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.
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, ALCOHOL, TRAVEL MATES and FREE (How to Cruise For FREE, What is FREE on Cruises). Currently, here are listed 185 cruise-travel tips and tricks, and this number changes each time we add new ones in the list that follow.
Gov taxes and port fees are generally not included in cruise fares (brochures and online rates) and their usual amount is up to 5% of voyage's price. Fuel surcharges are added when fuel prices go up - major lines charge additional USD 5-10 pp per day, to cover fuel costs.
Ship cruising is an excellent value travel option that costs 20-30% less than comparable land vacations. All cruise fares are inclusive of stateroom, onboard food (main and casual restaurants, buffets, ice cream, pizza), drinks (differ by company), transportation (ship transfers), live entertainment (shows, trivia contests, competitions, lectures, revue shows, stand-up comedians, musicians), movies, water parks with slides, swimming pools-whirlpools, fitness, library, deck parties, kids activities, sun deck (chairs, loungers, towels).
- 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 - cruise industry loves sales and customers love promos (1-day discounts, 2-for-1, kids-sail-free). Wave Season (January through March) is when most bookings are made. To benefit from "early year booking", cruise companies / agencies offer bonuses (reduced fares, free perks-upgrades) to urge bookings. Sale periods occur in regular intervals. Some deals offer "choose-your-own-bonus" upon booking. Wave Season deals are with longer booking window and more perks than sales. Read the fine print - sale's advertised perks/discounts may not apply to specific cabin categories-itineraries. Check promo's expiration date. Compare company's promo deals with regular agency deals. Compare similar itineraries and different cabin grades.
- 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 or riverboat.
- If you're flying to homeport, leave enough time to compensate flight delays.
- On trans-oceanic crossing itineraries depart from Europe - you'll gain 5 hours daylight (due to time zones crossing).
- There are many and differently themed cruises independently organized on privately chartered ships.
- The ship docks at several ports - make sure to return on time as getting back at designated times is your responsibility. Don't be late for boarding - ships wait no more than 15 min after scheduled departure times. Each company has port agent to 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.
- Cruise line fares are based on double occupancy. If you want to travel alone, you'll have to pay single supplement or the full price for the stateroom. Consider booking singles cruises (search for ships with many studios). Solo cruisers are around 1/4 of all. Cabin sharing (same-sex shared stateroom) is cheaper. Many ships (smaller and largest) have studios - single cabins bookable without single supplement fee required. With some companies, single supplement rates on double staterooms are very affordable.
- 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.
- Cruise lines reduce theirs and their booking partners' prices to ensure the ships will sail full. In order to avoid unsold cabins, bargains are a common 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).
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 prohibit sharp objects in carry-on bags, so pack them in checked luggage. Mainstream lines (including Carnival) forbid high-heels on board their ships.
- In carry-on bag take medications (sometimes bags go to the wrong room) and swimsuits and clothes (by among the first at the pool).
To save money on cruises, listing by "lowest price" is not recommended - cheapest deals are limited to departure date, itinerary, ship, cabin category.
- Cheap travel deals are offered: on bigger ships, with low season and early bookings, group-booking (15+ passengers), loyalty program (discounts, perks), membership discounts (AARP, AAA, police, military, fire dpt, unions, etc), promo deals (last minute, 2-for-1, 3rd travels free, kids sail free, free airfare, perks, discounted airfares / fly-cruise packages, age-related and residence-based discounts), ship relocation (repositioncruises.com).
- Cruise lines loyalty programs offfer rewards to encourage repeat customers. On most companies, after the first cruise, you are automatically enrolled in its loyalty program. Follow a bunch of emails advertising future voyages and special offers. Repeat cruisers are offered between 5-10% discount (sometimes higher) on future cruises, free cruises, free cabin upgrades, discounted specialty dining-packages-excursions-onboard shopping, reduced fares for 3rd/4th passengers, onboard credit with early bookings, reduced deposit, access to members-only lounges (concierge breakfast, exclusive parties, reception, happy hour with free drinks - Champagne-wine-gourmet snacks), access to specials-promo offers-news, complimentary services (laundry-dry cleaning, shoe polishing, in-cabin dining / breakfast-canapes-afternoon tea), gifts (casino vouchers, free Internet, logo souvenirs-wear--lanyards-lapel pins), priority services (check-in, early boarding, faster disembarkation-tendering), subscription to company's magazine. Membership perks vary by company. For example, cruise with Carnival 25 times for 25% off the fare, 50 times - 50% off, 75 times - 75% off, 100 times - for complimentary 7-day cruise.
