Rebecca Garland
Rebecca Garland
Business and Education Expert

Cruising is a great way to travel. But while cruises can be a wonderful way to relax and get a change of scenery, they can also hide some darker elements. 

There are many scams in those cruise deals, and savvy consumers need to be aware of how they work and how to avoid them. Fortunately, we can take advantage of the many cruise reviews others have left online. These reviews often highlight the mistakes and potential cruise scams present in the industry. 

Key Insights:

  • Cruise reviews uncover “hidden” costs on a cruise from mandatory gratuity to upcharges on drinks and some entertainment. 
  • Getting a cruise refund can be tricky. The cruise contract is favorable for the travel company, not consumers, even if you buy travel protection. 
  • Many common cruise scams rely on travelers to be unprepared or unknowledgeable about the industry. Reading cruise reviews and learning how cruising works are great scam deterrents. 

So, what are the main cruise scams and how to avoid them?

  1. Free cruise scam
  2. Cost scam
  3. Cruise Line Contract Scam
  4. Excursion scam
  5. Refund scam
  6. How to avoid cruise scams

Free Cruise Scam

The free cruise scam is one of the most common ploys used on unsuspecting consumers, which is simple to spot when you’re not caught in the middle of it. You get an email or a phone call one day from a cruise company – or what appears to be a legitimate cruise company. Congratulations! You’ve won a free cruise and now you just need to provide a few details to secure your spot! This is where the cruise scam kicks in. 

The free cruise scam makes you provide your personal information, send a copy of your passport or social security number, or perhaps provide your credit card information to “secure your spot.” As soon as you provide information you’ve let the scammers win. They now have what they need for financial or identity theft.

Cruise Cost Scam

It’s easy for a cruise company to make the cruise seem like a good deal by offering a huge discount off the made-up sticker price of the trip. Some cruise passengers are surprised by the high costs of excursions and alcoholic drinks on a cruise.

But there are other, more slippery games companies can play with cruise costs that feel more like a cruise scam. For example, one family booked a Baltic cruise. In their online review, the family complained that the cruise line changed the itinerary for the cruise right before sailing. 

All of this combined resulted in the cruise line saving 10s of thousands of dollars in fuel costs, but for the passengers we ended up visiting far less interesting and significant ports of call.

When the family and their travel agent contacted Princess Cruises customer service, representatives replied that they “have the right to change the itinerary whenever and whatever they want.” So much for consumer rights protection on a cruise line! 

Cruise Line Contract Scam

The cruise companies hold a lot of power in the cruise contracts their customers sign when booking a trip. They can change the itinerary as they choose, and they also can limit services on the boat as well, at their discretion. 

One Carnival cruise customer discovered this the hard way. In their online review, they explained that the ship “made us leave the smoking section at 6:30 every night” so that they could clean, which was frustrating for passengers. 

Additionally, they noted that the smoke and soot “that come out of the smoke stacks ruined 90% of my clothes.” Even after speaking with customer service and allowing Carnival to wash the affected clothing, they are frustrated by the company’s solution and plans to cruise on different ships moving forward. 

Cruise Excursion Issues

Some clients are fast enough to pack their stuff to arrive on the cruise liner to discover that the price only covers the cabin, meals and entertainment on the board of the ship. None of the excursions is included in the tariff plan. In this case, passengers find themselves in a situation when they have to discover the city on their own or pay extra money for the tour.

Cruise excursions off the boat are not typically covered in the price of the cruise, and booking an excursion has some potential issues as well. When you book an excursion, you’ll pay extra only to discover that you’re on an overcrowded tour, you have little control over the destination or itinerary, there are severe language barriers that affect your understanding of the adventure, or even that you pay premium prices to head to a destination selected by the kickbacks the tour operator receives rather than the quality of the adventure.

Cruise Refund Issues

If you’re hoping for a refund for cruise bookings, you’re likely going to be disappointed. As previously noted, the cruise contracts are designed to protect the company, not the passengers. One family discovered this when their flight changes made it necessary to cancel a cruise

They were not able to rebook on a future cruise and instead they “were refunded $300 from the total reservation for 5 people of cruise and tours.” Sadly, despite spending two days on hold with the company, the reviewer never got clear answers or a larger refund. 

cruise refund issue review

How to Avoid Cruise Scams?

If you don’t want to become a victim of a cruise scam, simply remember to follow the following tips: 

  • If you doubt the legitimacy of the offer and are afraid of a free cruise scam, ask for the phone number to call back or for more company information. A legitimate company will have plenty to find including cruise reviews explaining the experiences of others. 
  • Read carefully the details and fine print on a cruise’s website before you book. Then research that information online to understand any “games” the cruise line might play and include room for extra costs to avoid feeling the pinch in your wallet from “hidden costs.” 
  • Read the cruise line contract before paying for the cruise. Understand what you can and can’t control during the voyage and check out the cruise reviews of others to be prepared for limitations that may come up along the way. 
  • Only book and pay for excursions through reputable operators and avoid many questionable or scam activities. 
  • Pay the minimum amount toward the cruise until the payment deadline to protect your money as long as possible, and consider paying a bit more for travel insurance if it is offered by the cruise line to protect yourself as much as possible. 

If perfectly organized, a cruise can be one of the most memorable experiences in your life. Don't think that you won't become a victim of cruise scams or abuses. Ensure you've checked everything with the company, read through the terms, and got proper confirmation of your booking. This way you can be sure to enjoy your trip with great company. 

Legal disclaimers:

  1. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide any legal, medical, accounting, investment or any other professional advice as individual cases may vary and should be discussed with a corresponding expert and/or an attorney.
  2. All or some image copyright belongs to the original owner(s). No copyright infringement intended.