Cruising is a style of vacation that polarizes people; they either love it or they hate it. I’m definitely the former; I’ve been on a couple cruises so far and they’ve been fantastic. But among my family and friends, there are lovers and haters. This post aims to give you some cruising tips and tricks so you know what to expect, both the good and the bad.
Originally published on May 31, 2017. Most recently updated on December 16th, 2019.
Not sure cruising is right for you? Sure it is!
Introvert? Bring a book and read while soaking up the sun on one of the many decks.
Extrovert? Join one of the several activities planned onboard!
Early bird? Grab some breakfast and enjoy the sunrise over the ocean.
Night owl? Every ship has bars and nightclubs – find the one you like and party away!
Proof. There is something for everyone! Now that you know you want to cruise, here are some pointers:
What you see is never all you pay
Don’t forget about taxes, fees, and port costs! Worth it? Yes, of course. Just be sure to budget for them. And gratuities! My last cruise gave me the option to prepay my gratuities when booking the cruise. I decided not to, thinking I could decide how much I wanted to tip at the end of the cruise. Wrong. In the past few years many cruise lines have starting imposing a daily mandatory gratuity for every passenger – typically around $12-$15, add a couple more if you’re staying in a suite. My advice? Prepay them. That’s one less thing to worry about at the end of your cruise. Live and learn.
One of my favorite tidbits about cruising is the towel animals that the cruise staff leave for you in your room each day!
All Inclusive? Or Not-so-all-inclusive?
If you learn nothing else about cruises, know this: alcohol is crazy expensive. Cruise lines will tempt you with their “all-inclusive” packages. Yes, they are a great deal. But yes, there are hidden fees. When you book the cruise with an all-inclusive drink package, you will still need to pay taxes and gratuity upfront. Still a lot cheaper than what you’d spend onboard, but they do estimate your alcohol intake pretty high.
Also, there are usually limitations on what drinks are included. For example, our last cruise capped the included drinks at $15. So no bottles of wine or super premium drinks!
Still at port? Wait to order your drinks! Or else you’ll be surprised with some nice taxes on your bill later. Once you’re out in international waters, you won’t be charged tax at the bar.
Excursions – Worth it?
The quick and obvious answer is yes. Why else are you on a cruise to different places? But be wary of how you book your excursions. If your cruise offered you shore excursion credits for each port – check to see if it is for everyone in the cabin, or just one! We learned that the hard way. Either way, you’ll usually get a better deal if you book with outside vendors. There are some reputable companies that you can research before you travel that let you book similar or better excursions for much less money! Even better, you usually get a more personalized experience.
My Excursions in Vanuatu & Roatan Bay
In Vila, Vanuatu, we hired a van driver for the day and he drove us around. We started the day by climbing a waterfall, getting up close and personal with Vanuatu nature, and seeing the most gorgeous ocean views. Then Silu took us through his village and taught us about Vanuatu culture. We met some local children, and then ended the day at a tiki bar on the beach.
Yes, booking through the cruise line will give you that piece of mind and assurance that you will get back to the boat on time, but they will also rip away all of your money. Besides, do you think these companies would still be operating if they weren’t reliable? Usually the locals depend on business from tourists. So, support the local communities and get more individualized experiences – book excursions with outside companies.
Why? Because it’s another way for the cruise line to get more money from you. You’re already paying for food with the cost of the cruise; why pay more? Yea, the fancy restaurant sounds nice, but did you check what the buffet has tonight? No? Well go do it! There are always several dining options included for FREE. Eat there. The food will be just as delicious, and if you go to the same table at the same time each day, the wait staff might get to know you and it will make your trip that much more enjoyable.
So. Many. Activities.
Again, there’s no need to splurge on the events that cost extra. Some of my most favorite parts of my cruises were watching the included performances. (Shout out to Burn the Floor on Norwegian; they were spectacular!) There are game shows, contests, countless performances to watch, and themed nights. Take it all in! You’re bound to find something you like, and sometimes you can snag yourself a freebie from the crew.
Don’t purchase the photo packages.
Honestly, I shouldn’t need to spend the time convincing you. We all have cameras and camera phones these days that take excellent photos. Find a friendly neighbor on your cruise and ask them to take a photo. Plus, the ones offered through the cruise line are, more often than not, pretty darn tacky. Don’t do it. Take your own photos with the real islands behind you, not a screen. Case closed.
Bring the essentials
Yes, emergencies happen and you’ll come across that one thing you thought you should bring in case of emergency, but you ultimately left it at home. Understandable. But be as prepared as you can be. Pack any medicines, toiletries, and feminine products that you might need. Because if you end up needing it when you’re in the middle of the ocean, the only place to get it is in the duty-free shop on the ship. And because they know that’s your only option, the prices are ridiculous. So I repeat, be prepared.
Avoid the crowds
Yes, you’re excited that you made it to port. Yes, you can’t wait to get off the ship to go explore. I know, I know. But everyone else is thinking the exact. same. thing. Do yourself a favor and don’t rush out the gangway. Enjoy breakfast or participate in an early morning activity on the ship. When you’re done, you’ll easily make your way off the boat with no lines and no waiting. Aahh so simple.
You do know the ship is in a cruise terminal, right?
And chances are that the terminal is not down the street from your house. Make sure that you have budgeted both time AND money for any flights, buses, or taxis you need to get there! And to get back home if paradise hasn’t held you hostage.
There is so much to know about cruising, I could go on much longer… but I’ll spare you. Yes, a cruise can be a great deal – food, housing, transportation, entertainment, and more all in one price. Just make sure you’re budgeting for the unexpected. And enjoy! With the help of these cruising tips, you’ll be a cruise addict soon enough.