In the spirit of saving you your hard earned dollar, I’ve conjured up a few potential travel hacks the uninitiated cruiser should keep in mind when booking their next cruise vacation. Even if you’ve cruised before you may not have come across these hacks as all cruise lines are different. It would be a shame for you to find a really good deal on a cruise only to find that there was in fact a catch.
Here are a few ways to make sure the only catch to your cruise you get is a good win in the casino, a fish worthy of a selfie on a port tour, or a new love in the solo gatherings.
Food And Drink For The Discerning Cruiser
You can buy beverage packages if you like to enjoy more than just the occasional adult beverage, but the good deals on these usually disappear 30 days before the cruise departure date, so make sure you keep your priorities in mind. If you are wanting to avoid a mighty final account hangover after 14 nights at sea, it might be cheaper to buy the cruise before that 30 days, pay extra for the cruise, but get a great drinks package. I know a certain gentleman who managed to drink $1200 on a 7 night cruise and the package had only been $400 or so.
If you are a creature of decadence like me, you can also buy Gourmet or Specialty dining packages. These are great value if you prefer fine dining in the unique specialty restaurants, adding a touch of class and good taste to your cruising experience, and it sure beats the buffet. Sometimes these will include dining with the Ship’s Officers, or Captains Table experience, so be sure to take your best dress or suit and dress to impress.
These deals are usually available until up to four days before your departure date so don’t forget as it’s a significant savings compared to paying for specialty restaurants once you’re on board.
You can also snap up Spa packages if you plan to soak your time away in the private pool areas and float spas some ships are equipped with. These vary from ship to ship so be sure to check, and these are sometimes available last minute and on the ship at bargain prices so it’s a gamble. On port days they usually have tempting offers to keep you on board, all soaked, massaged, polished and pampered.
*Tip from a Cruise Buddy*
Julie from Australia says “Beware of your personal safety while drinking on a cruise. Security is usually good, but they shouldn’t have to spend their time making sure tipsy cruisers don’t fall overboard”
Port Days And Shore Excursions
I have learned the hard way the Casino is not open while a ship is in port, but apparently any Casino buff can tell you that even if they’ve never cruised. The ship always offers lots of well organized and well vetted (expensive) port tours so if you like organization and structure and don’t want to waste time researching these are for you. If you want to be thrifty, research where you are going ahead of time, grab a hop on hop off bus, they usually pick you up right from the ship, give you a Wifi fix and visit most of the nearby tourist hot spots. I’m more adventurous and I usually hire a taxi tour or my own car, convince a few people to join me to split the cost, and go exploring with no set itinerary or goal in mind. I tend to take a lot of photos so this suits me as I can yell “stop here” and leap from the moving car to get the shot I want without a bus full of people complaining.
A word of caution, if you go on a cruise that stops in Germany and someone says “hey, lets hire a Mercedes and drive to Berlin”, beware that there are places on the Autobahn that have no speed limits, and if it’s me behind the wheel of the car I’ll go as fast as the car will allow me, because it’s legal, right? Don’t wind the window down to take a photo at 150MPH, the wind noise will pop your fellow passengers eardrums, especially if they’re sleeping in the back.
*Tip from a Cruise Buddy*
Michelle from Canada says ”When you are going to Russia, to be allowed off ship you need a prebooked tour. You can buy them from most tour operators and travel agents independent of the ship as long as it’s 7 days before you get there and they’re much cheaper than the ship tours” think The Nutcracker at The Imperial Russian Ballet Company, or a cruise on the river in St Petersburg followed by an afternoon at the Hermitage admiring Rembrandt’s finest works.
Check the FAQ on the website of cruise line you have chosen to find out the correct tipping etiquette before hand. They all have their own quirks. Some cruise lines have a daily service charge so tipping is included… This can have advantages and disadvantages. It’s nice that if you opt for this, the money is more or less evenly distributed between all the front line staff, but it can also lead to poor service. I like to tip the people who go out of their way to make sure I’m well looked after. Also, I feel obliged to tip extra, even though they have already been tipped, which of course I do when I appreciate service, or want to keep “Lady Luck” happy. I’m not American so tipping is foreign to me, but I always tip my room steward every day so that I get cool towel animals and extra choccies on my pillow
Keeping In Touch
If you’re addicted to internet or need to keep in touch, you need to be prepared to pay a fortune, or cruise sooooo many times you reach an elite status with that cruise line to get free internet. It’s pay by the minute and it’s painfully slow. I could only work in port as I need high speed to upload photos, but again, more time to party it up or lay in the sun. If you can wait to get onshore and upload all your holiday happy snaps to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, the Hop On Hop Off Buses are good for this, the train stations if you are in Europe, or there are usually restaurants or bars close to the port that will let you use the Wifi if you spend your money on food and drink. I do a combination of all of the above. I also have a really good roaming option on my phone so always check this. I use data for GPS to get me around as well and it sucks to be lost with no GPS in a car in the middle of Germany trying to find your way back to the ship, I can assure you. It will leave without you, which is one of the downfalls of not booking a ship tour. Recently a cruise line left some parents in the Bahamas with their children on board because they were late back to the ship. Don’t worry, they had an uncle on board who I imagine looked after them on the trip back to New York.
*Tip from a cruise Buddy*
Carmine from Rhode Island says “Make sure you print off all your airline or tour bookings before you get on ship, because it may cost a small fortune if you try to do this on board”
Transiting To Or From The Ship
Last but not least, check the cruise origin or return flight prices and locations….. no good getting a super cheap cruise to be held to ransom when you disembark or if you need to pay a fortune to get to where it departs from. One way flights have come down in price with many new airlines entering the no frills market such as Wow, Norwegian and Condor if you’re near Toronto. The return Trans Atlantic I was watching goes to Colon in Panama, not Panama City, so I’m not sure what the flights would be like to get back to Florida (which is one of the places my car lives when I’m abroad), but even worse if you are on the west coast of the US. The trip between Colon and Panama is really interesting, so maybe if you’re fine with a little time in the destination and want to make the most of it, this is OK. Panama is a great place to go, but that’s a story for a different day.