12 Things Expert Cruisers Do Differently on Their Trip

Want to be an expert before you ever take a cruise? Or maybe you’ve taken plenty, but want to test what you know about being smart when you sail?

That’s why after dozens of cruises, we’ve rounded up things we think expert cruisers know… that many may have no idea about. If you know these tips, then you can call yourself an expert.

Know the Gouges

After you cruise a few times, you start to learn where there gouges are on a cruise and how to avoid them to save yourself some cash. We’re talking about things like toiletries and medicines on the ship, including an $18 bottle of cough medicine on one cruise. The experts know to bring anything they might need or wait until in port to pick something up.

Cruise transfers from the airport are highly priced and if you are traveling with two or more people, it’s just about always cheaper to take an Uber or a cab.

Travel insurance sold through the cruise lines is another spot. You can buy through the cruise line, and it’s pretty convenient. But going to a third-party insurer often gives you higher limits for about the same price — and sometimes less.

Now there are plenty of things that are simply expensive on a cruise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a gouge. For instance, you can’t do much about high drink prices. But the pros know how to save money when they can.

Know the Deals

Drink on an NCL cruise ship
Buying drink packages as part of a bundle — or at least before the cruise — leads to heavy discounts.

On the flipside of knowing where not to spend money, expert cruisers know where there are deals on the cruise.

Over the past few years, a number of lines have rolled out bundles. With these, you pay a little extra for the cruise fare and get things like gratuities, a drink package, and wi-fi included with your trip. Now if you aren’t going to purchase these things, it’s not a good deal. However, many people do and the cost of the bundle can be much less than buying them individually.

As well, even without bundles, seasoned cruisers know to book anything you want onboard ahead of time. Restaurants, wi-fi, and drink packages are always discounted if you buy them before you cruise. Simply buying them before instead of on the ship saves you money.

And finally, if you don’t get the drink package, experts know to take advantage of allowances for drinks. Just about every cruise line lets you bring on a bottle or two or wine or champagne. Many lines also allow a 12-pack of soda or other non-alcoholic drinks. It might not sound like much, but considering the prices on the ship, it adds up.

Avoid the Buffet When You Can

If you’ve cruised enough, then there has to be one spot that you may have grown tired of: the buffet.

The buffet on a cruise is a staple of dining. It’s open for every meal and most people will find themselves eating breakfast and lunch there, and maybe even dinner in some cases.

We’ll be honest, the buffet… it is serviceable. On every line we’ve sailed, we are convinced they all source the food from the same spot. Eating it occasionally is fine. However, eating it every day gets old fast.

That is why those in the know make it a point to skip around and try different spots, even if it does mean having to pay for meals in specialty restaurants at times. If you’re on the cruise ship for a week and eating tons of meals in the buffet, then you’re doing it wrong.

Follow the Rule of “5-10-15” When Picking a Cabin

Not sure if you should get a balcony? If the cruise is over five days, it’s a good idea. Also, rooms between decks 10-15 give you access to some of the most popular areas. That’s why you might follow the “5-10-15” rule.

Two questions a lot of people have are “Is a balcony cabin worth it?” and “Where on the ship should I choose my room?”

When it comes to these two questions, we like to use something we call the “Rule of 5-10-15.” It’s easy to remember and gives an easy rule of thumb.

First, the five. If you are sailing on a cruise of five days or longer, then yes, get a balcony. With that length of time you’ll have enough time in the cabin that you’ll want the extra space, fresh air, and the view. On shorter trips you are usually out and about exploring the ship and port so much that you can’t really get your money’s worth for the extra cost of the balcony.

Then comes the 10-15. When you sail and are selecting where your cabin is, it is smart to book anywhere from Deck 10 to Deck 15. The layout of a cruise ship is that you have the main promenade and indoor areas usually around Decks 6-8. Then you have the main outdoor areas at the top of the ship. These days on the big ships that’s anywhere from Decks 16-20.

Since these are the two spots you’ll spend the most time, it makes sense to be between them as it gives you easy access without a ton of stairs or waiting on an elevator.

Cruise With a Passport

If you’re taking a cruise as a one-off vacation, then one great thing is most trips from the United States is that you can sail with only a birth certificate and a driver’s license. So you can actually travel to a foreign country without a passport.

But expert cruisers know that it’s so much easier with a passport. Now, we’ll admit that getting a passport can be a pain. But the benefits are nice. First, should anything go wrong during your trip and you have to come home early from a foreign port, a passport makes things much easier.

Honestly, however, that’s unlikely. Most cruises go off without a hitch. The real benefit of a passport is getting off the ship. Not always, but if you have a passport these days, you simply walk off the ship at the end of the cruise, take a photo at the kiosk, and you’re on your way.

If you have a birth certificate, then you often have to wait in a line to meet with an agent who reviews your documents. It can be much more time-consuming.

Buy the Fastest Wi-Fi

Let’s face it, these days staying connected isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity for many of us. And the cruise lines are happy to help you stay online… for a price.

Wi-fi packages are available on any ship you sail. Of course, the cruise lines have broken it down into different levels. Pay less (but still a lot!) and get a slower speed. Or pay more and get faster access.

It’s tempting to go cheap here, but those who’ve been around the block know that’s a mistake. Even the fastest connections on a ship are slow by land standards. A decent speed for the fastest connection is 3-5 Megabits per second. Your home connection is likely closer to 100.

Not only are the slower connections simply not as fast — in some cases we’ve seen them as slow as under 1 Mbps — but the slower speeds often come with less access as well. Things like streaming are normally not allowed. Some social media apps may not be available as well.

