A vacation on a cruise ship can be a bit different than staying at a hotel or a resort. If you’re taking your first cruise, you’ve probably wondered if there are certain things not to do on a cruise.
I’ll share 35 things you should never do on a cruise, from basic cruise etiquette to safety on a cruise. I’ll even give you some helpful tips on how to not waste your money on a cruise ship!
1. Don’t throw anything overboard
One of the most important things to never do on a cruise is to throw anything overboard. This can be extremely dangerous, especially if it’s something flammable like a lit cigarette. Anything thrown overboard can be blown back towards a lower deck, potentially causing injury or fire.
Throwing something overboard is a fast track to getting yourself thrown off the ship. Not literally, but cruise ships do have jails (“the brig”) and the captain may force you off at the next port to find your own way home. If you have any prank-loving kids or teens, make sure they’re well aware of this rule before an impulsive decision ruins your vacation.
If you have a legitimate desire to throw something overboard, such as a loved one’s ashes, contact your cruise line to make arrangements. Even if you don’t get caught performing a DIY ceremony, Uncle Wilbur will end up blowing around the decks and not out on the water like you hoped.
2. Don’t enter crew-only areas
For safety reasons, the cruise line designates some sections of the ship as crew-only. There will be signs on the door clearly marking these areas so you really can’t “accidentally” stumble into one of them.
Really want to have a peek at some crew-only areas on a cruise ship? Check your daily newsletter. Many cruise lines offer guided behind-the-scenes tours, sometimes for free.
If you’re hoping to hook up with a crew member, remember that cruise line employees caught sneaking a guest into a crew area are usually fired from their position and disembarked at the next port.
3. Don’t sit, stand, or climb on railings
Deck and balcony railings on a cruise ship are dangerous to sit or stand on. Although it may look like a great place to take a selfie, you can easily slip or lose your balance on a moving vessel.
In 2019, a woman was removed from a Royal Caribbean ship and banned for life after she was spotted standing on her balcony railing to take a photo.
Don’t prop kids up on a railing, either. Losing your grip on a squirmy child or being bumped by another passenger could lead to a tragedy that’s completely avoidable.
You may also like: Cruising with Kids: 19 Essential Tips
4. Don’t reserve seats or loungers
It might seem like a great idea to get up early and put towels on your preferred loungers by the pool. Or maybe dinner’s running longer than you expected, so you leave before dessert and block off a row of seats at the comedy show for your entire family.
Please don’t reserve seats. It’s a huge breach of cruise etiquette, and other passengers will be angry with you. Or they’ll just move your stuff and sit there anyway. Fair warning.
5. Don’t disrespect the crew or staff
Although it’s basic good manners to be respectful to people, even when you disagree with them, arguing with a crew member on a cruise ship could get you in trouble. Remember that the cruise ship’s captain is both the judge and jury on board, and unruly or disrespectful behavior could potentially end your cruise.
In 2019, a man was kicked off a Norwegian cruise ship and left in the next port for arguing and being rude to a staff member.
You may have a legitimate grievance that makes you feel upset. If you have a complaint, remain calm and polite and ask to speak to a supervisor or visit the Passenger Services desk.
6. Don’t play loud music on your balcony
If you booked a balcony stateroom, odds are you paid a premium to enjoy a private area away from the crowds. So did all of the other passengers with nearby balconies. Don’t invade their privacy by blasting music on your veranda!
If listening to music is a key part of enjoying your balcony experience, pack some good headphones and your neighbors will thank you. I never travel without my Beats headphones – you can check the price on Amazon here.
7. Don’t pack dangerous items
Most people would never dream of taking a weapon on board a cruise ship. But there are lots of other things that are considered to be dangerous on a cruise.
You’ll probably want to pack a small power strip or block so you can charge your electronics. Make sure it doesn’t have a surge protector! Ship’s power isn’t grounded like electrical systems on land, so surge protection can actually lead to disruption of the electrical system or even cause a fire. Choose an approved charging station to pack for your cruise.
