107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies

Tips #1-25Tips #26-50 | Tips #51-75

107 Cruise Tips, Secrets, Tricks, and Freebies, header

76. A Post-It Note (or other decoration) helps in finding your room

If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship before, then you know that the cabin hallways can seem almost like an optical illusion. They can stretch forever in a repeating pattern of cabins, walls, and identical doors. While doors are numbered, it’s easy to pass by your room as everything blends together.

Many people go to the effort of decorating their doors to not only be festive, but also stand out and be easier to find. If you don’t want to go to that much effort, just bring a few Post-It Notes (they are great for leaving messages in the cabin anyway). Stick one brightly colored note on your door and you have an instant way to identify your cabin.

77. 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.

78. 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 be prepared 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 little longer enjoying a meal or relaxing on board. Once you are done, you can breeze through.

79. Secret clues for getting around the ship

Cabin door sign on a cruise ship

Cabin hallways can go on forever, and with no windows, it can be hard to know if you’re going forward or aft. In that case, look for the clues. On NCL, the hallway carpet has little fish or arrows on it. These fish/arrows face forward.

On Royal Caribbean, the door markers will have a clue like a small arrow pointing forward (see above), or an image of the ship that faces to the front of the ship. If the ship is older, it might have a door marker in the shape of a wave. Here, the higher part of the wave points the way to the front of the ship.

80. Formal night doesn’t have to be stressful. Here’s what to wear

No occasion on the trip might cause as much stress as formal night if you’re not sure what to wear. Our advice? Don’t worry. Sure you can dress up in a tuxedo or an evening gown (and some do), but you won’t be out of place if you don’t get that fancy.

For guys, just a pair of pants and a button-up shirt is enough on the major cruise lines. For women, a nice blouse or any dress is fine. The biggest thing is to avoid shorts, swimsuits, and ballcaps. Anything else will be just fine for formal night… up to a full tux. (Read more about formal night here.)

81. 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.

82. 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 health issues to protests. While it doesn’t happen often, changes are regular enough that you shouldn’t be surprised if one happens to your trip.

83. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see the stars at sea

Being in the middle of the sea, hundreds of miles away from any city lights would seem to lend itself to seeing the stars like never before. The bad news is that isn’t the case.

While ships would be the perfect spot for stargazing, the lights on the deck are bright enough to create light pollution that drowns out many stars. You’ll see brighter ones, but if you were planning to spot the Milky Way out at sea, that probably won’t be the case. 

84. Put away anything you don’t want to the cabin steward to see

During your cruise you will have a cabin steward that tends to the cabin each day. They do things like clean the room, restock anything needed, and make the bed. But one tip is to ensure that if you leave the cabin you don’t leave anything laying out that you don’t want them to see.

So if you did something like sneak on alcohol or bring a special outfit to spice things up on vacation, be sure to put them away. Otherwise, there might be some awkwardness the next time you see the cabin steward.

85. Ships can sail at over 100% occupancy

When it comes to cruise ships, 100% occupancy isn’t the max people it can hold. In fact, most ships sail at greater than 100%. 

Cruise liners sail at 100% when there are two passengers for every cabin. So if there are 2,000 cabins on the ship and 4,000 passengers, then that’s considered 100% occupancy. But when there are three or more to a cabin, then that level rises. During normal times, it’s not unusual for cruise ships to sail closer to 105-110% occupancy.

86. The room thermostats may not control anything

Every cabin comes with a thermostat. In our experience, they are often 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.

87. 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.

88. What those strange symbols on the hull mean

Stabilizer icon on a cruise

When you are in port, you might notice strange symbols at the ship’s waterline that look like hieroglyphics. They are actually telling important information about the ship. 

For instance, you might see a circle with an ‘X’ through it, normally in groups. These are where thrusters are installed on the ship to help it maneuver. 

You might also see a strange shape that almost looks like the outline of a key, with a larger square and then a rectangle jutting out (see the image above). This marker? It’s for the ship’s stabilizers. These stabilizers jut out under the waterline like fins and help to reduce the rocking of the ocean.

The symbols help other boats know what’s going on under the water so they don’t get too close.

89. Early debarkation doesn’t always save a lot of time (but it certainly can sometimes!)

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. So sometimes it can be a long wait… other times you can breeze through. 

It can also be faster if you use a passport to sail instead of a birth certificate. Facial recognition at some ports matches with your passport can get you through quickly.

90. 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.

91. 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, go-karts, 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.

92. 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.

93. Topless sunbathing? It’s not a thing in the U.S. (except for one line)

Wondering about private areas of the ship where you could get some sun… without worrying about tan lines? That’s not really a thing these days on cruises from the United States.

There are no major cruise lines that allow topless sunbathing, except for one. The one exception is Virgin Voyages, which is adults-only and offers a designated spot onboard that allows it.

94. Be sure to check your onboard account regularly

When you sail, all your spending on the ship is done through your room keycard that acts like a credit card tied to your onboard account. At the end of the cruise, it’s automatically paid for with the payment method on file.

However, you should keep tabs on your account (you can do so via the cruise line’s app) to make sure that the charges are legit. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes errant charges will appear. If you find one, just let Guest Services know to get it removed.

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

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


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 relax on your cruise, you’ll have to wait until you arrive in port.

