How to Handle a Complaint on a Cruise and Actually Get Results

how to handle a complaint on a cruise

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What to Do if You Have a Complaint on a Cruise

Cruising is a pretty awesome way to travel, and most of the time, service, dining and entertainment will be great. But what do we do when things go wrong and the cruise isn’t meeting our expectations?

In this post, I’ll share some tips on what to do if you have an issue on a cruise. I’ll also share some examples of how to get a complaint resolved on a cruise – what works and what doesn’t (at least most of the time).

what to do if you have a complaint on a cruise 6 x 4

How To Get a Complaint Resolved on a Cruise

I love cruising, but in reality, just like anything in life, sometimes things go wrong.

If you’ve cruised before, you’ve probably had times where things just weren’t as perfect as the Instagram photos.

What NOT to do if you have a problem on your cruise

Before you post photos and complaints about your cabin issues in a cruise Facebook group (yes, this happens)… remember that complaints are best dealt with on the cruise ship itself.

In reality, most people in a cruise Facebook group are there to gather information and get excited about their upcoming cruise. On the whole, in my experience, most people aren’t super sympathetic when someone posts their annoyances and rants about their cruise.

Now I’m not suggesting, that a post-cruise review with problems mentioned isn’t helpful for others after the fact. But in the moment, try and hold off from venting to social media.

It might make you feel better in the moment, but it’s just not very effective. Plus, you’ll just get extra agitated.

Minor Complaints

Usually, while problems can seem difficult at the time, most issues on cruises can be solved fairly easily.

The fact is, no one wants to ruin a perfectly good vacation by getting overly frustrated. Small problems are almost always fixable.

celebrity Summit solarium pool

True story

I have a friend who tells me that before she goes on a cruise she makes a choice.

I’m paraphrasing now…

“I’m not going to be bothered by little things, and don’t complain to me” she says. “I work too hard for this cruise all year and I AM going to relax.”

Overall, I think this is a great attitude. She just makes a choice to not get bothered by a meal that isn’t her favorite (she orders another), by a show that isn’t to her liking (there are other shows) or anything else (within reason).

Let’s face it, letting small things bother us on a cruise, can make us feel annoyed and impact our experience.

However, I also know that cruise lines genuinely want your cruise experience to be pretty great. They really want you back!

So bringing a minor issue to that warrants their attention isn’t a bad thing.

Bigger complaints

Sometimes, the issues are bigger.

Missing cruise ports, major problems with cabins or the ship or overall “bad” service.

We’ll tackle these too.

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What NOT TO DO if you have a complaint on a cruise

  • Don’t yell and insult
  • Don’t tout your loyalty level for all the guests to hear
  • Don’t post first on social media
  • Don’t start a mob protest* (please!)

*If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, google “Norwegian Cruise passengers start a protest over missed cruise ports”

How to Handle a Complaint on a Cruise and Actually Get Results

Cruise cabin

1. Let cruise ship staff know that there’s a problem

This might seem obvious, but if the cruise ship doesn’t know there’s a problem, they can’t fix it.

We’ve met people who’ve told us that they were upset that their cabin air conditioning wasn’t cold enough or their tv wasn’t working, but they didn’t inform anyone working on the ship.

Maybe you have a noisy room with a rattling sound in the ceiling, or water that clogs the shower.

So, first things first, if there’s an issue, don’t assume they know. Please tell your cabin attendant or guest relations when something isn’t working.

They will fix it, and you will be happier.

2. Be polite and respectful

No matter the situation, when “complaining”, be polite as you describe the problem and respectful to the person you’re talking to.

This isn’t just being nice, although that’s a good reason,  it’s also going to make it more likely that the person you’re speaking to actually wants to help.

Plus, cruise ship staff work really hard and long hours, so try and keep that in mind.

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3. Allow the cruise ship staff the opportunity to make it right

One thing we’ve noticed when cruising, is how most of the time anyone working directly with passengers, really wants to do a good job and for you to be happy.

