The Rudest Things You Can Do On A Cruise, According To Etiquette Gurus

There are a few ways to avoid a faux pas at sea.
The key to cruise etiquette is respecting your fellow passengers' desire to enjoy their vacation as well.
David C Tomlinson via Getty Images
The key to cruise etiquette is respecting your fellow passengers' desire to enjoy their vacation as well.

Cruises are many travelers’ preferred way to vacation. They often offer all-inclusive discount packages, and there’s certainly something appealing about getting to visit multiple destinations without having to repeatedly unpack and repack your suitcase.

But the lure of relaxing and letting loose on a mega-ship filled with endless buffets, pools, entertainment spaces and more is not an excuse to throw all sense of etiquette out the window (or overboard).

“You’re essentially sharing a huge house on water with a large number of people you’ve never seen and perhaps will never see again in your life,” Jackie Vernon-Thompson, the founder of From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette, told HuffPost. “But your attitude should not be, ‘Oh, I’ll never see them again so I can do whatever I choose.’ There are protocols to follow to ensure you do not cause another guest to have an unpleasant experience.”

With that in mind, we asked etiquette pros like Vernon-Thompson, as well as cruise experts, to share some common rude behaviors you should avoid as a cruise passenger, and what to do instead.

Hogging Chairs

“Passengers known to cruisers as ‘chair hogs’ often leave personal items on chairs to claim them and then disappear for hours,” said Ashley Kosciolek, a senior cruise writer at The Points Guy. “Don’t be one of those people. This goes for anywhere on board, but it largely applies to sun loungers by the pool.”

If you want a prime location at the pool, commit to it. Don’t just wake up early, throw some stuff on your preferred chairs and then go back to bed or have a long, leisurely breakfast before actually using the seats. There are other passengers who would no doubt like to sit in those empty chairs.

“Additionally, don’t commandeer chairs for family and friends who will join you at an unspecified time in the future,” said Tami Claytor, the etiquette coach behind Always Appropriate Image and Etiquette Consulting.

Ignoring Health And Hygiene

“Don’t ever use your hands to touch food at the buffet,” Kosciolek said. “This is one of the biggest ways illnesses spread on ships. Use the tongs or other utensils provided.”

If you want to go back to the food stations for seconds, don’t bring your original plate or use your fingers or used table utensils to serve yourself.

“Use a new plate if you return to the buffet line for an additional serving,” Claytor said. “Step away from the table or buffet line to cough or sneeze. Helping to minimize the spread of germs is invisible good etiquette.”

Don’t forget about handwashing as well, especially after using the restroom.

“This should be common sense, but you’d be surprised by the number of people I see walking out of the stall and straight out the door,” Kosciolek added. “Always wash your hands.”

Do your part to mitigate the spread of illness on the ship. We’ve all seen the headlines about disease outbreaks on cruises.

“If you feel ill, remain in your cabin and request a visit from the doctor onboard or go straight to their office,” Vernon-Thompson advised.

Showing Up Late For Things

“Be on time, especially for shore excursions,” urged Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and host of the “Were You Raised by Wolves?” podcast. “Don’t make people wait for you.”

Remember that your lateness affects other people. Crew members might have to put in extra work to make up for the delay, and you can cut into your fellow passengers’ schedules.

“Whether it’s to dinner, to a spa appointment or returning to the ship from an excursion, it’s inconsiderate to be late,” said cruise expert Stewart Chiron, a.k.a. “The Cruise Guy.” “The ship can be delayed departing and then arriving at the next port of call. Cruise lines can also leave you.”

He noted that showing up late to a dinner reservation or spa appointment can throw off the whole schedule for others too.

“Say you timed your spa treatment perfectly to go back to your cabin and continue relaxing before dinner, but the guy before you showed up 45 minutes late and rudely insisted on having his treatment,” Chiron said. “That eats into your time.”

Forgetting About Tipping

“Be sure to read the fine print on tipping when cruising,” said Jodi R.R. Smith, the president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “Sometimes tips or partial tips are included. Sometimes certain staff tips are included and others are not.”

That includes “invisible” staff like housekeepers and porters, Smith added.

Err on the side of being generous with your tips if you’re unsure.

“Tipping culture is alive and well on most cruises,” Leighton said. “When in doubt if gratuity has already been included or what an appropriate amount should be, just ask.”

If tipping is going to be an issue for you, reconsider your travel plans.

“Don’t remove gratuities from your bill,” Kosciolek said. “Hardworking crew ― including people behind the scenes who wash the dishes and do the laundry ― depend on them. Instead, build the cost of tips into your vacation budget so it’s accounted for. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to cruise.”

Disrespecting Dress Codes

“Even the most casual of cruises has dress codes, so familiarize yourself with what’s appropriate in different areas of the ship and at different times of day,” Leighton said. “While a tuxedo isn’t mandatory on most sailings anymore, rare is the cruise line that is thrilled to have you sipping evening cocktails in the bar with bare feet and a dripping bathing suit.”

Cruise ships typically offer a wide variety of sections and occasions throughout your voyage. Be mindful of your fellow passengers and try to dress appropriately for each context.

“For example, swimwear cover-ups should be worn in all areas outside the immediate vicinity of the pool,” Claytor said.

Letting Your Kids Run Wild

“Do not allow your children to run screaming down the hallways for fun,” Smith said. “Your fun should not impinge on the enjoyment of others.”

Remember you’re still responsible for your children’s behavior, so if you want to go to the casino or have a child-free dinner, you have to arrange for childcare. You can’t assume other passengers or crew will take care of them.

