16 Things Cruise Ships Keep Hidden from Passengers

Vacationing on a cruise ship can be an exciting experience, especially if it’s your first time away from land. Still, there are plenty of things to keep in mind when preparing for a cruise, and not all of them are readily apparent. To help make planning your vacation a little bit easier, here’s a list of sixteen things that cruise ships don’t normally bring up.

1. Don’t Cancel Late

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Given the complexities of booking thousands of passengers for a single cruise, it’s understandable that cruise lines would want to charge those that decide to cancel at the last minute. Unfortunately, prospective passengers can expect to pay a heftier fee as the deadline to the trip approaches.

If you’re unsure about a cruise, make sure you check their cancellation policy before making any further commitments.

2. Booking Late has Advantages

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While cancelling at the last minute can be costly, it’s actually great for booking a cruise at a discounted price. Because cruises primarily target vacationers, it’s difficult to get people to fill in slots at the last minute, which means they’re more than happy to reduce the cost for any late customers.

If you want to save money and aren’t picky about your arrangements, try to wait until a couple of months before the cruise ship’s departure to book your trip.

3. Avoid Cruise Line Tour Guides

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Cruise ships often make deals with local tours to offer their services to vacationers. In order for the cruise to make money off the top though, they can mark up the price considerably. If you want a professional tour at your destination, it’s worth the extra hassle to make the arrangements yourself.

It might not be as streamlined as some cruise line services, but the savings can be significant.

4. Itineraries Aren’t Guarantees

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Try not to get too attached to the ship’s travel itinerary. For any number of reasons, not the least of which is unpredictable weather, ships can end up avoiding specific ports entirely. In these situations, you’ll be stuck on the ship for much longer than you previously expected, and often at no discount.

Of course, cruises have plenty of other offerings aside from specific destinations, but it’s important to keep your expectations in check.

5. Know What You’re Getting Into

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Cruise casinos can be a bit of a mixed bag, due to their lack of government oversight. Thanks to international waters, there is no gaming commission responsible for ensuring that cruise casinos are entirely legitimate.

Of course, there has to be the occasional big winner or else no one would bother to gamble on the ship, but that doesn’t mean everything is as honest as it should be.

6. Balconies Aren’t Worth It

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Your mileage may vary, but generally speaking, balcony cabins are not worth their cost. On average, a balcony cabin can be as much as twenty five percent more expensive than its basic counterpart. When you consider how little time you’ll spend in your room, given all of the other facilities the cruise ship has to offer, it’s easy to see how this can amount to an unnecessary expense. It’s also worth keeping in mind how much cruises will repeatedly charge you for little things, so any chance to save money shouldn’t go to waste.

Still, for those that do decide to pony up the extra cash for a balcony cabin, it’s worth making sure your view won’t be obstructed by life boats or a pool deck. And, of course, try not to be downwind of any smokers.

7. Inside Cabins Don’t Have Natural Light

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For those completely unfamiliar with cruise ships, the indoor cabins have no windows or natural light of any kind. This can be a little unnerving, so an easy trick is to turn on your television and set it to the bridge cam station. With this footage, you can approximate the view from a window and make the room a little more comfortable.

Just remember to turn off the sound before you go to bed and you’ll be able to enjoy a relaxing night of sleep.

8. Don’t Forget About Magnets

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One thing that people often forget while on a cruise ship is that cabins are almost entirely made of metal. This is great for anyone that uses magnets, as they can be placed virtually anywhere throughout the room. While on vacation, magnets are a great way of keeping track of important events, or a way for families to leave notes for one another when they go their separate ways.

9. Don’t Be Afraid of Generic Alternatives

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Cruise lines are more than happy to offer their customers brand name luxuries like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but it usually comes at an added cost. For those on a tighter budget, cruises also offer generic versions for free. Just make sure to do your research, as the cruise’s food offerings may not be perfectly mirrored on both sides of the ship.

Don’t be surprised if your favorite ice cream flavor is only found on one side of the ship.

10. Specialty Restaurants Can Get Costly

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A recent phenomenon, cruises have begun offering more lavish specialty restaurants on their ships as a response to the “foodie” craze. While the main dining room and buffets are free, these restaurants offer specific cuisines at a dramatically increased price. Of course, it’s still your vacation, so if you want to indulge in foreign delicacies, the opportunity is there.

For anyone more conscious of their spending though, these areas of the ship should be avoided. Just as it is with the Ben & Jerry’s example, it’s often better to go with the generic version if it means not paying the cruise more money.

11. Find a Designated Space

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Ships may be designed differently, but there are certain consistencies that you can depend on regardless of the cruise line you’re vacationing with. Once you’ve gotten settled in, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for your “designated space.” For families, this can be the daily meeting place, but for couples or solo passengers, this is the opportunity to find your favorite area of the ship.

As the crew are typically assigned to a specific area of the ship for the duration of the trip, it’s a great way for you to make friends with the people that will be servicing you for the remainder of the journey.

12. Don’t Worry About Missing Shows

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The entertainment on cruise ships can be worth the price of admission alone. After all, the smaller venues give performances a more intimate feeling than a traditional concert. Despite being a great experience though, there will come a time when you simply can’t get everything done that you want on the ship. When sacrifices need to be made for time, don’t be afraid to cross a couple of live shows off from your schedule.

These types of events will often be played on the ships channel in the room, allowing you to catch up on any events that you missed.

13. “Private Islands” Aren’t Really Private

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Despite how they’re portrayed by cruise lines, the truth is that “private islands” are private in name only. Once the ship has docked and unloaded thousands of passengers, any hope of peace and quiet that you had will quickly dissipate. If you’re genuinely interested in a secluded experience, the best option might be to skip these stops entirely and stick to the ship.

After everyone else has gone to relax on the “private” beach, you can enjoy the rest of the ship in genuine privacy.

14. Beware the Floating Petri Dish

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Spending a week in a tightly packed cruise ship is a good way to catch (or spread) a disease. It’s for this reason that cruise lines have, somewhat unfairly, developed a reputation for being “floating petri dishes.” The truth is that cruises are roughly as infectious as schools or hospitals, but that doesn’t mean you should be complacent with your hygiene.

Even if cruises aren’t as infectious as the media portrays them to be, dealing with an infection on the high seas isn’t going to be the highlight of anyone’s vacation. To that end, try to be mindful of your surroundings, and keep yourself as clean as possible.

15. Don’t Pack Too Much

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Given how tight the cabins get at sea, you should try to resist the temptation to pack more than your absolute bare minimum. Along a similar vein, research ahead of time if the cruise will have any specific nights that require formal wear. If you’re okay with skipping those nights in favor of a room service dinner, you can reduce the amount of packing even further.

While you might think that springing for a bigger room gives you more leeway, the truth is that you’ll be surprised at how quickly that extra space disappears over the course of a trip.

16. Check In After the Initial Rush

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If you want to look like a cruise veteran, the best thing to do is wait until after the initial rush of vacationers to get on the boat. If you check in too early, your room still won’t be ready, which means all you’ve done is put yourself in a position to lug your baggage around the ship. Instead, try to check in a couple of hours before departure, after the big push of passengers have already made it on board.

You’ll find it takes considerably less time to get settled in, and your room will be ready and waiting for you by the time you get there.