107 Best Cruise Line Secrets, Tips, Tricks and Freebies

Whether it’s your first sailing or your 50th, there is always something new to learn when you cruise. That’s why we’ve rounded up a staggering 107 of the best cruise ship tips, secrets and hacks for you to enjoy. This list varies from relatively small tips to make your cruise a little more comfortable all the way to massive secrets that the cruise lines don’t like to talk about. And while experienced cruisers may know some of the things on this list, you can rest assured you’ll learn at least a few things from our list.

Note: This article is filled with a massive amount of information (nearly 10,000 words)! Be sure to bookmark it to come back and reference it later or to share with friends.

1. At least some hotels near the port will offer free (or discounted) cruise parking

Are you planning to drive in for your cruise and need a place to stay? Look for hotels that offer cruise parking. Hotels in port cities will do whatever they can to attract cruise passengers. That means they will let you park at their hotel during your cruise for free (or at a sharp discount). Many will also offer a free ride to the cruise port as well. There is no better way to save money on your cruise parking than with this tip.

2. Dry bags are always a good idea if you plan to hit the beach

While you can use ziploc bags, we like the idea of having a watertight pouch or bag when you head to the beach. They are the perfect size for a phone, cash, and keycards. Best of all, they can snap around your waist so that you can carry your things with you in the water while taking a dip — and not leave them vulnerable on the beach. Read our review of our favorite dry bag here.

Dry bag sitting in sand

3. Chances are that you won’t need cruise insurance, but it does help

Odds are that you won’t need the travel insurance you buy, but when you do, it’s a lifesaver. Travel insurance can cover a ton of different things, including if you get hurt or sick on your trip. It’s also handy if you lose your luggage or miss the boat and have to make alternate arrangements to meet your ship elsewhere (or get back home). To learn more about cruise insurance, what it covers, and where to buy, visit this page.

4. Bring your own power adapter to give you more outlets

Phones, iPads, laptops, curling irons… the list of things you’ll bring that need plugging in or charging seems to grow by the year. However, cruise ship cabins have limited outlets. We suggest bringing an adapter or two to increase the number of plugs available. We really like this one from Amazon, which offers three plugs and doesn’t take up much room. Also, make sure your plug doesn’t have a surge protector. They are not allowed onboard.

5. Alcohol can be brought on board, with strict limitations

The vast majority of cruise lines don’t let you bring on beer or hard liquor. Nearly all of them will let you bring on bottles of champagne or wine. Check with your cruise line, but the rule is usually either one bottle per cabin or one bottle per adult passenger. If you’re a heavy drinker then one or two bottles of wine likely won’t last your entire cruise, but considering the price of drinks onboard, anything you can bring saves you a lot of cash.

6. Those “all you can drink” packages aren’t a good deal, unless…

“All you can drink” packages are the rage lately. For a set amount, you can drink as much as you want without worrying about the bill. Buy buyer beware, the cost of the packages usually mean you have to order between 7-10 drinks per day before you save any money. And since you have to buy the package for every day of your cruise, that means you have to drink that much every single day you are on your ship — even when you are in a port of call. Most people will find that they are better off simply ordering drinks the old-fashioned way. (Read more about all you can drink packages here or use our Drink Package Calculator to see if you’d save money.)

7. Only go early if you like standing in line

Are you the type or person that likes to get on and off the ship first? Then you better prepare to stand in long lines. With thousands of people trying to do the same thing, there are massive traffic jams for people waiting to either embark or disembark. Instead, take your time and spend a few more minutes (or hours) enjoying a meal or relaxing on board. Once you are done, you can breeze through.

8. Parking at the port is always the most expensive option

Driving to the port? That means you have to find somewhere to park your car while you’re gone. The cruise ports all have on-site parking, usually located within steps of the cruise ship. The bad news is that you’ll pay for that convenience. Official port parking lots are always the priciest. Instead, look for off-port parking that can be as much as 50% cheaper.

Baltimore parking lot
Parking at the port is convenient, but expensive.

9. You can order a second (or third or fourth) entrée at no charge

Can’t choose between the chicken or the fish? Don’t stress out. Order both. Or order two plates on lobster night. Most people don’t realize it, but you can order as much as you want in the main dining room (or other restaurants). Cruise lines know that people are on vacation to let loose and enjoy themselves. They understand that people love to eat on their trip.

10. Jail on a cruise ship is a real thing

Yes, many ships have a spot to place unruly passengers. It takes more than just being a little drunk to land here, but if you do something serious on a cruise at sea (assault or worse things), then you can expect to find yourself in this much less comfortable “cabin” until the ship reaches shore.

11. Casino odds are way worse than on land

Expect to hit it big in the casino? It’s going to take a little more luck than usual. Yes, there are stories of people hitting it big, but there are a lot more stories of people losing their cash. With a captive audience, cruise ships don’t have an incentive to offer great odds. For example, blackjack tables will pay 6-to-5, instead of the usual 3-to-2 you’ll find in many land-based casinos.

Cruise ship blackjack table
6-to-5 payouts are common in a cruise casino.

12. Cruise ship poker games are full of beginners

In poker, there are fish (new players) and sharks (experienced players that feed on the fish). On the cruise, you’ll find plenty of fish playing in the casino. That means it’s a great place to get your feet wet in a live game if you’ve never played before… or make some serious dough if you are a savvy poker player.

13. Cruise port security is nothing like the airport

No, you don’t have to go through the same hassles that you see in airports. You don’t have to take off belts… or shoes… or carry only 3 ounces of liquids. You’ll just have your bags x-rayed and walk through a metal detector (no full body scanners!). Read more about cruise security here.

14. Want cheap souvenirs? Wait until there is a deal at the gift shop

Don’t head out to the gift shop on board the first day of the cruise to buy some souvenirs. Check by each day, and only shop when they are offering decent sale (which they always will toward the end of the cruise). The cruise lines will offer all sorts of different incentives each day to lure passengers to spend some cash. Wait until you find a sale that you like before deciding to buy.

