Naturally, we get our share of people who write in to express some extreme dissatisfaction with a cruise they have just taken. Most of the time they are first-time cruisers, but not always. Sometimes they are very experienced.

Obviously, we can tell the difference. The first-time cruiser will list things we already knew: the cabins were small, the food in the buffet area resembled a cafeteria, they had to tip the bartenders, waiters, room stewards, etc. In most cases these people have a laundry list of every little thing they can think of that was bad, and it starts with the first day.

They often complain about nickel and diming, and woe to the room service department who screwed up an order. These complaining reviews almost always cite a terrible odor in the hallways, and a stray pubic hair appearing in the bathroom mysteriously. My favorite line is, I know what my public hair looks like, and it wasn't mine!

What I don't get is why these people don't understand it was hiding behind the faucet and came out when the stewardess was cleaning up the sink - it wasn't newly deposited. It's as if they think Justice Clarence Thomas snuck into their cabin while they were at the pool and left the public hair there for their amusement.

I understand people being dissatisfied - a cruise for 10 people can be very expensive, and of course these people often claim they were the ones footing the bill for everyone. Still, anything you try in life can potentially go bad.

So, what does it take to ruin a cruise for you?

For me, long waits is a big turnoff. Like waiting 40 minutes between courses in the dining room. Even worse is a waiter who brings your entrees but does not check back to see if you are OK or need anything else, like a fork. Have you ever been practically standing on your chair waving a napkin trying to get attention from a waiter but they seem to have tunnel vision and somehow you are invisible? Frustrating. Worst is not having the special espresso coffee I ordered show up at the same time as my dessert.

One thing I have learned the hard way is that you have to pay attention, especially to the daily schedules known as The Blabbers, or Cruise Connection or what have you. Generally, everything you need to know is in there, but you need to study it pretty well beginning with the first day, and not just when you think you need to find something out. It is a good idea to read that thing front to back every night just in case there is something in there you missed.

The one thing I have learned is that you cannot change a bad cruise once it is over. Good luck even trying to complain about such a situation. If you didn't notice the galley tour was listed and missed it, no one is going to give you a free cruise just to make sure you see it next time. Even if they had the time wrong and you showed up, if you don't see the tour commencing and you just go back to your cabin without asking someone WHY the tour isn't going off, then don't expect much satisfaction after the fact. In truth, I have seen people writing complaint letters until they are blue in the face about situations like this and after the cruise line says sorry, we did the best we could once or twice they just aren't going to do any more for you, so you'd better get over it.

And that is the key - a bad cruise must be rectified on the spot because they are far less likely to try to fix something after the fact then they are at the time.

The most frustrating cruise is when you have an incompetent in a certain job, whether it is a shore excursion manager, a head waiter or room steward. If you have a situation where the same person makes mistakes that affect you negatively over and over, I suggest you take it over their heads or risk having a bad cruise. Yes, you are going to get them in trouble, but there is a good chance they are already on the brink anyway. Incompetence is not a mistake, it is an art finely honed with years of excuse making and responsibility shifting in the making.

No cruise line wants you to have a bad cruise. They are not just out to get your money and hope you won't come back again. Cruise lines live by return business, and if you are not satisfied they want to know why. Sometimes it requires a little patience on your part onboard, taking time to complain about a problem during your vacation, but believe me, the frustration is far less than what you will feel if you end the cruise without having spoken up and then try to fix things after the fact. It just doesn't work that way.

The comment cards are very important - they do read them. But keep in mind they only come at the end of the cruise. They are there to help the cruise line, not you. Still, if you had a bad experience with someone on board do tell them about it. By the same token always point out someone you appreciated a great deal.

And here is an important detail, just in case you didn't know (less experienced cruisers take note). Not every crewmember is going to have answers to your questions. Do not expect a waiter to know what time a tour leaves the next day - he honestly has NO idea. But there is one area where the answer I don't know is not acceptable - the front desk. They are supposed to help you answer any question you may have. If you get a front desk person who doesn't know the answer to your question ask then to find out for you. That is their job.

And that is another thing that I find annoying - the non-call back. Say you have a complaint like our faucet is dripping non-stop and you tell the front desk. They should be able to give you a time when that will be fixed. If it isn't done then they dropped the ball. The next time you complain tell them you already mentioned it once and have been waiting for a response, and that this time you want to know exactly when it is going to be fixed. They will have to pick up the phone and call maintenance. If they didn't do that the first time they are probably new and still suffering from job insecurity. Help them get over it, it is for their own good.

Now, this doesn't mean you can't be nice. The vast majority of people working on ships take a lot of pride in their jobs. The only time you have screw-ups is when someone is new, or else they have been around for too long and they are jaded. Jaded people do not last long on ships (good thing) because cruisers complain and they have high expectations. People who work on ships know this and they do their jobs accordingly. That is how it should be and that is what you should expect. But you can be nice about it. After all, it is a rare business these days that actually cares what the customer thinks, and you can get a certain satisfaction out of that as well.