24 Tips and Tricks for Smooth Sailing on Your Next Cruise

Cruise Ship in Juneau, Alaska


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Cruise Ship in Juneau, Alaska

Cruise Along

Year after year, more and more people board cruise ships in pursuit of a dream vacation. Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, had projected that a record 32 million passengers would take a cruise in 2020. That, however, was before the coronavirus started playing havoc with travel plans around the world. With vaccinations common and case rates down (and many cruise lines open for business), we reached out to nearly a dozen cruise industry experts for advice on how to have the best experience. From when and how to book to what to bring and what to leave home, here's what they had to say about making the most of a cruise vacation. 

Related: The Worst Cruise Ship Horror Stories

Young woman shopping on-line
Petar Chernaev/istockphoto

Book Early and Check Prices Often

It's best to lock in a good price as early as possible, said Billy Hirsch, creator of CruiseHabit.com. "Put a deposit down on the sailing that you want at a price you think is worth it," Hirsch said. "If the price happens to go down before the 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 a drink package or a room upgrade.

Related: 30 Things You're Doing Wrong When Planning a Vacation

Woman working in travel agency

Use a Good Travel Agent

In many cases you won't pay more when booking through a travel agent, said Billy Hirsch of CruiseHabit.com. "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."

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable woman packing her things into a suitcase at home before travelling
Adene Sanchez/istockphoto

Bring a Carry-On for Embarkation Day

Embarkation day typically involves a lengthy wait for luggage to reach your cabin, said Grainne Kelly, a former travel agent and founder of portable booster seat company BubbleBum. 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," Kelly said. "It may be a couple of hours before you're reunited with your luggage, so be sure to keep any essentials on hand." 

Over packed

Don't Overpack

Ship cabins are small, especially for families. As an avid traveler, Grainne Kelly advised against packing too much. "Make a list of all the clothing you will need on the trip, then cut that in half," she said, noting that most of the time you'll likely be in a swimsuit anyway. Also, most ships offer laundry service.

Baby products in a nursery
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Bring All Baby Necessities

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," Grainne Kelly said.

Related: 12 Tips for Smooth Travel With Kids

powerbank and cellphone on wooden table

Bring a Multi-Port USB Charger

Ship staterooms typically do not have an abundance of power outlets, but more and more gadgets charge via USB. Consider bringing a USB power pack that can keep all your devices charged from one power outlet, said CruiseHabit.com's Billy Hirsch. Amazon sells them for less than $30. A USB power pack also comes in handy because power strips are prohibited for safety reasons, Hirsch said.


Don't Sweat the Stateroom

There are so many choices when it comes to selecting a stateroom. Still, be realistic before plunking down money for extra amenities, Billy Hirsch said. "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."

Cruise Ship in Juneau, Alaska

Got Kids? Book a Balcony Cabin

When traveling with kids, you'll appreciate a balcony, according to 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 said. Balconies also give families more space and provide a nice snacking spot, she added. 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.

Woman suffering from sea sickness and feeling headache while on boat
Piyapong Thongcharoen/istockphoto

Choose a Cabin Wisely If You Tend to Get Seasick

If motion sickness is an issue for you, cabin choice can be crucial. CruiseHabit's Billy Hirsch suggested avoiding the very front and back of the ship. Instead, choose a stateroom on a lower deck in the middle of the ship. "You'll feel the motion much less in these locations," he said.

Sometimes It's Best to Go Small

Map the Distance from Key Activities to Your Cabin

Jeremy Camosse, author of the book "201 Cruise Hacks," noted that that most of the activities that appeal to kids tend to be located at the top and rear of the ship. Consider booking a cabin nearby to avoid long walks.

Orange and Mango Cocktail on on a cruise liner being held by a Caucasian mans left hand on beautiful tropical beach.
Duncan Cuthbertson/istockphoto

Do the Math Before Buying a Beverage Package

Beverage packages allow cruisers to pay a flat daily rate for unlimited drinks. "Do the math before you buy," said CruiseHabit'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 its own." If you do opt for a package, buy ahead of time through a travel agent for a better deal.

