This Cruise Hacks post was originally written in October 2015 and is continually updated, most recently in June 2018 after taking a series of cruises entirely around the world.
During this past five-year journey around the world, we’ve now spent about a half year of that time as passengers on cruise ships to get around the globe. While sailing from one continent to the next, we’ve learned so many cruise hacks and cruise tips during all that time out at sea.
Having spent about six months on fifteen different cruise ships, across ten different cruise lines, we’ve become expert cruisers. So we’ve developed an arsenal of our own cruise hacks in addition to collecting many cruise tips that other savvy cruisers have passed on to us. We’re now happy to share these secrets of the sea with you. We hope these cruise hacks help you to save hassle and money on your next cruise. Or maybe even help you to save a few pounds too!
Booking Cruise Hacks
As we’re always looking for the best values around the world, one of the questions we receive most about cruising is when to book a cruise in order to get the lowest price possible. Like airfare prices, cruise prices tend to fluctuate greatly and there’s no surefire way to guess exactly what they’re going to do. But based on past booking patterns, you can have a pretty good idea of the direction that cruise prices may be trending.
Often booking early is best. In other instances last-minute cruise deals are the way to go. Follow these tips when booking your next cruise and you’ll be sailing into an awesome deal.
1) Book Early but Keep Monitoring the Prices
It’s a safe bet to book a cruise as early as possible to lock in a low rate. Booking a cruise more than a year or two in advance of the sailing will often yield an attractive price. But when booking early, it’s extremely worthwhile to continue monitoring the fares.
If the price of a cruise changes, then you can usually change your booking to take advantage of the new pricing. Unlike when booking airfare, most cruise fares are cancelable and changeable up until a month or so before the sailing date. So after booking a cruise, keep a watchful eye on those prices. If you find a more attractive offer to the cruise you’ve booked, call your booking agent immediately to have them either change your reservation or to cancel the old reservation and rebook the better deal.
Don’t only monitor cruise fare prices. You may see prices are remaining the same, but there could be attractive promotions that make it worthwhile to alter a cruise reservation. It could make sense to rebook your cruise if you later notice valuable promos being offered, such as prepaid gratuities, complimentary beverage package, onboard credit, or cruise wifi minutes.
Cruises usually offer free cancelation as long as you do so before the cancelation period which varies by cruise line and itinerary. (Note: there are certain early fares like Carnival’s Super Saver, that are non-refundable. So when booking, verify with a booking agent that the early deposit is indeed refundable.) Typically the cancelation period for a cruise is a month or two before the sailing date, so you can usually cancel without penalty anytime before then to rebook the better deal you’ve found.
Be diligent to check the price often or consider paying for a service to alert you of price drops. Whenever we book a cruise, we simply bookmark the exact cruise listing and check it frequently for price changes. If that sounds tedious, websites like cruisefaremonitor.com will do this for you for a small fee. Or download the Shipmate App for Android or iPhone, which contains a free cruise fare monitoring service among the app’s many features.
Even with these tracking services, we still recommend to monitor prices manually. Even though the monitoring services can keep a pulse on cruise prices, they are unable to track and compare all the different promotions.
2) Or Book a Last-Minute Cruise Deal Under the Right Circumstances
Only if all of the following circumstances apply, you can usually find the best cruise deals ever by booking last-minute:
- You are are flexible and don’t have a strong preference as to a specific itinerary, cruise line, or ship
- You are considering a cruise during a location’s low-season
- You are comfortable booking a non-refundable cruise within a month or so from departure
- You live within driving distance of the departure port or within a cheap flight away
Getting last minute cruise deals can be tricky and a bit of a gamble. But that gamble often pays off with slashed prices on undersold itineraries. If you don’t have a strong preference on a particular ship and just want to go cruising at a very low price, booking last-minute can be a good strategy to accomplish that. Timing of the cruise will help to increase your odds of securing an incredible cruise deal.
For example, September and October Caribbean sailings can often be a good bet to hold off until within 45 days prior to the cruise to book a fantastic last-minute cruise bargain at a non-cancelable rate. We’ve seen weeklong last minute Caribbean itineraries out of Florida during this time for as low as $199!
Transatlantic and repositioning cruises can be another place to find incredible last-minute values. We even scored this this two-week transatlantic cruise for $159! Yes, they’re can be that low. At those prices, it would cost more to stay home! (See more on off-season bookings in Cruise Hack #4.)
3) Do Use a Travel Agent or Third Party
With most things travel-related, we often advocate booking directly with the company for the best price. Middlemen can take a cut and inflate your price. But this is absolutely NOT the case when booking a cruise. We always suggest to book with a third-party instead of the cruise line directly. In doing so, you can frequently find perks, bonuses, and occasionally even lower prices.
Sometimes 3rd party travel agencies buy a block of cabins that they resell. If the agencies feel the need to unload them, they can be aggressive with pricing and promotions that usually beat what the cruise line is directly offering.
For example, we booked our last cruise, sailing on the beautiful new Norwegian Bliss, by finding an attractive rate on CruiseDirect that included a perk of onboard credit, which none of the other online agencies were offering.
4) Book Against the Grain
Regardless of whether you book early or late, always consider off-peak cruise times to secure the best cruise prices. If possible, avoid Spring Break sailings. You’ll not only save money but will also save yourself sanity by avoiding hell-raising kids and drunk college-age partiers. Similarly it can be a wise call to avoid winter holiday sailings and summer sailings. A simple rule of thumb is to book cruises when school is in session.
Some great cruise bargains can often be found in early Fall, soon after kids go back to school. During this early Fall time frame, weather tends to be nice & warm in most cruise destinations throughout the world. But do beware that this time is still in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Yet Fall makes a particularly great bet for those last-minute cruise deals we mentioned earlier. When booking last-minute, then you’ll know if there’s a hurricane threat at the time.
Another good period to book a cheap cruise deal are the weeks in between Thanksgiving and mid-December, particularly for Florida and Caribbean sailings. During this time frame, there tends to be an influx of ships that have been recently repositioned to Florida, yet people tend to avoid traveling during those pre-holiday weeks. With more ships around in a time when cruise passengers are decreasing, this leads to an excess supply of empty cabins. And that’s always a great recipe for prices being slashed!
