A cruise vacation may involve cocktails on the pool deck, white sand beaches, and impressive entertainment, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
While cruising is an excellent way to vacation, it can come with a number of unexpected problems. If you’re new to cruising, you may daydream about a perfect, stress-free vacation, but there are a few painful, unexpected, and downright gross problems you might encounter.
From diarrhea to sunburn and copious amounts of sweating, here are the top 22 unpleasant cruise ship problems you aren’t prepared for.
Heartburn and acid reflux
Whenever I’m on a Royal Caribbean cruise, I find myself dealing with heartburn more often than usual. While you can certainly find healthy foods onboard, most passengers indulge on more fatty and fried foods than they normally would.
This can quickly lead to uncomfortable heartburn that leaves you feeling miserable.
To counteract this problem, I recommend packing TUMS or other antacid products. You could also lay off the 2AM slices of pizza at Sorrento’s and third helping of fried shrimp at dinner, although this will take significantly more willpower!
Another unfortunate problem many cruisers face while onboard is diarrhea. The sudden change of diet combined with new types of food and long hours traveling can wreak havoc on your digestive system.
This problem can get even worse if you eat questionable street food or drink contaminated water in a foreign country.
My best tip is to pack anti-diarrheal medication for cruise, as you never know when or if you will experience diarrhea. If your stomach is making… suspicious noises when getting ready for a port day, bring a roll of toilet paper in your bag just in case!
On the other end of the spectrum is constipation, which is another problem many cruisers face while onboard. Again, the sudden change in lifestyle in diet on a cruise can confuse your digestive system, leaving you feeling miserable and constipated.
It’s advised to eat fiber-rich foods while on a cruise to prevent constipation, including whole grains, beans, and fruits. And, before loading your plate with quesadillas and steak, add a few vegetables, too, and be sure to stay hydrated.
By day two of a cruise, it’s almost guaranteed to see a large number of bright red, sunburned passengers on your ship. No one wants to get sunburned on a cruise, and while some passengers are more prone to sunburns than others, it’s extremely important to prevent burning as much as possible.
Depending on your cruise destination, the sun could be a lot stronger than what you’re used to at home, especially if you’re traveling from a cold climate to a tropical climate. Always remember to apply (and reapply) sunscreen generously both onboard and in port to prevent sunburn.
Related: 10 worst cruise fails by our readers
Personally, I’ve had terrible experiences with spray sunscreen which have resulted in extremely painful sunburns. Because of this, I always advise packing sunscreen lotion over the spray variety.
It’s also recommended to pack aloe vera for a cruise. Sunscreen or not, sunburns can still happen, and aloe vera is much more affordable at your local drugstore compared to the price on your cruise ship.
There’s nothing pleasant about sweating, but unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence on a cruise vacation. While you might not sweat much while cruising to the Arctic or Alaska, it’s likely you’ll be very sweaty on a warm weather cruise.
Whether cruising to the Caribbean, Europe, South Pacific, or Southeast Asia, you can encounter uncomfortably warm temperatures onboard and in port. If you’re not used to these temperatures, your body will overcompensate for the temperature, leading to intense sweating.
While it’s a bit embarrassing to walk around with sweat stains on your armpits and back, it’s an unfortunate reality of being on a cruise!
Food is an enjoyable and important aspect of any cruise vacation, from sushi rolls at Izumi to molten chocolate cake in the Main Dining Room. Sadly, indulging in delicious cuisine while onboard can lead to bloating, a problem no passenger wants to deal with.
Combat bloating by eating more slowly, chewing food properly before swallowing, and increasing physical activity while onboard. It’s also a good idea to drink water and avoid foods that typically cause you to bloat, such as dairy products or bread.
Not only is bloating uncomfortable, but it can destroy your plans of wearing that cute, tight dress on formal night!
Most passengers find themselves walking more on a cruise compared to their day to day life at home. Cruise ships are big, and walking up, down, and around the ship results in thousands of steps!
Not only that, but many ports and shore excursions require more walking than you’re used to. If you’re cruising to Europe, for example, you may walk several miles each day, whether sightseeing in Rome or strolling through Santorini.
Although walking is, of course, beneficial for your health, it can result in painful blisters, particularly when wearing new shoes.
Due to this, we recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes that you have worn many times before. Even though wearing a brand new pair of shoes may sound like a nice idea, breaking in the shoes can lead to uncomfortable blisters.
You may also experience chafing with the increased amount of walking on a cruise.
Chafing is an irritation of your skin that occurs when skin rubs against skin or clothing. This most commonly happens when walking in shorts, skirts, or dresses, as your thighs might continuously rub against each other.
