I don't call myself an expert on many things, but cruising happens to be one of my areas of expertise. After taking 45 cruises, I've learned a lot of things! Cruising may seem like a simple type of vacation, but there are actually a lot of cruise secrets to learn. Cruising is a little bit different than all other types of vacations, and there are lots of "quirks" that can take you many sailings to figure out. Here are a few things that you may not know if you're a newcomer to cruising.
There is no limit to what you can order in main restaurants. Go ahead and ask for a second appetizer or two main courses if you'd like. On cruise ships there's usually no limit on how many dishes you can order when dining in an included-in-the-fare main dining room. It's a common sight to see veteran cruisers request extra appetizers, main courses, and desserts. You also can ask for a main course to be brought out as an appetizer in a smaller size or for an appetizer to become a main course. It's a great way to try new things.
Room service is inexpensive or even free. Don't be shy about calling for room service when sailing on a cruise ship. Unlike most hotels on land, room service on cruise ships is either very inexpensive or completely free. The lines that do charge for room service usually just charge a service fee of $5 to $10 per order, sometimes only on late-night orders. A few have per-item charges, but they're usually not that much.
There sometimes are hidden places for breakfast. Most cruisers usually head to the main buffet for breakfast, and they're often packed in the mornings. But on some ships, you'll also find alternate venues open for breakfast that many cruisers overlook. Some ships open a main dining room for breakfast and others have cafes that offer breakfast sandwiches. You will always escape the crowds with these options.
The first day of a cruise is a great time to dine in a specialty restaurant. On most nights, the top specialty restaurants on cruise ships fill up fast. It can be hard to get a reservation to experience one. But you'll find a lot more tables available at specialty restaurants on the first night of a cruise, when most passengers head to an included-in-the fare main dining room or buffet for dinner. You might even get a discount for dining in a specialty restaurant, as some cruise lines will offer specials to fill them on embarkation day.
The food is usually free at extra-charge coffee shops. You'll pay for lattes but not fancy pastries at many cafes on cruise ships. A lot of the bigger cruise ships have extra-charge coffee bars on board that serve up lattes, cappuccinos, and other fancy coffee drinks for an extra charge. But unlike coffee shops at home, these venues often don't charge extra for food items. You'll often find great hand-made pastries, mini-sandwiches, and other gourmet bites that are complimentary.
You can skip the buffet crowds on embarkation day by heading to one of the ship's dining rooms. The first thing many cruisers do when arriving at a cruise ship on embarkation day is to head to the buffet for both a quick bite and to wait for their cabins to become available. The seating areas of these venues can quickly become unbearably crowded. To avoid the crowds, ask if there is a dining room on board open for lunch. There usually is, and in many cases, you'll find it almost empty.
A ship's dining room also is a good option to escape the lunchtime crowds on sea days. The ship's buffet is usually packed on sea days because it's usually right near the deck-top pool areas where many passengers are congregating. Take the time to find a dining room for a more relaxed and uncrowded lunch experience.
You can drink anywhere on the ship. Unlike being in a city or town, there's no law on cruise ships saying you can't walk around in public areas with an open beverage container. You can carry your beer or glass of wine with you wherever you go on a ship and no one will say a thing.
You can have the pool deck to yourself on port days. Most passengers get off their ship when it arrives in port to experience the local destination. But you're perfectly welcome to stay on board during port calls and enjoy all the ship has to offer, including its pool decks. While some venues on ships close during port days, you'll usually find top-deck attractions such as pools, waterslides and bars open.
You can get spa discounts on port days. It's not just the pool that you'll have to yourself by staying on board during a port day. It's the spa, too. With everybody off the ship exploring the destination, spas are relatively quiet on port days. This is why many ship spas offer discounts on port days to get people to sign up for services. Ask at the spa if it offers such a discount program, and keep an eye out for spa deals in the daily newsletters that many ships deliver to cabins nightly.
You can get a discount on your next cruise by booking it while still on board. On most cruise ships, you'll find a future cruise desk where you can sign on for another sailing at a discounted rate that you can't get when booking after you return home. Often, these offers come in the form of a credit that is applied to your next booking. All you have to do is put down a small deposit on the future trip to get the savings. You don't even have to know which sailing you want to do. As long as you put down a deposit while on board, you can choose a specific itinerary and sailing later. You can also transfer the booking to your favorite travel agent, so he or she can handle the details.
Your wine bottle will follow you. In most cases, you'll save money by buying wine by the bottle instead of the glass on cruise ships, and the good news is you don't have to drink it all at once. If you don't finish the entire bottle in one sitting at a bar or restaurant, your server will mark the bottle with your room number and store it away for drinking at a later time. It'll then be there waiting for you when you ask for it.
You can save on beer by buying in bulk. Some cruise lines will offer discounts on beer that's bought in bulk. Look for a "bucket of beer" deal when sitting at a cruise ship bar, or ask your server if one is available. You'll usually get four or five beers in a souvenir bucket for a cost that is less than what it would be to order each one individually.
You can bring your own alcohol on board on some ships. Many first-time cruisers assume they can’t bring their own drinks on board a ship. But many lines will allow this, usually with some limits. It’s one way to save money when cruising, as drink prices on ships can be high. Adults are usually allowed to bring one or two bottles of unopened wine or Champagne in their carry-on luggage. Be sure to read the alcohol rules for your cruise line before you bring any drinks on board.
Your room might have hidden storage areas. Do a thorough look around your cabin for hidden storage areas upon arrival, including looking under the bed and the couch and in your cabin bathroom. You may be surprised by the concealed storage nooks that you'll find. It's common to find hidden outlets and bathroom mirrors that open and USB ports that are built into the bottom of lamps.
The ship has medicine available for seasickness. Big cruise ships these days are relatively stable. But if you should start feeling seasick, you can usually get seasickness medicine for free at a ship's guest services desk. They will often stock individual packets of meclizine, a seasickness remedy that is available over the counter in the United States. Normally, you won't be charged if you ask for a few.
You can get free internet time by signing up early. Some cruise lines will give you a chunk of free minutes if you sign up for an internet package on the first day of a cruise. You also can get discounts for internet packages by purchasing them online in advance of your sailing.
You usually can get into shows without a reservation.
On most cruise ships, there is no reservation system for nightly shows. You just show up at the theater at show time and grab an open seat. But even on ships where a reservation system does exist, you often can get into shows without a reservation. Many people with tickets to cruise ship shows, which normally are free, don't show up at showtime, and that leaves a lot of open seats at the last minute. Arrive a few minutes before showtime and you're likely to get in.