Steering clear of potential cruise catastrophes

The Baltimore Sun

Never go on a cruise with statisticians. They know that, statistically speaking, there are as many things that can go wrong with a voyage as can go right. You might spill mango chutney on your shirt at the captain's party. You might get an uneven tan. You might wake up bobbing alone in the ocean, trying to convince yourself those circling fins belong to dolphins.

But the truth is that most problems on cruise ships are relatively minor annoyances. There is, however, the occasional horror story - truly epic bouts of sea sickness, cabins worthy of a Stephen King novel, demonic zombie table mates - that can make you wish you'd visited the Grand Canyon. Or even New Jersey.

So in the spirit of being more prepared than paranoid, here are some tips on how to cope with - or better yet, avoid altogether - a few trip tragedies that, on a personal level, can turn the Love Boat into the Lusitania.


Unless you were the love child of a North Atlantic cod fisherman and a mermaid, you've probably been queasy on choppy seas - if not on the ship, probably during the 40-minute ride in a stifling, musty tender boat.

Avoiding --Beating mal de mer begins long before you see the sea. Pick the right itinerary - the Caribbean is usually calm, Drake's Passage is a chunder-fest - and pick the right cabin.

"The closer you are to the lowest level in the midship, the calmer it will be," said Anne Campbell, co-founder of and "The irony of cruising is the higher you are, the more expensive it is, but also the more you'll feel the motion."

If you have a history of getting queasy during the credits to Gilligan's Island, see a doctor and ask about a scopolamine patch. Not that bad? Go for over-the-counter Bonine or Dramamine, and start taking the pills before you board.

Coping --Go outside and look at the horizon. Get fresh air. Call room service and ask for apples and crackers to settle the stomach, according to Campbell, and don't lie down. Sadly, cocktails will only make it worse.


Lately it's been known as the scourge of the high seas - even though you're 10 times more likely to catch it on land. Getting it on land, however, doesn't typically mean trying to enjoy a $200-a-day vacation within crawling range of a suction-flush toilet.

Avoiding --Norovirus covers a gang of nasty viruses with common symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, exhaustion and, sometimes, fever. There is no vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control says: Wash hands often, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer and, for the love of God, stop shaking hands. Really. Try bowing instead. For peace of mind, you could research which ships have sanitation issues (, but that hasn't been a good predictor of future outbreaks.

Coping --Don't bother with antibiotics: They're useless. The bug only lasts a couple of days, so the best move is to drink lots of water and ride it out. Short of giving you an IV for severe dehydration, the ship's doctor isn't going to be much help, either, so save your money. Also, if you're sick and the staff knows it, you will be quarantined. In some cases, passengers have been confined to cabins the entire week - and they did not qualify for refunds.

Cabin from hell

So your cabin is next to the Night-Shift Anvil-Dropping Office. The toilet works fine - but in reverse. The cast of "Riverdance" practices in the room above. To some people, the cabin isn't an important factor, but you gotta sleep somewhere.

Avoiding --"Guaranteed category" cabins are cheaper for a reason: They are the rooms that everyone who had a choice didn't want. If quiet is important, pick a specific room. Travel agents and Internet booking sites have floor plans for ships, so look first at what's on your floor (elevators, laundry room), then look at the floors above and below for galleys, engine rooms and nightclubs. Also, never take a maiden voyage unless you crave the smell of wet paint, carpet fumes and 1,200 malfunctioning toilets.

Coping --Complain to the front desk early and often, but be as polite as you are firm. The staff should move you to a suitable room or promise to deal with the noise source. If they don't, repeat Step 1. Rooms like that shouldn't exist, and cruise lines know it; they rely on you being too timid to complain.

Lost luggage

You and your ship are chugging around the West Indies, but your Samsonites are chugging around carousel No. 4 at Charles de Gaulle International? Unless it's a Windjammer Barefoot ship or a nudist cruise, wearing the same outfit all week isn't really an option. What now?

Avoiding --There are a boatload of reasons to fly to your departure city a day before the ship leaves, and lost luggage is near the top of the list. Allowing an extra day for your wayward bags to catch up - and eliminating any chance of wearing hiking shorts on formal night - is worth the added expense. Also, make sure all luggage is labeled and includes a copy of your itinerary.

Coping --When you book flights through the cruise line, missing bags become their problem. And if it's the cruise line's problem, make sure the staff is doing everything possible to fix it; keep track of the names of the people helping you. Push for a modest onboard credit to buy a few clothes and sundries in the ship's shops. You might not get it, but it can't hurt to ask.

Bad weather

Mother Nature can be a harsh travel agent. She can turn a cruise in the sunniest time of year into seven days of torrential downpour. Or flying monkeys.

Avoiding --No guarantees, but research improves the odds. Start at and look up temperatures and rainy-day stats for each port, especially the departure city. Go to for trip-planning features and a section on hurricane season.

Coping --The captain can play hide-and-seek with storms, but again, no guarantees. For warmer climates, bring a lightweight, rainproof windbreaker, mostly to protect your gear while in ports.

Terrible tablemates

The sweaty guy in the magenta leisure suit wants to spend each dinner telling you about his "close personal relationship" with (Jesus/Allah/Buddha/Krishna/Tony Robbins). 'Nuff said.

Avoiding --If you really don't want to chance it, book the trip early (six to nine months) and request a table for two.

Coping --If the first night was difficult to endure, find the maitre d' after dinner and ask to be moved (it's more common than you think). If you feel you have to make an excuse, be vague: You ran into old friends, and they invited you to their table.

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