We've spent 24 cumulative days on cruise ships, and these disappointing photos show what cruising is really like now



4x3 thumb expectation vs reality cruise
You might expect to see stunning views from your cruise, but Insider's reporters often battled crowds to see the sights.

  • Insider reporters have sailed on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Cunard cruises.
  • Together, they've spent nearly 25 days at sea since the world returned to cruising in 2021.
  • While the cruises offered new adventures, large crowds and long lines were disappointing for some.
From sailing on Belize's crystal waters to exploring Amsterdam by cruise, Insider's reporters have spent a cumulative 24 days on cruise ships. Each reporter had fun …

Authors Amanda Krause, Joey Hadden, Mikhaila Friel, and Monica Humphries (from top left to bottom right).
Authors Amanda Krause, Joey Hadden, Mikhaila Friel, and Monica Humphries (from top left to bottom right) enjoy their respective cruises.

Between 2021 and 2022, Insider reporters have sailed on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, and Carnival's Cunard cruise lines. 

But while our reporters expected scenic views, adventure, and plenty of space to relax …

A woman in a hat looks out over water from a boat
A general image of a cruise goer enjoying a scenic view of water.

… their adventures also included some disappointments, like large crowds, long lines, and some confusion.

Side-by-side photos show the expectation and reality of going on a cruise
A crowded pool deck on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

Read more: Disappointing photos show what it's actually like to go on a cruise

Joey Hadden experienced the first of many crowded bus rides as she headed from the airport to the cruise port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with several other cruisers.

inside tour bus
A bus takes Joey Hadden and fellow cruisers from a hotel to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, cruise port in April 2022.

Read more: Step aboard the world's largest cruise ship, which is so big it has 8 'neighborhoods' spread across 18 stories

Once aboard Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, Hadden was excited to view the ocean as she sailed away but was blocked by a crowd of people.

Crowded area on the top deck of a cruise ship.
A crowded area on the top deck of Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

Joey Hadden sailed on the world's largest cruise ship — Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas — in April 2022.

And as she explored more of the ship during her weeklong stay, she was surprised to find that even the world's largest cruise ship felt overcrowded at times.

People enjoy the top decks of the largest cruise ship in the world
People enjoy the top decks of the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, in April 2022.

During the eight-day journey, Hadden rarely had a moment of solitude outside of her cruise cabin. 

She thought the pools were often crowded …

A crowded pool on the world's largest cruise ship.
A crowded pool on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

A Royal Caribbean representative told Insider there were 19 pools, plunge pools, and whirlpools accessible to guests aboard Wonder of the Seas.

… and finding a spot to relax on the pool decks was stressful because they were often packed with throngs of people.

A crowded pool area onboard Wonder of the Seas
A crowded pool deck on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

To her disappointment, Hadden found herself continually losing the challenge of finding an open chair on the Wonder of the Seas' pool deck. 

A Royal Caribbean representative told Insider that crew members might remove items from lounge chairs after 30 minutes, but they must also consider families and groups who may be in the pool or going to the restroom when enforcing rules like these and must use their best judgment.

If she waited until the evening to find a spot, Hadden often felt it was too windy and cold outside to actually enjoy the pool.

THe author takes a selfie in the wind
Hadden "enjoying" the cold and wind on the top deck of Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

Read more: I packed for a weeklong cruise with just a carry-on and a backpack. Here are 10 items I'm glad I brought and 7 things I wish I had with me.

While her cruise set sail at partial capacity in July 2021, Monica Humphries agreed that the crowds on Carnival Vista took away from her ability to relax.

Crowds on Carnival Vista's Lido Deck.
Crowds on Carnival Vista's Lido Deck in July 2021.

Read more: I was on Carnival Cruise Line's first ship to set sail in over a year. Here's what it was like — from boarding to excursions and everything in-between.

One of the most crowded places on her cruise was the comedy show each night.

Crowds leave the auditorium after a comedy show on the Carnival Vista.
Crowds leave the auditorium after a comedy show on the Carnival Vista in July 2021.

Monica wanted to enjoy the show, but because she didn't arrive early, she had to stand in the back of the auditorium. 

A Carnival representative told Monica that Carnival's "comedy shows are very popular with our guests, which is why we offer multiple performances several times during our sailings to accommodate those who want to take in a comedy show. Seating in the comedy venue is on a first-come, first-served basis."

Crowded cruises also caused long lines for some reporters.

People waiting in line to ride a ferry.
Passengers on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas waiting in line to ride a ferry at port in April 2022.

Whether disembarking or waiting for customer service, the reporters encountered plenty of long lines during their cruises. 

