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10 Reasons people leave their cruise ship vacation disappointed

17 Jun 2023
Elizabeth Wright

When you begin planning your cruise, thoughts of what could go wrong are probably nowhere to be found-- nobody wants to go on a disappointing vacation!

Why people are disappointed on cruises

While cruises are a popular vacation choice, if you do not manage your expectations and plan accordingly, you might find yourself wishing that chose something else.

Here are 10 reasons why people leave their cruise ship vacation disappointed and how you can ensure that you have a positive cruise experience! 

They chose the wrong cruise ship 

Oasis of the Seas next to Liberty of the Seas in Cozumel

As of May 2023, Royal Caribbean has 26 ships in their fleet. When the highly-anticipated Icon of the Seas launches in January 2024, this will increase their fleet size to 27. That means that are over two dozen ships for you to choose for your vacation. 

Picking the right ship matters. Do you want a more intimate cruising experience? If so, you will like the environment of smaller ships. They also tend to visit more unique ports of call. 

Note, though, that these ships tend to be older. If having newer amenities is important to you, you should spend some time researching whether Royal Caribbean has revitalized the ship or not. 

Perhaps you want your schedule to be jam-packed with activities. In that case, select one of today's mega ships that feature activities such as surfing and skydiving simulators, ice skating rinks, water slides, and more. 

RelatedI sailed on Royal Caribbean’s newest and oldest cruise ships: here's what it's like to cruise on each

They did not utilize a travel agent 

Travel agent

Whether you have a lot of questions about the cruising industry or are a cruise veteran, booking with a travel agent is the best way to go. 

They are a great resource for any question that you may have, such as ship amenities, cabin select, specialty dining and shore excursion recommendations, and more. 

Outside of the cruise, they can handle other logistical arrangements, too, such as pre-cruise flights and hotels. 

In short, booking with a travel agent will save you time, as you will not have to worry about doing all of the research yourself. 

RelatedTop 5 things to look for in a good travel agent for your cruise vacation

They did not understand what was included in Royal Caribbean's base fare


Your Royal Caribbean cruise fare, unfortunately, is not all-inclusive. It includes unlimited food at certain venues, select beverages, entertainment, accommodations, and transportation between ports. Anything out of that will cost you extra. It is important to keep that in mind when setting your cruise budget. 

These option add-ons include alcoholic and select non-alcoholic beverages, specialty dining experiences, shore excursions, spa treatments, and some onboard activities. 

Royal Caribbean charges for their escape rooms, lessons on the FlowRider surf simulator, Royal Babies & Tots Nursery services, as well as riding the North Star on a sea day. 

Related: Is Royal Caribbean all inclusive? 

They forgot to book cruise add-ons in advance 

Speaking of add-ons, you will want to make sure that you book them in advance! If you wait until you board the ship, not only will you find higher prices, but some experiences (i.e., specialty restaurants) will have limited availability. 

As soon as you place the deposit for your Royal Caribbean cruise, you will gain access to the Cruise Planner, which is where you will book all extras, including internet and drink packages, shore excursions, spa treatments, arcade credits, classes, and more. 

The prices on the Cruise Planner are less than they will be on the ship, as Royal Caribbean often has sales and promotions that make it worthwhile to check the Cruise Planner every so often. You never know when you will find an incredible deal on a drink package or specialty restaurant-- sometimes as much as 40% off onboard pricing. 

RelatedThe Ultimate Guide to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner site

They selected the wrong dining time 

When you book your cruise, you will be prompted to select one of three dining options: early, late, or My Time. The first two are part of the traditional cruise experience, while the latter is the more flexible option. 

If you select the early or late seating, you will be seated at the same time each night of the cruise with the same table mates and wait staff, meaning that they will be able to learn your preferences throughout the trip! 

On the other hand, those that may not want to stick to a set schedule will prefer My Time Dining, which allows passengers to make reservations ahead of time for the Main Dining Room that work well with their onboard and onshore plans.

Menu at an angle

If you would like, you can also just head to the Main Dining Room once onboard when hunger strikes. Note, though, that you may face a wait if you do this!

With My Time Dining, you will not be seated at the same table each evening, as you are placed wherever there is an opening when you arrive. 

Dining times only apply to the Main Dining Room's dinner service, so you can go to the buffet for dinner at anytime during their dinner hours. Similarly, you will not have to select a time for breakfast because it is first-come, first-served!

RelatedRoyal Caribbean My Time Dining versus Traditional Dining

They selected the wrong cabin and/or cabin location

Junior Suite on Symphony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has a variety of cabin categories, ranging from interior rooms with no natural sunlight to multi-story suites. 

For some, an interior cabin may be the obvious option because they can allocate funds to other vacation expenses. On the other hand, the budget of someone else may mean that they are able to splurge on a suite. 

