After five weeks, we have finally arrived at the ultimate 100 cruise tips of all time – and thanks to all who helped us compile this list.
They include things you need to know before your cruise, how to have fun on a budget, what to pack, what to do when you first embark and settling into your cabins. We also cover the tips for onboard activities, dining and food, shore excursions and everyone’s least favourite part, the disembarkation.
We hope these tips will help you to plan and enjoy the best cruise holiday. And don’t stop sharing you own tips!
Before your cruise
1. Cruise port security is nothing like the airport
You and your carry-on luggage still have to go through the x-ray machine and metal detector but you do not have to remove liquids or laptops from your bags.
Cruise lines also do not require you to keep your carry on liquids to 100ml. However, the security agents do flag liquid bottles like wine and can of soda for additional screening as the lines do have rules about how much alcohol or soda you can bring on a ship.
2. Be nice to the crew
They work long days and all days of the week to make sure you have the best time on board. Being courteous to them will go a long way in helping them provide you with the best service.
3. Bring your holiday attitude
Every cruise is different. Let your hair down, go with the flow and have fun! Say hi to any familiar faces, meet new friends, explore the ship and find your favourite spot and activities.
4. Make reservations early to get the best
Reservations for restaurants, shows and spa can be made online weeks prior to your cruise. Your favourite slots might be fully booked if you wait until you are on the ship to make reservations.
5. Make sure you have all the right travel documents
This sounds like a no brainer but the adventure cannot start without getting them lined up right. Most cruises would require a passport and for some local sailings that don’t, you’d still need to bring an official identification. Also, check for Visa requirements of the countries you are visiting and make sure you have travel insurance.
6. Research your ship
This is important for those who would like to maximise their time on board. The more research you do ahead, the less time you spend figuring out the details while on the cruise. A quick look online will let you know what facilities and activities are on board, which restaurants are complimentary and speciality and more. It would also be helpful to look a the shore excursions offered on your itinerary so you can budget for any that you are interested in or organise other tours on your own.
7. Arrive early for embarkation
Most cruise ships will begin boarding four to five hours before sail away. Plan to arrive at the port early, especially if it is your first time at the port. You don’t want to start your cruise stressed out!
8. Cabin upgrade offers
You might get a cabin upgrade offer from the cruise line for a small fee. Getting an upgrade from an interior room to a balcony room might sound very enticing but it might be helpful to check where the room is situated in the deck plan to make sure you are happy with its location. Some rooms are close to the engine or have views of the lifeboats!
9. Cruise lines do provide babysitting services
This one is for parents who are thinking of cruising with kids. The ships have kids clubs where you can drop them off in the day but also have a range of babysitting options. This includes late night in-cabin babysitting, group babysitting and also mealtime babysitting. Check with your line to see what they offer and how much it costs per hour.
10. Browse the daily cruise schedule
The schedule will have plenty of ideas for what to do on the day, perfect for those who prefer to play things by ear. The newsletter usually features daily event highlights, entertainment, special offers at the bar and spa and more. If you need more ideas, just ask the crew! You can also take a photo of the daily schedule so you can easily refer back to it throughout the day.
11. Get to know your cabin steward
Cabin stewards not only have plenty of information about the ship but also the ports that the ship visits. They may have been to these ports personally or heard about the other guests talking about their experiences on shore. If they don’t know the answer to your question, they’ll know whom you need to ask.
12. Check your onboard account regularly
Keep an eye on your on board daily spend. Things can sometimes be incorrectly charged to you or packages not correctly applied to your account. Checking on your account regularly will allow you to correct these issues promptly and also keep track of your spending so you don’t get a shock on the last day of your cruise and spend it trying to fix your bill.
Fun on a budget
13. Put a future cruise deposit down for free onboard credits
Cruise lines do what they can to entice repeat cruisers on board and this is also a favourite tip from seasoned cruisers. Head to the booking desk while you are on your cruise to put down a deposit for a future cruise and get free on board credits for your next cruise. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line offers US$100 onboard credit to spend instantly on the cruise you are currently on and up to US$500 if you make a deposit of US$1000 on a future cruise.
14. Set a budget
Budget for your cruise at the start by putting a set amount of cash at reception on day one. Some cruisers find this helpful with making sure they did not spend more than they intended. You may even find that you didn’t use it all and even have a couple of hundred dollars to bring home at the end.
