Cruise Tips, Tricks and Secrets

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By ,   May 5, 2015 ,   Tips & Tricks

CruiseMapper's "cruise tips and tricks" article provides useful information for first-timers planning their future voyages. Cruise tips and tricks are also handy onboard the liner - to keep you away from mishaps and bad ("Cruise Minus") experiences at sea and in ports.

This page is integrated with CruiseMapper's "tips and tricks" pages with information specifically targeting the following companies - Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney.

Cruise Tips and Tricks

For your convenience, our "wiki" collection of cruise tips, tricks and secrets about ocean cruising vacations are grouped in several themed sections - PLANNING, BOOKING, PACKING, MONEY-SAVING, EXCURSIONS-TOURS, CABINS, SHIPS, FOOD-DRINKS, TRAVEL MATES and General.

Cruise Tips, Tricks and Secrets - CruiseMapper

PLANNING

  • Choose the destination and use travel agents specializing in cruises - with actual experience, personalized service, access to group pricing. Many agents are CLIA-certified or attend training programs through different cruise companies. Look for affiliations with ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), BBB (Better Business Bureau) or NACOA (National Association of Cruise Oriented Agencies). You can search for CLIA-certified travel agents on its website (cruising.org) and locate agents by region and training level. You can also use ASTA (asta.org) - select "cruise lines" or "cruises" under "Specialties". Travel agents constantly research, attend seminars, have access to special perks and discounts. Cruise lines pay their commissions, so you don't have to pay more for their services.
  • Do some online research time to know what are the average (normal) cruise fares on preferred itineraries and the standard inclusions (complimentary amenities and services). However, don't over-research or over-plan - first-time cruise is a thrill, so enjoy the uncertainty and all the new experiences.
  • Look for special deals - like all big-money industries, cruise industry loves sales. Every week you can find short-term / last-minute promos, 1-day discounts, two-for-one deals, kids-sail-free deals. Wave Season (January through March) is great for discounted travel sales.
  • Stick to your vacation budget. There are 4 main traveler types - economical (budget-minded), standard (middle-class), premium (affluent) and top-luxury (silver-spooned).
  • If you can afford hassle-free travel vacations, consider luxury ship cruises. Premium brands are all-inclusive, with included in the ticket flights, hotels, excursions, beverages, gratuities, Internet, specialty dining, high-end concierge and butler services, 5-star hotel cabin amenities.
  • A cheap cruise ship with booked balcony cabin or suite often results in better vacation experience than large (crowded) ship with booked inside cabin. Yet, it depends - first in the village or second in Rome? Booking suite always means best service, amenities, freebies and perks.
  • Each year are scheduled almost 30,000 different cruise itineraries for over 2,000 destinations worldwide. The main are East-Southeast Asia, Europe (Mediterranean, Baltic, Norwegian Fjords / Arctic), Alaska, Caribbean, Australia NZ, South Amarica (Amazon, Antarctica).
  • "Kids cruise for free" deals (children travel for free in double-occupancy booked cabin) are offered by MSC, occasionally by Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, rarely by Disney.
  • Best cruise ships for kids are all big liners (many of them newbuilds) with themed onboard activities specifically designed for children in different age groups, as well as for families. On the ship kids interact in a safe, comfortable and friendly environment, always supervised by professional staff.
  • If you don't like noisy crowds and long queues, try small ship cruise, riverboat or yacht charter.
  • Solo cruise passengers are around 1/4 of all. Sharing cabin (same-sex shared stateroom) is cheaper. Many cruise ships (both smaller and the largest) have studios - single cabins bookable without single supplement fee required. With some companies, single supplement rates on double staterooms are very affordable.
  • There are many and differently themed cruises independently organized on privately chartered ships.
  • If you're single, consider booking a singles cruise.

