From the truth about cruise sales, to why some ships take out an entire deck in the middle of the ship, and even a clever trick to never get locked out of your room, there’s a lot to learn about sailing before you take a cruise.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 22 cruise secrets that you want to know — and more importantly — you’ll never forget once you learn.
Cruise Sales Mean Little
Visit any cruise website or sign up for their email list and you will always see big flashy notices about huge sales that you just can’t miss. Or can you? Truth is that cruise line sales run constantly… as in there is always a sale running. And really while the sales may be tweaked a little here and there, they almost always come out to be roughly the same price.
If a cruise line needs to fill cabins by lowering costs, they will just cut the price of the fare on certain trips — not offer a big discount across the board. So if you’re waiting for a big sale, don’t bother. Just book when you find a price you like.
Order What Your Want From the Menu (Multiple Items)
Head to the dining room and you’ll be given a menu and then asked for an appetizer, a main entrée, and a dessert. What’s not explicitly clear is that you can actually order multiples. Want to try two entrees? Or maybe you can’t decide between a couple of appetizers? Just order them both.
Now if you start going crazy there might be an upcharge for additional entrees beyond two, but in general you can just order what you want.
Smile! You’re Being Recorded
One secret is that if you’re on a cruise ship, then you better know that you’re on camera. Now this doesn’t apply to private spaces like your cabin. But just about any public area will be within the view of one or more cameras, so be on your best behavior.
And before you think that the cameras around the ship are just for show, we can tell you personally that we’ve seen the video feeds when visiting the bridge of the ship and yes, the cameras are recording.
Discounts on the Ship When in Port
One secret to save a little money is to do things on the ship when in port. When in ports, most people leave the ship. To induce demand, some lines have special prices on things like the spa or some attractions where you can get the same service for less money than a day at sea.
Yes, you do have to sacrifice some of your port time, but if you schedule it early in the morning or later in the day, you can save some cash and still have plenty of time to head into port.
Older Ships Sail Cheaper
If you’re more concerned about the ports you visit than the ship you sail, then stick to those older ships. In general they will save you a decent chunk of money.
With new ships, cruise lines charge a premium as these offer the latest and greatest amenities. Smaller ships can still give you a good cruise — and often to destinations that are similar or the same as newer ships — but they are generally priced lower. The result is that you still get a good vacation, but at a significantly lower cost. Also, if you’re wanting a shorter cruise, those tend to be on older ships with newer ones sailing 7-day trips.
Newer Ships Are Drastically Different
We said that newer ships are generally more expensive to sail because they offer the latest and greatest. That may actually be selling the difference between new and old ships short. Cruise lines often have ships that can vary in age from brand new ships to ones built 25 or 30 years ago.
The difference between two ships built that far apart is jaw dropping. Cruising has come a long way in that time and what’s possible at sea has changed. We personally prefer newer ships as they feel more contemporary and have lots more to do. Others like the older ships because they are generally smaller and with fewer passengers. No matter your preference, just know not all ships are the same.
There Are Whole Areas You’ll Never See
As a passenger, you get to experience the vast majority of the ship. But what’s secret are the things behind those “crew only” doors. There are large sections of the ship that you’ll never get to see.
From the galleys where everything is cooked to crew quarters to behind the scenes at the theater to even the bridge of the ship, there’s another world to the cruise ship. There are tours available on some ships that explore these parts. Outside of that, you’ll only see them if you’re part of the crew.
AARP Discounts Can Save (Anyone Can Be a Member)
Want a secret to save you 10% on thousands of cruises? All you have to do is be a member of AARP — and anyone can sign up, no matter your age.
A membership to the organization is $12 a year and unlocks a ton of benefits. This includes the ability to buy gift cards to major cruise lines for 10% off the face value. So a $500 gift card is for sale for $450. A $100 card is for sale for $90.
If you want to save even more then you can buy the gift cards with a credit card that offers cash back.
Your Thermostat May Not Work
One thing is something we have yet to 100% confirm, except through our personal experience. That is the idea that your thermostat in your room may be completely for show. It seems like newer ships you can actually hear and feel the air kick on and off.
Older ships, however? We can’t remember a time when changing the thermostat has seemed to make a lick of difference. We’re convinced air conditioning is just controlled at one point all over the ship. Despite not touching the dial, in the middle of the night the room will be ice cold. Or during the day we want to cool things off and turn the dial for no relief.
Maybe it’s our imagination, but we don’t think it is.
Find a Spare Bathroom
Let’s be real for a moment. Cruise cabins are small and you’re sharing that space with someone else. If you have to go — especially if you don’t have a balcony that lets in fresh air — then smells can linger. It’s smart to bring some air freshener or poo-pourri, but one secret can also help.
There are public restrooms around the ship, and while some are located in busy areas and see lots of foot traffic, others are tucked away and seem to get almost no use. If you scout out one of these spots early in the cruise, then you have a refuge should you need to really go. As well, if someone is occupying the cabin bathroom, it’s nice to have a backup spot, just in case.
The Secret to Never Forgetting Your Room Key
Your room keycard is the most important thing you’ll carry around the ship. It’s your room key, your credit card around the ship, and it’s used when leaving and returning in port. But it’s also easy to forget. You walk out the door, it clicks behind you and then you realize you don’t have your card. Then it’s a trip to Guest Services to get back in the room.
Instead, one secret trick is to take off your shoes as you enter the cabin and then put the card on top of them. There’s no way that you’re going to walk out the door without your shoes, so this way you can make sure that you never forget your keycard either.
