53 Things You Must Know

to Have a Perfect Cruise

by Jay Herring


1             Sail with your age group. If it's cold, they're old. Alaskan cruises often have an older crowd and in general, any cruise longer than seven days will have an older crowd. Younger passengers usually can't afford longer cruises nor do they have vacation time to take them. Three and four day cruises are party cruises and typically have a younger crowd, especially in the Caribbean. Two day cruises to nowhere are especially popular with the party crowd. If you are looking for an older more relaxed crowd, look for longer voyages especially in colder climates. If you want to party with a younger crowd, look for shorter voyages especially in warmer climates.

2             If you have assigned seating in the dining rooms, then the secret about the people you sit with is that they are likely very similar to you. The Maitre'd intentionally seats similar people together. Couples with couples, singles with singles, seniors with seniors. Realize that these people may become your new best friends on the cruise.

3             Remember to set your watch to “ship time” which may or may not change when you cross time zones.

4             Don't be late. The ship will only wait about fifteen minutes after its scheduled sailing time. Each cruise line has a port agent that can help if you do miss the ship. Most people fly to the next port to meet the ship there, but you'll pay for all extra expenses.

5             Bring ear plugs. They make sleeping on the airplane easier. They also allow you to sleep through the noise that may otherwise disturb you on the ship: afternoon announcements, kids running down the corridor, the ship’s engines, and noisy neighbors. If you plan to be loud, bring extras to distribute to your neighbors (I actually did that once).

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6             Remember that the captain has the authority to kick you off the ship if he thinks you're a danger to his crew or the other passengers.

7             To strike up conversation with a crewmember, don't ask lame questions like,

      “Do you live on the ship?”

      "How long is your contract?"

      “Can you get off in port?”

      First time cruisers ask these questions everyday and the crew get sick of answering them. The crew do live on the ship. Contracts are typically eight months followed by eight weeks of vacation. The crew can get off in port, but not every time. Remember that the first question or comment that comes to mind is usually one that countless others have already asked or said. So go deeper and ask these kinds of questions:

      "How long have you worked on ships?"

      "What do you like most about working on the ship?"

      "How well do you get along with your roommate?"

      "What food do you miss the most from back home?"

8             Don't expect to be able to change or upgrade your cabin once you get on board. Ships are often booked to capacity, in which case changing cabins is only possible if there is a no-show. A no-show is someone who paid for the cruise but didn’t show up to take it, and the purser’s desk won’t know if there are any no-shows until the ship closes the hull doors and sets sail. When there are empty cabins, the nice ones get scooped up fast.

9             For the best chance at upgrading or changing your cabin, be one of the first people to board the ship, and head straight to the purser’s desk. Be prepared to wait in line only to hear that all the cabins are already taken. I can’t stress it enough - you're much better off picking the cabin you want when you book your cruise, rather than using your vacation time to try to change it.

10         Expect that your luggage won’t arrive to your room until late in the evening and don’t waste your time calling the pursers to ask about it. It’s coming, so just be patient. The cabin stewards have to carry thousands of pieces of luggage and it just takes time to get them all delivered. Take a carryon to pack the things you can’t wait on like medication, toiletries, or your camera.

11         Bring a watch. It will help you get back to the ship on time and help you make it to the on board activities you're interested in.

12         Save room in your luggage for things you'll buy on the cruise.

13         Don’t over pack. There is no need to have two giant suitcases and a carryon for each person on a four day cruise.

14         Bring some extra underwear because after lying out by the pool or walking around in port all day, you'll want a fresh pair for dinner. If you run out of clean clothes, remember that you can always throw a load in one of the passenger washing machines.

15         Be ready to share the port with other cruise ships. St. Thomas has been known to have thirteen ships in port on the same day. That would make you just one of 25,000 passengers.

16         Don't ask a crewmember where their country is located. It makes you look unintelligent. Bring a map with you or just look it up when you get home. And remember, South Africa is a country, not a region.

17         Enjoy the food, but remember that you don't have to stuff yourself five times a day just to get your money's worth.