- "Free cruise" offers are attainable mainly through winning onboard games-contests and loyalty programs. Examples for luxury brands are Seabourn (after 140 seadays), Silversea (350 seadays), Crystal (30 voyages). Kids-cruise-for-free are promo offers (regular with MSC). Many companies reward group planners (organizing group booking - minimum 8 cabins / 16 paying passengers) with complimentary cruise. Booking larger groups results in bonus cabins.
- "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 - best time for bookings with incentives.
- 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 are the seasonally-operated repositioning cruises (when ships change deployments / regions-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 holidays, school breaks, peak-season (overbooking, expensive, crowded).
- Use credit cards and cash, avoid traveler's checks. Most ships have ATMs. Cash is used mainly in ports and ship casinos - 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 agencies - they offer discounts, onboard credits, special promotions, incentives, and help in cases of emergencies and incidents. Buy travel insurance for distant vacation dates.
- 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. Cheapest (regularly scheduled) US homeport cruises are from Florida ports, NYC, 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, ship's spa is more expensive compared to land-based facilities. But if you must - look for promo offers and book massages during port stays. Cruise ship spas usually offer discounts for first-day and port-day treatments. Check ship's newsletters for daily promo deals. Saunas, stream rooms and showers not part of Thermal Suite areas are free. Facials, manicures-pedicures and massages are always available. Beware of sales pitches - shipboard spa staff work on commission and often give the hard sell to persuade buying pricey products. Generally, fitness classes are complimentary, some may cost minimal charges. Classes like yoga, spinning, Pilates cost around USD 10-15 pp.
- 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. Most cruise vessels have casino (bar lounge) with slot machines, video poker, table games, tournaments and bingo games. Minimum bets, payouts and odds are comparable to major Las Vegas resorts. Black Jack tables generally offer minimum bet $5 during the day, rising to $10 at night. The price you'll pay per bingo card is up to $40. Don't be greedy for the $3000 jackpot and spend your money elsewhere. Onboard art auctions with free alcohol are held regulalry.
- Shipboard Internet access is not that slow and expensive as it used to be. On large liners and luxury boats Internet is fast and offered in packages (pre-paid plans) - per min, per hour, per day, per voyage. You can find cheaper Internet and free Wi-Fi in ports. Onboard Intenet prices start from USD 5-10 per device per day. All large ships (including cruiseferries) have Internet Cafe with PC stations. Many companies add 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.
- To avoid seasickness - stay on land. Still, many liners are huge, all are with modern stabilizers, so vessel listing 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). Seasickness medicine is free of charge - available at ship's infirmary and Reception (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.
When is the cheapest time to cruise?
- ALASKA - May or September (up to 45% cheaper cruises, up to 50% hotel discounts, off-season December-March)
- BAHAMAS (December-March)
- CARIBBEAN - April-May and October-January; Florida departures; hurricanes/low season June-November; most island resorts close down in late September-October for renovations; search itineraries with USA's Puerto Rico (port San Juan); cheapest rates are between Labor Day (September's 1st Monday) and Thanksgiving (November's 4th Thursday in USA, October's 2nd Monday in Canada); travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- BERMUDA (April-May, September-October)
- HAWAII (September-December, February-May, Australia-Hawaii and Alaska-Hawaii ship repositioning, low seasons)
- MEXICAN Riviera (January, May, October, November)
- CANADA-NEW ENGLAND (May-August)
- AUSTRALIA-NEW ZELAND (May-September)
- SOUTH PACIFIC Islands (November-April)
- Europe-BALTIC (May-September, Hurtigruten offers Northern Lights cruises)
- Europe-MEDITERRANEAN (May and September, October-April, cheapest are Canary Islands cruises)
- Europe-RIVERS (March, late November, December), off-season is January-March, Christmas Market shopping cruisetours in December
- SOUTH AMERICA (April, October), avoid Galapagos in August-September.
Storms and cruise ships
Hurricanes are tropical storms with high winds-waves, generating tornados, causing severe damages.
- Atlantic hurricane season (mid-August-late-September) affects Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, US East Coast.
- Eastern Pacific hurricane season (July-September) affects Mexican Riviera and Hawaii.
- Avoid Eastern Caribbean (mid-August-mid-September) and Western Caribbean (mid-September-November).
- Australia New Zealand cyclones are in March-April.
