When you’re booking your first cruise, it’s so easy to make a mistake that costs you money or causes unnecessary hassle and stress. Let’s look at ten common cruise mistakes to avoid when booking your cruise vacation.
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1. Booking too many people in one stateroom
Cruise lines will show you their max capacity for any given stateroom when you’re deciding what room (or rooms) to book. Often, inside and oceanview cabins will show a capacity of four or even five passengers to a room.
If you’re a set of parents traveling with a couple of small kids and you’re on a budget, you might do just fine in an interior or oceanview stateroom. But four adults are going to feel pretty cramped! These rooms are usually much smaller than the average hotel room. Bathrooms are tiny on cruise ships as well, and most staterooms have just one closet.
Although a room might technically sleep four, remember that some of those beds will probably pull down from the wall or ceiling, or they’ll be a pull-out sofa. While those might be fine for kids, adults will probably prefer a much-comfier standard mattress.
If you’re looking to cut expenses by sharing one stateroom with family or friends, make sure you know how much space you’ll have before you book, and what the sleeping arrangements will be. You might end up deciding it’s worth it to book separate but adjoining cabins to give everyone a bit of breathing room.
Read more: Is an Interior Cabin Right for Your Cruise?
2. Cutting it too close with pre- and post-cruise travel
If you’re flying to the embarkation port city, it’s never a good idea to book your flight for the morning of embarkation day.
Flight delays and cancellations happen all the time. As a very frequent traveler (and former flight attendant) I can attest to this! If you don’t make it to the port on time for all-aboard, the cruise ship will leave without you.
I know that requesting an extra vacation or PTO day can be stressful, and many of us just don’t have too many vacation days to spare. Plus there’s the added expense of a hotel room the night before your cruise. But, you don’t want to take the chance that an unexpected delay will make you miss your first day of vacation, or even the entire cruise!
If you’re delayed, you can often meet up with the ship to join the cruise at the next port (at your own expense, of course).
But depending on the itinerary, especially with some cruises that begin or end in US ports, sometimes you won’t be able to join the cruise once it leaves, even if you’re able to fly to the next port.
So before you book your cruise, make sure you can head into town at least the day before, and budget for pre-cruise accommodations. You’ll be able to enjoy a relaxing morning in the city, and you won’t be stressed out worrying that you’ll miss the ship.
When booking a flight back home after your cruise, try to pick a flight that leaves after 12PM at the earliest. Even if your ship is due to arrive in port at 7AM, port authorities still need to clear the ship for disembarkation. You may not be able to get off the ship right away after it’s cleared, unless you have priority disembarkation. Once you’re off the ship, you might be battling rush-hour traffic to get to the airport for an early flight.
Instead, choose an afternoon or early-evening flight. Most cruise lines offer a post-cruise tour of the city with airport transfer, so you can enjoy your last day of vacation without worrying about what to do with your suitcases.
3. Not looking for extra perks through a travel agency
A good cruise travel agency will usually offer added perks for booking through them, on top of any sales or specials that the cruise line might offer.
You’re not going to find any super deals or rock-bottom pricing compared to what you’ll find by booking directly through the cruise line. You actually won’t find much of a difference in pricing between what the cruise lines offer and what travel agencies advertise. But, you can often get some valuable freebies that can save you money!
Travel agencies operate as value-added sellers. They work by advertising cruises, along with their services, in exchange for a commission from the cruise line for each cruise that they sell.
As an incentive to book with them, many cruise travel agencies offer extra perks to cruisers, above and beyond what the cruise lines offer when you book directly with them.
I always book through a trusted travel agency when I’m planning a cruise (I like CruiseDirect because they don’t charge a booking fee.) Here are some of the perks I’ve enjoyed from booking through a cruise travel agent:
- Extra on board credit – I usually get about $50-400 in OBC per cruise (it often depends on the stateroom category).
- Cash back after the cruise
- Free or reduced deposits – this can often save you hundreds of dollars!
4. Letting the cruise line pick your room
Most cruise lines’ lowest fares for any given stateroom category are guarantee fares. This means that the cruise line chooses your room for you from its available inventory. You often won’t know where your room is until days before the cruise sails.
This means your room can be anywhere on the ship – below a busy restaurant, near the nightclub or right by the theater. For first-time cruisers, you might not know if this noise is going to bother you.
You might also be prone to seasickness and not know it yet! For these reasons, I always recommend that new cruisers pick a room on a lower or mid-level deck, mid-ship (not forward or aft). This area will have the least amount of motion if you encounter rough seas.
