Cruises bring a variety of images to mind…….luxurious suites, exotic ports and destinations, amazing buffets, spa treatments, and dancing into the wee hours. Cruising is my favorite way to travel with my family. and friends, and I believe it to be a great value too. It allows us the ability to relax and to spend time together in a comfortable environment. We absolutely make the most of it.
I have cruised several times on different cruise lines and I have learned a lot along the way. If you are new to cruising, the tips below will help you have the best time and get the most bang for your buck!
Don’t overdo it at the buffets.
You will find an obscene amount of food available to you but don’t get hung up one restaurant or at the buffet. The grill has some fan favorites (i.e. pizza, fried chicken, burgers, etc.) but don’t miss out on the dining room! If you aren’t sure you will find something you like, go by early in the day and check out the menu before it opens for lunch and dinner. I personally think it is a great opportunity to try new foods without having to spend extra money. I remember trying escargot for the first time several years ago. What a treat! I doubt I would have spent the money on it during a typical evening out but the dining gave me that opportunity without risk. The dining room will also have cuts of steak available so you don’t have to spend more on specialty dining if you are craving red meat!
Don't double tip on alcohol and spa treatments.
There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting with a cocktail, the sunset, and the sounds of the ocean. When you go grab that cocktail, keep in mind that most cruise lines automatically add gratuity to alcoholic drinks and packages. Double check before you leave a tip because chances are you already did.
The same is true for any spa or salon services you purchase. If you are receiving exemplary service, then please give an additional tip if you feel compelled to do so. Just be sure you do so knowingly and willingly.
While you will be tempted to pack everything but the kitchen sink, keep in mind that space is at a premium. If you are in a smaller room, then that statement goes double. Yes, you will need a formal and the necessary accessories (if you are into that kind of thing), but otherwise be strategic when packing. Comfortable and versatile shoes are a must and there are self-service laundry rooms and/or laundry service available. If you are going on a cruise longer than 7 days, then definitely plan on doing laundry. It will make going through security and boarding faster and easier too.
Take a power strip (no surge protector).
I am absolutely serious about this one. There are very few plugs in your room or bathroom for charging electronics or using anything else that needs electricity. If there will be more than two of you in the stateroom, then you definitely need one. Cruise lines ban the use of surge protectors (you won’t need one onboard anyway) so just a plane Jane power strip is all you need. The last thing you want to be doing is fighting with your kids over who gets to charge their device next.
Do your research!
This is probably the best thing you can do before you go on a cruise. Research your ports and figure out what activities appeal to you before you get there. You can pre-pay shore excursions through the cruise line or third-party vendors if you want but you must know what you want and don’t want before you do it.
Not only will you save money in the long run, but you will also save time when you get there. If you don’t, you will end up wasting time walking around to figure out what you want OR you will waste time talking to a bunch of salesmen that are trying to fill spots on scheduled tours. You don’t want to end up on a tour that you really didn’t want because that is all that was left.
Location, location, location!
You have to ask yourself some very important questions: Do you want to be close to the elevators or a certain point on the ship? Do you want to be near the action? Or do you want peace and quiet? All of these things will impact where you want your stateroom to be. You will want to avoid staterooms in areas that have family suites if you prefer not to hear children running, laughing, crying, or fighting. Also avoid staterooms that have public areas above it or near it unless you want to hear stomping overhead or bass thumping through all hours of the night. Don‘t just look at the deck your stateroom is on......look above and below it too!
So you haven’t had the benefit of service yet and you don’t know how much you want to tip, right? Depending on the cruise line and the type of cruise you are taking, it is normal to see $12-$20 per person per day for gratuities. That typically covers dining staff, room stewards, and room service so is that really such a huge price to pay for all of that? Personally, I prefer to pre-pay gratuities so that I can budget for it and not have to keep up with it while cruising. One less thing to keep up with means I can relax and enjoy myself a little more. Remember that alcohol packages and spa treatments usually include gratuities when you purchase them so don’t tip again unless you truly want to.
Take advantage of spa and salon specials on port days.
While at port, don’t hesitate to enjoy some quiet time and pampering at the salon or spa. It is not uncommon for the spa and salon to offer specials on those days and, since most people will be at port, you will have a better chance of getting your preferred appointment time. My daughter loves to get her nails done while I go for a massage. You deserve some pampering don’t you?
Take necessities in your carry-on.
So you think you can straight to your stateroom and begin your vacation, right? Well not exactly. Unless you pay for express check-in or have the benefit of getting your luggage early (typically for guests staying in suites), you will have to wait a few hours to get your bags. Keep necessities in your carry-on in case it takes a little longer for your bags to get to your room. Medications, toiletries, and even a change of clothes are a must for me because I usually want to freshen up before heading to dinner. There have been a few times in which my bags didn’t arrive until after dinner (early seating) so it was nice to have what I needed with me.