Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Cruise

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Whether you are a seasoned cruise planner who’s been around the world or you are planning a cruise for the first time, there are always things to be learned.

Many details go into cruise planning. If you aren’t aware of them, you can get caught off guard. We go through the most common mistakes people make and let you know how to avoid them.

Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Cruise

Mistakes happen innocently enough. Sometimes, it is due to inexperience. If this is your first cruise trip, you may not know what to expect or how to go about navigating all the details.

You may not know someone who can guide you through the process to help you make the best decision or to inform you of what pitfalls to avoid.

Even the most experienced travelers still make mistakes. Sometimes, details are forgotten, things are left behind, or items are overlooked. Whether this is your first cruise or your thirtieth, we go over what some of the most common mistakes are, how to avoid them, and how to fix them, if possible.

Selecting the Wrong Cruise Ship

There are over 350 cruise ships and counting for you to choose from each season. It can be overwhelming to find one that is perfect for you and your cruise itinerary.

Cruise ships aren’t a one-size-fits-all type of experience. Before you begin planning your cruise, consider what you want in a cruise ship and what your expectations are.

Docked Miami Cruise Ships
Photo Credit: EQRoy /

For example, a young couple on their honeymoon may not want to be on a family cruise with children running about. They may want something more romantic, secluded, and serene. Noisy children may detract from the romantic experience of sailing on the open seas and watching the sunset with cocktails in hand.

You need to be realistic as to what type of experience you are looking for. With so much variety, there are cruise lines to suit everyone’s needs, and they are continually expanding to suit their clientele better, including uncovering niche markets.

Booking the Wrong Cabin Type

The staterooms on a cruise ship are different from hotel accommodations. They are smaller in size and are created for efficiency rather than opulence. There are ships that offer larger staterooms with additional space, but they tend to cost more.

If you are new to cruising, think about booking an ocean view stateroom, which would allow you a view of outside in the event you become somewhat claustrophobic.

Cruise lines will outline dimensions for their staterooms directly on their website. Some will post images or allow you to take a virtual tour of the space.

Cruise Ship Balcony
Photo Credit: ackats / Shutterstock

You can select your cabin’s location so you can see how far it is from the stairs or elevator. You should also consider booking cabins that are located near activities that you’ll enjoy.

Cabins located on higher decks and those in the middle tend to cost more. If you book a suite for added space, these may still not be as large as those in hotels.

When booking a room, be sure there is ample room for everyone in your group. This is especially true for families. If you are taking your family, be sure to book early so you can get a large enough room. If you are splitting up cabins, make sure you are all in close proximity.

Not Booking Excursions Prior to Boarding

Excursions are a big part of the fun of being on a cruise. They allow you to explore new destinations, experience the culture, have fun, and even learn something new.

While at a port of call, you need to have a plan of where you want to go. This involves booking shore excursions. These often involve adventure experiences like kayaking, snorkeling, city/historic tours, beach breaks, water-based adventures, food tours, and other fun experiences.

Cruise Excursion
Photo Credit: Philip Schubert / Shutterstock

Each cruise line has a list of different activities to participate in while at various ports of call. However, you don’t necessarily need to book with the cruise line. There are other local vendors and third parties that have similar or even better offerings. You’ll probably get a more intimate experience and better pricing this way.

However, this will involve budgeting and planning. If you forget to budget or plan for it, you may end up scrambling for something to do. Therefore, you may not fully enjoy each cruise destination.

Shore excursions, no matter if it is with the cruise line or a third party, should be booked prior to the trip. Waiting too long may mean that you miss out on an experience of a lifetime. The most popular excursions tend to sell out quickly. 

You don’t have to book at each cruise port of call, though. You may want to take a self-guided tour, visit a local beach, or relax on the cruise ship.

Waiting Too Long to Make Entertainment/Dining Reservations

Modern cruise lines offer Broadway-caliber shows. They provide a one-of-a-kind experience, containing specialty dining and a variety of other amenities. However, don’t think that just because a cruise line has a lot of great options for dining that you can easily get in.

For larger ships, cruisers will need reservations for some onboard activities and entertainment. There are also dining facilities that quickly book up. Always plan ahead wherever you can so that you don’t miss out.