Other items that are considered dangerous to take on board a cruise ship include:
- Items with a heating element like a coffee maker, hot plate or clothes iron
- Candles or incense
- Large knives or large scissors
- Diver’s spears
- Some sporting equipment like baseball bats, golf clubs, or ski/trekking poles
- Heelys or hoverboards
Make sure to familiarize yourself with your cruise line’s list of prohibited items before you pack. If you accidentally pack a prohibited item, it will usually be confiscated by security. You may or may not get it back at the end of your cruise.
8. Don’t try to carry drugs on board
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try to sneak any illicit drugs onto a cruise ship. But with the recent decriminalization of marijuana in many locations, cruisers often think it’s fine to bring pot on board a cruise ship.
Cruise lines don’t allow passengers to bring marijuana on board, even if it’s legal in all the locations you’ll be cruising. This also applies to when you return to the ship from port. If you purchase marijuana in port, be sure to consume it before you return. Passengers pass through a security screening each time they board the ship.
Not only is marijuana not allowed on any cruise ship, most cruise lines also don’t allow CBD products, even if they’re just for topical use. If you use CBD products, check with your cruise line to see if it’s allowed.
9. Don’t skip washing or sanitizing your hands
It’s well-known that illness can spread quickly on a cruise ship. Take proper precautions to minimize your risk of catching a virus that could potentially ruin your vacation!
Although cruise ships have hand sanitizer stations in many locations including at the entrance of dining venues, there’s no substitute for thorough hand-washing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend scrubbing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating, after using the toilet, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
Being mindful of germs can not only protect you from catching something on your cruise, but it prevents the spread of germs to others if you’re sick but not showing symptoms yet.
Learn more: How to Avoid Getting Sick on a Cruise
10. Don’t touch food at the buffet
If the buffet on your ship is self-service, as they usually are, almost every food item will have a serving utensil to pick up the food and deposit it on your plate. Make sure you always use the utensils, and teach kids to do the same. Please don’t touch the food with your hands.
If you do touch buffet food and change your mind, put it on your plate anyway. You don’t have to eat it.
If a serving utensil falls on the floor or is missing, just ask for a new one. Don’t use a utensil from another dish. Many people have food allergies that can be life-threatening. Or they may have religious or ethical reasons to not want to have bits from one recipe making their way into another.
If you see another guest touching food (or coughing or sneezing on it), discreetly inform a dining staff member right away. You don’t have to make a scene, although some passengers definitely do!
11. Don’t show up late for dinner
Planning to make some new friends on your cruise by joining a set dining table? Showing up late to your assigned dining time is a surefire way to annoy both your new friends as well as the dining room staff.
A minute or two is understandable, but don’t turn up 20 minutes late to dinner. Cruise lines have varying policies around whether they will start dinner service without you or wait. Whatever they end up doing will annoy the other guests and throw off the timing of the dinner service.
If you think a shore excursion or other activity might cause you to be late to dinner, let the maître d’ know the day before. There may be an opening for a later seating, or you could plan to eat in another dining venue.
12. Don’t miss all-aboard
Each port day, there will be a specific all-aboard time when all passengers need to be back on the ship. It’s not the same as the sailing time! You can find the all-aboard time on your daily newsletter, as well as on signs posted just before you go onshore. Be sure that your watch is on ship’s time, because it sometimes varies from local time!
Tip: It’s a good practice, especially if you’re forgetful, to take a picture of the all-aboard time before you leave the ship.
Ship-sponsored shore excursions come with a promise that the ship will either wait for the group if it’s running late, or make arrangements to get you to the next port. If you booked your excursion through another company, or are doing some sightseeing on your own, the ship will not wait for you.
Plan to arrive back at the port at least an hour before all-aboard time. Traffic, a vehicle breakdown, or simply getting lost walking back in a foreign port can eat up much of that time. If the ship leaves without you, you’ll need to pay for your transportation home or to the next port.
13. Don’t be late getting tender tickets
In some ports, cruise ships are unable to dock at a pier. Sometimes a harbor won’t be deep enough to accommodate a large ship, or there are other ships already in port and there simply isn’t room. In these cases, the cruise ship will provide tenders, smaller boats that ferry passengers to shore.
