So, you’ve found your way onto a cruise. Whether your family is using it as their big get together for the year (hey, me too!) or you found an incredibly cheap last minute deal (um…go you!), you are going to have a fabulous vacation. I have had one or two cruising experiences, but this most recent one was my first as a “grown up.” So I’ve gathered up all of the best cruise tips & tricks I’ve read and experienced to make this as helpful as possible! This was also my first as a self-proclaimed “slow traveler.” Cruises are not the first thing that pops in my mind when I think of slow travel, but you CAN make it a bit more immersive. Look for those special tips with stars down below!
Cruise Tips & Tricks
Cruise Tips & Tricks: Packing Tips
First and foremost, you’ll want to sign up for frequent cruiser rewards programs. Even if you went on a cruise way back in the day (with the same line), you’ll at least be in the first bracket. I got discounts on spa treatments, milkshakes, and more. The program is free, so it’s definitely worth seeing what you can take advantage of!
You’ll want at least a carry-on and a suitcase for the trip, regardless of what you’re packing. Lots of pools and activities are open before you get access to your luggage, so toss a bathing suit in your carry-on so you can swim at the bon voyage party! The carry-on can also take care of your electronics and important documents, just to make sure you don’t lose them. However, be sure to check your room to see if your luggage is there! All of the sites I read beforehand insisted you would not have them before dinner and ours showed up right after we were on board.
We cruised to the Caribbean and I did NOT have enough sweaters. I cannot tell you how high the AC must’ve been turned on throughout the ship. Grab a nice sweater for dinner and a more casual sweater for just hanging out at the shows or lounges.
Drink packages too expensive? Don’t I know it. But what I didn’t know was that you can bring two bottles of wine on the ship (usually per state room - but check your cruise line!). Depending on how many rooms are in your party - that’s a decent amount of wine! So skip the drink package and just carry your glass (that you can bring to your room from any buffet) of wine around the ship. **Bonus points if you pack themed wines for where you’re going!
What we definitely could have left at home: walkie talkies. These used to be the one thing to pack on cruises, but ours just didn’t work that well at all. I know they’re not particularly heavy, but you might want to leave them at home. Royal Caribbean had an app that you could use for $8 the entirety of your trip that allows you to call and text other people. It’s completely crappy and spotty, but a decent alternative! You're on vacation - relax.
Ahh, formal nights. A cruise packing nightmare. Don’t try to bring an iron on the ship, as they are pretty big fire hazards. We got anti-wrinkle spray, but the best way to do it is just bring another hanging piece of luggage. It’s a pain in the butt for people who are usually light packers, but embrace it if you don’t want wrinkles. If you want to keep your jewelry straight, go on and bring magnets - all of the cabin walls are magnetic!
Cruise Tips & Tricks: On the Ship
Let’s get seasickness out of the way right now. One of the biggest questions before we left was “Are we going to feel the movement of the ship?” People (and younger me) assured me that the ships are so big you weren’t going to feel a thing. LIES. Bring the seasickness medicine/bands just in case. And I hear green apples are a good cure! Be sure to ask your stateroom attendant if you really need it.
If you are not made of money and settled for an inside cabin (hello, friend!), don’t let your circadian rhythm get out of whack and cause you to sleep the whole time. Royal Caribbean now has these “virtual balconies” which are essentially just large tv screens with a view out of the ship being played. Turn the volume down and crack the “curtain” they put over it. This way you’ll actually know when it’s light outside! And if you’re feeling really lucky - I hear the best time to ask for upgrades is after you leave the first port. People miss flights and miss cruises, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Okay, let’s be honest. These buffet style breakfasts can get super crowded. And I hate crowds most always. Let me pop in here to remind you that room service is INCLUDED in your cruise price. My favorite way to start the morning would be a trip to the gym (I know, I’m ridiculous), and I would schedule it so that room service would arrive as I was hopping out of the shower. Oatmeal + coffee + fruit was my go-to!
**For all of you slow travelers out there, what is one of the best things about immersing yourself in a location? Don’t try to tell me the answer isn’t food. This isn’t a money-saving tip, but upgrading to some of the specialty dining options is so, incredibly worth it. If you’re on Royal Caribbean and Wonderland is on board - automatically upgrade. I don’t care who you are (unless you’re a picky eater I guess…). I will tell you that there was a special deal that you get 3 specialty restaurants for $80, when usually one costs about $50. Paul and I took advantage of it - so look for special deals in the first couple days of cruising! And speaking of food, don’t forget that you aren’t limited to one appetizer, entree, and dessert. Go wild!
**Do you know how many people might be on the cruise with you? Regardless of the other passengers, cruise employees are from EVERYWHERE. Talk to them about where they’re from, what they’ve done, etc. While you may not be traveling to those specific places, good conversation is one of the backbones of “traveling like a local.” You can do it on the cruise too!
Speaking of spa, they often have better spa deals on days in port. I know I personally didn’t go on a cruise to NOT get off at a port, but if you check with the timing you may be able to snag a deal and use it when you’re already back on the ship for the day. It’s worth a look!
**Take a look at your Cruise Compass for all of the activities for the day. There are some seriously fun options on there aside from Bingo (no offense, Mom)! Paul and I took dance classes every sea day. Those kinds of activities just give you dive into learning something new and/or getting out of your comfort zone.
Cruise Tips & Tricks: In the Ports
**One thing I was so unhappy with was the amount of information you got about the ports you were visiting. I asked for a map of Old San Juan the night before we docked and there were none aboard the ship except for a shopping map - not my style. It might be a good idea to at least do a little bit of research before you go if you’re looking for more of an immersive experience.
Tucking a small daypack in my luggage made my life so much easier in port - one with water is even better! I filled up a water bottle or my bladder (the plastic kind, not the one in my body) before we left in the morning. I also packed sunscreen, bug spray, any maps, a ziplock bag with cash/a credit card, a phone justincase, and my camera. That’s all I needed! My favorite is the Ultimate Direction Wink Pack and I was able to wear it on all of my excursions too.
My dad is going to be so mad at me for this. But if you book excursions NOT through your cruise line, you’re bound to get a better deal. What you’re paying for is to make absolutely sure you’re back on the ship before it departs. If you want to take that risk, you’ll probably save a pretty penny or two. But I’d probably only recommend it if you’ve got a large chunk of time in port!
**Speaking of which, don’t be afraid to not book an excursion! It’s okay to just explore too. Theoretically, the further away from the ship you are, the more “authentic” of an experience you’re going to get. What a buzzword! But watch the masses embark the ship. Most of them hop on excursion busses or just stay right around the ship. Lucky for you, you did some research and can get away from the vendors just selling to cruise tourists. And talking to locals doesn't have to disappear on a cruise! Practice language skills, ask where the best place to grab a drink is, ask about their life, etc.
Honestly, if you're in a port and you're not super pleased with where the day is heading...you can just go to the beach if all else fails! And if you take a scooter to do so…more power to ya.
- Okay - what’s missing from this guide? Any cruise tips & tricks you have to add or questions you still have? Let me know in the comments!