Apr 15, 2024Cruises, Travel Advice0 comments

I love cruises – once you are checked in there is no need to worry about moving hotels, where to eat, or how to get to an evening show. And I bet one reason cruises are so popular is that they require comparatively little planning on the guest’s part. Itinerary, entertainment, restaurants – everything is ready to go.

So it may come as a surprise that there are a number of mistakes that can definitely ruin your cruise – and transatlantics have more pitfalls than most.

And some of these mistakes are easy to overlook or forget, even if this is not your first cruise. As a matter of fact, I made some of them myself on my recent Princess Sky transatlantic. They didn’t ruin my trip but did make it more challenging. And I met fellow cruisers whose similar mistakes actually did ruin their trip.

So read on to find out what to do (or not to do) so you can enjoy your (transatlantic) cruise without a hitch! (If you are in a rush and just want the tips without a lot of fluff, skip to my summary at the end!)

Beach in Grand Turk with Sky Princess and Carnival Ship in background

Not everyone enjoyed their transatlantic cruise on Princess Sky – avoid their mistakes

These mistakes can ruin your trip – avoid at all cost!

# 1: Do NOT fly in on the day of the cruise

You could miss the “boat”

One of the first rules about cruising is not to fly to your departure port the day of the cruise. Any flight delays, train strikes, or traffic jams could mean that you miss the boat!

This is twice as important on transatlantic cruises. As there are so few port days you won’t be able to just hop on at the next stop. Depending on your itinerary, once the ship is gone, it may be gone for good.

And the rule is even more important if you start your trip on the other side of the Atlantic from where you live. While you can maybe trust that your flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale will get you there in time for check-in, the same is a lot more uncertain if you are flying from Atlanta to Barcelona (maybe even with a change of planes).

But even though it is such a clear rule, people still do it. And it can seriously ruin their vacation.

Or make the trip without your luggage

I do not know whether any passengers on my recent cruise from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale missed the cruise due to flight delays. After all, if they did they would not have been on board. But I did meet several passengers whose luggage missed the ship!

On a regular 7-day cruise this is not a huge issue. Cruise line and airline will usually work together to reunite passenger and luggage and after at the most two or three days you will have your suitcase.

Not so on a transatlantic cruise – no matter how hard they try they can not get luggage to you when the ship in the middle of the ocean. And if – as happened on my cruise – any ports get cancelled that may take a while.

I talked to several people who did not get their luggage until 12 days into their trip – and had to make do with one set of clothes for all that time. Because no ports also meant no access to stores. Enough said!

Cruise Port at Port Canaveral

Think carefully before dropping off your luggage

# 2: Keep all your documents with you before check-in

Now I did not make the “flying in too late” mistake (I am quite a nervous traveler so no risk of that) but I did make this second mistake and while it didn’t cause any major issues it was annoying and a bit embarrassing.

In general, when you get to the terminal at the port, you will drop off your suitcases/big luggage. Then you proceed to the check-in counter and won’t see your suitcase again until it gets delivered to your cabin later in the day.

Now, I know this and there are often signs at the luggage drop off point to “keep all your documents with you”. And generally I do…

Well, on my last cruise, I got to the Southampton terminal early in the day. The plan was to drop off my luggage and then quickly go into town to do some last minute shopping – I like to carry some soda on board to save money. Because when you love to travel like me, every dollar counts.

Usually I just drop off my suitcase but hang on to my backpack with laptop etc. but it was kind of heavy so I figured: “Oh, the laptop will be fine. I will just drop off my backpack as well and just hang on to my purse.”

Passports are not the only important cruising documents

I even read the sign and felt quite pleased because I was hanging on to my passport. No silly mistakes for me as an experienced cruiser (yes, you can see where this is going).

Anyway, I went to town and managed to get some soda (but not seasickness meds as they seemed to be sold out – the seas had been rough in the last week or so). So back to the terminal to check-in I went.

But once I was standing in line for check-in I realized that passengers in front of me were asked to show their ESTA. ESTA – what?

Don’t get me wrong – I did have an ESTA (That would be a mistake even worse than mine and would stop you from boarding). I even had a print-out of it (even though theoretically you don’t need it as airlines/cruise lines can see it in the system). But – you guessed it – that print-out was in my backpack. Which was somewhere in the ship…

Now, it turned out that you don’t absolutely need the print-out (it is in the system as it is supposed to be) but I had a couple of quite uncomfortable minutes when waiting and held up the line as they were trying to find me in the system. Do not recommend!

So make sure to keep all documents as well as anything else you may conceivably need – like medicine, sanitary products, glasses, phones etc. – with you and do not drop them off with your luggage!

Empty Pool surrounded by sun loungers in Retreat Area on Sky Princess with steps up to higher level

Decks can be unexpectedly slippery

# 3: Don’t wear slippery shoes on the ship

This mistake almost did ruin my cruise!

As I was travelling with a small suitcase, I only had a couple of pairs of shoes along. One of them was a pair of white sneakers that I had had for a while. And as they got older, their soles got more and more worn until they were about as slippery as ice skates (but without their control).

