10 Things Never to Do on a Cruise

Roughly 35 million people take a cruise ship holiday every year and spend upwards of $60 billion dollars. Maybe it's the appeal of only having to unpack your suitcase once, or the idea that you travel from destination to destination while you sleep, maximizing your precious vacation time. But yes, cruising can be fun. Of course, there are the occasional accidents, illnesses, crimes and mysteries-with that many people onboard in somewhat cramped quarters, how could there not be? Also, being out on the open ocean has its inherent risks. But for those who don't care to fly or who have their grandmothers in tow, cruises are a solid, family friendly option, as long as you follow a few simple rules.

NEVER: Touch a Bible!

No one is judging you for your piety or lack thereof, but Bibles were among the items replaced in cruise ship cabins after multiple outbreaks of the Norwalk virus from 2002 to 2007. The Norwalk virus is named after Norwalk, Ohio, the town where the earliest documented cases over thirty years ago. Though the symptoms are rarely life-threatening, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea for up to three days is no picnic on the high seas. The Holland America line got serious about debugging their ships and enlisted 600 crew and subcontractors supervised by Harvard School of Public Health epidemiologist Megan Murray. Everything touched by hands that might have carried the virus-from Bibles to poker chips, railings to remote controls-had to be sanitized to a temperature of 170 degrees or thrown out.

NEVER: Rock the boat.

Much in the same way passengers are required to be on their best behavior in-flight, despite unnaturally cramped quarters and access to booze, if you're traveling aboard a cruise ship, the same rules apply. Despite the image of drunken and disorderly behavior running rampant, cruise lines often hire former military and police officers for their private security forces. These guys are no pushovers, as seven idiots discovered in 2008 when they were arrested on P&O Arcadia for literally smuggling a boatload of heroin onto the ship. And here's something to keep in mind before you decide to get romantic on a deserted deck-hidden surveillance cameras security allow personnel, officers, staff and crew to visually monitor virtually every area of the ship. Do you really want your vacation highlights to be caught on tape?

NEVER: Assume those pirates are part of the entertainment.

Not all pirates are "of the Caribbean." Though Somali pirates, who generally operate in small bands, usually choose more modest targets (like less populated naval ships), there was a cruise ship attacked by these scoundrels in Gulf of Aden (near Oman) in 2008. Though that was a scenario akin to Chihuahuas attacking a Great Dane, anyone who has ever met a viscous Chihuahua knows, they have sharp teeth. Or in this case, very big guns. Somali pirates have collected an estimated $200M in ransom money since 2008, so you can understand why they are motivated. But the good news is that 15 countries are now cooperating to police these waters.

NEVER: Fall overboard

Sound obvious? You'd be surprised how many people end up overboard. Earlier this week, a man and his companion were too busy kissing to think about the danger the open window behind them posed and they both ended up falling overboard. Even if you survived the fall (in this case the female did, the man did not), you'll be contending with the force of a floating hotel creating suction and a massive wake. Consider that the Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas ship is a floating skyscraper at 237 feet high and 1,112 feet long and carries 4,000 passengers. Even if you're stone cold sober, a sudden tilt of the boat could occur, as it did in 2007 when a Crown Princess ships autopilot malfunctioned and bowed so far to one side, passengers reported that the pool was half empty when it came back upright.

NEVER: Surf those pool waves.

Notice that there are suddenly monster waves inside the ships' usually placid pool? It's probably not a good idea to grab a boogie board and jump in, unless you're prepared to paddle all the way back to land. All cruisers have tales of rocking and rolling aboard even the largest, most stable ships-it's the ocean equivalent of airplane turbulence. But akin to fastening your seatbelts, you're better off heading inside while the crew battens down the hatches. Eating in those conditions is asking for it, so skip the buffet. Lying down may rock you to sleep or just make you more aware of the tilting movement. So instead, hit the ships' disco. There is something about line dancing or doing the electric slide on a moving dance floor that really should not be missed. It's like a rhythmic fun fair ride for adults!

