January 19, 2020

Cruise Tips

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Cruises offer a combination of comfort and adventure that few vacations can match. If a cruise is on your travel bucket list, check out these top tips designed to make your trip as smooth as possible.

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Cruise Booking Hacks

Book Early
Much like flights, cruise prices generally rise closer to the travel date. Book early for the best deals, but continue to monitor prices until your trip.

Travel in the Off-Season
Less demand usually means lower prices. Consider cruising during the school year, especially early fall just after school starts. Other off-peak times include Thanksgiving through mid-December.

Keep an eye out for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals; these can be a great time to book winter and spring cruises.

Look for Stay-and-Sail Deals
Many hotels around ports offer discounts for cruise passengers coming in early or staying after. Along with accommodations near the port, these hotels provide free or deeply-discounted parking for the duration of the cruise. Many also offer free shuttle service, saving you money on a cab or Uber ride to port.

Choose Older Ships for Great Deals
Older ships may not have all the latest amenities, but they offer excellent value to many of the same destinations.

Don't Overdo the Research
Cruise ship prices are usually consistent across websites. When prices change, you likely find the same deals regardless of which travel site you use to book.

Cancel and Rebook
Most cruise tickets are refundable with no penalties up to a month before departure. That means you can cancel your reservation to take advantage of a better deal. Of course, canceling is easier if you haven't paid in full, so you may want to pay your balance slowly after putting down an initial deposit.

What's the best way to pay for a cruise?
You can pay with a reward or travel credit card to earn points or cash back. Or take it one step further to buy cruise line gift cards from major retailers. You'll earn additional cash back, points, and sometimes discounted prices. Plus, retailers like Kroger may offer discounts on gas with gift card purchases.

Opt for a "Guaranteed Stateroom"
This option cost less than picking your own stateroom. You book a certain class and your room is assigned right before your cruise.

Choose the Best Side
When booking a balcony room, consider the view from each side, port, and starboard. You'll need to decide whether you want to see the ocean the whole time or the port cities as you dock. Websites like deckplangenius.com provide tons of information on individual cabin locations, noise levels, etc.

Use Your Credit Card Trip Insurance
Rather than purchasing expensive travel insurance from the cruise lines (or your travel agent), see if your credit card offers trip insurance. Many top cards have trip cancellation and other types of insurance coverages as part of the customer benefits.

Search last-minute cruise deals
If your plans are flexible, you can sometimes find incredible last-minute deals as ships scramble to sell unoccupied rooms. This option works best for travelers who don't have a specific ship or destination in mind—or those who live near a port.

In this guide, you'll learn:

Best Cruise Packing Tips

Buy a Dry Bag or Waterproof Phone Pouch
It doesn't matter how careful you are, accidents happen. The last thing you need on your cruise vacation is to lose or ruin your phone. Amazon sells inexpensive waterproof phone pouches, as well as dry bags that can hold your phone, cash, and other valuables.

Bring Your Own Snorkel Gear
You can pick up a snorkel kit online or at a sporting goods store. Not only will you save money by renting one, you won't be using equipment that's been in other people's mouths.

Carry Some Cash
ATM fees can be exorbitant on cruise ships—if your ship has ATMs at all. Keep a little cash on hand for incidental purchases or needs.

How much money do you take on a cruise?
You should carry about $20 per person, per day. Most cruise lines and port destinations accept credit cards, but that's not always the case.

Pack Your Own Outlets
Boost your stateroom's charging power by bringing your own power strip or travel adapter for phones, electronics, hairdryers and more. Just be sure the power strip doesn't have surge protection; those aren't allowed on board.

Get Walkie-Talkies
Without cell service at sea, it can be hard to stay in touch with others in your group. Bring an inexpensive pair of walkie-talkies to easily reach your spouse or kids in other parts of the ship.

Other things you'll want to pack:
  • Night light (especially for interior rooms with no natural light)

  • Hair dryer (the one in the room is small)

  • Baggies (for wet clothes, to keep items dry at the pool, etc.)

  • Portable fan

  • Jacket or sweatshirt (for cool nights)

  • Towel clips (for deck chairs and to hang up wet towels in the room)

  • Magnetic hooks (cabin walls are made of metal so you can hang up all kinds of items within easy reach)

  • Over-the-door organizer

Best Tips to Enjoy Your Cruise

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Take Your Time
The later you arrive before the ship sets sail, the shorter the lines. Just don't cut it too close or you'll miss the cruise completely. At the end of the cruise, spend some extra time relaxing in your room or grabbing one last drink to avoid the crush.

Make Your Bed More Comfy
Request an egg crate pad from your steward to make an uncomfortable bed bearable.