Now, I knew this and generally walked very carefully whenever the ground was wet. But then towards the end of the cruise I was running all over the ship taking pictures for my photo scavenger hunt. And I was wearing those white shoes as the ground was all dry – or so I thought.

Anyway, apparently there was a small wet spot up on deck 17. I was looking around for the perfect photo stop so didn’t notice it. And, as was to be expected I slipped – right at the top of steep stairs.

I was lucky and managed to catch hold of the bannister so I did NOT tumble down the flight of stairs. But I slammed shoulder and face against the railing – hard.

Even though I was extremely lucky I spent half of the day lying down with an ice pack cooling my face. And it could have been so much worse!

So do not wear slippery shoes, especially out on deck to avoid injuries (and yes, I threw those shoes into the trash can the moment I got back to my cabin).


Stack of credit cards on a keyboard

Best put the credit card on file you actually plan on using

# 4: Don’t put the wrong credit card on file

This is the second time I made this mistake – and hopefully I have finally learned my lesson.

When you check-in online prior to your cruise, you are asked to put a credit card on file. Make sure to use the card you actually want to use if at all possible. Or if you can’t, fix this as soon as you are onboard.

So what happened? My main USD credit card is a bit iffy as I live overseas and mostly does not work online (something to do with the zip code?). However, it works perfectly fine in person.

As board purchases are charged in USD I wanted to use my US credit card to avoid foreign conversion fees but once again I could not get it to work online. No problem, I just used another card and was going to fix it when checking in or onboard.

Which would have been fine only I kept putting it off until close to the end of the trip. And I would probably have kept it on the other card but forgot that my second card is a prepay card.

Now, I hardly spend any money on board so the prepay card would have been more than enough. But cruise lines put a certain amount on every day, no matter how much you actually spend so after ten days the card stopped working. 

Now comes the main issue: While it is no problem going up to guest services and switching cards, it can take a while for the deposit on the first card to be lifted. Which means that basically the entire charge is on both cards for several days to a week.

So do yourself a favor and avoid the hassle:

  • Don’t use a prepaid card for cruise line deposits
  • Make sure to use the card you actually want to use right from the start

Cash is king – bring at least some in the right currencies

# 5: Don’t forget to bring cash

Yes, I really was acing it with financial stuff on this trip (hard to believe I once passed the CPA exam)!

Don’t leave home without it!

I actually left home with about €50 and $20 in cash! What was I thinking of? I was busy and forgot to order US currency (gone are the days you could just pick them up at the local bank) and figured I would just get some on my way to the cruise port but somehow never did…

By the time I realized that I would indeed need some USD in cash, I wasn’t too worried. After all, I could just get some Euros out with my ATM card during our stop in Ponta Delgada, Portugal, and then exchange it somewhere near the port…

A great plan – until our Azores stop got cancelled due to strikes. And now there was no more stop until the Caribbean – and me with less than 20 bucks in cash. Not much of a problem on the ship but I would need at least a little bit of cash if I wanted to do anything during our port stops in the Caribbean. So what to do?

Casino Hack

Someone in my Facebook group was kind enough to explain how you can get/exchange USD on a ship so I will share this emergency hack with you:

At the casino you can charge “your stake” at the machines to your cabin/credit card. Then you can “cash out” and will receive the money in actual cash.

This worked great and I had to do it twice (I underestimated how much I would need the first time).

However, the ship/casino doesn’t really like people doing this. I had no issues the first time, possibly because I played some of the money prior to cashing out – not because the gambling bug bit me but because I couldn’t figure out how you cash out.

However, the second time, they were not happy (this time I just deposited and then cashed out without playing at all). I did get the cash but had my casino account locked for the remainder of the cruise.

So this method worked fine for me and may work for you but is not guaranteed. Either way, make it easy on yourself and bring at least some dollars/euros/whatever currency you may need on your cruise!

Norwegian Getaway's Casino

The casino is your last-ditch stop if you do forget to bring cash

# 6: Don’t ignore the immigration instructions

Read the instructions and make sure you understand them

Make sure you carefully read any instructions about customs/immigration the ship gives you. On my Getaway cruise to Europe in the spring I had no issues (though some Americans did have problems when trying to leave Portugal).

And I got lucky and had a seamless experience on the Sky Princess cruise to the US – but many other cruisers did not.

Just like when flying, passengers have to pass customs/immigration at the first US port. Often this will be the final port of your trip, e.g. New York or Orlando. If that is the case make sure to include plenty of buffer before your onwards journey as noone can predict how long debarkation will take.

Tips for Passing immigration in Puerto Rico

On our cruise though we had a stop in Puerto Rico several days before the end of the cruise so that was where we had to pass customs/immigration.

The cruise line provided us with a sign-up sheet to choose a time-slot for the immigration prodedure. As I was planning on seeing lots of San Juan, I chose the first one and everything went seamlessly. I stood in line for about 30 minutes, got processed within seconds (much better than usual), and was off the ship.

However, later on in the day the lines got very long. Even worse, many passengers were not aware that once you left the ship and passed immigration into Puerto Rico/US, you were not allowed to get back on board until every single passenger was off as well.