5) Book a “Guaranteed Stateroom”
We’re big proponents of booking what’s called a “guaranteed stateroom” to get the absolute lowest price on whichever cabin type you’re interested in (inside, outside, balcony, suite). With a “guaranteed” cabin, you are guaranteed a room within that particular type of stateroom range or higher. You simply do not get to the choose the cabin’s exact location on the ship. The cabin location will be assigned to you prior to your cruise departure.
Booking a guaranteed cabin can be a tiny gamble. Naysayers will cite the potential of being placed in undesirable areas such as under a nightclub, galley, or in the ship’s bow. We always book “guaranteed” and have never been assigned one of those undesirable places.
Quite the contrary, actually. It’s always been better! We once even booked a guaranteed inside cabin and ended up in an awesome balcony stateroom. We believe that you stand a much greater chance to be placed in one of the many great locations on the ship, rather than a bad one, and you could even score an elusive free upgrade like we did.
The one thing to keep in mind is that these guaranteed cabins always have the absolute lowest price. So if you’re price-sensitive like us, and looking for the best cruise deal, then booking a guaranteed cabin is a great way to help accomplish that.
For more on how to get those upgrades, Read: 10 Secrets on How To Get a Free Balcony Upgrade on a Cruise Ship
Health and Weight Gain Cruise Tips
With cruises tending to have an endless array of incredible food to gorge on, from decadent deserts to the midnight buffet, you may worry about your waistline expanding during all those wonderfully gluttonous meals at sea.
But you’re on vacation. It can be fun to indulge! So use these simple cruise hacks to enjoy all of that fantastic cuisine, without disembarking ten pounds heavier.
6) Why Weighing Yourself on Day 1 May Give You an Excuse to Gorge
Yes, really. Just do it.
You can always find a scale in the ship’s gym or the medical office. Find that scale to weigh yourself, even if you have no intentions of using the gym during the rest of your voyage.
Weigh yourself as soon as you get onboard so you can keep tabs of any weight gain during the cruise. This a particularly good idea if you’re on a longer itinerary.
After your initial weigh-in, be sure to weigh yourself periodically throughout the remainder of your cruise. By doing so, you may actually find that you’re not packing on the pounds as much as you feared. So this can give you a well-deserved excuse to have a cheat day of gluttony.
7) No Need for the Gym When You Can Use Stairs!
You’re on vacation. There’s no need to spend it at the gym unless you really love a good workout.
Instead, simply hold firm on always using the stairs. Most large cruise ships have a minimum of 10 passenger floors (often more). Set a rule to never use the elevator and you’ll end up burning lots of calories simply by trying to get from one place to another on these megaships. Often you’ll get there faster too, particularly if your cruise ship has many elderly passengers who must use elevators, or kids who like to press buttons.
If your cabin happens to be on the bottom floor, simply taking the stairs up and down to the lido deck for lunch will burn approximately 100 calories, based on the estimate of 5 calories burned per flight of stairs. Considering that you’ll likely be making multiple trips up and down the ship’s stairs throughout the day, you can realistically burn several hundred calories just by going about your normal day aboard the ship! So go ahead and get the chocolate lava cake!
Take your FitBit or bring along an inexpensive pedometer like this which will track all your steps and calories burned too. You may be surprised at just how much walking you can inadvertently do on a big ship!
8) Have Bread WITH Your Meal, Never Before
A lovely basket of bread is always immediately delivered to your table upon getting seated for dinner. It’s so easy to butter up those tasty rolls and load up on all those carbs before your appetizer has even hit the linen.
As a result of eating all the pre-dinner bread, you may even find yourself too full to finish whatever delicious main course you’ve chosen to dine on for the night.
To avoid that fate, make a special request for your sever to only bring out the bread basket when your main course is served. Remove that carbtastic temptation from the table prior to your main course.
If you’re still hungry while eating your meal, go ahead and have some bread. You won’t gorge yourself with this filler as you would have prior to your meal’s arrival. Save your appetite for the main event and forgo the seduction of all of those unnecessary carbs, before your meal.
Cruise Hacks for Electronics
In today’s digital age, there are many tech-savvy hacks to stay abreast of before your sailing. These cruise hacks and tips will help you avoid drained batteries and will keep you connected while out at sea.
9) Use the TV to Keep Your Gadgets Charged
Often staterooms are limited to only 1 or 2 electrical outlets. It’s nice to see cruises beginning to implement USB ports into some of the newer and refurbished ships. But many ships still seem to have a lack of outlets and ports.
One unintuitive place to charge your device is actually by using the television. TV’s on cruise ships often have a USB port, which you can utilize as an extra outlet to charge your cell phones, kindles, cameras and other small electronics.
10) Pack a Travel Power Strip
With only one or two electrical outlets in your stateroom, it is wise to also pack a travel adapter to allow you to keep all those gadgets charged. We use this Belkin Travel Power Strip which turns one outlet into three, plus two USB ports! We never cruise without it.
11) Consider Packing a European Power Adapter
Often cruise ships have a single European power outlet and a single North American outlet. Make use of the European outlet by packing a European Power Adapter. This lightweight and inexpensive piece will give you an extra outlet to use.
Better yet, bring a Universal Adapter like this which you’ll be able to use not only in the cruise ship’s European outlet, but just about anywhere in the world. It’s a essential piece of gear for any international traveler.
12) Use the Shipboard App
Most cruise lines now have their own app that you can use onboard complimentary. Simply connect your phone to the ship’s wifi network and you’ll be able to use this app without incurring any wifi charges.
These cruise apps are free to use for tasks such as checking your onboard account balance, browsing the day’s up-to-date activities, reading up on your next port, checking menus, accessing a ship map, or even making dinner reservations.
Be sure to download the app prior to your voyage so that you don’t incur wifi fees or roaming charges that you’ll otherwise get hit with if you wait to download the app while at sea.
