are filled with practical and classroom-based sessions, a full overview of the department in which they'll be working and job-specific training. Crew know what they're doing and have worked hard to be on board - another reason, if needed, not to shy away from tipping.
5 5. They want us to know: They Can Protect You From Pirates
The threat of pirates taking over a cruise ship is relatively low for two major reasons: It isn’t so easy to do, and there aren’t many cruise ships that service the area near the Gulf of Aden, where the recent incidents involving Somali pirates have taken place. That said, crew do train for pirate attacks.
Pirates are a real danger in certain parts of the world and have been known to approach cruise ships in fast zodiacs, hoping to board, rob the passengers, and make off with as many valuables as possible. The best way to repel a pirate attack? Water cannons.
4 4. They want us to know: Big Brother Is Watching You (So Keep It PG In public areas)
As soon as you leave your cabin, you are pretty much under surveillance 24/7. There are cameras everywhere, and we mean everywhere, and this is, apparently, due to safety reasons. It makes sense that, in case of any kind of emergency, security footage is available. If you’re outside your cabin it’s safe to assume that you’re on camera - so don’t even think about getting romantic behind the lifeboats.
3 3. They want us to know: Don’t Get Handsy With Crew Members
This should go without saying. Sadly, however, it still needs to be emphasised. A zero-tolerance policy is an industry-wide standard, and at Royal Caribbean, there’s even staff training on how to defuse an escalating situation. More often than not, it’s a vacationing guest trying to seduce a crew member. And with cameras covering virtually every nook and cranny of the ship, it’d be easier to rob a bank than get away with any inappropriate behaviour.
Above all else, crew are there to do a job. Have some respect and keep your advances to yourself. It doesn't matter how many cocktails-of-the-day you’ve had, there’s no excuse.
2 2. They want us to know: There Is A Jail Onboard For Problem Passengers
Cruise ships can encounter many problems during a trip around the world, from dangerous storms to pirate attacks. Sometimes the problem may be onboard from the passengers.
With some cruise liners holding over 2,000 passengers, it is inevitable that one of them may end up causing danger to other passengers or committing a crime. Passengers who are breaking the law will be escorted to the ship's prison, or “brig,” as it’s called at sea, before being handed over to port authorities at the next landing spot, or held there until the end of the trip.
1 1. They want us to know: Cruise Ships Aren’t Just For Elderly Travellers
Cruise holidays have a reputation for appealing to an elderly crowd, but these days, ships offer a whole lot more than shuffleboard and bingo. Anyone of any age can enjoy a cruise, and the demographic is shifting as younger folk cotton on. Cruise Lines International Association says 46 percent of all cruise passengers are now under 50, with particular growth among millennials.
As cruise lines compete to offer the coolest attractions, you can now find zip-lines, bumper cars, ropes courses, rock walls and hair-raising water slides on board. Or try simulated surfing or skydiving on a Royal Caribbean ship.
References: cruise.co.uk, cruzely.com