Carnival Cruise Dining Options Worth Paying For
Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive

Many times, reservations can be booked pre-cruise. Depending on which line you are booking with, reservations can often be made 90-120 days prior to boarding.

Worth Reading: Best Entertainment Options Onboard Cruise Ships

Keep in mind that prime times for dining and popular showtimes book up quickly. It is suggested that individuals reserve these times as soon as they are available using the online planner.

This not only goes for entertainment and food but for drinks as well. Purchasing a drink package beforehand may save you money prior to going on your cruise. Even some attractions may require reservations. It is always advisable to be proactive in your planning as much as possible.

Not Knowing What Is Included with Your Cruise

Cruises can offer amazing value for your money. One cruise fare set can provide access to a variety of dining venues, entertainment, fun, and onboard activities. However, you must consider that not everything is included in the price.

Contemporary cruise lines will include a small number of beverages and most dining venues. However, you will need to note that cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International don’t include lattes, soft drinks, or any alcohol in their fares.

There are specialty dining restaurants that have an extra cost on some cruise ships. If you eat at some of these locations, expect to pay extra.

Carnival Cruise Ship Lido
Photo Copyright: Cruise Hive

While many amenities are free of cost, not all of them may be included. Most cruises offer water slides, sports courts, mini-golf, rope courses, and outdoor activities at no additional cost. However, if you want to go on a 3D ride simulator, go bowling, or ride go-karts, there is an additional cost involved.

Spa treatments and thermal suites have fees as well. Signature productions will also cost extra.

Therefore, knowing what is and is not covered in your fee is important. It allows you to plan for activities that are included and budget extra for things you may want to partake in.

There is nothing more disappointing than wanting to do an activity only to discover that you don’t have the money for it after thinking it was included.

Always be sure that you are well-acquainted with what is covered in the original costs. This way, you will never be disappointed.

Forgetting the Online Check-In

While preparing for the cruise, always remember to check in at home. It only takes a few minutes of your time to complete, and it’s easy.

Each cruise line tends to have a smartphone app that allows you to complete the check-in. The paperwork needs to be done up to three days prior to embarkation.

Scarlet Lady in Miami
Photo Courtesy: Virgin Voyages

Basic information regarding your traveling party needs to be established, along with an account for any onboard spending. This process assigns you boarding times to regulate the passenger flow upon getting on board the cruise ship.

By completing this step ahead of time, you can avoid the obstacles that happen if you show up without completing it, making for an easier, more streamlined experience.

Not Planning to Arrive a Day Prior to Embarkation

Many people consider taking the first day’s flight the morning of the cruise. It makes sense in a practical way and in terms of budgeting. However, the largest mistake passengers commonly make is not properly arranging transportation to and from your cruise ship.

This is especially true if you are flying from a place where weather may affect your travel plans.

Most experts urge people to fly to the embarkation port a day prior to the cruise and book a hotel stay. The advantage is that you will not be rushing about during the day you are to leave. It also eliminates any chance of missing the ship due to disruptions in travel.

Carnival Cruise Line Embarkation
Photo Credit: JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

If you have ever traveled, you know that you have to expect delays. While we hope there are nothing more than minor blips, sometimes the trips will be rerouted or experience hour-long time gaps. As frustrating as that is, you need to plan for this possibility. Therefore, it is advised to leave early.

This way, even if there are delays, it won’t disrupt your whole trip. You will still reach the ship in plenty of time.

While on paper it may appear wasteful to rent a room for a night, would you rather spend the extra and arrive on time, or be out the money for the cruise ship because you missed it? Cruise ships have a schedule to keep, so they will leave without you.

Also Read: Tips to Embarking a Cruise Ship

When leaving the ship, do not book morning flights. Cruise ships are cleared between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. You will need to plan for an hour to get off the ship, plan for time to travel to the airport, and go through security.

These are just the basics when planning a cruise. They are the things that, in the back of our minds, we recognize but may forget about.

There are things that people may not know about, and these tips will come in handy as you plan for your trip. This opportunity should be enjoyable and be flawlessly executed for maximum enjoyment.

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