Top 10 Cruise Hacks

Save time and money with these insider tips from pro cruisers.

Photo By: Anna Bryukhanova

Photo By: Yuri Arcurs

Photo By: Yuri Arcurs

Photo By: Sabine Lubenow

Save Money by Bringing Your Own Wine

Sherry Kennedy, founder of Cruise Maven, says some lines will allow a bottle or two in your cabin, but be sure to check the cruise line’s alcohol policy in advance. Most lines only allow it during embarkation day. Also, don’t forget to bring a bottle opener, or choose wine with a twist-off top to avoid paying a corkage fee.

Conversely, Kennedy says the least expensive wine package can be worth it, especially “if you don’t want to spend the $20 corkage fee on a $10 bottle of wine.” Even better, the waiter can save any leftover wine by noting your name and room number, and you can enjoy it at another meal at any of the ship’s dining venues. 

Don’t Feel Obligated to Book a Shore Excursion Through the Ship

Experts agree that independent operators are often cheaper and can provide a more in-depth experience. Stewart Chiron, founder of The Cruise Guy, even advises leaving the ship for a night in order to experience a city. For example, on a Mediterranean cruise, he advises getting off in Livorno in order to spend a full day and night in Florence. From there, one can take a train to Rome to catch up with the ship. “It saves an hour and a half return from Florence,” he says. Of course, book the hotel in advance.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor in chief of Cruise Critic, also suggests connecting with other passengers beforehand in order to save money on an independent tour. Her site offers a section called Roll Call, which allows passengers who have already booked a cruise to chat up to a year before the sailing. Doing so facilitates finding others to share excursions, like chartering a catamaran from St. Thomas to St. John. “I think those experiences tend to be more special than getting on a catamaran with 50 people you don’t know,” she says.

Avoid Paying High Rates to Connect to the Internet

In order to avoid spending 75 cents a minute to get online, Kennedy suggests buying a package to save money. For example, Carnival offers a social media package (which includes access to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more) for just $5/day. While in port, she recommends asking (or following) crew members to find the best Internet cafes.

Ask for Ginger if You Feel Seasick

The odds of getting seasick on a large cruise ship are low, but it's good to be prepared just in case. Ginger has long been used as a natural remedy to treat nausea and motion sickness. Kennedy says that many ships, including Norwegian, Holland America and Princess, will provide it for free in their restaurants. (Although some ships will charge you.) Luckily candied ginger and gum are also easy to find at many supermarkets if you'd rather bring it with you.

If you suspect you might need something stronger, consider bringing Bonine, Dramamine or motion sickness patches to avoid paying higher prices at the infirmary. 

Compare Rates Through a Travel Agent

Chiron notes that agents can score upgrades that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars. He says they can also help select the best cabin location, such as a quiet room in the forward of the ship instead of below the pool deck. Kennedy adds that agents often have access to discounts and perks that cruise line reservations don’t know about, such as onboard credits, a free bottle of wine or bathrobes, and even complimentary dining in a specialty restaurant.  

Book Reservations in Advance

Both Spencer Brown and Chiron recommend doing this in order to guarantee a spot. Online scheduling is available for spa appointments, entertainment options, restaurants and shore excursions.

Visit the Spa on a Port Day

Since the ship will be emptier, Spencer Brown and Kennedy note that you’re more likely to find a deal. Kennedy advises checking the daily planner for specials. Just avoid succumbing to any product pitches, says Spencer Brown.

Do Your Laundry for a Flat Rate

Kennedy says that most lines offer a flat rate for doing laundry toward the end of a cruise — think as much dirty laundry as you can stuff in the bag provided. However, if you need to do laundry sooner, both Holland America and Cunard offer free self-service laundry machines and detergent. 

Wait Until the Last Day of a Cruise to Shop

Kennedy says this is when you get the best shopping deals onboard a ship, especially if it's at the end of a season. For example, on a past cruise she bought sweatshirts that were reduced from $59 to $7.

Book Your Next Cruise Before Leaving the Ship

Kennedy says this is another great way to save money. For example, Cunard will provide up to $300 in onboard credit to spend on your next cruise. Don’t forget to ask about any available promotions at the time of booking.

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The Savvy Traveler