• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

10 tips to help improve your cruise vacation

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Aug 13, 2022

While I can’t find a formula for the perfect cruise for everyone, I can suggest simple ways to improve everyone’s cruise experience.

In my experience, everyone has their own style of cruising. Some try to do all activities before lunch, and others only wake up at lunch. That’s the beauty of a cruise: you can do what you want, when you want.

However you prefer to unwind, there are simple ways to leverage your cruise plans to make it an even better experience.

Think of these strategies like spices in a cooking recipe: you don’t need to add any, but the extra flavor might be a good idea.

Add days before or after your cruise

I think everyone should fly on their cruise at least a day early simply because of airlines’ weakness for cancellations and delays, but there’s an added benefit to flying early .

Flying to your cruise the same day it starts is playing with fire, but arriving early (or staying after your cruise) allows you to extend your vacation time.

If you arrive a day or two early for your cruise, you get a more relaxed ramp up to board. You’ll be able to explore your ship’s departure city and adapt to a change in time zones.

Staying for a few days after your cruise can take the edge off the “post-cruise blues” and feel like your vacation isn’t coming to an abrupt end.

If you can work remotely, spending a few extra days working from the beach in Florida is a good compromise that lets you change scenery without having to spend extra vacation days.

This strategy is especially useful if you’re on a short cruise, like a weekend cruise, where you can cruise fast and extend that general vacation feeling.

buy the key

While I’m not a huge fan of the value proposition offered by The Key, I admit that buying it is a simple way to hit the “easy button” to navigate.

The premise of The Key is to offer anyone a way to purchase VIP treatments, such as an early terminal check-in hour, a signature activity hour, and a welcome onboard lunch.

This article isn’t about how to maximize value, so if you’re looking for a way to splurge without breaking the bank, maybe The Key has that edge.

Read more: Counterpoint: why we love The Key

Get a sailing massage

It’s no secret that a massage at the Vitality Spa is a relaxing and enjoyable experience, but I think it’s a good idea to have a massage on your first day, right off the ship.

Embarkation day is a busy day, and I’ve always found the first day to have that feeling of running errands rather than relaxing. You want to get restaurant reservations, unpack all your clothes, book shows, and a host of other important day one activities.

Read more: 25 things to know for your first day on a cruise ship

In the late afternoon, it’s not uncommon to start feeling a bit low on energy. This is the perfect time to schedule a spa appointment.

Usually the price for a spa treatment on embarkation day is cheaper because everyone is busy doing other things.

Getting a massage right off your ship could be the perfect way to kick things down a notch and get that “I’m on vacation” feeling back.

Ask your server for alternative menu options

Whether you have a food allergy or are just a picky eater, there are other options that aren’t necessarily on the dining room menu.

Ask to speak to the maître d’ and explain what you would like, even if it’s not on the menu.

Politely talk to your wait staff about your options. In general, as long as they have the ingredients and you request them ahead of time, they can handle a wide variety of requests.

Be aware that some changes take longer, so let the staff know in advance. Usually 24 hours will suffice for meals or special foods.

Read more: How to request your favorite dishes to be prepared in the main dining room

Avoid a shore excursion and stay on board

Although you probably booked a cruise because of the fun ports the ship has to visit, you might consider staying on the ship for one of the stops.

That’s not to say the ports of call on your ship tours don’t offer some really fun things to do. Rather, it is a way to take advantage of a less busy ship.

If there’s a port you’ve been to before, or you can’t find a shore excursion that presents itself as a great choice, then you might be better off staying on the ship and enjoying the sundeck from the much less crowded swimming pool.

In the morning and afternoon when a cruise ship is docked in port, the pool deck is much less busy than almost any other time on the cruise. That means it’s easy to get a seat by the pool, a seat in the hot tub, or your own personal space in the pool.

Being on board when most others are off the ship is the closest feeling you will have to having the cruise ship all to yourself.

If you have children, staying on board not only allows them to enjoy the pool deck, but also to take additional rides on the ship’s waterslides without a massive wait.

Find out what your ship has to offer before boarding

Regret is one of the most common pitfalls of a cruise, as people realize too late that they missed an activity, tour, or cool thing they wanted to check out.

Read more: What I wish I had known before going on a Royal Caribbean cruise

If you want to make sure you experience everything you like about your ship, you’ll want to know more about your ship before you go.

Royal Caribbean certainly advertises signature activities on its ships, but there’s a lot more to it than just a FlowRider or a waterslide. There are shows, anecdotes, lectures, artists and lots of really fun things you can do on board and ashore.

It’s to your advantage to learn everything you can do to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

An easy way to learn more about things to do on your ship is to read an old cruise ship’s compass.

The Cruise Compass is a daily activity log, and Royal Caribbean doesn’t change those plans much from sail to sail. So while an old compass may not be a 100% representation of what you might expect, it will be close enough.

Read more: A First Time Cruiser’s Guide to Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Compass

Likewise, you might want to do a fun shore excursion and it might not be bookable through Royal Caribbean.

Read more: 5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own

The more aware you are of your options, the less likely you are to be disappointed later after learning that you could have done something else.

Plan to go swimming on boarding day

Did you know that the swimming pool and slides are open on the first day of your cruise?

Most people don’t have one, or more accurately, most people don’t have their bathing suit with them to enjoy the pool on the first day.

Stash your bathing suits in your carry-on, then get changed once on board the ship to start a much less crowded pool day.

You will find practically empty pools and slides without much expectation until late in the afternoon.

Even when people get their bags delivered to their rooms, that’s when it’s time to get ready for dinner and that keeps the pools from being full.

Besides having fewer people to manage, jumping into the pool or hot tub is a great way to start your vacation at a more relaxed pace. Save the exploration of the ship for after dinner.

Bid for a cruise cabin upgrade

You don’t need to spend more money to have a great time cruising, however, it certainly doesn’t hurt either.

RoyalUp is Royal Caribbean’s stateroom upgrade auction program, where you can bid for a larger stateroom.

This is a blind bidding program, which means you won’t know what others are bidding on, or if there are actually cabins available for upgrade. But if you’re lucky, you might be able to upgrade to a nicer cabin for less money than if you had booked it.

People cancel cruises all the time, even if there are only a few days left before leaving. RoyalUp is a tool that the cruise line uses to fill these cabins.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, so if you don’t mind rolling the proverbial dice on a cabin upgrade, give RoyalUp a try.

Read more: Royal Caribbean Suite Guide & Review

Get two cabins instead of one for your family

Want to know my top family cruising tip? Get two cabins.

If you are sailing with children, it may be advantageous to book two connecting (or adjoining) cabins instead of one large cabin so that everyone can stay there.

Connecting rooms offer separation, so the children can go to bed at a different time from yours. During the day, they have their own space (and their own TV) to watch.

More importantly, having two bedrooms means you will have two full bathrooms. Families with teenagers will find it an incredible advantage.

It should also be mentioned that two cabins do not mean expensive. Very often, two smaller cabins can be the same price or less than a large room or suite.

Read more: What is the best cruise ship cabin for my family?

Use porters at the end of the cruise

When it’s time to step off the ship, do yourself a favor (and behind your back) and use the porters to haul your luggage to your car.

I see too many people taking their luggage out of the cruise terminal (or even the ship) to save a few bucks.

The porters have no charge to use, but you should tip them a dollar or two per bag for their services.

In my opinion it is worth having a porter to take your luggage and reduce the load.

At some ports, porters have their own line to clear customs, which can also save you time.


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