If you have a problem, when possible, bring it up first to the person directly involved, and allow them the opportunity to make it right.

For example, if your cabin steward didn’t leave you fresh towels or didn’t clean the bathroom as well as you’d like (or any other housekeeping issue), try and speak to him or her directly.

You can do this by catching them in the hallway in the morning or evening as they are going between staterooms, or by dialing housekeeping on your cabin phone, which usually has a direct line to your stateroom attendant.

Celebrity Summit cabin bathroom 6 x4

4. Follow the chain of command

If the problem persists or you don’t feel comfortable talking directly to the staff member involved, then speak with a supervisor.

As an example, if your waiter isn’t attentive or is making mistakes and the service just isn’t great, bring this up to the Maitre D. They know which staff members are new and might need some extra training, and those that are getting regular complaints.

Let them fix it, if need be, by moving your table the next day or even by changing up the wait staff.

5. Guest services

Problems that aren’t as easily resolved should be brought up to guest services. They’ll usually hear you out, and if they can’t help you to resolve it right away, and it’s not urgent, they’ll often ask you to write your complaint on a card.

This is pretty much step 1, for any medium-bigger issues.

At this point, you’ll want to write down the details of your complaint.

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6. Follow up and escalate if need be

It would be nice, if you heard back every time and things were resolved promptly, but this doesn’t always happen. Do keep in mind that sometimes they are just busy, and it’s not personal.

The following day, head back to guest services and inquire about a resolution.

In many cases, they will either have fixed the problem, or propose a resolution. There are times when you may ask to speak with a supervisor or management.

Be persistent let them know that you would like this resolved as quickly as possible.

7. Ask for what you want

While compensation shouldn’t be expected for every issue, especially ones that are resolved, sometimes cruise passengers feel it’s warranted.

If you feel compensation is fair, be prepared to say it, especially if you’ve asked for this to be escalated to management.

I’ve found that we can’t always always assume that they know what we want or expect.

Do you want them to change your cabin? Are you hoping for monetary compensation like an on board credit?

If it’s a reasonable ask, go ahead.

For example, our friends had a specialty dinner on a cruise, and the main dish had to be sent back more than once. They really weren’t happy with the service and overall experience. It was an off night, to say the least.

They spoke with a supervisor in this case, and along with an apology, were offered a chance to return to the restaurant another night. However since they didn’t enjoy it, they didn’t want to return.

Instead they suggested an alternative specialty restaurant, and the supervisor agreed. They felt that was fair and were happy with that.

8. Harder to solve issues

I’m pretty convinced that 99% of the time, issues and complaints can be resolved on the cruise ship. For this reason I don’t usually suggest waiting until you get home to bring them up.

The exception is the problems that aren’t solved to your satisfaction on the ship. These are usually the bigger issues and are probably out of their hands.

A word of caution – what not to do if you have an issue on a cruise

Beware of petty or too general complaints that ask for an overgenerous compensation, as they won’t be taken seriously.

“All the food was terrible, the kids club staff was rude and entertainment sucked. I want a full refund!” type of thing.

Not going to happen.

9. What happens if you miss a cruise port on your cruise?

Cruise ships missing cruise ports, mostly due to weather related issues happens on occasion unfortunately.

Although it can be disappointing, this is actually one of the “risks” of cruising. If there’s a storm at sea and a cruise ship can prevent going near it, it’s better and safer for everyone.

This is actually something in the fine print, when booking a cruise, and one we all agree to in the cruise contract. There is no guarantee that a cruise ship will be able to stop at very port, and they may change itineraries.

While this doesn’t happen often, itinerary changes can certainly be common during Hurricane season in particular.

Try and be understanding if this happens, and enjoy the positives of the cruise and the ship itself.  Remember that the cruise line and Captain are making decisions that keep passengers, crew and the ship out of harm’s way.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the situation that caused a Passenger Protest on a Norwegian Cruise Ship, please see the video below.

