Making The Most Of Your Cruise

A Cruise Life Special Edition

If you just book a cruise and pack your bags you could miss out on a number of ways to save money and enhance that cruise experience. To get the most out your cruise vacation you need to plan ahead and be prepared to take advantage of a number of opportunities. Here we offer a few tips to enhance that upcoming cruise.

Pack A Cruise Necessity Kit

There are times that your onboard cabin will have everything you need but sometimes there are shortcomings that can be a real inconvenience. Maybe you need more than one coat hook? Need a nightlight in the bathroom? There are easy answers to those problems that don’t take up much room when you pack.

    A couple of 3M Command Hooks can be a lifesaver. These handy hooks take up no space, will attach to any smooth wall and are easy to remove.

    A battery powered night light can be a plus. Most cruise cabins have the bathroom light switch outside the door. Turning on the light and opening the door will often illuminate the whole stateroom, but leaving a night light in the bathroom eliminates this problem.

    While cruise ships seem to frown on multi-outlets in staterooms they often seem a necessity. Our favorite is a compact multi-outlet with a short, stowable cord. Ours has three outlets, two USB ports and surge protection. We charge up our devices overnight and stash the multi-outlet when we are out of the cabin.

    A small first aid and medication kit is also handy. Adhesive bandages are normally available from the clinic or at guest relations but carrying a few with you along with anti bacterial ointment keeps you prepared at all times. We carry individual packets of Neosporin and wipes in our kit. Small packs of multi-sympton cold relief and cough drops insure you have what you would normally use and avoids the high prices in the gift shop. 

If you carry battery operated devices, a few spare batteries (non lithium) may also come in handy. 

Tips To Save Money

While we believe cruising is actually one of the less expensive ways to take a holiday*, it is easy to lose control of a budget onboard a cruise ship. The trick is to know where the money goes and what alternatives there are. 

First and foremost, consider your choice in staterooms. Most ships have rates that start with an “inside” cabin and go up to suites and concierge class. Our decision on a cabin is based on the itinerary. For Atlantic crossings we usually go for an inside cabin. Eight or nine days of looking at water isn’t worth the cost of a veranda cabin considering we don’t spend that much time there. If we are cruising Alaska, a veranda is our choice because the scenery is spectacular and whale watching is a frequent pastime. There are also times when booking an inside cabin isn’t the least expensive option, so be aware of that possibility. 

    Know how much you can expect to spend on drinks and what alternatives are available. A single alcoholic drink can cost between $5 and $18 plus gratuity and cruise companies have introduced drink packages that average $50 plus per day. Many ships now require all occupants of a stateroom to buy the package and, if one is a non-drinker, you’re paying double. If you aren’t much of a drinker a package may not be a good value. Paying attention to the onboard “drink of the day,” buckets of beer and happy hour specials can really reduce your bar tab considerably.

    Buying wine by the bottle can also provide a savings. When onboard, or even before you depart, you can buy bottles of wine. At $35 to $50 and an average of six glasses per bottle, that can represent a significant savings over ordering by the glass. If you buy in the dining room or speciality restaurant you can have the bottle saved for the next few nights. You can also order bottles sent to your cabin before boarding and your cabin attendant will be happy to keep you supplied with wine glasses. You can also take that bottle to the dining room for service there.

    Most cruise ships allow you to bring a bottle of wine with you when you board. If you’re going to drink, don’t let this opportunity go to waste. We usually bring a bottle of chocolate wine with us and use it as a substitute for a cordial in the evening. 

    Fancy coffees are expensive but coffee and tea are usually free. Most ships have a coffee bar or two open all the time and if you’re looking for afternoon tea or an evening coffee, picking one up free along with a dessert or cookie can save a lot of green. 

Tips For A Better Embarkation Day

On the day of sailing there are a few things you can depend on. First, boarding usually begins somewhere around 11:00 AM and, as people board,  the majority migrates up to the buffet on the upper deck. Second, you will see a lot of passengers loaded down with backpacks and carry-on bags just sitting around so empty seating can be hard to come by. Additionally, most cruise ships will have passageways blocked until sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 PM when passengers are allowed into their staterooms. Finally, for the duration of the cruise the pool deck and spas will never be as empty as on that first day.