BOOKING

  • Around 70% of all cruisers use travel agents to plan and book, and mainly with CLIA-certified agents specializing in ship cruises. Travel agents are certificated in general ship cruising, as well as privy of all offered products and services. Travel agents are aware of the best deals and promo discounts. Some have access to company discounts not available to consumers. Travel agents have updated in real-time information on cabin availability, itinerary changes, newly upgraded amenities (wellness, dining, entertainment, sports), special offers. They can suggest best for you brand, vessel, itinerary, stateroom (type, category, location), onboard activities. Travel agents can handle most potential shipboard and ashore issues (lost luggage, cancelled tours, delays, missed flights). Agencies also do bargains with the ship operators and often provide bonuses (onboard credit, deals inclusive of gratuities, sometimes even free excursions / tours, extra amenities, residency discounts.
  • All companies require a deposit to reserve cabin. As deposit, you pay a flat rate (usually between $100 and $1,000) or a percentage of the total cost (10-25%, depending on company, itinerary, cabin category). Holiday cruises, group bookings and special deals are priced differently. Deposits often are better priced with online booking.
  • Travel agencies require paying fare's remaining balance at the final payment due date. The final payment differs by company - generally between 45-90 days prior departure, up to 150 days for longer itineraries. Booking in this period requires paying in full. Cruise transfers (changes) can be made within a specific period prior departure, usually with an administration fee charge (percentage of the initial price).
  • Passenger shipping companies (ferry and cruise) differ in their cancellation and refund policies. The refund depends mostly on the remaining days (prior departure), strictly in the cancellation period. A refund is infeasible in the events of no-show or interruption by the passenger after the voyage starts. Charges don't include any fees by air carriers, hotels, car rentals, etc.
  • Most companies don't make exceptions regarding cancellation charges. Names or departure dates discrepancies are treated as cancellations. Although optional, it is highly recommended purchasing travel insurance (health) and trip cancellation insurance (possibility to exchange dates, in some cases - full refund).
  • Cancellation charges increase as sailing dates approach, while refunds diminish. Usually, for cancellations 60+ days prior departure, no charges are assessed, around 30 days - 50% of the deposit, and for less than 2 weeks prior - the whole deposit. Penalties for cancellations of luxury cruises may reach 100% of the fare, even for 30- days prior departure. Consulting a travel agency is highly recommended, since timetables and all rates are subject to change.
  • Never pay brochure prices - unless it's special / well-sold voyage with higher demand.
  • Booking with travel agency or online is often cheaper than directly with the company. With some exceptions, when compared to company's brochure rates, cruise agency deal prices are nearly identical (at least very very similar). The reason is that most big lines have no-rebate policies forbidding the agencies from undercutting company's rates.
  • The cruise passenger lines reduce their prices and those of their booking agency partners to ensure their ships will sail full. In order lines to avoid having lots of unsold cabins on cruise ships, bargains are a widespread trend (phenomenon) all the time. 
  • Wholesellers buy out huge number of cabins on a particular sailing way in advance. This is a major "why" they can sell deals at lower rates than the lines. The trick is, to get those rates you have to phone them instead of booking online.
  • Don't focus on the price alone - check the extras, like if the airfare is included in the price. International airfares are one of the main reasons why Europe don't get many Americans and also why repositioning cruises (in Spring/Fall each year) are such a hugely big hit among travelers.
  • Check first for available last minute deals. Potential savings on booking last minute cruises are up to 75% - best deals for budget-minded travelers with flexible schedules. Another option are wave season deals (January-March).

PACKING

Note: For more information see CruiseMapper's packing lists.

  • Don't forget your passport - you'll be denied boarding (on embarkation day at the terminal, and there'll be no any refunds (cruise, airfares, vacation days from the employers, etc).
  • Don't overpack - enormous suitcases could spoil any vacation.
  • Bring extra underwear. If you use up your clean clothes, you can use the passenger laundry facilities with washing machines.
  • Save luggage space for the things you are going to buy on your cruise.
  • Pack walkie-talkies - especially when traveling with kids.
  • Pack ear plugs - sleeping on airplane is easier and they also allow good sleeping on the ship - (kids running, noisy neighbors, PA announcements, elevators, walkways, engines (lower-deck cabins).
  • Pack suntan lotion - at home it costs about 50% less on the ship or in port.
  • If you drink, on the ship you will probably consume alcohol, so pack aspirin.
  • Nowadays, all airlines are prohibiting sharp objects in carry-on bags, so pack such items in the checked luggage. Mainstream lines (Carnival is the best example) forbid high-heels on board their ships.

