50 Top Tips From the World's Smartest Cruisers
The art of cruising, like chess and cricket, takes time and expertise to master. That's why we asked some of the most well-traveled, cruise-savvy folks we know—hundreds of readers and a handful of pros—for their best advice.
1. Traveling with a large family or a group of friends? Bring along walkie-talkies (such as Motorola's Talkabouts) to keep everyone connected without cell phone roaming charges. Sherry Brooks, Westlake Village, Calif.
2. You're almost always charged extra for soft drinks, beer, wine, and cocktails at meals. But if you stick to juice, you can drink for free (on most ships). Kathy Pagliei, Swarthmore, Pa. (of Accessible Journeys)
3. On every cruise we've taken, my wife tapes a balloon to our cabin door. That way, our stateroom stands out in the long hallway. Eli Rose, Tampa, Fla.
4. Many major cruise lines provide free passage to guests qualified to lecture on board. Call the line's entertainment office to see if you have the necessary skills. Uvonne McCarty, Sparks, Nev.
5. Nearly every cruise line will toss in one free cabin if you travel in a group of 15 or more. Carolyn Spencer Brown, Pennington, N.J. (of cruisecritic.com)
6. If you book while you're aboard, some lines offer a discount of $175 and up on the deposit for future trips. More good news: You can usually get a refund on your deposit if you decide to cancel later. Jeff Pugel, New York, N.Y.
7. Before booking, check deck plans online to confirm your cabin isn't beneath a well-traveled area. Many ships have a lido deck buffet, where diners eat poolside. When they drag around chairs, it can make quite the ruckus in rooms right below. N.W. Pope, Scottsdale, Ariz.
8. When cruising with our two toddlers, we book a single cabin with twin beds. Pushing them together allows us to sleep sideways, with one parent at the bottom as a guardrail. This only works if you aren't tall! Jimmy Kung, Brooklyn, N.Y.
9. To avoid the check-out bottleneck, ask for a printout of your bill the day before disembarking. If there are any discrepancies, you can resolve them early and totally relax on your last day at sea. Jack Sigano, Nutley, N.J.
10. Spring for last-minute deals For those with a flexible schedule, it's hard to beat short-lead, online sales. Check out consolidators (icruise.com and cruisestar.com) and discount sites (lastminutetravel.com, lastminute.com, and travelzoo.com), as well as the lines' own e-mail offers. Susan Murphy, Loa, Utah
11. Make a bid online Websites that auction cruises have some of the best bargains out there. At skyauction.com, you can search by line, destination, and date. Jennifer Dickey, Toronto, Canada
12. Editors' advice: Be an early bird If you're planning a trip on a popular route (like the Mediterranean in the summer), you won't find many last-minute discounts. The early-bird deals—six to nine months out, generally—tend to have the lowest rates.
13. Editors' advice: Hire an agent Even if you normally book trips on your own, a cruise is a wise moment to call in the experts. Each line employs specialists who can offer discounted fares and provide advice on cabin configurations and buffet selections. Also, agents with membership in a group like Virtuoso can sweeten deals with onboard credits, including everything from free meals at the specialty restaurants to spa credits.
14. Pack their homework Prices often fluctuate based on kids' availability. Spring break, for example, is a popular (and pricey) time of year, but the last week in August, when most children return to school, is a bargain. Michele Captain, Tampa, Fla.
15. Join the club Sign up for frequent-cruiser programs (similar to frequent-flier programs). On our last cruise, we received chocolate-dipped strawberries in our room just for being members! Steve Maglich, Rolling Meadows, Ill.
16. From the pros*: The Housekeeper "On the last day, you're supposed to leave by 9 a.m.—no exceptions. I've knocked on people's doors at 11 a.m. and found them still in the cabin because they overslept! Cabins don't have alarm clocks, so make sure you pack one. You don't want to find yourself rushing to gather your things. Once in a while, people forget their jewelry, credit cards, or watches in the safe." —Marta Ortiz Castro (Panama)
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