I just finished yet another cruise last week, so while I was on board, I was thinking of you guys and picking up little tips I’d like to share with you on how to enjoy a cruise if you have a chance. A cruise can be SO much fun, but they can be a LOT less expensive if you follow these few simple tips.
CUT CRUISE TRAVEL COSTS
One of your biggest expenses for a cruise is just getting there. This is a great time to use frequent flier miles or other travel incentives or discounts to save on airfare and baggage fees. There are lots of other posts with tips on how to book your flights, so I won’t get too specific, but airfare can be your biggest cruise savings.
Check out my post on how to save money on a cruise.
Also, consider your transportation back and forth to the airport and the debarkation spot. You basically have three choices – Cruise line buses, taxis or Uber. I almost always opt for the cruise line bus. It costs $30-$50 bucks, but you will end up in the right place at the right time. That’s one less stressful thing on my plate.
Speaking of stress, I do another thing that costs a bit of money, but really reduces my stress level. I fly into the departure city the night BEFORE my cruise. Yes, I have to pay for a hotel, but it builds in a safety valve in case a flight is delayed, so you can relax and enjoy a cruise without any headaches.
Is it more money? Yes. Is it worth it? YES! Have I ever had to use it? I almost did.
My father-in-law passed away one week prior to our 25th-anniversary cruise. His funeral was Wednesday in California and our ship left on Saturday from Miami. It was so sad and stressful for us, but things like this happen – jobs are lost, people get sick, babysitters cancel, etc. You just never know what is going to come up. Travel insurance just gives you that “just in case” cushion.
Check out my post about travel insurance and why you NEED it.
This nice thing about travel insurance was that it took the money factor out of the decision. We ultimately decided we needed some time away after a VERY stressful couple of weeks.
That said, READ your policies. There are several available from your travel agent or direct from websites. The cost and coverage can vary greatly.
CHOSING YOUR CABIN
This is another big ticket item. But it is a decision that can really affect the quality of your cruise. So take your time and really think it through. I’ve done the variety pack here – I’ve gone super cheap and I’ve gone high-end.
If you’re a busy and active cruiser who won’t be in the cabin much, consider going a bit cheap. You probably won’t be in the cabin other than to shower and sleep. But if you’re an older couple who might be spending more time watching movies or relaxing in your cabin, consider an upgrade.
Check out my post on Cruise Cabins You DON’T Want to Choose
However, DON’T do what we did on our first cruise. We crammed four people plus six large pieces of luggage into a TINY inside cabin! That was not fun.
If you have little kids needing naps and space to play. You might consider spending more for a larger cabin. You’ll appreciate not feeling like sardines.
I do have to say that I LOOOOOOVED my balcony cabin. We splurged on our 25th Anniversary Cruise and got a balcony cabin. It was heaven! It was much more spacious with a separate seating area to watch TV. Plus, I absolutely loved to prop the door open and go to sleep to the sound of the sea, the smell of the salt air, and the gentle motion of the ship. Best sleep ever!
One misstep on my Bloggers Cruise with the Six Sisters. I had a good cabin location, but it was right by one of the hallway doors. It about drove me CRAZY the first day and the last day, because it had a metal strip on the floor and people kept bumping their suitcase wheels across it. Fortunately, I am a ridiculously sound sleeper, so I got used to it quickly. But for a light sleeper, this would have been a big problem. Look at the ship layout really closely when choosing a cabin and consider ALL factors.
Also check out my post on Sharing a Cruise Ship Cabin. That can be a really good or really BAD experience.
Bonus tip – Cabin location is important. The center of the ship has less motion than the ends. Also ships are a ton of walking. We’ve found the BEST cabin location is either right above or right below the dining rooms. Saves a lot of steps and we never heard a peep of noise from them.
CELL PHONE/COMPUTER USE
Just suck it up and skip it. I’ve researched this with lots of very experienced cruisers and they all agree. Just don’t do it. Put your phone in airplane mode and leave it in your pocket. Even if you don’t make a single phone call or send a text. Just your apps updating will generate a big bill through Cellular at Sea. You won’t even know it until you get home and get your next cell bill. It does feel weird for the first few days. But it is nice to be fully present and actually TALK to people for a change.