15. Visit the spa when in port
The spa often offers discounts on massages and treatments when the ship is in port. This works out perfect if you want take a break from exploring ports and relax and unwind on board instead.
16. Find out which are the free spa facilities
Most cruise lines allow guests to use the spa shower facilities, which is often shared with the gym. The spa showers are often larger and nicer than the ones in the cabins and they are also perfect for taking long hot showers with having to worry about steaming up your cabin. Some lines also provide free access to the sauna aboard.
17. Take advantage of free laundry or launderettes
Many cruise lines offer their most loyal cruises complimentary or discounted laundry services. But if you haven’t earned your stripes, there are also launderettes available in the self-service laundry rooms on many lines. You can even bring your own laundry detergent and softeners so you don’t have to buy them from the vending machines.
18. Be your own cameraman
The camera on your smartphones can take quality pictures these days. Taking your own holiday photos onboard can save you from having to pay for the photos snapped by the professional photographer.
19. Share rides with fellow passengers
Taxi rides into the city from the ports can quickly add up. If you are travelling as a pair, team up with fellow passengers and halve the cost of the transfer.
20. Mention a special occasion
Drop a mention to any crew member that you are on board to celebrate a special occasion. You might be surprised with complimentary treats during your cruise, like returning to your cabin to find chocolates or even a bottle of champagne and strawberries to go with!
21. Take everything out of the mini-bar
Your cabin may come with a fully stocked mini-bar. If you want to keep temptation at bay, you can take everything out and fill it with your own food and drinks. Voila, a DIY mini-bar that you can enjoy at the fraction of the cost. You can even ask your room steward to empty it. Just be sure to put everything back at the end so you don’t get charged for whatever is missing.
22. Scope out the loyalty programs
It pays to be loyal. Every cruise line has their own loyalty programs which reward their most loyal cruisers with perks. This could range from priority boarding, reservations, on board discounts to complimentary dinners at specialty restaurants, laundry and Internet minutes. Climbing the ranks of the loyalty program with the right perks for you can save you some money.
23. Become a shareholder
Shareholders with a minimum of 100 shares in the company usually qualify for onboard credit offers. For instance, P&O offers $100 onboard credit per cabin if you book a seven-night cruise while Norwegian Cruise Line has an offer of US$100 onboard credit per cabin for shareholders cruising seven days or more and US$50 per cabin for cruises six days or less.
24. Cheap drinks, free drinks
The ‘drink of the day’ often comes in a souvenir glass. Bring that glass back to the bar and get a refill that is cheaper than the original drink. Some cruisers have also suggested that you can ask for the drink of the day in a regular glass for an even cheaper price.
There are plenty of events on board that offers free drinks to guests. This includes the art auction, Captain’s welcome aboard party, martini demonstration and more!
Packing for your cruise
25. Check the climate of your destination
Pack according to the climate of the places you’ll be sailing to. And if you are heading to an unfamiliar climate, it could be a good idea to look online and see what others suggest. Here’s our must-haves for an Alaska cruise.
26. Pack clothes that can be mixed and matched
It’d be nice to have your whole wardrobe at your disposal but what you need is a few pieces that can mix and match and make different outfits!
People really don’t notice if you wore a dress before, so there’s no need to take lots of evening wear. A female cruise has suggested to take a simple, wash-n-wear, long black frock that you can wear alone or with different tops for a bit of variety and a formal look.
27. Pack a carry on bag
Your checked-in suitcase will only arrive at your room later in the afternoon and possibly after dinner if it is delayed. Pack anything you think you’ll need for the day in a carry on bag, including medications and important documents. You can also pack your swimsuit in your carry on, as the pools and hot tubs are often already open if your room is not ready.
28. Pack a night light for the cabin
This is especially helpful if you booked an interior room. You will have no light seeping into your room without any windows. Once you turn out the lights at night, it is pitch black. The night light will help you get to the toilet safely at night.
29. Do laundry on board
Have a luggage bursting with clothes? This will help you to cut them down, just wash and they are ready for another wear! Most lines offer launderettes that charge a nominal fee and all you need is to bring some laundry liquid/powder with you. This tip is especially helpful if you are cruising in the summer and foresee yourself wanting to change into fresh clothes a few times a day.
