We're hearing a lot these days about the summer travel problems with cancelled flights and over-priced hotels. However, there is one segment of the travel industry that is getting good reviews- the cruise industry. Cruise lines are seeing record bookings, most ships are still sailing well below full capacity, and crowds are not a problem. There are some incredible cruise deals going on right now, and due to strict Covid protocols still in place, cruising is safer than ever. If you still haven't tried a cruise, this is a great time! Cruising happens to be one of my favorite types of vacations and I've been on 43 to date, so I've picked up a few tips that I can share. There are a lot of cruise secrets to learn, and some can take many sailings to figure out. Here are just a few random things about cruising that you may not know.
There is no limit to what you can order in main restaurants. Go ahead and ask for a second appetizer or two main courses. 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. Don't be afraid to ask!
Don't head to the crowded buffets for breakfast each morning. Try breakfast in one of the dining rooms where there will usually be no crowds. Room service is another option. Unlike most hotels, 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.
Do you enjoy specialty coffees? Although they're usually not free (unless you have a beverage package), coffee shops that sell them usually offer free food if you purchase a coffee. Princess Cruise lines is a great example of this. They have a cafe that serves lattes, cappuccinos, and other specialty drinks with free hand-made pastries, sandwiches, and other great items all for free.
If you want to try one of the cruise line's specialty restaurants, the first day of a cruise is a great time to go. On most nights, the top specialty restaurants on cruise ships fill up fast, and it can be hard to get a reservation. 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 one, as some cruise lines give special offers to fill specialty dining restaurants on embarkation day.
The first thing many cruisers do when arriving at a cruise ship on embarkation day is to head to the buffet for lunch while they wait for their cabins to become available. The seating areas of these venues can quickly become really crowded. To avoid the crowds, ask if there is a dining room on board open for lunch. There often is, and in many cases, you’ll find it nearly empty. The dining room is also a great option for lunch on sea days as an alternative to eating in the buffet. On sea days, the buffet on a ship is usually packed, because it's typically near the pool areas. Take the time to visit the dining room for a more relaxed and uncrowded lunch experience.
You can drink anywhere on a cruise ship. 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- even into the dining rooms- and no one will say a thing.
You will often have the pool deck to yourself on port days because most passengers get off the ship when it arrives in port to experience the local destination. But there’s nothing saying that’s a requirement. 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 time, you’ll usually find pools, waterslides, and bars open and quiet.
Cruise ships usually give spa 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 send your kids to camp for free. Most kids programs on cruise ships usually are included in the fare. You often can send your kids to counselor-supervised kids camps on ships for hours at a time for no cost.
You will 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. These offers usually 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, which might add up to $100 or $200 per cabin, or a percentage discount. 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 advisor, so she or he can handle the the details for you.
If you order a bottle of wine on board, you don't have to finish it in one sitting; your wine bottle will follow you. 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 next return to the venue- or even a different venue (your server at the new venue will track it down).
You can save on beer by buying 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 a bit less than what it would be to order each one individually.
You can use your cabin walls for more storage. Throw some magnetic hooks into your travel bag before you cruise. Walls on cruise ships often are made with metal that is magnetic, even if they look like wood. You can attach magnet hooks to the walls to hang up clothes and other items. Smaller magnets can come in handy for tacking dinner invitations, excursion tickets and other important papers to cabin walls.
Use your TV as a nightlight. If you’re staying in a windowless, interior cabin, you’ll find that it’s darker than dark. If you want just a bit of light in the room at night, turn your television on, and set it to the bridge camera station. You’ll get a picture of the darkened sky at night that will bring a touch of light to your room. When morning arrives, your television will grow brighter, too, helping you to wake up.
Keep an eye out for hidden electrical outlets and USB ports, or ask your room steward to help you find them. Cruise lines have been adding lots of outlets to ships in recent years because of guests’ requests for power. But they’re sometimes hidden away in unexpected places.
Ships have remedies available for seasickness. Big cruise ships are relatively stable, but if you start feeling seasick, you often can get seasickness medicine for free at a ship’s guest services desk. They usually 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 also can ask room service to bring you traditional remedies such as green apples or ginger slices.
You can often 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 don’t have to go to presentations on the ship to see them. Just because a talk about a port or a disembarkation briefing is happening in the ship’s theater doesn’t mean you have to run down there to see it. You’ll often find that presentations on ships are broadcast live on ship television so you can watch them from your cabin. Sometimes, they’re also rebroadcast on a loop on cabin televisions for a day or longer, so you can watch them at another time.
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.
I hope you find a few of these tips helpful. Happy Cruising!