MONEY-SAVING

To save money on a cruise, listing by "lowest price" is not recommended - cheapest deals are limited to departure date, itinerary, ship, cabin category.

Weight-Loss Fitness Cruises - CruiseMapper

  • "Free cruise" offers are attainable mainly through winning onboard games and contests. Kids-cruise-for-free are promo offers. Many companies reward group planners (organizing voyages with group booking - minimum 8 cabins / 16 paying passengers) with complimentary cruise. Booking larger groups may result in bonus cabins. Don't envy the organizers, as group leaders invest lot of time in planning, online research, bargaining prices and amenities, organizing families and friends to make sure all deposits are made on time.
  • "Early Booking" cruises and paying deposits in advance (6 to 18 months) offers discount fares and expensive upgrades added as perks. Search for reduced or free airfare, cabin upgrades, complimentary amenities (included beverage packages, specialty dining, excursions, gratuities, onboard credit). Currently, cruise lines (especially luxury brands) launch their booking programs earlier than ever (even 2 or more years in advance) offering early-bookers free flights, free port parking, alcohol packages.
  • Onboard ("future cruise") booking is discounted and often with reduced deposits and bonuses (onboard credit, tours, logoed gifts). Deposits are usually refundable, meaning you can change itineraries in future or transfer bookings to a travel agent.
  • Shoulder season cruises (if you're flexible with dates) save up to 50% off base rates.
  • Wave Season (January-March) is industry's sales period - peak time when cruise companies offer as booking incentives onboard credit and free cabin upgrades.
  • Hurricane season is not the best time to cruise, but will help you score some good values on Mexican Riviera, Caribbean and transatlantic voyages during the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic hurricane seasons. Hurricane season usually lasts from June 1 through November 30.
  • Last-minute deals are cheaper, but with the least choices of ships, itineraries and staterooms. Cruise rates constantly go up and down - if you can wait (3 to 6 weeks prior departure) there's 99% chance to find the best fares.
  • Among the cheapest deals are the seasonally-operated repositioning cruises (when ships change deployments / regions and homeports).
  • Member Discount Programs are the well deserved rewards to socially active people, who operate by several credit cards, and belong to diverse programs and huge organizations, like the military, AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), AAA (American Automobile Association). If you are a member of such organization, there could be potential discounts or rewards as benefits for your membership.
  • Loyalty Programs discounts are attainable only if you sail more than once with the same line. With a loyalty program, the line may offer you lower rates, free upgrades, on-board credits, priority services, and many special on-board amenities.
  • Sign up for the best specials and promotions on the line's official web site. You also may check their regular updates at Twitter, or Facebook. 
  • "Harbour cruises", 2-3-day shortbreaks and Cruises to Nowhere are great for first-timers - cheaper, shorter, with party crowds.
  • Avoid peak-season and Holiday voyages. They are popular with families (kids are out of school) but more expensive and crowded.
  • Use credit cards and cash for onboard purchases, avoid traveler's checks. Most ships have ATMs. Cash is used mainly in ports and onboard casinos - so bring cash to avoid ATM fees. Take some casino chips by using the ship card (it pulls from the credit card). Hold them for 1 hour, then exchange for cash.
  • Work with travel agents: travel agencies offer discounts, onboard credits, special promotions and other incentives. In case something goes wrong, travel agents help during the cruise.
  • Search online. If you do a research, you'll know much about average fares on preferred sailings, so when a sale comes out, you will know quickly it's really a great deal and be fast to snag. "Value", not the "lowest price" is what matters here.
  • Never pay brochure prices. Unless it's a special and well-sold voyage where demand is much higher than supply, don't be tempted by claims of 65% of brochure rate - it is not a discount.
  • Persuade a friends' group to sail together. Many lines reward such group planners for organizing trips of 16 people (in 8 cabins) at least. 
  • Book ships with close to home departures. Homeport cruising is very popular - and surely pays off - as there's no need to load the vacation budget with airline tickets. The cheapest (regularly scheduled) US homeport cruises are from Florida ports, New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Galveston, New Orleans. This affects itineraries in Bahamas, Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada New England, Alaska and Mexican Riviera. Roundtrips from San Juan (Puerto Rico) are also offered on year-round basis.
  • Having cash helps develop budget and avoids going over or putting purchases on credit cards.
  • Spa treatments cost extra, and ship's spa is way more expensive then land-based facilities. But if you must - look for pro offers and book massages during port stays. Cruise ship spas usually offer discounts for first-day and port-day treatments. Check the ship's newsletters for daily promo deals. Saunas, stream rooms and showers not located in the Thermal Suite areas are free.
  • Generally, alternative (premium) dining is not ticket price inclusive, Usually available for dinner only, its among not so many options to enjoy a romantic evening on the boat. Some premium eateries are complimentary, but with smaller capaacity, so reservations are required.
  • In the main dining rooms you aren't limited to one appetizer, entree or dessert of each. Order three entrees or desserts if you want to. You can order portions of entrees that are appetizer-sized as starters, and also order some appetizers for main meal. 
  • Specialty coffee at designated onboard coffee shops comes with extra fee, but sandwiches, pastries, and other food are often free. 
  • Check up if it's not cheaper buying a bottle of wine than some glasses, but what happens if you don't finish it? Cruise ship waiters mark bottles with guests' room numbers and save them for another night, may it be dinner in another venue.
  • Gambling always results in losing money - but if you really must, bring envelopes for daily cash amounts.
  • Shipboard Internet access is not that slow and expensive as it used to be. You can pre-purchase per day or full-voyage packages. Prices start from USD 5-10 per device per day (depending on company). All large passenger ships (including cruiseferries) have Internet Cafe venues fitted with PC stations. Use free Wi-Fi in call ports. Many companies provide free minutes when you buy Internet package on embarkation day.
  • Extend your vacation with discounted pre- and / or post-cruise hotel packages. You can also book hotel independently. Optionally, you can book company's airport-to-ship transfers and plan your own activities to save money.
  • Seasickness medicine is free of charge - available at the ship's infirmary / hospital and at Reception Desk (Lobby).
  • Consider "Value Added" deals - fare is not changing, but additions "sweeten the deal" - gratuities, free cabin upgrades (same price for higher category), shipboard credit (added to your stateroom account), bonus amenities (cocktail parties, Internet, minibar drinks, laundry), free gifts (souvenirs, binoculars), even free roundtrip air (included airport-ship transfers) and tours.
  • "Cabin upgrade" is an option when you book low-priced "guarantee" category and hope for a category upgrade. Booking “guarantee” stateroom means you get at least this category, but you're not assigned to a specific cabin, The company just guarantees you a stateroom (at this category rate) and waits to see how the bookings go. As most people book the cheapest cabins, they often sell out. In such cases, the company may offer cabin upgrades to passengers with first booked lower fare, thus making cheaper cabins available for new customers. You can also request cabin upgrade upon check-in (at the cruise terminal). Depending on bookings, companies sometimes upgrade cabins for a fee, but the upgrades are usually less expensive than if that category was originally booked.