30. Leave the iron at home
Even the travel ones. They are viewed as fire hazards on board. Try to pack clothes that don’t wrinkle easily and if you really need to smooth something out, there is usually an iron and ironing board in the laundry.
31. Magnets for the walls
Most cabin walls are metal. Having magnets around will allow you to hang things on the wall like wet bathing suits, clip daily itineraries, leave messages and other important documents on the wall.
32. Multi-socket adaptors/power boards
With all the electrical devices we have these days, you’ll most likely find them lining up to get recharged at the end of the day. However, lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean have banned guests from bringing them on board.
While P&O Cruises say that they may be allowed on board if they are deemed to be in safe and proper working condition.
You might try to sneak to one through security but Carnival Cruise Line also suggests on their website that you can request one from your room steward who can supply one for the duration of your cruise.
Remember to pack medications for common ailments as they are much more expensive on board. It will also be safer and more convenient if you have the medications you are used to at hand.
34. A towel clip will come in handy poolside
The deck can get very windy and clipping your towel to the lounger will prevent it from flying off in the breeze and also mark the lounger so you can easily spot it while relaxing in the pool.
35. Bring a water bottle
You can save the environment and money if you bring a water bottle and refill it at the fountains at the gym. It will also be handy to keep a bottle of water with you when going on excursions.
36. Take a picture of all of your baggage
Have photographs of your suitcases on your phone, particularly if flights are involved, much easier to show a photo (which can then be sent with the missing baggage report) than try describing a missing case.
What to do when you first embark
37. Head to the main dining room on embarkation day for lunch
Many people make a beeline to the buffet when they get on board on the first day. Lunch at the main dining room to get away from the chaos at the buffet. This is one of the best-kept secret of cruisers, use this one wisely.
38. Organise your dining
Guests are often asked when they book their cruise if they would like early or late dining. If you didn’t get your desired allocation, approach the Maitre d on the first day of your cruise to request a different time. If you are planning on going to many of the excursions, pick the late seating because many of them won’t get you back in time for the early seating.
If you have any dietary restrictions, now is also a good time to confirm with the Maitre d if they have been made aware of it.
39. Practice good hygiene habits
Hit the hand sanitiser stations installed all over the ships frequently. Or even better keep a good hand washing regime, especially after using the toilet, before eating and when coming back on board after an excursion. Also, be mindful of not using your hands to reach for the food at the buffet. Good hygiene habits is key to prevent a norovirus outbreak on board. Find out what are the signs your ship is affected and what to do during the outbreak here.
40. Be considerate to your neighbours
The doors of the cabins shut rather firmly on their own. Your neighbours will thank you for closing them gently. This is for all times of the day. You never know if someone is have a lie in or taking an afternoon nap.
The thin walls of the cabins allow sound to travel quite well. Be mindful of your volume to be polite to your neighbours and perhaps skip the midnight movie played at full volume.
When returning at night, remember to keep your down and also be mindful if you are out on the balcony and also remember to turn off the balcony lights.
41. Don’t skip the muster drill
Attendance is mandatory and there have been reports of ships ordering passengers to disembark for failing to turn up.
42. Unplug all power boards/adaptors when you leave your room
This is a safety requirement on all cruise ships to avoid any fire hazards.
43. Take the stairs
The lifts get crowded easily and taking the stairs is a good way to clock in some exercise. Don’t forget to hold on to the handrails though, the ship can get rocky when passing through rough seas.
44. Buy a spa pass
The spa pass gets you access to spa facilities like steam rooms, saunas, thalassotherapy pool and heated tiled loungers. Passes are usually limited to ensure the facilities aren’t overcrowded, so check if your ship’s spa offers them on the day you embark.
45. Look out for special offers at the specialty restaurants
The specialty restaurants might run special offers of the first day of the cruise where guests are likely to be dining at the buffet or the main dining room.
46. Sneak a peek at the menus
The main dining room menus are planned for the week. Just head to the purser’s desk and ask to see them so you can decide which night you don’t want to miss and plan accordingly.
47. Put your suitcase under the bed
Putting your suitcase under the bed will really help create more space in your cabin. You might also want to unpack your things and put them in the wardrobe if you are on a longer sailing so you wouldn’t need to constantly reach under the bed.
