Whether it’s your first cruise or your fortieth, if you’re looking to save money or to make life easier on board a cruise, we’ve put together a list of top tips and pieces of advice to ensure you have the best possible experience you can get out of your cruise. No matter if you’re travelling through the bright sun of the Mediterranean in July, or the depths of Scandinavia on a winter or Christmas cruise, you’re bound to find that at least some of these tips, with some insider knowledge as well as the more obvious things that you might just happen to forget, will be helpful for you.
Plans & Packages
Save money by purchasing meal plans or spa packages before you get on board, but stay away from the pricier drinks packages. You’ll need to eat on board at some point, so make the most of your money by buying a plan in advance – it’ll allow you access to certain restaurants, cafes and bars at certain times for a set price. The drinks packages are often pricier than necessary though, and a regular traveller will find it hard to break even with these; they’re useful for families with children though who need regular drink top ups. Also consider bringing your own bottles; many cruise lines allow one or two bottles on board with a small corking fee in the restaurants, but this can save you big amounts overall.
Travel on a megaship rather than a smaller cruise line; with thousands of cabins to sell, you’re likely to get what you want at a cheaper price, as well as being able to partake in more activities, visit more eating facilities and see more things. We won’t list all the benefits of megaships, as it’s already been done plenty of times, but trust us that the best kind of ship is a bigger one.
When to travel
Consider when the right time to travel is for you. If you’re a family, you’ll need to take into consideration the school or national holidays, but for everyone else, try to cruise away from these dates. Also think about the seasons and time of year you’re travelling in for the weather at your destinations (find plenty of info about that here), so if you want warm weather in the Mediterranean, you’re better to look around summer, but remember that it’ll be quieter during the cooler months. Hurricane season is a difficult one; many people choose it because it’s cheaper, but you’re also at risk of having more days at sea and missing ports of call due to weather conditions.
Using the spa
If you plan to use the spa, it’ll be quieter and cheaper on days when the ship is docked and other passengers are exploring on land. If it’s a destination you’ve visited before, or somewhere you’re not particularly interested in, use this as your opportunity to get in a bit of relaxation. Also do your research on different spa options and treatments before going ahead, and as we mentioned earlier, consider booking before embarking or getting a spa plan for even better rates.
Watch out for upgrades; your travel agent can do this for you, or keep an eye on the cruise line’s website. BonVoyage.uk are known for announcing these regularly on their blog, for example, they recently let customers know via their blog that throughout the month of March, Royal Caribbean allowed bookings for free cabin upgrades on cruises between May and December from Outside to Balcony cabins, meaning a bigger room with the ability to get outside onto a small private veranda without having to find a public deck.
Choosing your cabin
On that note, choose your cabin wisely and pick one that’s suitable for your needs. Check out this list of what impact different cabins can make on your trip; you might be able to surprise yourself by preferring a more affordable inside cabin because the lack of window makes it easier for you to get some sleep. Make sure to check out deck plans while booking to ensure you’re not underneath a well-used area where people might be dragging chairs around until the early hours.
On Shore Excursions
Arrange your own on shore excursions or plan what you’d like to do before arriving at the destinations. Not only will you save money but you’ll also have much more freedom to explore in your own time and at your own pace. Some cruises only offer limited trips on shore and might miss out some of the smaller things you’d like to see, so check out local guides or arrange something by yourself beforehand.
Ports of Call
Make sure you’re prepared for each port. If you need specific items such as maps, sun cream, insect repellent, swimwear or a change of clothing, have them gathered altogether before you arrive and into an easy to carry bag so you’re not rushing to find it all and forgetting things when you get there.
Know what the dress codes are on board. Some will have formal dinners that require tuxedos and ball tie, whereas others only need a shirt and shoes. The dress codes should be easy to find online if you need them; Royal Caribbean, for example,outlined their guidelines and rules in a blog post for casual, semi-casual and formal outfits. Make sure you have at least one dressier outfit packed so you’ll blend in with other passengers.
The Final Pieces
Don’t forget the basics! Cruise ship cabins won’t have alarm clocks for you to use, so bring your own unless you want to spend port days wasting the hours in bed. Remember chargers for your phones, cameras and any other electronics, or even consider taking a power strip to charge them as cabins often only have one plug socket. Check what kind of sockets there are on board and don’t forget adaptors if your devices aren’t compatible with them. And finally, remember your sun cream! Even if you’re travelling in winter in the northern hemisphere, if you’re spending time outside on the deck, the sun reflects off the water and can cause nasty sunburn.