15. Early debarkation doesn’t save a lot of time

Cruise lines offer early debarkation to passengers that want to carry all their bags with them. This seems like a great idea as it allows you to get off the ship first and get back home quickly after your cruise. The problem is that everyone else has the same idea. Lines for early embarkation can stretch around the ship and take an hour or more to get through.

Line to get off the ship
The line for early debarkation.

16. Free motion sickness pills are available at Guest Services

Worried about getting sick on the cruise? You should definitely pack your own seasickness remedy, but don’t worry if you forget. If you start to feel queasy, head down to Guest Services and ask about seasickness pills. They typically have them to give away to passengers to help keep them happy on the trip.

17. Walking a couple of blocks in port can save a lot of cash on taxis

Ports are the lifeblood for the tourism industry in the places you’ll visit. You’ll get off the ship and be hounded for taxi rides and souvenirs. Don’t give in. If you want to get a deal, then simply walk a couple of blocks into the city. There will still be plenty of taxis and shops around, but they won’t be charging near as much.

18. Interested in the spa? Get a free treatment

Cruise spas will offer info sessions on treatments and procedures designed to sell cruise passengers on a treatment. If you are at all interested, definitely go to these sessions. Not only do they sometimes offer coupons to guests, but they will often pick volunteers to act as guinea pigs for the procedures. If you’re picked, it’s a good way to get a free treatment.

19. Make any reservations early for the best times

Don’t wait until you are on the ship to make reservations at restaurants or the spa. The best times will fill up quickly, leaving you with fewer options. Every cruise line will allow you to make reservations online (or by phone) weeks or months in advance of your cruise. As soon as you know that you will want to dine at a restaurant or get a spa treatment, make your reservations!

20. Hooking up with the crew is off limits

When it comes to having a fling on the ship, your eyes might be tempted by the crew. They’re generally young, fit, international, and seem to be having a lot of fun. But if you want a hook-up, then keep looking elsewhere. Getting it on between passengers and crew is expressly prohibited. It can cost the crewmember their job, no questions asked.

21. Most cruise line employees make less than you think

Ever wonder why there doesn’t seem to be any Americans on the waitstaff or the crew? By U.S. standards, the waitstaff are paid relatively low wages. According to Chron.com, pay rates can be as little as $800 per month for a job that can be 7 days a week. This is the reason that these workers are so appreciative of gratuities. In fact, a recent financial report found that one company pays shipboard employees an average of less than $24,000 per year (although things like room and board are included). Keep in mind this average includes everyone from the captain to housekeeping.

22. Cameras are watching you constantly

We’ve gotten used to seeing security cameras everywhere in life, but ships take it to another level. There are security cameras watching every public area of the major cruise ships. Don’t think you’ll be able to sneak off and do something you shouldn’t be doing. Here’s what Royal Caribbean says about their cameras:

“Royal Caribbean International has closed-circuit television cameras located in hundreds of strategic, public locations throughout the ship but not in private staterooms, public restrooms or private spa areas. These systems are upgraded as new and beneficial technologies are developed. Recordings from these cameras are routinely utilized by our security teams and made available to investigative authorities as requested.”

Security camera
Cameras are everywhere on a cruise ship.

23. Hungry? Get a whole pizza for free

Nearly every ship you sail on will have a place to get pizza by the slice. But what if you’re really hungry? You can order up a whole pie, free of charge. This way you get exactly what you want instead of having to eat a slice of whatever is available.

24. It is possible your ship could pick up refugees

If you are sailing from ports on the East Coast to the Western Caribbean, there’s a possibility you could find yourself in the middle of a refugee crisis. The waters between Florida and Cuba are where Cubans trying to make their way to America will set sail, hoping to reach the mainland. It’s relatively common for cruise ships to run across these people, sailing in makeshift rafts. Rules of the sea call for the cruise ships to render aid, meaning they will stop and help, even if in the middle of a cruise.

25. The gold and silver that cruise lines sell by the inch are plated, not solid

Those “gold by the inch” places on the ship? Sure it seems like a great deal, but definitely do your homework. Most of the time what they are selling is simply gold-plated. Here’s what one cruiser said after making this mistake:

“On our cruise aboard Holiday in November, there was a jewelry group called “Inch of Gold”. Don’t buy ! It says 18K gold layered. My jeweler said there is no gold. Not insurable. Don’t waste your money like I did. And the silver – isn’t real silver.”

26. Ask your room steward for a foam egg crate pad for the bed

If you find the bed uncomfy, you don’t have to just grin and bear it. Ask your room steward if there is an egg-crate you can use. They keep a supply of them on the ship to help make lumpy beds more comfortable for guests.

27. Sound can travel within the cabins when you make whoopie

No, the walls of your cabin aren’t paper thin, but sounds can travel between room. Keep this in mind if you decide to engage in “activities” in your cabin. While we know that not everyone can help but being a little louder during sex, you have to remember that you are in a small, confined space with lots of people around. Not everyone wants to hear what you do in the privacy of your cabin (especially if it happens late at night). Keeping things a little quiet can make sure that your fun doesn’t mess with anyone else’s vacation.

28. Breakfast and lunch are also served in the main dining room

Everyone knows about dinner in the main dining room… but they usually eat the buffet for lunch and breakfast. If you want something higher quality, head to the main dining room instead of the buffet. They serve both meals, but with much smaller crowds. Best of all, the food is usually better as well.

Breakfast
Breakfast in the dining room is higher quality than the buffet.

29. While there are lots of rules… you can usually get away with breaking them

There is a difference between rules and laws. Break a law and you’ll get busted. But break a rule, and you could just get a slap on the hand. For instance, if you don’t want to wear formal clothes on formal night, then don’t.

Cruise lines want everyone to have a good time. If you break a rule, they will usually just ask you to stop doing it. It’s very rare that they will kick you off the ship unless you are endangering other passengers.

