Updated August 21, 2018
Here are some common onboard cruise ship problems and how to handle them. Click the following links to go directly to a topic of interest.
The ship has sailed, and I still haven't received my luggage.
The Remedy: There are two reasons you might not have your luggage after sailaway: The airline lost it, or you gave it to a shoreside porter, and it hasn't arrived.
The first thing to understand with either case is that most lines ask passengers to be patient for the first few hours after sailing. (The bigger and fuller the ship, the longer luggage delivery can take.) But if your luggage hasn't arrived a few hours after you sail, there's some cause for concern. It's time to head to the purser's desk.
If it's suspected that the bags were lost somewhere in transit, the cruise line will begin tracing their whereabouts and, between it and the airline, if possible, have them delivered to the ship in the next cruise port. "If possible" is the key phrase. Based on extensive anecdotal evidence, effort/execution by the airline/cruise line will vary. Should you discover at the airport that your suitcase didn't come off the airplane, file a lost bag report, provide the details of your cruise ship and itinerary, and notify your ship's purser's desk immediately upon boarding. If you're lucky, the bags might even show up before sailaway.
If your bag was loaded by a porter, it's extremely unlikely that it's not on the ship. (There have been rare occurrences of bags falling in the water pierside.) In general, luggage could be missing for two reasons: Either crew found contraband (smuggled booze or prohibited gadgets like irons or candles), or your bag was delivered to the wrong cabin. Guest services should be able to sort out the situation. (You might even get told, over the PA, to report to the "naughty room" to identify your prohibited items, get a light scolding if you've done wrong and recover the rest of your luggage.)
If bags are legitimately lost, many lines will take pity on passengers. For instance, Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer amenity kits with T-shirts and a few other essentials. Luxury lines might go much further. There are always the onboard shops, which sell everything from logowear to designer clothing, depending on the ship, and stores at your first port of call. Laundry service and onboard Laundromats can help you get more wear out of a few items of clothing. Some insurance policies include coverage to make sure your bag gets to the next port of call. Likewise, if the airline permanently misplaces your bag, trip insurance will help cover the monetary loss.
As with so many other cruise problems that arise, preparation is the best remedy. Whether your bags are transferred by the airline or a shoreside porter, you should never pack in checked luggage items (like medications) that you cannot live without. It's also helpful to carry on a bag with an outfit or two, a bathing suit for embarkation-day splashing, and toiletry essentials.
My cabin has twin beds, and we want a double.
The Remedy: Not to worry. Many cabins are equipped with twin beds that can be converted into queens. Simply ask your cabin steward to bump them together for you while you're at dinner or enjoying some sun on the pool deck. The opposite is also true: Double beds can be separated out into individual twins.
The television (or toilet or air-conditioning) in my cabin doesn't work properly.
The Remedy: First, check with your cabin steward to confirm there actually is a problem (and not just that the TV remote needs batteries). Then call the front desk, or speak with the hotel director as soon as possible. If the problem occurs the first day of cruise, be prepared to wait to speak with someone; lines at the purser's desk are long, and phone wait times can be excessive. Once notified of the issue, most cruise lines impose limits on the time it takes to respond, so passengers aren't inconvenienced for longer than necessary. If the problem can't be fixed, the cruise line will try to move you to the same category cabin (or better). If another cabin isn't available, you might be offered a gift (onboard credit or bottle of wine, for example) for the inconvenience. If they don't offer, ask.
The people in the cabin next door are bothering us (talking too loudly, smoking on the balcony, etc.).
The Remedy: Soundproofing is never the best on cruise ships, and it's even worse when there's an interior door connecting your cabin to the next. If you find the people next door are making too much noise (talking loudly too early or too late, turning the music or TV up high, making odd-sounding bumps and thumps) or bothering you in other ways, you have a few options:
1. Confront them. Knock on their door, or flag them down if you run into them in the corridor, and ask them -- politely, mind you -- to turn down the volume. You'll find most people are pretty understanding and might not even have been aware they were making too much noise. However, be prepared that some might not take kindly to your suggestion.
2. Tell reception. This approach keeps your identity (fairly) anonymous and might carry more weight, as the request is coming from a crew member. The only downside is it might lead to slightly frosty relations with your neighbors if they suspect the complaint came from you.
3. Ask to be moved. This is an option if the noise really is unbearable (and at this point the hotel manager would likely step in anyway). For example, if you are next to very young children who are crying and screaming nonstop, the ship might take pity on you, as the parents might not be able to keep the volume down.
One final note: Many passengers find the sea very invigorating, and thoughts often turn to amorous activities. In this case, again, there is little that you can do except turn your TV up loud, leave the cabin, or put a pillow over your head and wait until it's over.