18         Pay attention during boat drill. It could save your life.

19         If you want to research your cruise, prepare to be overwhelmed because there are so many options. A travel agent that specializes in cruising can help. The industry changes constantly and the internet will always be more current than a book as it relates to specific ports or ships. The better option, I think, is to just pick a destination and go. After all, it’s a cruise and so it’s hard to go wrong.

20         If you drink, you will probably drink more than usual on board a ship. This is the most accurate prediction of what passengers do on board. So if you like to take aspirin after a night of drinking, make sure to bring some with you. If you forget, you can always buy some on board, but it will be more expensive and you’ll waste your vacation time doing so.

21         Expect your cabin to be much smaller than a typical hotel room. Realize that this is no problem.

22         The way you choose the nicer ships at sea is to pick the ones that are the newest. Newer ships are nicer ships. Older ships aren't as nice but they can be less expensive for the same length of cruise. If you have a choice and everything else is equal, choose to cruise on a newer ship.

23         Ladies - If you want a hair appointment for formal night, schedule it on the first day of the cruise. The time slots fill up fast, and if you later cancel, it only makes those on the waiting list happy.

24         Buy suntan lotion at home and bring it with you. It will cost at least fifty percent more if you buy it on the ship or in port. Use often. Reapply often. I saw lobster red passengers on every cruise and there's just no reason to be miserable while you're on vacation.

25         If you are flying to get to your ship’s homeport, leave enough time in your flight plans to compensate for flight delays. Delayed flights often cause missed sailings.

26         While in port, loiter around the taxi stand and wait to share a cab with someone else who is heading your direction. You'll save a couple bucks and meet someone new.

27         Consider bringing walkie-talkies on board especially if you have children.

28         Do not forget your passport. I've seen many passengers in tears at the embarkation terminal because one person in the group forgot their passport and couldn't board the ship. It ruined their vacation before they even boarded the ship. The cruise is not refunded. Nor is the airfare. Nor are the vacation days from your employer.

29         If you want to do a transatlantic crossing, start in Europe because you will gain five hours of daylight by crossing time zones.

30         Even though it happens all the time, crewmembers are not supposed to fraternize with the passengers. If they get caught, they can get fired. So if you hit on a crewmember, be prepared for them to say no. And if you do have a romantic encounter with a crewmember, use discretion and be prepared to sneak around. Also realize that you are probably not the first passenger that this crewmember has been with. Many of the crewmembers, mostly guys of course, go to the disco on the first formal night to hunt and this is the best place to look for romance with a crewmember.

31         The best time to book your shore excursion is before you board the ship. When booking your cruise, ask if it is possible to book your shore excursions before the cruise begins. Many cruise lines will let you do this online. By doing so, you’ll likely get the shore excursion you want before it fills up. Also, booking online will keep you from using your vacation time to wait in line on the ship.

32         Realize that you can save money if you book your shore excursions directly with the tour company instead of going through the cruise line. The reason being is that the cruise line acts as the middle man and receives a cut of the money you pay for the tour ticket. Depending on the tour, you can save $15 to $50 or more per ticket, which could result in a 60% savings by booking directly with the tour company. You can do this before you board the ship, but it will require extra time and effort. You can also do this when you step off the ship in port, but then you run the risk of the tour already being full. If you are doing a basic taxi sightseeing tour or are very familiar with the port, then this may be a better option for you. But otherwise my personal preference and what I recommend, especially for first time cruisers, is that you go ahead and book your tour through the cruise line. It saves you time and hassle and frees you up to focus on enjoying your vacation.

33         Understand that cabins above or below the disco will be loud and that cabins near the engine may vibrate. My favorite location for a passenger cabin is at the very front of the ship. Although you have to walk further and get a little rumble from the thrusters and get a little more swaying in rough seas, you get zero vibration from the engines. It’s also quieter because you have less foot traffic passing by your door.

34         If you take an Alaskan Cruise and want an outside cabin, choose a starboard cabin for a northbound cruise and a port cabin for a southbound cruise. That way you will be facing the scenery instead of the open water.