 10. Contact your travel agent and/or write a letter to a corporate email

If you really believe that there are things that should have been addressed better on board, or you think a form of compensation should have been offered for your troubles and wasn’t, write a letter.

Compensation will be at the discretion of the cruise line, however passengers have reported that there are times when a cruise line will offer compensation in the form of a partial refund, a future cruise credit or a percentage off a future cruise.

Your travel agent will have an email contact to send it to, and alternatively you can call the cruise line for the information.

You’ll want to have documented your complaints and issues while on the ship, which you should include in this letter.

Do remember to include your names, reservation number, sail date and cruise ship.

Recap: How to Handle a Complaint on a Cruise and Actually Get Results

If you have a complaint on a cruise, remember to bring this to the attention of staff and crew while on your cruise ship. Small issues can usually be resolved easily, and even bigger problems have a greater likelihood of being resolved fairly if you escalate in a step by step way.

Have you ever had a complaint on a cruise that was resolved in a way you were happy with, or the opposite experience? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy cruising!

Ilana xoxo

P.S. If you found this helpful, please don’t keep it to yourself ;-). Please share on Facebook or PIN to your favorite Pinterest board (share buttons at the top). Thanks so much!

Read more:

27 Cruise Travel Hacks Repeat Cruisers Swear By

25 most recommended Amazon Items to Bring on a cruise

20 Cruise Packing Tips all Cruisers Need

27 things To Do on a Cruise Sea Day (and not be bored)

Let’s connect:

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  1. November 25, 2019 / 4:38 pm

    You are 100% right. Our last cruise we had Three issues over 12 days. Shower drain was slow and water was backing up on floor. Told our cabin steward. That afternoon we were returning from a shore excursion, he told us it was fixed and hair was in pipe. (That happened at my home too.) Second, we were eating at one of my favorite specialty retardants. Brazilian steak house. We were seated one of the farthest tables from kitchen. By the time the servers got to us they were out of meat. Wine steward came by and asked how things were going. He noticed we had no food on our plate. I told him we had not seen await staff in about 20 minutes. Next thing head waiter was over asking if a problem existed. We noticed the restaurant was busy and explained what was happening. Within a minute had three different waiters offering me something to eat. Next morning we ate breakfast in the same room. (Love NCL morning steak and eggs) Head waiter came over and apologize and told us it would never happen again. Third was I never thought of checking the hurricane watch for Canada. (my bad) We missed port of call on Prince Edward Island because of hurricane Doran. We saw on weather channel the island was hit with 100 MPH winds and half island was without power. I am glad we missed it. Even thought I had three problems, I gave them an excellent review. I am going in May with them again.

    • November 26, 2019 / 3:15 pm

      Hi Russell,

      I’m so glad for you that the issues didn’t damper your cruise, and that you found the cruise line staff dealt so well with the problems. It’s always nice when they are perceptive and try to make things better.

      I’m with you on missed ports! I am always glad when I hear a ship didn’t go near a storm, right! Weather is one thing the cruise lines just can’t help, and they have to keep everyone safe, first and foremost.

      Sounds like overall a great cruise! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Brinttany
    December 30, 2019 / 6:49 pm

