Cruising has become an increasingly popular and affordable vacation option for many Americans. New, bigger and better cruise ships are being unveiled every year as millions of families and couples around the world seek solace, adventure and entertainment aboard the colossal vessels and various port cities.
If you’re thinking of taking a cruise but are not quite sure where to start, read our cruise tips and tricks to find the best cruise for you. Even if you’re an experienced cruise-goer, there’s plenty of valuable cruise tips and tricks you might not know.
When to book
If you want to visit a popular cruise destination, it’s best to make plans well in advance. For instance, cruises to Alaska, Australia, or along the New England coast are sure to sell out quickly. But with destinations like Europe or the Caribbean, you may be able to find something relatively last-minute. With so many ships sailing to the Bahamas and other islands, finding accommodations will usually be easier.
Generally, if you’re able to snag a last-minute accommodation on a ship, you’ll end up paying less than normal. Cruise lines sometimes need to fill cabins and can offer a generous discount. That being said, if you want to be guaranteed a specific cabin type, it’s important to book early.
Find the cheapest time to go
The early weeks of September after Labor Day usually have cheaper cruise tickets, as does the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Do some research and if you’re able, go during one of these less busy times.
When in doubt, find a travel agent
If you’ve never been on a cruise before, it’s a smart idea to book with a travel agent. They can help you narrow down your choices and make the booking process go as smoothly as possible. They’ll often find special discounts or have exclusive deals with popular cruise lines. And in case something goes wrong, your travel agent will be there to offer assistance. With your mind at ease, you’ll be sure to have a more relaxed trip.
Get in touch with a AAA travel counselor.
Research themed cruises
There might be a cruise vacation out there aimed specifically at your interests. For example, there are sometimes cruises that hold concerts with famous rock or country bands or solo performers. General ’80s, rock and blues-themed cruises are also common. And of course, beer, wine and culinary cruises are a favorite vacation choice, which often include tastings and meals both on and off ship. Some lines even offer exclusive themed cruises with cast members of popular TV shows, like “Star Trek” or “The Walking Dead”.
Couple or family?
Though there are some singles cruises, these are less common than cruises that cater to couples and families. If you have young children, it’s important to research what the ship’s policies are. Make sure there’s plenty for your kids to do so they don’t get bored. Carnival ships have water parks on board as well as a SkyRide to keep kids entertained. Of course, Disney cruises are also a great option for families. And if you plan on having some alone time away from the kids, make sure there are day care or children’s facilities available. Some lines even offer supervised clubs for teens.
If you’re looking for a romantic getaway with your partner and you’d rather not have toddlers splashing in the pool while you try to relax, choose a cruise that has adult-only spaces onboard.
Go off the beaten path
Some cruise lines, such as Silversea, offer exclusive excursions to meet tribal or indigenous locals and experience faraway cultures and untouched natural environments firsthand.
Other lines, like Fathom, allow you to volunteer and give back to the destinations you visit. Fathom hosts cruises to the Dominican Republic where you can work with the local community to transform the lives of residents. For instance, you can help provide education, take part in reforestation efforts or work to provide clean water access.
Choose your cabin type wisely
Do you get seasick? Then it’s probably best not to get an indoor room, even though it will be cheaper. The view of the sea in a balcony room might help dispel any nausea. If you can’t afford the balcony, switch the TV to the ship’s camera to give the illusion of having a window. Also, remember that cruise cabins aren’t like typical hotel rooms. Mostly everything, from the storage space to the shower, will be on the smaller side. So if you’re claustrophobic, see if you can get a bigger room ahead of time.
Don’t over pack
When taking a cruise vacation, a minimalist approach is best. To save room, only pack clothes and items that are absolutely necessary. A laundry service is usually available onboard in case you run out of clean clothes.
Arrive on time, check in later
Most experts recommend getting to your cruise’s port relatively early. Anything from a storm to traffic on the highway could impact your travel timeline, so it’s important to get to the area well before departure time; even the day before if you want to start your vacation early.
However, it’s not necessarily a good idea to board the ship as soon as you can. You’ll usually be standing in line with throngs of other cruisegoers. As long as you arrive a few hours before the ship leaves, you should be fine.
Eat to your heart’s content
As the price for dinner is included in the ticket sale, most cruise ships allow you to eat multiple entrees, desserts and side dishes in the dining hall. Most cater to dietary restrictions as well. Also, many cruises have free room service, so you can just order what you want and relax in your room.
Try at least one specialty restaurant
Additional restaurants onboard often come with extra costs. But it’s worth it to spend a little extra, since they’re usually helmed by celebrity chefs or offer exquisite fare. Many of these restaurants serve luxury food at lower prices than you would find on land.
Cruise tips and drink plans
While some cruise lines include all drinks under a certain price into their beverage packages, most cruise lines charge extra for alcohol and soda. Unlimited soda cards are often available and can save you money in the long run, but for wine, it’s probably better to bring your own (as long as the ship allows it.) Bringing aboard liquor and beer, however, usually isn’t permitted.
