7 Things the Cruise Lines Won't Tell You
When a cruise goes spectacularly — and sometimes tragically — wrong, the whole world knows about it. Indeed, the behemoths of the sea are susceptible to a wide range of headline-grabbing mayhem, including weather woes (vessels tossed by giant waves or delayed by hurricanes), mechanical problems (ships disabled by engine fires and propulsion issues) and stupid human error (e.g., the partial sinking of the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast in 2012). But first-time cruisers should be aware of other variables that could tarnish a watery sojourn — and that the cruise lines tend not to advertise.
While cruise lines generally maintain the peace on board and keep a tight watch on things, bad things happen to good cruisers all the time, and much of it is not widely publicized. From sexual assaults and disorderly conduct to cabin theft and drug use, ship security and local police authorities have their hands full. Likewise, cruisers also need to be cautious off the ship. In 2012, for instance, 22 passengers were robbed at gunpoint while returning from an excursion in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Bottom line: Have a good time, but don’t leave caution to the wind.
MORE: Safety Tips for Cruisers to Know Before They Go
Video: Cruise SafetyBe prepared before bad things go wrong on a cruise ship.
You will be nickel-and-dimed to death.
One of the biggest cruising misconceptions is that ships are all-inclusive meccas. They’re not. While luxury lines generally include more in the tariff, mass-market cruisers will be assailed by a tsunami of extra charges — booze, soft drinks, photos, dry cleaning, excursions, internet, etc. Even food costs more if you dine in the ships' for-fee restaurants, where tabs can run from about $10 to more than $75 per person (and alcohol is extra). Nothing can jolt a vacationer back into reality like a giant bar tab at the end of the cruise.
Be certain to check out a deck plan before you book [a cabin with a balcony], but even that can't warn you if you'll be sharing airspace with a smoker next door.
Your cabin may be noisy.
The lines have to cram thousands of passengers into a relatively small space, opening the door to potential noise issues. If you’re a light sleeper, select a cabin that's not near stairwells, elevators or major destinations (such as dining rooms and the spa) and doesn't have a non-cabin deck above; otherwise, people will be tromping over your head at all hours, and perhaps even jogging if you’re beneath a promenade. Connecting cabins are notoriously not private, so unless you want to hear your neighbors sneeze, book a space that can’t be expanded next door.
Balconies are overrated.
Many die-hard cruisers swear by them, but the cruise lines make a bundle by charging premium rates for these slivers of extra real estate. Sure, there are benefits (extra space in tight confines, a setting for alfresco meals, a spot to hide from fellow cruisers), but if you’re a gadabout who's not going to spend a lot of time en suite, it may be a waste. Also, many balconies are duds — obstructed by girders, open to decks above and perched directly over lifeboats. Be certain to check out a deck plan before you book, but even that can't warn you if you'll be sharing airspace with a smoker next door.
You may miss that can’t-miss port.
Ships frequently have to shift itineraries because of weather or mechanical issues. For instance, if it’s too windy, larger vessels will steer clear of tighter ports. Itineraries are also changed if there’s instability in a particular spot; if riots flare up in Cairo, Egypt, your ship may go elsewhere or just spend another day at sea. Your compensation for missing that day in Monte Carlo that you’ve been dreaming about? Usually nothing, thanks to the fine print in the contract you sign when you first book.
The ship isn't going to wait for you.
Plane late on the day of debarkation? Lost track of time at Senor Frogs in Cancun? Stuck in traffic in a cab in Messina, Sicily? Sorry, your ship will cast off without you. The captain is not going to delay thousands to accommodate your poor judgment. (If you’re on a trip-sponsored excursion that’s running late, however, you’re usually OK.) Worse still, you’re responsible for getting to the next port on your own to meet up with your clothes and toothbrush.