“Do not expect the cruise staff to babysit your children,” Claytor said. “Lax supervision in childcare can lead to dangerous and unintended consequences. If you do utilize onboard daycare, remember to respect the closing time. Never arrive late to pick up your child. It is inconsiderate to the staff.”

Chiron recommended setting ground rules before bringing kids onto a cruise.

“When my wife and I traveled with my kids, we had talks with them, discussions of what they should do and shouldn’t do,” he said. “Some parents just unleash their kids and don’t care what they do, but this can have a negative impact on other people’s hard-earned vacations. I’ve seen kids go into the gym and take those big bouncy balls and put them in the elevator. Or kids running around a restaurant or a pool causing chaos.”

Chiron also emphasized the potential danger in this rude behavior.

“Sometimes parents think it’s an incredibly safe environment and nothing will happen or that the kids won’t misbehave, or there’s nowhere for them to go,” he said. “But we’ve seen kids who thought it was cute to throw deck chairs over the side of the ship, and it’s on video and the parents are held responsible.”

Remember that the crew and your fellow passengers are not responsible for your children.
David Sacks via Getty Images
Remember that the crew and your fellow passengers are not responsible for your children.

Pushing And Cutting In Line

“While packing your bags, don’t forget to pack a sizable amount of patience and kindness,” Vernon-Thompson said.

This advice especially applies to unpleasant situations like long lines. Wait your turn.

“Do not push ahead of others for buffets, shows or excursions,” Smith advised.

“Let people exit an elevator before you enter,” Claytor added. “Don’t push into a crowded elevator. Don’t push ahead of people who are on line in front of you. Don’t get frustrated if the elevators are full. If possible, use the stairs and let people with mobility issues have first priority of the elevators.”

Similarly, respect people’s space in other situations.

“The hallways are pretty narrow in the cabin areas, so when you see someone coming, walk on one side to ensure you and the other passenger have clearance,” Vernon-Thompson said.

Treating Staff Poorly

Smile and say thank you to the people working on the ship. Show courtesy and kindness.

“Be considerate of the crew that cleans your room,” Vernon-Thompson said. “Try not to leave all types of personal items out for them to be subjected to moving it from the bed. Follow the requests and rules of the crew members.”

Remember the staff is working hard to make your vacation safe and enjoyable.

Getting Too Drunk

“Know your limit of alcohol to prevent awkward or offense interactions with other passengers,” Vernon-Thompson advised.

Getting too drunk on a cruise can also lead to serious accidents and injuries, so crew members take these situations seriously.

“Don’t drink to the point of becoming loud, belligerent and disorderly,” Claytor said. “That behavior makes other people uncomfortable and puts the staff in an awkward position of policing your conduct, which distracts them from catering to the guests who are adhering to the cruise line’s policies.”

Making Excess Noise

“Don’t slam doors, play music on your balcony or otherwise be excessively loud in your cabin,” Kosciolek said. “Cruise ship rooms aren’t soundproof, and it’s nice to have some consideration for your fellow passengers.”

No one wants to spend their vacation listening to your music, show or conversation, so pack headphones.

“Don’t use speakerphone in common areas, such as poolside, dining areas or theaters,” Claytor said. “It is disruptive to others. I recommend going to a private area or to your cabin. Use your indoor voice in common areas such as hallways. Respect in-cabin quiet time.”

Being Inconsiderate Of Fellow Passengers

“First and foremost, on a cruise, no matter how big the boat may seem, you will see the same people over and over again,” Smith said. “Be sure to behave appropriately.”

Smile and say hello to people and be considerate in communal spaces.

“Some people go to the gym and hog the equipment and then don’t wipe it down,” Chiron said. “Or they’ll add their own bubbles to the jacuzzi.”

Cruises come with many opportunities for mingling, so try to be a pleasant conversationalist.

“Don’t talk about your loyalty status if nobody asks you,” Kosciolek said. “We get it. You’ve been on TONS of cruises, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to know about it. Bragging is tacky, and nobody likes a one-upper.”

She also advised against bringing up politics or religion at meals with people you’ve just met.

“If you have set seating, you might find yourself sharing a table with other cruisers,” Kosciolek said. “Vacation is not the time to bring up touchy subjects since you don’t know where your new friends stand. Instead, talk about other interests, where you’re from or what you plan to do in port the next day.”

Do your best to de-escalate tense situations and refrain from engaging in arguments. Similarly, respect those who aren’t interested in mingling with you.

“Keep in mind, not everyone is looking to make a new friend,” Claytor said. “Be mindful of social cues. Don’t get offended if fellow voyagers fail to reciprocate your attempts at striking up a conversation.”

Smoking Outside Designated Areas

“Only smoke in the designated smoking areas,” Claytor emphasized.

In addition to limiting your smoking to the places where it’s permitted, pay attention to your surroundings.

“Always be aware of the direction of the smoke,” Vernon-Thompson said. “If it is going into an area where people exist, shift your position.”

Throwing Things Overboard

Throwing things overboard is not just rude ― it’s a serious rule violation. Those who disregard this rule will be subject to fines and potentially barred from traveling with the cruise line in the future.

“Don’t throw garbage overboard,” Claytor said. “Courtesy should not only extend to people but also to the environment. Remember to properly dispose of all trash.”

She also advised against hanging your clothes on your balcony railing to dry.

“Resist the urge to hang wet items on the balcony,” Claytor said. “These items may blow in to the ocean or on to the balcony of another cabin.”

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