SHORE EXCURSIONS and TOURS

  • Cruise lines provide huge selections of call port excursions / land tours via partnerships with local operators.
  • Direct booking with tour companies is often cheaper (25-50%) than ship's excursions. However, independent excursions are risky - being not checked by the cruise line for safety and quality. If the excursion is late, the tour operator must contact port agent who then contacts the ship. Captains always wait for delayed excursions booked through the cruise line, but not for independently-booked on tours passengers.
  • Book shore excursion (land tours) before boarding the ship. Most cruise lines offer online booking. It guarantees both availability and safety (in the event of tour delays, etc) and saves onboard time.
  • At tender ports the ship anchors in open sea and passengers are ferried ashore on tenderboats (tenders). Early morning excursions have priority tender boarding, next are Suite passengers. Pay attention to instructions, be patient.
  • Taxi sightseeing toors are often a good option (depending on port).
  • Loiter around taxi ranks in call ports and wait to share cab with someone else. This way you'ss save money and could meet someone new.
  • To avoid incidents and accidents on shore excursion - consume local foods in moderation (especially unfamiliar foods with unknown ingredients), drink only bottled water, follow tour guide's instructions (particularly concerning specialized equipment), book tours that suit your abilities, avoid venturing into seaports / cities alone (particularly at night).
  • The cruise ship is not just transportation to seaports - it's where you spend most of the time during the cruise vacation. Cruising is great to sample several ports, but if you want to spend more time in specific port city, fly there, stay for a few days in hotel. On cruises, ship's schedule allows visiting ports for only several hours (depending on itinerary and boat) with no guarantee the weather will be fine.