35         Don't expect complete perfection in everything. The toilet might not work. The batteries in your remote control might be dead. Call the pursers when necessary, but realize that you are on vacation and try to maintain a relaxed mood. If you have a legitimate complaint, be civil when you address it. Control your emotions. A friendly but firm complaint will get you further than if you raise your voice and become difficult. Staying calm will also keep you in a better mood to enjoy your vacation.

36         Sail with friends. Although you will meet new people on board, it’s always more fun to sail with friends you already know. If two couples sail together, and for example, the girls want to play bingo, but the guys prefer to lounge at the pool, then everyone gets to do what they want without being alone. The great thing about a cruise is that friends aren’t forced to be together like they would be if they rented a car during a vacation on land. Cruising is a great way to travel with friends, and still be friends when you get home.

37         Close your cabin door quietly to prevent disturbing your neighbors, and to prevent them from slamming their doors in retaliation.

38         Don't bother with traveler's checks. Just take cash and use your credit card for all on board purchases. Ships have an ATM and so do the ports if you run out of cash, but you can also use the casino to get cash without the ATM fees. Just go to the casino cage and get some casino chips using your ship card which pulls from your credit card. Hold on to them for an hour or so, and then exchange them for cash.

39         Don't lean over and look at the purser's computer screen. It annoys them and you probably won't understand the screen anyway. I knew a purser that set up her monitor to specifically block the screen from the passengers so as to keep them from leaning over the counter to look.

40         If you booked a shore excursion through the cruise line and the entire excursion is late, then don’t worry. The tour operator will contact the port agent who will then contact the ship. The captain will almost always wait for a delayed excursion that was booked through the cruise line. But he will not wait if he has no idea of when a missing passenger will decide to stroll back to the ship. So if you are not with a ship organized tour and know you will be late, contact the port agent yourself. You’ll find the port agent’s contact information in the ship’s daily program which you may want to take with you when you go out in port.

41         Don't go to the purser's and complain about the weather. Whether it's rainy or sunny, they had nothing to do with it. Do not ask for a weather related refund. Be mentally prepared for rainy days in port, and don't let them dampen your vacation mood.

42         Cruises are popular with families during the holidays and during the summer when the kids are out of school. Schedule your cruise around these times if you want a cruise with fewer children on board.

43         If you know someone who works on a ship, you absolutely must cruise with them if you can. When my friends and family cruised with me, they only paid port charges which totaled $24 for a five day cruise. I was able to get free shore excursions and I knew all the best places to take them in port. But even if you can’t get a discount on the cruise, you'll have more fun than if you cruise as a normal passenger, especially if they can get you access to the crew areas.

44         Don't wait in line just because you see one. On some ships the gangway leads straight to the purser's desk and on embarkation day, the pursers have to deploy someone to keep the passengers from getting in line even though they have no questions. Once you board the ship, just head to your cabin or go up to Lido deck for the food.

45         Book your cruise with a travel agent because it may be cheaper than booking directly with the cruise line. You can likely save up to a couple hundred dollars by doing so. Try to find a local travel agent if possible.

46         Another way to save up to hundreds of dollars on your cruise is by booking at the last minute. You can find deals online that will advertise last minute cruises. At the other extreme, you can also save by booking as far in advance as possible.

47         Don’t over plan or over research your trip. If you are a first time cruiser, just go and enjoy the uncertainty and novelty of it all.

48         If you have an assigned time for your dinner seating, don’t be late. Ship dining rooms aren’t like a regular restaurant and serving so many meals in such a short amount of time requires specific and well coordinated timing. If you arrive late, it throws off your waiter’s entire schedule, not just for your meals, but for the meals of his entire section. It causes him to wait in extra lines in the galley to get your food that is now out of synch with all of his other tables. This is how many passengers make their waiter angry without knowing it.

49         If something goes wrong on your cruise, like a grounding or heavy listing at sea, don’t let it get you down. Especially if there are no injuries, realize that you have experienced something very few other passengers have.

50         If you want to avoid seasickness, don’t leave land! Just kidding. Realize that many of today’s cruise ships are so big, that their movement is often very minimal. The truth about seasickness is that many passengers take medication for it even when they don’t need to. That being said, it is easier to prevent seasickness than to cure it. If you begin to feel seasick, here are some things that can help:

      Take a nap – I have found that lying on your back or right side gives the most relief.

