Avoid Cruise Hell – Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

I told my friends not to book the cruise as it was one of those I keep warning cruisers to stay well clear of. They almost always disappoint. Three days before their cruise, what I warned them was likely to happen did. It was cancelled. This is how you can avoid cruise hell!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Maiden / Inaugural Cruises

My friends wanted to become one of the group of cruisers that go on brand new ship maiden voyages. They wanted to be the first to stay in a cabin and to experience all the new onboard facilities before everyone else, on Sun Princess.

I pointed out to them that of the last 10 new cruise ships launching, only 3 sailed their original planned maiden voyage. The seven others were cancelled, as the ships were not ready. Throwing the plans of cruisers into chaos.

In fact, on Sun Princess they not only cancelled the original maiden but the replacement one too, as the ship still was not ready.

There are three more reasons for not booking maiden voyages, even if they do look like going ahead as planned.

You’re Not The First

First, you are not the first to stay in that cabin nor try out those facilities. Lines run a series of voyages, called shakedown cruises, after they’ve taken delivery of the ship and before the maiden voyage sails with paying guests.

The lines run these first with employees and then with invited media and travel agents. I’ve been on several shakedown voyages over the years because one advantage of being based in Europe, where most cruise ships are built, is they mostly ask people close by.

Second, and more important, in my experience things do not run smoothly. It’s a brand-new ship, and it’s the first time with a full complement of passengers, as the shakedown cruises usually run with around half capacity.

The maiden is the first time everything gets tried out at capacity. Remember, every single crew member is new to the ship, and no-one is used to the systems nor had time to form a smooth working team.

On any maiden voyage I’ve been on in the past, there’s been workmen from the shipyard finishing things off, and some venues have not even been open. Often the shows are still being finalised and rehearsed, as many found on the much-delayed Sun Princess which had none of the big production shows ready even by the time they did have a maiden voyage.

Stress Tested

The systems are stress-tested and there are often struggles. Meals can be slow and chaotic, as people on the Sun Princess delayed maiden complained about.

Every review I’ve ever seen of a maiden voyage is about how frustrated people have been, or how things need time to bed in.

And on top of all of that, it will cost you more, much more, to sail on a maiden voyage than going a few months later. They are in demand and the lines crank up the fares.

So, to ensure a great experience, I stay clear of maiden voyages and let the ship bed in.

My other tip is to look instead at cruising on one of the line’s older ships as when their new ship joins the fleet, they reduce older ship’s fares as most cruisers are booking the new ship.

Avoid Cruise Hell - Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Dry Dock

Also, avoid the first cruise when ships are coming out of a dry dock. Ships are required by law to go into dry dock every few years for safety checks and maintenance, but the lines often use these to make big upgrades to ships.

These could range from simple decor changes, changing the carpets and replacing furniture like Queen Mary 2 went though not long before I wrote this. But they could go as far as adding whole new decks, putting in solo cabins, like Oceania did across their fleet recently, and even cutting a ship in half and extending it. Like the last ship I was on before making this, Silver Spirit, where they did just that a few years back.

The lines don’t want to take the ship out of service for too long because they’ll lose revenue. So, they tend to put ships in dry dock for a very tight amount of time, and all these changes have a tight schedule.

Not Finished

In my experience, ships leave dry dock with things not always finished and working. I learnt this the hard way when I found workmen on board after one cruise on MSC Divina some years back. There was noise, the smell of fresh paint all over, some venues closed, and again not a smooth experience.

So again, let a sailing or two go by before you book.

And try and stay clear of the last cruise before a ship goes into dry dock as because time’s tight, preparation often starts on that last cruise. Things are being ripped out, venues closed, and I saw that first hand on a Saga Cruises ship once.

My tip here is about how to check if a ship is going to dry dock. Look at the cruise schedule and see if there’s a gap in dates after or before your cruise. It could mean the ship has been chartered, so not on sale to the public. But it’s more likely going to be a dry dock.

Alternatively, search for your ship name and “dry dock”. Some cruise trade press sites like “Cruise Ship News” list all the scheduled dry dock ships and dates.

Avoid Cruise Hell - Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Peak Season

I avoid peak season cruises in all three of the main cruising regions.

First, I steer clear of Mediterranean cruises in the peak summer months of July and August. Not only because it gets scorching hot and sticky, but many ports like Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Pisa, and Florence, get absolutely packed with both land and cruise passengers. It is terrible for sightseeing and not enjoyable.

Next, in the Caribbean I avoid the peak March Spring Break. Especially on the big resort-type ships, as they get packed, can have a crazy party crowd and I feel that all those stories of arguments and fights breaking out seem to be around this time.