Smoking on the balcony or in the cabin is much more clear-cut. If the line's rules are that you can smoke on the balcony, then there is little you can do but ask the occupants (politely) not to when you're outside enjoying the fresh air. If there are clear rules that you cannot smoke on balconies or in the cabin, then you are well within your rights to make a complaint to the cruise line.
We're unhappy with our dinner arrangements (seating time, tablemates, table size, etc.).
The Remedy: Most of these issues can easily be dealt with by speaking to the main dining room's maitre d'. He or she usually is available on embarkation day. If you don't like your assigned dining time, you can request a switch from late to early seating (or vice versa) or swap assigned dining for flexible dining. The maitre d' can't always accommodate all requests -- it depends on whether tables are open and what other swap requests are being made -- but the dining staff do their best to find an acceptable solution.
Table size is also something you can discuss with the maitre d' to see if it's possible to change to a bigger or smaller table, but, again, these are assigned well ahead of time, so make sure you ask early on. It's often easier to move to a bigger table; two-tops are generally scarce.
Regarding tablemates, this is also a common complaint, and no one is going to force you to sit with people with whom you don't get along. Just be frank with the dining staff when you ask to be reassigned; often, the other party will have also requested a new table. Alternatively, opt for flexible dining (if your ship offers it) -- which will allow you to eat whenever you'd like and with whomever you'd like between certain hours -- or avoid the main dining room, and stick to the buffet, specialty restaurants and room service.
We can't get a reservation at the alternative restaurant.
The Remedy: The longer the cruise you are on, the more likely you will be able to secure a sitting. But sometimes your preferred dining time isn't available. You can avoid this issue by making a booking online in advance of your cruise. As soon as you have access to your cruise's online reservation system, go ahead and make a dinner booking.
But if you've neglected to do this, and spots have filled up, you can still find a way to try the alternative dining venues. Here are some tricks:
1. Go on the first night. In general, most specialty restaurants are dying for customers on the first night. Some even throw in free wine or a discount on the cover charge.
2. Be flexible. If you're willing to dine early or late, the restaurant might have an opening at an odd hour. The time might not be ideal, but at least you'll get to try out the restaurant.
3. Get on a waitlist. If you're willing to accept a reservation at the last minute, ask if the restaurant can alert you if there's a cancellation or if it can squeeze you in if someone leaves early.
4. Befriend the maitre d'. Go to the restaurant, and personally talk to the maitre d'. Explain why you really must dine at the specialty venue (your anniversary or your first cruise, for example). Sometimes the personal touch gives the dining staff more incentive to find a way to slot you in.
5. Go for lunch. Some specialty venues are open for lunch on sea days (often with a lower surcharge). The menu might be more limited than the evening one, but it gives you another opportunity to dine at the restaurant.
6. Be persistent. Don't be afraid to be annoying. Ring regularly. It's unlikely that something won't come up at some point during your cruise. Your enthusiasm might make the maitre d' more determined to find you a booking (or he'll do it to get you out of his hair).
My shore excursion of choice is sold out.
The Remedy: Visit the shore excursions desk as soon as possible to ask to be added to a waiting list. People invariably change their minds and cancel plans, so you might get lucky. (Or, if there's a lot of interest, the staff might be able to add on an extra bus or departure for the excursion.) Cruise lines give priority to passengers who are most loyal to them, so if you're an upper-tier member of the line's loyalty program, you might be added to a priority wait list. If you've purchased an Internet package and are willing to spend your valuable minutes doing some research, visit tourist boards and Cruise Critic's travel boards to see what independent options might be available. A handful of independent excursion companies basically offer the same kind of tours at about 10 to 20 percent off the cruise line cost. In some destinations, such as Alaska, independent tour operators set up shop on the pier, and you can book a tour as you debark.
My shore excursion was a bust, and I paid a lot of money for the tour.
The Remedy: For shore tours booked through the line, report your dissatisfaction to the shore excursion manager immediately upon returning onboard. Be clear and concise about the nature of the problem. If you simply didn't enjoy the tour, you are unlikely to receive compensation, so avoid making a complaint unless you have a valid reason.
As Cruise Critic member diane.in.ny says on our message boards: "Based upon my experience, the only time you would get a refund is 1) cruise line cancels or 2) you STRONGLY felt the excursion was misrepresented in the description, were VERY unhappy with it, and complained FORCIBLY to the front desk."
Cruise lines will be more likely to listen to your complaint if there are a number of people on your tour who agree. And, speaking of power in numbers, don't forget to tell people about your experience by using sites like Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor.
