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Holidays should be fun, and even more so on a cruise ship because you can do as little or as much as you want, and the services are at your fingertips.

So once you’ve booked in your annual leave, snagged that too-good-to-be-true cruise fare, packed your bags for your dream destination, or just arrived in your cabin, here are some ideas on how you can truly indulge while on board and get right in to holiday mode.

And forget all ideas about saving (yourself or dollars) – this is about living it up!

Alternative Dining

Gourmet cuisine, and lots of it, is one of the great bonuses of cruising. It’s not that you can’t get gourmet meals on any holiday, it’s just that it’s so much easier on a ship, where your meals are included and there are often multiple alternative dining venues only a few minutes walk from your cabin.

To truly indulge in the cuisine cruising has to offer, make your reservations for your ship’s specialty restaurants as soon as possible as they can book out fast, especially when the restaurant is run by a celebrity chef (so common these days!). Many cruise lines now also allow you to book online before you embark.

Specialty restaurants usually come at a fee but, like one Cruise Passenger subscriber said to me recently, they are one of the best things about cruising as you could never get such a superb meal on land for approximately $30! Disney Cruise Line is an exception: it charges each person $75 to dine at the exclusive Chef’s Table.

Best bet:

Oceania Cruises has multiple dining venues on board its four vessels (Marina, Regatta, Insignia and Nautica) and none of them charge extra. So, sushi, Italian, food from the grill, tapas, pizza, it’s all yours.

Spa Treatments

Soft music and sweet scents envelope you as you walk in to a spa and are led to your massage table. Hot stones massage your back and you drift off… And you wake up an hour later, relaxed as if you’ve just spent a month in an Indian ashram.

Book in and relax! How often do you have a spa at the end of your corridor?

Unless you’re on an expedition ship in the polar regions (an exception being Silversea’s Prince Albert II, which has a spa and beauty salon), your cruise ship should have a spa facility.

Some, like Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises, have a spa area offering everything from hot-stone massages, to exotic therapies and Eastern practices, plus your typical gym equipment.

A recent concept found on board some Costa Cruises and Celebrity Cruises vessels is to incorporate accommodation and healthy dining venues with spa offerings to create a new, oh-so-relaxing style of cruising that can be booked as a package.

Best bet:

Celebrity Cruises’ AquaSpa is a state-of-the-art health zone that includes AquaClass spa cabins, AquaSpa Café and Blu (think fresh smoothies, salads and grills), so you can live, eat and breath a healthy lifestyle while you’re holidaying.

Shore Excursions

Exploring the ancient Greek ruins of Delphi last year was a mystifying experience. It was the centre of the ancient world, where the most revered oracle resided.

We chose to explore independently this day and happened to regret it later on!

Setting out from SeaDream I, we hired a taxi and made the 40-minute drive towards the ruins, marveled at temples (ignoring the Greek description tablets) then followed the experience up with a wander through the adjoining museum, which partly helped to describe the sights we saw. The outing cost us about 60 Euros.

There was a “Land Adventure”, as SeaDream Yacht Club calls them, that included transport to the location, entry to both the archeological site and museum and, most importantly, a guided tour, for US$125 each.

Afterwards, we met the tour group on the tender back to the ship. They were all excitedly talking about an egg-shaped rock, which marked the very spot where the ancients believed the centre of the earth to be.

We had walked past this rock, barely giving it a second glance, and our error made us wonder what other things we had missed.

The lesson learned:

Be free while you’re away and set aside some money for a couple of shore tours because you may not ever return to the destination again! We did three and it really maximised our experience in port.

Onboard Enrichment

Cruise lines have really embraced the idea that many cruise passengers are keen to indulge their minds, as well as well as their waistlines, while away at sea. For many of us, lying by a pool is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that we’re on holidays but it’s nice to know the spare hours can also be used to expand knowledge.

Luxury and premium lines in particular offer a growing number of onboard enrichment programs, including cooking classes and demonstrations, lectures on various topics, presentations by famous speakers, dance lessons and more.

With Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line and Silversea (Silversea offers enrichment voyages specific to certain themes) the extra programs are free, and cover computer learning, acting classes, tai chi, photography and the like.

Others, like Celebrity Cruises charge extra for language classes, food and wine tastings and some technology classes; Princess Cruises charges for computer classes, ceramics materials and wine tastings (guest lectures are complimentary).