Many cruisers enjoy traveling with anti-chafing shorts, which are breathable, lightweight slip shorts to wear under clothing. You can also apply a skin lubricant to your thighs in order to decrease friction when walking.
Limited time in port
If you’ve never cruised before, it can be an adjustment to plan your day based on your cruise ship’s schedule. Whereas on a land based vacation you are in control of your schedule, on a cruise you must adhere to the hours your ship is in each port.
Most cruise ships stay in port between 8-10 hours, which gives ample time to experience a destination’s highlights. Nonetheless, it does not provide as much time as you would have when traveling independently, and often results in checking the time over and over again to ensure you make it back to the ship before it departs.
Nevertheless, a major advantage of a cruise is being able to experience multiple diverse places in one vacation. For many cruisers, this is a good enough trade off for the limited time in each port.
While your cruise ship’s brochure may showcase images of empty beaches and quiet ports, the reality is that the ports you visit on a cruise can be extremely busy. Some cruise ports, such as Nassau and Cozumel, can easily have over four or five ships in port on any given day.
Given that each ship houses several thousand passengers, there could be upwards of 20,000 passengers in port during the day! This leads to crowds when exiting the ship and walking on the pier, as well as crowds in restaurants, shopping districts, and beaches nearest to the port.
Related: 7 ways to have a great time in port without a cruise ship shore excursion
The good news, however, is that you can almost always find hidden gems in any cruise port. Generally, the majority of cruise passengers stay within a close distance to the port or take part in organized shore excursions.
Doing research ahead of time on less crowded areas in your ports of call can lead to unspoilt beaches and authentic restaurants that won’t have you competing with heaps of other passengers for space.
If there’s one complaint we hear time and time again about going on a cruise, it’s chair hogs.
Chair hogs are passengers who reserve a pool chair early in the morning by placing a towel, shoe, or other item on the chair. Instead of staying by the pool, though, they do not return for a long period of time. This results in the chair being unavailable to other passengers who want to enjoy the pool deck.
Related: How to beat the chair hogs on your cruise ship
Although cruise lines are starting to reinforce their policies against chair hogs, it’s still a common issue to encounter while onboard, especially on sea days.
While another round of shots may sound like a good idea at 1AM, you might find yourself regretting the decision the following morning.
It’s common to enjoy alcoholic beverages on a Royal Caribbean cruise. With so many unique bars and cocktails to choose from, most passengers drink significantly more alcohol on a cruise compared to at home.
Unfortunately, the increase in alcohol consumption also leads to a higher chance of hangovers. A bad hangover can ruin any plans for the day, whether you intended to go snorkeling, hiking, or sunbathing.
Although you’re free to enjoy drinks throughout your cruise vacation, remember to pace yourself (and drink water!) to avoid feeling terrible later on.
Just like in any other public space, there’s always a possibility of norovirus spreading on a cruise ship. This contagious virus leads to vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain, and can quickly ruin any cruise vacation.
Norovirus is found in the stool or vomit of those infected with the virus. When infected people do not adequately wash their hands after coming in contact with the virus, it can rapidly spread through contaminated food, liquids, and objects.
I always recommend carrying around a small bottle of hand sanitizer onboard to use after touching heavily used items, such as the tongs at the buffet or staircase railings.
Luckily, norovirus is far less common on cruise ships than you might think. In most cases, you have nothing to worry about, although taking precautions by frequently washing your hands is helpful.
Outside of norovirus, cruise ships can harbor a plethora of other germs. With thousands of passengers on a cruise ship at the same time, illnesses like the flu and common cold can spread from one passenger to another.
Just like with norovirus, taking precautions to wash your hands frequently can help prevent coming into contact with illnesses. Additionally, coughing and sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand prevents spreading germs to other passengers.
We never advise boarding a cruise ship if you’re feeling ill, and it’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance for a cruise so you’re protected in the case of unexpected illness.
Speaking of chair hogs, a crowded pool deck is another unpleasant cruise ship problem you aren’t prepared for.
On any given day, your cruise ship pool deck could be packed with other passengers, although this is most common on sea days. Around 10 or 11AM, passengers finish breakfast and start heading to the pool deck. By noon, it’s common to find the pool deck exceptionally crowded.
If your idea of a relaxing day by the pool involves a quiet, serene experience, you’ll likely be disappointed. Even though all Royal Caribbean cruise ships have multiple pools and hot tubs, you’re unlikely to find any of them empty in the middle of the day.
My best advice for those in search of fewer crowds is to head to the pool deck in the early morning or late evening each day. At these times, there are very few other passengers enjoying these amenities.
