How to Not be an Asshole Tourist: Cruise Ship Edition

cruise ship

I mean that with love. But nobody likes an asshole tourist. Not only do I travel frequently, but I also work in the tourism industry a lot too. Most recently I’ve been a bartender in Ketchikan, AK, which is the first cruise ship stop off for all the main Alaskan cruises. This post is going to come from the perspective of that little island, but the same points apply to any cruise ship destination.

The island has around nine thousand or so people who live there in the summers. A lot of days the amount of people who join the island population for a day via these ships is around that some number. That is doubling the population all at once for a day. And you might be amazed at the behavior I’ve witnessed.

DisclaimerI’ve met plenty of rad people off the cruise ships. I have a couple friends on Facebook that I met during their stay in Ketchikan off a cruise ship. No animosity here towards tourists or the cruise ship tourist in general. The cruise ship tourists fuel the economy in Ketchikan in the summer. It’s amazing and people are incredibly thankful for it. Additional jobs wouldn’t open up for seasonal workers like me if it weren’t for the cruise ships. Thank you for taking an Alaskan cruise! But I think it’s a fine idea to have an open stream of conversation on how we can make the experience better for everyone. Okay? Don’t get mad. We’re fine here.

Anyway, like I said, doubling the population all at once for a day. That’s a big influx for all the businesses in downtown Ketchikan. I don’t know how many times I’d forget to check the cruise ship schedule and head to Sweet Mermaids, my coffee shop, like normal on my way to work only to realize that there is no way in hell that I’m getting my triple shot iced vanilla latte because the line is 20 people deep and the baristas have espresso spewing out their ears. Noooooooo!

Again, this is great for business! That’s why there are even jobs for seasonal workers is because of these great influxes of people who all want to do a tour, grab a burger, or hit up the local watering holes. It’s great! But, let’s just talk about a few key points that make dealing with tourists difficult as well as how to be everyone’s favorite tourist! Even though I’m speaking mostly from a bartender perspective, these can be manipulated to fit any activity your tourist heart desires.

the asylum

One of my favorite regulars who is patient most of the time. Xo

1. Patience

Okay, you want your iced vanilla latte too. I get it, I really do. But don’t get sassy and huffy with the barista who is literally juggling coffee beans and balancing pastries on her nose while she tries to be cheery. Don’t say not so quietly to the tourist waiting behind you that, ‘they should really be better staffed.’ BE PATIENT. Enjoy the atmosphere of the cafe that you are currently standing in. It smells absolutely delicious and I have never seen so many lovely woman in cute aprons run around like their hair is on fire in my life.

Just relax and smell the bread pudding. You’re on vacation right, what’s your hurry?

Tip: Smile. Have your order ready and cash out of your wallet. If you have a question about something, don’t be afraid to ask, just be polite about it. Even acknowledge that you realize their busy, letting them know that you are seeing them work hard and you appreciate their service.

2. Recognize you’re not the only tourist

Yes, this is similar to number one. I just feel like it’s really really relevant. So, just in case we missed something…

The Asylum is my place of employment. It’s a fantastic bar, two levels, indoors and outdoors, over 20 beers on tap, lowest prices in town, crazy characters, etc. It’s a very big space with a lot of options. There were only a couple days this past summer that I really thought I was going to lose my shit but when it happens…run for the hills.

One of the things that just really gets me is when customers, typically tourists act is if they are the only one waiting on something (similar to the behavior of a freshly turned 21 year old at around 1am). I don’t know how many times I’ve said something along the lines of, “Yes ma’am, I know you’re waiting ma’am, I understand that your ship leaves in half an hour and you need a light local ale to taste ma’am, but if you haven’t noticed so are cllllllllllll of these other tourists yelling my name right now. AND WHO GAVE OUT MY NAME?” Never tell someone the bartenders name when she is really busy. The following results causes nightmares, I’m serious.

tourist problems

Me on one of those days.

I have had days where it was only me and my boss running the show. One of us will be running upstairs and downstairs delivering drinks and collecting glasses while the other manages the bar. I’ve literally walked down a flight of stairs carrying dangerous amounts of pint glasses stacked in either arm towering a foot over my head with pitchers dangling on my fingers and had a tourist stop me to request quicker service because their boat is leaving soon. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? *Drops everything and weeps for humanity*

We are trying. I promise. But just keep in mind, you all doubled the population all at once. We are stoked you’re here. I mean it, we really are. But please don’t take it personally when it takes a minute to get whatever it is you’re after. Because you are not the only one. Don’t worry, you’re still special though (: 

Tip: Again, have your order ready. Speak clearly. If you’re a large group. Order all together. I fall in love every time 7 people order together and one person says that he or she will grab that round. *My freaking hero.* Make friends with those around you, socializing, that’s what you’re here for, right? Oh and do not order a lemon drop shot or anything that needs blended or a sugar rim. Especially on an Alaskan cruise, it’s not the Caribbean, honey. 

