I never thought I’d love a cruise, then I took one and had an amazing time. One of my favorite things during the cruise was to hang out with these older ladies who played Mahjong all day. They told me that now that they were older and their kids were gone, they made cruising into a sport. Lucky for me, they were quite open with their cruise tips and tricks. So today, I impart their knowledge on you.
These secrets aren’t things you’ll find on regular websites, but tips these ladies had been harvesting for years. If you have other tips to share, make sure to leave them in the comments area so that we can all travel smarter. These tips will help you get deals on purchases while you’re onboard, save money, and even see stuff for free.
Cruise Dining Tips & Tricks
You have a choice
Think you’re stuck with only one thing when you’re in the main dining room? Wrong. When offered a fixed menu with an appetizer, entree and dessert; you can order two entrees or three desserts if you want. You can even order your entrees as appetizers. This is awesome if you like to experiment with your food, so don’t be shy about asking your server about this.
Room Service Saves Money & Time
Yup, room service is free (most of the time). Of course, this depends on the cruise line, Holland America and Princess make this a common amenity. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity charge usually only during late hours. Norwegian is the only one that seems to charge for room service. Make sure to look into this when choosing your cruise line. Eating breakfast in your cabin can save you valuable time for excursions, events, and the like. Since you’re saving money, make sure to tip your delivery person, that’s just polite.
There are Secret & Special Restaurants
When you book your cruise, you’ll notice that most people will dine in the main dining room or at the buffet. This is fine, but it can get boring. All cruise lines have specialty restaurants, but they work like regular restaurants and usually have an extra cost attached (it’s usually nominal, $20 per person for the meal), but sometimes the cruise lines reward you with goodies like a free bottle of wine for making the resos. This is nice if you’re with a large group and maybe need a little time to yourself.
Coffee Comes at an Extra Fee
Coffee is a big money maker, and Cruise ships take full advantage of this. Specialty coffee at designated coffee shops on board usually come at an extra fee. It’s not all bad news, while caffeination is extra, your sugar tooth will delight since pastries, sandwiches and other food at these venues are often free. While a few specialty items (like chocolate-covered strawberries) will have a charge, don’t assume all the small bites do.
Calm that Ice Cream Craving without Paying
Like ice cream? Cruise lines will charge for branded licks like Ben & Jerry’s and Celebrity’s gelato. However, there’s always a free version — whether soft-serve machines on the Lido Deck or hard-serve stations at the buffet. And do your research. On some cruise lines, soft-serve machines on either side of the deck can offer different flavors.
Skip the Meal Lines
When you first arrive on your cruise, the majority of people will make their way to the buffet while they wait for their cabins to be ready. It’s crazy. The good news is that most cruise ships have other options open for you, usually in the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crew member about this, or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal. For example, on Princess Cruises, the International Cafe, Pizzeria and Grill are open; on Royal Caribbean ships, Sorrento’s, the Solarium and Park Cafes, Giovanni’s Table and Starbucks are open on embark afternoon.
Choosing Specialty Restaurants on Cruises
Don’t know which night to make specialty dinner reservations? The main dining room menus are planned for the week, and the purser’s desk often has access to those menus. Ask to see them so you can decide which nights are less appealing and which you don’t want to miss, and plan your cruise accordingly.
Cruise Drink Tips & Tricks
8) There’s no “open beverage” rule onboard. You can bring drinks from a bar or buffet to your cabin or elsewhere on the ship and no one will bat an eye. (Same goes for food.)
9) It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses — but what do you do if you don’t finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night, even for dinner in another onboard venue.
10) Groups of beer drinkers can save by ordering buckets of beer. You get four or five beers in a souvenir bucket at a per-beer cost slightly cheaper than ordering individual bottles.
11) On most lines, soda is not free — but iced tea in the dining room usually is. Save on soda by buying a soda card, offering a set price for unlimited soft drinks.
12) Most lines let you bring a reasonable amount of nonalcoholic drinks onboard. Save on pricey shipboard sodas and bottled waters by bringing your own.
13) Some cruisers use their stateroom Bibles for more than spiritual counsel. Cruise Critic members report that they will leave unused drinks cards or coupons in their Bibles. So be sure to flip through yours to make sure a surprise isn’t waiting.
14) Enticed by all those special drinks in a souvenir glass? You can refill those glasses at a discount — or ask to have the drink of the day in a regular glass to save money. Also watch your daily program for drink specials or happy hours with reduced price beverages.
15) Most cabins are made of metal¦and therefore they’re magnetic. Bring along some magnets (or buy some as souvenirs) and you can keep all your cocktail party invites, alternative dining reservation notices and daily planners hung up on the walls and doors.
16) Inside cabins have no natural light. At all. Turn your TV to the bridge cam station, turn off the sound and — voila! — you’ve got an instant nightlight and a way to see if the sun is up.
17) With all of the electronics we tote around with us these days, most people find cruise ship outlets to be insufficient. You can bring your own charging station or power strip (check to see if these are legal on your cruise line), but you may also want to ask your cabin steward. Sometimes there’s an extra outlet hidden behind the TV or under the bed.
18) Picky about your bedding? Some lines will provide egg crate mattress toppers, top sheets and alternative pillow types by special request. Feel free to ask, before or during your cruise.
19) Cabin designers are pretty smart about creating as much storage space as possible. Do a little exploring or ask your cabin steward for a tour. You may be surprised to find extra storage under the bed or couch, inside an ottoman or behind a mirror.
20) If you’re feeling queasy, don’t run out to a pharmacy before making some calls. Room service can bring you green apples and bland crackers (crewmembers swear by the apple remedy), and often you can get seasickness meds from the purser’s desk for free.
21) Casino frequenters can get a hole punched in their room card and a free lanyard from the casino staff for easy play without forgetting your card in the slot machines.
22) Many lines offer free minutes if you sign up for an Internet package on the first day of the cruise.
23) Cruise ship spas often offer discounts for first-day and port-day treatments. Stop by the spa, or check your daily newsletters to find out about deals.
24) If the port talk is at the same time as your massage, don’t worry. Presentations and audience-participation shows are often re-broadcast on the ship’s channel on your in-room TV. You can still catch the recording if you miss the live show.
25) Use of the showers, saunas and stream rooms not located in fancy thermal suites is free. Showering in the spa can often mean access to more clean towels, fancy toiletries and bigger shower stalls — and prevents fights over who gets cabin bathroom access first. Using the free saunas is also a great remedy for that inevitable vacation head cold that stuffs you up.
26) Celebrity’s buffet secrets include delicious ship-made hard-serve ice cream (for free) in the buffet and made-to-order waffles with a choice of toppings. You can also order a cup of candy toppings with no ice cream if that’s your treat of choice.
27) On Holland America, many cruisers don’t know that the Pinnacle Grill is half-price at lunchtime, and free chocolate truffles make an appearance in the Explorer’s Lounge each evening.
28) Princess ships serve up cookies and milk at 3 p.m. on the pool deck and in the Piazza.