25 Tips for Smooth Sailing on Your Next Cruise
According to Statista, thirty percent of Americans would like to take a cruise -- whether that means boarding a Disney boat or not. With that in mind, Cheapism reached out to nearly a dozen cruise industry experts seeking their advice for having the best experience. From when and how to book, to what to bring and what to leave home, here's what the experts have to say about making the most of your cruise vacation.
It's best to lock in a good price as early as possible, advises Billy Hirsch, creator of CruiseHabit.com. "Put a deposit down on the sailing that you want at a price you think is worth it," says Hirsch. "If the price happens to go down before final payment date, you can generally get the difference back." If you've already made the final payment, this could be in the form of drink packages offered or a room upgrade.
In many cases you won't pay more when booking through a travel agent, says CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch. "In some cases, you'll pay less, as agents may have access to special perks or even discounted rates on specific sailings. Even if the price is the same, the value of a good travel agent is that you have someone who is a pro, able to answer your questions and guide you to make the right decisions for you."
Embarkation day typically involves a lengthy wait for luggage to reach your cabin, says Grainne Kelly, travel agent and founder of portable booster seat company BubbleGum. Be prepared by packing a carry-on stocked with everything you or your family might need. "Include swimsuits, sunscreen, a change of clothes and snacks," says Kelly. "It may be a couple of hours before you're reunited with your luggage, so be sure to keep any essentials on-hand."
Ship cabins are small, especially when you're traveling with family. Travel agent Grainne Kelly advises not packing too much. "Make a list of all the clothing you will need on the trip, then cut that in half," she says, noting that most of the time you'll likely be in a swimsuit anyway. In addition, most ships offer laundry service.
While it's important to not overpack clothing, when it comes to baby necessities, the advice is just the opposite. "If you're traveling with a baby or a toddler, make sure to bring enough formula, baby food, and diapers aboard, as these items will not typically be found for sale on your ship," says travel agent Grainne Kelly.
Ship staterooms typically do not have an abundance of power outlets, but more and more of our gadgets charge via USB. So consider bringing a USB power pack, says CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch. They can keep all your devices charged from one power outlet. These chargers are particularly important given that power strips are prohibited for safety reasons, Hirsch notes. Amazon sells USB power packs for around $24.
There's so many choices when it comes to selecting a stateroom for your cruise – still, says CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch, be realistic before plunking down your money. "If you're going on a Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise, you're likely spending very little time in your stateroom between your ports of call and the numerous activities and public spaces on board."
When traveling with kids, a balcony is key according to travel agent Grainne Kelly. "It's so nice to sit on the balcony after your kids go to sleep, especially if you have younger kids with early bedtimes," she says. Balconies also give families more space and provide a nice snacking spot, she adds. Balconies are also a must have on cruises through Alaska or the Norwegian Fjords, where the sights are stellar and the public decks are packed.
If motion sickness is an issue for you, cabin choice can be a lifesaver. "You'll want to choose a stateroom on a lower deck and mid-ship (not all the way towards the front or back), as you'll feel the motion much less in these locations," says CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch.
Jeremy Camosse, author of the book "201 Cruise Hacks," points out that most of the activities kids will want to participate in are located on the top and rear (aft) of the ship, so consider booking a cabin nearby to avoid long walks.
Beverage packages allow cruisers to pay a flat daily rate for unlimited drinks. "Do the math before you buy," says CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch. "Search for recent bar menus from the ship on which you'll be sailing and calculate, based on what you think you'll drink, and how much you'd spend if you pay for each drink on it's own." If you do opt for the package, buy ahead of time through a travel agent for a better deal.
To avoid being disappointed or shut out from activities, pre-book them before you step foot on the cruise ship, advises Bertha Merikanskas of CruCon Outlet. Cruise lines allow booking shore excursions, dining, spa treatments, shows and more online before the ship ever leaves port.
Believe it or not, some cruise lines allow you to bring bottles of wine onboard that can be consumed in your room, says CruCon Outlet's Bertha Merikanskas. But don't bring the wine to dinner at the ship restaurants, or you'll be charged a corkage fee.
Remember you'll be living in close quarters, says author Jeremy Camosse. Your neighbors could be partiers, parents with babies or newlyweds (wink, wink). "In all cases, the noise could make for a rough week," he explains. "Take precautions by bringing a set of ear plugs."
Know the pros and cons of booking excursions with the cruise line, advises CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch. "Sometimes prices for these tours, when booked through the cruise line, are much higher than what you might pay booking with a local tour operator," says Hirsch. However, when booked through the cruise line you have recourse if something goes wrong. More importantly, tours through the cruise line guarantee you get back in time - and don't get left behind.
Wifi aboard ships is spotty at best and often quite expensive. If you must send emails while cruising, compose them offline to minimize cost, advises author Jeremy Camosse. "There's no reason to type out your communications while paying for each passing second," he explains. "Put all emails together while offline, then log in and fire them off."
Another tip to help avoid missing out on an experience. All meals on a ship are planned for the entire week, explains author Jeremy Camosse. Ask the front desk for a copy of the week's menu for the main dining room so that you can plan your dining experiences. "If you're thinking about skipping the main dining room one night, this is the way to do it so that you won't miss your favorite meal," he explains.
Port maps are not handed out to the entire ship. They're typically given to those who attend onboard port lectures, says author Jeremy Camosse. Make a point of getting your hands on one. "Included are helpful tips, coupons and more," Camosse says. "They can save a lot of money and heartache." If port lectures are not your thing, ask guest relations for a map.
The breakfast buffet is a madhouse on days when the ship is in port. Everyone is trying to get a bite before disembarking. Rather then battle the crowds and risk missing an early departing excursion, order room service. On most ships, there's no charge
Always make sure your sliding balcony door is properly locked. It's very easy to access cabins via the external connections between balconies, says author Jeremy Camosse. And while in port, it's also possible for contractors such as painters and cleaners to get access to balconies.
Travel journalist and self-proclaimed cruise guru David Yeskel says staying healthy on a cruise involves frequent hand-washing and religious use of the ubiquitous sanitizing stations around the ship. Want extra protection? Try a portable sanitizing wand ($60). The UV wands sanitize hard-to-clean, or easily missed, surfaces such as the television remote or bathroom door handle. "I use it as soon as I come aboard and start unpacking," says Yeskel.
Port days are often one of the best and cheapest times to explore the ship, says Koreen McNutt, senior director global cruise at Expedia, Inc. "Take advantage of smaller crowds on board," says McNutt. "Often while other passengers are out on excursions, discounts for amenities onboard such as spa services, may be more widely offered."
Cruise companies are launching new technology, so take advantage, advises Expedia's Koreen McNutt. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Disney and Carnival provide high-tech wristbands that help travelers navigate the ship, make onboard purchases, access staterooms and more. MSC Cruises is planning to debut sensor-packed wristbands on the cruise line's new mega-ship this summer. Many cruise lines now also have dedicated apps available on your phone.
On the last morning of a cruise, there will be a long line of individuals disputing transactions on their final bill. Don't get stuck in this line, says author Jeremy Camosse. Ask for a printout of your bill the evening before you arrive back in port and spend the final moments of your cruise relaxing.
Avoid waiting for your luggage to come off the ship at the end of a trip by carrying it off yourself on disembarkation day rather than using the ship valet, says Expedia's Koreen McNutt. This gives you more control over how much time you have to pack and more flexibility once off the ship.