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.

107 cruise tips, tricks, and freebies

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. Many hotels near the port will offer free (or discounted) cruise parking and/or shuttles to the ship

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. including Miami hotels with shuttles to the cruise port.

2. 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 money back for the difference as onboard credit.)

3. Older ships are way cheaper to cruise on

Royal Caribbean ship in Port Canaveral

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 of dollars by sailing on an older ship.

4. 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.

5. Book extras like drink packages online ahead of time for huge discounts

Want to save a bundle? If you know that you’ll be booking something extra like an Internet package of a drink package, then do it online ahead of time.

To entice passengers to book these deals early, the cruise lines offer special discounts. We’ve seen drink packages for buy one, get one 50% off. That’s a big savings over what you’ll spend if you wait until you get on the ship.

6. Download the cruise line’s app before you board

We’re usually not a fan of downloading a new app if we don’t have to. But cruise line apps are extremely helpful. These programs include daily schedules, messaging to others on the ship, ship maps, and even tracking of your onboard spending account — all from your phone.

We’d suggest everyone download the app before your cruise to use onboard. It’s much faster to download over wi-fi instead of using your cellular network or the ship’s Internet.

Learn more about Carnival’s app, Royal Caribbean’s app, and Norwegian’s app.

7. 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.

8. 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, many cruise ship cabins have limited outlets. The good news is that newer ships are being built with more power outlets. Still, 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.

9. 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.

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.

10. You can bring on non-alcoholic Drinks (some lines)

Want to save $30-$40? Many cruise lines — including Carnival and Royal Caribbean — allow you to bring on non-alcoholic beverages. The rules are usually 12 drinks per person. So if you can’t live without your Diet Coke or want to have some Gatorade for the kids, bring it with you.

The only thing to know is that Carnival requires you to bring cans or cartons. No bottles are allowed.

Considering that a non-alcoholic drink can cost $2-3 bucks each on a cruise ship (plus gratuity!) you can save a big chunk of change by bringing your own.

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

“All you can drink” alcohol packages can really help you budget. For a set amount, you can drink as much as you want without worrying about the bill. But 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.)

12. Show up later 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.

13. Independent parking lots offer cheaper cruise parking

Cruise parking in Galveston

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.

14. 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, so they are usually happy to accommodate your request.

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

You know those cheap rubber flip-flops that you can get 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.

16. Casino payouts are way worse than on land

Casino on cruise ship

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.

17. You can debark when you want

Shhh… don’t tell anyone, but you can actually debark the cruise ship when you want when your trip ends.

The cruise lines will call passengers deck by deck, but the process can take hours. If you already have all your bags and want to leave, you can just head down whenever you like. The staff doesn’t check what deck your cabin is on, and they simply want passengers off the ship so that they can get ready for the next group.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that lines can be extremely long right at the beginning of debarkation. Sometimes it’s worth it just to relax for an hour and let the rush die down.

18. 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!). Getting through security usually takes no more than a minute or two. Read more about cruise security here.

19. 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 stop 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.

20. 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.

21. 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. Cozumel, however, has set taxi prices.

22. Interested in the spa? Get a free treatment

Mandara Spa on cruise ship

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 sample of a full treatment.

23. 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!

24. Too late to get a reservation on the ship? Head to that restaurant anyway

Didn’t realize you needed a reservation or the spot you wanted was already filled? Don’t worry… you might still be able to get in.

You can head down to the restaurant and see if there is any room available. Sometimes people make reservations and then forget about them, freeing up space. Your chances are best if you go early or late — instead of during peak hours.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get a space, but it does happen.

25. 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 crew member their job, no questions asked.

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107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies

43 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!

    • Australia has very strict biosecurity regulations. No food of any type will be allowed in to the country. There will be a quarantine inspection at each port and sometimes even sniffer dogs will be present. This will happen at each port of call in Australia, even if the cruise visits only Australian ports.

  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.

  11. You really shouldn’t put any unofficial stamps in your passport. It even says in the fine print in the back that any unofficial markings inside could invalidate your passport. It most likely won’t ever happen unless you end up with an unforgiving immigration officer and then you’re stuck! I got off with a warning once and thankfully my passport has been renewed since then! Don’t risk it!

    • Our opinion is that it’s a decent idea, but it’s not like you’ll get amazing deals that aren’t anywhere else. They often give you onboard credit to book. Prices are around what you’ll find online.

    • Many cruise companies offer matching deposits on future cruises when booked on board. I believe Norwegian matches up to $250.

      • Yes you can get a good deal when you book whilst on board, we did, got $250 for the next cruise which we are going to use on our next cruise., used it for the deposit.

    • Not that we’ve seen. We would suggest using only non-marking items — so tape, not glue — to stick things to the door.

      • I have read elsewhere that tape is forbidden on the door. It makes a mess for the staff to clean up. I can understand that some tapes are non-marking, but you can get almost anything with magnets, or just glue magnets to almost anything.

  12. We always bring water shoes when we cruise. Some excursions require them & they’re also a less slippery alternative to flip-flops on the pool deck.

  13. Thank Youall !

    Always bring a list of what you need too.

    Duct Tape has so many uses.. Highlighter to mark the Daily Programs too.

    Now with those dang Electric Swithes when you leave your cabin.. Bring an Old Credit Card to insert and Duct tAPE THAT TOO..

  14. I have a small round essential oil diffuser that I use with lavender oil in my stateroom…so relaxing as the boat rocks you to sleep each night!

  15. It’s interesting that cruise lines will give cheap fares to people during the off-seasons. My fiance and I want to go on a cruise but we don’t make a lot of money. I’ll have to tell her that if we go during November or something close to that.

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