107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies

Whether it’s your first sailing or your 50th, there are always new cruise tips to learn for when you take your trip. That’s why we’ve rounded up a staggering 107 of the best cruise 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 big 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 everyone reading will learn at least a few helpful hints.

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

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 shuttle ride to the cruise port as well. There is no better way to save money on your cruise parking and getting to the port than with this tip. See our list of hotels in every port with cruise shuttles.

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 onto your waistband 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 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 all 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. Many 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.

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, then you can expect to find yourself in this much less comfortable “cabin” until the ship reaches shore.

11. Casino payouts 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 payouts. 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 dahopy, and only s 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

Here’s a cruise tip freebie — Are you 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

Security camera
Cameras are everywhere on a cruise ship.

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.”

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.”

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23 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.

  7. #95. EXTREAMLY BAD IDEA! A passport can be voided if random non official stamps are in it. Only official government immigration stamps are allowed

    • That’s “technically” true, however, we’ve never heard of it happening. We’ve also personally had these stamps in our passport and never had any questions about them.

    • if you are in the Port and you ask the Port Athorites where to get your passport stamped then it is not a “voidable” stamp. Because it is issued by that countries government. Those stamps would be part of the Visa Program if the passport was NOT from the US, I.E. if the Passport was Chinese the cruises might have needed a Visa in the first place and that stamp would end up being part of the Visa.

  8. The last time I cruised, our cruise critic group had a meet & greet, a gift exchange, a slot game and a special farewell luncheon. If someone from the group gets together with the hospitality people, they can arrange snacks, special meals and gifts for your groups. This was on the Celebrity and it was fantastic.

  9. One of the worse things you can suggest and encourage is bringing fruit and food ashore. When you come into the USA, fruit and certain foods are NOT allowed to be brought into the country. Respect this when traveling to other countries. It’s the LAW there too!

  10. Thank you for the information as it is very helpful as well as those that offered others. We are going on our first cruise ever right after Thanksgiving. It is our 25th anniversary and we are looking forward to it.

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