31 tips to help you have a great cruise, regardless of what line you’re sailing or where you’re headed!
1. Check in on-line ahead of time – it’ll save you tons of time during the boarding process.
2. Speaking of the boarding process, check your boarding pass to see what time to get to the port. There’s no point on getting there any earlier than it says because you’ll just end up sitting around in the terminal. Arrive at the appointed time & you’ll practically be able to walk onto the ship. Oh – & when you get on the ship, consider an alternative restaurant for lunch, rather than the buffet, which will likely be quite busy.
3. Know, & follow, your ship’s alcohol policy. Some lines let you bring on one bottle of wine per person, some don’t. If yours does, bring it in your carry on to avoid a delay in your luggage being delivered. Or, if you like a daily beverage, take a look at beverage packages – they can result in big savings!
4. Fly in the day before the cruise leaves, if at all possible. It will save you a lot of headaches & stress embarkation morning – & who doesn’t like starting their vacation a little early? Many hotels nearby the port offer “stay & sail” deals which include transportation to the ship.
5. Plan your carry on bags wisely. Some cruise lines, like Princess, let you right into your stateroom when you get onboard. But some won’t have your room ready until 1 or 2pm, which means if your carry on bag is heavy, it’s going to severely limit your ability to explore the ship.
6. Find your “spot” on the ship early: maybe its the perfect chair front & center by the pool that you’re willing to get up at 6am & park yourself in all day, but more than likely it’s a hidden place on a lower deck that no one else has found.
7. Don’t skip the mandatory lifeboat drill (also known as the “muster drill”), which will happen before your ship leaves port. You will be found if you’re trying to hide elsewhere on the ship because all cabins are checked & the crew scans your card when you arrive at your station. Yes, it is delaying the beginning of your vacation, but being late or trying to skip it means you’re just making everyone else stay longer. Besides, you might learn something – don’t you think the passengers on the Costa Concordia wished they had a muster drill (they didn’t)?
8. Stick with traditional dining – or don’t. But find something that works for you. Anytime dining is becoming super popular, so make reservations to avoid having to wait an hour or two for a table. But before you make your reservations, check the port schedule – you might not want to eat at 6:30pm if you don’t leave Aruba until 7:30pm.
9. Make sure you know what time to be back on the ship before getting off to enjoy your day in port. The time will likely be different than what’s on your itinerary – usually as much as 30 or 45 minutes earlier. The ship will leave you behind if you’re not on board (on our last cruise, we left a couple in Aruba & a woman in St. Thomas).
10. There are a ton of “cruise hack” posts out there about bringing shoe organizers & power strips & all kinds of other crazy gadgets. I say save the packing room!
11. Amendment to previous tip: there are normally two outlets in the cabin – one for U.S. plugs & one for Europe-style plugs. If you have an international travel converter, bring it to have access to both outlets (just make sure the voltage checks out – you don’t want to fry your flat iron on vacation!)
12. Make your plan for when you’re in port ahead of time. I love booking independent excursions when visiting the islands (hello amazing snorkeling adventures in St. Maarten, Bonaire & St. Thomas!), but sometimes a ship-sponsored tour is the way to go (we were glad we had booked one in Halifax, Nova Scotia when our bus got stuck in traffic driving back from the coast & we were almost 2 hours late! The ship waited for us because we had booked through Celebrity).
13. You don’t always have to go on an excursion. Some of our favorite ports have been just getting off & walking around.
14. Choose the cruise itinerary that is right for you. Most people associate cruise ships with the Caribbean, but the possibilities are virtually endless. Take a cruise to New England & Canada – in August. Take a cruise through Europe – a great way to get a taste of several countries. Take a cruise around Asia or Australia. There’s really something for everyone.
15. Every night, your stateroom attendant will leave a daily planner newsletter in your room. Take a moment before you hit the hay to skim the next day’s activities to plan out your day. The best thing about a cruise is that you can do everything or you can do nothing!
16. Some cruiselines, like Princess, even have an on-board smartphone app that contains the daily planner. B & I enjoyed using this during our recent cruise, especially since we don’t always do the same thing during the day.
17. If you enjoy reading, be sure to take a book – or five. I am a veracious reader on cruises, in fact on our last voyage I read 3 1/2 books, including one in an entire day (I even, nerdily, stayed up until 2am to finish it!).
18. Don’t depend on the ship’s wifi because it’s likely going to be painfully slow. We found that it’s much faster to find a bar or restaurant on land which has password protected wifi.
19. If you don’t mind drinking the ship’s water, take a water bottle with you & fill it up in the buffet restaurant whenever you get a chance. Some people don’t like it, but we’ve never had a problem drinking it (since we drink mostly water at home anyway).
20. If you prefer bottled water, bring a case on board at the beginning of your journey to help cut down on cost.
21. Know & respect your cruise line’s dress code. If dinner in the dining room requires slacks or a jacket, pack those.
22. If you decide not to dress for formal night, don’t try to show up to the dining room in your most casual attire. This would be a good night to take advantage of complimentary room service or the (often very good dinner) in the buffet restaurant.
23. Cruising does not mean eating endless junk food & gaining weight! In fact, B & I have never gained more than 5lbs on a cruise. We eat pretty smart for the most part, picking & choosing our indulgences, & like to stay active both on the ship & in port.
24. One way to keep the indulgences in-check is in dining room: we often share dessert or even skip it if there’s nothing that sounds particularly amazing. I also learned on our last cruise that you can order a bowl of berries for dessert.
25. Take the time to enjoy the things that make your cruise line unique. On Princess, we loved having their afternoon tea. On Celebrity, their martini bar is where the party is every night. On Carnival, pool games were popular with all guests.
26. A little bit of research goes a long way. I love to check out CruiseCritic.com in the months heading into a cruise, but there are other websites as well.
27. Pack everything you think you need & then put half back. You’ll be surprised how many times you can rewear the same outfits (especially to dinner in the evening!). You can also always do laundry.
28. Pre-pay your gratuities, but keep some small bills handy for tips at departure terminal & while in port.
29. Get to know the staff your interact with on a daily basis by name. Our cabin steward is often our favorite person on a cruise, mostly because we see him two or three times a day.
30. If your mini-fridge is full of mini-bar items, many cabin stewards will clean it out for you to make way for a bottle of white wine or bottled water.
31. If you don’t pack anything else, bring your camera, patience & a smile. They’ll all go a long way to having a fantastic vacation!
I also asked some of my favorite cruisers on Twitter for their best piece of cruise advice:
@MiddleSeatView Do your research – pick the right cruise line & ship for you, not just the right price.
— Kristin (@keladewig) April 26, 2016
@MiddleSeatView bring a highlighter so you can highlight the activities in the daily planner you want to do everyday.
— Sue D (@nygal33) April 26, 2016
— CHERYL BRINSON (@Cruisinteacher) April 25, 2016
— Cruiseline.com (@CruiselineTalk) April 25, 2016
— Cruiseline.com (@CruiselineTalk) April 25, 2016
— Larry Hochstetler (@larrynkak) April 25, 2016
@MiddleSeatView Don’t sweat the small stuff, positive attitudes are contagious!
— Cruise Fever (@CruiseFever) April 25, 2016
— Michelle McKnight (@diz_michelle) April 25, 2016