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20 Cruise Vacation Tips and Tricks for First-Timers

cruise vacation tips

If you’re a first-time cruiser, you may not realize what is included in the cost of your cruise and what isn’t. There are also some things you can do on a cruise that you don’t realize until you’ve cruised multiple times. With that in mind, here are 20 cruise hacks, tips, and tricks to help you become an instant cruise pro:

  1. Eat at the best restaurants on your first night. Because the more expensive restaurants tend to be less busy at the beginning of any cruise, you’ll find that many cruise lines offer deals or special pricing at these places on the first night.
  2. Use room service. Unlike when you stay at hotels, room service is often free onboard. Want breakfast in bed or a late-night snack? Enjoy! You already paid for it in the cost of your cruise. Bonus tip: Order an early room service breakfast on shore days and you’ll be able to beat the crowds of people getting off the ship.
  3. Take water bottles. You can tell who the cruise novices are because they’re the ones toting teeny-tiny cups around the ship instead of water bottles or Big Gulp-style cups. Having a decent sized drink container means fewer trips to refill your cup on hot days, and ensures you can take water offshore with you.
  4. Shop around for shore excursions. Every port you stop at will have shore excursions, and the fees for these can be exorbitant (especially if you’re traveling as a group or family). You don’t need to book through the cruise ship though – you may well be able to DIY some trips using local operators or transit with a little advance planning and research. There are also companies such as Viator or Shore Excursions Group that offer excursions at many ports.
  5. Bank snacks to take on excursions. You can be in for a surprise when you try to buy snacks or water at certain ports, as the prices are often ridiculously over-inflated. Order extra snacks from room service before you go, and fill that water bottle onboard. Packing some ziplock bags in your luggage is a great idea, as you’ll be able to transport snacks more easily with them.
  6. Bring your own alcohol. If you drink alcohol, cruising can get pretty expensive. However, most cruise lines allow you to take your own booze on board (Norwegian doesn’t). When you check into your stateroom, request that the minibar be emptied so that you can stock the fridge with your own supply of wine, beer, etc.
  7. Take your own tea bags and maybe even soda. It can be shocking to realize how few soft drinks are included in your cruise vacation, and that you may need to buy things like soda, tea, and coffee. Cruise pros take their own drinks to save a few bucks every day. (Check ship regulations beforehand to see what you are allowed to take on board, as rules vary from cruise line to cruise line).
  8. Save onboard shopping for the end of your cruise. Have your eye on a purse or souvenir item in the ship’s mall? Keep your money in your wallet until the end of the cruise when there are often big sales and bargains to be had.
  9. Give yourself more hanging space. Closet space in cabins is often pretty restricted, but you can give yourself more by taking a pack of magnetic hooks onboard with you (available at most hardware stores). Because the ship’s walls are metal, the magnets hold strong and you have extra space to hang your clothes.
  10. Search out the best wifi. It is an unfortunate fact of life that onboard wifi is horribly expensive, and often not that great. If you absolutely have to get online while cruising, ask staff where you’re likely to find the best connection to make the most of those expensive minutes, as wifi strength can vary wildly depending on your location on the ship.
  11. Bring a sweater. Yes, you may be cruising the Caribbean, but when you’re in the theaters or dining rooms onboard the air conditioning can make things a little chilly, so you’ll appreciate having something warmer to wear.
  12. Hit the hot tub on rainy days. Although some cruises offer dedicated child-free pools and hot tubs, if you’re on a cruise that doesn’t it can be hard to get much peace when you’re soaking. Unless it is raining, when hardly anyone will be using the pools or hot tubs and you get to bliss out without interruptions.
  13. Pack a lightweight power strip. Staterooms often only have one or two outlets, which doesn’t suit most people’s tech requirements these days.
  14. Order snacks for free at the paid coffee bars. Although you’ll be charged for a latte or fancy coffee on many cruises when you go to the stand-alone coffee shops, the snacks served (whether it is a pastry or panini) are often free, so be sure to take advantage.
  15. Check out breakfast at the more upscale dining rooms. Many new cruisers don’t realize that although there are additional fees when you’re eating dinner at the fancier onboard dining rooms, breakfast at these places is often included. This is a great way to sample something completely different for your first meal of the day.
  16. Keep essentials with you when you board. It can take a few hours for porters to get everyone’s luggage to their staterooms, so pop your swimsuit or whatever else you think you’ll need just after boarding in your purse or backpack.
  17. Ditch a shore excursion or two. You don’t have to leave the ship when it’s in port if you don’t want to, and if you stay back you’ll get to have most of the facilities to yourself.
  18. Take a nightlight. The lighting in some staterooms (and especially in the bathrooms) can be really harsh. If you want softer lighting – or just don’t want to wake anyone up with bright lights when you go to the bathroom at 3:00 a.m. – take battery powered lamps or tealights with you.
  19. Plan your dining. When there are so many dining options, working out what you want to eat and where can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to miss out on special meal options. Menus are set in advance though, and you can check them out at the ship’s front desk to help you plan for your vacation.
  20. Get the best theater seats in the house. There are usually four doors to the ship’s theater. Wait at the ones furthest from the main entrance and you’ll be let in at the front of house, giving you access to the best seats while the rest of the guests file in from the back.

Looking for more tips and hacks for your next cruise? Stay tuned to the Scootaround blog!

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