The Worst Things That Can Happen on a Cruise and How to Deal With Them

See recent posts by Andrea Rotondo

Celebrity Summit/Oyster
Celebrity Summit/Oyster

We try to look on the bright side, especially when it comes to vacations, but things can go wrong while you're on the road -- or the water. If you're about to embark on a cruise, consider this list on the worst things that can happen on a ship -- and how to deal with them.

1. You literally miss the boat.

The Catastrophe: When you only have so much vacation time, it can be tempting to cut things short and book a flight that gets you to your cruise’s embarkation city right on time. However, if you miss your flight or connection, or if any of your flights are delayed, you could end up — literally — missing the boat. That said, be sure to have plenty of buffer time between your flight arrival and cruise check-in times.

What to Do About It: You can handle transportation to your embarkation city in two ways. Savvy cruisers like to arrive the day before when possible. This practically ensures that you can’t miss the boat. Other cruisers prefer to use the cruise line’s airfare package. This puts the onus is on them. If the flight is delayed or you run into other problems, just call the cruise line’s hotline and they’ll work to get you to the ship on time, or pay for transportation that will get you to the ship at its next port of call.

2. Your luggage gets lost.

The Catastrophe: Airlines can lose or misroute bags, and in very rare circumstances, a bag delivered to port may not get loaded onto the ship. It’s incredibly upsetting when this happens, since you can’t simply drive to the mall to pick up some fresh, new outfits.

What to Do About It: To mitigate the tragedy of lost luggage, make sure to bring at least one outfit (including the right shoes), underwear, and a swimsuit in your carry-on. If the worst occurs, you will have what you wore on the flight plus what you packed in your carry-on. If you took our advice above and arrived in port a day early, you’ll have time to go to a store to buy a few new things while the airline locates your bag. Your luggage may catch up with you in the next port, but, depending on the exact ports of call and their remoteness, it may take a few days or never happen at all. So, try to be prepared or at least buy enough mix-and-match items that can get you through the cruise. Some of today’s mega-ships have boutiques, so you can even do some more shopping once you board.

3. You're asked to report to the "naughty room."

The Catastrophe: If you bring contraband, like liquor or an outlet strip, onboard, the ship’s security office may invite you to the “naughty room.” The office will scold you for trying to bring a banned item aboard the ship, and will confiscate it for the duration of the voyage. Although being called out can be embarrassing, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

What to Do About It: Try to avoid violating cruise line rules in the first place and you won’t run into trouble with the security staff. Read the fine print before booking a cruise and again as part of your cruise documents. It will outline what you can and can’t bring onboard. For example, some cruise lines will let you bring bottled water, soda or even wine to consume in your cabin, while others strictly prohibit that practice. Be sure to know what’s out of bounds and leave it home!

4. You forgot to bring formal attire.

The Catastrophe: Your ship has a formal night and you totally forgot to bring the appropriate outfit and shoes.

What to Do About It: Have no fear! Even ships that host formal nights often reserve one restaurant, usually the casual buffet, as a formal-free zone. Just dine there or indulge with room service.

5. You didn't turn off data roaming.

The Catastrophe: Making phone calls or using your smartphone’s data while at sea can be costly. Many a cruiser has come home from a perfect voyage only to be smacked with a large cellphone bill. They forgot to turn off data roaming and were hit with extra charges throughout the cruise.

What to Do About It: Be sure to turn your phone to airplane mode as soon as you board. Or, talk with your provider beforehand about any special short-term packages that are offered. Some phone companies offer packages specifically meant for cruises, while others have international packages that allow you to use your phone’s data plan — without extra fees — while in port for a one-time fee. Generally speaking, you can order the package before your voyage and there’s a one-time fee levied for the upgraded service.

6. You get seasick.

The Catastrophe: You look forward to your cruise vacation and don’t want to miss one minute of it. You especially don’t want to skip out on any of it due to feeling crummy.

What to Do About It: Luckily, not everyone gets seasick and it’s increasingly rare on mega-ships sailing in calm waters. However, motion sickness can happen to anyone at any time, so you need to know how to combat it. It’s best to prevent seasickness instead of treat it. There are many ways to ensure you don’t fall ill. First and foremost, spend plenty of time on deck in the open air when you first board. Look out to the horizon — this will help your brain and body get in sync with the movement of the ship. If you’re worried about getting seasick, proactively take an over-the-counter medication like Bonine or Dramamine. (Cruisers say Bonine is less likely to cause drowsiness than Dramamine, but your mileage may vary.) If you want to go the natural route, chew on some ginger candy. (Most cruise lines have a bowl of ginger in front of the main dining room.) If you do get sick and didn’t come prepared, head to Guest Relations. They often have medication to hand out. In extreme circumstances, see the ship’s doctor and he or she may prescribe additional medication, like a patch, so you can get back to your vacation.

7. You tour independently, arrive at port late, and miss the boat.

The Catastrophe: Many cruisers choose to tour ports independently, but remember that this comes with some extra responsibilities. It’s up to you to keep an eye on the clock, know how long it will take you to return to the ship, factor in the unexpected, and return to the vessel before it sails to the next port. 

What to Do About It: If you do miss the boat, call the emergency number that is printed in your ship’s daily program. You may speak with the port agent or be directed to the cruise line’s corporate office. That contact will explain that it’s up to you to figure out a way to rejoin the ship in its next port. That could mean shelling out for expensive last-minute flight or hiring a private boat to whisk you there. Instead, be cautious and always return to the ship with time to spare. Alternatively, only book excursions through the cruise line. That way, they are bound to get you back to the ship on time. Let it be someone else’s responsibility. You’re on vacation, after all!

8. You decide to be a nudist on debarkation day.

The Catastrophe: Cruise lines ask that you pack the night before debarkation and leave your suitcases outside your door. Porters will collect the bags and hustle them out to the dock when the ship arrives in port. However, many cruisers make the mistake of packing everything except the pajamas they are wearing.

What to Do About It: As you begin packing to leave the ship, leave out an outfit (including underwear, socks, and shoes) for debarkation day. Also be sure to reserve your boarding passes, ID, wallet, and any medication for your carry-on bag. If the worst occurs and you do pack everything, call Guest Services immediately and explain the situation. They will send someone to look for your bag, but it could take time and they will be annoyed.

9. You don't book another voyage while on your cruise.

The Catastrophe: You may be able to save a bundle on your next cruise by booking it on your current sailing. Don’t miss out on this money-saving opportunity, if you plan on taking another cruise on the same line.

What to Do About It: Nearly every cruise line has a future cruise sales desk and it generally offers some good deals if you’re booking another sailing while on your current voyage. It pays to visit the desk to see what’s on offer. You may receive a reduced deposit, a percentage off the fare, a cabin upgrade, or onboard credit. If you have a travel agent, you can transfer any onboard booking to them, so you can still avail yourself of any perks the agency offers separately from the cruise line.

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