Are you heading away on a cruise and are looking for the best cruise tips for how to have an enjoyable vacation – without stuffing things up?
I’ve been on about 12 cruises now and I’ve put together this list after having learned a few of these tips the hard way!
So this post covers my top 11 pieces of advice for what to avoid doing on your cruise to save you money, time and make sure you’re at the top of the list for things you don’t want to miss – plus a bonus 12th point that I embarrassingly learned on my last cruise! 😉
If a Christmas Markets river cruise in Europe is on your Bucket List, I’m hosting a small group December 2020 from Frankfurt to Paris with 7 luxurious nights on the Danube, and you are welcome to come along. Click here for the itinerary and costs >>
But here are the things you need to know BEFORE you go cruising to save yourself money and disasters 😀
1. Don’t leave your data plan on when cruising
I live in New Zealand and am use Vodafone, which is great when I travel as I can pay $7 a day to access my data plan from home for global roaming – and that’s pretty much all-I-can-eat. It gives me internet access in something like 70 countries. Until I’m out at sea!
Suddenly I was racking up data by the minute thanks to updating apps in the background that I wasn’t aware of (looking at you Facebook!). I only did it twice. An unnecessary $150 on my bill hurt a bit.
So, note: even if your plan covers you for Spain and France and Italy (as mine did), sailing between them technically puts you into international waters and all plans are off! And here’s another thing I learned on a cruise around New Zealand – my home country – once out at sea my local plan became international and if I had left it on I would be been pinged again.
First cruising tip: Turn your mobile data roaming off when at sea!
2. Don’t take an organised excursion every day
In some cases the ship excursions are a good idea as you can get to skip the lines in places like the Vatican Museums by going on an organised tour.
You’ll also have all your transport taken care of, which is handy if you’re docked an hour’s drive away from Rome or Florence and you are also guaranteed that the ship will wait for you if your authorised excursion runs late.
Note: if you do your own thing in a port stop and you run late, the ship will sail without you. And they do!
But there are days when just wandering around, going off-piste, having a beer in the sun at a seaside bar in Cannes or browsing through a flea market in Ephesus and negotiating with a local taxi driver who will drive you around for two hours is just brilliant.
And also, if you don’t fancy getting off the ship, staying onboard for a day means you pretty much get the whole ship to yourself! What you will find though is that onboard shops are likely to be closed, but you can use the gym, the pool and have a spa treatment. An especially good idea if it’s rainy out and you can just settle back and relax!
3. Don’t eat all day on your cruise 🙂
Believe me, you will be tempted to over eat on a cruise – it’s all included so why not, right?
Fancy swinging by the sno-freeze ice cream machine on your way to the pool? Nip up to see what’s on the buffet and grab a little plate for a nibble? How about a bowl of nachos in the sun? Some people even order all three courses in the dining room and then ask for seconds!
But if you do find you’ve overeaten, here’s the antidote below.
4. Don’t use the elevator!
If you’ve indulged in too many pizzas, don’t worry. Just make sure you don’t be a fatty boomba and take the lift (elevator!) all the time. Make it your resolution to take the stairs to make up for all that eating – or give yourself permission to eat more!
Even better, wear your fit bit and count your steps. A few laps around the funnel on the top deck is surely worth an extra cocktail?
Also note that on the days you’re in port you will be likely doing lots of walking, so I do love to check on my Health app on my phone to gauge the level of output v input!
5. Don’t forget your travel insurance!
This is crucial and I’m sure you already agree. But I got a terrible respiratory illness on our Europe cruise. Maybe even flu, although I’m always reluctant to be so dramatic. It was not influenza, but it did require me making two trips to the basement to visit the doctor and spend an hour each time sucking air through a nebulizer and leaving with a bottle of cough mixture and some other remedies.
Total cost US$300. I had insurance and put in a claim, phew!
But this was mild. Never EVER go on a cruise without insurance in case you have a real medical emergency.
Also, double check your insurance policy to see if cruising is specifically covered. It turns out I have been on three cruises over the last two years and thought I was covered under my annual travel insurance policy, but I wasn’t because since my doctor’s visit (above) they changed the rules.