I personally avoid the peak Caribbean Christmas cruises as I prefer a more kid-free cruise and even lines like Cunard and Holland America – with an older couple crowd – usually are packed with families and multi-generational groups. I have been on those with 400 to 500 kids.

Of course, if that is what you are looking for to travel with kids, grandkids, and family then this is good news, as lots of options.

In Alaska too in the peak July and August months, I have found lines tend not to attract their usual profile as families not surprisingly chose lines with the right places they call on, like Holland America and Princess. They are two of the limited lines allowed into the must-see Glacier Bay, so again, it’s not a typical experience and ships are more crowded.

Instead, my tip for all the three main cruising regions (Caribbean, Mediterranean and Alaska) is to look at cruises in what’s known as the “shoulder months” to the peak season.

So, in the Mediterranean and Alaska, from late May / June and September / October which also is usually much cheaper too.

Avoid Cruise Hell - Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Taster Cruises

The next one is one that I have argued with some cruise writers, bloggers, and vloggers about, but I stay well steer clear of the short two- or three-night taster cruises that most lines run.

They used to be helpful for first-time cruisers to try cruising and for cruisers considering trying a new line. To see if they were a good match.

But now they don’t really work for that. First, ships are getting bigger with way more facilities to try, and there is not enough time to properly experience it and draw any conclusions, especially if those cruises are calling into ports.

Second, the lines often run a limited range of activities, so you cannot really judge those fully.

But thirdly and most important of all, you won’t experience the usual line, as they attract people that’s not typical. They are often run over holiday weekends, and at good prices, and have become a cost-effective party trip. This is great if you’re looking for that, but it’s not going to be that representative of what the cruise is normally.

We stopped taking our Mums on these as they loved going on the short Cunard trips. But they started to be more party and less the typical Cunard experience they loved.

My tip is if you do want to try them look for those run out of holiday periods and ideally mid-week. So, less of a booze cruise as it were.

Avoid Cruise Hell - Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Themed Cruises

Another cruise to stay clear of is when there are themed cruises that you are not part of.

Groups and clubs often run themed cruises on cruise ships. They could be themed around, say, motorcycle enthusiasts, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, boy bands, or right down to even small niches like knitting, crafting, and so on.

While some have become so big, like Star Trek that now charter the whole ship, many will just take a huge block booking. However, venues across the ship will be closed to other cruise passengers at times to those not part of that themed group. Facilities, like bars, nightclubs, or the theatre, may be closed at certain times to you too and there may be special events going on that you’re not allowed to attend.

I’ve had many people contact me, saying they found themselves with hordes of bikers, sci-fi fans, doctors, and so on based on what the theme cruise was. It’s made it a less enjoyable cruise experience for them.


There are also times when a company is running a conference or big sales incentive on a cruise. Like when I was on a Regent cruise in the Caribbean, a large finance company was doing just that. Often venues were closed for their events.

It is harder to check if your cruise is going to be part-chartered for one of those because the lines don’t make that clear on the site or in their brochures. So, the simplest way I’ve found is put the name of the ship, the departure date, and the word “group cruise” into a search engine and if there is a theme cruise on that, it’ll usually bring up the webpage for that theme cruise.

For example, even if you put in the dates and ship of my group cruises, they will show up.

Avoid Cruise Hell - Cruises You Should Stay Far Away From!

Avoid Cruise Hell – Weather Susceptible Cruises

If you are a traveller that worries about, or tends to have a higher risk of seasickness, and want to minimise the risk of not being able to use outer decks and missing ports due to weather issues, then there are some cruises to avoid.

The one affecting most people are those in the Caribbean Hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30. Although the exact paths of individual hurricanes are hard to predict, the riskiest part of season is generally between mid-August and mid-September.

Hurricanes and storms can lead to rougher seas, changes in itineraries and occasionally being delayed getting back to port, meaning missing flights.

Cruises to the Norwegian Fjords late in the season and in winter, which run then as the greatest chance to see the Northern Lights often can face rough seas.

Of course, there are others like winter North Atlantic Crossings which was one of the first trips I ever did on Cunard, with massive waves crashing over the bow of the ship, crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica, and going around the Cape Horn.




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1 Response

  1. walker45 says:

    Your advice is reasonable but if fully acted on you might never cruise. Your final tip of avoiding hurricane season means avoiding the Caribbean for more then half the year! Avoiding peak seasons will knock out a couple more months and these are just two of your tips.
    I’d like to know how to avoid group cruises where the entire ship is not booked. I just got off the Princess Sky. Great cruise but there were over 500 guests of the casino. Therefore lots of big drinkers all over the ship and the casino was a smoking hell. We only found out about these gamblers just before cruising and little we could have done about it anyway.

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