Embarking and disembarking the ship meant the reporters would need to stand in lengthy lines.

People waiting in line at the cruise terminal.
People waiting in line at the cruise terminal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

When Hadden arrived at the port in Fort Lauderdale to board the Wonder of the Seas, hoards of people waited with her to check into the ship. 

Humphries also found long lines to disembark the Carnival Vista at each port during her trip. 

And long lines at the buffets were also common.

A crowded buffet on the world's largest cruise ship.
A crowded buffet on Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

On the Wonder of the Seas, Hadden often saw passengers pack the main buffet area.

The service desk on Humphries' Carnival Vista cruise often had a line and long wait time.

A line at the Carnival Vista service desk.
A line at the Carnival Vista service desk in July 2021.

Each time she needed help, Humphries dreaded going to the service desk. She thought the line was always long and slow-moving, and she spoke to passengers who claimed they waited more than an hour to speak to someone. 

Monica felt frustrated that there weren't more people to help passengers with their hiccups, and she debated whether she'd rather go without help than sacrifice time on the ship.

Some reporters thought instructions could have been clearer. Humphries was disappointed that the labels on the buffet didn't always match the food underneath.

An image of a pork spring roll on a plate.
A "vegetarian" spring role that Humphries discovered had pork inside on Carnival Vista in July 2021.

While she ate at a handful of the ship's restaurants, she often found herself at the buffet. Unfortunately, food never seemed to be labeled properly. Monica's first meal involved what was supposed to be a cheese empanada. One bite in, and she quickly realized it was pork.

A day later, after she asked a crew member working the buffet whether the spring rolls had meat and she was assured they were vegetarian, she discovered meat again after taking a bite.

And Mikhaila Friel didn't realize that, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, where you sit in the dining room on the first night is your table for the rest of the cruise. So she had to dine alone each night.

Mikhaila Friel at her dinner table on the Cunard ship.
Mikhaila Friel at her dinner table aboard Cunard's Queen Elizabeth in October 2021.

Friel also had never been on a cruise until she boarded Cunard's Queen Elizabeth ship in October 2021 and made the common mistake during her first dinner aboard Cunard's Queen Elizabeth. 

She initially figured she would dine alone for the first evening and then opt to sit with a group later when she had made friends. That wasn't the case.

Instead, Mikhaila sat by herself each night for dinner. Luckily, she ended up making friends at the tables next to her, but it was often a little awkward as their food would be delivered at different times.

Read more: 6 things that I wish I knew before setting foot on a cruise ship and that all first-time cruisers should keep in mind

And a few disappointments came from simply not being more experienced. Some of the first-time cruisers, for example, wished they had brought warmer clothes.

the author reacts to wind on the wonder of the seas world's largest cruise ship
Hadden feels a cold wind on the top deck of Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

Read more: I packed for a weeklong cruise with just a carry-on and a backpack. Here are 10 items I'm glad I brought and 7 things I wish I had with me.

Krause often felt cold on the ship and wished she had brought thicker pullovers and long-sleeved shirts with her.

Reporter Amanda Krause on the Disney Wish cruise ship.
Amanda Krause prepares for an evening on the Disney Wish cruise ship in September 2022.

Amanda Krause had never traveled by ship before sailing on Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, the Wish, in September 2022. 

While she expected a chill in the air during nights at sea, she wasn't prepared for the cold air-conditioning that blasted indoors at all times. She and her sister found themselves shivering at restaurants, in the Walt Disney Theatre, and at bars.

Read more: I packed for a Disney cruise with just a carry-on and personal item. Here are 3 things I'm glad I brought and 5 I regret not having.

Likewise, Friel found the cold winds she faced on the upper decks of her cruise ship to be challenging and regrets not bringing more warm clothes.

Mikhaila cruise
Friel on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth in October 2021.

Europe in the fall can be pretty chilly, so I wore a coat during my excursions in Amsterdam. However, I wish I'd brought a larger selection of warmer clothes and accessories to wear on outdoor areas of the ship that were affected by the wind, something I hadn't considered. A woolly hat and a pair of gloves certainly wouldn't have gone amiss. 

Read more: I packed for my first solo cruise with a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. Here are 4 things I wish I'd packed, and 3 I'm glad I brought.

Each reporter left their respective ships with overall positive memories, and they're all the wiser for the hiccups and disappointments they experienced.

wonder of the seas ship docked on a cloudy day
Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas in April 2022.

While the reporters experienced some speed bumps regardless of their chosen cruise line, there were plenty of positives.

The reporters disembarked their ships with a new understanding of a popular way to travel. The group explored new places, made new friends, and ate plenty of food.

Read the original article on Insider



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