I have been on well over 100 cruises. I have gone from loving it to hating it and back again. I have sailed multiple cruise lines and seen just about every crazy thing you can imagine. In the end I think cruises are a great headache free way to “sample” the world. They should not be your only form of travel but if done right they can be very inexpensive and a blast. Look for repositioning cruises or off season deals. A lot of time you can cruise for under $50 a day which includes your food, room, entertainment and transportation. That is hard to beat by even the most frugal nomad. All it takes is a little planning to avoid the money pitfalls and frustration. Pack light, keep your expectations in check and worse case, go read a book on the open deck at sunset. Hard to beat that!
Here are my top 20 tips to help you save time, frustration and most importantly money!
1. Carry your own bag. Ships lose bags. I have seen it and had it happen. Plus when a bag is delivered super late, you miss out on a lot of the first night. As long as you are not traveling like Diana Ross with 20 bags, you can easily walk on with a reasonable sized suitcase.
2. Skip lines at check in and go to the lines that say Diamond plus or what ever the status line is for your cruise line. They usually have no way of verifying at the dock before you check in that you are or are not that level.
3. They will tell you that the cabins won’t be ready till 1PM which is usually true. That doesn’t mean you can’t just go to your cabin and leave your bag so that you don’t have to drag it around.
4. Most of the specialty restaurants will have some special discount on the first night. They will also be less crowded. Start off your cruise in style and eat well day one. Go to the restaurant booking desk as soon as you get on the ship and make your reservations for the week right away. Some nights fill up. Especially the last night of the cruise.
5. Cartons of cigarettes are half the cost of the US in the shop on the ship and they let you carry them out when you buy them. If you don’t smoke, consider bringing some back for someone who may want them at a discount. They say one carton is what you are legally allowed duty free but they will sell you as many as you want and I have never had a customs agent bother to look or ask.
6. You can fill out a hanging door menu in your room for breakfast the night before for the next day and have it delivered for free at a certain time. This is the worlds greatest alarm clock. Free breakfast in bed delivered!
7. As soon as you get in your cabin, your cabin steward will find you and introduce himself to you. I find that a $10 or $20 dollar bill right away sets the service level fast. Plus you can ask him for extras that are usually reserved for status guests like robes or upgraded toiletries. Also now is the time to let him know your sleeping hours and if you don’t want any of the standard cruise “frills”. I have been on too many cruises to want the towel animals or daily stack of “informative” papers on the art auction.
8. If you are a drinker, then have one drink at each of the different bars on the first night. Hand the bartender a couple bucks with your card and smile and be nice when you order. You will figure out right away who the friendly bartenders are and what the best hangout spots are and who is going to pour a little heavier or maybe toss you a free one every now and then. Worst case, they will remember your name and have your favorite drink made well right away every time.
9. You can wear shorts in the dining room on the first night. They will just assume your bag hasn’t been delivered.
10. You can ask to be seated at a table for two at lunch or dinner if you don’t like eating with lots of chatty strangers. No such thing as forced formal night. Pants are the only requirement of the dining room ever and even that is flexible. Don’t miss dining room meals because you think you have to get dressed up.
11. You can walk off the ship before anybody else if you self carry your bags the last morning. If you are putting your bags out the last night, you can put them out as late as 3AM. Don’t miss out on your last night of fun because you think you have to pack and get bags out early. You also don’t really have to wait for them to call your group number the last morning. Just say you are self carry and walk off as soon as the groups start being called.
12. Always sign up for the rewards program. Something is better than nothing. I can not tell you how many people I have cruised with that are on their fifth, sixth or eleventh cruise who never bothered to sign up. You are literally throwing money away and maybe some time savings. Plus unlike airlines status, cruise status is kept for life and doesn’t have to be kept up with on a yearly basis.
13. If you buy a few minutes of online time for the internet, log on long enough to download your emails and then quickly log off. Then log back on after you have written them all offline. This takes a total of 2 minutes to send and receive and doesn’t burn expensive minutes.
14. Always look for cruise excursions on Google before you sail. The excursions are the same as the boat and sometimes better cause they are less crowded for a lot less money.
15. Room service is usually free. Take advantage of it. Especially if you have a balcony. Eating a served meal on your own balcony is a treat and a way to avoid crowds and people when you want some alone time.
16. You can get shirts pressed (not dry cleaned) for a couple bucks on the ship. Don’t bother driving yourself crazy trying to pack them wrinkle free. Just have them done the minute you get aboard and look sharp as you wear them off the hanger.
17. Sea sick pills are free at the front desk. I have generally found that bracelets and patches aren’t as effective as pills. Just make sure you take them BEFORE you feel ill or they don’t work.
18. Keep a swimsuit in your carryon where it is easily accessible. As soon as you get on the ship, throw it on and go enjoy the pool and hot tubs while they are empty and everybody is aimlessly walking around the ship. Someone can run in the buffet and grab some quick food to hold you over till dinner that you can all eat by the pool with no crowds!
19. The tips that are charged to your account daily are not mandatory (unless you book with a large group). If you feel like service is spotty, ask them to be removed and tip people personally who have earned it.
20. Some cruise lines will allow you to legally bring on a bottle of wine or a case of water or soda. Find out if yours does when you book and save a few bucks.
I hope you enjoyed these tips. If you have any questions on something I didn’t cover, drop me a line!