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.
Note: This article contains links to Amazon that are affiliate links. Should you make a purchase, we receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra charge to you.
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. including Miami hotels with shuttles to the cruise port.
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.
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, 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.
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 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.)
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. Independent parking lots offer cheaper cruise parking
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.
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!). Getting through security usually takes no more than a minute or two. 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 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.
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. Thankfully many cruise lines are getting better at the process, which is speeding things up somewhat.
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. Cozumel, however, has set taxi prices.
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 so many may make less than that.
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.”
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. It may take a few minutes to get your pie made, so be a little patient.
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.”