CABINS

Note: For extensive information on cruise staterooms by ship see at CruiseMapper's Cabins section.

  • On Alaskan cruise book outside-starboard cabin (northbound routes) and outside-portside cabin (southbound routes). This way you'll be facing scenery instead of open water.
  • If you don't mind cabin location, book "guaranteed" stateroom. You pay in full at booking, but the advantage is possible upgrade to better category (up to 4 grades higher) and you won't get anything lower than booked.
  • Generally, cabin upgrades while on the boat are not possible as ships are usually booked to capacity. Changing cabins is possible only in "no-show" cases when someone paid but didn't show up. Know tha Reception Desk will know about "no-shows" after the ship sets sail.
  • Cabins below or above some venues (disco, casino, restaurant, kids-teens clubs, etc) are loud, Lower-deck cabins (near the engine room) experience noises and vibrations. Good location is the very front (bow) - you'll walk more, get some rumble from the thrusters (propulsion units) and more swaying, but no vibrations and less foot traffic by the door.
  • Expect the stateroom to be much smaller than typical hotel room.
  • Inside cabins don't have natural light at all, but if you turn the TV to bridge cam station and turn off sound, you'll have instant nightlight and be able to see when the sun is up.
  • Booking all-inclusive Suite deals may be better than standard balcony cabins. Depending on company, Suite deals are inclusive of perks like specialty dining, complimentary mini-bar (wine and premium alcohol included, replenished daily), spa treatments, priority reservations and services (onboard and ashore), concierge room service, laundry.
  • Once onboard, staterooms may not be ready and luggage usually arrives several hours later. Don’t call the Reception. Cabin stewards carry thousands of luggage - it takes time. Don't forget to take a carry-on with basic necessities (documents, medications, phone, camera, toiletries).
  • Don't expect everything to be perfect. The cabin toilet might not work. The remote control batteries might be dead. Call the Recepetion if necessary, but remember - it's your vacation, so keep it cool. Control your emotions - be friendly but firm.
  • Cabin designers nowadays create storage space as much as possible. Explore your room or ask the cabin steward - you'll be surprised when you find the extra storage under couch or bed, behind the mirror or inside the ottoman.
  • Some lines provide top sheets, egg crate toppers, and alternative pillows by special request. Don't hesitate to ask, no matter before or during the cruise.
  • With all the electronics we use these days, cruise ship outlets are always insufficient. Remember to bring power strip or charging station, or ask the cabin steward. There is often an extra outlet which is hidden under the bed or behind the TV.
  • Be quiet in the stateroom - walls are generally thin.