Cheap Toilet Paper
If you’re used to soft toilet paper at home, you’re in for a rude awakening on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
The toilet paper on a cruise ship is far from luxurious—the paper is so thin that you can almost see through it! To help avoid disasters in the cruise ship plumbing system, cruise lines stock bathrooms with thin, easily flushable toilet paper.
Those accustomed to thicker toilet paper may experience an unpleasant experience in their cruise cabin’s bathroom, especially if experiencing other problems like diarrhea or norovirus! Yikes!
Waiting in line is an unpleasant experience on a cruise, but it’s something you will encounter every day while onboard.
Lines are common at popular dining venues, such as El Loco Fresh, and for activities like the FlowRider, laser tag, and waterslides. Lines typically move relatively quickly, but it's always annoying to wait in long lines on your vacation!
Our best advice to minimize time waiting in lines is to visit venues when they are less busy. If you’re hoping to climb the rock climbing wall, head there at the beginning of the morning session or for the afternoon session on a port day.
Likewise, if you don’t want to wait in line for dinner in the Main Dining Room, be sure to make My Time Dining reservations in advance or select traditional dining.
Related: 21 tips for the best cruise ship Main Dining Room experience
Any time wasted in line is, after all, precious vacation time wasted!
Feeling seasick on a cruise is not as common as you might think, but it still happens.
As your cruise ship moves from port to port, it can occasionally experience rough seas. While some bodies of water and climates are more prone to high seas than others, you might experience seasickness on any cruise vacation.
Related: How to avoid getting seasick on a cruise
Fortunately, it’s easy to combat feelings of seasickness on a cruise. Packing motion sickness medication like Dramamine offers an easy fix, although you can also rely on natural remedies like eating green apples and ginger.
In addition, you may want to select a cruise cabin less prone to motion. Cabins located mid-ship and those on lower decks usually feel less motion than those in the very forward or aft of the ship.
Expensive prices on essentials
Forgot your sunscreen or phone charger at home? These items are sold on your cruise ship, but they aren’t budget friendly.
Royal Caribbean cruise ships sell toiletries and electronic items onboard, but the prices are much higher than what you’ll find in a store on land. A single toothbrush that costs $1 at home can cost over $5 onboard, as an example, and there will be far fewer options available.
In addition to the higher prices are the limited operating hours for stores onboard. Due to regulations, cruise ship stores can only open when the ship is in international waters. Stores selling necessities are closed on embarkation day and port days.
If you find yourself in need of an item like Ibuprofen or aloe vera while your ship is docked, you’re out of luck.
Everyone wishes for a perfect vacation, but traveling is unpredictable.
Royal Caribbean has the power to change your cruise itinerary (and ship) at any moment. If you booked a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, an approaching hurricane can cause the itinerary to shift to a Western Caribbean cruise.
Weather conditions can also affect whether or not your cruise ship can dock in a particular port. If winds are too strong, the weather could prevent your ship from docking in port, resulting in an extra day at sea.
It’s always important to stay flexible on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Ultimately, Royal Caribbean cannot control the weather, and it’s better to remain flexible rather than declare your vacation ruined!
Missing the ship
One of the absolute worst problems that happens on a cruise is missing your cruise ship while in port!
No matter the cruise, you might see passengers sprinting on the pier to reach their cruise ship before it sails away. Occasionally, passengers will not make it back in time, leaving them stranded in port while all their belongings remain on the ship!
Related: What happens if you miss your cruise ship?
Being responsible ensures you will make it back to the ship with plenty of time to spare. You should always take note of any time zone changes and avoid traveling too far from the cruise port. We recommend getting back onboard around an hour before all aboard time just in case of any unexpected delays when traveling back to your ship.
Unlimited soft serve ice cream? Five appetizers at dinner? Thirteen piña coladas on the pool deck? Yes, please!
There’s no harm in indulging on a cruise, but you should prepare yourself for the potential weight gain. Many cruisers gain a couple pounds on a cruise, although there are a few ways to combat this unpleasant problem.
First, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Taking the stairs not only helps you burn extra calories, but you won’t have to waste time waiting for the elevator to arrive.
You may also want to make healthy choices for at least one meal a day. Instead of a greasy cheeseburger for lunch, why not hit up the soup and salad bar? Or, if another three course meal in the dining room seems overwhelming, opt for a smaller meal at the Windjammer instead.
Related: How I kept from gaining weight on my cruise
Lastly, look for active activities and shore excursions. Instead of trivia, participate in a sports competition on the sports court, try out the surfing simulator, or make a few laps on the running track.
Staying active and making healthy choices not only prevents you from gaining extra weight, but it also helps avoid several of the other unpleasant problems on this list, such as constipation and diarrhea.