3. Remember, its not a pretend town

Seriously. Sometimes it feels like the tourists that come off the cruise ship don’t realize that the town they’re visiting is still a functioning town. I know the cruise ship you are vacationing is a little floating city made just for you, but the towns you stop in are not entirely that way. People are carrying out their normal lives all over the place. In Ketchikan, a trend is to stand in the middle of the road looking up at the eagles. The eagles are awesome. Totally. But get out of the road. My van can take you out.

In a lot of ways, Ketchikan is built for tourists. Tour operators, bars, restaurants, etc. are very good at meeting the needs of cruise ship tourists. Still, you have to remember that there are still people carrying out their normal lives. They aren’t on vacation. They are probably going to work and are probably running late because of how many times they’ve had to stop due to another rogue tourist wandering across the street. In Ketchikan there are a lot of crossing guards in downtown. It’s almost funny to see a buddy holding a stop sign in their bright orange vest constantly blocking a tourist here and there from entering the road without their accompaniment but then you realize it’s absolutely necessary or it would be chaos.

Tip: Be aware of your surroundings. Use those eyeballs floating in between your ears. It’s okay to get a little lost in the wonder of being in a new place but I think we can all manage to find a place to do so that’s not in the middle of the street. Am I right? 

burger queen

Local queen slinging burgers at a favorite local spot.

4. Keep it Local

Just because you are spending money in a small town doesn’t mean the money is staying there. Once investors and businesspeople realize a small town is profitable, they are going to go try to get a piece of that tourist money. (Think resorts in third world countries for example.) In Ketchikan, there are jewelry stores all over downtown, but I don’t know of a single owner who lives in Ketchikan year round. There are all sorts of tourist shops with knick knacks and whatever else that are factory made and inauthentic. During the winters, those shops close down.

But, there are also locally owned and operated boutiques and galleries too. They just might not have the waterfront location that you see first. I think this is a really important one. Part of being a conscious tourist is being sure of where your dollars are going. You don’t want just a generic shopping experience just so you have some cheap souvenir to show off to your friends when you get home, right?

Tip: Ask a local (or a seasonal). I love when a tourist asks me where they should go shopping. I direct them to the places that I go shopping for myself and for gifts. Places that are locally owned and operated and that stay open all year round. Places that sell things that actually give you the warm fuzzies about your vacation. My favorites in Ketchikan are Parnassus Books – an awesome little bookstore featuring plenty of Alaska specific books, Soho Coho – a shop owned by a local artist, Ray Troll, and Ketchikan Dry Goods – a sweet little boutique. 


Here’s me and some of The Asylum crew with our new friends from off the cruise ship. They hung out all day and had a blast!

5. Connecting with more than just the WiFi

So, I understand that WiFi is stupid expensive on a cruise ship. Of course, when you stop off in a town, you probably want to connect for a bit to contact your family, check your email, whatever. We get it.

My bar offers free WiFi. You just have to buy something. Fair, right? Especially considering our craft beers only cost $3.50 and sometimes WiFi can cost $5.00 for an hour. Still, this is one of the other things that drives me absolutely mad. I’ve had people walk into my bar and as I’m greeting them with a big smile on my face, all I get in return is a blank stare and, ‘You have WiFi?’

I’m happy to give you a code, but c’mon, say hello first or something. It makes me feel like you’re not a robot at the very least. I mean, I’m fun to talk to! We could be friends or something..? No. Just the WiFi then, okay…

And if you are going to sit on your phone perusing your Facebook then would you at least step away from the bar/counter and give other people room to order and/or socialize with the other humans nearby?

Sometimes people would have trouble accessing the WiFi because of various reasons. If you have trouble, I’d be happy to help you. But please do not interrupt me when I’m helping another customer. More than likely, you don’t need it so very desperately in that precise moment. I’m just guessing. Let me get all these humans beers and then I’ll help you. This is America, beer first, then we Facebook, feel me?

Tip: We might refer back to number one and number two. Be patient and you’re not alone. Just please remember that people still appreciate it when you engage with them like human beings. We aren’t robots yet. Smile and converse first, then ask for WiFi (: 

Are you sitting there thinking, well duh? Fantastic. You are a beloved kind of tourist. cheers to you! Does this not apply to you but maybe to someone you know? Share it with them (:

What are some of your pet peeves or other advice you might give a tourist visiting where you live?

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