48. You can ask for the bed configuration to be changed
You might get in to your room to find a double bed but would much prefer two single beds. Just inform your cabin stewards (or even leave them a note), they would be happy to make the change.
49. Smoking is not allowed in cabins
All cruise lines have banned smoking in cabins and all lines sailing in Australia have also banned smoking on private balconies. Smokers will have to locate the designated smoking area on their ship. It could be an upper deck or specific lounge.
50. You are not encouraged to leave balcony doors open
Having the sounds of the wind and sea stream in as you wind down in your room might be very enticing but most cruise lines don’t encourage guests to do so. This is because the air-conditioning in surrounding rooms may be affected if you leave them open. It may also cause the smoke alarm to be set off although there is no smoke or fire.
51. Hang an over-the-door organiser
This is a popular hack among cruisers to get organised and free up counter space. Put your bits and bobs like your hairbrush, toiletries, chargers so you can see where everything is at a glance and don’t spend any precious holiday time, searching for them in the room!
52. It’s back to basics for toiletries
Most contemporary lines only provide basic shampoo and soap in the bathroom and sometimes even a two in one soap. So remember to pack all the other toiletries you’d miss, like toothpaste, skincare, sunscreen and even hair conditioner if you see yourself spending a lot of time at the beach or in the pool. These things can be pricey on board.
53. Look at the carpets for direction
This can help with getting back to your cabin. It is easy to lose your way in the long hallways and Norwegian ships have designed their carpets to help. The carpet features lots of small fishes which face forward. And if you are walking against the swimming fishes, you’re headed aft.
54. Behind the scenes cruise ship tour
Cruise lines offer exclusive tours to see below deck and backstage to learn how everything comes together to bring you the cruise experience. These spots are very few as there is only one tour per sailing. They also get booked out quickly although they are at a fee. So pre book the experience before your sailing or as soon as you are aboard for a chance to see the galley, engine control room, bridge and even the funnel!
55. Work out if the any of the add-on packages would be a deal
This applies to all sorts of packages, from drinks to dining, spa and even the internet! Cruise lines offer a wide variety of packages so you can maximise your fun. They might be worth it if you see yourself indulging a lot in a certain activity. Most of these packages are often discounted when they are pre-booked rather than purchased on board as well.
56. Meet other people and make friends
Don’t be a stranger! You’ll get many chances to meet new people and make new friends while on a cruise, even if you are travelling in a group. Just say hi!
57. Try one new thing every day
Cruising is a great way to try things you’ve never tried before, from food to entertainment, activities and the thrill rides. They are all within walking distance of each other and you’ll have many other people who’ll be trying it along with you.
58. Don’t miss the sunset
You’d be surprise how easy it is to miss the sunset on board, with all the fun you’re surrounded by. But you get a unique view of the sunset on a cruise and it will be a shame to miss it.
59. Free snacks
Having fun and taking part in so many activities can work up an appetite quickly. You can always find a quick snack like slices of pizza and soft serve ice cream on the pool deck or the buffet when in between mealtimes.
60. Take a break
It is hard to slow down when you are surrounded with so much fun. But don’t forget to give yourself breaks, especially after long shore excursions. Otherwise, you’ll be needing another holiday after the cruise!
61. Pre-book your tickets for the shows
Cruise lines put on some big name shows on ships like ‘Mamma Mia!’ on Royal Caribbean and ‘Rock of Ages’ on Norwegian Cruise Line. The seats of these shows fill out fast so pre-book your tickets before the sailing if you can.
On other lines, you might want to arrive early for the show to snag your seat. Cruisers have reportedly started queuing an hour early before the show!
62. Show up at the sold out show anyway
If you didn’t manage to reserve a ticket to view popular sold out shows, you can still try your luck and get in line on the day as some people with tickets might not show up. The staff will be more than happy to let you in if there are still seats available prior to showtime. However, there’s no guarantees so always have a plan B!
63. Some shows have additional fees
If you were planning to catch dinner theatre shows like Cirque du Soleil on MSC Cruises’ Meraviglia Class and Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Cirque Dreams remember budget extra as they have a surcharge.
64. You can learn new casino games for free
Some cruise ship casinos offers daily classes on games. You can join these classes to learn the rules and play practice rounds without placing cash bets. Cruise ship casinos are also great for people new to the game as the limits are low.
