Deck-chair wars: When so many cruisers turn into Mr. (and Mrs.) Hydes


While unpleasant fellow travelers and vacationers often stick out in memory, I do firmly believe that most people are decent. While travel can be stress-inducing, bad behavior is fortunately an exception. The five percent jerk factor, while not scientific, is a pretty good metric.

And then there are cruise ship deck chairs.

It’s not just these ships that hold 5,000 people and that deck chairs always seem to be in short supply. Realistically there’s no reason for a ship to have enough chairs to allow everyone aboard to sunbathe simultaneously.

Some people avoid the sun because of skin cancer dangers or personal preference. Others don’t even like the sun. Plus, most ships, even the older ones without bells and whistles, have plenty of indoor activities, including, of course, eating. The newer ships, as well, have an increasing number of balcony cabins, where guests may have their own private chairs.

So, one would think, finding a chair in the sun should be an relatively simple task, right? Not exactly.

On a recent Celebrity cruise, I noticed that the ship has posted signs stating clearly that deck chairs may be “saved” or “held” with personal belongings on them for no more than 30 minutes. After that time, pool butlers would “store” these belongings for guests. That seemed reasonable to me.

Then you get out on deck. As most cruisers have learned, after about 10 a.m., open deck chairs are few and far between. On average, only about half of those chairs have bodies in them. The one day I decided to spend a few hours outdoors (with a book and SPF 30 sunscreen). At 10 I snagged a single chair next to a row of three occupied deck chairs secured only by sandals, towels and books.

At noon, not only were there no bodies on the chairs, I hadn’t even so much as seen a human near one. Although plenty of people had passed by clearly looking for a spot in the sun. When a mother with two pre-teen daughters approached looking particularly frustrated, I told her that whoever had put the things down was four times past the 30 minute rule.

So she asked a pool attendant and he headed over to help her claim the chairs. Immediately, two women who had been reclining several chairs away raced over, one flinging herself on a chair so hard it bounced.

She angrily said, “These chairs are ours.”

The attendant had noticed them moving and politely said, “Ma’am, you have chairs,” pointing to where they were sitting.

The angry woman said, “These are saved for our friends.”

Things went downhill from there, although no punches were thrown. Finally, a security guard pointed out that this wasn’t acceptable they could be evicted from all of the deck chairs. So, the two went back to where they were sitting, glaring the entire time. The mother with the daughters, on the other hand, was thrilled.

I’d like to say this was an isolated incident limited to this cruise, but I personally can’t remember a cruise where saving chairs didn’t become an issue.

A couple years ago several security guards were called when a young lawyer on his honeymoon finally became enraged at a woman who shooed two children away from two of “her seats” at 1 p.m. (Her claim, her sons slept late and she wanted to make sure they could be near her. And no, 1 p.m. is not a misprint.)

The young man told me he and his wife were out every morning at 8 a.m. and it was the same every day. He had finally decided that “justice should be served.”

Many deck-chair hoarders aren’t even noticed. Unless someone’s actually sitting next to empty chairs for a while, it’s hard to tell which chairs really are being used occasionally and which are just “claimed.”

In fact, even vacationers who repeatedly wander the decks looking for a good place to sit may have no way of knowing if a particular chair has been used since they last looked, unless they enlist their fellow cruisers to keep a lookout.

Cruise lines are increasingly aware of the issue, and most of them are trying to institute policies such as the 30-minute rule to ensure fairness. But it’s a tough problem.

I don’t fault folks who save a seat for 35, or even 45 minutes while they eat lunch. But there is something irritating about the cruise experience where a surprising number of people decide chairs are theirs for the day.

At some land-based resorts, guests can rent cabanas or chairs by the day. Generally cruise ships have not adopted that policy. In a world where travelers are increasingly being charged for things that used to be free, the idea of renting deck chairs has to be both a boon as a potential revenue source and a worry for cruise lines who don’t want to push their customers to competitors.

If any Consumer Traveler readers have particularly good stories from the deck-chair wars, or suggestions to improve the situation, please add them in comments. Teaching people good manners is a nice thought, but then there is the little matter of making sure those same people don’t leave home without them.

  • John

    How about “smart” deckchairs, which hold a smart (waterproof) card that passengers have with them, or their room key. They insert this in a chair slot when they are using the chair, or in the pool or eating etc, much like a Vegas slot machine, while cruise line staff can scan the chair to see how long it has been held, and see who is holding it. Maybe even a sensor in the chair itself to see if the chair has actually been used or is just being held (senses weight of 50- 75lbs or more).

  • Jim

    The first cruise my wife and I took was in 1985 on the long defunct Home Lines. The ship’s policy was that passengers reserved lounge chairs, either in the sun or shade, after boarding the ship. People could sit in any lounge chair, but if the person who reserved came along the person sitting in it had to get up. It worked well, but it was also an older ship with much more open deck space than today’s ships.

  • MVFlyer

    It’s unfortunate that the cruise lines have to turn into deck chair police because certain people only have concern for themselves. My guess is these are the same folks who talk loudly on their cell phones in public places; run red lights; and think nothing of stepping on other’s toes to get what they ‘deserve’. Politeness and etiquette shouldn’t be a lost art, but sometimes I think it’s heading this way.

    Case in point (non-travel related, but relevant)–I was at my local Starbucks recently, and I was waiting for an outdoor table so I could sit with my dog. A young couple (type A, definitely) and their small kids were finishing up. The kids made a big mess with their baked goods, so I asked the parents if they wouldn’t mind cleaning up a bit. The mother angrily told me that “I teach my kids graciousness, and you are not gracious” as if it’s my job to clean up after her kids. I countered with ” I teach my kids responsibility and not to leave their problems for someone else”. Needless to say, she wasn’t pleased as the husband cleaned up.

