So, you’ve found your way onto a cruise. Whether your family is using it as their big get-together for the year or you found an incredibly cheap last-minute deal, you will have a fabulous vacation. I have had one or two cruising experiences, but this most recent one was my first as a “grown-up.” So I’ve gathered all of the best cruise tips and tricks I’ve read and experienced to make this as helpful as possible!
This was also my first as a self-proclaimed “slow traveller.” Cruises are not the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of slow travel, but you CAN make it a bit more immersive. Look for those tips down below!
Cruise tips and tricks: Packing Tips
First and foremost, you’ll want to sign up for frequent cruiser rewards programs. Even if you went on a cruise way back in the day (with the same line), you’d at least be in the first bracket. I got discounts on spa treatments, milkshakes, and more. The program is free, so it’s worth seeing what you can take advantage of!
You’ll want at least a carry-on and a suitcase for the trip, regardless of your packing. Lots of pools and activities are open before you get access to your luggage, so toss your bathing suit in your carry-on so you can swim at the bon voyage party! The carry-on can also take care of your electronics and important documents to ensure you don’t lose them. But check your room to see if your luggage is there! All of the sites I read beforehand insisted you would not have them before dinner and ours showed up right after we were on board.
We cruised to the Caribbean, and I did NOT have enough sweaters. I cannot tell you how high the AC must’ve been turned on throughout the ship. So grab a nice sweater for dinner and a more casual one for hanging out at the shows or lounges.
Are drink packages too expensive? Don’t I know it? But I didn’t know you could bring two bottles of wine on the ship (usually per stateroom – but check your cruise line!). Depending on how many rooms are at your party – that’s a decent amount of wine! So skip the drink package and just carry your glass (that you can bring to your room from any buffet) of wine around the ship.
Ahh, formal nights. A cruise packing nightmare. Don’t try to bring an iron on the ship, as they are pretty big fire hazards. We got anti-wrinkle spray, but the best way to do it is to bring another hanging piece of luggage. If you want to keep your jewellery straight, go on and bring magnets – all of the cabin walls are magnetic!
Cruise tips and tricks: On the ship
Let’s get seasickness out of the way right now. One of the biggest questions before we left was, “Are we going to feel the movement of the ship?”. People (and younger me) assured me the ships were so big you wouldn’t feel anything. LIES. One of the most important cruise tips and tricks: bring seasickness medicine/bands. And I hear green apples are a good cure! Be sure to ask your stateroom attendant if you really need it.
If you are not made of money and settled for an inside cabin (hello, friend!), don’t let your circadian rhythm get out of whack and cause you to sleep the whole time. Royal Caribbean now has these “virtual balconies”, essentially just large tv screens with a view out of the ship being played. Turn the volume down and crack the “curtain” they put over it. This way, you’ll actually know when it’s light outside! And if you’re feeling fortunate – I hear the best time to ask for upgrades is after you leave the first port. But, of course, people miss flights and miss cruises, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Do you know how many people might be on the cruise with you? Regardless of the other passengers, cruise employees are from EVERYWHERE. Talk to them about where they’re from, what they’ve done, etc. While you may not be travelling to those specific places, good conversation is one of the backbones of “travelling like a local.” You can do it on the cruise too! I asked for somebody fabulous to do my hair at the spa; it was awesome! So was our conversation about the Netherlands!
Speaking of spas, they often have better spa deals on days in port. I know I didn’t go on a cruise to NOT get off at a port, but if you check the timing, you may be able to snag a deal and use it when you’re already back on the ship for the day. So it’s worth a look!
Take a look at your Cruise Compass for all of the activities for the day. There are some entertaining options aside from Bingo (no offence, Mom)! Paul and I took dance classes every sea day. Those kinds of activities just give you a dive into learning something new and/or getting out of your comfort zone.
Okay, let’s be honest. These buffet-style breakfasts can get super crowded. And I hate crowds most always. So let me pop in here to remind you that room service is INCLUDED in your cruise price. My favourite way to start the morning would be a trip to the gym (I know, I’m ridiculous). I would schedule it so that room service would arrive as I hopped out of the shower. Oatmeal + coffee + fruit was my go-to!
For all of you slow travellers out there, what is one of the best things about immersing yourself in a location? Don’t try to tell me the answer isn’t food. This isn’t a money-saving tip, but upgrading to specialty dining options is incredibly worth it. I don’t care who you are (unless you’re a picky eater, I guess…). I will tell you that there was a special deal that you get 3 specialty restaurants for $80 when usually one costs about $50. Paul and I took advantage of it – so look for special deals in the first couple of days of cruising! And speaking of food, don’t forget that you aren’t limited to one appetizer, entree, and dessert. Go wild!
Cruise tips and tricks: In the ports
I was so unhappy with how much information you got about the ports you visited. I asked for a map of Old San Juan the night before we docked, and there were none aboard the ship except for a shopping map – not my style. It might be a good idea to at least do a little research before you go if you’re looking for more of an immersive experience.
Tucking a small daypack in my luggage made my life so much easier in port – one with water is even better! I filled up a water bottle or my bladder (the plastic kind, not the one in my body) before we left in the morning. The absolute essentials I packed were: sunscreen, bug spray, any maps, a zip lock bag with cash/a credit card, a phone just in case, and my camera. That’s all I needed!
You’re bound to get a better deal if you book excursions, NOT through your cruise line. You’re paying to ensure you’re back on the ship before it departs. If you want to take the risk, you’ll probably save a pretty penny. But I’d recommend it only if you’ve got a lot of time in port!
Speaking of which, don’t be afraid to not book an excursion! It’s okay just to explore too. Theoretically, the further away from the ship, you are, the more “authentic” of an experience you will get. What a buzzword! But watch the masses embark on the ship. Most of them hop on excursion buses or just stay around the ship. Lucky for you, you did some research and can get away from the vendors just selling to cruise tourists. And talking to locals doesn’t have to disappear on a cruise! Practice language skills, ask where the best place to grab a drink is, ask about their life, etc.
Honestly, if you’re in a port and you’re not super pleased with where the day is heading…you can just go to the beach if all else fails! And if you take a scooter to do so…more power to ya. Always be prepared for the beach!
So, do you have any cruise tips and tricks that helped you survive through your cruising experience?