Disappointing photos show what it’s actually like to go on a cruise

Debbra Szafryk
Side-by-side photos show the expectation and reality of going on a cruise

Cruising is a popular vacation that Insider’s reporter found to be less glamorous than it appears on social media and in promotional ads.Joey Hadden/Insider

When I booked my first cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, I expected breathtaking views of the world between relaxing swimming and sunbathing sessions.

A woman in a sunhat aboard a ship looks at a distant island. A man and a woman enjoy pooltime onboard a ship.

From images of cruising I’ve seen in the past, I expected to be able to relax and enjoy some pool time.Buena Vista Images/Barry Winiker/Getty Images

But my experience cruising for the first time didn’t quite meet my expectations.

The author on the largest cruise ship in the world

The author on the top deck of Wonder of the Seas.Joey Hadden/Insider

I sunbathed in a loud, crowded pool area when I was lucky enough to find a chair. I spent more time waiting in lines than I anticipated. And I saw much of the world from behind other people’s heads.

People look at a cruise ship from the window of a ferry

Wonder of the Seas from the window of a ferry.Joey Hadden/Insider

The disappointment started even before I was on the cruise. Since I don’t live nearby my cruise’s departure city, my trip began with a flight and a budget hotel room near my port in Fort Lauderdale.

The author in a budget hotel room

The author in a hotel near the port.Joey Hadden/Insider

 

 

When I arrived at my port city’s airport, I waited 45 minutes for a hotel shuttle to pick me up. This was the first of many crowded bus rides, and I wish I had called a cab.

Hotel airport shuttle at night

Hotel shuttles picking up guests from Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport.Joey Hadden/Insider

The next day, I piled into a bus I felt was too hot with several other cruise guests and headed to the port.

inside tour bus

A bus taking cruisers from a hotel to the cruise port.Joey Hadden/Insider

I didn’t think the Fort Lauderdale Port was very picturesque, but I didn’t expect it to be.

cruise terminal

A view of the port from the bus.Joey Hadden/Insider

There was a long line to get inside the cruise terminal, and I should have known by this point that I’d stand in many more lines during my cruise.

line to get into cruise terminal

People waiting in line at the cruise terminal.Joey Hadden/Insider

Inside the cruise terminal, there was another long line to get through security. While I waited, I chuckled to myself as I read signs that said, “Adventure begins here.”

line and security inside cruise terminal

People waiting in line inside the cruise terminal.Joey Hadden/Insider

Once aboard the ship, I was excited to view the ocean as we sailed away, but I was blocked by tall, thick glass and couldn’t find a place to stand.

Crowded area on the top deck of a cruise ship

People standing on the top deck as the ship sails away.Joey Hadden/Insider

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

The ship was so large that I got lost a few times during my stay. I found the maps on each floor to be helpful, though.

A map of the ship (L) and a long hallway (R)

A map of one deck (L) and a hallway of cabins (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

But as I explored the ship during my week-long stay, I was surprised to find that even the world’s largest cruise ship still felt overcrowded at times to me.

People enjoy the top decks of the largest cruise ship in the world

People enjoying the top decks of the largest cruise ship in the world.Joey Hadden/Insider

While people seemed to be enjoying themselves, many of the communal decks looked and felt to me just like a crowded mall.

A crowded cruise deck

People perusing the shops and restaurants on board.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I went to Starbucks on the world’s largest cruise ship and was surprised by how similar it was to stores on land — with one key difference

There were crowds and lines virtually everywhere I went, such as the buffet.

Crowded buffet on the top deck of a cruise ship

A crowded buffet on the world’s largest cruise ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I spent a week eating on the world’s largest cruise ship. These are the 10 best dishes I had.

The pools were also usually busy.

Crowded pool area on the top deck of a cruise ship

A crowded pool on the world’s largest cruise ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

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

Read more: We compared every aspect of Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Here’s what it’s like to sail on each.

 

And the pool decks were typically just as crowded.

Crowded pool area on the top deck of a cruise ship

A crowded section of the world’s largest cruise ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

Even though there were rules against saving chairs with towels, I still saw plenty of people doing it, so finding a spot to relax was stressful.

Crowded pool area on the top deck of a cruise ship

People sitting in chairs on the top deck.Joey Hadden/Insider

A Royal Caribbean representative told Insider that crew members might remove items from lounge chairs after 30 minutes. Still, 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 I waited until the evening to find a spot, I found it to be too windy and cold outside to enjoy the pool.

THe author takes a selfie in the wind

The author “enjoying” the wind on the top deck in the evening.Joey Hadden/Insider

Cruise ships tend to be full of activities, but I found many of them had long lines.

Waterslide line on a cruise ship

People waiting in line to go down a slide.Joey Hadden/Insider

At port stops, I waited in lines to go through security every time I left and returned to the ship. While I found this annoying, it made me feel safer, at least.

security on the ship

People waiting in line at a security checkpoint.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: Will a cruise ship wait for me if I’m running late at a port stop? Here’s what a captain has to say.

The lines continued at each port, which was crowded with other tourists excited to begin their tours.

Crowds at a port

People waiting in line to ride a ferry.Joey Hadden/Insider

I often had to battle through crowds just to find signs for my particular excursions.

Crowds at a port

People looking for their excursion groups.Joey Hadden/Insider

It was exciting to explore new places at each stop, though some of this exploration was from the window of another hot bus.

Inside a tour bus

Inside a hot tour bus.Joey Hadden/Insider

A Royal Caribbean representative told Insider that the cruise line works with local tour operators for their excursions, making air conditioning standards vary.

And when I was finally doing the cool thing I booked, like walking across a suspension bridge amid the treetops, my view was sometimes blocked once more by everyone else who booked the tour, too.

People on a suspended bridge

People crossing a suspension bridge in Roátan, Honduras.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I went to Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. It wasn’t for me, but I can see why cruise-goers love it.

According to a crew member I overheard, roughly 5,000 other people were aboard the ship, so I understand why the cruise felt so crowded. I think that if I were to book a less crowded cruise next time, I might enjoy it more.

Deck 15 on the world's largest cruise ship

The top deck early in the morning before it becomes crowded.Joey Hadden/Insider

Read more: I took my first Caribbean cruise and quickly learned that cruising is a lifestyle that’s not for me

Next time, I think I’ll book during the off-season to avoid crowds.

People enjoy the top decks of the largest cruise ship in the world

People enjoying the top decks of the largest cruise ship in the world.Joey Hadden/Insider

Although my first cruise didn’t meet my expectations, I still have hope that I could enjoy a cruise one day.

The author at a port in front of the world's largest cruise ship

The author at a port in front of the world’s largest cruise ship.Joey Hadden/Insider

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