Frequent cruisers and travel agents mean well when they give you advice about when, where, and how to cruise. Everybody and their Uncle Larry has an opinion about cabin choices, itineraries, and ship choice.
But how much of that advice do you need to follow and what can you take with a grain of salt?
Sometimes you aren’t crazy if you cruise against the crowd. Here are the seven biggest cruising myths busted wide open.
1. Myth: Always get a cabin in the center of the ship.
The thinking is that in rough waters the center of the ship is the pivot point and essentially moves less.
Busted: The myth stems from older, small ships that can really rock and roll. Don’t get me wrong, you can sometimes feel the movement on big ships and they do encounter rough seas on occasion. But for the average person, there is no need to skip a cruise if you can’t get a center-of-the-ship cabin. How much time will you really spend in the cabin anyway? If you choose a forward or aft cabin and rough seas cause motion that makes you seasick in the cabin, that’s when you head for a public area in the center. Choose an area where you can use “the horizon as a point to maintain your equilibrium,” according to the helpful folks at Cruise Critic. Personally, I find the worst place on a ship in rough seas is on the upper decks near the bow. Everywhere else is usually comfortable.
2. Myth: Don’t do the Caribbean during hurricane season.
Busted: Except the hurricane scenario rarely happens. Some of my very favorite cruises have been in September. Kids are back in school and cruise prices plummet. The experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would say that it’s a bad month because it is the peak hurricane month, with an average of 2.4 hurricanes occurring each September over the last 162 years. The key to remember is that ships have plenty of advance warning and are almost always capable of moving out of the way. They change itineraries frequently for bad weather of all kinds. The real advice isn’t to avoid cruising during hurricane season, but to have a relaxed attitude about port or scheduling changes, including delayed departure or return times.
3. Myth: Cruise on the biggest ship you can find.
Everybody loves the newest and biggest cruise ship. There’s more to do, more to explore, and the crowd has more room to spread out.
Busted: This one is so busted. The key word in the paragraph above is “crowd.” What if there wasn’t a crowd to begin with? One look at the relatively small size of the ships sailing for luxury cruise lines like Silversea or Azamara Club Cruises should make you wonder why people love the mega-ships so much. Luxury lines know that to give people the pampering they crave and a travel experience that is more about the destinations than the onboard activities, you’ve got to go small. My family’s favorite cruise of all time was on board a tiny Celebrity ship named Zenith. The ship is long gone now, replaced by bigger and grander choices, but fond memories of sailing on her are still a frequent topic of conversation in my family.
4. Myth: Avoid “old people” cruise lines.
There are cruise lines that have a reputation for catering to an older crowd. If you want to party or have kids that need entertaining, steer clear of lines like Holland America, Celebrity, Princess, and Cunard.
Busted: I agree that it is wise to explore the passenger profile of a cruise line you are considering, but finding an itinerary that suits you is actually more important. Ships filled with seniors sometimes offer longer voyages and a greater variety of ports than cruise lines with a younger target market. I have cruised on both types of ships, with and without my child, and found the experiences comparable. The same holds true in reverse. Seniors and couples traveling without children should not overlook Disney Cruise Line. One senior childless cruiser wrote this on Cruise Critic about Disney, "No other cruise line compares for entertainment, cleanliness, service and taste and variety of their food.“
5. Myth: Book your cruise a year in advance.
The concept is that prices start low, then increase as a sailing fills to capacity.
Busted: Book your cruise when you want to book your cruise. Not everyone has the luxury of knowing a year in advance what their schedule is like. I especially hear this myth regarding Alaskan cruises. My mother and her cousin decided last May that they wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise. They sailed four weeks later in a fabulous cabin at an affordable price. I turned to the cruise specialists at Vacations To Go for some rate comparisons. On average, starting prices for Alaskan cruises are about equal between last minute and one year in advance. There are greater fluctuations among balcony cabins, but in our search, only $200 separated an ocean view cabin on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas sailing either in June of 2015 or June of 2016.
6. Myth: Always arrive in port the night before you sail.
The goal is to avoid risking travel delays that could cause you to miss your cruise.
Busted: I have arrived the night before and I have been that person scrambling up the gangplank as the all aboard horn is sounding because the only flight I could get was an afternoon arrival. I must say that I prefer arriving the night before. The downside is needing to checkout of the hotel by 11am and not being allowed on the ship until early afternoon. But where the myth gets busted is in the cost. Add up the cost of a night in a hotel, possibly a rental car if no hotel shuttle is available, and possibly an additional night’s parking if you are driving to the port. If those extras breaks your cruise budget, then do what you can to arrive early on the day of departure and say Bon Voyage to the naysayers.
7. Myth: Stick to one cruise line to earn loyalty points.
Who doesn’t love a good points program and the status that goes with it?
Busted: Cruise loyalty programs are nothing more than a sales tool. They aren’t like airlines. You are most likely not going to earn a free cruise in your lifetime. Free cruises are possible with travel credit cards, however. For advice on that, I turned to free travel expert The Points Guy, who told me that he much prefers the unbranded travel points cards better than any specific cruise line’s card. Trust me, he’s the guy who would know.