30. Don’t think the “drink of the day” is a deal

Each day the bar will have a different drink of the day special. But just because they highlight it doesn’t mean it’s a deal. Often times the cruise lines just call it the “drink of the day” to get you to buy it, but don’t cut the price.

31. Check out the “secret decks” on your ship

Many ships have decks that not easily accessible, but are still public. These are fun spots to find on the ship, especially if you are looking for a little more privacy and to get away from the crowds. Click here to see a list of Carnival ships with these secret decks.

32. Cruise ships are the best place for spreading a virus

You know why you always hear about norovirus on cruise ships? That’s because if you were going to create the perfect place to spread a virus, you would build a cruise ship. Having thousands of people in an enclosed place and the same dining facilities is ripe for spreading illness. To keep healthy, definitely use hand sanitizer, which is available all over the ship.

Cruise ships are perfect for spreading illness.
Cruise ships are perfect for spreading illness.

33. Creepy? Larger ships will have a morgue

It’s macabre, but if you’re on a larger ship, then it likely has a morgue on board. It’s actually a good idea if you think about it. Cruise ships are carrying thousands of people 365 days a year. It’s a law of averages that someone will eventually pass away while on the ship. With a morgue on board they can keep the body in good condition until reaching a port.

34. Save money by asking for the “drink of day” in a regular glass

The “drink of the day” typically comes in a souvenir glass that you get to keep. If you want to save a few bucks, just ask for that drink in a regular glass. It will normally save you a couple of bucks while not being any smaller.

35. You can get in-room babysitting while you go party

You likely know that your cruise will have kid’s areas where you can drop the kids off and head to the pool or dinner. But some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean actually offer private in-room babysitting. It’s a great service that costs a little extra, but can keep your mind at ease if you want to go out and enjoy an evening on the ship. Here are some details from Royal Caribbean:

“Babysitting is offered both in a group setting, and individually in your stateroom. In stateroom babysitting must be reserved through the Guest Relations Desk (Purser’s Desk) at least 24 hours in advance.

It cannot be reserved prior to the cruise vacation and there is no guarantee that sitters will be available. The service is offered between 8:00 am and 2:00 am when personnel is available. Sitters will be assigned on a first come first served basis

Children MUST be at least 1 year old.

Approximate Rate: $19 per hour for up to three children within the same family.”

36. Ports of call aren’t always idyllic

Sure, the photos on the cruise line website show crystal blue water, white sand beaches, and not a cloud in the sky. Truth is, however, that many port cities aren’t that nice — especially outside of the touristy area. The Caribbean is rife with poverty and many of the people depend on the tourism dollars that cruise passengers bring. That means you can expect people hustling to make a dollar. You might find them pushy as they aggressively try to get you into a taxi or to their store.

37. It’s a floating city… where you only see part of it

You might go back and forth on the cruise ship and think you’ve seen every nook and cranny by the time you leave. There are places, however, where you will never set foot. Hidden away primarily on the lower decks are spots like the engine room, crew quarters, service areas, and more. There are some “backstage” tours that you can take, but they are highly limited in the number of passengers that can go.

38. Your balcony isn’t as private as you think

Thinking of sunbathing “al fresco” on your balcony? Want to get a little risque with your partner in the fresh air? Keep in mind that your balcony isn’t all that private. The dividers between balconies are low to allow wind to pass through. They also are several inches above the floor to allow water to flow. That means anyone in the balcony next to you could easily see what’s going on without much effort.

Ship balcony
There isn’t much space between balconies.

39. Your ability to sneak in alcohol depends on a lot of factors

If you’re interested in sneaking in booze, then you should know the cruise lines are getting smarter by the day. Trust us, you aren’t going to smuggle alcohol aboard in a new way that they haven’t yet seen. Still, you can sneak drinks by them depending on the circumstances. If the cruise is especially busy, they don’t have time to check every single bag. As long as you’re smart about your smuggling technique, there is a good chance you can get something by them.

40. Yes, some people get offered random upgrades to their cabin

Ever heard of the “upgrade fairy”? Many cruise passengers get random calls from the cruise lines offering upgrades from lower-grade rooms to higher-quality accommodations for super cheap. For example, upgrading from an interior room to a balcony room for just $200. It’s a way for the cruise line to make a little more money and for passengers to get a much better room.

How do you get a visit from the upgrade fairy? So far it appears random, but you will definitely have more luck if you are booked on a cruise where there is less demand (such as off-season cruises where rooms are harder to fill).

41. It’s so much cheaper to drink in port

Want to know the cheapest place to drink on a cruise? It’s in port! If you want to get a good buzz going, check out the bars and restaurants in the area. Many of them not only have cheap drinks every day, but offer drink specials to entice cruisers to stop in. If you plan on drinking a lot, get your fill in port and then walk back to the cruise ship that evening. For more tips on drinking cheaper, read this article.

42. You can always order your favorite dish, even if it’s not on the menu.

Wasn’t the Chicken cordon bleu fantastic last night? Wish you could get it tonight? You can. Even if you don’t see an entree on the menu in the dining room, don’t think you can’t get it. Simply ask your waiter if it’s available. This also works if you have a dish you’d like cooked up that isn’t even on the menu for your entire cruise.

43. Your itinerary isn’t set in stone

Your itinerary can change… right up until you dock in a port. The cruise lines have made adjustments to schedules based on everything from weather to protests. While it doesn’t happen often, changes are regular enough that you shouldn’t be surprised if one happens to your trip.

44. Cruise line transfers from the airport are a terrible deal

When you fly in for your cruise, you have to also arrange for transportation from the airport to the cruise port. We usually recommend a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft. What you don’t want to do is take the transfers offered by the cruise line.

Cruise line transfers seem like a great idea — after all, if you’re getting a ride from the cruise company to the port, you know you won’t miss your ship. However, the cruise transfers only run on the day of the cruise. That means if you fly in a day early for your trip, you are out of luck.