If the problem is not resolved in a satisfactory way, put it in writing, and make sure you save a copy. Then follow up with the line itself when you return from the cruise.
If you booked an excursion through an independent tour operator, you will have to take up the problem with that company. Ask to speak to a manager while still in port if there's time before your ship sails, or follow up with a letter, phone call or email when you return home. Document the situation as best you can by keeping receipts, taking photos of problematic situations and noting tour staffers names to aid in your claim.
My waiter (or cabin steward or bartender) was rude or inattentive.
The Remedy: You are responsible for reporting bad service. And time is of the essence in these matters. If you sit on the complaint, there will be little the cruise line can do to address the situation. If it's a problem with your waiter, have a chat with the maitre d'. Otherwise, contact the hotel director or the front desk staff, and relay the nature of your problem as soon as you can. It's also helpful to express what you feel is an acceptable solution (an apology, a move to another dining table, etc.). If the problem is not resolved in a satisfactory way, put it in writing, and make sure to save a copy. Then follow up with the line itself when you return from the trip. Know this: The cruise line will try harder to respond if there's a record that you attempted to solve the problem onboard.
Our ship missed a scheduled port or had an itinerary change.
The Remedy: If your sailing had an itinerary change that resulted in missing a scheduled port of call, there's not much you can do about it. All cruise contracts include language saying port calls are not guaranteed and may be changed or eliminated. You will be refunded the port tax, usually in the form of an onboard credit, but it will be a fairly small amount (perhaps $12 to $16). There's at least one exception to this. The Bahamas only charges one port tax, regardless of how many Bahamas ports a ship visits. So if you miss Nassau but visited the Bahamian private island of the cruise line you're sailing, you will not be refunded any money. It's the same if the ship skips the private island but you visit Nassau. Also, if you had booked any excursions through the cruise line's excursion offerings, you will be refunded your money. However, if you booked an excursion through a third-party independent tour operator, the cruise line will not refund that money; you'll need to contact your provider to find out about cancellation policies and refunds.
I've caught a stomach virus onboard, and I'm stuck in my cabin, not having fun on my vacation.
The Remedy: It's no fun being sick on vacation, but you do want to follow the doctor's advice and lie low while you're ill. Stomach bugs (not to mention colds) are highly contagious, and you don't want to spread them around. If you're hoping for some compensation for missing fun sea-day activities or exploring in port, we hate to burst your bubble, but getting sick is not reason enough for a cruise line to refund your money or offer up onboard credit.
While you might not be able to do half of the things you had planned, you can still enjoy some of the perks of being at sea. If you find yourself quarantined in your cabin, try the following:
1. Order room service. It's available 24 hours a day and usually free of charge. Send out for toast, bananas and tea, or get breakfast in bed when you start to feel better. It's a welcome service you won't find at home.
2. Tap into your amenities. Have a balcony? Go sit on it; the fresh air might do you good. Complimentary movies? Have a marathon, as it's as good a time as any to finally see that blockbuster you've been meaning to watch.
3. Lounge in bed. When else are you allowed the luxury of taking a sick day to do nothing? Read, nap, listen to music, and let your body recover.
I've got permanent seasickness and feel sick at all times onboard.
The Remedy: There are many effective seasickness remedies you can employ, ranging from medicine to natural cures. Seasickness meds, in the form of a pill or patch, do work well. More natural remedies -- with varying results -- include eating ginger or green apples and using pressure bands. In addition, if you start to feel queasy, hang out in a low and central location on the ship (the atrium, perhaps), where the ship's rocking will be minimized, or go out on deck where there's fresh air and you can see the horizon. For more tips on quelling mal de mer, see our feature, Avoiding Seasickness.
I visited the ship's medical facility, and they wouldn't accept my insurance.
The Remedy: Cruise ships don't accept regular health insurance, including Medicare. If you need to see an onboard doctor, you will have to pay out of pocket. But keep your receipts -- some insurance companies will reimburse you for medical expenses incurred while traveling abroad. Better yet, buy a travel insurance policy that will cover any expenses not included on your own healthcare policy. For more information, see our feature, Getting Sick at Sea.
I got ill onboard, and the ship's doctor wants me to go to a hospital in port. I'm concerned about the quality of healthcare abroad, and I don't want to leave the ship. Plus, how will I get home?
The Remedy: If an onboard doctor decides you need care he or she can't provide onboard, that's it -- your cruise is over. Onboard medical staff can't take the risk of you declining to debark and then getting sicker on their watch. Typically, the cruise line will arrange for transportation to the hospital and send a member of the medical staff or care team with you. However, you'll be on your own for paying medical bills (sometimes in cash, up front, depending on the country's healthcare system), putting up a family member in local accommodations and getting yourself back home. Again, this is where travel insurance can save you thousands of dollars in unexpected bills.
