14 Ways to Piss Off Your Cruise Ship Captain and (Maybe) Land in Cruise Ship Jail

It's very important to behave yourself on a cruise ship. The largest cruises accommodate thousands of passengers, and just one bad apple can wreak havoc on everyone's health, schedule, and fun vacation time. To keep everyone under control, cruise ship captains usually have the authority to restrain passengers who break the law. Do something really bad, and you might even wind up in the cruise ship's brig (um, jail), or under "cabin arrest" until the proper authorities can be called. Eek! Talk about a cruise ship vacation gone wrong. Save yourself, and your fellow cruisers, and don't piss off the cruise ship captain.

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Carnival Cruise Ship

Carnival Cruise Ship/Oyster

1. Boarding Sick

Most cruise ships require that passengers fill out a health questionnaire before embarking. The form asks passengers to check yes if they’ve experienced any symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or sore throat in the last few days. Passengers who answer yes are examined by a member of the ship’s medical staff. The examination may lead to passengers boarding without incident, being confined to their cabin until their symptoms have passed, or denied boarding if suspected of having an illness of international public concern, like norovirus or coronavirus. Lying on your questionnaire and setting off a ship-wide epidemic is a surefire way to piss off the captain.

2. Skipping Hand Sanitization 

Related to the above. Even if you feel fit as a fiddle, you gotta wash your hands regularly on a cruise ship. Most cruise lines employ hand sanitizers whose singular job is to spritz hand disinfectant on every single passenger at embarkation and buffet restaurants. Don’t skip the spritz. Norovirus, flus, and a whole host of other nasty illnesses can spread quickly on a cruise ship. And, be sure to thoroughly wash your own hands after using the restroom and before eating. A healthy ship is a happy ship. If you do get super sick on a cruise ship, the captain may have to arrange for a second boat or helicopter to pick you up and take you to the nearest hospital.

3. Having Sex (Outside of your Cabin)

The rocking waves, the bottle of chablis with dinner, the uninterrupted and relaxing alone time…cruise ships can be very romantic places! But keep it in your cabin. Getting steamy in the spa, pool, or even under the stars on the deck you think is abandoned is a bad and illegal idea. Do you really want to be escorted back to your cabin with your pants around your ankles? Hang up the Do Not Disturb sign, and keep your sex life private.

4. Smuggling Alcohol on Board

Glass of wine by the ocean

Glass of wine on a cruise/Oyster

On most cruise ships, packing alcohol is a big no-no. That’s because the cruise line wants passengers to buy cocktails, wine, and poolside refreshments from the ship’s bars. In fact, most cruise lines don’t let passengers bring any sort of beverages on the ship (with the exception for medical reasons and baby formula). If you’re caught smuggling contraband on to the ship, either in a secret hidden flask or just by the bottle, security staff will confiscate it. Don’t worry too much — most of the time staff will hold the booze for you until the end of the cruise, when you’ll have to queue up in a line of shame to retrieve it. It’s probably easier just to buy a drinks package if you want to imbibe onboard.

5. Refusing to Go Through Security Screenings

On embarkation day and on return from all port calls, every single passenger goes through airport-style security screenings. Passengers and their belongings go through a metal detector and x-ray machine. This isn’t the airport, so you can leave on your shoes on and there isn’t a limit on liquid sizes (however, you can’t bring alcohol or soft drinks on most cruise lines, see above). If you refuse to go through the security lines, you’re not getting on the cruise ship. We promise the captain will be sorry, not sorry, if you try to get around the security screening.

6. Bringing Drugs on Board, or Doing Drugs 

You might think anything is legal on the high seas, but you’re wrong. When you are on a ship, you are under the laws of the country the ship is registered in. That means: you can’t bring drugs on a cruise ship and you can’t do drugs that someone else smuggled on a cruise ship. Even if you purchased weed gummies or marijuana in a state where they’re legal (or a country where they’re easily sold to tourists), marijuana isn’t legal on a cruise ship. This goes for embarkation day and port days. If you’re caught with drugs on the cruise ship, we guarantee the captain will hear about it, and you may face fines or imprisonment.

7. Forgetting Your Travel Documents

If you forget your passport or visas (required at some ports), you won’t be allowed on the ship. Double check that your passport doesn’t expire for at least six months — this pesky rule will keep you out of some countries.

8. Skipping the Emergency Drill

The emergency drill is a requirement for all passengers, and the ship won’t set sail until everyone on board knows where the emergency exits and life boats are located. If you skip this, or are very late, you’re holding the boat up and pissing off the captain. Plus, you really do need to know what to do and where to go in case of an emergency.

9. Buying Alcohol for Minors

Poolside Drink

Poolside Drink/Oyster

This one’s illegal and a good example of how you might end up in the ship’s clink. The minimum onboard drinking age is 21 years old for cruises departing from U.S. ports and 18 years old for cruises departing from non-U.S. ports. Trying to be a cool adult (or a creepy one) and buying a round for minors on a cruise ship is a terrible idea.

10. Fighting

We get it. Sharing quarters with family and strangers can get stressful, even on the most celebrated vacation. But if your argument over a towel on a pool chair gets physical, we can basically guarantee you’ll be on the captain’s bad passenger list. You may end up in cruise ship jail and with handcuffs at the next port. Keep it cool. No fighting on the cruise ship.

11. Destroying Cruise Property

Oooh, this one is serious. If you intentionally destroy cruise ship property…you’re going to be in deep trouble. Don’t carve your initials into the deck, don’t throw pool chairs overboard, and don’t intentionally break anything. It’s against cruise ship law.

12. Returning Late from Port Calls

Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway/Oyster

It’s commonly known that if you return late from a cruise ship sponsored excursion, the captain will hold the ship for you before moving on to the next port of call. In some cases, the cruise will even pay to have you flown (or sent by boat) to catch up with the cruise at a later date. But, if you go off on your own and don’t return to the cruise ship on time, you might not be so lucky. The captain is within their rights to leave late passengers behind. They don’t like to do it, but if it’s the difference between making an entire ship of people late or leaving behind a few stragglers, we can guess which decision a pissed-off ship captain will choose.

13. Accessing Employee-Only Sections of the Ship

Cruise ships are designed to cater to every second of fun for passengers! Mega-cruises’ decks offer endless endless amenities: restaurants, casinos, pools, spas, arcades, ice rinks, bowling alleys, robot bars, ice bars, movie theaters, karaoke…you get the idea. But that doesn’t mean the entire cruise ship is available for curious passengers who want to explore. For crew safety and privacy, there are prohibited areas of the ship where passengers have no business. Trying to sneak a peek at the ship’s engine or bartender’s bunk is a very bad idea. You’ll definitely get caught by security, and be promptly escorted out of any restricted areas of the cruise ship.

14. Assuming the Cruise Captain is a Man 

We’ll forgive you for assuming the captain of a cruise ship has to be a man. Until very recently, men were the only sex trusted behind a cruise ship helm. Thankfully, that’s changing. In 2007, the first woman appointed captain of a cruise ship was Swedish Karin Stahre-Janson, who took command of Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas in 2007. Other lines have followed suit, and Belinda Bennett became the world’s first black woman cruise ship captain in 2019. There’s still a long way to go before the cruising industry reaches equality for minorities as cruise captains, but these women are paving the way. Don’t piss them off.

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