Our perennial tips for avoiding the most common cruising pitfalls—updated for a pandemic-era time.

If you’ve never cruised before, getting started can be overwhelming: Which one do you book, and how? What should you pack? What are the things a first-timer won’t know that an experienced cruiser would? Now, as cruise lines work to resume operations following a shutdown as a result of the coronavirus, new protocols and standards can make even the most enthusiastic traveler take pause.

Don’t sweat it: Though we believe cruising is one of the easiest—and most relaxing—ways to travel, there’s no denying there are a few common missteps, not to mention new regulations to know post-pandemic. We talked to experts and shared our own hard-won wisdom to compile this list of the most common cruising misfires, along with advice for how you can avoid them.

This gallery was last published in July 2019. It has been updated with new information.

Ideally, a vacation should mean an escape from it all, but no matter where we go, coronavirus-related precautions are paramount. Given the tighter quarters on cruise ships, the cruise industry in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working on “extensive measures to address COVID-19 safety” for when sailings resume. Expect all of the normal safeguards that you’d embrace back on shore, along with other significant changes related to enhanced health and safety protocols, like mandatory COVID-19 testing prior to embarkation, temperature checks, reduced shipboard capacity, and more closely controlled shore excursions (with some lines now limiting port outings to pod-protected, ship-sponsored tours).

Sure, cruise ships may look similar when you’re browsing many websites, but in reality, as with hotels, cruise lines have their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and you have to pick the best one for you. Disney Cruise Line, for example, occasionally offers fares that are similar to those of Azamara Club Cruises, but the experiences are very different: While Disney serves active, multi-gen families with young children best, Azamara is the better choice for affluent couples looking for a quietly chic experience and destination immersion.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that reduced fares on a particular sailing sometimes occur during the less-popular “shoulder season,” which can translate to a trip during cooler temperatures or amid choppier seas. While luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas and Crystal, among others, may charge considerably more upfront, their pricing models can offer extreme value when you consider that gratuities, alcohol, butler service, and, in some instances, shore excursions are all included. In all, it pays to do your homework before plunking down your deposit.