Cruising is like no other vacation. Being catered to night and day, an unlimited amount of food and drinks, impeccable service, a multitude of activities and entertainment options plus visiting scenic and tropical destinations is definitely addicting.
Here are ten of my best tips to get the most out of your first or next cruise.
1. Select the Right Cruise Line
Although there are many cruise ships to choose from, each cruise line offers a distinct cruise experience. When choosing a cruise, it is important to choose one that will fit your lifestyle and what you are expecting from your vacation.
Taking a look at the major North American cruise lines:
Carnival Cruise Lines -Attracts a younger clientele, partiers and budget conscious travellers
Royal Caribbean – Markets toward families and active couples
Princess Cruises – Attracts both families and couples but their onboard activities are more diverse than action-focused events on Royal Caribbean
Norwegian Cruise Lines – Caters to younger passengers, budget conscious travellers and those that balk at the traditional formality of cruising
Celebrity Cruises – Attracts couples who are looking for upscale ambiance without the luxury cruise price
Disney Cruise Lines – The cruise line for families or just for the young at heart
Holland America Line – Known for their older more traditional clientele
2. Book during Wave Season and look for Perks
Wave Season, the three month period between January to March, is considered the Black Friday of cruises. During Wave Season, the cruise lines offer the best incentives of the year in order to entice travellers weary from the holiday season to book their next cruise vacation. Look for great fares and great sales incentives including extra perks.
Package deals are usually available offering combinations of onboard credits, unlimited beverage packages, specialty dining experiences, pre-paid gratuities, free wifi or discounted deposits. When choosing perks, consider the overall value based on your particular needs. For instance, if you like to book speciality dining onboard, a $300 onboard credit will be enticing. A beverage package for two at a cost of $55 per day per person for a seven day cruise is worth more than $700, which will be far more valuable than the $300 credit for travellers who want to purchase drinks onboard.
3. Use a Travel Agent
Travel agents usually offer extra perks like onboard credits or in-cabin baskets that you will not get by booking yourself. If you are travelling with a group, some travel agents will offer extra bonuses for booking multiple cabins and will also help to coordinate your group so that your cabins are close together and that you are all seated at the same dining room table.
If you are a Costco member, Costco Travel will sometimes offer Costco Cash Cards and extra onboard credits for their members. Check their website before booking your next cruise.
4. Book Well in Advance or Onboard
Other than tying up a deposit, booking a cruise well in advance is usually a safe bet. The cancellation policy most likely offers a full refund of your deposit if you cancel before the cancellation period, which varies by cruise line and itinerary but is approximately three months before your cruise. Booking in advance locks in your price and your itinerary but you can continue to look for a better deal. If the price changes in your favour or you find a better deal, you can either switch your reservation or cancel and book the new itinerary.
While onboard your cruise, many cruise lines offer passengers the opportunity to book a future cruise with special deals and perks or a reduced deposit. Check with the Future Cruise desk or your daily onboard itinerary for future cruise booking deals.
5. Look for Specials Before your Cruise
After you book and before your cruise date, many cruise lines will offer discounts if you book onboard options or excursions before you board the ship. Watch for specials like discounted wifi packages or specialty dining options and book these options to your onboard account. Register with your cruise line’s website and download the cruise line app to your smart phone. The cruise line will send you email notifications about your cruise and any specials they may be offering.
6. Extra Things You May not Think to Pack
Most travellers can manage the basics of packing for a cruise holiday, but seasoned cruisers have learned that the following extra items are must haves on any cruise.
Cruise lines discourage dishes on deck and although disposable coffee cups are available, you will find it much more convenient to have a travel coffee mug with you. Travel mugs like Yeti are also useful to keep your cool drinks cool. Drinks served deck and poolside come in plastic glasses which do not keep your drink cool for long.
Beach Chair Towel clips
Clip your towel to your deck chair with these cute little critters and you’ll be sure to keep your towel in place while lounging by the pool or at the beach in port. Towel clips also let the crew members know that you have stepped away from your chair but plan to return. Else you could find your towel returned to the laundry bin when you step out of the pool.