  • scott

    I like the smart chair idea. You insert your “chair” card while using the chair. Your regular card would be deactivated, except for the bars around the pool, until you removed your other card from the chair.

  • Charles

    I seem to have recently read on another board that deals specifically with cruises, that some of the newer ships have specific areas Reserved for Suite Passengers and they are “roped” off to keep others out.

  • Matthew in NYC

    Chair hogs are a plague across all lines as far as I can tell. I was on a cruise a couple of years ago, I would be out on deck at 7 a.m. for a morning jog, as soon as the deck chairs were posiitioned, chair hogs would be out putting stuff on the chair to reserve them. The pool attendants, many of whom are young people from developing countries where English is not a first language, are clearly intimidated by rude, arrogant Americans, so are not inclined to confront the passengers about this or any other anti-social behavior. I would get agitated at this behavior, but my partner told me not to let it spoil our vacation.

    Some people are just rude. The cruise lines don’t want to spoil everyone’s vacation by sending security guards around to clear off the deck chairs, so the behavior continues. If the cruise lines rigorously enforced their own rules, people would learn not to behave badly. If there are no consequences, there is no motivation to desist from anti-social behavior.

  • Willy

    Cunard’s QE2 had reserved deck chairs on one upper deck years ago. You paid for the chair for the day or week and your name was placed in a little slot on the chair. Chairs on other decks were free, and could not be reserved.

  • Cindy

    I agree with the “smart card” idea – almost like the “Fast Passes” at Disney – you can’t get more than one per “card” and you can’t get another one until after that one is expired.

  • Robert

    Ever try to get a lounge chair (land based version of a deck chair) by the pool – in the shade – at one of the large Las Vegas resorts? Same deal. If you’re not there to claim one when the pool opens, “fogettaboutit.” The good news there is that as the sun passes over the sky, shady spots in the morning become sunny in the afternoon and sunny spots in the morning become shady later in the day.

  • Deann Reese

    I agree with the “smart card” idea – almost like the “Fast Passes” at Disney – you can’t get more than one per “card” and you can’t get another one until after that one is expired.

  • alice

    I recently returned from Carnival Destiny cruise, no issues at all with deck chairs. As this was my first cruise, I was so pleased to see this as there is always chair wars at AI resorts… thinking the great availability of these chairs on board was the norm, sad to read it is not the case…

  • Hapgood

    The simple obvious solution is to charge a fee for the use of deck chairs. This would put an end to the “deck chair wars,” while providing another welcome revenue source for the cruise line. It’s a win-win for everyone!

  • Matthew in NYC

    On some ships it is not so much that there are no chairs available, many of the newer ships have lots of deck chairs in lots of places. The problem is that the chairs in the premium spots by the pools are “reserved” by chair hogs. Thus, anybody who wants to get some sun and a dip in the pool has a problem. If you don’t mind wandering down two decks to get to the pool you’re fine. Many of those chair hogs who stake out the poolside chairs don’t turn up until late in the morning (if at all) and don’t want to use the pool, but still want the primo spot. I have no problem with people wanting to be by the pool, but not use it, I have a major problem with people “reserving” chairs just in case they feel like using them.

  • PauletteB

    It’s not that ordinarily nice, decent people turn into monsters when they travel; it’s that the jerks no longer feel any restrictions when outside their home zone. They simply keep the boorish mannerisms they can’t afford to exhibit at work or with their acquaintances bottled up until they can pop the cork on strangers.

  • Sharon

    I think a timer could easily be built into the loungers. While your body is in the lounger the timer is off. But as soon as you get up the timer starts to count down from 30 min. Once it hits 0 it’s free game.
    Now on a couple of my cruises I have watched some loungers and when I see that no one has occupied the lounger I will go over and move there stuff to under the chair. Only once did someone come along (after an hour I might add) and say that I was in their chair, their stuff was on it. I just smiled sweetly and said it had nothing on it when I arrived, picked up my book and ignored them as they picked up their stuff.

  • Susanne

    I wonder if this is a large ship issue. Or maybe it’s just a “sun” issue. I have never seen a deck chair war in over 30 years of cruising (really!) but this may be a matter of always wanting to sit in the shade. For whatever reason, there always seems to be plenty of room there.

  • kenish

    The smart card idea works, with a twist…when you want to reserve a deck chair you swipe your room card at a kiosk. It prints out a barcoded hang tag with an expiration time printed in big numbers. Any chair without a tag or “past due” is fair game. Each cabin is allowed a certain number of reservations per day based on the occupancy. That prevents “serial reservations” or one person reserving for 10 friends. If crew finds an unoccupied chair with an expired tag they can scan the tag and lock out reservations from that cabin for 24 hours. Of course I wouldn’t put it past some people to simply remove tags from validly reserved chairs!

  • Nobody

    Use the sign and sail card to check out chairs. $10US + 15% gratuity to check out a chair.
    Credit their accounts when they return them to service. High pro-rated schedule such as $10US – 15% gratuity if checked back in within the hour, nothing if you don’t check it back in. $3 for use of a chair for a short time is a better deal than you will get on any beach.
    With cruisers and cruiselines raving about paying to eat in a specialty restaurant, this should be an easy solution. And the pool attendants now have incentives to churn chairs–they may wipe off the sun screen slime left by the previous buffet sweating slob.

    But who am I?