Here’s a listing of all of the major cruise line’s app to download before you embark.
|Carnival||Carnival HUB||Carnival HUB|
|Royal Caribbean||Royal Caribbean International||Royal Caribbean International|
|Norwegian||Norwegian iConcierge||Norwegian iConcierge|
|Celebrity||Celebrity Cruises||Celebrity Cruises|
|Disney||Disney Cruise Line Navigator||Disney Cruise Line Navigator|
Ditch the Walkie-Talkies and Instead Chat with the App
It has been a long-used cruise tip to bring walkie-talkies like these onboard cruises to be able to communicate with your cruise mates during the voyage. It makes it easy to meet your friends or family members while going seperate ways on these massive ships.
But you can now forgo using this dated technology and instead communicate using the cruise line’s app. This capability often comes with a fee, but that fee will likely cost less than the price of a pair of walkie-talkies. And the messaging app will work better too.
So how much do these cruise messaging services cost? It can vary by ship and even by each individual cruise itinerary. But to give some indication of costs during a recent sailing, Norwegian’s app – Norwegian iConcierge – offered messaging service for a one-time fee of $7.95. This allowed for voice calls and text, through the app, to fellow passengers during the entire 13-night cruise. Coming in at less than a buck per day, we found it to be a surprisingly fair price for this messaging service.
Cruise Wifi Hacks
Wifi can be extremely expensive onboard cruise ships and it is notoriously slow. During a recent sailing with Norwegian, we found rates of $0.95 per minute and the least expensive package was $9.95 for 15 minutes. Eek!
While there’s no easy way to hack the cruises wifi network to get free wifi. There are certainly are easy ways to exploit the wifi, extend it, and connect multiple devices to the same account. So here are some tried and true cruise wifi hacks to minimize your wifi expense and maximize your time online during your cruise.
14) Always Buy Wifi Before You Embark on Your Cruise
You can find nominal savings on a wifi package if purchasing it before your cruise. Typically you’ll get a 10%-15% discount if you book a wifi package before you get on the ship. You can find these discounted wifi packages by logging in to your online account directly with the cruise line, before your embarkation day. It’s there where you browse the different wifi packages the cruise line offers for your specific itinerary.
Also, before booking a cruise, keep an eye out for promotions that may even include a free wifi package. Free wifi on cruises is becoming a more common perk that cruise lines are offering to temp you to book. But even these free wifi cruise promotions will usually limit you to something like 100 or 250 minutes. It will be clearly stated, but don’t expect to score unlimited free wifi on a cruise. We can only dream that free unlimited wifi will become a reality at sea one day.
14) Get Free Push Notifications on Your Phone
Enable the wifi on your phone even you don’t intend to purchase a wifi package. On some cruise lines’ wifi networks, push notifications have been known to slip through. So put your phone on airplane mode, then enable your wifi to potentially receive these push notifications. You won’t be able to respond to any notifications but it can still be nice to receive them, free of charge.
15) How to Get Free Wifi on Cruise Ships: Use 29 Seconds per Session
Some ships’ wifi will only deduct usage from your account if you’ve been logged onto the wifi for 30 seconds or more. We discovered that logging on to Celebrity’s wifi for 29 seconds or less won’t deduct any minutes from your usage. Just be careful to watch that counter! When using Holland America wifi, it also didn’t deduct any usage from our account when using it for less than a half-minute. So it’s worth testing this out on your next cruise.
While you admittedly can’t do much browsing in that very short amount of time, it is a great way to quickly pull in new emails or send out a prewritten email. Similarly, you can pull up a webpage within those 29 seconds, then logoff and read the content after you’re logged out.
16) Use Wifi During Off-Peak Hours for Maximum Speed
If you did purchase a wifi plan on a cruise, use those minutes at times such as late at night or early in the morning. Or consider using them during peak meal times and during a popular show. You’ll find speed to be blazing fast compared to other times. These off-peak times may vary by ship and itinerary. Ask the Internet Desk Manager for the best times to logon.
Pro-tip for fast wifi speed on a cruise: One method we use to gauge the current speed of the ship’s wifi is by using their complimentary sites to assess how quickly the free pages load. For example, on Holland America, they provide complimentary access to nytimes.com. So we use the ship’s online portal to browse the news site for free, simply to gauge how quickly those news pages are loading. When they load fast, we know this is a good time to actually log on to the paid wifi to get more efficient use of our limited wifi minutes on the cruise.
17) Get Your Minutes Refunded
If Internet is painfully slow (as it often is), do inform the Internet Desk Manager of your troubles and he or she will almost always reinstate the minutes used during your sluggish session(s), no questions asked.
If the Internet is really bad and you find yourself waiting five minutes for a page to load, it is unfair for you to be charged for that when wifi minutes on a cruise are so costly. So if you do have a legitimate problem like this, don’t hesitate to visit the Internet Desk Manager to get it fixed and have those wifi minutes refunded.
For example, during a recent transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Bliss, I once logged in and pages didn’t load after several minutes. I made a few different attempts, which each unnecessarily burned through our precious small allotment of wifi minutes. When I addressed this with the Internet Desk Manager, he confirmed that there was a satellite outage and credited the lost wifi minutes from those sessions back to our account.
18) Use Free Wifi in Port and Find the Best Locations
Wifi on a cruise can be pricey, but you can always wait until you’re in port to connect for free. There’s almost always a place to connect to wifi right at the cruise terminal where you’re docked. However, those in-port terminals are often expensive. They’re also slow since many passengers and crew will all be trying to log on at the same time, clogging the network. Instead, walk a few blocks away from the cruise terminal to find free wifi with better speed.
Sometimes the port maps you can get from guest relations on the cruise will have such free wifi places marked. If not, ask your favorite crew member where he/she goes to use the wifi. If you’re on a ship with a regular itinerary, crew members will know all the best places in port with free wifi and fast speed.
Use Your Phone’s Data Plan in Port
Also while in port, consider using the data plan on your mobile phone to connect. Be sure to check your phone carrier’s international roaming coverage before you embark on your cruise. Some carriers, such as T-mobile, provide free data and texting in over 100 countries. That’s exactly what we use and it has worked very well for us all over the world.