Guest Services Is 24 Hours (Don’t Waste Time in Long Lines)
Speaking of Guest Services, this one isn’t so much a secret as a way to save you a ton of time. Guest Services is the go-to for any issue you have onboard. Forget your keycard? Guest Services can help. Need to manage your bill on the ship? Guest Services.
But it’s open 24 hours a day and the first afternoon when you board, it can be swamped with people getting their accounts and rooms in order. So if your issue can wait, then you can come back at any time. Especially at times like first thing in the morning, there is hardly anyone here.
Watch for Wrong Charges on Your Account
On the ship, you have an onboard account. At the end of the cruise the balance is settled. You can check the balance in real time through the cruise line app. What people don’t realize, however, is that incorrect charges can hit your account. For instance, we’ve had drinks at 2 a.m. charged to our account when we were sound asleep. But if we hadn’t checked our account regularly, we never would have known.
If you find an incorrect charge, head to Guest Services and they will take care of it.
A Spa Thermal Pass Is a Great Deal That’s Little Advertised
Any ship you sail will have a spa. What you might not know is a less expensive way to enjoy it. If you head to the spa and ask for a price list or even look online for treatments, they will have dozens of options and they are pricey. Prices for massages start around $100 and go up from there.
What we’ve noticed is that day passes aren’t usually shown. Ask and there is usually a day pass available for a reasonable price that gives spa access to things like the sauna, rainfall showers, and heated loungers as much less than the cost of a massage or other treatment.
A Secret to Navigating Hallways
One of our favorite secrets is one to help you get around the ship. Cabin hallways on the ship don’t have windows and the doors, carpet and walls can all look the same. So how do you know if you’re going forward or aft?
Cruise lines put in clues. For instance, NCL uses fish or some other design that points the way forward. Royal Caribbean puts clues on the door markers like small arrows or a “wave” where the high-end points forward. Once you see these, you’ll never forget this tip on your next cruise.
Pack a Shoe Organizer for Storing Small Items
This might be the oddest thing that you pack, but it’s a secret that seasoned cruisers know. A shoe organizer costs only about $10 on Amazon and folds flat for packing. we’d suggest that you bring one.
Unfold it and hang it on the bathroom door when you unpack . Voila, you now have a ton of pockets to store everything from sunscreen to sunglasses and everything in between.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t much storage in your cabin. It’s actually the opposite. But spots for small items is lacking.
Score Casino Freebies on Ships
Who doesn’t love something free? Well, the casino offers a lot that’s free, believe it or not. First insert your card and just like on land your play is tracked. Play enough and you can earn perks like free drinks all the way to free cruises.
Don’t know how to play a game? Casinos on cruise ships offer free classes where you can learn to play without risking cash. Just check the daily planner for times.
Finally, it doesn’t always work but head to the cashier and ask if they have any used dice or cards for sale. We’ve gotten a used deck from MSC, used dice from Carnival, and a cool gaming token from Royal Caribbean. They make neat souvenirs without spending money.
No 13th Floor on Some Ships
One secret is right out in the open but you’d never know it unless you’re looking for it. These days cruise ships can go up to 20 decks, but like some hotels, some cruise ships are missing a superstitious deck number.
It’s not every ship but you will find some that don’t offer a 13th deck. So if you’re heading down, you’ll go from the 14th deck to the 12th deck. The good news is that if you’re taking the stairs, then it means one less flight that you have to climb.
Why Cruise Lines Offer Discounts for Early Packages
It’s pretty well known that if you want to buy a drink or wi-fi package, it’s smart to do it before you get on the ship. Cruise lines almost always discount these things if you book them early… and sometimes significantly so.
But do you ever wonder why they do that? It’s a concept known as a fresh wallet. If you buy the drink package when you board, then you’ve dropped a big chunk of money right at the start of your cruise. That makes you less likely to spend more the rest of the trip.
But if you purchase three months before your cruise, then that cost will be well in the past. The result is that passengers who buy packages early typically end up spending more overall.
What Scares Cruise Lines About the Future
There are lots of risks in running a cruise line. It involves the spending of more than a billion to build the biggest cruise ships, sourcing products and crew members from around the world, dealing with weather, health, and all sorts of other things.
But you might be surprised by the threats mentioned by cruise lines. In a recent talk aboard Celebrity Ascent in November 2023, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty mentioned anti-tourism from some places seeing too many tourists. This is one reason why cruise lines like private destinations where the impact on the broader community is less.
The second is the issue of emissions. Cruise lines are placing more and more emphasis on reducing their carbon footprint and being more efficient. Carnival mentions this in their annual reports, and Liberty also cited this as a threat to the future of cruising.
What Hull Symbols Mean on the Ship
If you look, you’ll find them on every ship — seemingly strange hieroglyphics of circles and odd shapes. But they carry important meanings. They tell others what is below the waterline that can’t be easily seen.
The circle with the X is where a thruster is located that helps the ship move sideways. Another common symbol tells others the ship has a bulbous bow, meaning there’s a nose that sticks out under the water. And that strange shape that looks a little like a “key” in the middle of the ship shows where a stabilizing fin sits. This fin folds out and helps smooth the ride in rough seas.
What to Know About Crime on Ships
One more secret — while overall safe — with literally tens of millions of passengers sailing each year, crime and incidents do happen on cruises. What many people don’t realize is that for ships sailing from the U.S., the FBI requires major crimes to be reported. Then, each quarter statistics are made public.
Most of these crimes like homicide and major theft are very rare. One of the more common is sexual assault with dozens of reported incidents each year. The rates are still low given the number of passengers, but it does show that it’s a good idea to keep your wits about you, even on vacation.