10th Anniversary of Queen Mary 2Go back in time aboard the Queen Mary 2 and experience the grand elegance of transatlantic luxury. Cunard Cruise Line’s flagship, the last cruise ship to be built as a true ocean liner with a deeper draft and faster speed, celebrates 10 years of service this year. The ship preserves the aesthetics and lifestyle of a bygone era while providing the most modern comforts, including plush accommodations and the first ever planetarium at sea. 960 1280
Destination Immersion with AzamaraIs this the year you seek a truly unique cruise? Escape the mega ships and hop onboard Azamara Club Cruises. The line’s luxurious 700-passenger ships avoid retracing the same old routes and instead cast off for exotic locales week after week. With next to no repetition, you can even create your own world cruise by staying on for as many consecutive sailings as you desire. Frequent latenight and overnight stays in port ensure plenty of time to experience destinations like no other cruise line. 960 1280
The All-New Quantum of the SeasOf the 3 mainstream American ships launching this year, only 1 is an entirely new design – Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas. Setting sail in November, the ship will introduce a number of innovations. North Star will leisurely crane guests 300 feet above sea level for unprecedented vistas, and more thrillingly, RipCord by iFly will simulate skydiving up on deck. Two70° will be an expansive observation lounge by day and entertainment venue for aerial shows by night. 960 1280
Dancing with the Stars: At SeaTaking to the floating stage once more in 2014 is Dancing with the Stars: At Sea. Holland America has renewed its partnership with the hit TV show, and on nearly every sailing, passengers can participate in complimentary DWTS-branded dance classes and join a competition to possibly win a free cruise and become the year’s singular guest champion. Plus, professional dancers and celebrities from the show come aboard select theme cruises to mingle with passengers and showcase their signature moves. 960 1280
Carnival LIVEEnjoy epic concerts and fun cruises? Carnival Cruise Lines has you covered with this year’s Carnival LIVE Concert Series. Guests booked on any of 49 special sailings have the chance to attend onboard performances by their favorite musicians including Chicago, Foreigner, Lady Antebellum, REO Speedwagon and STYX. Individual tickets range in price from $20-40, depending on the performers, and $100-150 will grant you VIP access to preferred seats and an exclusive meet-and-greet with the band. 960 1280
Cruise Miami-Style on the Norwegian GetawayThe New York-inspired Norwegian Breakawaymade quite the splash when the ship began sailing from the Big Apple last year. Norwegian Cruise Line’s follow-up is this year’s sister ship, Norwegian Getaway, sailing year-round from Miami. Only on this ship will you find the “Illusionarium” dinner magic venue and the GRAMMY Experience with performances by past award winners and nominees. Also, “Legally Blond” is exclusively onboard as the ship’s signature production show. 960 1280
Top Chef on Celebrity CruisesCulinary connoisseurs rejoice! Celebrity Cruises and Bravo have teamed up to present Top Chef at Sea. Excluding the Celebrity Xpedition, all cruises on the line’s ships feature Quickfire Challenges and main dining room menus inspired by the Emmy award-winning TV show. Activities expand on Top Chef Signature Sailings with the opportunity to meet and enjoy the food of 4 chef contestants from the show, as well as enjoy chef demos, private cooking classes and special dinners of their creation. 960 1280
The Royal Experience on the Regal PrincessBe treated like royalty onboard Princess Cruises. Following last year’s introduction of the new Royal Princess – christened by Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge – its sister ship, the Regal Princess, will set sail this May. It’s not yet known who will christen the new cruise ship, but it will feature the same amenities as the Royal Princess including the cantilevered and glass-floored SeaWalk. 960 1280
Family Fun on the Disney MagicTelling new stories through new features, the redesigned Disney Magic from Disney Cruise Line is a cruising haven for families. The new AquaLab, along with the free-fall AquaDunk and oscillating Twist ’n’ Spout water slides, energizes aquatic play. Everyone can see their own character drawings come to life onscreen at Animator’s Palate, and kids can become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. at Marvel’s Avengers Academy. Meanwhile, adults can escape to After Hours, an exclusive spot for those 18 and older. 960 1280
River Cruising ExpandsLooking for a more intimate cruising experience beyond the sea? Ever popular river cruises continue to make waves in 2014. Viking River Cruises has 14 new riverboats coming online for 2014, bringing the total count of its revolutionary new Longship vessels to 30. Also this year, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises goes entirely all-inclusive, bundling complimentary gratuities and unlimited beverages into the cruise fare. 960 1280