It’s not just limited to land either. When we’re cruising through areas within a few miles of the coastline, we’re usually able to connect our phones. We often had data on our phone while cruising through the Panama Canal, in Alaska’s inside passage, along the coast of SE Asia, and even while cruising through the Suez Canal in Egypt.
19) How To Connect Multiple Devices Using Only One Wifi Package
When you purchase a wifi package on a cruise ship, you are only permitted to connect one device at a time. So if there are two (or more) of you in the same cabin, you cannot be logged in on multiple devices at the same time. Similarly, if you want to connect your mobile phone and your laptop at the same time, this cannot be done simultaneously. For either of these scenarios, you would need to purchase a multiple wifi packages.
But there is a way that you can easily bridge the cruise’s wifi network to create your very own wifi network right from within your stateroom. Shh… this is a cruise hack the cruise lines don’t want you to know about. Here’s how it works:
All you need to do is pack a wireless travel router, like this one. Once on the ship, set the device to “bridge mode.” Then it can be paired to the cruise wifi network to create a new mini wireless network right within your cruise cabin. Essentially it acts as a wifi repeater, allowing you to connect all your devices using only one wifi package.
Doing this works particularly well if you have an unlimited wifi package during your cruise. Set up your own localized network in your cabin and just let it run during the entire length of your cruise. Then you can connect as many phones, tablets and laptops as you’d like. All of those devices will remain connected whenever you’re in your stateroom.
It’s super easy to use and usually is priced less than $50. Meanwhile if you were to purchase a second unlimited wifi package, it would cost you hundreds of dollars. So a wireless travel router easily pays for itself and it can be used similarly in hotels that charge for wifi, per device. An added bonus is that this wireless router also functions as a backup battery that fits in your pocket to keep your devices charge while ashore. It has additional vacay uses too, such as allowing you to share photos & files between devices.
Sea Sickness Cruise Hacks
If the motion of the ocean has you feeling ill, try some natural seasickness remedies. Sea sickness medication, while usually effective, will often make you drowsy. So instead of spending your entire cruise in a Dramamine-induced coma, use these natural methods to improve your state of being and enjoy the ride!
20) The Best Cruise Ship Location to Avoid Motion Sickness
If you’re prone to seasickness, consider booking a lower stateroom, midship. If your cabin is elsewhere, then try to retreat to the most central part of the ship possible. You’ll find the motion is much more subdued on the lower, central areas of the ship. Keep the air on iced-cold which will further help counteract motion sickness.
We once sailed through the remnants of a hurricane in 20-foot seas when crossing the Atlantic. Nearly everyone on the ship, including the crew were plagued by seasickness. Yet we had a cool, lower midship cabin and felt just fine!
21) Go To This Unintuitive Spot on a Cruise If You’re Feeling Queazy
An unconventional place to retreat to is actually the ship’s pool! Here you’ll get a double-whammy of help.
First, the pool water itself will feel refreshing and cool. Secondly, you’ll move with the water in the pool rather than with the ship, which often helps with the disagreement your inner ear is having, causing the sea-sickness in the first place! Just don’t go to the pool if you’re ready to blow. Your fellow pool-goers certainly won’t appreciate that.
22) Natural Sea Sickness Remedies That Are Free on a Cruise
We recommend green apples and saltine crackers as natural sea sickness remedies. All the crew members strongly advocate these tried-and-trusted natural remedies. Also try ginger pills or ginger ale.
Did you forget to pack medicine or didn’t expect to get sea sick? All ships sell seasickness medication at the gift shops. But instead, ask Guest Services, the clinic, or even your stateroom attendant for some. Even though it’s sold in the gift shops at outrageous prices, all cruises actually provide some sort of sea sickness medicine to you free of charge.
We have received ginger pills on some lines. Other times, ships have provided Meclizine Hydrochloride (generic Bonine). But we recommend bringing ginger pills on board with you to use as a natural remedy. They’re also super cheap online, so order a bottle on Amazon before you depart and there will be no need to approach the customer service desk with a green face.
The Trip Insurance Cruise Hack You Need to Know
23) Here’s Why to Always Book Travel Insurance with a Third-Party
When booking a cruise, most cruise lines or agencies will offer you something called “trip insurance” or “travel insurance.” It’s very important to have travel insurance on a cruise, but NEVER book travel insurance with the cruise line directly. The cruise hack is to book with a third party travel insurance agency instead.
First, why do you need travel insurance for a cruise? There are endless reasons to protect yourself, but here’s just a sampling of why you need travel insurance: trip cancelation, medical coverage on a cruise, baggage, flight delays, etc.
- If you get sick during the voyage and need treatment, you’ll be stuck with an extremely expensive medical bill when visiting the ship’s doctor. But travel insurance covers such exorbitant expenses, should they arise.
- If your flight is delayed to your cruise port causing you to miss the ship, travel insurance would fly you to the ship’s first port or could cover the costs of the having to cancel your cruise.
- If your luggage goes missing, travel insurance will reimburse you for new clothes and other essentials. (we’ve actually used this one and got to go on a shopping spree that netted $800 worth of new clothes!)
- If you got sick before the cruise or something unfathomable like a death in the family prevents you from going, travel insurance would cover all or a portion of your otherwise non-refundable cancelation.
Why you don’t want to book trip insurance with the cruise line: Policies from cruise lines often contain minimal coverage at inflated costs. And we’ve found it to be painstaking to track down specifics of what their coverage includes. Also, these policies often cover only the cruise itself. That means if you’re staying in the port city of embarkation before or after your cruise, you won’t be covered during your pre- and post-cruise travels. Furthermore, your flights to the cruise port probably aren’t covered unless you booked them as part of a package with the cruise. And if for some reason the cruise line financially defaults, the cruise line’s own insurance policy won’t be able to help you out at all. For all of these reasons, it is important to instead book a separate policy with a third party travel insurance company rather than with the cruise line itself.
Be careful when booking your cruise: Many cruise lines and booking agencies will try to pull the deceptive tactic of automatically including trip insurance with your cruise package. When booking, be sure to specifically ask that they do not include it. If they do add this expense to your booking, insist that you’d like it removed.