Unless your cruise offers electronic medallions in place of your sign and sail card, a lanyard is a useful accessory to keep track of your card without having to keep it in a pocket or purse. Rather than a nylon lanyard, choose a lanyard necklace and let you inner fashionista shine through.
Power Bar with USB Ports
Power outlets are limited in the cabins, so pack a power bar with USB ports to charge your electronic devices, especially if you have multiple devices along with the usual accessories like razors and curling irons. Don’t bother bringing a hair dryer; there is always one available in the cabin.
Waterproof Smartphone Cover
Even though you may not being using your cell phone for talk and text while on the cruise, most of us also use our cell phone for photos. A waterproof smart phone cover is a great investment to keep your phone safe from water or sand damage while you are poolside or at the beach. You can also take cool underwater pictures with your phone safely tucked in this little device! Make sure you buy one that is waterproof rather than water resistant.
Just before your departure date, the cruise line will send you luggage tags to direct your luggage to the correct cabin or at least provide a mechanism for you to print your luggage tags at home. Either way, the tags are not that durable and you can easily have them ripped off during luggage transfers. But if you slip your luggage tags into these durable tag holders, you know your luggage will arrive at its correct destination.
Beach/Cruiseport Tote Bag
If your itinerary involves excursions or beach days, pack a tote bag. Beach towels are not necessary as they are readily available on the ship but you will need a tote bag to carry towels as well as sunscreen, cover ups and your valuables. This tote bag also has a cooler section for cold drinks and snacks. Having a tote bag to carry items on to deck is also handy.
Plenty of hand sanitizer is available and very much encouraged throughout the ship, especially when entering and exiting the dining areas. But having your own to keep with you during the day whether on deck or in port is a great idea.
7. Choose Your Flights Wisely
Unless you live close to the port, plan to travel the day before your cruise leaves port. Flight delays and cancellations or other transportation delays will ruin your cruise if you miss the ship.
Book your return flight for around noon hour. The ship will usually arrive in port around 7:00 a.m. but this does not mean you can make an early flight. Once the ship docks, it will take time to disembark, get through customs and collect your luggage. To avoid missing your flight, book a departure time after 11 a.m.
8. Board the Ship Early
Expect queuing lines and large crowds on embarkation day, but if you come prepared with the required documentation the lines tend to go quickly.
Skip the crowded buffet at lunch on the first day and head to the back of the ship where you will find less crowded grills and casual bars that offer lunch items. Or go to the main dining room and enjoy a relaxing lunch while your ship mates board.
Explore the ship and check out the daily itinerary or the cruise line app for day one specials. Many cruise lines offer embarkation day specials on spa services, wifi and speciality dining options.
Don’t bother going to your cabin right away because the cabin areas may still be going through the cleaning process from the previous cruise. Your luggage may not arrive for several hours after you board.
9. Pack a Carry-on Bag with Day One Essentials
Because it will be several hours before you can enter your cabin and retrieve your luggage, pack a carry-on with things you will need for your first afternoon on board the ship. Take a swimsuit, sunscreen, hat, camera and other essentials with you so you can get a head start on your vacation poolside.
10. Take Advantage of the Free Onboard Activities
Cruise lines are known for there numerous onboard activities catering to every age and personality of passenger. While the beauty of a cruise vacation is that you can do as much or as little as like, you might as well take advantage of the many amazing things at your disposal.
Your daily itinerary and cruise line app give you a complete schedule of activities for the day. From bingo, dance lessons, karaoke and trivia competitions, mini golf, basketball, card games or zip lines there will be no lack of opportunities to fill your days with exciting adventures. During afternoon and evening events, the crew will always be looking for volunteers. Put up your hand and make your vacation your own unique experience.
In addition to onboard activities, also take advantage of free room service, free spa demonstrations and fitness classes as well as the free daycare and kids programs if you are travelling with your family.
Cruises offer an array of experiences that can lead to the most memorable vacations. If you have any unique tips to share, leave a note below.
Download my ebook, How to Get the Most Out of your Next Cruise and read all my top recommendations for planning and enhancing your next cruise experience.