Cruises can be a lot of fun and provide great memories for everyone in attendance, as travelers get to have experiences both on the ship and on the shore. Booking a cruise can be a bit more tedious than booking a simple flight or hotel, but the process is overall not too difficult. While there are obvious tips to booking cruises like checking prices with many different cruise lines first, there are also some secrets that the cruise lines won’t tell you. Read on for three cruise secrets you need to know before you book one.
Book Last Minute
It’s typically recommended that you book any sort of vacation well in advance so you get lower rates and can be sure you get the itinerary and accommodations you want. Most people play it safe and book cruises approximately a year before the departure date, but did you know you may be able to get a better deal if you book close to the departure date? In many cases, the most affordable cruise cabins are actually available between 60 and 90 days prior to the departure date thanks to cancellation policies. Expedia is a great place to find last minute deals.
While the cruise cancellation policy differs between each cruise line, many have a 60-to-90-day window where guests can cancel their cruise without losing any money. Of course, the cruise line wants the ship to be as full as possible, so this is a great time to contact the cruise line and see what cabins have opened up and if there are still some empty ones that you could book at a discounted price. You may not be able to find steep discounts at certain times of the year such as Spring Break or Christmastime, but you may have a lot of luck with so-called “off peak” travel dates. Note, however, it is always worth it to check regardless of what time of year it is.
Book Your Own Activities on Shore
Cruise lines usually offer the option to purchase some sort of pre-planned itinerary for when you arrive at a destination, and while these can save you from having to plan yourself, they are sometimes extremely pricey and can exponentially increase the overall cost of your sea excursion. Instead of settling for a so-called “package” through the cruise line, you may want to look into booking your own activities on shore.
Cruise-goers who are independent, have traveled before, and/or are comfortable with being in a new area and doing their own things often like to book their own tours and activities apart from the cruise lines’ offerings. If you opt to venture out on your own, you can spend exactly as much time and money as you want doing certain activities, which includes shopping, eating, visiting historic landmarks, taking bus and helicopter tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, and so on. Not being pressured into following a schedule can make some travelers more relaxed, therefore making the adventure more enjoyable.
Another major benefit of booking your own onshore activities is that you can do exactly what you want without having to pay for something you don’t want to do. Of course, your ultimate decision will likely be based on exactly where you’ll be and how much tour guidance and preset itinerary planning you’ll want or need. You’ll also always want to remain flexible, compare prices, and do the math before booking anything.
Know Your Food and Drink Options
Nobody will argue that one of the best parts of traveling is eating and drinking. Cruises are no different, as there are many options available to you. Most people are aware of a buffet and a fancier onboard restaurant, but there are actually so many more dining options. As usual, your options will differ based on what cruise line you’re traveling on, but most of the time the following tips apply.
Many cruise lines offer all-day meals in the main cabin, and many of them have no limits on how many meals you eat throughout the day. If the cruise you are on has exclusive restaurants that require reservations, it is usually a good idea to make one for the first dinner on the ship. Most travelers will be tired and just want a quick meal in the main dining room the first evening, so availability may be higher in other dining facilities at that time.
A very attractive amenity many cruise lines offer is room service, but many travelers assume it is super pricey like it is at some hotels. This, however, is far from the truth – in fact, many cruise lines offer room service at no charge. Some charge a flat rate between $5 and $10, but it does not break the bank like room service at many hotels can. If you’re hungry but would rather not leave your room, you can usually just call and have food delivered to your door.
It is also important to note that many smaller specialty shops such as cafes and coffee shops offer free pastries and other snacks if you purchase a drink or other items. Smaller snacks may be complimentary, so be sure to read signs and talk to the employees. It doesn’t hurt to ask! Most cruise ships also have dessert shops, but most of the time you can always find free ice cream in the main dining area.
As far as drinks go, you can normally travel throughout the ship with your drinks and there will be no questions asked. Buckets of wine and beer are usually available and can save you a few dollars instead of purchasing them individually, so be sure to ask when ordering. Most cruise lines also offer beverage cards for sodas and teas, so if you and your fellow travelers normally drink such beverages, it may be worth it to purchase them. Lastly, cruise lines sometimes offer happy hours or certain specials that include free or discounted drinks, so be on the lookout for those kinds of deals, too!
Hopefully these few secrets will make your cruise more affordable and more enjoyable. Learn more secrets from ex cruise ship officers that can save you thousands.