Also check the deck plans before choosing a room to see what’s around you (like noisy elevators). Most importantly, check the decks above and below you to see if there are entertainment venues or restaurants on those floors near your stateroom. Loud sounds will carry through the ceiling or floor.
5. Choosing when you cruise because of the cheapest price
Prices for the same exact cruise can vary significantly depending on the time of year. Just like all other sectors of the travel industry, cruising operates on the principle of supply and demand.
You might get a fantastic deal on an Alaska cruise in late September, but it’s probably going to be a wet and chilly vacation. A Caribbean cruise in October might be cheap, but it’s right at the peak of hurricane season.
Want to cruise when everyone else does? You’ll pay a premium, because you’re choosing an in-demand time of the year.
I once booked a cruise to Bermuda with two-and-a-half days in port. I picked the sailing date because it was a bit cheaper than the other weeks in June, but I couldn’t figure out why. It was right at the beginning of peak season, and I knew the weather would probably be perfect. I was flexible on which week we’d cruise to Bermuda, so of course I jumped on that bargain fare!
However, once we were on board, I found out that for our first full day in port everything would be closed for a national holiday. No wonder this was the cheapest week to cruise!
If you find a super-cheap cruise price compared to the same cruise on a different date, do a little research to find out why the cruise line might be offering a less expensive fare. Googling “best month to cruise to (your destination)” can often give you some insight on why cruise fares are higher and lower at different times.
Read more: How to Save Money on Cruises
6. Not checking airfare costs to and from the cruise ports
You might find a great deal on a cruise, but if it starts or ends in a city that’s expensive to fly to, it might not be as much of a bargain as you thought. For example, I live in the northeastern US, and I’m often tempted to book cruises that embark from San Juan, Puerto Rico. But I never have, because airfare to San Juan is usually really expensive compared to flights to Miami or Tampa.
If you’re like me and would rather put more of your travel budget toward the cruise and spend less of it on airfare, check the price of flights to all the cruise ports in the area before you book your cruise.
Sometimes you can save lots of money on airfare by looking at cruises from a port you hadn’t considered. Before you put down your cruise deposit, take a few minutes to research how much airfare will cost you to get to and from various cruise port cities.
7. Not buying travel insurance
Spending the money to buy travel insurance might sound like an extra expense that you don’t want to add to your cruise budget. But spending a little bit extra to have travel insurance on a cruise will not only give you peace of mind, but it could save you tens of thousands of dollars (or more) if an unexpected injury or illness strikes when you’re on vacation.
I’ll be honest. When I was younger, I traveled around the world for years without buying travel insurance. I was lucky, but I also didn’t realize what happens if you’re sick or injured in port, or even if you become seriously ill on the ship. In most cases, your health coverage from your employer or your government won’t cover you at sea or in a foreign country.
If you feel like you can’t afford to buy travel insurance for your cruise, imagine how you’d feel if you suddenly had a huge medical bill to pay! You may remember the story of an Atlanta couple who were trapped in Progreso, Mexico in 2019 when one of them had a medical emergency during their cruise. They didn’t have travel insurance, and the hospital refused to let them leave until they paid the $14,000 bill in cash.
For a tiny fraction of that cost, they could have purchased a travel insurance policy that covers medical expenses on vacation.
A good comprehensive travel insurance policy will also cover lost or stolen luggage, expenses relating to flight delays or cancellations, and might even reimburse you for costs if you’re unable to take your cruise because of illness.
Not all travel insurance policies are created equal, so be sure to read what’s included in any plan you consider and what isn’t. I use World Nomads because their plans are affordable and you can choose the level of coverage you want based on your situation.
(You can get an instant quote on travel insurance using the form below. They don’t ask for an email or phone number to give you a quote – all you need to provide is what you see on this page.)
8. Picking the wrong cruise line
Cruise lines are not all the same! A family-friendly Disney cruise is going to be a much different experience than a Holland America cruise that caters to older travelers. Cruisers who are used to high-end vacations might feel more at home on a premium or luxury cruise line, versus a budget-friendly Carnival or Norwegian cruise. (Although booking a suite in Norwegian’s enclave The Haven is pretty exclusive.)
Think about what kind of vacation you enjoy, and who’ll be traveling with you. If you’re taking the kids or grandkids, make sure that there’s a kids’ club on board so you can all enjoy time socializing with peers. The major cruise lines that cater to families all have amazing kids’ clubs, but Disney (no big surprise here) has an especially good one. They’re open longer than most clubs, and they offer lunch and dinner times so adults can enjoy kid-free dining.
