Cruise Tips: A Revealing Guide From A Former Cruise-Ship Employee

When I was working on cruise ships there was an unwritten code about things we were not supposed to discuss with passengers.

I always thought one day, when I was no longer in their employment, I love to provide some sound advice for would-be cruisers, so they would be able to get real value for their money and stay away from trouble when they set off on their dream vacation.

So, here is list of cruise tips developed after five years of working as a youth counselor for one of the top cruise lines in the world.

Water on Cruise Ships

There is no way around this: the water on cruise ships is bad. The drinking water doesn’t taste good, and it likely won’t quench your thirst.

The water in the shower will dry your hair and your skin. Normally, this will not affect you, if you are on a ship for only a couple of weeks tops. But if you have problems with dry skin, I recommend you wash your face and hair with bottled water.

As for the drinking water, a couple of dollars per bottle won’t crush your wallet, but they will preserve your health.

Food on Cruise Ships

The bulk of what you eat on a cruise comes from the freezer. For fresh, healthy meals I suggest you eat at local restaurants during ports of call.

Cruise employees know the best restaurants at every port, and they jump at the opportunity to have a great healthy meal prepared with fresh local ingredients.

Plus, whatever Greek buffet that might be offered on board will never compare to what you can have at one of the tavernas in Mykonos or Athens. In a way, if you don’t eat off the ship, you will be depriving yourself of one of the greatest pleasures of traveling.

Shore Excursions

I am not the biggest fan of port tours, but if you want to go to a place that is more than half an hour away from the port and you want to guarantee your being back on time for sailing, you should book a shore excursion through your cruise ship. Ships won’t wait for you and your family, but they will for shore excursions they sell.

For example, if you are in Livorno and want go to Florence, and you try to navigate the train yourself the you will have a couple of hours in the city at best.

If you want to rent a car, it might cost 100 Euro, plus gas, and there is no guarantee you will make it back to the ship on time, especially since traffic is unpredictable.

Day tours that provide lunch are typically a good bet, since they allow you to take a break from fast-paced sightseeing. Plus, they are an excellent choice for people traveling alone, as they create more opportunities to socialize over a relaxed meal.

If you prefer to do your own thing and not join a group tour, the best choice is to be on an “on your own tour” where the tour bus will simply drop you off and pick you up at a strategic spot near all the attractions.

That allows you plenty of time, say, for shopping, if you’d rather browse shops than visit museums included on a set itinerary.

Kids’ Clubs on Cruise Ships

Whatever your travel agent is telling you about kids’ club timetables, fees, and admittance ages, always double check the cruise company’s website (or pick up the phone) to make sure you got the right information.

Most kid’s clubs will not take kids under 3 who are not potty trained, and you will need to hire a babysitter. You will have to take this into account while you are budgeting your trip.

Packing for Cruise Ships

Even if you are traveling through warm areas in the summer, the air can get cold at sea, so, it is not a bad idea to pack some warm clothes – certainly some pants and a sweater or jacket.

Women would be well advised to leave most of their high heels at home. Other than a formal night, there will be few places to wear them, and you should certainly pack some comfy shoes for sightseeing day trips.

Europe in the summer, Hawaii, and the Caribbean call for very summery packing. The clothes that you’ll need in port during the day will be the coolest you can lay your hands on. Long sleeves and the like will most likely have you sweating all day.

Be sure to consult your cruise line’s website and read through all pre-departure documents, so you’ll be prepared for any dress codes, costume parties or white parties (Greek-themed events where everyone wears white) on board the ship.

Motion Sickness on Cruise Ships

Modern ships tend to be pretty stable. Unless you are sailing from the California coast out to Hawaii or through hurricane-prone territory during the bad season, sea sickness will likely not be a problem.

If you know you have a problem, you can ask for pills which will generally be available from staff and are supposed to be taken before as a preventive measure.

Highlights of Cruising

To end on a positive note, here are some of my favorite things to do on a cruise:

  • Sipping glass of wine on deck at sunset, which tastes much better in good company.
  • Listening to a jazz concert at one of the lounges, when the orchestra musicians come to jam and relax after the big show.
  • Eating a fabulous dinner at the best restaurant on board with four amicable waiters and one sommelier attending to your every need.
  • Enjoying an outdoor jacuzzi at sunset.
  • Working out in a fitness room with grand sea views, and then relaxing with a steam or spa treatment.
  • Reading a great book on the sun deck. (Ship libraries may surprise you, too.)
  • Napping with a delicious sea breeze coming from your stateroom balcony. (Yes, absolutely do get a balcony if you can!)

And the list could go on and on. Cruises can be wonderful experiences. You just need to know a thing or two, in order to be able to enjoy them to the fullest.

Happy cruising, or as I used to say in the port terminals back in the day, “Welcome aboard!”

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When I was working on cruise ships there was an unwritten code about things we were not supposed to discuss with passengers.

Author Veronica Pamoukaghlian is a writer, filmmaker, former cruise ship staffer and travel blogger. Read more of her cruise tips at The Wander Life and follow her on Twitter at @verozoneuy. Photos by frequent cruiser Nancy Morrison.

Readers, cruise lines: What do you think of Veronica’s tips? Is she on target? Sound off in the comments.

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9 Comments on "Cruise Tips: A Revealing Guide From A Former Cruise-Ship Employee"

  1. Good tips, Veronica – especially getting off the cruise ship to enjoy the local cuisine. Afterall, isn’t this why we take cruises – to experience other ports of call?

    I’d love to know your take on “Are cruise ships environmentally friendly?”

    • Well, well,
      They certainly TRY, at least the most ethical ones do.
      My company was all about recycling, but then again, there is SO MUCH that they do that is intrinsically environmentally unsound, just by the mere fact of having a huge ship out there, with all that that implies for the local fauna/ Plus. they are allowed to dispose of A LOT in the ocean as long as they are at a certain distance from the coast..
      Interesting topic, I will have to research further.
      Thanks for bringing it up!

  2. Regarding “water is bad” — I took my first cruise this summer, to Alaska on board Holland America. While I didn’t think the water was particularly great, it certainly wasn’t undrinkable. I’m also not terribly picky about water taste AND I’m cheap, so we didn’t buy any bottles of water to drink in the stateroom or at meals. We survived. 🙂 Didn’t really notice the water quality in the shower (i.e. it did a fine job on my hair/skin).

    However, I can understand how people who are accustomed to drinking particularly “really good” water at home might want to invest in several bottles of water through a week-long cruise.

    I think much of it is personal preference… and tolerance.

    Thanks for your guest post, Veronica!

  3. Love these tips! Family cruisers should be aware that most cruise lines do not offer in-room babysitting. So if you have a little one that isn’t eligible for the kids’ club, plan to spend a lot of time bonding on the cruiseship!

    • Actually,
      AT least on my company, we did offer in-room babysitting for 8 dollars per hour.
      Check with your cruise line before boarding!

  4. While I don’t find the drining water onboard ships to be all that bad, I do have to agree with the water being not so kind to your hair. Take along your own shampoo and conditioner for best results, the mystery stuff that cruise ships provide is mostly crap.

  5. I agree that if your timing is tight to book through the ship’s shore excursions, but when we have had enough time I have had great luck with some of the trips through (no I don’t work for them). We did a sailing / snorkeling trip in Curacao through them that was great (video on my site).

  6. Take along your own shampoo and conditioner for best results, the mystery stuff that cruise ships provide is mostly crap.

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