You're on vacation, the sun is shining on the Caribbean and your only goal for the day is to stretch out on a lounge chair by your cruise ship's pool, order a pina colada and let your real-world worries slip away. You stride onto the Lido Deck like a boss … only to find that every prime poolside lounger is occupied, either with actual cruise passengers or with their stuff.
Stymied, you devise a plan: Tomorrow, you will rise early, reserve your preferred lounge chair with a towel and a cheap paperback, then sneak back to bed before enjoying a leisurely breakfast and returning to the pool deck around 11:30 a.m.
Stop! This is deck chair hog behavior, and this is the one thing you must never do on a cruise ship pool deck.
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Anyone who's sailed on a mass-market megaship has witnessed the exasperating phenomenon of deck chair hogs: Cruisers get up early, claim prime lounge chair locations on the pool deck by leaving their towel or a book on the chair, then disappear for hours, preventing other sun worshippers from using the chairs but not actually occupying them until later in the day.
Deck chair hogs are universally despised. "The real greedy slobs take a chair in the sun and then one in the shade and go back and forth. How nice," laments Frank Valentino on the TPG Lounge Facebook page.
Unfortunately, cruisers report that most cruise lines do not put enough effort into preventing these unauthorized deck chair "reservations." Try to take matters into your own hands by removing items from seemingly unused chairs, and you might find yourself in a standoff when their owners return.
Cruise ships may be getting bigger by the year, but somehow the ratio of sun worshippers to deck chairs is always off. I can see why you might want to take the approach of "if you can't beat 'em — join 'em," but please don't. We need fewer deck chair hogs, not more of them.
Instead, let's look at how cruise lines claim to prevent absentee deck chair landlords and what you can do to secure your spot in the sun without incurring the wrath of your shipmates.
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How cruise lines fight deck chair hogs
Many cruise lines claim crew members on the pool deck will monitor the chairs and remove items from unoccupied chairs. Carnival Cruise Line spells out its policy in its FAQ:
"Carnival has a system designed to ensure that all guests are able to enjoy equal access to sun loungers by preventing seat saving in outdoor deck areas," the website reads. "Shipboard team members monitor sun lounge usage and if they observe a seat that contains a towel or personal belongings but appears to be unoccupied, a notification is placed on the chair indicating the current time. If the chair remains unoccupied for 40 minutes, the contents are removed and held for the guest's safekeeping."
Smashing idea, I hear you say. Roving crew members will essentially time stamp reserved-yet-unused chairs and promptly remove the abandoned items to allow more cruisers access to the best loungers.
While some TPG readers claim to have seen this in action, I've never witnessed it myself. Why is this policy so hard to enforce? I see several flaws in the plan.
First, cruise ships, as well as much of the hospitality industry, are still struggling with post-pandemic staffing issues. I can't believe there are extra crew members available to wander around the upper decks, taking note of which chairs have been empty for a long time, flagging those chairs and returning within the hour to remove items. Most crew members have more important responsibilities, such as removing empty drinkware or cleaning up slippery puddles of water to avoid injuries.
Second, how can a busy crew member determine which chair is being hogged and which is occupied by someone in the pool? Water lovers might spend 40 minutes or more enjoying the pools and hot tubs on the Lido Deck. Would crew members still remove their items, so when they emerge dripping from the water, they have to go in search of their towels?
Finally, many deck chair hogs leave a towel to mark their territory, but other passengers might leave a book or other personal items. If the crew removes these items, it might not be easy to return them to their owners without loss or theft.
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A better plan for finding cruise ship deck chairs
TPG readers posted several great ideas about using technology or advance booking systems to let cruisers legitimately book deck chairs in limited-time windows to give access to everyone. But until that pool deck utopia becomes a reality, you'll need better strategies for securing deck chairs.
Rise early — and nap by the pool
"I got up early and claimed my spot in the Serenity deck, BUT I stayed there," posted Michele Allison, and she has a point. It's perfectly acceptable to spend all day in a deck chair as long as you are physically there.
Stumble out of bed, throw on a swimsuit and camp out in your favorite lounger. You can nap in the sun for as long as you like if you need to catch up on the Zs you missed.
Find alternative deck areas
"I've found that Princess has many chairs, all over the ship … there are always multiple chairs available," posts Linda Ialacci. "There's only so many that fit around the pool, but if you're only sunning or reading a book, etc., it's still nice to have a chair that faces the water."
The pool deck is the most popular sunbathing spot, but it's not the only one. Go up one or two decks, and there are usually open deck areas with lounge chairs running the length of the ship. Some ships have lower-level promenade decks with lounge chairs and sometimes hot tubs scattered from bow to stern. Some Carnival ships have secluded forward decks with benches you could claim as your own; Seabourn has forward hot tubs that everyone always forgets about.
Book a balcony cabin or suite
"I cannot be bothered with such nonsense," posts Sara Voohees. "I always book a balcony and enjoy the solitude of my own private balcony!"
Most balconies have two upright chairs, perfect for reading or sipping a cocktail in the sun. If you prefer to stretch out, look for upper-category rooms with larger verandas. These might have full lounge chairs or reclining seats with ottoman footstools. No matter which type of balcony you book, the only people you'll fight for chair space are your family.
Not only do suites typically come with balconies (often extra-large ones), but some come with access to a suites-only sun deck. You'll find these in Norwegian Cruise Line's The Haven or MSC Cruises' Yacht Club. In these exclusive areas, you'll be competing with far fewer people for lounge chairs — and the lounge chairs might also be nicer ones with extra padding.
Pay for a cabana or exclusive sun deck access
The deck chair problem is one you can solve by throwing money at it. Several cruise lines — including Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess — offer cabanas for rent or sell passes to exclusive sun deck areas.
With a cabana, you get a (usually) shaded space to yourself, with either a lounge chair or couch seating to call your own. With the limited-access sun decks, you might not have a reserved chair, but the line won't sell more passes than they have loungers. A stress-free day in the sun might be worth the extra fee if hunting for deck chairs increases your blood pressure.
Go on a cold-weather cruise
"Cruise to Alaska," recommends Helen Goldner Engel. "Never a problem getting a chair."
Clearly, this strategy is tongue-in-cheek, but it's still true. If you'll hot tub in any weather or don't mind bundling up to soak in the vitamin D on a cool day, I guarantee you won't have to fight the cruise crowds for that prime deck chair location.
Move people's stuff
"I will move stuff over," says Laura Zuluaga Jimenez. "Let them deal with their stuff in the lost and found."
Indeed, a measly towel does not grant a person ownership of a lounger for a day. If you see vacant deck chairs with no residents in sight, you could move the items and sit down. If the owners come back, it's not like they have a legal right to the chair.
However — and this is a big caveat to this strategy — your shipmates are not always rational people, especially if they've spent the morning losing in the casino or drinking a bucket of beer. They may become aggressive when they discover you've touched their belongings. Take this approach at your own risk.
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Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.