Where to book travel insurance for a cruise: There are many third-party travel insurance companies and we’ve carefully scrutinized all the top ones, comparing the costs and coverage to uncover which ones have the best value. For travels that are less than a month in length and coverage specific to cruising, we’ve found the best value for the coverage offered to be with travel insurance provider RoamRight.Hence we personally use and recommend it for cruise travel. Policy costs will differ based upon length of cruise and price paid, but you can expect to pay about $50 per person for a weeklong cruise. Simply enter your dates and costs to get a quick trip insurance pricing estimate. (Takes about 1 minute.) This small expense is well worth the peace of mind to protect yourself against unexpected travel mishaps that would potentially ruin your vacation and cost you thousands of dollars.
Food Cruise Hacks
With so much deliciousness out on the open sea, it can often be a happy problem to navigate all of those delectable culinary treats. So here are a few cruise hacks to help you maximize your intake of all those tasty dishes!
24) Order Two Main Courses
Can’t decide between the steak and the lobster? Get both! Your waiter will gladly oblige with your request for two main courses if there are two options that both look enticing. This also applies to starters and desserts. Hope you’re hungry!
25) Request a Main Course for Your Appetizer
Despite wanting two mouthwatering main courses, you may not have the appetite to eat both. The solution: order one of the mains as an appetizer instead. We find that vegetarian main courses can make for particularly awesome starters, even if you’re not a vegetarian. Sometimes you can even request smaller appetizer-sized portions of main course dishes. Ask and you shall receive!
26) Eat Dessert at the Cruise’s Coffee Shop
The specialty coffee shops on board cruise ships are revenue centers where passengers can spend money on expensive cappuccinos and lattes. But what many cruise passengers don’t realize is that you can also find beautiful desserts here that are all complimentary. Those wonderful cheesecakes, cookies, and pies won’t cost you a dime. No coffee purchase is required to indulge in them. So if dinner is running long and you need to make it to a show, skip dessert in the main dining room and instead enjoy an alternate sweet treat later at the coffee shop.
27) Do Get Room Service on a Cruise
Getting room service is typically associated with high fees in hotels. Yet many cruises offer room service completely complimentary to guests. Check the policy for your specific ship. Norwegian and Costa do not offer free room service on a cruise, but most all other major cruise lines do (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Holland America, etc.).
Check to confirm if your cruise does have complimentary room service. If so, why not order a nice cheese plate to your room while you’re getting ready for dinner?
28) How to Get Free Candy on a Cruise
Have a sweet tooth? Don’t buy that $5 bag of M&Ms in the ship’s duty free shop. Instead, simply head to the ice cream stand and ask the scooper for a cup of toppings of your choice. We’ve noticed that Celebrity’s ships tend to have a particularly nice range of candy to choose from. You can often get a cup of M&Ms for free, so there’s no need to pay for overpriced candy in the cruise gift shop. We go for the sour patch kids – yum!
29) Why Go To a Specialty Restaurant on the First Night and Never Formal Night
If you want to try out one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, do this on the very first night of your cruise. For whatever reason, everyone always wants to eat in the Main Dining Room on the first night, leaving the specialty restaurants with several open tables. Therefor cruises tend to have special offers on these specialty restaurants during the first night of the cruise.
So consider going to the steakhouse on the very first night and you may find such deals like a 50% discount and a free bottle of wine to boot! Check the Day 1 itinerary for such a promotion after embarking or enquire directly at the premium restaurant. If there’s a good offer, go for it! That promotion likely won’t come back again later in the cruise. The specialty dining deals on Day 1 are usually the most generous of every itinerary.
Meanwhile, those who choose to go to the specialty restaurant later in the cruise, will not only pay full price, but they may also miss out on a great complimentary meal in the main dining room. Some cruisers like to splurge on a specialty restaurant during formal night. But that is the worst possible time to do so. Always eat in the main dining room on formal night. That’s when cruises tend to serve the best dishes in the main dining room, such as lobster and chateaubriand, for example which is served on Celebrity’s formal nights. You don’t want to miss these amazing complimentary meals by paying for an alternative at a specialty restaurant! So dine at the specialty restaurant on the first night instead.
30) Skip the Buffet on Day 1
It is usually a complete cluster at the buffet during lunch on the first day abroad a cruise ship. Everyone has just gotten on the ship, is starving, and the buffet is the most logical place to flock to. But don’t follow this herd mentality once you board the ship! There are usually a few other complimentary dining options available during lunch that most passengers haven’t taken the time to scout out. So there’s no need to wait in a long buffet line to fight for the salad tongs.
Instead, start your cruise off right and find out what other restaurants may be open for lunch. You’ll eat better, avoid the crowds, and have a much more enjoyable beginning to your trip. Again, check your Day 1 itinerary once you embark which will clearly detail what other dining options are open.
During a recent voyage on the Norwegian Bliss, everyone crowded the buffet. We instead sat right down at the Local Pub, which was virtually empty, as most people just boarding the ship had yet to figure out that this complimentary restaurant served lunch. So while everyone else flocked to the buffet, we enjoyed table service within the pub’s casual and crowd-free setting.
Cruise Tips for Drinking on the Ship
Drinking on cruises can be super expensive. So try these cruise hacks to quench your thirst without breaking the bank!
31) Drink for Free and Cheap
We have so many drink-related cruise hacks to share, so we’ve actually detailed them all in two separate posts. Be sure to check out these two articles where we reveal all of our secrets for economical boozing on the high seas:
32) Use Flavored Water Drops to Add Taste to Your Water
Tap water is always free onboard cruises and is completely fine to drink. But some people complain about the taste. So bring flavored water drops such as Mio Water Enhancement to turn that water into a flavorful drink. Add a little squirt to your water during lunchtime or at the pool.
33) Make Your Own Café Mocha for Free
Don’t want to splurge the $5 on specialty coffee, but still looking for a little more flavor? Here’s our recipe to make a delicious cafe mocha:
Use approximately ¾ packet of hot chocolate mix, 2 creamers, fill cup with coffee and stir. Instant café mocha!