All of the above suggests a strategy that can greatly improve your enjoyment of that embarkation day. Consider ours:

  1. Lose that extra carry-on load. By early evening, chances are your bags will be delivered to your cabin and, with a little planning, you can survive until then. We recommend checking most of the load with a porter on the pier. Carry a light backpack with a few carefully selected items. Consider, the important stuff like medications, a bathing suit, tee shirt and flip flops. A good book or e-reader and perhaps your laptop.
  2. Leave the herd and find your own space. Usually by 12:30 the buffet is a sea of people walking around with trays looking for a table and many are lugging suitcases too. If you’re really hungry, there are probably a few lesser known options like hamburgers on the pool deck or a speciality venue or two that the crowds haven’t thought about yet.
  3. Pack for a day at the pool. If you pack a swim suit you can change, stretch out on a pool deck lounger and open up that book you’ve wanted to read. Isn’t that what you’ve been looking forward to? Instead of standing around waiting for the stateroom to open, get a head start on that vacation. The pool bar will be more than happy to pour you a drink and there’s a good chance the spa is open as well.

Keep Up An Active Exercise Program

Years ago, while at home, we exercised regularly at the gym and, when we went cruising, we made morning sessions in the ship’s gym a must. We’re not sure when it became a problem, but it started being difficult to find open equipment in the morning without a long wait. Since that time we’ve adapted. For the last decade we have never ridden elevators while onboard. With our usual cabin choice being on decks seven through nine and dining and entertainment on deck four or five and cocktail hour on decks ten or fourteen, we climb a lot of steps on an average day. Add in a walking course on the top decks and we get plenty of exercise on a cruise.

    Not spending any time in those crowded elevators also reduces our exposure to germs which multiply in crowded spaces and it leaves the elevators more available to those that really need the help getting around. We can’t even count the number of times we have climbed up or down several decks and beaten friends who were riding the elevator.  

Things To Avoid When Selecting A Cruise Cabin

We love cruising and, overall, the experiences have been fantastic but there have been exceptions. On more than one cruise our cabin was so noisy we couldn’t get much sleep. There are usually two sources that contribute to this problem.

The Party Crowd – Some cruises are magnets for a party crowd. These are usually Caribbean cruises with shorter itineraries which tend to attract a younger and noisier crowd. Not that we object to having fun but you can make plans to avoid the noise issue by paying attention to cabin location. Staterooms that are right at elevator lobbies or are just inside passageways leading from public spaces can be very loud. People that are partying late and imbibing a bit aren’t known for being quiet on the way to their cabins.

Noisy Ship Spaces – On more than one occasion we have been in cabins that were obnoxiously noisy during the night. We’ve always been amazed when the ship claims that nobody else has had issues with the cabin but then what can you expect them to say? Our remedy is to pay attention to the ship’s deck plans and avoid booking certain cabins. Now we only book cabins with other cabins on either side or behind us. If you pay attention, there are cabins with nothing indicated in the space next to them. Sometime these areas are crew stairwells or storage areas but they can also be machinery spaces which generate noise at odd hours. Also, take a look at the deck above the cabin. These can be dining rooms or pool decks or even clubs which will often be noisy late at night. 

Any time we’ve had an issue with a noisy cabin those empty spaces have been the culprit. Once, when we were under a dining room, it seemed that they were moving furniture all night long. Fortunately, when we have had a problem, the ship has usually been able to find us another cabin. Lately, however, cruises are sailing completely booked and that option is disappearing. Avoid that risk and be aware when you are selecting your location.

*Without considering airfare and hotel nights, cruising can be less expensive than a land based vacation. Totaling the cost of hotel rooms, meals and entertainment for a family, and often you’ll discover that cruising comes in the winner.  

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