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Top 10 Things You May Hate About Cruises


Don't get me wrong: I like cruises. I like sailing on the ocean, I like fresh sea air, I like being transported from port to port without having to pack or shlep bags. And I really like that someone comes in and makes my bed every day.

Yet a cruise isn't the best kind of vacation for everyone. On a honeymoon or romantic getaway, it may not afford you the privacy that you want. Or its hidden fees may bust your budget. Find out here what's not to love about cruises.

1. Cabins are small.

Standard cabins on cruise ships are smaller than the smallest hotel room (with the exception of those pod hotels in Japan). You are likely to bump into each other in your own stateroom several times during the cruise, but since you're in love you probably won't mind. I have seen inside, no-window cabins that look like units in minimum security prisons with cheerful bedspreads.

Advice: Pay attention to a cabin's square footage before booking, get the biggest you can afford, and pack light.

2. Cruises aren't really all-inclusive.

Thirsty for a beer or soda? It costs extra. Feel like a spa treatment? That's extra. Want to eat in the fancier onboard restaurant? Cough it up. Like a bottle of wine with dinner? Extra. Think that tips are included in the cruise price? Think again. While every cruise line is different, the majority charge extra for all these things, which definitely add up.

Advice: Ask your travel agent if any cruise lines offer a shipboard account credit to induce you to book. And buy a drink card onboard.

3. The food is institutional.

Large cruise ships hold up to 3,000 passengers or more. Feeding them 3x a day, plus snacks and midnight buffets, is no easy job. On many ships there is one main restaurant and a self-serve cafeteria. Food is plentiful, but does not compare to the best restaurants on land. Some ships have additional restaurants that charge a small extra fee. Their fare is consistently superior to what passengers in "free" restaurants eat.

Advice: Avoid scurvy: Spring for a meal in a better onboard restaurant.

4. Your fellow passengers will be old.

Every cruise line attracts a different demographic, but the average age of cruisers is in the 50-60 range. That means you may spend a week with many folks who are your parents' age or older and you may not have much in common with them. Still, on any given cruise, there will be people of every age group represented.

Advice: Everyone gets old. Consider your cruise a preview.

5. Your dining time and table are pre-assigned.

If the idea of sitting at a table with six strangers at the same time every night and making conversation doesn't appeal, choose a cruise line such as NCL or Princess where you have dining flexibility. Otherwise your new best friends will save a place for you at the same table every night.

Advice: If you prefer to dine by yourselves, tell your travel agent to get you assigned to a table for two. There are a few in every dining room, but they fill up.

6. The entertainment is awful.

Most nightly cruise ship entertainment is stuck in the 1950s. Young, energetic, not-ready-for-primetime performers sing and dance their hearts out in themed variety revues designed to appeal to everyone. They don't. Outside the ship's main theater there are sometimes jazz, piano, or comedy performances. These tend to be better although they still aim to appeal to the widest audience and not offend.

Advice: Skip the big productions. Avoid harpists at all costs. And make your own entertainment.

7. Staff photographers are everywhere.

It's nice to have a professional portrait taken when you're dressed in your best. On a cruise that will be one of many, many opportunities to have your picture taken. Expect flashbulbs when you board the cruise, when you get disembark in each port, when you eat, when you participate in various activities. These shipboard paparazzi represent one more way for cruise lines to squeeze extra cash out of you.

Advice: Don't stop for photos; walk right past the photogs. Take your own pictures.

8. The safety drill.

We've all seen Titanic and know what it looks like when a ship breaks apart in the North Atlantic. Fact is, even if Leo DiCaprio was wearing his lifejacket, it's doubtful he'd survive long in those frigid waters. Every cruise today starts with a safety drill that requires all passengers to stand around on deck, crammed in wearing bulky lifejackets and listening to unintelligible commands over the loudspeaker. It's a required safety measure, but it's still annoying.

Advice: Grin and bear it.

9. The staff can be obsequious and obtrusive.

Every cruise ship aims to get high grades for service, and much is invested in training the crew. Sometimes foreign staffers tend to go -- you should excuse the expression -- overboard in their efforts to please. In a restaurant on one ship, we were asked the same question five times by mechanistic people-pleasers: "Did you enjoy your soup?"

Advice: Enjoy your soup. Once you get home, no one will care whether you like it or not.

10. Excursions are expensive. And sometimes lame.

Another revenue-grabber for cruise lines, excursions range from the sublime (helicoptering to the top of a glacier) to the ridiculous (touring a completely uninteresting port for hours in a school bus). A convenience for passengers who aren't familiar with a destination, excursions are useful in that they provide ready transportation to a land adventure.

Advice: Get off the ship and explore on your own. Hire a taxi. Or find a cheaper tour; they're usually available close to the dock.

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