Take medication - Dramamine and Scopolamine are two of the most common chemical medications. Ginger capsules have also been shown to be effective, but may not be as helpful as the chemical medications.

      Move to an open deck in the middle of the ship and look out at the horizon

      Use an acupuncture wrist band or stimulate the underside of your forearm that is three fingers down from your wrist.

      Get a shot from the ship’s doctor. If it is really bad, the ship’s doctor can give you a shot that will likely give you instant relief with the side effect of putting you to sleep for a few hours.

51         Realize that your cabin stewards and waiters work ten to fifteen hours a day and that each cruise starts on the same day that the previous cruise ended. This means that they, along with most of the crew rarely, if ever, get a day off in eight months. To be treated like royalty from your cabin steward and/or waiter, tip them an extra $20 on the first day of the cruise. Complement them and let them know that you will be tipping them again at the end of the cruise. Few passengers do this, but the ones that do get the best service. If you have any problems or special requests, you will become their top priority.

52         At the other end of the spectrum, realize that you can easily become recognized as a “problem passenger.” If you are rude to the staff or you complain too much, then you can easily become their lowest priority. Crewmembers are a very tight knit group and word travels quickly. If you are rude to one person, realize that crewmembers in other departments are likely to have heard what you did.

53         Remember that the ship is the destination, and not just transportation to the ports. The ship is where you will spend most of your time. Cruising is a great way to sample the ports you might want to visit again, but if you really want to spend time in a specific port, then fly there and stay for a few nights. If you cruise, you're only scheduled to be in each port for about eight hours with no guarantee that the weather will be agreeable. Understand that the scheduled itinerary and ports may change and just go with the flow. If your ship doesn't make it to the scheduled ports, don't automatically assume that you will get a partial refund.

Additional Resources:

These are all great web sites with heaps of information on ships, ports, and cruising in general:





John Heald is a cruise director with Carnival Cruise Lines. His blog has a large fan base and can be found here:


Secrets To Finding

The Best Cabin On Any Ship

by Jay Herring


It’s easy. Just pick the one that has a balcony and is the quietest, the biggest, the most centrally located, and of course the cheapest, right? Well unfortunately you can’t get all of these qualities at the same time. There are trade offs. A centrally located cabin may reduce how much walking and stair climbing you’ll do, but it won’t be the quietest. And if you want the biggest cabin on board, it certainly won’t be the cheapest. And so like the perfectly cooked steak, the perfect cabin is subjective and depends on each person’s individual tastes.

Among the many factors to consider, the first and most important is price. You must ask yourself,

“How much am I willing to spend?”

All other choices are based on this question. If you want the least expensive cabin, then you’ll have fewer options to choose from and thus an easier time picking your cabin. If you’re willing to pay extra for a nicer cabin, then you must decide what’s most important to you.

There are a number of factors that affect a cabin’s appeal and how enjoyable it is to be there. Here are my 3 Factors of Cabin Quality:

3 Factors of Cabin Quality

     1. Location

     2. Ocean view

     3. Size


For me, location is the most important factor. On my second ship, the Carnival Triumph, my cabin was at the front on deck 1 directly above the thrusters. Every cruise ship has two sets of thrusters – one at the bow and one at the stern. They are fixed propellers that push water sideways and enable the ship to rotate and move side to side. They are always used during docking maneuvers and when the ship pushes away from the pier. They also help to navigate through rivers and to keep the ship in one place when tendering in port.

On the morning of my first port on the Triumph, I was violently shaken awake as the rumbling sound of a jack hammer rattled everything including the metal ceiling panels that were two feet in front of my face. My roommate and I had no window and so the room was dark except for a sliver of corridor light that ran underneath the door. Had I not experienced a much milder version of thruster vibration on my first ship, I would likely have headed straight for the lifeboats thinking that the ship was coming apart.

The thrusters are roaring monsters that infect everything around them with rage. Fortunately, most passenger cabins are peaceful enough because they aren’t that close. Thruster rage fades away dramatically with each successive deck and one deck higher or even a few steps away from the thrusters makes a huge difference.