96. 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. Purchase your card and if you win, you can walk away with cash. It’s not unusual to see people pocket hundreds or even thousands of bucks playing the game on the ship.

97. 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 always popular “newlywed” game), some audience participation is required. 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.

98. 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. On a side note, always return to the ship well before the “all aboard” time.

99. If flying, always depart for your port city the day 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 trip. 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 can sometimes take hours and cause 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.

100. Don’t expect much on TV (Netflix is great)

We love nothing more than relaxing and watching some TV after a long day in port. Unfortunately, cruise lines don’t offer much in the way of television stations. You won’t get the basic channels you’d expect. Instead, it’s a few news stations and maybe a couple of channels for movies and a couple for cartoons.

Netflix and other services are lifesavers. Download your favorite shows ahead of time (so that you can watch without Internet access) and catch up on your programs.

101. 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 occasionally 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.)

102. Be sure your clock is set with the ship’s time

Depending on where you sail, there could be changes in the ship’s time from the time atthe port of call. Why does this matter? If you don’t return to the ship by the right time, you could get left.

To make things easy, just make sure your watch is set with the ship’s time as you get off in port. It will be made well-known as your debark, or you can just ask a crew member. That way you are matched up with the ship’s schedule and don’t risk missing the return time.

103. 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.

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

Mini bar on a cruise

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.

105. Cruise ships are surprisingly fast

Ok, no one would confuse travel by cruise ship with the speed of traveling by plane. But considering that a ship is roughly as long as the Empire State Building is tall and has about as many rooms as The Mirage in Las Vegas, the fact they can move at all is impressive.

Truth is, the cruising speed of many ships is around 25 miles per hour. That may not seem like much, but many neighborhoods have speed limits of 25 mph. Next time you see a car drive by your house, imagine that a cruise ship was gliding by instead to get an idea of the speed.

106. 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.

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

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.

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

Tips #1-25 | Tips #26-50Tips #51-75


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Popular: 107 Best Cruise Tips, Secrets, Tricks, and Freebies

107 Best Cruise Tips, Tricks, Secrets, and Freebies


  1. I have a history of motion sickness, but I have cruised frequently and never gotten sick; the trick is to buy Ginger pills/capsules from a health food store and begin taking a couple of them, three times a day, for 2 days before the cruise begins, straight through the second day of cruising. It’s a cheap fix, and I’ve experienced no side affects from the Ginger. After all, it’s only a herb! (Ginger Ale is still an old treatment for nausea, right?)

  2. 90. Take a photo of your home and email address:

    Ok, two issues with this tip,
    1 – how will whoever finds your phone get pass the phone’s access code to actually go in to see your photos?
    2 – even if they somehow did (or for whatever reason the phone had no access code), then what happens if in the very rare case the person who finds it is a criminal? They now know that this address is currently unoccupied and ripe for ‘business’. They can just call a buddy to go round there.

    Best to hope someone was nice enough to have handed in your lost phone to guest services.

    • I’d say no. It’s bulky and often only needed for a few minutes where you can just go inside on the ship or duck under cover in port. Instead, a rain jacket is a good idea as it’s more versatile.

    • Holy Moly, yes take an umbrella. Our last cruise this past November 2022 rained EVERY day of the 14 days of this Caribbean cruise. The ONLY saving thing about this soggy cruise was a blessing that we stayed in the Haven and an umbrella was furnished in the room. I felt sorry for all the other passengers who bought ponchos or simply were soaked. Sometimes a problem for space but invest in a small compact umbrella -you will be happy you did!

  3. I didn’t see a comment about doing laundry. It’s true that laundry soap is available in dispensers as well as dryer sheets, but if you bring your own it’s certainly cheaper and you can bring the brand you like. Also if you are planning to wash your own clothes, plan to use the laundry room when there is publicized social activity, and you won’t be standing in line to use the machines since many won’t want to miss the activity and the machines won’t be in use.

  4. Just FYI most ports have shuttles from docks to airports and returns. I Uber to airport take shuttle to docks and reverse on return. No parking fees and I’ve found you can do the round trip Uber and all for around a hundred dollars (sometimes less than that). I’ve also found booking specialty activities much as mixology class are better to book as far in advance as possible…..they fill up fast. Also you didn’t mention about tipping for you cabin stewards, dinner waiters….etc. I always take cash for that. Happy Sailing….

  5. Hello, I cruise all the time and can never get an answer as to why it’s hit or miss on the pool being warm or cold. I always complain if it’s cold and always get the same answer, ( corporate makes the decision. ) If a cruise ship wants people to enjoy themselves then why prevent them from having a great time swimming at the pool. I don’t even need to put my foot in the pool. If there are people in the pool then it’s warm… if it’s cold nobody is in it. Can anyone explain?

    • Not sure about the heating of pools… but if there are a bunch of people in the pool and it’s warm, then you may not want to think too much about where that warmth is coming from!

  6. I find it handy to bring plastic foldable over the door hanger for bathroom which has many pockets. You can put all the bathroom essentials to avoid a clutter on bathroom counter.
    Another tip is bring towel clips for lounge chairs so the towels stay in place.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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..

  10. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. #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.

  16. 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.

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

  18. 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!)

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.


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