Related: 25 Cruise Ship Mistakes to Avoid

Woman is wearing eye mask and using earplugs

Pack Earplugs

Remember you'll be living in close quarters. Your neighbors could be partiers, parents with babies, or newlyweds (wink, wink). "In all cases, the noise could make for a rough week," said author Jeremy Camosse. "Take precautions by bringing a set of ear plugs."

Avalon Luminary Cruise in Danube Symphony
Avalon Waterways

Don't Miss the Boat on Shore Excursions

There are pros and cons to booking excursions with the cruise line. "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," said CruiseHabit's Billy Hirsch. However, when booking through the cruise line, you have recourse if something goes wrong. "More importantly," he said, "tours through the cruise line guarantee you get back in time — and don't get left behind."

The woman sitting in a chair on a seaside balcony shooting a photo on mobile phone.

Use Wi-Fi Sparingly

Wi-Fi aboard ships is spotty at best and often quite expensive. If you must send emails while cruising, author Jeremy Camosse advised composing them offline to minimize cost. "There's no reason to type out your communications while paying for each passing second," he said. "Put all emails together while offline, then log in and fire them off."

Cold cuts and wine
Walmor Santos/istockphoto

Look at the Menu in Advance

Meals are typically planned for the entire trip, so Jeremy Camosse suggested asking the front desk for a copy of the menu for the main dining room and planning your dining experiences accordingly. "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 said.

Get a Port Map At the Onboard Lecture

Get a Port Map at the Onboard Lecture

Port maps, which include helpful tips, coupons, and more, are not handed out to the entire ship. They're typically given to those who attend onboard port lectures, said author Jeremy Camosse. Make a point of getting your hands on one. "They can save a lot of money and heartache," Camosse said. If port lectures aren't your thing, ask for a map at guest relations.

Breakfast in Room

Order Room Service on Excursion Days

The breakfast buffet is a madhouse on days when the ship is in port. Everyone is trying to get a bite before disembarking. Rather than battle the crowds and risk missing an early excursion departure, order room service. On most ships, there's no charge.

Moorea, French Polynesia

Lock Your Balcony Door

Always make sure your sliding balcony door is properly locked. It's very easy to access cabins via the external connections between balconies, Jeremy Camosse said. And while in port, it's also possible for contractors such as painters and cleaners to get access to balconies.

Applying sanitizer gel

Keep Your Hands Clean

Travel journalist and self-proclaimed cruise guru David Yeskel said staying healthy on a cruise involves frequent hand-washing and religious use of the ubiquitous sanitizing stations around the ship. For extra protection, he uses a portable wand to sanitize surfaces such as the TV remote and bathroom door handle. "I use it as soon as I come aboard and start unpacking," Yeskel said. It costs $60, though, and is likely no more effective than simply washing your hands.

Young woman relaxing during back massage at the spa.

Explore the Ship on the Cheap While in Port

Port days are often one of the best and cheapest times to explore the ship, said Koreen McNutt, senior director, global cruise at Expedia. "Take advantage of smaller crowds on board," she said. "Often while other passengers are out on excursions, discounts for amenities onboard, such as spa services, may be more widely offered."

Stone Creek Dining Co., Greenwood, Indiana
Stone Creek Dining - Greenwood/Yelp

Pre-Book Excursions and Other Activities

To avoid being disappointed or shut out from activities, pre-book them before you step foot on the cruise ship. Cruise lines allow passengers to book shore excursions, dining, spa treatments, shows, and more online before the ship ever leaves port.

Red wine

Bring Your Own Vino

Believe it or not, some cruise lines allow you to bring bottles of wine onboard that can be consumed in your room. But don't bring the wine to dinner at the ship restaurants, or you'll be charged a corkage fee.

Group of people standing in queue at boarding gate

Get Your Final Bill Early

On the last morning of a cruise, there will be a long line of people disputing transactions on their final bill. Don't get stuck in that line. Instead, take Jeremy Camosse's advice and ask for a printout of your bill the evening before you arrive back in port, so you can spend the final moments of your cruise relaxing. 

Visitors (with face masks) queue, and wait patiently at the pier to check in to St John's Island via SafeEntry scan during coronavirus covid-19 outbreak.

Be Your Own Bellhop

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, said Expedia's Koreen McNutt. This gives you more control over how much time you have to pack and more flexibility once off the ship.

Discover more fun and useful cruise tips and destinations right here.