If you don’t have a ship-sponsored shore excursion at a tender port, you’ll usually have to pick up a tender ticket for a specific time (tender tickets are free of charge). Watch your daily newsletter for the location and time to get your tender tickets.
On a recent Bahamas cruise, we arrived in port at 11 AM. Many of the passengers who didn’t read the newsletter weren’t able to get off the ship until after 3 PM, giving them only a couple of hours to spend in port. If you’re visiting a tender port, be sure to pick up your tickets early to get the best tender time.
14. Don’t smoke or vape in the wrong places
For those who smoke or vape, there are designated smoking areas on your cruise ship. Ask any crew member if you’re not sure where they are. Some ships have indoor smoking areas, and others only allow smoking in specific areas on deck.
Smoking, and even vaping, are generally not allowed in cruise ship staterooms or on balconies. Currently, Princess Cruises allows vaping in staterooms but not on balconies. Costa Cruises allows smoking and vaping on balconies.
Cruise ships with casinos often allow smoking in the casino, sometimes only at designated machines. Rules about cigar and pipe smoking vary by company and by ship.
Don’t try to smoke on your balcony or in any other non-smoking area, even if no one seems to be around. Cruise ships have cameras everywhere, and you could be issued a hefty fine for noncompliance.
15. Don’t be late to meet your shore excursion group
Shore excursions run on a tight schedule, and showing up late (or unprepared) will annoy your fellow passengers and the guide, and can potentially throw off the timing of your excursion. Some tour groups will wait a few minutes for stragglers, but some will leave you behind. Good luck trying to get a refund!
Check the time and place to meet your group on your ticket and paperwork. The meeting time is often 15 minutes earlier than the scheduled tour time.
Tours that you book with outside companies will often meet a short (or not-so-short) walk from the ship. Give yourself plenty of time to get off the ship and deal with any security or immigration staff, in addition to the time it will take you to get to the meeting point.
If your tour includes free time on your own, be back to the meeting point before the scheduled time. Being late is not only rude, but it causes unnecessary stress on your tour guide who needs to get you all back to the ship on time.
Tip: Read your shore excursion paperwork carefully, and be prepared with the items you may be asked to bring. If it specifies to wear your swimsuit or comfortable walking shoes, you should do so. If your guide has to find a place for you to change into your suit or if the group has to wait as you hobble along the cobblestones in heels, it’s taking away from the tour time that everyone paid for.
16. Don’t miss muster drill
The muster drill or safety demonstration is held on the first day of your cruise to familiarize passengers with safety procedures in the unlikely event of an emergency. Crew members will instruct guests on the signal that is used in an emergency, where to meet (the “muster station”), and the use of life jackets.
The muster drill is mandatory, and crew will take attendance. If you miss muster drill because of a late arrival or any other reason, you’ll be invited to a makeup drill. Don’t miss the second one! Passengers have been disembarked at the next port for skipping the makeup muster drill. Check your daily newsletter for the muster drill’s time and location.
There are no exceptions to the rule. Even if you’re cruising several back-to-back voyages, you have to show up for muster drill at the beginning of each sailing. Kids (even babies), and persons with mental disablilities or developmental delays also need to attend the drill, even if their parent or guardian feels they won’t understand the information.
17. Don’t remove automatic gratuities
If your cruise line has an automatic gratuity program, where tips are automatically charged to your account each day and distributed to staff, you may be tempted to opt out.
Some cruisers say they would prefer to tip individual staff members based on their service. Others profess not to believe in tipping culture or just don’t feel like spending the money.
Regardless of your reasoning, removing automatic gratuities causes many members of the ship’s crew to lose out on a large portion of their expected income. Some behind-the-scenes crew members receive autograts. Even though you’ll never meet them to tip them in person, their work contributes to the enjoyment of your cruise.
Still think you shouldn’t have to tip? Some cruise lines make it known to staff which guests have opted out of paying gratuities, so you won’t be able to fly under the radar. If you really have an objection to tipping culture, some cruise lines occasionally include gratuities as part of a sale. Some all-inclusive cruise lines don’t require or encourage tipping at all.
