Proven Ways to Deal with The Crowds on Your Cruise!

Proven Ways to Deal with The Crowds on Your Cruise!

Cruise lines are packing their ships full these days. They’re admitting that they’re selling at 100% or higher capacity. I’ve seen this firsthand on recent cruises with MSC Cruises, Norwegian and even Princess Cruises. So, I want to share with you my proven techniques to deal with managing crowds and avoiding crowds.

Let’s start first of all with the one that’s not possible for everybody, and that’s things that the cruise lines themselves offer us to do. These tend to come at a premium. But, let me talk about them anyway.

Cruise Line Add-Ons

One of the most obvious ones is the ship within the ship, or the kind of special access areas for suites.


On the MSC cruise that I spoke about I booked the yacht club, which is their little closed off area. It has all suites, and it has some inside cabins in there, too. It has its own restaurant, it has its own bar, lounge, pool deck, hot tubs. And that was a great way of escaping from that really packed, busy ship into that quiet, calm area.

Now, many, many cruise lines have it. You’ve got Norwegian with The Haven, Royal Caribbean has an area, although it’s not a ship within a ship, but they have suite access. Even lines like Holland America and Princess have dedicated lounges and sometimes specific restaurants or areas of restaurants for their suite guests. But that of course comes with a big premium.


So even if you can’t afford that big premium, another thing to think about is many cruise lines will offer sanctuaries, so you do have to pay a price. On the Holland America trip as Christmastime, we booked the sanctuary for the whole week, and this is an area which was closed off.

You did pay to enter it, but you basically had a private cabana. It was really quiet and calm, and again, you could escape the craziness around the swimming pool, where it was packed with families and kids and noise. So, that’s something that many cruise lines are offering these days.

Special Access Passes

The third thing the cruise lines are offering is packages which help you navigate the crowds. Now, two of the most well-known of those are Royal Caribbean which has The Key. A thing where you pay a price and you get priority access, priority embarkation, things like that.

Carnival has a similar thing, which is called Getting to the Fun Faster. Which again helps you navigate around some of the crowds faster during embarkation and that kind of stuff.

Holland America has Club Orange, which again gives you priority embarkation, disembarkation, and also access to either – depending on the ship – a specific Club Orange area within the main dining room, which makes it easier to get a table, or a specific dedicated Club Orange dining room.

Balcony Haven

If these are still out of your budget, another thing that a lot of people tell me they do to avoid crowds is they book a balcony cabin. And the advantage of the balcony cabin is if you’ve got a busy packed day out on the ship, you have your own private balcony, you can sit out there, you can order room service, you can order drinks, and you can get away from the crowds that way.

Movie Night

However, no matter what cabin you have, whether it’s inside, ocean view, or a suite. Many cruise lines now have some really great new release movies on their televisions, which are included in the fare price. You can order room service, pizza, whatever.

In the evenings to escape the crowds, you can basically have fun in your room having a movie night. And that’s actually one thing I really do enjoy doing, and I’ve been doing it much more on recent cruises. Particularly on those big, busy cruises.

On Board Crowd Tips

So, if any of those don’t appeal or even those do appeal and you’re using those, there are some on ship tricks and tips that I use to avoid crowds, and here they are.


First of all, simply avoid them. Avoid events where there’s going to be big crowds.

So, for example, on my MSC cruise, every night in the big sort of atrium area, they would have a party which was packed and busy and rowdy. I just simply avoided that.

Princess sometimes has the big champagne tower. Or you’ve got some cruise lines that have the balloon drop, where they’re encouraging crowds to gather. Sail away parties are another good example.

You simply could just plan to do other things, go to different bars, go to different places on the ship, and just basically go against where the crowds are.

Embarkation & Disembarkation

Of course, a really important way to avoid crowds is plan your embarkation and disembarkation better. Many cruise lines will allow you to through the app to check in online, which means you often can skip queuing up with the big crowds and you can whisk through. Some of them are really fast. So, make sure that you’ve checked in online and if that gives you any kind of quick way around the crowds.

The same with disembarkation. Disembarkation can be crazy busy with crowds. If you pack and plan to self-disembark, which means you can take all your luggage off, you can get off as soon as the ship is cleared. I love doing this. I can take my bags, I get off, and all the taxis are waiting. There’s no crowds, you can just breeze through and get your flight home.

Smart Activity Planning

Which leads me to the next thing, timing of your activities. Again, it’s about working against the flow of where the crowds are. So let me talk about a couple of things that I do.

If you’ve got any key activities you want to do, so if you’re on one of those big resort ships and they have things like flow riders or the North Star or go-kart racing tracks, choose to do those when the crowds are busy elsewhere. So, lunchtime, for example, or dinnertime is a really good time to go and do those activities.

Think about when people are going to be busy on the ship. Sail away parties, those big parties, events, try and plan things when those are taking place because the crowds are all at those and you’ll have other things to yourself.

Dining Plans

I also have some key tips around avoiding crowds when it comes to dining.

Generally speaking, if you’re in open seated dining, going early or going late is when you’re going to avoid the crowds. Most people will go at 7:00 or 7:30 or whatever. If you’re happy to eat at 6:00, 6:30, or towards the end of the sitting, you’ll find it much easier to get the table size you want. It’s much less crazy, much less busy, and service will be much quicker.

Even if you’re a big fan of afternoon tea, which I am, go really early so you’re in the queue. It’s much better to go towards the end of the service. If you’re on Cunard and their big queen’s room afternoon tea service, it’s much better to go later than earlier on Viking or any of these lines.