They are also expensive. For example, Carnival charges $30 roundtrip per person to get you from the Miami airport to the Port of Miami — a 10 mile ride. Compare that to a taxi or Uber, which will charge you about $35 roundtrip for up to four passengers. Meanwhile, with a taxi or other transportation, you aren’t tied to the cruise shuttle’s schedule.

45. Cruise prices are the same on every website

Think you have to search site after site to get the best cruise deal? Think again. We’ve discovered that the cruise prices are actually the same across all websites.

That’s not to say that prices won’t change (they will), but when a price moves, you’ll see it reflected everywhere. Just pick your favorite spot to search and stop worrying if another website has it cheaper.

Here’s a roundup of prices that we recently found:

Cruise fares by website
Cruise fares are the same across every site.

46. Want to wear a thong bikini? Have fun!

Are you the type that likes to show a little more with your swimsuit? Then you’ll be happy to know there are no rules on wearing thong bikinis on a cruise.

While you can wear a thong on a cruise, we would suggest having a little discretion. If you plan to wear one, then keep around the adults-only pools. Some people may not enjoy having you showing your bum around families and children that will be around the regular pools.

Thong swimsuit
Yep, you can wear it.

47. Head to the back of the ship (and lower decks) if you want more privacy

With 4,000 people on a ship, you’ll find that there can be crowds everywhere. If you want to find a quiet, out of the way place, head to the back of the ship. For some reason these spots on the ships are simply forgotten. We’ve gone to the back of the ship after dinner and been literally the only people there.

Want even more privacy? Head to the back of the ship on the lower decks. As a general rule of thumb, the lower you go on the deck of a ship, the fewer people are around.

48. Use walkie-talkies to keep in touch aboard the ship

It can be tough to keep in touch with the rest of your traveling party. For instance, if you let your teenage kids have the run of the ship for the day, how do you tell them it’s time for dinner?

A simple set of walkie-talkies from Amazon can make keeping connected much easier. They aren’t the perfect solution — the signal can have trouble getting through the steel of the ship if you are separated by several decks. That said, it’s a pretty simple solution to communicate both on the ship and on shore.

49. The room thermostats may not control anything

Every cabin comes with a thermostat. In our experience, they are just there for looks. It would make sense that the thermostats wouldn’t work. Having 2,000 different cabins with different A/C temperatures would be a nightmare. Don’t be surprised if you crank down the air but don’t feel much relief. That’s why we suggest bringing a portable fan.

Cabin thermostat
Likely just for looks…

50. Show up late to boarding to get on the ship fastest

If you show up to board right when the boarding window opens, you can expect to do a lot of waiting. There is always a mad rush to board the ship right as it opens, which leads to long lines.

What most people don’t realize is that showing up later actually lets your board faster. Get to the port about an hour before the boarding window closes and you’ll find no lines. It usually only takes about 10-15 minutes to get checked-in and board, all without having to fight huge crowds.

51. Leave the hair dryer at home

Hair dryers are standard equipment in all cabins, just like in a hotel room. That means you can leave yours at home and save some space in your bags. The only time you’ll need to bring your own is if you have a special type of hair dryer that you just have to use. The in-cabin hair dryer is one of those small ones that isn’t terribly powerful.

52. Don’t be shy about asking for anything to make yourself more comfy

The cruise lines want you to be comfy and enjoy your vacation. If there is anything that would make your trip more pleasant, don’t hesitate to ask. This goes for blankets, pillows, fresh towels, and anything else you can think of. Just like a five-star hotel, the cruise ship has all the amenities that you can think of just a request away.

53. Yes, room service is (usually) free

When most people think of room service, they expect high prices for average food. Room service on most cruises, however, is free of charge. You can also get breakfast delivered to your cabin each morning. Even though room service is free, there might be a charge if you order at odd hours in the middle of the night. Don’t forget to tip $3-5 to the waiter who brings your food. (Note: Royal Caribbean has said it will start charging for all room service.)

54. Pack a nightlight for the cabin

Staying in an interior room? That means you have no windows… and no natural light. Once you shut the door and turn out the lights, it’s pitch black. Bring along a nightlight to plug in to provide some light for the room. Your shins will appreciate the extra light when you have to stumble into an unfamiliar bathroom in the middle of the night.

55. Always use your cabin safe. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing

Unfortunately, we live in a world where you have to be cautious with your valuables. Theft does happen, even on a cruise. Every cabin will come with an in-room safe, which you should use whenever you leave the room. It’s perfect for storing extra cash, electronics, passports and more. It’s by no means perfect (some member of the security crew could open it if needed), but it helps protect you from any crimes of “convenience” where someone snags an item just because it’s left out in the open.

Cruise ship cabin safe
Every cabin has its own safe. Use it.

56. Even if you don’t show up at your time for dinner, you will still be seated

Having a set time to eat in the main dining room can be a pain. Say you want to go to an early show but it conflicts with your set dinner time. Or what if you lay down for a nap and don’t wake up until your dinner time has passed? The good news is that it’s no big deal. Just head down to the dining room whenever you’re ready to eat and they will find you a place to sit. It likely won’t be with your same waiter, but you’ll definitely get fed.

57. If traveling fewer than three floors, take the stairs. It’s faster

Who wants to take the stairs on vacation? That sounds like work! Well, the stairs can often be much faster. Realize that with thousands of people on a cruise ship, the banks of elevators can get overwhelmed, making stops on every deck going both up and down. That means it can take a while for the elevator to reach your floor. Instead, if you are only going up or down a few decks, it’s definitely easier and faster to just hoof it with the stairs.

58. Take a photo each morning of the ship’s daily planner

Like Las Vegas, you’ll find you that you actually spend less time in the room than you anticipated. If you’re out and about and wondering what activities are coming up next, you don’t want to have to carry around the full daily newsletter that contains that day’s schedule. Instead, an easy thing to do is take a picture of the daily planner on your phone or camera. This way you have a copy of the schedule with you without having to carry the newsletter or go back to the cabin to see what’s going on. If you’re sailing Carnival, you can download the Carnival Hub app, which lists everything going on that day and much more.

