107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies

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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. Free room service is becoming a thing of the past

Want a hamburger at 3 a.m.? It used to be free on a cruise ship, but the lines are quickly moving toward a charge for room service. While many lines have some things for free like continental breakfast, they like to charge per item or a flat fee (order all you want for one price). Even though room service isn’t always free free, don’t forget to tip $3-5 to the waiter who brings your food.

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.

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.

You can also download the cruise line’s app, such as 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 and email address

Lose your camera? Good luck getting it back. To increase your options, write your home address and email 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. The upcoming Virgin Voyages, however, will allow it.

(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.

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 $50-100 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.

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107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies

41 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!

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