When in doubt, ask
Cruise ships offer the same level of service as five-star hotels, and stewards will do what they can to make guests happy.

Make Port Day a Spa Day
With everyone off-boat on port days, the cruise spas will be nearly deserted. Some cruises even offer special deals to keep passengers onboard. If a spa treatment is on your must-do list, port days can save some serious dough.

Find Secret Decks
A quick online search leads to several websites that list the secret decks and areas on all cruise ships. In general, the back of the ship is the quietest and the lower you go on the ship, the more privacy you'll find.

Skip Early Debarkation
Some cruises let passengers off early if they carry off their own luggage. But the process doesn't save you much time, especially when many other passengers have the same idea.

Plan your return flight or drive back for later in the evening or even the next day to cut down on stress.

Best Cruise Freebies

Free Drinks
Several spots on the cruise may offer free alcoholic drinks, including the art auctions and Captain's Receptions.

Upgrades only happen on cruises that aren't sold out. Your chances are better during the off-season or through a booking promotion.

Bonus Promotions
Many cruise lines offer perks to entice you to book. These range from cabin upgrades to paid gratuities to extra discounts.

Should I book a cruise with a travel agent?
Travel agents and third-party booking companies have access to extra perks like prepaid gratuities, complimentary drink packages, onboard credits, and group discounts.

Port restaurants and stores often offer free Wi-Fi—and it's usually more reliable. Skip the super-expensive onboard internet and check your email or browse the web from port.

Coffee Shop Snacks
While the lattes, cappuccinos, and fancy coffees usually aren't free, pastries and usually are.

Best Money-Saving Cruise Tips

Take Rideshares from the Airport to the Port
Cruise lines offer limited shuttles options from the airport to the port, but these are often expensive. Try Uber or Lyft instead.

Off-Port Parking
Ports often have off-site parking lots, like those near airports. You'll save money on the per-day price compared to the cost at the port. And most offer free shuttle services.

Turn Your Phone to Airplane Mode
Avoid international roaming charges by keeping your phone on airplane mode from the moment you depart your U.S. port.

Prepurchase Wi-Fi
If you must stay connected, buy a Wi-Fi package before your cruise. Typically, cruise lines offer discounts when you sign up through the app or website. But beware: Cruise ship Wi-Fi is super expensive, and it's often sluggish and inconsistent.

Bring Your Own Soda
You can usually bring small amounts of soda. Or try individual drink packets to flavor the water you can get for free.

Think twice about unlimited drink packages
These packages can't be shared and must be purchased for every day of your cruise. And you'll have to drink a ton to make them worthwhile.

Turn the Mini Bar into a Fridge
Ask the steward to remove any stocked items so you don't get charged for them.

Walk Away from Port
Businesses closest to the port have a captive audience and often charge more for services and goods. So walk a few blocks to find better deals on taxis, souvenirs, and even food and drinks.

Most businesses in major ports also accept American dollars, so you don't have to worry about exchanging money before you go.

Attend the Port Lectures
They typically include coupons for attractions, restaurants, and activities at each port.

Book Your Own Shore Excursions
Websites like Viator offer a simple place to find and book hundreds of different excursions. With a little extra research, you can save hundreds of dollars by booking on your own, rather than through the cruise line. Just be sure that these outings will get you back before your ship departs.

How to save money on alcohol
Even casual drinkers can spend a fortune on booze. Here are a couple ways to save:
  • Bring your own: Most cruise lines let you bring a small amount of wine or champagne on board. There is no corkage fee for opening and drinking in your stateroom, though you will pay in onboard restaurants.

  • Drink in port: Restaurants and bars entice customers with happy hour and daily drink specials. You'll likely pay less than you would on the ship.

Top Food/Drink Cruise Tips

Try New Dishes
Don't limit yourself to just one entrée—order several to try something new. You can also request other dishes, even if they aren't on the menu. As long as they have the ingredients, most cruise chefs will accommodate special requests, including dietary restrictions.

Order Whole Pizza
If your ship has a pizza-by-the-slice restaurant, they'll usually allow you to get a whole pizza for your group. You just have to ask.

Eat Meals In The Main Dining Room
The main dining room isn't just for dinner. Head there for a nicer, and often quieter, breakfast and lunch experience.

Don't Stress About Your Dining Time
You'll pick a dining time (early or late seating) when you book. But don't worry, you can still eat outside that window.