- Hurricanes usually don't meet cruise ships due to industry's advanced weather tracking technologies. Liners don't encounter hurricanes directly. Large vessels are equipped with sophisticated weather tracking equipment to predict storm's intensity and path. Hurricanes move slow, so ships easily outrun or go around them. In rough seas, boat's stabilizers prevent from tilting and severe listing.
- Purchase travel insurance - it can provide good financial buffers for changing plans and re-arrangements in cases of storms during the vacation. Good travel insurance plan covers for cancellation, interruption or delays, Travel insurance covers only unexpected events. Cruise companies protection plans are not insurance plans (not backed by government agencies).
- Expect itinerary changes - port times changes, skipped / replaced ports, extra seadays, delayed homeport arrival. Main benefits are great booking discounts and compensations for changes and cancellations (future cruise discounts, full or partial refunds, OBC, refunds on port taxes, free drinks).
All cruise companies offer a variety of shore excursions (land tours) with different themes and ability levels. Most offer similar (even identical) tours and similar excursions available at extra cost or complimentary in different call ports during the voyage.
Sample excursions include: local attractions (museums, botanical gardens, zoos), wildlife preserves, historical ruins, resorts, plantations, wineries (food-wine sampling), guided city tours (bus or walking), adventure tours-sports (jeeps, ATVs, trekking, hiking, golfing, kayaking, biking, horseback riding, snorkeling-diving, zip-lining), glass-bottom boating, mini-submarine tours, wildlife encounters (swimming with dolphins, stingrays, whale watching), helicopter tours, party and shopping tours.
- Essential items to bring on any shore excursion include tour tickets, Cruise Ship ID Card and ID card (required when reentering the port / returning to the ship), Photo ID (government issued ID, driver's license or passport to pass security), credit card, cash. Recommended items include bottled water, emergency contacts, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray (jungle tours), photo equipment-batteries-memory cards, basic medications (headaches, nausea), light snacks, foreign language dictionary-phrasebook, mobile device (region/port maps, shopping locations), backpack.
- Activity levels specify how strenuous is the experience. Some tours may require certification (scuba), some have age-weight-height requirements. Shore excursion prices range greatly - depending on company, destination, tour, length. Bus tours are guided and cost round USD 30-40 pp. Wildlife encounters cost over USD 100. The most expensive are usually the longest. Helicopter / floatplane tours or Mayan ruin tours could cost over USD 200 pp. Prices are additional to cruise fares and typically added to onboard accounts. Some companies offer prepayment tours upon booking (prior departure). Shore excursion's price includes transportation (bus, boat, plane, etc), guides, specialized equipment, often non-alcoholic drinks and refreshments. Extra are gratuities.
- Cruise lines provide huge selections of call port excursions / land tours via partnerships with local operators. Shore excursions range in duration from 1 hour (even less) up to several hours. Some are "at your leisure", meaning begining and ending at passenger's convenience.
- Purchasing tours can be done online (prior departure), shipboard (after boarding at Reception / Tour Desk) and at ports (independently). Tickets will be delivered to your stateroom. 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 tour 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.
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.
- Cruise onboard credit (OBC) is "virtual cash money" to be used on the ship or on private islands during the voyage. The amount is set up prior departure and loaded on a plastic card (or wearable device on newest ships) - the same used for stateroom access. Onboard credit is added to individual ship account and used for all kinds of payments-purchaces on the boat. Upon boarding (embarkation), you give the company your credit card number and they open an account for you. After confirmation, you receive the plastic card (wearable device) in your cabin. You can track the account via cabin TV's infotainment system. At the end of the voyage, if you have remaining OBC, it's applied to your credit card. If there's still credit left, you lose it.
- OBC (per cabin) is often offered as incentive with bookings, cruise packages, special and promo deals by the cruise company or travel agency. OBC varies by company-agency, itinerary-destinations, stateroom (class-grade). OBC as bonus is often given to first-timers. OBC is also used for compensations for accidents-incidents (itinerary changes, delays-cancellations, illness outbreak, etc) and is a frequent reward for loyalty program members and company's shareholders.
- Gambling on cruise ships is both entertainment and highly profitable business for cruise lines. The experience is designed for both impulse inexperienced gamblers and high rollers betting large sums in VIP casino games and tournaments. The laws for gambling on cruise ships are determined by ship's flagstate. Docked in port vessels follow country's rules. Cruise ships are allowed to open their casinos only in international waters. Among the exceptions are Bermuda, casino ships (operating 1-night or weekend gambling cruises to nowhere) and riverboat casinos (permanently moored on a lake or river). Unlike land-based casinos, cruiseship casino staff are more patient and help with complimentary lessons. Onboard casinos "rate" players, offering free drinks, open tables with higher limits and minimums, gabling-themed cruises. Among industry's most popular Player Programs is Carnival's partnership with Ocean Players Club (OPC). Carnival ship casinos have slot machines with players club cards.