If your cabin is on the lowest two decks at the front or back of the ship, then you will likely get some thruster vibration.  One advantage to staying in these cabins is that the thrusters can act as an alarm clock.  You’ll always know when the ship is about to dock in port. 

However, if you sail out of New Orleans, I recommend staying away from the lowest decks at the front or back of the ship. For the seven hours it takes to sail through the Mississippi river, the thrusters come on and off at irregular intervals that coincide with the meandering bends of the river. It’s not such a problem when you’re leaving New Orleans because you’ll probably be awake for most of your journey through the river. But on the last night of the cruise, the thrusters will be in use all evening until about 4 a.m. in the morning.

Engine noise and vibration is another factor to consider in picking your cabin. The engines are located about ¾ of the way to the back of the ship and just like with the thrusters, a few steps in either direction or just one deck higher makes a huge difference in the amount of noise and vibration your cabin will receive. Just like with the thrusters, most passenger cabins have a minimal amount of engine noise and vibration, but realize that it does exist.

My favorite location is deck 6 or 7 at the very front of the ship. I was only seasick in the roughest of seas so the extra rocking motion didn’t bother me.  What I liked most was that there was zero vibration from the engines. In the middle of a sea day, even though the engines were running at full blast, these cabins are completely free of engine rumble. Perfectly quiet. And even though I was above the thrusters, deck 6 or 7 is far enough that they aren’t too noticeable and I was willing to trade fifteen minutes of thruster rumble for the complete absence of engine noise the rest of the day.

A word on centrally located cabins: they aren’t as much of an advantage on smaller ships. But on the biggest ships it can take upwards of ten minutes to walk the entire length of the ship, to say nothing of waiting for an elevator. If, for example, you are lounging at the very back of the ship, it could take twenty minutes just to stop by your cabin to grab your hat.

You have essentially two choices to make about your cabin location:

1. Do you want a cabin on a Low Deck or a High           Deck?

2. Do you want a cabin at the Front, Middle, or Back   of the ship

Here are the pros and cons of each:

Low deck

Pros:      Cheaper. Less likely to be seasick.

Cons:     Further away from the pool deck and other amenities. More time spent climbing stairs or waiting for elevators. If you choose to be at the front or back of the ship, then you will get some noise and vibration from the engines and/or thrusters. Instead of large windows, ocean view cabins may have only a porthole.

High deck

Pros:      Closer to the amenities so you won’t climb as many stairs or spend as much time waiting for an elevator.

Cons:     More expensive. More likely to be seasick. Depending on where your cabin is, you may get some noise from the disco or pool deck.

Front of the Ship (Bow)

Pros:      Zero engine vibration. Less foot traffic and thus less noise in front of your door. Some people enjoy the rocking motion from the seas. Some balconies are larger than midship cabins.

Cons:     More walking to the amenities at the back of the ship. Gets the most motion if the seas are rough and thus this is the most likely place on the ship to get seasick. Balcony cabins will be windier and get more ocean spray. Some windows are smaller and/or recessed and have a limited view. Thruster vibration.

Middle of the Ship (Midship)

Pros:      Centrally located means less walking to amenities. Less likely to be seasick.

Cons:     Can be more expensive. More foot traffic and thus noise in front of your door. Depending on what deck you are on, you may get some noise from the disco or pool deck.

Back of the Ship (Aft)

Pros:      Larger balconies. Better views because you can see behind the ship. Less foot traffic and thus less noise in front of your door.

Cons:     More walking to the amenities at the front of the ship. More motion (and likely to be seasick) than midship cabins but not as much as forward cabins. You may occasionally get some exhaust fumes blowing down on your balcony from the ship’s funnel. It doesn’t happen often and the winds usually shift after a few hours so isn’t a lasting problem.

Ocean view

You may hear people say, “Don’t pay extra for the balcony because you won’t spend much time in you cabin anyway.” Maybe. Maybe not. For some this is true, but for others, sitting on their private balcony away from noise and crowds is well worth the price even if they only use it a couple hours a day. If you do go for a balcony, keep in mind that it will cost 25% to 100% more than a cabin without an ocean view. But remember, this does not mean that your cruise vacation will cost 25% to 100% more. Airline tickets, time off from work, drinks, shore excursions, shopping, and tips all factor in to the total cost of your vacation.

