Ten Drawbacks to Cruising

Julie Royce's picture

With the holidays behind us my attention is fully directed towards finding a March cruise. Topping the list of possibilities is Brazil, or maybe Chile.

Recently, I shared my Ten Best Reasons to Take a Cruise.  For my husband and me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but to present a balanced picture this column will weigh the downside of the cruise experience: Ten Drawbacks to Cruising.

Departing Sydney for New Zealand

Departing Sydney for New Zealand

1.    Flexibility.

There is no option to change the ports of call. Once you purchase a cruise your stops are set in stone. Barring exigent circumstances (like a hurricane in port) you will go only where the ship promised. If you hear great things about a port not on the schedule, or wish to change the itinerary to travel inland, it can’t be done.

2.    Control.

This is a corollary of number one. You have no control. There are strict rules to prevent passengers from following their individual inner voices and causing the cruise to devolve into chaos. You give up a significant degree of personal choice. Don’t dare to catch a spectacular sunset on Mt. Haleakala if it means you will be ten minutes late back to ship. If you take that dare, expect a thousand sets of reproachful eyes boring through you as your rush up the gangplank. If you want to take a day adventure that exceeds by a half hour the scheduled departure from port, it is impossible.

3.    Extras.

Cruise lines are a money-making, hopefully profitable, business. Don’t begrudge them their due. They work hard for it.  They offer rock-bottom prices to entice vacationers who might otherwise feel unable to afford such a luxury. It isn’t that there are “hidden” costs, but there are always a handful of passengers who are amazed that a gratuity was automatically added to their account, or that sodas required a card that sells for a price that would have let them drink Veuve Clicquot back home. Internet minutes and computer usage are costly. Cruise ships limit how much alcohol can be brought aboard for personal consumption and on-board drinking can be an expensive add-on. Most of this is spelled out in the brochure, but apparently not everyone reads it. I felt the cruise line tried to keep passengers captive to the excursion trips they offered. They made it difficult to plan anything on my own. I couldn’t get a straight answer about which Quay we would be docking at. Being a travel writer I intended to set my own independent side trips and found it a Herculean task because of inadequate information.

4.    Kickbacks.

While in port you will be directed to shops (jade, linens, leather, ceramics, diamonds, gold or whatever happens to be the recommended buy for the stop), and the cruise line is usually provided a kickback. The shop may or may not provide quality goods at reasonable prices, but it helps to be aware of the symbiotic relationship between shop owners and the cruise line.  

5.    Check-in can be chaotic. 

For one voyage, we sat four hours in sweltering heat as cruise staff tried to orchestrate boarding a few thousand passengers. In the midst of bedlam, they also posed every boarding passenger so there would be a photo memory to sell that guest later. Smaller cruise ships avoid much of this problem.

The Sydney Opera House from aboard ship

The Sydney Opera House from aboard ship

6.    Disembarking Challenges.

Getting everyone off ship comes with its own hurdles. You can expect to be herded like cattle into assigned meeting places and given a specific time to go ashore.  On one of our cruises we were offered transportation and luggage handling to the airport or downtown hotels via cruise operated busses. We were advised the port would be crowded and cabs would have trouble with the traffic congestion. If the cost for the shuttle service had been reasonable, passengers would have welcomed it. Instead, the cost was nearly double what a cab would have cost. This gouging seemed a sour note to end an otherwise grand vacation.  

7.    Weather is not predictable. 

This is true for every vacation, but it’s more ominous when you are caught in a storm on the high-seas. I have friends who never made it out of their beds the whole cruise. Horror stories abound. Bad weather in port can ruin a day intended for parasailing, kayaking, or some other outdoor activity and there will be no chance to reschedule. Cruise lines sail during the peak seasons so this isn’t usually a huge problem.

8.     Rooms are small.

If you opt for the lower price category of rooms, that will be a simple fact. They are adequate and clean, but some folks who manage to walk into the tight entry space of their room at the beginning of the cruise probably have to struggle to wedge themselves out after a couple weeks of cruise dining. The bathrooms give the word tiny a whole new meaning.

9.    Constantly pushing photos.

This is both minor and petty, but I found it annoying. I didn’t like the intrusion of being posed for an unwanted photo during my dinners or other activities.

10.    Limited scope.

You can board ship, stop at several ports, take excursions, and disembark several days later without getting a real sense of the country, and without meeting a single local (other than those offering excursions). You may feel your only taste of the country was a sanitized spoon-fed cruise smorgasbord. For the most part, you also lose the opportunity to see the heart of a country. It’s like seeing San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego with no way to visit Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or Denver.

Read more: a dozen tips to consider as you prepare for a cruise and Cruising Travel Hacks You Didn’t Know.



Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators.


All photos courtesy and copyright Bob & Julie Royce