10 Cruise Tips and Hacks for a Great Time on the High Seas
Lifehacks are extremely useful, but cruise tips and hacks are absolutely essential to cutting through the clutter, finding the best cruise deal on the best cruise for you, and cruising like a pro.
It’s out there. The challenge is leaping the line and finding that perfect match.
Here are some of the best tips for cruises, to shorten the distance between you and your dream cruise.
1. Start with some internal dialogue
The search for the perfect cruise starts with you. Before you look anywhere, look inside. Ask yourself your preferences on:
- Ship’s size (mega, big, medium, small, intimate, or rowboat)
- Itinerary (Caribbean, Mediterranean, European rivers, Inland Passage, or something wild, like the Galapagos or Antarctica)
- Amenities (food and drink, clubs, pools, fitness, rollercoasters, racetracks – or just a breathtaking view)
- Theme (themed cruises are often mated to a less-than-desirable itinerary)
- Travel style (go-getter or lounger)
- Fellow travelers (families, young couples, older travelers, luxury lovers, or partiers)
- And most importantly, your budget.
You’re going to be asked many of these questions by your travel advisor or online as part of the shopping process, but it’s better if you ask yourself beforehand.
Write down your answers and refer to them as you move along. And if you change your answers, no problem! It’s part of the process.
Also read: How to Choose the Best Cruise Line for You
2. Check the reviews
All reviews are not created equal. It’s important to read impartial, independent reviews as part of the cruise-shopping process.
U.S. News & World Report’s best-cruise-lines microsite has a wealth of cruise knowledge and reviews of all the major lines.
3. Start short
If you haven’t cruised before, start with a three- or four-day cruise to a couple of ports. It may cost more per day than a longer cruise, but it’ll give you a feel for the cruise life.
4. Understand all of your costs
Many people think cruises are all-inclusive. They’re not – and they’re getting less inclusive all of the time.
Before you leave, ask or understand whether your ship charges for:
- Beverages (including alcohol)
- All shows and programming
- Medical services
- Fitness facilities, pools, and exercise equipment
- Excursions at ports of call
- Restaurants, including walk-up and casual eateries
The idea of a “cashless” ship is impossibly alluring, the same way that a nickel slot machine is irresistible. Know your budget and stick to it.
5. Book early
Cruise Hack: Booking many months out can save money – and give you a great choice of rooms. It may even upgrade you to an outside cabin with a balcony.
If you’re not ready to pull the trigger on a cruise a year in advance, you may want to wait until the very last minute to book … but it’s a gamble. Any savings may be more than balanced by an undesirable cabin – or there may be no cabins whatsoever.
If you’re thinking of playing this game, first ask a travel advisor who’s a cruise specialist. He or she may be able to get the last-minute price earlier – with a good selection of cabins.
6. Book in the “shoulder season”
Cruise Hack: Cruise costs are lower for sailings in the spring and fall, and cabin selection may be better.
The tradeoff is weather – either chilly (in the case of European and Inland Passage cruises) or stormy (in the case of Caribbean cruises during the fall hurricane season).
7. Book a less-desirable room
This is a gamble, too. If you book a small inside cabin thinking you won’t be spending time in it, you may be surprised at your amount of cabin time – and how unpleasant it is.
Cruise Hack: If you can’t figure out why one room is priced so much more cheaply than another just down the hall, study the ship’s layout. The cheaper room may be below a dance club or next to a boiler room.
You know your budget; if this is the only way you can afford your dream cruise, give it serious thought. But if you wind up seasick or sleep-deprived, don’t say you weren’t warned.
8. Ask for discounts
You don’t know if you don’t ask – right?
Cruise Hack: Just like hotels and attractions, many cruise lines offer discounts or enhanced food and beverage packages for AARP members, active military or other groups. Ask when you book.
9. Pack smart
Right off the bat you should read and print out our Ultimate Cruise Packing List and use it with the tips below to straighten out your packing plan.
We could write 10 pages on the best cruise packing hacks and still not cover everything. If we had to boil it down to five tips, it’d be these:
- Lay out on your bed everything you think you’re going to need, then start subtracting. You’d be amazed at how little qualifies as a must-pack.
- Pack two changes of clothes in your carry-on … because luggage can get lost.
- Pack extra hangers, Febreze, a multi-USB charger, and earplugs.
- Don’t go overboard on formal wear. Cruise-ship “formal” may just be dressy casual.
- Cruise Hack: Pack the one piece of clothing you can’t live without on any cruise: a water-repellent windbreaker.
10. Get travel insurance
Even a simple jaunt around the Caribbean deserves to be protected with travel insurance designed with cruising in mind, like Generali’s Premium Plan. It’s one of the best ways to cruise smarter – and enjoy your trip more. Read Why Travel Insurance is Crucial for Cruise Trips to learn more.