    My husband and I just got back from our first ever cruise (December 2019, Carnival Liberty). It happened to be our anniversary while on the cruise and our steward was so nice and gave us a $50 gift card to the Spa that had to be redeemed by the end of the cruise! I thought that was a very nice gesture so I looked up the spa services and saw that they had manicures for $49, perfect! I went to the spa to make a reservation and explained twice that I was paying with the gift card our room steward gave us and even had the gift card in my hand in case they needed to use it while making the reservation. The front desk attendant with the spa told me that they needed my room number in case I didn’t show up to my appointment, then they would charge my room since I made the appointment for less than 24 hours in advance, which was fine with me because I knew I wasn’t going to miss the appointment, and she verified that it was fine that I used my gift card and that I just needed to show it to the from desk attendant when I come for my appointment. So, I came back the next day for my manicure, showed the front desk attendant my gift card and she proceeded to explain to me that the gift card could only be used for special services and the only way my manicure could qualify as a special service is if I paired it with a pedicure ($70 on top of the $49 manicure). I proceeded to read every word on the gift card (kind of out loud but not making a scene) and nowhere did it say “special services only.” The gift card just said redeemable for any spa service. So I stood my ground and kept explaining to the front desk attendant that the lady who made my appointment said it was fine and that I never would have made the appointment if I knew the gift card wouldn’t cover the service I requested. To which the attendant explained that if I stayed, I would be charged $49 for the manicure to my room and if I cancelled the appointment, I would be charged $49 to my room as a no show. I felt like I was somehow being tricked and basically kept repeating myself “The card doesn’t say ‘special’ services. The lady yesterday told me it was fine” until a second front desk attendant joined in and just repeated that it was Spa policy to only use the gift cards for special services and that my room was going to be charged either way. I felt defeated and really upset because I really had no intentions of visiting the spa on our cruise but thought the gesture from our steward was so nice and I thought it would be fun to get my nails done before having dinner on our actual anniversary. I was honestly just about to cave when a third lady showed up and apologized for the confusion and miscommunication and told me that they would not be charging my room for a no show but that they unfortunately could not accept the gift card for a “basic” service.

    So the problem was resolved in the fact that they didn’t charge my room but I still was not able to use the gift card at this point because this was the last night of the cruise (5:30pm) and there were no available appointments for any specialty services. I feel like I remained calm and just kept repeating myself in a polite manner and somewhat got the issue resolved. But I feel like the spa gift cards need to specifically state “for special spa services only” to avoid the confusion… or maybe I’m the only person that had this issue as they acted like this had never happened before (which I doubt). I tried to find our room steward later that night to tell him what happened but did not see him (I also didn’t try too hard to find him as this was our anniversary night).

    • January 1, 2020 / 12:36 am

      Hi Brintanny,

      Happy anniversary! I can understand how this was a frustrating situation. I agree that gift cards should always be as clear as possible as to how they can be used. I hope otherwise your anniversary cruise was a good experience. Sending an email to the cruise line, if you haven’t already filled in the survey is always helpful.

      Thanks for taking time to leave a comment.


  3. Liz
    May 12, 2021 / 7:47 pm

    Hello Ilana , thank you for all the helpful information. My complaint is before the cruise we were booked for May 2020 and when i requested to cancel to get refund , I was denied a refund and told all , I could do is book for future so with that being my only option I rebooked for September 2020 and then royal carribean cancelled again and at that point they offered a refund or a future credit for 125% so I went with the future cruise credits. Come 2021 receiving an email with a discount for second person
    I booked for 3rd time with a representative who explained that , I had credit amounts for both rooms I booked for the second guests, i understood and hung up. Just a few days ago , I called royal to try to get the cruise credit switched under my name since I paid for everything and am pretty much begging my kids to go and I know that I would do another cruise. Representative said that they could not do that and that there was no other option , when I asked to speak to his supervisor he explained that he was it and whoever I talked to , I would get same answer. I don’t understand how a cruise line so big , doesn’t have options and it doesn’t seem correct . Any help is appreciated or where I can file a complaint ?

    • May 16, 2021 / 1:45 pm

      Hi Liz,

      I know that this past year it’s been really difficult. Cruise lines have different policies on how you can use your FCC, and that’s even changed over the year plus. I believe cruise credits are per guest, and not based on who has paid. Perhaps you could call back and speak to someone else, to understand the policy and any options and solutions you have. You could also ask your travel agent, to get an explanation. If you don’t like or agree with the cruise line policy, being honest, I’m not sure you really have any recourse. Of course, I’m not a lawyer and this is my opinion only, based on what I’ve seen and read over the past year. As well, I don’t know all the details and this isn’t professional advice.

      Best of luck to you,


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