And the Internet on board is deliberately SLOW because they charge per minute. I would buy like 20 minutes of on board time to just skim my Emails real quick. Boy that was HARD for a social media addict like me! But I survived it. When you get ashore, you can find an internet cafe or a restaurant with WiFi. But be CAREFUL of your passwords in a foreign country. #hackeralert
The word of the day is just SKIP IT. Yes, gambling is fun and I like to play the slots as much as anybody. BUT there is one huge difference between a typical casino and a shipboard casino. A regular casino has to keep their odds to a reasonable level because of the competition. You can walk out and another casino is right next door. However, on a ship, you are a captive audience and they KNOW IT. You will never find worse odds than on board a ship.
I’ve never tried gambling in a port, but they probably have it in most countries. Ask a crew member where a safe casino is with good odds. They know, believe me.
And bingo – Hmmmm. $25 bucks a card and there’s like a 100 people playing at once? Yep, that sounds like GREAT odds to me – NOT! There’s so much else to do. Bring a good book or a deck of cards or just meet some new people.
Every ship has a gorgeous spa and a gym and they offer everything you can imagine to do – for a PRICE. Probably about double what you would spend at home. This is a very profitable operation for the cruise line. Take a walk (or a run) around the deck for free and there are tons of beauty salons in the ports where you can actually get a good deal on that mani/pedi or massage.
There’s a reason every ship has one or even two formal nights – it’s a big money maker! They make money on the spa for manicures and hair, they make a lot of money on the photos, and they make even more money on tux rental.
That’s OK, let them make money off everyone else. You can opt to skip the formal scene altogether (although it IS usually lobster night!) or you can do your own hair and makeup and bring some semi-dressy clothes from home. We found a local tux shop and rented a tux for the week or less than the onboard shop charged for one night’s rental (and had a better selection!). Captive audience = can you say Ka-ching!
Most ships (maybe ALL ships now) have specialty restaurants, like a steakhouse, sushi place, and/or Asian fusion options – sometimes with a famous chef in tow. Personally, I’m not a foodie, so this was completely baffling to me. All the food you could possibly want comes with the price of admission, so WHY would you want to pay extra for more food?
But if you ARE a foodie and would really enjoy something like this, or if its a special occasion, then I’d say go for it. You’re on vacation after all. Just be aware of the additional expense and plan accordingly.
If you have an eye for the sparkle, the ship’s gift shops do have some very pretty, though pricey items. However, the more basic gift shop usually does have some cute t-shirts and little doo-dads that are pretty reasonably priced. Plus at the end of the cruise, some of the stuff goes on a big discount, especially if it is late in the season.
I’m not saying don’t buy (like I would EVER say that!), I’m just saying do your homework and figure out what might be a good deal on a nice souvenir.
By the end of the cruise, you are going to feel like Kim Kardashian with all the photographers chasing you around. Again, there is lots of money involved, so they are going to be fairly persistent. However, a polite, but firm no thank you will usually do the trick.
If you DO decide you want some photos, go for it. I actually LOVE photos, so it’s something I don’t mind spending a bit on, and they actually aren’t much more than a regular photographer. Be smart and ask the staff which photographer is the best one. We found a good photographer and took some nice formal shots on our anniversary trip. We got them for like $15 a sheet – that’s actually a pretty good deal for nice portraits.
CHAMPAGNE ART AUCTIONS/JEWELRY SHOWCASES, ETC.
There is at least one of these going on every single day of a cruise. I’m thinking this is yet another way to wheedle a few extra bucks out of your pocket. No matter what they tell you, I can pretty much guarantee there are NO deals to be found at these things.
Shuffleboard – now shuffleboard is a good deal! Shipboard auctions – NEVER a good deal.
Some people get a little bent about the tips. They are automatically added to your account – typically $12-$15 per person per day even for children. It IS a big bite, but your waiters and room stewards work very long hours for their tips – 12-14 hour days is the norm. You can ask to have them reduced, but I usually let them go through.
Now for the good part – the excursions. These are the one thing I DO suggest spending your hard earned money on. Ziplining, scuba, parasailing, horsebackriding, or even visiting historic sites. These are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and they are definitely worth purchasing. I have gotten to do some fabulous stuff on my cruises like the helmet dive shown above in Cozumel. We sailed on an actual pirate ship in Mexico – it was a wonderful day.
Sidenote: Helmet dives are WONDERFUL options for people like me who don’t swim well. You have a guide, you are tethered to an air hose, you only go down about 15-20 feet, and you have a set path to travel. Very safe, although you can’t do it if you have ear problems, high blood pressure, are pregnant, etc.