Spending the extra money is a pain, but it’s the smart move.

Cruise When School Is in Session

If you can book a cruise when school is in, in many cases you’ll get the same trip for hundreds of dollars less.

Now even those who cruise a lot can’t always be flexible with when they sail. Sometimes even if you are flexible, you have to meet the schedule of others that you are traveling with.

Those that can, however, know that sailing when school is in session is the right play. First, the prices for cruises can drop drastically during the school year. At this time, it’s more difficult for families to sail, meaning cruise lines drop prices to keep ships full. It’s common to pay hundreds less for the same cruise by sailing outside of times like Spring Break or the summer.

As well, during times like the summer, your ship is also likely to sail with more people. With kids being able to sail during school holidays, that means often a third or even fourth person is in a cabin, adding to the number of passengers on the ship.

Sail outside of these times and not only is it less expensive, but it’s also likely to have more elbow room. (See the ships with the most space per passenger here.)

Check the Stateroom Account

If it’s your first cruise, one thing you might not know to do is check your stateroom account. If you’re a cruise veteran, then you know to keep an eye on the account.

Everything you spend on the ship is tracked via your keycard. Want a drink? Swipe your card and then that amount is put onto your account. At the end of your cruise, you pay off your balance.

What pros know is that occasionally wrong charges can make their way onto your account, such as a 2:00 a.m. drink at a bar when you were sound asleep in the cabin. 

Your account is kept in real-time and you can check it anytime from the cruise line app or on the stateroom TV. You want to keep an eye on it from time to time. If you do have a wrong charge, Guest Services can get it cleared up in just a few minutes.

Don’t Pack Dumb

If you’re packing heaps of luggage for a Caribbean cruise, then you’re doing it wrong. Packing smart is one sign of an expert cruiser.

With each cruise you take, you’ll get a little smarter about packing. First time you go, you’ll likely bring a lot of things you don’t need, and not bring things that would have been useful. That’s why those that have cruised quite a bit have become really good at packing smart.

First, if you’re headed to the Caribbean for a week and bringing two huge suitcases, you’re doing it wrong. It’s fine to wear the same clothes a couple of times. And when you pack those big bags, you have so much more to lug around from the car or plane to the port.

But then there are smart things to pack. We always suggest all the over the counter medicines you think you even might need. It’s not easy to go grab something in the middle of the night if you need to battle a headache or upset stomach.

Shoe organizers that hang over bathroom doors are great for keeping small items from cluttering up counter space. Towel clips are something many people don’t think about, but the breeze when the ship is underway makes them worth it to bring. 

For more smart things to pack, see our article here.

Experts Figure Out Which Line They Like

There are a lot of things that you can learn about cruising from those that are experts, but only through experience can you really figure out which line you like, the way that those who’ve cruised a lot already know.

We’ll be forward, in that about 80% of any cruise on one of the major lines is going to be the same. You hang out by the pool, eat dinner in the dining room, hit the same ports. There are differences, however, in the vibes and atmosphere on different ships.

Some are more focused on families and outgoing fun. Others are focused on adults and affluent customers with a more refined atmosphere. But sometimes you won’t know what you like until you actually try it out. 

So it’s a good idea to try a few lines… and you never know when what you like might change over the years.

Know the Dining Room Ordering Secrets

Food is a major part of a cruise, and cruise experts know a few secrets about it that first-timers may not. That’s especially in the case of the main dining room. There are some things that you learn after you cruise a bit.

In the dining room, you’re given a menu and then asked for an appetizer, main entrée, and a dessert. You can really just order what you want. Don’t decide between two appetizers — get them both. Or order seconds for your meal, although some lines are starting to charge for this.

But beyond that, if there’s something that you really want, let your waiter know. Even if it’s something off-menu, they can sometimes accommodate.

Adjust Their Attitudes

The final thing is something that anyone can keep in mind whether they’ve sailed once or a hundred times, but it’s something that we think also deserves some attention these days.

If you’re headed on a cruise, then you really want to check your attitude. For 99% of people, this is no problem. But we all get a little edgy sometimes, and on a cruise there are a lot of people in close proximity.

Sometimes other people can be loud, or the wi-fi might be slow, or the waiter can get your order wrong, or the cruise might cancel a port due to weather. Inconveniences and annoyances can happen even when on vacation.

But if you adjust your attitude and let it roll off your back, it will make the entire trip much more enjoyable. That’s one sign you’re an expert cruiser.

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  1. 1. One of the gouges is the port business ATM, usually at pharmacies. There’s a double exchange fee and an ATM fee. Withdrawing $200 can cost an additional $50+.
    2. For a deal, I get a shot of Kahlua or Bailey’s, get a cup of coffee from the 24/7 coffee spot, and add that in with some creamer. A LOT cheaper.
    3. Even though it was only a 4-night cruise, we still got a balcony. While I was ice skating or off-ship horseback riding, my hubs could enjoy the fresh air.
    4. A Passport is best, PLUS the waterproof phone plastic holder holds your passport as well.
    5. DO NOT bring one big piece of luggage then 4-5 freakin’ variously-sized carryons.
    We used our large ‘FlyAway’ hard-sided luggage as a cocktail table for the room service trays!
    6. We got a speciality ‘VIP’ package that included not only embarkation/debarkation benefits, but the internet benefit as well.
    7. The Cruzely ‘Drink Calculator’ is the BEST thing I’ve ever seen since Excel was created! That will tell you if a drink package is worth it or not.

  2. Remember, every suggestion doesn’t apply to everyone. Some of those suggestions are ok for me and some aren’t. I’ve been on 30 cruises, so I know.


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