- 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.
- In Europe (UK, Baltic, Mediterranean) consider the shortbreak vacation option "ferry cruise". European ferries are large liners 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.
- Set your watch to “ship time” - it may (or not) change after crossing time zones.
- Ship elevators are usually overcrowded. Better avoid the lifts when possible - climbing the stairs is also healthy.
- 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-responsibly, use handrails (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 mandatory Coast Guard requirement for all passenger ships. Shortly before departure, passengers must gather for review of all emergency procedures. Carry or wear from cabin your life jacket to the muster station. Muster drill is on embarkation day - pay attention, It could save your life.
- 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.
- Professional shipboard photographers are always available. They always make photos and videos, which you don't have to buy ("No, thanks" works fine). Photos (depending on size) cost around $5-15 and are available for purchasing at ship's Photo Gallery & Shop.
- Ship's duty-free shops and boutiques usually sell logo items (magnets, hats, clothes, toys), souvenirs, convenience goods, various beverages, gourmet sweets, fashion clothing-accessories, designer jewelry-watches-perfumes-sunglasses-leather goods, brand cosmetic-skincare products. Inexpensive souvenirs (including handicrafts) can be purchased from street vendors and local markets. Bargain shopping offers are available on the ship toward voyage's end.
- Onboard tipping is mandatory. Most cruise fares don't include gratuities (around USD 10 pp per day). Tips are automatically added to onboard accounts, but also can be prepaid. Bar tabs are additionally charged 15-18% gratuity (automatically). You can adjust auto-gratuities at ship's Reception (purser desk) or tip below the recommended if you've received subpar service. Keep in mind that ship's crew-staff work hard and they depend on tips. Unless the service is extremely poor, tip at least the recommended amount. 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. 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 first day to be served like royalty. Let them know you'll be tipping them at the end of the voyage too. Your special requests will become staff's top priority.
- 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.
- Onboard formal nights are gala dinner events when passengers can dress in finest attire and try chef's best dishes. Formal nights are optional and not held on embarkation or voyage's last evening due to luggage handling. On most ships are scheduled on seadays, on some - at second night. Depending on itinerary length, formal nights are one or two (7-day cruises). Special events planned for formal nights include Captain's speech, meeting ship's officers, cocktail parties, past passenger receptions, photo 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 brands forbid casual shorts, t-shirts, swimwear, beachwear and jeans in indoor restuarants, lounges, bars. Swimsuit dining is only permitted at poolside bars and fast-food stands.
- Shows and presentations are re-broadcast on ship's channel - you can watch the recording after missing the live performance.
- Casino players can get a hole in their room cards and free casino lanyards - for easy play and not forgetting cards in slot machines.
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.
Note: To this section is related our Fitness Cruises (information and tips how to stay healty and even lose weight while cruising).
- Cruise ship dining is either traditional (fixed/assigned seating) or flexible (your-time/open seating). Dining Room fixed times are early and late. Assigned seating gives the opportunity to know your wait staff and tablemates, and get more personalized service. With flexible onboard dining passengers choose what time they eat (and on some ships - the restaurant). Most cruise lines offer open seating in MDRs (main dining rooms). Flexible dining allows free choice of dinner time throughout the voyage, better planning of activities, more time for excursions, choice of small or large tables, meeting different people each night. Cons include - waiting for a table (especially during prime times), making advance reservations avoid queues, different waiters (unconvenient if you have for dietary restrictions). Some companies (Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean) offer both assigned and open seating (in different MDRs) on most of their ships. Both options are available and must be selcted upon booking. Other shipboard dining options are self-serve buffet restaurant (complimentary), bistro-type cafes and various food bars (many complimentary, including 24-hour pizzeria), exclusive restaurants (suite-only, complimentary), specialty restaurants (a-la-carte priced or at surcharge / ranging from USD 8-40 pp). Specialty restaurants include French, Italian, Asian (Japanese), steakhouse, supper club, celebrity chef partnerships. Most are reservations-only). You can preview MDR menu items before assigned dining time. Most MDRs post day's menu outside their entrance. Ship's daily newsletter lists menus, themed buffets and special snacks scheduled for the day. There is no limit on what and how much food you can order in MDRs (menus change daily).