Traveling with tweens or teens? Many of the newer ships from mainstream cruise lines like Norwegian Encore, Carnival’s Mardi Gras (this one’s not launching until 2021, but many of us won’t be cruising until then), and Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas have lots of attractions to keep them busy. Waterslides, rock-climbing walls, go-kart tracks and arcades will make older kids happy during sea days or after dinner on a busy day in port.
Choosing the right cruise line for adults comes down to what you’re looking to get out of your vacation. Budget travelers will enjoy the low price points on Carnival and Norwegian, with the option to trade up for a bit more luxury. Select cabins on Norwegian cruises give you the option to pick Free at Sea perks, and Carnival is one of the few cruise lines with a priority access program, Faster To The Fun, that gives you many of the same perks as high-level members in their rewards program. Or you can just enjoy the value of rock-bottom pricing with activities and meals included.
Cruisers who have a little more wiggle room in their budgets might enjoy a cruise on a premium cruise line. Princess, Holland America, and Celebrity all fall into this category. On these ships, you’ll find more elevated service, a better crew-to-passenger ratio, and formal nights where passengers dress to impress (you can always opt out from formalwear on those evenings by not having dinner in a main dining room).
Vacationers who want an upscale, all-inclusive experience should opt for a luxury cruise line. Some of the best are Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Seabourn, and Crystal Cruises. If you’re looking for the ultimate in fine dining, luxurious accommodations, and personalized service, these are the cruises you should be looking at. Some even include gratuities, shore excursions, wine and cocktails, and more in the cruise fare.
Super-active cruisers will want to look at expedition cruising. If you’d much rather hike, kayak, or bushwhack through the jungle than take a bus tour in port, expedition cruising is for you. It’s not cheap, but many expedition cruises are all-inclusive so they’re actually a good value for the money. Plus, expedition cruises often have options for various levels of fitness. On my last expedition cruise with UnCruise Adventures I had several choices each day, from a leisurely beach walk hosted by a knowledgeable guide, to a self-guided kayak adventure, to an all-day hiking expedition to explore the top of a glacier.
9. Not realizing how far attractions are from some cruise ports
Some cruise ports are located right near a downtown area, and you can walk right from the port to sightsee, shop, or even relax on the beach. But many cruise ports are in industrial areas far from any attractions, and you’ll have to budget for transportation to and from places you want to visit.
For example, Caribbean cruises often visit Freeport or Nassau in the Bahamas. In Nassau, you’ll exit the ship right downtown where you can walk to shops, restaurants, and beautiful beaches. Freeport’s port, however, is in an industrial area at least a 30-minute drive away from anywhere you’d want to spend the day.
If you’re planning an ocean cruise in Europe, you might have Paris, London, or Berlin on your itinerary. But to see any of these cities, you’ll have a long journey ahead of you when you get to the port. Ocean-going cruise ships can’t actually dock anywhere near these inland cities, so you’ll need to book an expensive coach tour or take an hours-long train ride to get there.
There are plenty of European cruise ports that let you off right where the action is. Kotor, Valetta, and Tallinn are some fun ports where you can walk straight from the ship to sightsee.
If you’re considering a cruise that visits a port that you’re unfamiliar with, find the cruise port on Google Maps and see how far away popular attractions are from where your ship will dock.
Tip: If a stop is a tender port, the cruise line will tender passengers (for free) from the ship to shore. Tenders usually drop you off in a tourist-friendly part of the city.
10. Forgetting to check back to see if prices have dropped
If the price of your cruise drops after you’ve booked, you can sometimes get a credit for the difference as a refund to your card or as on board credit. Or, you might be able to get a stateroom upgrade at no extra cost.
If the price goes down for your exact stateroom category, call your travel agent and ask them to contact the cruise line. Or, you can call the cruise line yourself if you booked directly.
Cruise lines don’t always honor price drops for booked guests, but it’s definitely worth a try! You’ll have better luck if you haven’t yet made final payment, so keep checking before you pay off your cruise.
I like to use the free ShipMate app to monitor price changes for me. You just enter your upcoming cruise and turn on the Price Alert feature. They’ll email you if there’s any change to the price of the cruise for your stateroom category.
Here are more resources you’ll want to check before booking your cruise:
- How to Save Money on Cruises
- Eight Things That Will Surprise First Time Cruisers
- Pros and Cons of Taking a Short Cruise (2-5 Days)
- Is an Interior Cabin Right for Your Cruise?
- A Cruise Glossary: Cruise Terms You Should Know
If you’re an experienced cruiser, what mistakes do you regret making when booking a cruise? First-timers, what other questions do you have about booking to avoid making an expensive mistake? Let me know in the comments below!
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