59. Be careful, the sun is way more powerful in the tropics

It’s easy to underestimate just how quickly you can burn from the Caribbean sun. Whereas it might take 20-30 minutes to start getting burned back home, the more direct rays closer to the equator can do the same damage in just half the time. The bad thing is that if you get sunburned, it can put you out of commission for several days, putting a damper on your cruise. Instead, the best thing to do is prevent getting burned. Wear wide-brimmed hats and put on plenty of sunscreen.

60. Take a photo of your home address

Lose your camera? Good luck getting it back. To increase your options, write your address on a piece of paper and take a photo of it. This way if someone finds your phone and looks through your pictures, they can see where to return your camera. It’s no guarantee that you’ll get it returned, but it’s an easy way to improve the odds.

61. Wait until later in the cruise to do the newest attractions

Cruise ships continue to get grander with every new ship. That means crazier attractions like waterslides, ice rinks, robot bartenders and whatever else the cruise lines can imagine. If you want to experience these attractions, wait until later in your cruise. The first day or two will have everyone waiting in line to get in. Instead, if you just wait until the initial rush has died down, you can join the fun without having to wait in a line.

62. Older ships are way cheaper to cruise on

If you’re the sort of person who likes a deal, look at sailing on an older ship. Even if an older ship and a newer ship sail the same itinerary, the fares on the older ship will be dramatically lower. Of course, in exchange you won’t get the wild new things like waterslides and ten swimming pools. But if you’re the sort of person who simply wants to be out on the water, you can save hundreds by sailing on an older ship.

63. Want to sail cheap? Cruise when the kids are in school

They should call it the “law of cheap cruising”. If you want to save a ton, be flexible with your dates and sail when school is in session. When school is in, families with kids — a huge demographic in cruising — can’t take their trips. That means the cruise lines are looking to fill rooms and will offer up cheap fares to entice people to sail. In fact, it’s not surprising to find fares that double during holiday breaks when families can take their trips.

Cruise fares with holidays
Prices are highest when the kids are out of school.

64. There is free booze at the art auctions

If you want to snag a cheap glass of champagne, head down to the art auctions that are held on the ship. These auctions serve up flutes of the bubbly to set the mood and entice you to spend a little dough. While the art costs money, the booze is free.

65. You can get free drinks in the casino, but you have to spend major money

We all know that if you are gambling in a Las Vegas casino, you can expect the drinks to flow no matter how much you spend. On a cruise ship, that’s not the case. If you’re a nickel and dime gambler, you’re going to have to pay for drinks in the casino. If you’re betting big, however, then you will get some attention and some free drinks. Be sure to use your card every time you play to get your spending tracked so that the cruise lines know how good of a customer you are.

66. Always pack a wad of $1 bills for tipping

The cruise industry relies on your generosity to help pay their service employees. That’s why you shouldn’t skimp when it comes to tipping. From baggage handlers to room service waiters to casino waitresses, you’ll want to slip them each a few bucks whenever they give you good service. We’d suggest bringing about $20 in ones and carrying a few with you anywhere you go. This way you always have a few singles with you to tip with instead of having an awkward “I’ll tip you later” conversation.

67. Turn your phone on airplane mode the second you board the ship

There are way too many horror stories of cruise passengers forgetting to turn off their phone’s data and then coming home to huge bills for international roaming. That’s why you should either turn your phone completely off or turn it on airplane mode to where it doesn’t use up data or connect to wireless service. It’s the simplest way to make sure there are no bad surprises when you get your next phone bill.

68. You’ll pay for premium brands, but not generics

If you want that special gelato or the Starbucks coffee, then it will likely cost you a few bucks on the ship. What many people don’t realize, however, is that you can get the generic versions of these foods elsewhere on the ship (and sometimes even at the same location) for free. For instance, if your ship sells Starbucks for a fee, just ask if they have any free coffee. If they don’t at that location, they will point you to where you can get it for no charge.

69. Pack a handful of ziploc bags. They have a million uses

Ziploc bags have to be the most useful item you can pack. Want to keep things dry while at the pool? Put it in a ziploc. Want to keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones? Put them in a ziploc. Have a bunch of small baubles that you’re packing and would like to keep together? Or maybe you want to snag a snack for later from the buffet? Put it all in a ziploc. Always pack a few baggies with you on your trip and you’ll be sure to find a use for them.

70. Topless sunbathing? It’s not around anymore

A few years back, it was common for cruise lines to have private areas of the ship where you could get some sun…without worrying about tan lines. These areas were usually at the very top of the ship and included a sign designating it as a topless area.

But over the years (and without much press), those signs began to come down. There are now no cruise lines that allow topless sunbathing that we know of. This includes the “adults-only” pools.

(Note: This applies only to North American cruises. Topless sunbathing is common in Europe)

71. Cheaper interior cabins mean more money for more cruises

Many people claim they couldn’t sail in anything other than a balcony room. But interior cabins can get you on the ship for hundreds — or even thousands — less than paying for a balcony room. Considering that many people are rarely in their cabin other than to sleep, it doesn’t make sense to pay a fortune for a room that you won’t use. Instead, you can sail a lot cheaper with an interior room… and potentially cruise a lot more!

72. It’s likely (several) people have died on your ship

Whether from natural causes (heart attacks) or accidents (falling overboard), people die on cruise ships every single year. And with a non-stop schedule of sailings with thousands of people on each trip, chances are that someone has passed away on your ship. It’s strange to think about considering that everyone steps on the ship with the hopes of a good time, but it’s a reality of cruising that doesn’t often get mentioned.