18. Don’t forget to put your phone in airplane mode
Unless you want to risk coming home to a huge cell phone bill, be sure to put your phone in airplane mode at sailaway. You won’t always have access to cell service at sea, but if you do it will be charged at incredibly high rates, often $3-6 per minute.
Sending and receiving text messages is also expensive, and you’ll have no control over incoming messages. Play it safe and use airplane mode. You’ll still be able to access the ship’s WiFi if you have an internet package, or just to use the cruise line’s onboard app.
If you need to stay in touch, apps that work via the internet like FaceTime, WeChat, and iMessage are a less-expensive solution. Use them with your internet package or pay for ship’s WiFi by the minute. Or, use these apps for free in port by connecting to a free WiFi hotspot or free internet in a café.
Learn more: How to Text on a Cruise Ship for Free
19. Don’t pack all of your clothes in your suitcase on the last night
Most cruise passengers opt to pack their large suitcases the night before disembarkation. Crew will pick up your luggage and it will be waiting for you at the terminal the next morning. Remember to set aside an outfit (including shoes!) for disembarkation day along with any toiletries you might need before bed and in the morning.
You’ll occasionally see a passenger leaving the ship at disembarkation barefoot or wearing just their PJs. Odds are, they packed all their clothes the night before!
20. Don’t open your balcony door and your cabin door at the same time
Unless you want a mini-tornado in your stateroom, don’t open your cabin door when your balcony door is open. Cruise lines deliver lots of paper to passengers each day, from the daily newsletter to shore excursion tickets. All that paper will fly everywhere if you open both doors!
It’s a good idea to keep your balcony door closed, except when you’re entering or exiting the balcony. Not only will you avoid a windstorm in your cabin, but the air-conditioning system will be able to work effectively for your room as well as the neighboring staterooms.
21. Don’t feel like you need to take ship-sponsored excursions
Although ship-sponsored shore excursions guarantee that you’ll make it back to the ship (or the next port) if your tour is late, you don’t need to book your excursions through the cruise line.
Reputable tour companies like Viator and Get Your Guide offer shore excursions that are very popular with cruise passengers, often at a much lower price than you’ll pay for a tour you book with the cruise line.
Tour operators live by their reputation, and guides will do everything in their power to get you back to the ship on time. Causing a group of tourists to miss their ship would be a PR nightmare for a tour company!
Tip: If you choose to explore the port or the surrounding area on your own, be sure to always have a way to get back to the ship. Get a business card from your taxi driver, or ask how much they charge to wait while you sightsee.
22. Don’t leave a mess in your room
Cruise ship room stewards have a tough job. Don’t make it harder for them by leaving a mess in your stateroom! Although you don’t need to clean your room yourself each day, a few simple steps can make a big difference in your steward’s ability to do their job efficiently.
Even on a short cruise, make sure you unpack and stow your large suitcases under the bed (or in the closet if they won’t fit). Especially in a small stateroom like an inside cabin, leaving your luggage on the floor can make it difficult for your steward to make your bed.
Place shoes you aren’t wearing in the closet, and put dirty clothes in a bag or travel laundry basket instead of in a pile on the floor. Your stateroom steward will appreciate your courtesy.
23. Don’t book a teeth whitening treatment early in the cruise
Many cruises offer teeth whitening in their spa, and discounted pricing can make this really tempting. Brightening your smile when you have plenty of free time sounds like a great idea, right?
If you do decide to go for a teeth whitening treatment, just be sure to do it near the end of your cruise. Many passengers report tooth and gum sensitivity that can last several days.
With all of the delicious food and chilled cocktails you can enjoy on a cruise, don’t risk not being able to enjoy your treats by whitening your teeth at the beginning of your cruise vacation.
24. Don’t drink too much
Not drinking too much alcohol is great advice in general, but it’s especially important on a cruise ship. Lowered inhibitions can cause people to do dangerous things. On a ship miles out at sea is not the best place for risky behavior!
Ever wonder why it seems that there’s always a news report of someone falling overboard from a cruise ship? Although sometimes these incidents involve a domestic argument or a person taking their own life, many people who fall overboard do so after drinking too much.
