Cruise ships are worlds unto themselves, with their own sets of rules and ways of life, no matter where you set sail for. And whether you’re a new cruiser or an old hat on the high seas, there’s always a thing or two left to learn about these luxurious holidays.
From tips to make your trip just that much easier or how to shave off a little bit of the cost, we’ve whipped up a list of top tips to help you get the most out of your cruise.
1. Book excursions in advance
In every port you dock in, you’ll be offered a range of excursions aimed to help you get the most out of each destination. When you book your cruise, you’ll be given a list of possible excursions, from kayaking to rope courses and zipline adventures.
Each has a limited amount of places, and because of this, you’d be wise to book them in advance as opposed to on the ship, to ensure you don’t miss out.
2. Check for dress codes
You’ll be notified of themed parties and formal nights in advance, and can expect to need items like dinner jackets and cocktail dresses. You won’t want to miss out on dressing up, so ensure you know what’s on the bill and that you pack accordingly.
3. Budget, budget, budget
It’s vital you know exactly what your cruise covers, or more importantly, what isn’t included in the price. These additional fees will mostly encompass service tips, excursions and any drinks or spa treatments you want onboard.
Make sure you find out exactly what your board option covers. Some All Inclusive packages include drinks, but some do not. For more details on how to budget, check out a post we wrote on this very subject.
4. Opt for dining in the main room
Group dining in the ship’s main room is a great way to meet your fellow cruisers, not to mention you sometimes get a five-course meal too. Don’t let the prospect of awkward small talk scare you – if you sit at the same table with the same cruisers every night, you’ll become friends in no time.
5. Pack something warm, just in case
Even if you’re embarking on a tropical cruise where cardigans and shawls are virtually unheard of, you don’t want to be caught off guard when the wind sweeps in as you’re strolling the ship’s decks at night. Just a light wrap or jumper will do in most cases.
6. And bring a swimsuit!
Similar to packing something warm, you’ll always want to bring a swimsuit, even if you’re cruising past fjords and ice caps. Most ships will feature heated or indoor pools or, at the very least, hot tubs, though you’ll want to check your ship’s amenities before boarding regardless.
7. Research ports in advance
If you’re the type to ditch the group excursions in favour of setting out at your own pace in port, you’ll want to research what the area is known for and how much time you should allocate to each activity. You’ll also be able to set up your own excursions with tour operators once you sail in, and it’s here where you’ll often find the best deals if you don’t want to book in advance.
8. Explore the ship
You won’t be the only one onboard looking at the pool area as a top relaxation spot, and will often find the sunbeds in high demand. For this reason, you’d be wise to explore your surroundings and seek out lesser-known spots, like adults-only lounge areas and quiet libraries.
9. Choose the right ship for you
Cruises aren’t one size fits all – there are holidays directed more towards families, couples and the older traveller, with things like wave pools, rock climbing and even indoor wind tunnels following suit. That said, it’s a good idea to decide in advance what your cruising style is and choose a holiday that’s right for you.
10. Take advantage of free room service
On many cruises, room service during the day will be available free of charge, so a meal enjoyed in bed isn’t a luxury – more a rite of passage. With other cruise lines charging a small fee for late night service or certain items on the menu you’ll still be able to summon delicious rooms straight to your room, but you’ll have to check with your travel provider before assessing the extra cost.
11. Have a designated meeting point
Don’t underestimate how massive cruise ships are – and you won’t have much phone signal either, so keeping track of other members of your party can be tricky. When you board your ship, it’s always a solid idea to designate a meeting point with your family and friends, should you need to find one another, or bring walkie-talkies as a means of communication.
12. Prepare for seasickness
Even if you don’t have a history of seasickness, it’s always best to make like a Boy Scout and be prepared. Bringing your own patches or pills will mean you avoid paying higher prices at the ship’s shop, though various remedies will be available throughout your cruise. Green apples and lemon slices have been known to do the trick though, if you find yourself in a pinch.
13. Bring gym clothes
You’ve probably heard the rumour that cruises are packed with gourmet meals and endless buffets. And you should never have to go without on holiday – but you can combat the ice cream sundaes and plates of chips with stints at the onboard gym, which also often feature work-out classes.
14. Disconnect on your cruise
You should be prepared to go without Wi-Fi for the majority of your cruise, as you’ll usually be charged per minute onboard, and rates can get pricey. You’ll have the opportunity to connect again at Internet cafes and libraries in your ports, should the need arise.
15. Arrive at your launching point a day early
Too many cruises have been missed by cruisers because of late or cancelled flights and traffic when trying to make it to the dock. To avoid missing the big send-off, it’s a good idea to arrive in your port a day early, if it isn’t your hometown, or choose a cruise with a departure point that’s easily accessible to you.
16. Go to the onboard shows
Cruises are famous for their entertainment schedules, featuring world class performers and shows. This can range from dancing and singing to star musicians, magicians and comedians. Staff should provide you with a comprehensive schedule or make daily announcements as to what you can expect each night to help you plan your day.
17. Pay attention to the ship’s schedule
Your cruise ship will operate on a very strict schedule that won’t wait around for you to see just one last exhibit at your port’s most famous museum. You should always be aware – and have written down – what time your ship will be on its way come leaving time so that you can make sure you don’t, quite literally, miss the boat.
18. Bring a carry-on bag
Having an extra bag you can cart around with you from port to port is great for toting around sunscreen, wraps, wallets and sunglasses. They’re even handy onboard, as cruise ships are notoriously vast, and packing a bag of necessities can prevent you from having to make the trek back and forth from your camp on deck to your cabin.
It’s also a good idea to have a carry-on bag because on the final night of your cruise, your suitcase will be collected from outside of your room, and unless you’re excellent at juggling you might it tricky to carry your things on the way home.
19. Make time for specialty restaurants
Cruise ships will usually offer a specialty dining restaurant that isn’t included in the price of your cruise, but don’t let that put you off – these eateries are outside the box for a reason, usually because they feature even higher quality food and a wider range of special dishes often at a fraction of what you would pay in a high street restaurant. Don’t forget to book in advance, these fancy restaurants are usually fully booked nights before.
20. Bring your own wine
If there’s a particular bottle of vino you’d like to enjoy at dinner, a lot of cruise lines will allow you to bring a certain number of bottles per trip. It’s always best to check specific rules in advance. You’ll be charged a corkage fee, but will still often save a surprising amount, as, dependent on the cruise line, alcoholic beverages may not be included in your cruise fair.