6. Don’t lose your ID card
I came back onboard after a day out in another great port and put my handbag through the scanner, but as I was holding my ship’s ID card for them to manually scan a moment before when I stepped off the gang plank, I just popped it in my sunhat and shoved them through the x-ray machine while I walked past.
It flipped over in the depths of the machine and my card fell out on the floor underneath it. Only I didn’t know that until later.
Without your ID card you cannot get on or off the ship nor buy a drink. Good Lord! It was found and I had a call to scamper down and retrieve it.
See my 4 days crossing the Tasman Sea on Silversea condensed into 2 minutes on this video:
7. Don’t wait too long to book extras
If you do plan on some shore excursions, spa treatments, dinner at one of the specialty restaurants or anything else that you need to pay extra for, do that licketty split. As soon as you get onboard ideally, or even from home online, lest you miss out.
The line at the excursion desk was long so I opted to swing by after dinner on our first night at sea and nab a few things. Even then I was on a wait-list for my Rome excursion and we didn’t get the exact one we wanted.
If you’re using a travel agent, get them to book you in for these things before you leave home, or plan B: go straight to the spa/restaurants/excursion desk the moment you board to beat the rush.
8. Don’t miss the boat!
Unless you have an insurer who will understand that you got held up in the cute shop in Santorini and pay for a private jet to take you to the next port, whatever you do, don’t miss the boat. I can’t imagine how I’d figure out what to do actually as your passport will be sailing away with the ship.
(Here’s a reader tip: keep a photograph of your passport picture page on your phone for a worst case scenario like this!)
Ships are punctual and they leave within a few minutes of when they say they will. The only exception is if your ship’s organised excursion is running late. Then they will wait for you. And that is a good reason to book an excursion (contradicting point 2 🙂
I have heard of people being able to grab a water taxi and get sped out to the ship where they were fortunately allowed to board via the crew entrance. But don’t expect to be so lucky!
9. Don’t forget to check in on online
If your ship offers this, it saves a whole lot of time when you’re lined up with thousands of your fellow travellers ready to embark. Print out your ID cards, barcoded tickets and baggage tags at home and you’ll skip through like a gazelle.
Some cruise companies even have a separate line for people who have checked in online. Be that person!
10. Don’t overpack
This is a general rule I try and apply every time I travel. There’s nothing that frustrates me more when I’m trying to squeeze my new purchases into my luggage and I have clothes in there I didn’t wear.
Also your cabin storage space may be limited, so leave your tuxedo at home and rent one onboard for formal nights if you really want to be suave.
I am a big fan of packing cubes too. They are ideal for cruising as you can just pop everything into your closet and drawers and stow your suitcase to make more room. (If you’re reading this from NZ or Australia, you can buy packing cells from my Travel Store >>)
11. Don’t pack everything into one bag
Your bags may not arrive for a couple of hours (or more) after you board, so remember to keep out your essentials like medications and phone charger, but also maybe a book, your hat and sunglasses, swimsuit if you fancy getting your kit off and lying poolside until the captain parps the horn three times and you’re backing out.
(Update: some cruise ships allow you to take your own luggage on. If so, this is a much quicker way to get yourself settled in to your cabin than wait for it to be delivered).
You will also need to leave your luggage outside your cabin the night before your final destination, so you’ll need a day pack or smaller bag to put your pyjamas and toiletries in – unless you want to carry them under your arm to disembark! (Or unless you can take your own luggage off again too).
12. And one final, highly embarrassing Don’t Do which I did on my last cruise… ladies, don’t put tampons in the toilet. You probably know this already, but you will block the vacuum pump and an engineer will have to come and unblock it (and everything else that is in there) and then tell you not to put them down there. *oh the shame!
If you found this post helpful, you’ll really need to read my post on 10 things to know BEFORE you cruise!
And this post on How to Pack for a Cruise will also provide some really practical advice so your cruise is smooth sailing (see what I did there?)
Or if you have a friend who says cruising is not for them, here are 7 reasons why the haters hate and my 7 responses to (try and) convince them otherwise: 7 reasons to hate a cruise
If you’re taking a long haul flight to get to your cruise, you’ll want to read my post covering 5 things I MUST take on the plane with me PLUS 11 ideas for how to pass the time! Top Tips for a Long Haul Flight >>