How to Enjoy a Cruise Vacation in Uncertain Times

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Whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime oceangoing getaway or a preferred escape whenever you need a break, a cruise vacation can be a relaxing, memorable way to travel. But what about when that travel that was so carefully planned and so longingly anticipated is dramatically altered?

Many different circumstances could disrupt a cruise vacation, but being prepared for possible changes can help every traveler enjoy each moment of their vacation, no matter what uncertainties may exist when they set sail.

What Could Disrupt a Cruise?

There are many different ways cruise travel could be disrupted, from simple delays or small itinerary changes such as changing the days certain ports are visited to much more aggravating changes, like a completely altered itinerary, a ship change, or more.

Port times might be shortened, canceling some popular shore excursions, or long lines could delay activities. Crew shortages or illnesses could cancel activities or entertainment options, supply chain delays could result in fewer food and beverage options, or local conflicts or civil disturbances could result in port cancelations.

Cruise Vacation in Uncertain Times
Photo Credit: rahulraju / Shutterstock

Mechanical problems could also disrupt vacation plans, particularly propulsion issues that may change itineraries. Problems onboard might also close favorite restaurants, cancel production shows, close pools, or otherwise change what travelers may have expected during their cruise.

Larger events, such as global pandemics or disease outbreaks may result in onboard protocol changes or quarantines, or severe weather such a hurricanes could damage ports or docks, changing cruise routes completely, sometimes for months until repairs can be completed.

With so many things that might go wrong on a cruise, how can travelers be prepared to enjoy their vacation no matter what happens?

Setting Minimum Expectations

When planning a cruise in uncertain times, it is critical to be certain of the minimum expectations for the getaway. If a certain type of food, specific port of call, or one production show is really critical to the cruise experience, it is best to plan the vacation just to enjoy that one special element.

Cruise Planning
Photo Credit: Joe Hendrickson / Shutterstock

This may mean researching dining options onboard different vessels, booking the vacation when the weather is least likely to cause disruptions, or asking recent cruisers about their experience to be sure of current conditions.

Simplifying expectations does not mean giving up on everything that makes a cruise extraordinary, but prioritizing the most important experiences. In this way, travelers can take steps to protect the most highly anticipated experiences, so no matter what happens, the cruise will still be fun and memorable.

Control What You Can Control

While there are many circumstances out of cruisers’ control, being in charge of those circumstances that are controllable will help travelers feel more comfortable with cruise vacation plans.

For example, travelers cannot control whether a flight to the embarkation port may be delayed or canceled, but they can choose to fly in to the destination the day before, just in case of disruptions.

Similarly, no cruise passenger can control whether a hurricane may head for their favorite Caribbean port of call, but the Atlantic hurricane season only runs from June through November. Planning a cruise in February or March will visit the same amazing destinations, but without risk of tropical storms or hurricanes.

Hurricane in the Caribbean
Photo Credit: Mike Mareen / Shutterstock

Travelers can also minimize the impact of disruptions by carefully researching cruise lines and choosing the line that will best meet their expectations.

Want to spend late nights in the casino? Don’t book with Disney Cruise Line or river cruises, as their ships don’t have casinos.

Interested in seeing different comedians? Carnival Cruise Line’s dedicated Punchliner Comedy Club is the best option.

Want more adventurous activities? Royal Caribbean International is the way to go with skydiving experiences, surf simulators, rock climbing walls, zip lines, and more right on board.

Researching different features, including the availability of children’s programs, the variety of specialty dining restaurants, or the types of shows onboard can also help travelers choose a cruise line or specific ship that will offer just the vacation they want most.

Looking a little deeper into the cruise line will also help travelers be prepared for the best vacation. Perhaps the perfect cruise line and ship just doesn’t serve a traveler’s favorite soft drinks or have their favorite snacks on board.

First, consider whether those drinks or treats are really necessary – with many bars and food options available all day long, familiar favorites may not even be missed.

Cruise Ships in Miami
Photo Credit: richard pross / Shutterstock

If those treats are essential, however, considering bringing a case of soda or a few packs of snacks onboard (research the cruise line’s policies first, as different lines have different guidelines for bringing food or beverages onboard).