Sure, it may not be quite as good as a barista-made espresso drink. But this simple little cruise hack can save coffee drinkers about $35 over the course of a weeklong cruise, while still jazzing up a boring cuppa joe.
34) Remove Drinks from Minibar and Bring Your Own
Most cruise lines permit you to bring your own sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages. It seems that all cruise lines aside from Carnival and Norwegian will allow this, but check your specific ship’s policy for bringing beverages aboard to be sure.
Then just ask your friendly stateroom attendant to empty out all of those expensive minibar drinks so that you can make use of the fridge. Once the fridge is clear, you’re free to chill down all of the beverages that you’ve brought onboard. And if your cruise cabin isn’t equipped with a mini-fridge, just ask your stateroom attendant for an ice bucket to chill your drinks.
Shore Excursion Cruise Hacks
Shore excursions can be tricky beasts, particularly if you’re new to cruising and don’t want to pay for the often exorbitant fees charged by the cruise lines. Booking excursions through the cruise line can be very convenient and offers a hassle-free experience, but you’ll pay a hefty premium to do so. These cruise tips should help get you on shore with some spare cash to spend while you’re there.
35) The Best Wake-Up Call on a Cruise
Instead of setting an annoying alarm clock or getting a wake-up call on your stateroom phone, just preschedule complimentary room service breakfast to be delivered to your cabin at whatever time you’d like to be woken up. Instead of a buzzing alarm or a loud phone ring, you’ll wake up to a soft knock on your door and have a cup of coffee in your hand within minutes of waking. Then enjoy a leisure breakfast-in-bed as you pull into port.
If you’d prefer to eat a more proper breakfast, then just schedule a pot of coffee or tea to be delivered to your room. Once you’re done sipping and the caffeine has you moving, head up to the main dining room or buffet for a full breakfast. Continental breakfast items and coffee is almost always complimentary on cruise, but check your specific ship to be certain.
36) Do-It-Yourself Cruise Excursion Tips to Save Big
Go out on your own or book excursions directly with local companies operating in the area, which will likely save you hundreds of dollars across multiple ports. Just be absolutely sure that you get back on the ship before the “all-aboard,” because late passengers not on the cruises’ excursion will be left behind.
In some ports, sightseeing shore excursions can often be accomplished on your own. Just hop off the ship and see the sites. In other places, a rental car can be the way to go. It can be cheaper in some ports to reserve a car in advance, while other times it can be best to just show up at the port. Either way, if you’re a comfortable driver, rental cars can be a very economical option to cover a lot of ground during the short time you have on land. Some agencies have outlets directly at cruise terminals, catering specifically to cruise passengers.
Or you can sometimes find people selling tours just as you walk off the ship. Those prices may be negotiable, so don’t be afraid to haggle a bit. You’re not on the cruise ship anymore and in some cultures bargaining is customary.
But if you do want to do a tour, it’s wise to plan and book one in advance. That way you won’t end up wasting what little time you have on land to seek out an excursion that may or may not become sold-out. You can sometimes find tour operators by Googling or searching through Tripadvisor, which then results in a back & forth email exchange to actually book the tour and possibly the unnerving task of sending funds as a deposit. Instead we recommend this next tip…
37) Use Viator as a Safe Way To Save Money on Ports of Call Tours
We’ve found the best website to book a good value shore excursion is: Viator.com. They offer extremely competitive prices and tend to have the largest inventory of excursions available in all the popular cruise ports. This makes booking an independent shore excursion so easy. You can quickly browse through and reserve a variety of day tours, which pick you up right from the ship. We’ve found that many of the shore excursions offered on Viator are the same or similar to those offered through the cruise line directly. Yet Viator often has them at a fraction of the cost!
We love booking shore excursions through Viator because they have a low price guarantee. This protects you from getting into the port and finding the same excursion at a lower price. Yet we further appreciate that Viator has 24-hour live phone support and their tours are usually refundable if canceled at least seven days out (for those who may be indecisive like us). But best of all, Viator has tours specifically for cruise passengers with dates & times that align with your cruise ships’ itinerary.
These Viator shore excursions also include what they call a “Worry-free Shore Excursion” policy, which will ensure your timely return to the port for each activity. In the extremely rare instance (if ever) that some freak occurrence causes you to miss the ship, Viator will actually arrange and pay for transportation to the next port-of-call. Also if your ship happens to get delayed arriving to a port making it impossible to attend an excursion you booked, then your money will be automatically refunded in full. All of these assurances gives us the confidence to book with Viator. We’ve done this for so many shore excursions now that it has probably saved us hundreds or thousands of dollars, during the past few years of cruising.
You can start searching for shore excursions directly from the Viator home page here. Or below are some links to Viator shore excursions for some of the most popular cruise ports. Of course, it’s best to book these excursions as far in advance as possible. Popular excursions do get booked full since many savvy cruisers are now using Viator for their shore excursions. So get saving!
38) Why It’s Worth Actually Attending Port Lectures on a Cruise
The port talks are sometimes designed to sell you the ship’s shore excursions, so you may want to skip them in favor of other more fun shipboard activities. But port lectures can sometimes be non-excursion related and very helpful even for those who don’t intend to purchase a shore excursion through the ship.
Even if the port talk is based upon all of the excursions the cruise is attempting to sell, the lecturer will still highlight and show pictures of popular things to do in port on these tours. For those comfortable with independent travel, use this info to help decide which sights you may be able to see on your own.
Yet these excursion-related talks tend to have further benefits to entice and reward your attendance. Often at the lectures, they give away money-saving coupons to use on shore or other shipboard freebees too. If so, that will be listed in the ship’s daily program. So check it and you may find what they’re giving away something that’s worthwhile to attend.
39) Where To Find A Super-Helpful Port Map
There are some very informative port maps and mini-guides available for every port of call, but for some strange reason these maps are typically not distributed out to all passengers. Sometimes they’re handed out at the port lecture, so you may find them there.