- Special dietary requirements (vegetarian, allergies, salt-gluten-free, etc) are always catered for. Let the travel agent know about your diets or inform the company upon booking. All shipboard menus include vegetarian, healthy and light fare.
- 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. Beverage packages are great deals if you intend to drink much on the ship. Unlimited alcohol package for 7-day cruise costs around USD 60-70 pp per day. About 1/4 of all passengers purchase drink packages.
- 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 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 souvenir glasses at a discount. Order "drink of the day" in regular glass to save money. Read ship's daily newsletter for happy hours and drink specials with reduced prices. Order fruity drinks on first day to get souvenir cup - use it throughout the voyage.
- On embarkation day lunch at the Lido buffet (while waiting for the staterooms). Most ships have alternative complimentary dining venues (cafe, grill bar, pizzeria).
- First-night dining at Carnival Steakhouse offers complimentary bottle of wine.
- Carnival's pizzas are ranked best at sea - cooked-to-order, fresh-baked in wood-fired oven, with thin crust.
- Buffet food is almost the same as in MDRs (share the same galley/kitchen). Unlike MDRs, buffet's dress code is casual.
- Booking alternative dining venues for the first night is at discounted price.
- Room service is 24-hour and often free of charge (late-night service is usually at fee). Suite deals provide complimentary concierge room service. Room service menu is provided in all cabins. Stewards deliver the food to the door and remove dirty dishes during cabin cleaning (or you can set them in the hallway for collection). Standard menu items include fruits, pastries, bagels, eggs-omelets, toast, hash browns, sandwiches, salads, pizza, cookies, drinks. Cruise ship room service can be ordered via menu cards, phone or intraline (newest ships). Luxury (and some mainstream) brands allow passengers to order in-cabin dining from restaurant menus. Tipping for room service is not required, but considered polite.
- 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.
- Attend alcohol tastings (liquor stores, club lounges), parties (Captain's Cocktail, Farewell), art auctions (sparkling wine), casino playing (depends on level/accrued club points).
- Loyalty programs offer members-only events (wine tastings, open-bar cocktail events, free minibar drinks on embarkation day) and wine package discounts. Holland America guarantees "Mariner Society Brunch" (complimentary food and sparkling wine) just after the first voyage. After 75 cruise days it gives 25% discount on wine packages and cabin minibar purchases, after 200 cruise days - 50% discounts and complimentary wine tastings. Royal Caribbean offers nightly happy hours (at exclusive Diamond Lounge) with free cocktails for Diamond and above members. On ships without Diamond Lounge, these members receive free drink vouchers each night during happy hour.
- Higher-grade staterooms often include free minibar. Suite passengers receive access to exclusive Club Lounges (self-service complimenary bar with drinks and snacks).
- Some ship bars advertise BOGO (hour-long free alcohol / see daily newsletters for times and places).
- Suite-only clubs held happy hours. At certain evening times, happy hours in some ship bars offer discount-priced or 2-for-1 drinks. Drinks of the day are always cheaper.
- Luxury brands offer alcohol-included fares and complimentary cabin minibars (daily re-stocked with alcohol, sodas, bottled water).
- "Bon Voyage" gifts are pre-cruise purchasing options with in-cabin deliveries upon boarding. All Bon Voyage beverages (alcohol and packs) are great deals (cheaper than bar prices), but for in-cabin consumption only.
- All-you-can drink packages are convenient and cheapest (per drink), but sharing drinks is forbidden. Passengers pay fixed price for unlimited drinks on the ship (inclusions vary by package). Some companies (Carnival's Cheers, Royal Caribbean's Deluxe) offer only 1 unlimited package, other offer several options with different beverages/prices. Unlimited packages cost between USD 45-65 pp per day. Booking promotions and select voyages (including repositioning crossings) often offer as bonus complimentary beverage packages.
- Most company policies allow bringing alcohol on ships (mainly beer packs and 1-2 wine bottles) with additional corkage fee for outside-cabin consumption. Beverages must be packed in not checked carry-on luggage. Coolers with drinks aren't allowed.
- Liquor purchased from ship's duty-free shop is delivered to cabin the last night before disembarkation. Some companies offer discount-priced liquor and sodas via room service.
- Almost all river cruise ships in Europe allow bringing your own alcohol (liquors, beers. wines) on the boat. Locally sourced wines and beers (by the glass) are complimentary served with onboard lunches and dinners. Also free are "Coffee Corners" (beverage stations with unlimited water, coffees, teas, juices, snacks).
- Read here tricks on how to sneak alchohol on ships.