Finally, once a cruise is booked, set up necessary experiences right away. This might mean booking critical shore tours as soon as possible to reserve space, as popular tours often sell out even before the ship sets sail.

Spa appointments for massages and other pampering treatments can also fill up quickly, as can reservations for specialty restaurants, especially on formal nights or elegant evenings.

By making plans quickly, travelers can confirm reservations and won’t miss out on the experiences they are most looking forward to having on the cruise.

Plan for Uncertainty

Even with careful advance planning, disruptions can still happen on any cruise. It can be difficult to prepare for the unknown, but there are ways to create extra options in case of challenges.

For example, packing along games and entertainment, such as a portable DVD player, travel games (electronic or otherwise), a deck of cards, books, or toys can help travelers relax if there aren’t as many appealing activities on board.

Odyssey of the Seas Deck Game
Photo Courtesy: Royal Caribbean

This might happen if a port is canceled, or if poor weather might mean poolside activities are on hold. While cruise ship crews will certainly try to add more activities to the daily schedule, the new options may not be as appealing, or travelers may simply prefer some personal quiet time.

Likewise, it is always a good idea to plan for extreme conditions, such as being held up on the return home. This might happen if a ship were to have propulsion issues or become stranded, or if local conditions delay return flights or other travel plans. Having extra essential medications or an extra outfit or two on hand will help make any unexpected added days less stressful.

To be sure any arrangements at home can handle an unexpected delay, pack along contact information for family members, pet sitters, doctors, schools, and employers. This would allow stranded or delayed travelers to inform others of the hold up, so alternative arrangements or extensions can be made if necessary.

Ask for Help

When unexpected conditions happen on a cruise, travelers should always ask for help to resolve the situation. A travel agent can offer invaluable assistance and expert advice on all sorts of unusual situations.

Once onboard, asking crew members for assistance can be amazingly helpful.

Twist an ankle on the stairs, but don’t need medical attention? A crew member might be able to find a cane for easier walking.

Forget to bring along earplugs for quieter sleep? The engineering team has many of them and can likely spare a pair or two.

Carnival Cruise Ship in Miami
Photo Credit: NAN728 /

Forgot to report a food allergy? An attentive server on the dining team can help find safe and delicious dishes to enjoy.

Missed out on booking a dream shore excursion? The shore tour team can put travelers on a waiting list.

The guest services team on board can also be effective at solving all sorts of problems, from irregularities with shipboard accounts to maintenance issues in staterooms to tech issues with the cruise line’s onboard apps.

Whatever the issue, asking for help can result in solutions travelers may never have thought possible. The goal is always to have an enjoyable cruise vacation, and crew members onboard will always try to resolve problems and exceed expectations so travelers have a memorable vacation.

Consider Insurance

In very uncertain times, particularly when larger issues such as international conflicts, disease outbreaks, or personal challenges like medical conditions or family issues may disrupt a cruise, it is especially important to consider travel insurance.

Choose a policy carefully, and read the terms and conditions to understand what situations are covered, how much the policy may pay for, and how payment will work, whether it is upfront coverage or reimbursement.

Cruise Ship Weather
Photo Credit: Toni Arsovski / Shutterstock

While traveling, all important insurance documentation should be available, including contact numbers for different situations, including how to arrange assistance, whom to call for reimbursement, and what paperwork, receipts, or other information may be necessary for a successful claim.

Working through an experienced cruise travel agent can be very helpful for choosing the appropriate insurance policy for a cruise, particularly if the sailing will visit a wide variety of ports where procedures could be very different than expected.

Always Be Flexible

Now, more than ever before in the cruise travel industry, it is critical for cruisers to be flexible with their travel plans and cruise expectations. There is great uncertainty in different ports of call, and cruise lines have a number of unprecedented struggles both behind the scenes as well as visible to guests.

From supply chain disruptions to crew staffing shortages to changing port protocols to delays in refits, dry docks, and new vessel deliveries, cruise lines are coping with these uncertain times as best they can, and doing everything possible to continue making memorable vacations for passengers.

Cruise travelers should be equally diligent about planning for their cruise to be adaptable to different situations and still make the most of every moment of their oceangoing vacation. While these may indeed be uncertain times, what is certain is that every cruise can still be an enjoyable, amazing vacation.

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