Cruise ship railings are high enough that a person acting responsibly can’t just trip and fall off the edge. But an alcohol-impaired person who decides to climb a structure on the ship can easily fall into the water.
Play it safe and limit your alcohol consumption. Even if you feel the need to get your money’s worth from your beverage package, pace yourself and be sure to eat regular meals. Avoid the all-you-can-drink shore excursions or resort day passes in port and take a break from drinking.
Limiting your alcohol is also a great way to avoid gaining weight on a cruise. Those empty calories can add up fast!
25. Don’t only eat at the buffet
Cruise ships are famous for their all-you-can eat buffets, but the buffet isn’t the only place you can eat on a cruise ship! Buffets are great if you want to try a little bit of everything, but they’re often noisy and very crowded.
There’s always a complimentary main dining room available for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with free and for-a-fee specialty venues. Your ship may even offer balcony dining, perfect for a romantic evening or special occasion.
Make it a point to try several of the other dining options on your ship. The main dining rooms offer more elegant surroundings and elevated service, and the made-to-order offerings at the poolside grill often taste much better than burgers and hot dogs sitting under the buffet’s heat lamps. You might find some new favorites and never want to return to the buffet!
26. Don’t put valuables in your checked luggage
If you’re checking your larger bags with the porters before your cruise or the night before disembarkation, don’t pack any valuables or medications in that luggage.
Your checked bags won’t be in a secure area the entire time they’re out of your sight. On embarkation day, your luggage is stored below deck and will be placed outside of your stateroom door later on. When you retrieve your bags after your cruise, they’ll be waiting for you at the port in an area accessible to all passengers.
Don’t risk losing your valuables or your necessary prescriptions. Instead, pack all of these items in a carry on bag that you have in your possession at the start and end of your cruise.
27. Don’t expect to win at the casino
Do you enjoy playing slot machines or visiting the poker tables at land-based casinos? If so, you’re probably looking forward to visiting the casino on your cruise. But beware: the odds of you striking it rich in a cruise ship casino are much less than on land (where the odds aren’t that great in the first place).
In the US, casino gambling is regulated by each state’s gaming authority. Not so on a cruise ship! In international waters, cruise casinos’ house rules for table games often put the player at more of a disadvantage than is allowed on land.
As for slots, your experience may vary, but many players report that they’re far less lucky playing slot machines in a cruise ship casino versus on land. Anecdotally (as well in my own experience), slots seem to pay out best on the first night and the last night of a cruise.
If you enjoy gaming, by all means visit the ship’s casino! Just realize that gambling there may be even more risky than it is on land.
28. Don’t buy art at the auctions as an investment
Mr. SBC has had a side business for almost ten years buying and selling art and antiques. What does he often see at auctions on land, selling for super-low prices? Art pieces from cruise ship art auctions (they’re always marked on the back with one of the major cruise ship auction companies).
If you fall in love with a print or painting and the price is right, by all means buy it. But don’t expect that the value of the piece will be in line with what you paid for it, or that it will appreciate over time.
29. Don’t forget to make a future cruise deposit
If you find that you really enjoy the cruise line you’re sailing with, don’t forget to sign up for a future cruise deposit for your next cruise. For a small percentage of the price of a cruise, you’ll receive on board credit for either your current or next cruise, as well as a credit in the amount you deposited for your next cruise.
You won’t need to actually book your next cruise right away, although the staff can certainly help you with that if you want. Most cruise lines will give you at least a couple of years to book your future cruise, and will refund your deposit if you don’t use it.
Make sure you take advantage of this offer on board, because it won’t be available once you leave the ship.
30. Don’t try to sneak alcohol aboard
Frugal cruisers might be tempted to sneak alcohol on a cruise ship to avoid paying the high cost of drinks on board. Although there are plenty of products designed to smuggle alcohol on a cruise, cruise line security staff are trained to look out for this and will confiscate any alcohol they find.
You probably won’t get in too much trouble if you’re caught with alcohol hidden in your suitcase, but you may get a stern warning and you’ll definitely have your drinks and their containers taken from you.
To save some money and not risk the embarrassment of getting in trouble for not following the rules, familiarize yourself with what drinks your cruise line will permit you to carry on. My article How to Bring Your Own Drinks on a Cruise explains the rules for each cruise line.