NEVER: Ignore that "sinking" feeling.

Your spirits may be soaring with vacation endorphins, but don't ignore those animals instincts if sense something is wrong. With modern technology and the monitoring of the international seas, it is very unlikely, that a Titanic situation could happen again on a major cruise line. Still, it does happen occasionally, as the Sea Diamond demonstrated when it hit rocks and began listing off the coast of the Greek Island of Santorini in 2007. There was a dramatic three-hour rescue effort, which involved Greece's military, commercial ships and the island's local fishermen. No one was hurt, but the ship did sink, 15 hours after the accident. No doubt that put a real cramp in the guests' holiday plans, but if you have to be shipwrecked someplace, lovely Santorini (remember the 1983 movie Summer Lovers?) isn't too shabby.

NEVER: Assume that what happens on land, stays on land.

Even though casinos abound on many ships, a cruise is not Las Vegas. Not only does everything that happens on the cruise have consequences, but don't think that just because you're sailing at sunset, you can leave chaos and destruction in your wake. Your stops may be brief and feel like a treasure hunt scramble, but the locals aren't just props in your play. Three couples arrested in the Caribbean in 2008 learned this lesson the hard way after squabbling with a taxi driver who had given them a rushed tour of the island. In a hurry to get back to the ship, they refused to pay. Oops. Not only were they apprehended (um, the police knew exactly where to find them) and subsequently missed the boat, but they had to spend the night in spent the night in a not-so-deluxe, no-meals-included jail cell.

NEVER: Lose track of time off the ship.

You only have a few hours in Rome, and no, its clearly not enough to hit the major sites, BUT, remember that you're on a cruise. Think of it as a tasting menu-you can always go back to the places you really like. Whatever happens, keep an eye on the clock and be sure to get back to the ship on time. Outside of the US and Canada, the ship will actually sail away and leave you. It will be up to you to pay for flights, trains, taxis, hotels and meals until you can find your own way to catch up with the ship (say, if you're left in Rome, you might have to get yourself to Athens in a hurry which will be pricey). Or, you might be required to hire a speedboat to catch up with the cruise ship and do a James Bond type high-speed boat jump. Scary. As for domestic and UK cruises, ships are obligated to wait for non-returning passengers and sometimes charge hefty fees to latecomers. And you can just imagine what the hundreds of other passengers, who painstakingly made it back on time, will be standing on the decks and saying about you.


As pretty as your stopover and the residents of the island may be, its a very bad idea to just decide to go AWOL and just stay on island. If you disappear from the ship, the cruise line is obligated to stage a search. If the person is not quickly found on board the vessel, then the vessel must return to the last location where the person was seen-land or sea. Needless to say, they may assume you fell overboard. About 5 people a year do for a variety of reasons, but have often been rescued, even after hours have gone by. When someone goes missing, it's a very serious situation (thank stars), in part because if cruise line fails to perform a reasonable search and rescue, it may be held liable for the passenger's disappearance. So maybe it's your dream come true to live in Aruba, fish and run a fish fry shack and once you get there, you can't wait a second longer. Fine-just go through the proper channels and notify them that you're not lost, just abandoning ship.

NEVER: Ignore the safety briefings.

A floating resort with multiple passenger decks, pools, restaurants, theaters, gyms, spas, nightclubs and casinos it may be, but a cruise ship is still a boat out on the open water. Sudden storms and rouge waves similar to the one made famous in Sebastian Unger's book The Perfect Storm are an unlikely but still possible phenomena. Passengers aboard the Norwegian Dawn report being hit by rogue wave 7-stories tall during an otherwise typical sail in 2008. It says a lot that the ship stayed upright-after all, modern cruisers are basically the size of small island nations. But you may want to actually pay attention to the safety briefings before and during your sail, and have a general sense of where your loved ones are enjoying themselves.
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