65. Don’t let the kids run wild
Take the children to the Kids’ Club on day one so they can make friends that they can have fun with under supervision. This way, you can plan some kid-free time with a peace of mind.
66. Find your own fun
Don’t feel pressured to stick together as a group. You might be in the mood for different things on a given day. Go on and find your fun and arrange to meet up later. Some cruise lines have made keeping in touch with friends and family on board even easier by building an in-app messaging function on their official app.
67. Go for a round of bingo if you’re feeling lucky
You have to pay for the bingo cards but it is a long running cruise tradition and there are a whole range of prizes waiting to be won. They include cash, spa and shore excursion passes to a free cruise. Just set a budget and you’re good to go.
Dining and food
68. Breakfast in the Main Dining Room
Some people do not realise that the Main Dining Room serves breakfast too. But this one is for the early risers as breakfast service usually ends around 9am. The buffet breakfast can go on till 10 or 11.
69. Buy wine by the bottle
It is often cheaper to buy wine by the bottle rather than single glasses and the waiters can also save your bottle of wine for another night if you can’t finish it in one meal.
70. You can order multiple servings in the main dining room
If you can’t choose between the selection of entrées and mains on the menu, you can just order both. It is your holiday, go on and indulge!
71. Ask for half portions
You can also half portions when you order multiple servings so you can try all that is offered and not waste any food.
72. You can always ask to change table
Table sharing can be fun as you get to meet new people and make new friends. But if you’d like a quiet meal with your travel companion or don’t enjoy the company of your current table for any reason, feel free to ask for a change of table.
73. Lunch at specialty restaurants
Some specialty restaurants serve lunch and they usually have lower cover charge for lunch sitting. It can be great way to try the food at a smaller cost.
74. Pace yourself
It is very tempting to have a taste of all the food around you. But remember to pace yourself if you do not want to put on too much weight while holidaying. Spread out the delicious treats for the whole cruise, your tummy will thank you for it.
75. Request table for two in advance
Tables for two are limited in the main dining room as cruise lines try to maximise seating. So if you are on a honeymoon or looking to spend some private time with your partner, make sure to save your spot early with the maître d!
76. Order your extras as early as possible
The waiters like to keep everyone at the table on the same course so ordering a second main while everyone else is ready for dessert might delay dessert for everyone. Try to get in all your orders right at the start or if you are hit with food envy midway, put in the extra order at the start of each course. If you have a show to get to after dinner, you might also want to hold that thought.
77. Find the secret breakfast spots
Breakfast can actually be found beyond the buffet, room service and the main dining room. Dining spots around the ship might also offer a complimentary morning menu. If you are up for some breakfast hunting, try places like O’Sheehan’s on Norwegian Cruise Line, BlueIguana Cantina on Carnival and the International Café on Princess Cruises.
78. The coffee bars have free snacks
Cruise ship cafes charge you for the specialty coffee but they offer many complimentary snacks from paninis, pastries to fresh fruit and salad anytime of the day.
79. Do your research on where you’ll be docking
The ports can quite a distance away from the city so you’ll need to factor in the cost of the transfer if you are planning your own excursion. Some ports also offer free shuttle services. Buying a shore excursion in every port can also add up quickly on your final bill. However, at some ports like Alaska and exotic destinations, going on a shore excursion might be the only way to explore the port.
80. Pack some snacks
If you are in a port that allows you to take food off your ship, packing some snacks might come in handy if you’re going on an all day tour. With all the ground to cover on the tour, you might start feeling hungry before the time set aside for trying out the local fare.
81. Head for the middle when boarding the tender boats
Moving to the centre of the tender boat will help everyone board quickly. You’d be getting to shore faster, meaning more time to experience everything on shore!
82. Take a picture of the license plate of you tour transport
On an excursion we always take a picture of the license plate of the vehicle/van/bus we are traveling in since so many of them look alike and there tends to be several of them all in the same place.
83. Double check the time you have to be back on board
This can vary from port to port and can also be updated during the sailing. A quick double check will help to ensure that you get back at the right time for departure.
84. Be on time when returning after a shore excursion
It is probably every cruiser’s nightmare to have the ship leave without you. Cruises usually ask guests to be back on board 30 minutes before departure but also plan ahead for unexpected delays, especially if you are exploring the shore independently.