This meant that some people went through immigration at 9 am even though they had no plans to explore San Juan. But instead of being back on board by 9:15 am they had to wait in the terminal until finally everyone was done at noon or even later!

There were a lot of complaints, especially from elderly passengers who had to spend their day waiting in less than perfect surroundings.

My advice if your transatlantic has its first stop in Puerto Rico would be to do one of two things depending on your plans:

a) Get the earliest departure time you can, go off the ship and explore/enjoy the town. I loved San Juan so that would be my personal recommendation!

or if you have no interest in exploring

b) Sign up for the very latest time slot so your waiting time until you can get back on board is minimized.

If you do have to wait a little after passing immigration, I would advise to leave the terminal building. At least next to our ship there were benches and you could at least enjoy a nice view while waiting!

Sky Princess docked in Puerto Rico. Next to ship is a promenade with comfortable benches

A much nicer place to wait for re-boarding than inside a dreary terminal!

# 7: Don’t forget to do some research prior to booking

Obviously, it is always a good idea to do some research about the cruise line and ship if you are not familiar with it prior to booking. But for a transatlantic cruise this is even more important! 

I get it. Transatlantic cruises can offer amazing deals (12 days for under $800 anyone?) and it is easy to just go ahead and book. But spend a little time researching first to make sure it will actually be what you are looking for!

Choose your cruise line carefully

First of all, the style of the cruise line will be more important given the many sea days. Whereas on a Med cruise you will be off the ship exploring most of the day, on a transatlantic the ship is where you will spend most of your time.

So when on a Med cruise the style of entertainment, the size of the pool, the number of bars etc. are important but not crucial. But on a transatlantic this can make or break your trip.

Choose a line you enjoy. If you love belly-flop competitions and conga dances, a string quartet is not going to cut it. And if you are looking for a restful seat in the sun, constant announcements, shrieking kids, and pool movies may not be perfect.

Look at the deck plans

Aside of the line, both ship and cabin are of more importance on a transatlantic than normal. Read some reviews or at least take a look at the deck plan. For example, Norwegian Getaway is a great ship with beautiful outdoor areas but very limited common spaces indoors. So it may not be the best choice for a transatlantic in colder weather.

Read some recent reviews to check for problems

And don’t forget to check online for known issues with ship or cabins. For example, on Sky Princess, the cabins creak. And not just a little bit either! I believe it isn’t too bad in smooth waters (e.g. on a Med cruise) but on our transatlantic about half the cabins had serious noise issues. There were even rumors that someone slept at guest services because the cabin was too loud!

So do your research and consider carefully what is important to you!

Avoid the cruise mistake of putting all your clothes into your suitcase on the last evening

Once the suitcase is picked up, you won’t have access

# 8: Don’t put all your clothes in your suitcase on the last night

This is a classic mistake of first-time cruisers.

On the last evening of your cruise you will be asked to put your suitcases outside your cabin. They will be picked up and you won’t see them again until after you left the ship and are re-united in the terminal.

Make sure to keep everything you will need in the morning in your hand luggage. Be it tooth paste, hairbrush or – yes indeed, something to wear the next day. After all, you don’t want to have to depart the ship in your pjs!

If you have only a small amount of luggage you can avoid any danger of this happening by deciding on self-debarkation. You hang on to your suitcase and take it off yourself the next morning!

Church in Valldemossa

Don’t book last minute if you have your heart set on specific shore excursions

# 9: Don’t book your trip too late

If possible don’t wait until the last moment to book your trip. On many ships, passengers can make dining and entertainment reservations weeks before the cruise starts. Even more important (at least to me), shore excursions do sell out, often long before the trip.

If you book last minute you may have difficulty getting the meal times, show reservations, or tours you would like.

Of course, there are some good discounts to be had if booking last minute so it may be worth it. But it is definitely one aspect to be aware of!


Cruises are a fun, relaxing way to travel and transatlantic cruises are even more relaxing. But there are still some mistakes that can seriously derail your trip – from a noisy cabin to spending your entire vacation without a change of clothing.

Make sure to avoid the common mistakes I and fellow travellers have made so that your vacation is as great as you are hoping for!

Have you made any of these mistakes? Or maybe a different one that I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments!

Pool Deck of Sky Princess at sunset



    • Don’t fly in on the day of the cruise – even if you don’t miss the ship yourself your luggage well may (and who wants to wear the same shirt 12 days in a row?)
    • Don’t put anything you urgently need (documents, meds etc.) in the luggage you drop off at the terminal
    • Don’t wear slippery shoes, especially on board (noone wants to get to know the ship’s medical center)
    • Don’t put the wrong credit card on file (it can take several days for charges to be reversed)
    • Don’t forget to bring cash in the right currencies (and don’t rely on exchanging money at a port)
    • Don’t ignore the immigration instructions – Make sure you understand the process and plan your day accordingly
    • Don’t forget to do some research prior to booking – make sure you know what to expect from cruise line, ship, and cabin
    • Don’t put all your clothing in the suitcase before debarkation – leaving the ship in pjs isn’t for everyone
    • Don’t book your trip too late

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!


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