As my husband and I prepare for our fourth cruise, the majority of people I’ve told about my upcoming birthday vacation have met my news with raised eyebrows. “Really?” they say. “Aren’t you worried about the boat sinking?” I usually reply with something witty about if it’s my time to go, having it happen in the middle of the Caribbean with a fruity drink in my hand sounds like a pretty good way for it to happen.
The fact is that millions of people cruise every year and very few of them die doing it (here are some stats from the US Coast Guard to prove it). The majority of deaths that happen on cruise ships are from people doing stupid things, usually because they’ve been drinking too much – I mean, would a sober person really think climbing over the balcony railing is a good idea?
When you go on your next (or first) cruise, keep in mind these simple things that will keep you safe and protected and ensure that your vacation is a fun time:
Petty Theft on Cruise Ships
To protect against theft, use your in-room safe on the boat and your brain while in port. One of the most common crimes on cruise vacations is petty theft. The safe in your room is there for a reason, so use it. Since you don’t need money, credit cards or your passport while you’re on the boat, one of the first things to do when you get in your room is to put your wallet and passports in the safe (we stick our cell phones and iPods in there as well). Before heading onto port each day, take only what you need – a small amount of cash, a credit card (before you leave, remember to give the credit card company a head’s up that you’re going out of the country), and your passport, if it’s a foreign country. The more you take into port with you, the more you give pickpockets the chance to take. Finally, a cruise is a casual vacation, so leave your diamonds, pearls, and designer shoes at home. While I have only ever found cabin crews to be friendly and honest, don’t tempt them.
A Healthy and Germ-Free Cruise
To protect against germs, wash your hands! Wash your hands like hospital nurse or a preschool teacher. Wash your hands more than you ever had before. While I may be a bit of a germaphobe, I also don’t want to spend my vacation with the stomach flu. I treat any public area of the boat like I treat my subway ride to work: don’t touch your face or eat without washing your hands or using a good dose of hand sanitizer first. Also, watch what you put in your mouth (and not just to fight weight gain). You wouldn’t drink the water in Mexico on a regular land vacation, so don’t do it on your day in port either – insist on sealed bottled water in port.
Don’t Be Taken Advantage of
To protect against being taken advantage of, don’t let your guard down. It’s easy for that to happen on vacation and the worst scenarios are usually influenced by alcohol. Don’t explore the ship alone. Don’t be tempted by a cutie crew member who wants to take you into a “crew only” area. Don’t leave your wallet on the table while you run up to the buffet (it should be in the safe anyway!). Don’t drink more than your personal limit –it’s easy to go beyond that when there’s no threat of drunk driving and you’re in a perceived safe environment. When in port, stroll the streets of St. Thomas like you would the streets of Rome (or anywhere else where pickpockets roam free).
Watch You On-Board Spending
To protect against being poor at the end of your trip, keep an eye on your on-board spending – it’s very easy to rack up a huge tab. With the swipe of your cruise line issued “credit card,” you can instantly buy a bucket of beer, floppy hats, hoodie sweatshirts, massages, tchotchkes, that corny 8×10 photo from dinner last night, enough Internet minutes for three cruises, cartons of cigarettes, hundreds of poker chips, and an endless amount of other crap. Decide on how much you’re going to spend (on-board and on shore) ahead of time and stick to that. Check your balance often, either by stopping by the guest services desk to have them print out a copy of your statement or, on some ships, checking the balance right on the TV in your room. Nothing kills the buzz of a great vacation like getting a giant bill at the end of your trip.
Be Prepared for Real Emergencies
To protect yourself in a real emergency, be prepared. Actively participate in the muster drill which will take place before you leave port – how else will you know where to go in an emergency? Memorize your lifeboat number and know how to get there from you cabin, the main dining room, and any other place on the ship where you’ll be spending a lot of time. In your cabin, make sure that you know where the life jackets are and that there are enough for everyone staying in your cabin – if not, tell your cabin steward as soon as possible (you’ll also have to request child sized ones). If there is an emergency and you’re in your cabin, you’ll be thankful everything is together in the safe, which makes it easier to grab your passport, wallet and any medication on your way out. Take your life jacket, a solid pair of shoes, and the warmest layers you have with you to your lifeboat station. If you aren’t in your cabin when the call to abandon ship is made, don’t go back there – there will be life jackets at the muster station.
The most important thing is to stay calm, follow instructions, and follow your gut. If you think there’s something wrong, head to the lifeboat station proactively. Many passengers on the Concordia did this, only to be told to go back to their cabins. I’m sure those that stayed are thankful they did.