Older people may find that they are more picky when it comes to their cabin whereas younger folks are generally happy to sleep anywhere. If you’re traveling with kids and plan to get them their own cabin, then put them in an inside cabin. Teenagers are likely to not appreciate the balcony the way an adult would, especially since they aren’t paying for it. If you have a balcony and they don’t, then they have a reason to come visit and spend time with you.


Keep in mind that most cabins are smaller than a typical hotel room. The bathrooms are also very small. And unless you are paying extra, there won’t be much floor space or a bathtub.

To sum it up, my best advice would be to not over think your decision. Unless you’re taking a voyage that lasts many months, you’re only in that cabin for a few days. If you make the wrong choice, you’re not stuck with it for life. If you went the cheap route, and wish you would have splurged for the balcony, then just focus on how much money you saved. If you spent extra for things that you didn’t find value in, then try to make the most of the extras you paid for. The good news is that you will know better for next time.

If it is your second time to cruise, then maybe try doing the opposite of what you choose the first time. Even if you end up picking the absolute worse cabin, don’t fret because your decision will only haunt you for the few days that you’re on board. You’ll probably save some money and at least you’ll know what not to get next time.

How Easy Is Romance

on a Cruise Ship

by Jay Herring

 This is the first chapter of my full length book: The Truth About Cruise Ships – A Cruise Ship Officer Survives the Work, Adventure, Alcohol, and Sex of Ship Life.

I had been onboard my first ship for five days when I went to the crew bar and met a woman from Trinidad and Tobago. She was a black woman and she was overweight, maybe even a little flabby, but such a sweetheart. She asked a lot of personal questions and listened closely and was genuinely interested in my responses. I asked her personal questions, and she answered every one of them. I saw her the next night in the crew bar and she looked upset so I went over and sat down.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I just had an argument with the chief purser,” she said with her Caribbean accent.

“That’s too bad.”

“Yes, I do not get along with the pursers on this ship very well,” she said, starting to tear up a little. “I do not have many friends onboard.”

Although I liked her, I could understand why others might shy away. She had slow, almost voodoo-like mannerisms that bordered on creepy. But she was so easy to talk to and, like me, perfectly content to sit and talk one on one.

“So do you have a girlfriend?” she asked, changing the subject.


“Have you been with anyone on the ship yet?”

“Nope. It’s actually been twelve years since I slept with someone.”

“Come on now.”

“It’s true.” I said, and then told her why (more on that later).

“Hmm. That’s fascinating. You know, I used to sleep with a skinny white guy from England on my last ship. You remind me of him.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“He and I had lots of fun, and I never left him unsatisfied. I may not look it, but I’m actually a really good lover.”

“You don’t say.”

“I’ve been with lots of men in my day. I’m forty-one, after all. And in my years, I’ve learned exactly what men like and how to please them. And now”—she took a sip of her drink—“and now all the men I sleep with are extremely satisfied.”

I had always imagined athletic girls—especially flexible athletic girls—to be the best lovers. But this lady from Trinidad had me rethinking that assumption. Maybe it was just another one of the after effects of abstinence, but those voodoo mannerisms were now bordering on sensual.

“Would you like to have sex with me?” she asked, taking another sip of her drink. “We could go to my cabin right now.”


I couldn’t believe how quickly the opportunity had presented itself. “I might be interested in that.”



“But not right now?”

“Yeah, not just yet.”

“Okay, well, you think about it and I’ll call you later this week.” She got up and left me at the table, alone with my thoughts.

My cabin phone rang at 8:00 p.m. two days later.

“Hi, it’s me,” she said. “How are you?”

“I’m good. How are you?” I responded.

“Good, good. Are you ready to do what we talked about the other night?” she asked, wasting no time on idle chit-chat..

$2.99 at Amazon.com


© 2012 SaltLog Press
Jay Herring - 214.621.6702