I need to get in touch with the outside world, but the onboard Internet connection is too slow, and cell phone service is too expensive.
The Remedy: Short of a message in a bottle, which typically takes a long time and is considered littering, Internet and phone are your two at-sea communication options. We will say this: Driven by the demand of an increasingly logged-in passenger base, cruise ship Internet speeds are improving. Many lines now offer reliable bow-to-stern Wi-Fi for those who bring their own devices onboard, and some lines -- like Carnival, which offers a social media package for $5 per day -- are even providing free or deeply discounted Internet options.
The good news is that free, fast Wi-Fi is offered at cafes and restaurants in most popular ports. Pop in, sit down, and grab a bite or some coffee while you check your email. (Note: You might need to ask an employee for the password.)
Cellular rates at sea vary by wireless company, but they will generally reflect international roaming rates, which can be anywhere from $1 to $2.49 per minute. When the ship reaches port, pricing will switch to the country-specific roaming rate -- also not cheap unless you've signed up for an international calling plan. If the call can wait, making it ashore is the best solution. Crew often know the spots to make long-distance calls in port (and many do so by snagging an international phone card), or you can use Skype or any voiceover IP service that requires an Internet connection.
If it's a true emergency, the ship's staff will typically let you make calls for free.
For more on communicating at sea, see our story, Connecting at Sea: Internet and Phone Use Onboard.
All the spa appointments are filled up, but I really want a massage/pedicure/haircut.
The Remedy: If you have your heart set on a particular spa treatment, we recommend that you head to the spa as soon as you step onboard to make sure you can lock in a time. The best appointment times (like the afternoon before formal night) will book up quickly, and the shorter the cruise, the faster spa appointments will sell out. If your preferred time is booked, you can usually find an opening at a less popular time, like while the ship is in port and most people are ashore. If all else fails, keep checking back, or ask the spa receptionist to alert you to cancellations; sometimes an appointment will open up unexpectedly. And keep an eye on the daily newsletter for spa specials. They won't advertise them if no openings are available. Plus, these can be good deals.
The spa therapist guilted me into buying expensive skincare products, and I regret my purchase.
The Remedy: Onboard/same-cruise returns can be made to the spa -- opened or unopened -- for a full refund, says Shelle Molina, a post-cruise customer service representative for Steiner Leisure, the company that operates the spas on most of the major cruise lines. If you get home and decide you want to return a product, you have 90 days to reach out to Steiner Leisure, and it will respond with return instructions. A 15 percent restocking fee for unopened merchandise will be deducted from your refund. If you're returning opened or used merchandise, you will receive a store credit for 100 percent of the cost (but not a cash refund). A note from a doctor or photo evidence of an allergic reaction to a product results in a full refund.
Most importantly, learn from your experience. Be prepared for future product pitches, and decide before you get to the spa, salon or any other danger zone for impulse buys if you're actually interested in buying anything (and how much you're willing to spend). If not, make a note to mention that you are not interested in purchasing anything before the hard sell, and don't feel guilty about interrupting a therapist to say you won't be buying beauty products today.
I checked my onboard account, and it's wrong.
The Remedy: Incorrect account info is a relatively common problem, and it's also fairly easy to fix. Head to the purser's office, or simply pick up the phone, and explain the discrepancy. Your account will be credited. (You might want to save the receipts from onboard purchases in case you need to contest anything.) With many cruise lines making the running total of onboard accounts more accessible via stateroom TVs or mobile apps, it's in your best interest to keep an eye on your tab. It's easier to fix the problem while you're onboard than it is once your vacation comes to an end. Plus, lines at the purser's desk are shorter during the cruise than on the last evening and morning.
Crime and Safety
I got robbed in port.
The Remedy: Find the local police station, and file a report for any theft. You might need a copy of the police report to get reimbursed for your loss from your insurance company. If your passport is stolen, you should also contact the local embassy or consulate to get a replacement. (It's also useful to inform them of other stolen property.) However, if your ship is leaving soon, you can wait until the next port of call to apply for a new passport; there's no need to miss the ship and get stranded. You can find contact information for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world with the State Department's Smart Traveler App, or call the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-501-4444 for assistance in an emergency.
In addition, travel insurance plans usually provide a number to call in an emergency, and representatives can assist you. The ship's port agent -- contact information is typically in your daily ship's newsletter or port materials -- can help out, too. You'll want to call your bank or credit card company immediately to cancel any stolen cards and get new ones issued.