Leppert's List: Top 10 Cruises 10 Photos
Beatles CruiseBeatles Tribute Cruise
Get a dose of Beatlemania while having fun in the sun on the high seas. Fans can expect to sing along to multiple tribute artists, learn to play the guitar like George Harrison and John Lennon (OK, maybe not quite), and attend storytelling sessions about their favorite band. 960 1280
World's Wackiest Cruises 17 Photos
RSVP Vacations, Two men kayakingRSVP Vacations
Self-proclaimed “originator of the gay and lesbian cruise concept,” RSVP Cruises has welcomed more than 35,000 LGBT guests since its opening in 1985. Their focus is on fun, including kayaking, shopping, and after-hours activities like gay bingo, leather and underwear parties or costume contests. 960 1280
The Red SeaUndersea Expeditions
Explore the world, underwater! Undersea Expeditions’ exquisite scuba vacations provide gay and lesbian travelers with a unique way to see the world. Novice and experienced divers can take scuba trips to Maldives Indian Ocean, Philippines Coral Triangle, Egypt’s Red Sea and other fun destinations. 960 1280
Aquafest Cruises, men dressed in dragAquafest Cruises
Aquafest is 1 of the largest sellers of gay and lesbian group cruises in the US. Afternoon T-dances, single get-togethers and gay beach parties are just a couple organized activities. This travel company also helps schedule smaller gay and lesbian groups on world-class cruise lines. Let the fun begin! 960 1280
Atlantis Events , Afternoon T-DanceAtlantis Events
Atlantis prides itself on being the largest gay and lesbian tour operator in the world, attracting 20,000 travelers each year. Book 1 of their cruises on a top-rated ship, and explore Rome, Mykonos, Istanbul, St. Barths, Barbados, Copenhagen and many more fun destinations. 960 1280
Alyson Adventures, Women on a safariSweet
Sweet mixes the best in lesbian travel with environmental awareness, allowing guests to enjoy the world, while also making it a better place. All of their vacations are carbon neutral, yet they still travel to amazing destinations. And yes, there are top-notch lesbian entertainers and wild parties, but they also raise money for worthy causes. 960 1280
Hanns Ebensten Travel, Gay traveler in Southeast AsiaHanns Ebensten Travel
Hanns Ebensten Travel creates trips to take travelers to exotic destinations, including Southeast Asia, Egypt, Israel, Peru and Namibia. Small groups, personal touches and a unique style set them apart from other tour companies. 960 1280
Alyson Adventures, Camping in the Swiss AlpsAlyson Adventures
This tour company is about small, intimate groups for outdoor adventures, which include hiking in the Swiss Alps or scuba diving in the Caribbean. Alyson Adventures offers active getaways for gay men, lesbians and their friends. 960 1280
Olivia, Women on the beachOlivia
Olivia has been the leader in lesbian cruises and resort vacations for the last 20 years. They charter entire ships or rent out entire resorts. Costa Rica, Whales and Sea of Cortez, Barcelona to Rome and Splendor of Scandinavia and Russia are a few of their charter cruises. An additional perk is that travelers can connect with other ladies on their boat beforehand via Olivia’s social networking site. 960 1280
Two men walking on the beachSource Events
For almost 10 years, Source Events has customized trips for gay travelers, taking them to places like the Caribbean Islands, South Africa, Austria and Machu Picchu. This tour company is the perfect choice if you’re adventurous and a thrill-seeker. 960 1280
Pied Piper Travel, Friends on a cruiseship's deckPied Piper Travel
Each trip with Pied Piper Travel offers exquisite dining, elegant events, special shore excursions and other personal touches that make their trips anything but mainstream. Book your reservations with this tour company to visit Bermuda, Australia, the French Riviera, Panama, the Canary Islands, Croatia, Alaska and many more destinations. 960 1280
Best Gay Cruises 10 Photos
You won't be alone.
Even cruising veterans are sometimes confounded by the sheer number of people they’re sharing pool space with. Consider staying on board during a port call for a little "you" time. Also, check before you sign on the dotted line to be sure you haven’t inadvertently booked a theme cruise (or you’ll be spending your vacation with thousands of Kid Rock or I Love Lucy fans). Likewise, don’t expect those "private islands," which the cruise lines love to brag about, to provide much privacy — beaches, dining halls and recreation areas become packed soon after a ship docks, and sometimes several ships share the sandy havens on the same day. Do yourself a favor and head out midday, when you’ll find them to be much less crowded.
But know this: Don’t despair. For the most part, high-seas voyages are relatively calm and carefree affairs that provide you with plenty of opportunities for relaxation, discovery and only-on-a-cruise-ship gluttony. Just keep these pointers in mind, and you’ll be in for smooth sailing.