How to Survive Going on a Cruise as an Introvert

A woman heads to a cruise ship

Finding your vacation equilibrium as an introvert can be difficult, especially when on a boat swaying in the middle of the ocean.

The foghorn blasted twice as the massive boat began its slow departure from the dock. Amidst the cheering from the passengers, I closed my eyes, feeling the wind rustle through my hair. As Port Canaveral became a distant point in the horizon, I leaned over the railing, smiling as I watched the blue water glisten in the sunlight. This was going to be the most relaxing trip ever…

Suddenly, I heard, “Vanit! We’re going to sign up for the free rum tasting! Come on!” 

I groaned. I was on a group trip with my friends and family — we were on a week-long Carnival cruise headed for the Bahamas and I’d been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to indulge in my own introverted paradise, like drifting off to sleep in a lounge chair as the on-board band belted out Bob Marley hits. 

But soon, I was following my friends down the winding boat, wondering how I could best maintain a balance between finding some time for tranquility while also making meaningful memories with my friends and family — preferably without falling overboard (or without wanting to push them overboard). Here’s advice I’d give to fellow introverts before getting aboard.

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4 Ways to Survive Going on a Cruise as an Introvert

1. Be mindful about finding alone time — anywhere — and say “no” to group activities sometimes.

Very quickly, I realized the default setting on cruises was to be constantly surrounded by people you knew. From the moment I woke up to the moment I staggered into bed, I was with my family and friends, whether it was grabbing a bite to eat, lazing in the sauna, checking out the comedy clubs, going to the outdoor movie nights, or trying my hand at cards at the casino (by the way, the house always wins, even on a boat). 

Don’t be mistaken into thinking that introverts hate people and don’t want to spend time with them — we are some of the warmest and most genuine people out there. But we do need to recharge after extended periods of social contact or else we risk being drained and disengaging with the people around us. 

Indeed, I found myself passively tagging along wherever the group wanted to go, lost in a world of my own as my friends chattered away. The different levels of the boat had started blending together into a mesh of loud, confusing colors, sounds, and Hawaiian shirts (so many Hawaiian shirts!). 

On the third day, I finally reached my tipping point when we made our way to the foredeck of the boat, where a beanbag toss competition was happening. There must have been at least a hundred people milling around. I remember thinking, “Nope!” and promptly turning around, telling my friends to have fun, that I was going to go chill by myself for a while, and to message me when it was over. 

That turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all day. For the first time in three days, I was free to explore the boat — by myself. I walked around, went to a jazz concert, worked out at the gym, and finally ended up in a coveted lounge chair, watching the sunset over the waves. It was perfect — and I began to see why cruises can be introvert-friendly and tailored to you and your needs. (And don’t forget your noise-canceling headphones, of course!)

By the time my friends found me, five hours had passed and I was down for whatever activity they proposed next. Setting those boundaries ended up being very important for me, and it made me realize that we introverts tend not to speak up about things we want. I think the people-pleasing in us gets overly concerned about how people might react if we say “no.” But it turns out that your friends are going to appreciate you being honest with them rather than being inexplicably grumpy for the entire trip. 

2. Set limits when it comes to drinking alcohol.

When it comes to warm, tropical vacations South of the equator, alcohol tends to be part and parcel. From the free liquor tastings to the servers walking around with bottomless trays of cocktails, there was no shortage of opportunities to get absolutely wasted on the boat. My friends took full advantage, and I did, too — at least initially. But it didn’t take long before I realized how off drinking made me feel. Then I came to my grand realization:

Being drunk on a cruise ship is extremely uncomfortable.  

Introverts are very self-aware and mindful of their internal sensations, and it had already taken me long enough to get used to the incessant up-and-down rocking of the ship. Drinking any amount of alcohol made me feel like I was constantly going to fall over, and I’d have to refamiliarize myself with the motion of the boat. It was a weird feeling, to say the least, and I found that my alcohol tolerance was much lower.

Then came the social aspect. As big as a cruise ship is, you’re constantly surrounded by strangers. Mindful as introverts tend to be of other people, we are a lot less comfortable being drunk in public than our extroverted friends. Give any introvert a bottle of vodka and they’ll tell you they’d rather drink it at their friend’s get-together than at a raving concert. 

