Five essential cruise tips

We’ve just sailed through cruise month and into what should be a bumper cruise season for Australia. So today, we’re sharing five essential tips to help you save time, money, and make the most of your voyage.

Choose the right cruise line
While choosing the right destination is super important, you should keep in mind that you’ll most likely spend as much if not more time onboard the vessel that gets you there. So, choosing the right cruise line is absolutely essential.

First, do you want to head off on an ocean cruise or a river cruise? Sail locally or internationally? Port intensive or more days at sea? Whatever the case, your cruise needs to suit your budget. Second, you should consider whether the ship complements solo cruising or couples’ cruising. Third, is your vessel going to be overrun by children or will it best accommodate adults and older passengers? Then you should look at the onboard activities and entertainment, as well as food options. If none of these suit you, then the destination may not be enough to keep you satisfied on your sailing sojourn.

Dr Tiana Templeman has written an excellent piece on choosing the right cruise for you, and there’s no shortage of information on the YourLifeChoices cruise tips page. Boiling it all down, this first tip could be narrowed to ‘do your research’ – and you’ll be thankful you did once you’re onboard.

Sign up
Once you’ve figured out which cruise line you’re likely to sail, sign up for newsletters from the cruise line and from travel agents. This is the best way to get bargain fare. You’ll receive constant updates on deals, some of which will be flash sales that last a day, depending on how good the deal is. You’ll also see special offers that include free dining, drinks packages and shore excursions. Many of these deals will be last minute offers for sailings within a tight timeframe, but if you’re ready to go, you could save hundreds on your fare.

Get in early
The other way to save big is to book an early-bird fare. Not only will you save money, you’ll also be able to choose your preferred cabin. And, as incentive, cruise lines often offer pre-paid gratuities and onboard credit, which you can put towards drinks packages, activities or fine dining.

Choose your activities wisely
All cruise lines offer myriad free onboard activities, but many may need to be booked in advance. While you can do this as soon as you board, that’s what every other cruiser will be doing, too. So, you may be better suited to getting in early.

When it comes to shore excursions, again, do your homework. Choose outings that suit your budget, but be prepared to extend that budget a little, as you may not have another chance to see your destination and the last thing you want to take home with you is regret. And, while you may find third-party vendors online or when you alight, it’s best to book your shore excursions through your cruise line, as it ensures that if your excursion is running late, the ship will wait for you to return.

Figure out your food and drinks budget
While drinks packages may sound attractive, especially when you see the price of the mojito you’ve fantasised about sipping poolside in the leadup to your cruise, you’ll need to do the sums on any potential savings. Often, you’ll have to drink five or six mojitos or 12 beers or wines a day to make the package work for you, which may sound doable to some, but do you really want to be drunk for your entire cruise? Also, drinks packages are a buy-once option, meaning you can’t pick the days you’ll be drinking enough to warrant a package. My advice: unless you’re inclined to go heavy on the alcohol, you’re better off paying for your drinks as you go.

When it comes to food, you have so many free dining options that you really don’t need to pull out your cruise card once you’ve boarded. Don’t be put off by the ‘buffet thing’. The food on cruise ships is really quite good. Part of your research prior to booking should include passengers’ food ratings, so you should already know if the buffet and free dining menus are going to suit your tastes.

And that’s not to say that you shouldn’t try the specialty dining options. Cruise lines are fastidious about choosing high-quality fare and some are even defined by it. So do book a night or two out ‘on the town’ at one of the restaurants outside of the main dining room. Also keep an eye out for dining packages – they’ll allow you to access specialty dining at a huge discount. Or, book specialty restaurants for lunch rather than dinner as the lunch menus are often cheaper than the dinner menus.

Once you board your vessel, you can pick up all manner of packages that may save you money on your cruise, such as spa passes, internet packages and photo packages. Keep an eye out for those that appeal to you, but do the maths and don’t make impulse decisions or you’ll end up being sucked in to the ones that don’t appeal to you.

Can you recommend a cruise line for a first-time cruiser? Do you have any cruise tips? Why not share them with our members?

Related articles:
Cruising extras worth the money
Smartraveller’s tips for safe sailing
Ice breakers for solo cruisers

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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