SHIPS

  • Most advanced (as both technology, venues and fun options) are the new cruise ships. Yet, older liners are cheaper.
  • In Europe (UK, Baltic, Mediterranean) consider the shortbreak vacation option "ferry cruise". European ferries are large boats with many modern amenities and facilities and even in design similar to cruise vessels - with bar launges, restaurants, cinema, casino, spa-fitness, game room, kids room, sundeck with swimming pool (open in the summer).
  • On embarkation day, after boarding go to your stateroom or to Lido Deck (pool deck) for buffet lunch.
  • In cases of accidents or incidents (like heavy listing or grounding) don’t warry if there are no injuries. To avoid injuries on cruises - don't exaggerate your expertise, follow all posted safety instructions (crew advice), use safety equipment properly and responsibly, use handrails (on staircases), wear comfortable shoes, be attentive.
  • For faster boarding / embarkation - check-in online (before arrival at the cruise terminal), pre-print boarding passes and luggage tags, avoid peak boarding time (arrive at the terminal earlier or late), Priority boarding is a perk enjoyed by many suite passengers and upper-tier cruise line loyalty members, but a number of cruise lines allow regular passengers to pay for the same privileges. priority boarding (dedicated lane for screenings and check-in is available for passengers with pre-purchased priority boarding, and is included as perk for Suite passengers), drop off the luggage with the greeting porters (they take and delivered it to your stateroom, pack a small carry-on bag also including your official documents / passports, boarding passes, visas), 
  • To avoid Norovirus on cruises - always wash your hands before dining, avoid touching surfaces in public areas.
  • Muster drill (aka lifeboat drill) is on embarkation day. It could save your life, so pay attention during it.
  • Crew and staff aren't supposed to intermingle with passengers - they can get fired if caught. If you have romantic encounter with a crew, use discretion and realize you're probably not the first traveler he/she is with. 
  • Passengers are allowed to bring drones (quadcopter) on cruise ships but can use them only on land and outside port's area. Active drones onboard are forbidden at any time, as well as on private islands.
  • Cruise lines have different tipping policies, commonly implementing standard gratuity rates, Expect set per-day, per-person tipping charged to your onboard account. You can always add more if you like the service. It's customary to give gratuity to head waiters, dining room waiters, assistants, butlers and cabin stewards on voyage's last night. Use an envelope (supplied by the company) or your own.
  • Most ships provide newsletter in all passenger cabins (or it's available via cabin's TV infotaiment system). Check it for dress codes, scheduled activities, dining-spa-shopping promotions, etc.
  • Formal nights on cruise ships are gala dinner events when passengers can dress in finest attire and try the best gourmet dishes boat's chefs can create. Formal nights are optional and not held on embarkation or voyage's last evening due to luggage handling. On most ships are scheduled on sea days, on some - at the second night. Depending on itinerary length, formal nights are one or two (7-day cruises). Special events planned for cruise formal nights include Captain's speech, meeting ship's officers, cocktail parties, past passenger receptions, photography sessions. Dress codes for formal nights are - men (shirt-tie-suit jacket or tuxedo, accessories), women (cocktail dress, dress slacks, skirt suit or evening gown, jewelry). Formal dress code for kids-teens is as for adults. All cruise lines forbid casual shorts, t-shirts, swimwear, beachwear and jeans in indoor restuarants, lounges and bars.

The list of craziest things to do on cruise ships includes 

  • "Formula 1" simulator (MSC), Grand Prix simulators (Costa), Ferrari Go-Kart Track (NCL)
  • 4D Cinema (Costa, MSC, Carnival) - squirts of liquids, pumped-in smells, quivering seats, HD visuals, seats with belts
  • "Illuminations" planetarium (Cunard RMS Queen Mary 2) - huge dome with celestial simulations
  • "The Rising Tide" mobile bar (Royal Caribbean Allure-Oasis) - moving between decks 5-8, 30 min roundtrip - 10 min embarkation/debarkation, 20 in motion
  • Svedka Ice Bar (NCL) - made of solid ice (including sculptures and furnishings), illuminated by bulbs simulating Northern Lights. The bar provides gloves and hooded coats for the ice glasses and ice-cube seats.
  • Multi-deck waterslides - Perfect Storm (Royal Caribbean, 5-decks), Waterworks (Carnival, 3-decks), AquaDunk (Disney, 3-decks)
  • Top-deck SkyCourse (outdoor ropes course) and SkyRide (outdoor roller coaster bike ride) - Carnival
  • Intra-ship Zip Line (Royal Caribbean Oasis-class) - 9 decks up, diagonal course 82 ft / 25 m across the Atrium
  • FlowRider surf simulator (Royal Caribbean) - generates waves on a cushioned platform
  • "Bionic Bar" served by robot bartenders (Rpyal Caribbean Quantum-class) - 2 robotic hands mix and serve drinks ordered via tablet
  • SeaPlex (Royal Caribbean Quantum-class) - world's biggest indoor spots complex at sea (roller-skating rink, circus school, bumper cars, XBOX gaming, sports court)
  • "North Star" (Royal Caribbean Quantum-class) - top-deck mobile observation pod (15-min sessions in a glass-enclosed capsule, 14-seats) - the mechanical arm extends to over 300 ft / 91 m above sea level.
  • "RipCord by iFLY" skydiving simulator (Royal Caribbean Quantum-class - equipment (flight suit, protective headgear, goggles) are provided. It's a glass-enclosed, 23 ft / 7 m high vertical window tunnel simulating skydiving.