85. Don’t purchase everything at the first port of call
Check out in advance what souvenirs each port are famous for so you can spread out your budget and have something to remember each destination by.
86. Bring cash
Bring local currency in cash for independent shore excursions so you can easily pay for taxis, tips, snacks and souvenirs. If you did not manage to prepare local currency, you can also ask if you can pay in US dollars.
87. Leave shopping for the last
Leave the shopping for the last so you can explore the sights and attractions on shore without having to carry around your purchases all day.
88. Some excursions are better booked through the cruise line
There are a few benefits with booking shore excursions through the cruise line. You can save the effort of planning your own excursion, especially if you want to see a few things while you’re there of if the attractions are further away from port. The ship also won’t leave without you if you’re late returning from an excursion booked through the line. You might also want to book through the cruise line if you are planning to try adventurous activities like zip lines, kayaking and glacier hiking, as all of their tour providers have been vetted.
89. Read the shore excursion description carefully
To make sure you get the experience you’re after, understand exactly how your time will be spent on the tour. Ask the shore excursion manager to explain how much time is spent on the bus driving to and between attractions, how much time you’ll get to spend at each destination. Most often, you’ll might have to decide between spending short mounts of time in a variety of places and getting a detailed tour of one area.
90. Book limited availability excursions in advance
Excursions like flightseeing in Alaska often have very limited availability. It can be helpful to check the availability on your must-do tours. That way you can decide if you need to make your reservation ASAP or you can afford to wait and see.
91. Dress according to local customs and cultural dress codes
When in Rome (or anywhere else in the world), do as the Romans do. Being mindful of how you dress shows respect for the local customs, which the locals will appreciate. This could be wearing skirts or bottoms that go beyond the knees in many parts of Southeast Asia to wearing a cover up in the Caribbean when walking to and from the shore.
92. Bring a list of emergency contacts and a photocopy of your passport
You want to be prepared for any emergencies so take down the numbers of the cruise line, ship, travel agent, insurance company and the tour guide/operator. A photocopy of your passport will also come in handy if your passport is stolen.
93. Pack your essentials in a carry on for the last day
This includes setting aside clothes for the final day of the cruise. You’ll be leaving your luggage out the night before for them to be off loaded. You don’t want to be left wearing your pyjamas to get off the ship!
94. Visit to Guest Services during the quiet hours
The line at Guest Services always gets inevitably long at the beginning and end of the cruise. If you have a few things to straighten out at Guests Services, plan to visit it later in the evening or early in the morning. It is open 24 hours a day, so get creative and don’t waste the precious last moments of your holiday in a queue!
95. You can opt to disembark first if you can handle your own luggage
If you need to disembark quickly to catch your flight, cruise lines often have a self-assist group that disembarks early. However, you’d need to be able to bring your own luggage off the ship.
96. Take the lift up to go down
The lift on the last day of the cruise is frequently packed as most passengers have their carry-on bags with them. A trick to get into the lift without waiting around in a game of chance is to head up before heading down.
97. Check your cabins
Make sure and then make sure again that you didn’t leave anything behind in your cabin. Check the safe, cupboards, drawers and under the bed. You don’t want to head home without everything, including your souvenirs from the trip! Guests have also shared that recovering things from the lost and found is not easy.
98. Gather the receipts of your large purchases
Going through customs is the final step. Be aware of the allowances in your home country for alcohol, cigarettes and large purchases. Gather the relevant receipts the night before. Australian residents returning to Australia are allowed a duty-free exemption of AU$900 per adult and AU$450 for people under 18 years of age, which includes the cost of 2250ml of alcoholic beverages for each guest 18 years of age or older.
99. Book a flight no earlier than five hours after scheduled arrival
Disembarkation begins around 30 minutes after your cruise arrives in port, but the whole process of getting everyone of the ship is normally takes three hours to complete. If you need to catch a flight after the cruise, book one that is no earlier than five hours after scheduled arrival.
100. Fill out a staff appreciation card
Take a minute to highlight the outstanding service of your favourite crew member. It is one of the biggest thanks you can give them. The small gesture does not cost anything but makes a huge difference to the crew’s performance evaluation.