- 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.
How to Cruise For FREE?
Group cruises are great for family reunions, friends, birthday celebrations, anniversaries, weddings, associations, clubs and groups (sports-social-professional-retired military-church-franternity-Sorority).
All major brands offer travel incentives for group booking, including TC ("tour conductor"). TC is credit for the Group Leader ("Pied Piper") to cruise for free with a group of relatives-friends-colleagues brought to the company. Ask your relatives and friends first, then ask co-workers and acquaintances. All group travelers receive reduced group rate - you cruise for free.
- As tour conductor, you work with travel agency and make all travel-ship arrangements for the group. The agent will guide you through all types of cruises and itineraries, and inform you of companies' group policies. Your primary jobs will be recruitment and communication.
- Company's award is limited to cruise fares only. Additional are port charges, Government fees-taxes. As Group Leader you'll need to make yourself familiar with company's policies before booking.
- Group rates are always lower than individual rates. You can also sell the free cruise and divide the money among the group, thus saving everyone money.
- If you can't find enough people for group booking, look for travel agencies members of national accounts or travel consortiums (Ensemble, Virtuoso, etc). They are given incentives to block large clusters of staterooms in advance. These incentives are usually better pricing, added amenities, or both.
- Many companies award “group amenity points” based on group's total number:more passengers - more points - more perks (cabin upgrades, shipboard credits, private parties, in-cabin champagne, logo merchandise, etc).
- If you establish an ongoing relationship with a cruise line or travel agency, you can do group bookings consistently, cruising for free. It could become a full-time job. Your agent works directly with the brand to make air arrangements, bookings, cabin assignments, onboard events, dining times, etc. But your group will look to you if anything goes wrong.
The group size needed for 1 free berth (bed) varies by brand, but all largest define "group voyage" as minimum 16 passengers in 8 cabins (3rd and 4th passengers in a cabin are allowed, but they don't count toward the total). The tour conductor, the 16th person, cruises for free. Here is an example of the number of free berths/beds you could earn on 7-day cruisetour:
- 8 cabins (16 passengers) traveling = 1 Free Bed
- 16 cabins (32 passengers) traveling = 2 Free Beds (1 cabin)
- 24 cabins (48 passengers) traveling = 3 Free Beds
- 32 cabins (64 passengers) traveling = 4 Free Beds (2 cabins)
- 100 cabins (200 passengers) traveling = 12 Free Beds (6 cabins)
- Silversea and Seabourn provide 1 free berth for every 10 sold.
What you do with the free beds is up to you/the group. Among the possible choises after selling the free beds are:
- Group Leaders keep all free berths for themselves, and even may earn extra onboard spending money. This is agreed upon in advance and kept confidential.
- Gifts or Shore Tours - convert free berths in tours, or in-cabin gifts, or specialty dining, spa, etc.
- Deeper Price Discounts - take free beds value and divide it among the group for additional discount.
- Special Guest Invitation - invite celebrity guest to add value to your group experience.
- Onboard Group Escort - hire group escort to help coordinating onboard and ashore activities.
Another way to cruise for free is to work on the ship. Cruise companies need to update their enrichment programs and constantly search for skilled photographers, travel writers, entertainers, lecturers, instructors (computer, arts-crafts, dance), gentleman hosts, nannies, bodyguards, personal assistants, performers, bridge players, etc. Some companies offer Star Cruises free Birthday cruise deals on select ships and departure dates.
What is FREE on Cruises?
Modern mega-liners offer an increasing number of at-fee shipboard options. Add-ons and surcharges will always be, but also many things on the ships will be fare-inclusive.
- Wi-Fi Internet is free on Viking Ocean, RSSC Regent, Crystal, Oceania, also on riverboats.
- pizzas (at select venues)
- fast-ffod at poolside bars - sandwiches, burgers, steaks, tacos, hot dogs, ice-cream, milkshakes
- cabin toiletries, towels, bathrobes (all higher-grade staterooms or upon request)
- saunas and steam rooms (fleetwide on Carnival. Celebrity, Princess)
- shows (at Theater lounges)
- on open decks - outdoor theater movies (large LED screens), mini-golf course, sports court, putting green, ropes course, swimming pools and whirlpools, deckchairs-loungers-towels, adults-only decks, surf simulators and outdoor rock climbing (RCI)
- lectures, dancing lessons, workshops and most classes, DJ parties (disco nightclubs)
CruiseMapper's "tips and tricks" are wiki-type work - 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. Bon voyage, and happy vacation!