FOOD and DRINKS

Note: To this section is related our Fitness Cruises article with information and tips on how to stay healty and even lose weight on cruises.

 Food and Wine Cruises - CruiseMapper

  • Cruise lines' number 2 top source of income is the shipboard consumed alcohol - following only ticket sales. "Booze cruise" means more money spent for less memories. But if you really must - buy prepaid alcohol-included packages with fixed per person per day price.
  • To avoid food illnesses on cruises - don't gorge yourself (particularly with unfamiliar foods), inform the wait staff about your food allergies, ask about unfamiliar dishes (ingredients), don't consume full portions (sample the buffet food), order meat fully cooked.
  • To avoid gaining weight on cruises - forgo unnecessary treats, at buffets consider light foods or just sample the most tempting dishes / snacks, consider spa menu food and drinks, limit the alcohol, avoid or limit fat-salty-sugary foods (heavy salad dressings and sauces, burgers, chips, pizzas, pies, pastries, muffins, cakes, biscuits, ice-cream). After indulging with food spend an hour in the gym or walk around the ship.
  • To stay healthy start a healthy regimen before the voyage - eat healthier foods, drink more water, no sodas, sugary drinks, less alcohol.
  • There is no rule for "open beverage" onboard and you may bring drinks from bars or buffets to staterooms or elsewhere on ship - the same is valid for food.
  • Explore free drinks or buy drink package options.
  • Soda is not free on most ships, unlike iced tea in dining rooms. Buying soda cards offers discount pricing and unlimited soft drinks.
  • Most companies allow bringing onboard reasonable amounts of bottled nonalcoholic drinks and wine.
  • Beer drinkers can group and save by purchasing beer buckets. Beers in souvenir buckets are cheaper than ordering individual bottles / cans.
  • Refill the souvenir glasses at a discount. Another cruise secret is asking for the "drink of the day" in regular glass and save money. Watch the daily program for happy hours or drink specials with reduced prices. Order a fruity drink on the first day and get souvenir cup - use it throughout the cruise.
  • On embarkation day you can lunch at the Lido buffet (while waiting for the staterooms to be open). Most ships have alternative free-of charge dining venues (cafe, grill bar, pizzeria).
  • First-night dining at Carnival Steakhouse offers a complimentary bottle of wine.
  • Buffet food is almost the same as in MDRs (use the same galley / kitchen), and unlike MDRS the buffet's dress code is casual.
  • Booking alternative dining venues for the first night is at discounted price (on some lines).
  • Room service is often free of charge, but late-night service is usually at fee. Suite deals provide complimentary concierge and room service.
  • On Lido Deck are often available soft-serve machines (ice-cream for free).
  • At the Buffet Restaurant - don't switch direction, don't cut the line, don't walk around the others, don't eat in line, don't move the tongs between platters, don't make doggie bags, watch your kids, don't take more than you can eat.