Yes, you can save few bucks if you book them directly with companies or individuals onshore, but your safety is very important to the cruiseline. The people who do regular business with them will make every effort to keep you safe and be sure you get back to the ship safely and ON TIME. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in ports are just regular folks looking to make a few bucks, but there definitely are some bad people out there. So I tend to spend a bit more for the safety factor.
I promised you a word about how to enjoy a cruise without getting fat. Part of the fun of a cruise is trying new foods and enjoying delicious meals. But you can still have just as much fun without eating like the proverbial kid in a candy store! Here are a few tips that might help.
- Eat enough to enjoy yourself – no one wants to feel deprived on such a wonderful vacation, but don’t feel like you need to gorge yourself or that you should “get your money’s worth”. The money is already spent, so it doesn’t matter if you eat like a bird or like a water buffalo. Coming home with an extra 5 to 8 pounds is pretty average for a cruise but who really needs to do that?
- My BEST Buffet Tips – These are tips from a famous psychologist. If you sit at least 16 feet away, face your chair away from the buffet, scout the buffet first to spot your favorite foods, and choose a smaller plate, you will eat a lot less than if you don’t. For bonus points – resolve to have 50% of your plate be healthy stuff, then enjoy the bacon and the chocolate mousse on the other half.
Check out my post on Enjoying Yourself at a Buffet, but Still Staying in Control. Lots of helpful tips!
- Skip the soda card. My last two cruises I did this – I saved some money and passed up a cubic ton of sugar without feeling the least bit deprived. In order to make the Bottomless Bubbles program cost-effective, you have to consume 3-4 sodas per day. I knew that was not going to be a healthy choice. So, instead of soda, I had a case of water delivered to my stateroom on the first day. I did bring a supply of those little flavor packets to put in them – not a big fan of plain water.
- Too Many Martinis. Alcohol is a HUGE deal onboard a ship. Seriously HUGE. If the ships were to stop selling it, I think they would go out of business very quickly. I’m not yo’ Mama, so drink it up if you want. Just be aware of the price tag attached, plus the excess calories. The ship plays it smart by not giving you the alcohol bill til the last night. Then there are a lot of glum faces going around the ship as people realize that they’ve overdone it. You can review your charges daily on your TV screen and that will give you a good incentive to take it easy on the rum punch.
The money is already spent, so it doesn’t matter if you eat like a bird or like a water buffalo.
There you go. Plenty of tips to help you out for your upcoming cruise.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably like this one too. It’s called 25 Fabulous Tips on Packing for a Cruise.
We are planning a cruise for next year, my first one ever! I haven’t read about choosing the cabin location above or below the dining room! I’ve written that down and plan to go through the other cruise posts for golden eggs like that one. I don’t like being unprepared for travel so I appreciate the helpful tips!
I’m so happy I could help. That’s why I love writing these posts – to help first-time cruiser like you. Hope you have a LOVELY time!
I’ve been on one cruise and it was with a group and we had a great time. The only thing that bugged me was having to ask for water at breakfast and lunch. I don’t drink soda and it seemed like they were bothered when the “may I have some water? ” request was made.
Other than that, it was a fun experience that we’d like to repeat.
That’s awesome. Cruises are so much fun. I’m dying to go on another one, but we needed a new fridge this year – ours was older than my oldest son, so it was time!
Adrain, I got so much help reading your cruise helpful hints. I am getting ready to go on my very first cruise ever. “sister cruise” with quite a few women in our family. I am so looking forward to it. I thought I would let you know something I found out by talking to the man that is setting it all up for us. He informed me that they no longer let you take your own water bottles on board. Too many people were exchanging the water for clear booze. So they will throw the water away. This is what he told me on 1/18/2016. But the price for a case of water that can be delivered to your room is $2.99. That is not bad at all, really. Well, just wanted to give the heads up about the water.
That sounds SO fun! I bought the case of water last time I was on board and I found it very helpful, especially as I’ve recently given up soda and I’m not much of a drinker, so feeling like I needed to use it all up gave me good encouragement to stay hydrated.
Hi Adrian. I I gave this post to my husband to read because he works for a cruise company. He liked it. Take care Janice Wald
Well, how cool is that? I’m glad to have his stamp of approval. I’m looking to create it as a video for a travel company.