31. Don’t ignore symptoms of illness or seasickness
If you’re sick on the first day of your cruise, you’ll have to disclose that at embarkation. The cruise line’s screening program will determine if your symptoms make you too much of a risk to sail.
But what if you start to feel ill once you’re at sea? If it’s just a mild cold, you’ll be glad you packed some OTC meds in your first aid kit.
Read more: How to Make a Cruise First Aid Kit
Visit the medical office on board if you feel like you’re coming down with something serious. Not only can they prescribe you something to make you feel a little better, but they can screen you to see if you’ll need to stay in your room while you’re sick. Cruise lines take communicable illnesses very seriously!
Also see the ship’s medical staff if you experience seasickness that isn’t responding to any remedies you may have packed. Don’t torture yourself and just hope the feeling will pass.
32. Don’t ignore the daily newsletter
I’ve mentioned the importance of reading the newsletter each day to find out when the muster drill will be, where to pick up tender tickets and what time all-aboard will be for days in port.
But the newsletter has even more valuable info inside! It will list all of the activities and special events on board for the next day, along with opening and closing times for the dining venues and shops. The newsletter will often contain flyers for spa and laundry discounts that are good for a limited window of time.
If your cruise line has formal nights, you’ll find out which evenings will be formal in the newsletter. Don’t get turned away at the main dining room because you didn’t notice that it’s formal night!
33. Don’t block the elevator door
It may seem like an obvious rule of etiquette, but blocking the elevator door or rushing in before exiting passengers have left the elevator seems to be a worse problem on cruise ships than on land. Sometimes I wonder if many cruise passengers hail from a mysterious land where elevators don’t exist!
Be polite and observe elevator etiquette. If your kids will be walking around the ship on their own, remind them of the rules. Many otherwise well-behaved kids might not realize how to properly enter and exit an elevator if they don’t often ride them on their own. They also might not realize that entering an elevator dripping wet from the pool likely will annoy the other guests they’re dripping on.
Tip: if you’re only traveling up or down a couple of decks, just take the stairs. You’ll help keep the elevators less crowded and you’ll have the added benefit of toning your legs and burning a few extra calories.
34. Don’t forget to enroll your kids in the kids’ club
Cruise line kids’ clubs are one of the factors that can make a cruise an excellent value for vacation. Most cruise lines that cater to families offer supervised activities for youngsters, and it’s usually included in the cost of your cruise fare.
Kids’ clubs separate kids into age groups and offer appropriate games, theme parties, sports and other activities in a safe, supervised area staffed by youth counselors.
If you have a baby or toddler, check your cruise line’s website for minimum ages and whether your child is required to be potty trained.
You’ll likely need to register the kids on the first day of your cruise, so look in the newsletter for times or just head down to the club.
Tip: Older teens might not want to sign up for the kids’ club, but encourage them to at least visit once on embarkation day. It’s the best place for them to find new friends early on in the cruise.
35. Don’t share your drink package (especially with minors!)
Did you purchase an unlimited beverage package or receive one as a free perk? Don’t think that you can share your benefit with others. If staff catches you sharing your drink package, the cruise line can revoke your package for the rest of the cruise, with no refund.
Cruisers buying one drink package for their group and then sharing the unlimited drinks had become such a problem that many cruise lines now require all adults in a stateroom or on the same reservation to also purchase a package if one person does.
Some cruise lines cap the number of alcoholic drinks a passenger can order in one day. Princess Cruises allows each guest 15 drinks per day with their beverage package.
Don’t even think about sharing your drink package with your teenager. Most cruises that embark from a US port require guests to be 21 to drink alcohol on board, even if the drinking age is lower in the countries you’re visiting. (Some cruise lines, including Norwegian and Crystal, allow ages 18-20 to drink beer or wine with parental consent in some regions.)
Penalties for providing alcohol to an underage person on a cruise ship could range from a warning to termination of the beverage package to disembarkation at the next port.
Do you have any other tips about what not to do on a cruise ship? Have you ever violated one of these rules? Let me know in the comments!
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