The second thing that I do that I really love to avoid crowds is use the main dining room for both breakfast, and if it’s open for lunch. People tend to use the buffet, the crowds use the buffet for breakfast and lunch, and you can have a very civilised, still fast and great service in the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. I absolutely love it and that’s what I always do.

Proven Ways to Deal with The Crowds on Your Cruise!

Pool Decks

If you’re on a cruise, particularly a warm cruise on a sea day, one of the things I do is avoid the main swimming pools. People are going to hang around the main swimming pools, the crowd’s going to be there, it’s going to be packed. There are often activities, whether it’s dancing or competitions or whatever going on.

I would tend to avoid going to the pool on those sea days and try and find the quiet, out of the way spaces. And there are always places like that on onboard ships and you’ll find them often really high up on a ship, so sort of way up in the sky deck.

Often have a look perhaps where the sport deck is or look on the deck plans before you go, or even ask your cabin steward. There are always spaces on a ship which people just don’t really know they’re there because they’re a little bit kind of in the design tucked away.

Also, on a sea day on those sorts of ships, I will also tend to do things indoors. So you’ll find the lounges, the bars, all the facilities, on those sort of sea days during the day will be much quieter. So again, that’s a way of avoiding the crowds, is planning to spend those days more indoor and use your port days as perhaps days when you’re going to be out there.

Proven Ways to Deal with The Crowds on Your Cruise!


One other really important tip to avoid the crowds and actually avoid getting less frustrated is use the stairs, not the elevators. Now on these big ships, of course there’s a lot of stairs, so that can be a little bit challenging. But it’s a great way to help balance out all those extra desserts that you might be having. But elevators, crowds, big problem.

In Port Crowd Tips

I want to now talk about some of the tips that I have about avoiding crowds in the port, and these are some of my favourite things to do because I love exploring ports. So, what do I do?

Smart Excursions

First of all, I use a site called, and in there I can look at my itinerary and then I can look port by port just how busy it’s going to be. Basically, I can see how many ships are going to be in port, and it tells you how many people are there.

So, I know if there’s going to be a lot of big ships in a port then I need to plan to do something different. And you’ll find that particularly true in places like the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. When you could have four or five mega ships, you could have 15,000, 20,000 people pouring out.

I will often choose to do something like stay on board, or I’ll choose an excursion which is going much further afield. So it’s not in that place. It’s taking me to somewhere really unusual.

Let’s say in the Mediterranean, as an example, if you’re in a port like Civitavecchia, where most people will charge off to Rome you might choose an excursion which takes you somewhere slightly different. There’ll be other excursions which are going to other different places, which will be less packed.

Proven Ways to Deal with The Crowds on Your Cruise!

Stay On Board

One of the best things to do, though, is stay on the ship. If you’re going to be in a really busy port or you simply want to avoid the crowds, staying on the ship on a port day is one fantastic way of avoiding the crowds.

Pretty much everybody will get off. The pool will be quiet, the spa will be quiet. All those attractions and things you want to use will be quiet.

Lunchtime and Afternoon

If you do want to explore a port but you don’t want to stay out all day, then going out at lunchtime and in the afternoon is when I would go and explore. You’ll find on cruises, most people will do the excursion in the morning and they’ll all come piling back on the ship for lunch. They don’t want to spend money on lunch out.

You can also avoid going on a cruise line excursion and opt for a local or alternative tour company. There are providers which will provide tours, companies such as  or So, you’re avoiding the crowds.

You could also look for a local guide who really knows the destination. There’s sites like, or you can go into the roll call for your cruise on a site like Cruise Critic and ask for tips and advice. People will always have suggestions of local guides. You can go in the afternoon when it’s less busy, and they’ll know how to work against and away from the crowds.

Proven Ways to Deal with The Crowds on Your Cruise!

Early Out and Back

Although I’ve said it’s really important to head out at lunchtime or in the afternoon, if that doesn’t appeal to you the other thing that you can do to avoid crowds is get out super early. You’ll find most of the excursions will tend to go an hour or so after the ship has arrived, so you can avoid the gangway crush.

Most people just getting themselves organised and up and about will head out an hour or so after the ship is cleared. But what I’ll do, if there’s some places I really want to go that I know are going to be popular, I will get up and be ready as soon as the ship is cleared. For example, on my MSC cruise we were going to Norway and in Olden, I wanted to go up the Loen Skylift, but I knew it’d be packed all day.

So, the minute the ship was cleared, I got out, on the shuttle bus, and was there the minute it opened. I had no waiting. By the time I came back down, there was an enormous line. When I got back to the port, the line was boasting hundreds of people waiting to get the shuttle bus there.

I’m sure there’s other great tips for avoiding crowds that you have, so leave those in the comments and let other people know.




Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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2 Responses

  1. Momma says:

    We enjoy breakfast delivered to the room rather than crowds. We enjoy dinners at specialty restaurants rather than the main dining room. Some lines offer a free dinner for 2, free restaurant due to loyalty status, or discounted fees if a package is purchased in advance. We do sail away fun on our balcony. We look for occasional excursions that offer a smaller size group. As a family of 6, sometimes a small group ends up being just us. Other times, we book a private excursion through the cruise line and end up paying only a little more than booking an excursion for 6. NCL Haven escorts passengers off the ship in a private elevator, as well as offering a restaurant and lounge and pool. No waiting in theatre for excursions. Most speakers in the theatre are recorded and replayed in the cabin tv.

  2. Mary Lou says:

    Very helpful, thank you

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