Is cruise room service free?
While several cruise lines still offer free room service, others charge per item or a flat fee. Here's a quick guide:
  • Princess: Free
  • Holland America: Free
  • Celebrity: Free
  • Disney: Free
  • Carnival: $2–$5 per item
  • Royal Caribbean: $7.95 per order
  • Norwegian: $7.95 per order

Best Cruise Shopping Tips

Hold Out for Sales
If you're looking for a souvenir, wait until the end of the cruise when many of the gift shops onboard run sales.

Barter, Barter, Barter
In many cruise ports, bartering and bargaining are part of the culture. From that beautiful handmade necklace to a last-minute shore excursion, don't be afraid to fight for a deal.

Avoid Gold-By-The-Inch
The necklaces and bracelets are plated gold, not solid gold.

Ask About Shipping
Some ship and port stores will ship large items back to your home for a fee.

Best Health and Safety Cruise Tips

Use Hand Sanitizer and Wash Your Hands Often
Thousands of people in enclosed spaces means lots of germs. The last thing you want is a cold (or worse) during your trip.

Skip Seasickness
If you're prone to feeling queasy on boats, get a room mid-ship near the bottom and keep your room cool. The ship's pool is also a great place to fight nausea because you'll move with the water and not the ship. Other remedies include green apples, saltine crackers, and ginger.

Free seasickness pills
Ask Guest Services for some seasickness pills if you forget yours. Many cruise lines offer them free to passengers.

Make a Copy of Your Passport
Keep a photocopy of your passport on you whenever in port, just in case. You could also scan your passport and keep a digital copy on your phone.

Gamble Wisely
Cruise ship slot machines are very tight—very few actually pay out big. You may have better luck at poker since the table may be full of rookies.

Remember: You're Being Watched
Every ship has numerous cameras throughout the ship (not in private staterooms, public restrooms, or spa areas). You WILL get caught if you're trying to do something you shouldn't be.

Just Behave
Cruise ships have brigs, or small jails, for unruly passengers and those engaging in dangerous or illegal activities. Trust us, even a small interior stateroom offers more comfortable accommodations.

Best Cruise Tips for Families

Take Advantage of Babysitting
Some cruise lines offer babysitting services. These cost extra but let you enjoy some adult time in the midst of your family vacation.

Utilize the Kids' Clubs
Many cruises offer free or inexpensive kids' programs that allow the adults to have a little time to themselves.

Look for Ships with Family-Friendly Cabins
Consider booking connected staterooms, rooms with multiple berths, or suites.

Pack Swimsuits in Your Ship Carry-On
It can take several hours for luggage to make it to your room. Keep your swimsuits handy so you can hit the pool soon after you board.

Ask for Baby Items
Don't drag along your own pack-n-play, high chair, and other gear. Many cruise lines have these items available for passengers at no cost.

Best Tips for First Timers

Explore your Dining Options
The moment most people board on the first day, they head for the pool or the buffet. So it's a great time to check your cruise itinerary and see what else is available.

Plan Guest Services Visits Wisely
Go early in the morning or late at night to avoid the longest lines.

Make Reservations Early
Most cruise lines now have online reservation systems for specialty dining options, spa services, and shore excursions. Book as soon as possible to get a spot.

Ask for the Backstage Tour
Several cruise lines offer behind-the-scenes tours, where you'll get to see the floating city that is a cruise ship. These tours are often an exclusive perk and only available to a small number of passengers, but it never hurts to ask.

Choose Specialty Dining for Your First Night
Many cruisers opt to enjoy their first dinner in the dining room, which opens up plenty of space in the specialty restaurants. Make a reservation to start your trip in style. Some restaurants offer dining deals and incentives to bring in diners.

Rent Formal Wear
If you don't own a tux or gown, some cruise ships rent them on board.

What should I know before going on a cruise?
Cruises offer an overwhelming number of options. Before you depart, download the cruise line app. It's your go-to for everything from ship maps to daily schedules. Plus, you can use it on the ship's Wi-Fi without using any data.

Some apps even have messaging capabilities for a small fee, an alternative to walkie-talkies or using cell phone data.

A Few Last Tips Before You Depart

Mind Your Neighbors
Staterooms have thin walls. Keep that in mind when engaging in activities, especially late at night or early in the morning. Your balcony won't afford much privacy either since your neighbors can easily see through the sides of the partition.

Tip and Tip Well
Cruise ship employees generally make meager wages. They rely on tips for their income. While many cruise lines include tipping in your final bill, consider bringing some small bills for extraordinary service.

Take the Stairs
Cruise ship elevators are notoriously crowded. Save some time (and burn some calories) by walking between floors.

Bottom Line

Cruises offer adventures and activities for those of all ages. And they don't need to cost a fortune. Use our tips for an unforgettable, yet affordable vacation to remember.

Write to Lindsey Thompson at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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