73. You can pack way more than you can on a plane

Are you the sort of person that packs for a month when you’re only going for a week? Good news is the cruise lines don’t have near as stringent a baggage policy as the airlines. There are no baggage fees, or real restrictions on how much you can bring (within reason). You also don’t have to worry about the 3-ounce liquid rule. It makes it much easier to pack and much less stressful.

That said, we’d suggest still packing light. Remember, the more you pack, the more you have to carry with you, and the more space it takes up in your cabin.

Pack all you want for your cruise.
Pack all you want for your cruise.

74. Some cruise lines allow you to pay to skip lines

Stand in line to check-in. Stand in line to get off in port. Stand in line to talk to Guest Services. You may think that going on a cruise is just taken over by having to wait in line with other people. The cruise lines know this and some — namely, Carnival — offer special packages that allow you to skip many of the lines.

Carnival’s Faster to the Fun package costs between $50-60 per trip for your entire cabin and lets you be among the first on the ship when you arrive, have a special line to speak with Guest Services, and much more. If you’re the sort of person who wants to spend more time on vacation and less time in line, then you’ll appreciate this deal.

75. Avoid cruise insurance sold by the cruise line

While we think travel insurance is a good idea to give you peace of mind, think twice before buying the insurance that the cruise lines offer when you buy your cruise. Yes, it’s better than nothing, but third-party cruise insurance is usually a much better deal. The insurance offered by the cruise lines typically has low limits and is priced high. It also doesn’t offer as much protection as insurance offered by a third party. To learn more, read our article on cruise insurance here.

76. American dollars are widely accepted in cruise ports

Don’t worry if you don’t have pesos, or any other local currency. In cruise ports American dollars are widely accepted (and often preferred). That’s a huge help for cruise passengers who don’t have to worry about having different currencies. Credit cards are also accepted in many places, but you definitely want to use cash for most transactions.

77. No marijuana isn’t legal, even on an Alaskan cruise

If you’re cruising to Alaska (where recreational marijuana is legal) from Washington (where recreational marijuana is legal), then of course you can bring your pot on board with you, right?

Wrong.

To be on the safe side, the cruise lines follow federal law — which means that marijuana is illegal to bring on board. If you really need some of the green to let loose on your cruise, you’ll have to wait until you arrive in port.

Nope, not legal. Don't think about it.
Nope, not legal. Don’t think about it.

78. Authorities check passenger list for warrants… and arrest them on the way back

If you have an arrest warrant, think twice before getting on a cruise. Once you board, local authorities will often run the names of the passengers through a database to check for any outstanding warrants. The result? Assuming the warrants are for minor items, they will then let the passengers enjoy the cruise before escorting them off the ship once it arrives back at port.

79. Get seasick? Get a cabin in the middle of the boat, as low as possible

Everyone seems to have their own home remedy for curing seasickness. There is only one method we know of that makes actual scientific sense, however. If you are prone to seasickness, then you want to book a cabin as low in the ship and as close to the middle of the ship as possible.

Think of the ship as a teeter-totter. It’s the middle of it that would move the least as the ends rise and fall. There is much less motion mid-ship, which will help you feel better when the seas are a little rough.

80. Bingo may seem silly, but can win you some serious cash

Bingo? Isn’t that for old people? On the cruise, you’ll see bingo contests being held all the time. And while it’s not as exciting as the pool’s belly-flop competition, it is a fun way to spend an hour or two. Best of all, it can help pay for your cruise.

Bingo cards are typically $5-10. All the money is then pooled and whomever wins Bingo walks away with the cash. It’s not unusual to see people pocket hundreds or even thousands of bucks playing the game on the ship.

81. Participate in on-board game shows to get free stuff

Your best way to get some free stuff on the cruise also involves a lot of fun. In the game shows (including the “newlywed” game), they require some audience participation. Not everyone can join in, but if you get selected then you almost always get some sort of prize at the end. It’s nothing big — maybe a t-shirt and a gift certificate to the gift shop — but it’s the best way to get something for free while on your cruise.

82. Find a spot above the gangway at the ship’s return time to have a laugh

You haven’t laughed until you’ve stood on the port side of the ship close to departure time in a port of call. Keep a close eye and you’ll almost always see a few people making a mad dash back to the ship. You’ve never seen people run as fast as when they think the ship is about to leave them.

83. If flying, always depart for your port city the night before

With more ports than ever operating around the United States, many people are able to drive to their cruise. Still, there are tons of folks who fly in to take their cruise. If you are taking a flight, always aim to get there the day before.

It seems like every day there are horror stories of delayed flights. Weather can delay or ground a flight. Security lines taking hours are causing people to miss their planes. Mechanical breakdown is always a possibility. And now you never know when a computer malfunction is going to ground an entire fleet. Flying in the day before allows you a little more of a cushion to get to your port city without having to stress that you might miss your flight… or even worse, your cruise.

84. Handle your bill from your ship’s TV to save time

If you don’t like standing in line, try taking care of your room bill from your cabin TV. Not every cruise line has this, but if you don’t have any need to talk to a Guest Services rep, it’s a huge timesaver.

Check out from your cabin's TV.
Check out from your cabin’s TV.

85. Go to Guest Services late at night or early in the morning to avoid lines

What’s that huge line you see in the middle of the ship at the beginning and end of the cruise? It’s the line to talk to Guest Services. It’s always a hassle to have to deal with getting things straightened out with your onboard account, but it’s something you have to do.

Here’s a big timesaver. If you do have to talk to Guest Services, plan your visit either later in the evening or early in the morning. At these times the line is almost non-existent so you can talk to a rep immediately. (Guest Services are open 24 hours a day during the cruise.)

You can also purchase perks like Carnival’s Faster to the Fun to save time if you don’t want to be bothered to go at off hours.

86. Mention a special occasion to (maybe) get free stuff

Birthday? Anniversary? Honeymoon? Be sure to mention to any cruise line employee why you are there if it’s a special occasion. There’s no guarantee, but it’s not unheard of to be surprised by a bottle of champagne and some strawberries in your cabin for free. The cruise lines know that a little perk like this doesn’t cost a lot but can make your loyal for life.