TRAVEL MATES

  • For first-timers is best to travel with a person who has been on a cruise before (as passenger or crew), With a currently employed crew or staff member you may only have to pay port charges. Crew and staff can get free tours and know the port's best places to visit. And you'll be able to access some crew areas.
  • Cruise with friends - it's always more fun, and you can still meet new people onboard. Greatest thing is that you are not forced to be together all the time (like on land vacation).
  • Cruise with your age group - so choose the region wisely. Colder destination (like Alaska) means older crowd. Younger travelers usually can't afford longer itineraries due to vacation time limits. Short itineraries (like in Bahamas-Caribbean) are best for party cruises - cheaper (per day rates) and with younger crowd.
  • Respect other cultures. Remember that each country has its ways of eating, engaging, greeting, etc.
  • Allow elderly and disabled passengers to access elevators - taking the stairs is helthier.
  • Adults-only venues are not for kids - remember that booking "family cruise" is a kids-inclusive package.
  • Smaller and luxury ships' passengers are in the 45-60+ age group and offer better service and all-inclusiveness. Most of the largest lines (like Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival) have their passengers perfectly mixed.
  • The top 5 cruise vacation annoyances are - annoying chatter, invading personal space, drunken behavior (shouting, arguments, fighting), long queues (activities / buffet due to indecisiveness) and irritating kids.

General tips, tricks and secrets

  • The most important of cruise secrets, because it concerns your health: Take your medications in the carry-on bag - sometimes bags go to the wrong room and it takes a lot of time to find yours.
  • Take in the carry-on bag swimsuits and change of clothes - this way you can hit the pool before the others have even boarded.
  • On trans-oceanic itineraries (like Transatlantic crossing) depart from Europe because you'll gain 5 hours daylight (due to time zones crossing).
  • Set your watch to the “ship time” - it may or may not change after crossing time zones.
  • If you're flying to the homeport, leave enough time to compensate flight delays.
  • Don't be late for boarding - ships wait no more than 15 min after scheduled departure times. Each company has port agent who could help if you miss the boat. One option is to fly to the next call port and embark there, though you'll have to pay all extra expenses.
  • With assigned dining (dinner time), don’t be late and observe MDRs (main dining room's) dress code and etiquette. MDRs are not like regular restaurants and serving houdreds meals in such a short time needs good coordination. 
  • The onboard elevators are usually overcrowded. Better avoid taking the elevator when possible - climbing the stairs is the best you can do for health before dinner.
  • To avoid seasickness - stay on land. Still, many of the cruise liners are huge, so their movement is minimal. If you're feeling seasick - take a nap. take medication (Scopolamine and Dramamine are most common), ginger capsules. Move to open deck midship, look at the horizon. Use acupuncture wrist band. Stimulate underside of the forearm, 3 fingers down from wrist. Get a shot at the ship's infirmary (expect to sleep for few hours).
  • Lifeboat drill is mandatory requirement of Coast Guard for all cruise ships. Shortly before ship sails, passengers must gather for a review of all emergency procedures. Carry or wear from cabin your life jacket to the muster station. 
  • Few cruise lines impose strict codes for dressing up, but some basic guidelines are well provided. Make sure to be dried off when you enter the indoor areas from pool, put on a shirt and shoes. Swimsuit dining is only permitted at poolside bars and fast-food stands.
  • Don't worry if some port talk is appointed at the same time as the massage you've dreamed for a long time. Shows and presentations are re-broadcast on ship's channel and you'll be able to catch the recording after missing the live show.
  • Casino fans can get a hole in the room card and free casino lanyard for easy play and not forgetting your card in slot machines.
  • Waiters and cabin stewards work up to 15 hours a day. Most of them get 1 day off in 8 months. Tip them extra on the first cruise day to be looked after like royalty. Let them know you'll be tipping them at the end of the voyage too. If you have any special requests, you'll become staff's top priority.
  • Remember that the Captain has authority to kick anyone off the ship if he/she thinks the person is danger to other passengers or the crew.
  • Scheduled port visits could be changed by the Captain - with partial refund.
  • The ship docks at a variety of ports, so make sure to return in plenty of time. You are responsible for keeping an eye on clock and getting back at the designated time.
  • This survey is integrated with the following CruiseMapper articles - How to Cruise For Free and What is FREE on Cruises,.

Remember that CruiseMapper's "tips and tricks" article is a "wiki" work - in progress, constantly updated with new additions to our themed lists above. Expect to find here more useful information and more cruise secrets revealed the next time you visit this page. Enjoy your vacations, and good luck!