What to Do When Rowdy Cruise Passengers Are Determined to Ruin Your Vacation

Three tactful strategies for dealing with fellow cruisers who've taken the party too far.
Cruise Etiquette How to Gracefully Deal With Obnoxious or Drunk Cruise Ship Passengers

Meeting new people can be one of the joys of sailing on a cruise. There’s a sense of thrown-togetherness that has characterized seagoing society since the earliest days of ocean travel. But it’s that same haphazardness that can be wearing at times, especially if some fellow passengers behave objectionably.

Everybody boards a cruise to have fun, but on modern cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers, it’s a safe bet there will be many different ideas of exactly what fun is, and that’s bound to cause friction. 

Cruise passengers are in vacation mode, and that changes how they socialize a little bit. First, they’re surrounded by strangers, and any social consequences of misbehavior won’t last any longer than the cruise itself. Second, they’re on the quest for that perfect vacation, and sometimes the pursuit of that objective can give us tunnel vision—If I’m having fun, everything’s good, right?

Cruise lines are also selling a fantasy, marketing sailings as escapes where passengers can be pampered, entertained, and fed until they forget all their worries on shore. But the reality is that cruise ships are still shared spaces, and even vacationers should be mindful that their party doesn’t spill over into someone else’s fun.

But what should passengers do when they encounter unruly shipmates? There are generally three options. 

Alert the crew

Crew members are there to ensure everyone has a safe, positive experience onboard. They should also be a resource for reporting any behavior that is illegal or unsafe. Onboard the ship, the bar for unsafe activity is lower, so some activities that are minor annoyances ashore (smoking outside designated areas or public intoxication, for example) should be reported to crew members because they can ultimately affect the safe operation of the ship. 

Alerting the crew also makes them aware of repeat offenders. Cruise lines generally have expectations for passenger behavior written into their passage contracts, and that allows them to disembark passengers who violate their conduct policies. 

That’s not to say, however, that crew members should be dragged into every disagreement between passengers. They don’t need to be asked to referee who saw the deck chair first, or shush passengers providing their own commentary to the theater show unless the situation escalates. 

Think of the crew as ocean-going 911. They’re there to help with major problems and emergencies, but not to settle petty disputes. 

Work it out on your own

Most people are reasonable and will respond favorably to reasonable requests. Come across an overly chatty group in the spa while you’re trying to relax? Politely ask them to keep their voices down—it’s a spa! Does the next table at dinner insist on getting drunk and having a raucous repast every evening? Perhaps it’s easier to ask the chief steward to find you another table instead of attempting to police their behavior. 

Littler cruises can also be a source of annoyance. Perhaps they’re being too loud, or splashing in the pool too much. A little grace goes a long way—if cruise ships are exciting for adults, they’re really exciting for kids, and it’s easy for them to get overstimulated, exhausted, and cranky onboard. It’s a simple fact of being in a shared space, however, in situations where safety is an issue, it’s best to contact a crew member, especially if there doesn’t appear to be a parent or other responsible adult nearby. 

Migrate to a different part of the ship

It’s good to maintain perspective. Is the crowd at the pool too jovial, but it’s not really a situation that requires crew member intervention? A successful vacation probably doesn’t hinge on your being able to enjoy the pool at this exact moment. Enjoy one of the ship’s other activities for a while, then check back. Revelers tend to get tired and move on before long. 

Now let’s say you’re on a smaller ship with just one pool, and it’s a nonstop circus—there just doesn’t ever seem to be a time when it’s an attractive way to spend your time onboard. Ask a crew member about alternatives. Most of them are assigned to their stations throughout the day, and have a pulse on the peaks and valleys of passenger traffic—sometimes growing accustomed to passenger habits on specific voyages. 

I once overheard this exact exchange onboard a ship in the Caribbean. There was a large, boisterous party onboard who seemed to take over the pool each afternoon. A lady approached a deck attendant to ask if anything could be done. The deck attendant smoothly replied (without assigning blame), “They have the early dinner seating, so they’re always gone by 4 each afternoon.” 

The next day, I happened to notice her enjoying a sublimely tranquil pool deck as the sun made its nightly dive for the ship’s wake—her vacation saved by a crew member’s keen observation and tactful diplomacy.