If you are traveling with a family, consider the benefits of booking two cabins for the extra space, even if this means two inside cabins instead of one balcony. Do you think the extra space and two bathrooms will make your cruise better? Would you be okay stepping over everyone's stuff for a week in a single cabin? 

Harmony of the Seas interior cabin

In addition to the stateroom category, you will need to determine where you want it to be located. If you have a preference, stray from selecting a guarantee cabin, as your room will be automatically assigned by Royal Caribbean closer to sailing based on what is available. 

Are you someone sailing with young children or who likes to return to your cabin earlier in the evening? If so, staterooms that are near popular late-night venues might keep you awake longer than you would like. 

Likewise, cabins near elevator banks are subject to more noise, as they have more people passing by. 

RelatedThe 5 best cabin locations on a cruise ship

They did not expect for there to be large crowds

Oasis pool deck

Cruise ships can hold thousands of passengers at once. In fact, when Icon of the Seas launches, she will have a maximum passenger capacity of 7,600 guests! That being said, there are moments where your cruise will feel crowded, beginning on embarkation day when you arrive at the terminal. 

Once onboard, you may encounter a long line at the buffet, packed elevators, or even a lack of pool chairs on a sea day. 

There are some things that you can do to mitigate how often you will interact with large crowds. You can, for instance, dine outside of peak hours, take the stairs, visit the pool deck in the morning or late afternoon, and venture outside of the area adjacent to the cruise terminal in ports of call. 

They did not familiarize themselves with ship lingo

You will hear the words "aft," "forward," "stern," "bow," "starboard," and "port" while on your cruise vacation. Taking the time to learn what these terms mean prior to embarkation will prevent you from getting lost and frustrated. 

If you hear port port and starboard, know that these are are directional terms used to indicate the left and right side of the ship relative to the bow. This means that, regardless of which way you are physically facing, they never change.

The bow is the ship's forward most part, and the stern is the rear of the ship opposite from the bow. Forward and aft refer to location; forward is the front of the ship and the aft is the rear. 

If you decide not to worry about any of the above terms, at least understand what "ship time" is!

When a cruise itinerary crosses through timezones, the ship keeps the same time of the departure port; it does not matter if the local time is an hour ahead or behind!

Failing to learn and adhere to ship time could result in your missing your ship, even if you thought you had time to get back. 

They did not purchase cruise travel insurance 

Travel insurance

When you book your cruise, you will be asked if you want to purchase travel insurance. This provides coverage for things such as travel delays, medical emergencies, and luggage mishaps.

Travel insurance is meant to provide peace of mind in the event that something unfortunate occurs while on your cruise vacation. Pricing is dependent on the total trip cost and ranges from $39 to $1,799! 

If your trip, for instance, costs $2,400, purchasing insurance through Royal Caribbean will cost you $199. 

Royal Caribbean offers one tier of travel insurance that is underwritten by Arch Insurance Company. Note that if you are a resident of New York State, this policy is not available to you. 

Below is what is covered by the policy:

  • Trip Interruption: Up to 150% of total trip cost if you can't start or finish your cruise vacation because you're sick or hurt, there's a death in the family or another covered reason.
  • Trip Delay: Up to $2,000 ($250 per day) for catch-up expenses
  • Missed Connection: Up to $300 if you miss your trip departure for covered reasons by three hours or more. 
  • Accident and Sickness Medical: up to $25,000 if you get hurt and $25,000 if you get sick on your cruise vacation.
  • Emergency Medical Evacuation: Up to $50,000 if you need emergency medical transportation during your vacation. 
  • Baggage Protection and Delay: Up to $1,500 if your bags are lost, stolen, or damaged and up to $500 to buy necessary personal items if your bags are delayed.

You never know when (or if) anything will happen, but if you find yourself in an unlucky situation, you will certainly be disappointed that you opted to save the few hundred dollars and pass on the insurance. 

RelatedShould you buy annual travel insurance plans?

They did not research the ports of call in advance 

Mariner of the Seas docked in Labadee

To make the most out of your time in each port, you should spend time researching what shore excursions are available. You do not want to miss out on any once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. 

If you are sailing to the Caribbean, you might be surprised at what adventurous tours are offered, such as zip lining through jungles, taking an ATV tour of the coast, and more. You do not have to spend each day on the beach (although, there is nothing wrong with that!). 

When you begin searching, You do not have to book anything immediately. If, however, you see a tour that you want to do, it is best to go ahead and make your reservation, as you never know how popular the tour will be with other cruisers; it may sell out closer to the sail date!

You do not want to be scrambling to figure out what you are doing the night before you dock! You may find that certain experiences are sold out, leaving you with whatever is still available. 

RelatedYour really dumb cruise ship shore excursion questions answered

Elizabeth graduated from New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute with her M.A. in Journalism in May 2023. Growing up, she had the privilege of traveling frequently with her family and fell in love with cruising after sailing on the Oasis of the Seas her freshman year of high school. She wanted to pursue a career that highlighted her passion for travel and strengths as a writer. 

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