87. Green apples are a natural seasickness remedy

Maybe it’s an old wive’s tale, but green apples are supposed to be a natural cure for seasickness. That’s why you’ll always find them at the buffet. Grab one or two the next time you are feeling queasy and test it out.

88. Get candy from the ice cream station

Want to have some candy, but don’t want to pay the high prices in the ship’s store? A little-known trick is to head to the ice cream parlor (every ship will have one) and ask for the candy toppings, without ice cream. Boom, you’ve got your favorite candy snack for free.

89. Bring drink flavor pouches for free drinks

Sodas and other drinks aren’t free on a trip, but tea, lemonade and water are. A little trick is to bring a few packs of those drink flavors (available in every grocery store). Drop a pack into your water to instantly make your favorite beverage for free. It’s also a good way to get the kids to drink something other than soda while on their vacation.

90. Always wait for people to exit the elevator

A quick way to be identified as a rookie cruiser is to stand right in the doorway of the elevator when it opens. Elevators are the main way of getting around the ship — they are always crowded. It’s polite to let the people on the elevator get off before before trying to enter. Just stand to the side as the doors open. It will make thing go much smoother and other passengers will be grateful.

91. Remember to pack a fan for the room

Always pack a small portable fan for your cabin room. There isn’t much airflow in the cabins, so if you are the type that always need a breeze to be comfy, then you’ll hate sitting still in the room. As well, we like the white noise that a fan provides to drown out sounds like people talking in the hall or the weather outside the ship.

92. Never wear those cheap $3 flip-flops around the pool

You know those cheap rubber flip-flops that you can get from Old Navy or Walmart for just a few bucks? They serve their purpose, but don’t wear them around the pool! These sandals are notoriously slick on the bottom if they have any wear at all. All it takes is one wrong step on a slick ship deck to take a spill. Instead, look for a pair of flip-flops that have decent tread so that you won’t slip even if you step right in a puddle.

93. You can take everything out of the mini-bar to have an in-room fridge

Your ship cabin may come with a full-stocked mini-fridge. The items inside are counted after you leave, so if you want to use the fridge, you can just set everything out (or ask your room steward to empty it) and use it to keep your own drinks/food cool. Just be sure to put everything back or you’ll get charged for whatever is missing.

Take out the mini-bar items to have your in-room fridge.
Take out the mini-bar items to have your in-room fridge.

94. Make a copy of your passport to carry instead of the real thing

The best place to keep your passport is in your in-room safe. If you want some ID while your are in your port city, make a copy of your ID page on the passport and carry it with you. It will make due until you can get back to the cabin.

Another smart idea is to take a scan of your passport and email it to yourself. This way no matter where you go, you will have a digital copy that you can access from anywhere with Internet.

95. Get a stamp on your passport for a cheap souvenir

The cheapest souvenir you can get on your cruise is a passport stamp. When you travel on a cruise, you won’t get a stamp like you do when flying to another country. Instead, just take your passport and head to the port village that serves as the entrance to nearly every port. There you can ask around for where to get your passport stamped. It’s free, and it’s a fun way to remember each stop of your cruise.

Roatan passport stamp
A free souvenir from Roatan.

96. Credit cards are accepted, but call your company first

Yes, credit cards are accepted, especially in the more touristy areas of port cities. It’s still preferable to pay for most things in cash for security purposes. That said, if you do decide to use your card, be sure call your credit card company first. It make alert their system to fraud to see a card used in three different ports in three days, leading them to put a freeze on your account if they don’t know what’s going on.

97. Have dietary restrictions? Cruise lines can cover you

Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Food allergies? No matter your dietary restrictions, the cruise lines can accommodate. Don’t wait until you are on the ship to tell the cruise line about your diet restrictions. Call as soon as you book and speak to a customer service agent. They can update you on food options and also make a note on your account to notify the crew.

98. Always pack cool weather gear, too

Swimsuit? Check. Suntan lotion? Check. A jacket? What?!

Yes, even if you are headed to the tropics you should always pack a few items of warm clothing. If a rainstorm hits in the evening, it can get chilly on a fast-moving cruise ship with the wind whipping around. Having something with long sleeves and a hood can be a lifesaver.

99. Beaches are free ways to enjoy the day

If you don’t want to spend money on shore excursions, that’s understandable. A free way to enjoy the port cities and save some money is to head to the beach.

Every port will have some exclusive beach clubs with hammocks and drink service, but they usually charge an entry fee. Instead, do some research (or ask a taxi) on where the free beaches are. You might have to deal with more people, but nothing beats having a day on a world-class beach without having to spend a dime.

100. Avoid ATM fees at the casino with this trick

ATM fees to get cash out can be expensive on the cruise ship. If you want to gamble but don’t have the cash on hand, you can use a little trick to avoid paying exorbitant ATM fees. Cruise lines will let you charge your onboard account to get money for chips or slot machines. Be careful as it’s an easy way to spend a little too much, but it’s also easy to play at the casino without being charged extra to access your own money.

101. Snag snacks from the buffet to take with you

An apple or some cereal from the buffet can be a lifesaver when you’re onshore and one of the kids gets hungry. Technically you aren’t supposed to take food from the buffet into the port, but tons of people do anyway. Grab a couple of snacks to keep with you while you are out enjoying the day.

102. Always wear walking shoes when in port

It’s hot in the Caribbean, so who wants to wear shoes? Well, you’d be surprised at how tired your feet will get if you’re touring around in just a pair of flip-flops. Instead, bring a pair of your most comfy walking shoes, or a pair of water shoes that offer more support. Your feet will thank you for it at the end of the day.

103. Pay off your cruise as slow as possible

You’ll always put down a deposit when you first book your cruise, but some people opt to pay off the entire cruise at once. Sure, it’s a nice feeling knowing that your cruise is bought and paid for, but it also puts you at risk if there is a price drop.