My husband works for a cruise company, so we cruise often. I agree with your assessments.
Thank you for coming to the Inspire Me Monday Linky Party.
I’m so pleased you agree. Thanks for inviting me to your linky.
Adrian, I have never been on a cruise, but you give a ton of amazing information here. I don’t think I could ever do an interior room because I’m claustrophobic. The balcony sounds right up my alley. I also don’t like the concept of being nickeled and dimed for everything. Does it feel that way?
I do love the picture of you underwater. I would definitely buy one of those. And no wi-fi on the ship? Is that true? I think that would be difficult for a travel writer. Any wi-fi alternatives you can think of?
I’m still on the edge about taking a cruise. I really like to control my own itinerary and I don’t know if I could be on someone else’s schedule (yes, I’m completely type A, LOL).
Great post, stopping by from SITS!
Hi Kirsten – Yes on the balcony. You would feel very crowded in an inside room. If you follow my tips, I don’t think you will feel nickeled and dimed. It is nice to not have to be tipping people all the time like you do at a resort or elsewhere. There is WiFi on the ship, but it’s very pricey. What I usually do is visit the ships Internet cafe a couple of times during the trip. You can buy a package of so many minutes, so I set a timer on my phone and only allow so much time. It’s not cheap, but what you can do is create your post on a tablet or something and then just upload it. I would say go ahead and give it a try. You are never required to stick to any particular schedule – there are always different choices, and a cruise is just so wonderful!
Prepare your posts and have them ready. When you are in ports, use their wifi. Ask crew where they go to use wifi. If you must use wifi on the ships, use it very late, or when others are off the ship. It can be very slow, which makes it more expensive during prime usage times.
Good tips! Thanks for sharing. You are right about the internet being SLOW. I think they design it that way to charge you more.
We are considering our first cruise in 2016. My husband is very leery about the whole thing, but I’m looking forward to it. Noise is always my biggest problem when i travel, but I’ve learned to bring my Bose earphones along and that helps. Thanks for all of these tips. Maybe I’ll check back in as we get closer:)
I hope you really enjoy your cruise – they are SO wonderful. I did notice a bit of a problem with noise because I was right by a metal plate in the hallway and I would hear people dragging their wheeled bags across it sometimes, but I could always have asked to be moved to another stateroom and they probably would have moved me. If there’s anything I can help with, by all means, let me know. There are also chatboards with the cruiseline where you can ask any kind of cruise-related question and the really experienced cruisers will help you.
I’ve never been on a cruise, they scare me a little. All of the things you listed sound like a good idea to me. I would’ve never thought to use my flier miles.
Awww, don’t be scared – all that stuff you hear about on the news is like one out of a thousand cruises. They are perfectly wonderful most of the time.
I love cruising! You included some great tips. Sometimes I like to organize my own excursions before the trip. It is often much cheaper, and I can have more flexibility with my time. But I also love the convenience of not having to worry about that. Just set it up and let the ship organizers deal with it. Either way, splurge on the ports of call. Best advice!
I agree. I do about 50/50 and I’ve never gone wrong, but I think for first-time cruisers they will feel more comfortable going through the Excursion Desk. But yes, defintely enjoy the ports – there are so many wonderful experiences waiting!
I’ve never ever been on a cruise, and don’t know if I’ll ever make it onto one, but if I did go, I know that having the coolest experience for a not-insane amount of money would be really important to me. The idea of having a balcony room sounds amazing!
Rachel – I hope you and Angel can make it onto a cruise one of these days. They are so much fun and they really can be pretty affordable if you’re smart about it. I would love to take one of the Chinese cruises that goes around to all the major seaports – that would be marvelous.
Love this post, thanks for the tips! Visiting from SITS
Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my little tips.
This is such a complete, and useful post. We’ve never been on a cruise. (well since I was on one with my parents as a little girl) Now that our kids are older, we started considering them. I love how you broke down your room choices, the restaurants, and excursions.Great post! Saying hi from Sharefest. XOXO, Elif
Thank you Elif – I’m so glad you visited. And I’m pleased that you enjoyed my post. I hope you will have a chance to make use of these tips.
Great post, Adrian. Good reminder as we’re taking the kids (now adults) on a family cruise next January. You’re right about the food – I think you have to go into training to eat the amounts they set in front of you.
Hi Miss Cheri – so fun to hear from you. I hope you have a wonderful time on your cruise!