The more you cruise, the more you pick up secrets the cruise lines don’t tell you. Whatever your cruise style, these are cruise tips and tricks for first-timers and seasoned travelers that I learned along the way. They’ll benefit anyone who is planning to embark on a well-deserved cruise vacation.
Budget properly for a cruise
In addition to the price you pay for your cruise, be sure to factor in extras such as excursions, souvenirs, and meals when docked in port. Other things like the ship’s duty-free shop, alcohol, upcharges for onboard specialty restaurants, and spa treatments can quickly add up. Some cruise lines automatically add gratuities to your bill at the end of the cruise so don’t be surprised when you discover these charges.
Cruise at the right time
For the best prices, don’t book over school breaks or around major holidays. Check out prices in the fall off-season.
What’s your cruising style?
Are you traveling as a couple or with kids? Certain cruise lines are known for their kid-friendly activities. Since kids can be loud and rambunctious, and that goes for college kids as well, older travelers and couples might want to consider a cruise line that caters to a more refined crowd. On the other hand, if you’re traveling with a gaggle of kids, don’t book a cruise known for attracting senior citizens.
Consider the length of the cruise
Long, short, many ports. Which do you choose? Well, it depends upon what you’re looking for and your style of travel. I have friends who take the same cruise every year. It only stops at one port and going back to the same familiar place and using the ship as their “hotel” affords them the opportunity for the type of familiar and relaxing vacation they value. I, on the other hand, like to spend less time on the ship and more time in as many different new ports as possible. This may be deemed as tiring for many travelers. Determine your preference.
Type of cabin on the cruise
Spring for a balcony if you can. In my opinion, nothing beats enjoying a cocktail on your private balcony when you get tired of crowds and watching a romantic sunset as the ship pulls out of port.
If you’re prone to seasickness, booking a cabin midship is your best bet, since the rocking caused by rough seas will be felt the least. The front of the ship is the worst if you get seasick.
Chairs moving above can sometimes be heard in cabins that are located under the pool or restaurant areas. Oftentimes rooms near the theater or elevators can be congested at certain times.
At the same time, booking a room closer to the lido deck will cut down on the time you spend going back and forth to your room, the bar, or buffet. For those with disabilities, a room near the elevator will be an asset. It’s a matter of preference and determining your personal needs.
Arrive early for your cruise
If your ship is not sailing until 6 pm, but check-in starts at noon, consider checking in early. The earlier in the boarding process, the shorter the lines and the few extra hours before embarkation will give you an opportunity to grab a meal, explore the boat without crowds, and oftentimes if the pool is open, take a dip before the masses.
Avoid the buffet on embarkation day
When you arrive on the boat, you will most likely be in the mood for a snack or meal. Generally, the cruise line will have their buffet open to feed hungry new arrivals. Ask if any of their dining rooms are open and if they are, avoid the masses and enjoy a relaxed meal where you’ll be served by doting waitstaff.
What to pack for a cruise
Pack a power strip. There are not many electrical outlets in the room and if you want to charge more than one phone at a time, you might be out of luck. Of course, pack for your sailing destination; summer clothes for warm weather clients and winter clothes for cooler climates. Most ships have a pool and spa, so a bathing suit is a good idea regardless of climate.
Most cruises nowadays are very casual, but they still can have dress codes for the dining room that require long pants and collar shirts for men and smart attire for women. Some cruise lines have a themed dress-up evening and formal evenings. It’s best to check with the individual cruise line for the dress code for the ship on which you are sailing.
Bring a carry-on for the first day of your cruise
The process of delivering checked bags to thousands of rooms can take a long time. Pack a small bag with a swimsuit, sunblock, medications, and any other essentials. Your bags may not get to your room until the cruise is well on its way.
Talk to the crew and be respectful
The staff on cruise lines are generally from all around the world and have not seen their families for months. Take an interest in where they’re from and show them respect. Most are personable and have interesting and heartwarming stories about their lives and families and will be appreciative of your interest and kindness.
Find a quiet space on a cruise
At some point, you may feel the need to escape the crowds. On the Norwegian Gem, they had a lovely quiet area at the back of the ship with large round comfy lounge chairs, big enough for two people. It was a great place to escape the noisy pool area, have a cocktail, and read a book.
What and where to eat on a cruise
Know your food options. Ships always have a buffet area and more often than not it’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, in- between meals, as well as after hours. However, I found there was a time period when even the buffet area closed for a thorough cleaning and re-stocking. Of course, that was generally when I felt like a small snack.
Most specialty restaurants are only open in the evenings and many require reservations days ahead of time. The formal dining rooms are often open for two to three meals a day but at specified times. Their menus change and are posted daily a few hours before opening. Knowing what’s open and when will allow you to take advantage of the food options that are most desirable to you and your party.
Buy wine by the bottle on a cruise
It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses if you’re dining in a specialty restaurant or one of the dining rooms. If you don’t finish the bottle, the waiter will mark it with your room number and save it for another night, even if you’re having a meal in a different onboard venue.
There are three options when considering excursions. Excursions marketed by the cruise ship can fill up quickly. To avoid disappointment consider booking them online weeks before you even get on the ship. The problem I have with booking excursions once I am on the ship is that there tend to be long lines at the excursion desk with too few people working. I’d prefer to not spend my vacation time waiting on lines. Check beforehand, but generally, you can cancel or exchange the excursion without penalty the day before it is scheduled.
Another option is to do your research ahead of time using an app such as Trip Advisor or Viator and book highly rated tours on your own, online before you leave home. I recommend you do this before you get on the ship as the ship’s internet is dismal, even if you pay extra for it. You just might find that the same excursion the cruise line is offering is a bit less expensive than if you booked it through a reputable tour company on your own.
The last option is to exit the ship and negotiate a trip with one of the vendors or taxis who wait outside. Oftentimes you will save money and receive a more personal tour since it might have fewer people.
It’s important to note that the excursions marketed by the cruise ships guarantee that the ship won’t leave without you should you arrive back late due to an unforeseen circumstance. This is a big benefit for those excursions that are a bit of a distance away from the ship and is something to consider when booking any type of excursion.
Stay on the ship during a port day
If you love the ship and want to have the place to yourself, consider staying onboard during a port day. You’ll have the opportunity to grab a prime lounge chair, book a spa treatment without a wait, and wander the ship free of crowds.
Internet on a cruise
I have found that the extra fee for an internet connection is not worth it. It just does not work well. Most restaurants and towns near port have free WIFI. I recommend grabbing a drink or a meal and if you must, take a few minutes to answer a handful of emails or to say hi to your family. Spend the rest of your time exploring your new destination.
I know people who love cruises and others who hate them. A cruise can be an ideal way to explore a handful of new cities and an opportunity to try unique foods when in port. It can be a convenient and easy way to get away from it all, a floating hotel of sorts.
For others, however, it’s a noisy mass of people in a confined space, racing from port to port, with a limited amount of time to explore any one place.
Be sure to thoroughly research what the various cruise lines offer, who they cater to, and where they go. Determine what you’re looking for and what you want to get out of the cruise. With proper research and planning, I believe there’s a cruise out there for just about every type of traveler.
Join the cruising discussion
What was the biggest lesson you learned on your first cruise?