But not to worry if you’re unable to get to the lecture. Just ask guest relations for a port map to get the scoop on where everything is once you get off the ship. These maps tend to contain a plethora of helpful information such as sample taxi fares, ATM locations, and wifi hot spots. Be sure to grab one the day before you get into port! These port maps are always available but never pushed out.
40) Use Water Bottles on Shore
It’s important to keep hydrated while on shore. Yet in some of the more touristic ports, bottled water can often be outrageously priced. In a scorching hot situation, you may be thirsty enough to pay it. Instead, be prepared and bring a water bottle filled with the ship’s drinkable tap water to bring on land with you. You’ll be saving a few bucks with this environmentally friendly alternative to buying expensive bottled water on shore.
The Cruise Hack to Get Cash
41) How to Turn Onboard Credit into Cash Money
If you have onboard credit and you don’t spend it, you will loose it. You cannot simply go to guest relations and ask for this onboard credit in cash. So don’t ever let your onboard credit go to waste! But instead of blowing your onboard credit on overpriced souvenirs that you didn’t really want anyways, this simple cruise hack will, allow you to transform your credit into cash money!
Here’s what to do: Just insert your cruise card into the slot machine. Add whatever is left of your onboard credit to the slot machine. Although you don’t technically have to gamble at all, consider betting a nickel or so on a slot pull just for fun. (Don’t get carried away though. The slot odds are pretty bad!) Now that your funds are loaded as gambling credits, you can simply cash out those casino funds with the casino purser. You will have just turned your onboard credit into cold hard cash. Jackpot!
Be sure to do this while in international waters. If not, the casino will be closed once it nears port, and you will have lost the ability to cash out your onboard credit.
42) Use This Cruise Hack to Avoid Expensive ATM Fees
Cruise ships have notoriously high ATM fees onboard. So we always recommend bringing cash, should you need it ashore, during or after your cruise.
But if you need more cash while on the cruise, you could incur an outrageous $15 charge simply by using the shipboard ATM. Instead you can use a similar method, as described in the cruise hack above, to get cash from your onboard account.
Simply go to the casino and buy chips of casino credit as if you were to use them in the casino. You can use a credit or debit card to do this. It makes no difference. After you buy your chips, don’t actually gamble away the your casino credit. Just cash out at the pursers desk!
Some cruise lines will charge a small fee to get casino chips using your card and they may impose a minimum threshold to withdraw. For example, on a recent Norwegian cruise, they charged a $3 fee and there was a $100 withdrawal minimum. Still the $3 fee is significantly less than the $15 fee that the shipboard ATM would have charged. So there’s absolutely no need to visit the ship’s expensive ATM with this nice little casino loophole to access cash! Just buy some casino credit for a $3 fee and then cash it out immediately.
Cruise Hacks Around the Ship
One of the best cruise tips there is, is to simply get to know your ship. Check out the ship’s deck plans before you get onboard and use these hacks to help make the most of the ship itself.
43) When it Rains: Use the Pool, Hot Tub, and Slides
If you don’t feel like squeezing into a crammed hot tub with a dozen other strangers, simply go when it rains. You’re getting wet anyways and the pool deck will be completely empty. Unless it’s a really bad storm or lightning is in the area, the pool facilities will remain open and functioning. You’ll also find no lines at the waterslide or at the bar. Enjoy!
44) Get a Free Balcony Upgrade
Achieving a free balcony upgrade can be more difficult than ever these days. But we’ve actually managed to score a free balcony on three of our past four cruises. It can be very tricky to actually land these free stateroom upgrades, so we’ve actually detailed a very informative guide on exactly how to do so. See post: 10 Secrets on How to Get a Free Balcony Upgrade on a Cruise
45) If Getting a Balcony Cabin, Know the Best Side of the Ship to Book: Port vs Starboard
If booking a balcony stateroom, take a moment to research whether the starboard or port side of the ship will have a more scenic view. Really, it depends on your specific cruise’s itinerary on whether to book a port or starboard cabin.
If your ship’s itinerary is going in a closed-loop and visiting mostly mainland ports, book a port (left) side stateroom for a clockwise route. Book a starboard (right) side for a counter clockwise route. In doing so you’ll be treated to better views when cruising in and out of ports.
If your itinerary is taking you in a circle visiting islands, the best views can be a little more uncertain, as it will depend on which side of the island each specific port is on. If splurging on a balcony it can be worthwhile to take a closer look at the route map for your cruise itinerary. In doing so, you can determine whether the port or starboard side of the ship will be facing land more frequently, providing you with more scenic views.
46) Get the Good Seats at the Theatre
Most big cruise ships will have at least four entrances to the main theatre (upper starboard, upper port, lower starboard, and lower port). On some ships, one of those theatre entrances may be at a non-thru corridor, meaning there isn’t a hallway extending throughout the length of the ship to the main dining room, where many passengers will be coming from. If your specific cruise has a theatre entrance with this configuration, that is the entrance you should always use to get the best seats in the house, particularly if you’re arriving just minutes before the show.
You may be surprised to find many empty seats right in the front in this particular corner of the theatre. During sailings on the Norwegian Star and the Holland American Volendam, the non-thru lower port-side theatre entrance was a sure bet every single time! While the starboard side was packed full every night, we’d easily slip into a front row seat within minutes of the start of the show.
47) Find Your Secret Spot on a Cruise
When a ship is filled to capacity, sometimes you may just want to escape the crowds and have a nice place to retreat to for some serenity. Yet with a finite amount of public passenger space, this can often be challenging. But if you thoroughly explore all the out-of-the-way ship locations, you can be rewarded with your private area of zen. On the upper decks, take some time out your day and see what is at the very aft of the ship. Or go all the way forward towards the bow. Since all the action tends to center on the middle of the ship, the aft and bow tend to be two very overlooked places to relax onboard.
Try this: On the main pool deck (lido deck) go to both ends of the ship, then check both up and down a few decks deck. You may have just found your secret tranquil oasis to escape the crowds!
48) Use the Spa for Free
Even if you aren’t planning to splurge on that massage, don’t be a stranger to the spa, which may also have some minimal complimentary facilities. If nothing else, the spa can provide an alternative place to shower. So if there are two people in the same cabin who need to get ready quickly for formal night, the spa’s shower facilities can allow for someone to shower up there. Also cruise spa showers are known to have some nice complimentary soaps and shampoos available too!