You likely know that cruise lines adjust fares, similar to airlines. When you put down a deposit, you can call the cruise line if you see a price drop and ask them to honor the lower price. Not having paid for the entire trip already gives you some leverage as you can cancel and re-book at the lower price. If you’ve already paid for the entire trip, you lose that leverage. (Even if this happens, still give the cruise line a call and ask for the lower price. You might get credit back for the difference as onboard credit.)

104. Refill a souvenir glass to get a drink at a discount

If you opted for one of the “drinks of the day” in a souvenir glass, don’t lose the cup! You can take that glass and have it refilled for cheaper than the original drink.

Drink in hand on a beach

105. Towel clips are worth their weight in gold

Before a cruise, we never would have thought twice about towel clips. Now, we wouldn’t cruise without them. You never really think about how breezy it gets on a cruise. With the ship in motion, there is a constant wind on the decks. That makes trying to keep your towel from whipping around an exercise in frustration. Luckily for just a few bucks you can get some clips that will keep your towel on your on your lounger chair.

106. Get your picture taken; it’s free and you pay only if you want it.

You might not like the idea of having a stranger take your photo. On the ship, they have photographers roaming the ship taking photos of passengers to remember their trip. You have to buy the photos if you want to take them home, but not if you don’t want them. In other words, you can get your photo taken by a professional photographer and only have to pay if you actually decide that you want the pic. If you decide you don’t like it, then there is nothing out of pocket.

107. Buy gift cards for your cruise to rack up rewards

Want a way to earn a little extra from buying your cruise? Consider buying gift cards from grocery stores to pay for your trip. Many grocery chains offer discounts on gas based on the dollars you spend at the store. For example, Kroger lets you save up to $1 per gallon with their fuel point program.

The trick is to buy your gift cards with a credit card, which gets you the fuel points and the credit card points. It’s a way to earn some serious cash back on your cruise purchase.

Bonus Tips From Cruise Experts

As a bonus, we’ve asked some of smartest cruise experts we know to provide their single biggest tip to cruisers. The responses below represent some of the smartest ideas we’ve heard.

Bonus Tip #1: Always bring a power strip

I always carry a small power strip to plug in all my electrical devices–phone, camera battery, tablet, and Kindle. Although the newest cruise ships usually have multiple plugs, the older ones do not. By using a power strip, all your devices can be charging while you sleep.

Linda Garrison | About.com Cruises Expert

Bonus Tip #2: Book early to save money

My best advice for saving money when booking a cruise is to book as early as you can. Cruise lines these days typically provide the lowest fares when itineraries first go on sale, and that means if you can commit to a cruise early, you get to take advantage of these lower fares. The earlier you can book, the more likely you will be able to lock in the savings!

Matt Hochberg | RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com

Bonus Tip #3: The ship is just as important as the price

More times than not cruisers are choosing based on price and that is a big mistake. Cruise lines, especially the big ones, have a lot of ships. And ships are not all the same. So my advice is to know what size ship a person will feel comfortable on and make sure to check the year the ship entered service and the last time the vessel was upgraded.  All ships are not created equal.

Carrie Finley Bajak | CruiseBuzz.net

Bonus Tip #4: Check out repositioning cruises

Take a repositioning cruise or seasonal crossing, say, aboard the newly remastered Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic Ocean for a throwback experience akin to vintage ocean liners. Also, repositioning cruises can be great options for experiencing popular cruise ships more extensively onboard during consecutive sea days.

Jason Leppert | PopularCruising.com

Bonus Tip #5: Book with a large travel agency for perks

Book your cruise through a travel agent who is part of a large agency.  Large agencies have group bookings on hundreds of cruises, they can book you into these groups not only scoring you lower rates, but also extra amenities.  These amenities can range from on board credit, free drinks, specialty dining, and spa credits.  Not only do you get these extra perks, but you have easy access to a travel professional who can answer all of your questions and will help you have the best cruise possible.

Ben Souza | CruiseFever.net

Have a tip that we left out? Have you used a tip above that worked like a charm? Let us know in the comments below.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. These were all very helpful tips, many of which we have used on our past cruises. Another tip is: The walls in the cabins are metal, even if they don’t look like it. We take magnetic clips and hooks and use them to hold all the papers that are left in the cabin mailbox as well as to hang things that might need to dry. It helps keep the cabin organized.

  2. Bring a hole punch for your ship card to put on a lanyard–some ships have them in the casino-just ask them to punch a hole and give you the lanyard–makes it easy to carry card around neck.

  3. Excellent post that was concise and highly informative. Just the recommendation to look for off port parking saved me over $100 dollars. The shuttle to the ship only took us 10 minutes and we were dropped off closer to the ship than the people that parked in the ship parking area.

  4. Leaving your car at your home airport for a week or more can run up a pretty big bill. If you have the time, consider renting a car from the airport the day before your flight. When you return it to the airport just take the auto rental shuttle to the terminal. Do the opposite when you return home. We are Costco members and can rent a near new (more likely to make it to the airport or it will be replaced if it breaks down) for $25 to $30 per day.

    • Great Idea! We’re in FL and to drive and park at any other port besides Port Canaveral (we’re 20 minutes away from that, and can always find someone to drop us off) will cost at least another $160. Gas, parking fees, etc. We can rent a car here ($35) drive it to the port and turn it in. Do the same for the trip home. We’ve just saved $90 bucks, and don’t have to worry about leaving the car in some lot, or putting up to an extra 400 miles on it! (if we go to Miami round trip that is!)

  5. Great tips people!
    Going on our first cruise in December (Princess cruises. Miami to LA. Via Panama Canal)
    Any other advice/tips very welcome!

  6. It’s good to know that breakfast and lunch are also served in the main dining room, rather than just the buffet. My wife and I are hoping that we can go on a sunset cruise tour for our anniversary. We’ll have to check out the main dining room for food, as well as seeing if there are any secret decks if we can make it on a cruise.

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