Plan excursions ahead of time
Make sure you book your excursions online beforehand, or have a precise itinerary ready if the cruise allows self-guided tours of the port city. If you explore the area on your own or with an off-ship company, make sure you arrive back at the ship well before departure time. Although it’s not common, you definitely don’t want to miss your ship and be stranded in a foreign country.
Then again, you can also just stay on ship and take advantage of the fact that most vacationers will be out and about, allowing you to relax in peace.
Check out a performance
Cruise lines typically offer comedy shows, theater, musical performances, acrobatics … you name it. And since there’s less of a crowd than a normal performance on land, you’re likely to be watching in an intimate setting. Shows are usually included in the price of the cruise, but reservations are required. Royal Caribbean and other lines often show well-known performances like “Mamma Mia” and “Grease.”
Order a romantic surprise
Many cruise lines allow you to buy a bouquet of roses or a gift basket to be placed in your room before you arrive. This small surprise is a nice touch, especially if the trip is celebrating an anniversary or honeymoon.
Cruise tips and tricks for the spa
If you’re in the mood for relaxing at the sauna, see what kind of discounts the cruise line offers. Typically, port days and your first day on the ship will have a discounted price for spa access and treatments. Alternatively, some lines offer spa staterooms and suites, so you can have access to all spa amenities steps from your bed. This can be pricey, but it sometimes costs less than ordering a week-long spa pass.
Treat crew members with respect
It may seem obvious, but it’s important to treat the ship staff kindly. This will make their day a little brighter, and they’ll probably look out for you in return. It’s a good idea to thank your waiter or room steward and make their job easier by being tidy. You’ll be happier if the staff around you is happier.
And don’t forget to tip! Many of the crew members depend on tips to supplement their basic wages. Crew members typically have long work days (10 hours or more) and may come in contact with hundreds of customers per day, so it’s good to keep this in mind.
River cruising tips and tricks
River cruises can be a charming way to see what a city has to offer. According to AAA spokesperson Julie Hall, only “14 percent of Americans have enjoyed a river cruise, but approximately four in 10 would consider river cruising for an upcoming vacation. Following this trend, AAA’s river cruise bookings have increased more than 16 percent in just the last year.”
The Danube River flows through nine countries in Europe and is a beautiful setting for a cruise. Other international destinations include the Amazon River in South America and the Yangtze River in China. Or, you can always stay local and take a cruise down the Mississippi.
What cruise vacations have you taken? Tell us in the comments below!
25 Thoughts on “Cruise Tips and Tricks for Your Next Maritime Vacation”
We are retired and love cruising (over 50 cruises) still always looking for great deals. Planning a family cruise for May. When we cruise with family they all like Carnival. When we travel with seniors we prefer Princess & Celebrity. Safe travels.
One cruise to Alaska.
unable to travel anymore, husband ill
Will certainly contact AAA before starting out..
Any trips to Heidelberg, Germany? If so, comments and suggestions?
Bermuda, (too many times to count), the Western Caribbean, absolutely love a cruise!
First time cruiser – What are proper tipping amounts and to whom?
Hi Elaine – Our post on cruise ship tipping might answer some of your questions and get you pointed in the right direction. Thanks for reading! – Marisa
My family and I (wife, 2 kids (7&11yo) are cruising in April aboard the Athens of the seas. Unfortunately we didn’t think about booking with AAA and booked directly with Royal Caribbean. With that said I was wondering what AAA benefits are out there if I haven’t booked with AAA (discount parking, hotels, etc)?
Hi Michael- One of our Travel advisors can check discounted rates and availability for accommodations and also check other discounts such as parking for you. Please visit AAA.com/Travel for more information. Thanks-KD
I guess I am logged in. I had the same problem of being asked 3 times to put in a password. One of them must have worked because “logged in as Rose Wong. Log out” appears above and is correct for me. “Rosemary T ” is not me as listed above . Maybe a mix up.
I am trying to put in a password tried 3 times. Keeps telling me to try again
Going to Alaska in August; any tips or tricks–“First time Cruiser”
Happy cruising! We’ve got some articles you might want to check out to help on your Alaskan adventure.
• Check out our guide for first-time cruisers here.
• Click here to find out some great excursions on Alaska cruises.
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact one of our helpful travel advisors at AAA.com/Travel.
Please don’t send me any more mail not a member
Certainly! Have a good day!
I have cruised the Rhine and Danube rivers. I love river cruising in Europe. The ships are luxurious. The scenery is beautiful. The people are so friendly most places. Having an awesome AAA travel agent (Kelly Monroe) to arrange everything is a bonus.
That’s wonderful to hear! I’m so glad you had a great experience. Our travel agents are so helpful and knowledgeable.
Happy travels! 😉
I have cruised about 40 times and it is my favorite way to travel. A great value for the money and you only unpack once!! You can do everything offered onboard, just relax on deck or pace yourself and enjoy all that is offered, plus excursions.
Forty-plus cruises … wow! You’re a true cruise connoisseur. 😉 What’s your favorite destination?
Have taken a mediterainean cruise
I don’t know if my password was set as I was asked to do it several times
Can you try logging out and then logging back in? Hopefully that should do the trick.
Cruised to Bermuda, Alaska, and Bahamas