I felt the same way about the cruise ship — there were several thousand passengers aboard, and there really wasn’t a private location where you can hang out with your friends (except for maybe in the dead of night). My friends, of course, had no such qualms. 

So what’s an introvert to do? I ended up having a lot more fun staying sober and simply observing their antics. It was thoroughly enjoyable to watch them take a large swig, go up to someone, strike up a baffling conversation, loudly announce that they were drunk, and totter away.   

By not drinking, I realized I was able to make a valuable contribution as the official “cruise memory cataloguer.” Although I’m not typically very invested in the size of my camera roll, I knew that my friends would appreciate having pictures and videos of the days and nights they were too far gone to remember. Indeed, the moments where I had them rewatch everything the mornings after, and get overly embarrassed, are among my personal favorite memories from the trip. 

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

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3. You’ll be able to disconnect from the world for a while — Wi-Fi is very limited.

For those of you who haven’t been on a cruise before, Wi-Fi is typically an extra add-on that you have to purchase. My family got a Wi-Fi plan that allowed one of us to log in at a time — and with five people, you can pretty much guess how that turned out. But it ended up being a blessing, as it forced me to ditch my phone and stay more present.

For the first time in years, I didn’t have easy access to social media and couldn’t satisfy my compulsive urge to scroll through Instagram or Facebook when bored with my surroundings. Sensitive as introverts are to external stimuli, I didn’t realize the negative toll that being constantly connected to the rest of the world had had on me. Staring at other people’s pictures, posts, likes, and comments was constantly draining — and I didn’t even realize it, because my phone had become a default source of entertainment when I didn’t know what to do with myself. (Plus, we introverts sometimes hide behind our phones when we want to avoid social interactions!)

As the days on the boat passed, I felt less and less of a need to use the Wi-Fi (in stark contrast to my friends and siblings, who were constantly battling for the log-in info). I realized that I actually felt relieved when I had an excuse not to go on my phone and be up-to-date with what my social network was doing. I could stuff my phone in my backpack and completely forget about it for several hours, which was immensely freeing. 

I’ve done my best to carry forward those habits, post-cruise, and my average weekly screen time has seen a sharp decline. Introverts, I encourage you to completely disable your social media notifications for a week — my mornings and nights feel so much more peaceful now that the first (and last) things I do every day no longer involve scrolling through my phone.

4. Speak up about keeping your cabin organized.

We introverts have a tendency to get overstimulated and annoyed by the randomest of things in our environment — and having a clutter-free living space is no exception. My room is consistently tidier compared to my extroverted friends, and I find that the organization keeps me feeling calm. After all, at the end of a long day, the last thing I want is to be greeted by a messy home.

For all you introverts out there, a cruise is really going to challenge your tolerance, especially if you’re traveling with friends or family. Chances are, you’ll be sharing your cabin with a couple other people, and calling the cabins small would be an understatement. 

The first couple of days on the boat, I watched in horror as the pile of clothes, shoes, socks, toiletries, and towels migrated from my friends’ carefully organized suitcases to sprawl across the entire room. We have cupboards! And drawers! And hangers! Use them! I wanted to yell these things — but did not. We weren’t spending much time in the cabins anyway, so I figured, eh, whatever. 

But by the fourth day, I figured something had to change when I tried to enter the room and promptly tripped over a giant, inflatable floatie. I called a mini cabin-meeting and proposed that we at least try to leave our belongings off the ground, confine any large items to the cabinets, and make sure that our bags were kept off the beds so the staff could do their turn-down service. (Also, I would very, very strongly suggest bringing a portable laundry hamper unless you want to be driven insane by the sight of other people’s dirty underwear.)

It’s important that we stay mindful about the things that bother us, but also be mindful about things that we can’t necessarily control. I wasn’t going to alter my friends’ living habits in a week, nor did I want to — we were there to have fun, after all. But so long as I kept my things tidy, and we could agree on a basic level of cabin cleanliness, it was more than enough for me. 

So enact some rules and boundaries, and you’ll have smooth sailing (no pun intended!).

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