How to prepare for a cruise: Tips from a professional mariner

Are you planning a cruise vacation?

Some things you should know before you go–from my personal maritime expert.

My captain’s in an isolated location with no TV or newspapers or internet access (other than simple email) so I include in my daily missives to him local and national news updates.

The Cruise Ship Carnival Triumph

I sent lots of reports about the problems of the broken and stranded Carnival ship Triumph last week–that poor ship ultimately endured a less than triumphant arrival into port amidst horrific tales of sewage-soaked carpets and open decks, with food so limited that passengers were reduced to eating candy and ketchup on buns.

2-14-13-Carnival-Triumph_full_600Since I have my own personal encyclopedia of maritime knowledge at my fingertips (ha ha) I thought it’d be interesting to share his thoughts about it.

People think I’ve been on every boat imaginable because of him–but that’s not true. I’ve never taken a cruise for a couple of reasons; I don’t like boats very much (unless they’re named after meand I’m too impatient. I like to get to my destination in a hurry.

A boat ride, whether it’s in a lagoon or a river or an ocean–is inherently rife with danger.

My captain’s been involved in salvage work for maritime accidents where he’s had to dive and search for bodies. As you might image, it’s impossible to erase those images from his memory.

The Titanic and the Costa Concordia are obvious examples of the worst possible outcomes.

Living in close quarters brings out the best and the worst in people–even without a disaster to deal with. Add an engine fire, backed up toilets, unlimited alcohol, and you’ve got a potential explosion. Some people panic, hoard food and water; some drink too much (the Triumph crew wisely shut down the open bar)–while others step up to the challenge with exemplary leadership skills; share, organize, and deal with the situation in a calm and logical manner.

I’ve listed a few of my captain’s recommendations before you embark on a cruise. This is by no means an exhaustive list; just a few tips from my in-house expert.

  • If you don’t already have one, obtain a Passport Card, which is a separate document from a Passport that you might have to surrender to a foreign flagged cruise ship. In the event that your passports are taken, a Passport Card might give you a sense of well-being if you want to get off the ship in a foreign port and go home.
  • Take a small flashlight and carry it with you at all times. Keep it next to your bedside.
  • Pack energy bars; nuts and raisins, and even protein powder if you have luggage space.
  • Take part in the lifeboat drills, know where your life jackets are and how to put them on. Pay attention!
  • Locate your life jacket in your cabin as soon as you arrive; practice putting it on.
  • Don’t wait for the required safety drill to memorize the location of your assigned lifeboat.
  • Make a family plan. Stay together.
  • Practice finding your way from your stateroom to a stairway to the deck bypassing an elevator. Know how to escape.
  • Find a U.S. cruise line in the inner coastal waters or Alaska or on the Rivers instead of a foreign flagged vessel that might not offer a passenger the same rights and legal protections. Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Pride of America is the only large U.S. flagged cruise ship.

40 thoughts on “How to prepare for a cruise: Tips from a professional mariner

    • When he wrote me his tips, every other one was “Don’t go” but I excluded those! He doesn’t know why anyone would want to go on one either, except maybe up to Alaska. Have a wonderful time and be safe if you do go!

      On Sun, Feb 17, 2013 at 7:48 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


  1. Excellent!! When we go on vacations, we forget to take the normal precautions that we would at home. Somehow, we think that nothing “bad” could happen and then abdicate all responsibility for doing our part. Every cruise I have been on, the first thing I look for are the life jackets. I love the “don’t go” exclusions. Please say thank you to your captain.!


  2. I have been on one cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines (not the Triumph) & it was the best vacation I ever had. I got exactly what I wanted from my cruise experience. I wanted a lazy vacation where I didn’t have to be certain places for tours at certain times, etc. I wanted some sun, but to be able to go into the air conditioning a few minutes later. I wanted to swim a little bit – they had 2 pools. There were lots of buffets & I could eat anything I wanted whenever I wanted, so I didn’t even have to show up for my dinner seating if I didn’t want. I could get off the ship almost every day & look around new exotic places (we cruised the Western Caribbean) if I wanted or stay on the ship, it’s my choice. The only thing we went to that was scheduled was our fire drill & lifeboat training. I checked immediately when I got to the cabin & found our life preservers.
    This was the kind of vacation I wanted at the time we took it. We have tried many different types of vacations. I would take a cruise again. But I might not sail with Carnival Cruises again. BTW, we have always wanted to take the cruise to Alaska.


    • I think that’s exactly what a cruise experience should be-you could write a brochure for the industry! I’ve heard the Alaska ones are great, also the Viking cruises on the rivers in Europe. You’re close to land but you still have the “on the water” experience and pampering.

      On Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 12:05 AM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


  3. I went on one cruise to mexico a few years ago and by day 2 I was bored out of my mind.. I am not a cruiser, I like to have the car, 3 star hotel and such..The awful stage shows are so hokey I literally had to get drunk to endure it.. as for this fiasco, well i know I would have gone postal on someone..;-)


  4. Wonderful information! I’ve shared your tips with my daughter who is planning a cruise for her family. I’ll follow you advise on my next cruise too! Thanks so much!!


  5. I love boats and have been on everything from pilotage vessels, Coast Guard search and rescue cutters, freighters, tankers, and naval vessels to submarines and Arctic icebreakers. But I refuse to board a cruise ship–even before the string of accidents and screwups in he past few years, I thought of cruise ships as floating hotels. I just don’t see the point of them, to be honest. 🙂
    I do like your tips, though–good common sense preparedness never hurt anyone.


    • I’m so interested to hear about your boating experiences! Arctic icebreaker, wow! Personally, I don’t think a cruise ship with thousands of other people is my idea of vacation. Wilderness with no one is heaven to me!

      On Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 6:18 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


    • you should have seen the email hubs sent me wit the list of tips. Not kidding, every other line was “Don’t go.” “Don’t go on a cruise”.” Ever” I told him I wasn’t going to print it like he wrote it. His dry (get it?) sense of humor but he was serious. His alternative of doing river cruise like in England or paris sounds like the best idea if you have to do it. You’re on a boat, lots of food, and near land.

      On Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 9:27 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


    • I’ve never been on one either, the longest boat ride I’ve been on is from San Diego to Catalina Island, about 3 hours. Very choppy, very ick.

      On Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 6:31 PM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


  6. I’ve taken a Bahama Cruise on a foreign ship, and Alaskan Cruise on a foreign ship, and I’m getting ready to embark, in just a few weeks, on a European River Cruise. I’ve been taking a lot of heat about going on a cruise right now. The first two were great and without incident. If something happens on this cruise, we will be just minutes from a shore. I do plan on being careful.


    • I think that’s a smart idea and that’s why my captain hubs suggested it. When a maritime guys says there’s too much risk in an ocean cruise, I for one listen! Have a wonderful time; send pics!

      On Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 9:42 AM, Enchanted Seashells…Confessions of a Tugbo


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