49) Magnets Keep You Organized on Cruises
Did you know that your cabin’s walls are actually made of metal? They are! So before boarding your cruise, grab your favorite magnets from your fridge at home. Or, better yet, buy these cool heavy-duty magnet hooks which hold up to 22 pounds and will really help to avoid clutter in your small cabin!
You can repurpose the magnets onboard the ship to keep track of daily guides, receipts, and other pieces of paper that may otherwise start cluttering up your room. It’s a great way to stay organized and create additional storage space.
You can also have fun with magnets on the exterior of your cabin by decorating your door or leaving notes for fellow cruisers to let them know your whereabouts. We see lots of people having fun with these magnets on the exterior of their staterooms. Hanging something on the outside of the door is makes for an easy way to identify your room.
50) Shop ’til You Drop on the Last Day of the Cruise
If you’re planning to do any onboard shopping, consider waiting ’til the last full day of the cruise. Sometimes the ship will have a big sale. There will be greater odds of this happening and better deals if you happen to be on a repositioning cruise or if the ship you’re on is about to change itineraries. Check the daily program on the final full day of your cruise to see if there will be a big sale.
51) Weigh Your Luggage Before Disembarking (Bonus Cruise Hack)
If you’ve bought lots of souvenirs on board the ship or while on shore, be sure to strategically distribute your purchases throughout your checked and carry-on luggage. If you’re flying home after the cruise, this tactic will help to ensure that you’ll be under the weight restrictions imposed by airlines. We use a little travel luggage scale to keep tabs on our bags’ weight
Bonus: Cruise Packing Checklist & Packing Hacks To Save You Money
Besides your usual clothing and toiletries, here’s a checklist of cruise specific items to remember to pack:
- Passport – Very important, don’t forget! (An ID + original birth certificate may suffice with some cruise lines/itineraries. Check before you depart.)
- Waterproof Your Phone – If you don’t have a waterproof phone, you’ll want to make sure that your phone doesn’t become victim to pool splashes or ocean sprays. You also may not be comfortable leaving your phone unattended on a lounge chair. So with this Phone Dry Pouch, you can bring it in the pool with you and even dunk it in the water! It’s also a convenient place to keep your cruise keycard. It’s usually under $10 too, so it’s a great buy to protect your expensive phone. Check colors available and prices here.
- Bottle of wine – Most cruise lines (NOT Carnival & Norwegian, but most all others) allow you to bring aboard 1 bottle of wine per person. Be sure to take advantage of that. You must pack it in your carryon luggage and you must open it in your stateroom to avoid a corkage fee in the dining room.
- Water bottle – Stay hydrated on shore excursions without buying expensive bottled water. Pack a refillable lightweight water bottle like this CamelBack.
- Sunscreen – Of course you want to protect your skin. But if you use all of your sunscreen and need to buy more on the ship, expect to pay upwards of $20 for a small tube in the ship’s overpriced gift shop. Instead, stock up before you go. Amazon has great prices on BananaBoat.
- Mask & Snorkel – Many ports (particularly cruise lines’ private islands) have beautiful reefs that you can swim to from shore. Often cruises will rent out snorkeling equipment for $30 or more. Instead, you can buy your own mask in advance, which will cost less than renting once you’re there! This US Divers Mask & Snorkel is a great mask for about half the cost it would be to rent it when you reach the islands. Meanwhile these panoramic snorkel masks have become all the rage. Check out rave customer reviews on these panoramic masks here.
- Seasickness Prevention – If you don’t have your sea legs, come prepared with a plan. We find Bonine works well and has less drowsiness effect than the popular Dramamine. Alternatively go natural and try ginger pills, which tend to calm nausea associated with seasickness without any side effects.
- Binoculars – If you’re going to be cruising around scenic coastal stretches, like Alaska’s Inside Passage (See: Glacier Bay Photo Essay), then don’t forget a pair of binoculars. Big cruise ships can’t get too close to shore, so if you want to see towns, glaciers, or have a closer look at a wayward whale – be sure pack a pair. These Bushnell Falcon binoculars have a great quality and the prices of these are incredible. Check prices and recent reviews.
- Stay organized with magnets – Yeah, we just mentioned this in cruise tip #49, but it’s such a fun item to bring aboard. Plus these magnet hooks are inexpensive, so it’s worth repeating here in this cruise pack list.
- Backup Battery – If you’re going to be out on all day shore excursions and have a cell phone or camera that won’t hold a charge with all the pictures you’ll be taking, then be sure to pack a backup battery. We personally use (and love) this Anker PowerCore Backup Battery that is very lightweight, yet will recharge your cell phone many times over.
- Travel Power Strip to keep all your electronics charged. We never travel anywhere in the world without one!
Speaking of packing… After constantly traveling around the world for the past five years on cruise ships and other forms of transportation, we’ve finally developed the perfect packing list. We have meticulously detailed all of our travel gear recommendations. So for a more all-encompassing pack list, see our big Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist & Tips to ensure you don’t forget to pack anything important for your next trip.
We hope these cruise hacks have been helpful and that you’re now all ready to set sail!
Wait, don’t leave us just yet. If you liked these cruise hacks, let’s stay connected!
We actually just completed cruising entirely around the world without using a single flight. We accomplished this ultimate world cruise using 5 different ships and on a super low budget around $50 per day! We basically spent the past year living on cruise ships now and it actually cost us less than our former working lives back on land. We’ll be writing a detailed post all about that soon, so stay connected with our travel blog if you want to see how we’ve managed to pull this off! 🙂 The best place to continue receiving updates is over on Facebook.
Follow Roaming Around The World on Facebook to see where we are today and receive updates about future blog posts. We also use Facebook to post daily travel tips or travel inspiration from wherever in the world we’re currently roaming. See our latest post below, for example.
Lastly, with so many cruise tips in this post to remember, be sure to bookmark this page or “pin” the image below to your Pinterest boards to save for later for later. Happy cruising everyone!