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 and discount sites 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. "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." —Editors' Advice
13. "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." —Editor's Advice
14. "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. "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. "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, Cruise Housekeeping Staff, Panama
17. "Find out if your cruise line offers benefits for signing up for its credit card. With Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, you earn points that you can redeem when booking cruises, resort nights, and flights." —Paula Prindle, Orient, Ohio
18. "Don't miss the boat! I like to fly into the port city a day or two before the cruise begins, especially in winter, to make sure that flight delays and cancellations don't wreak havoc." —Anne Schweisguth, Swiftwater, Pa.
19. "Comparison shop. Cruise lines try to make things easy by packaging airfare and pre-embarkation hotel stays. But you'll generally get better rates if you do your own research and arrange your flights and rooms. At the very least, it's a good idea to comparison shop online." —Editors' Advice
20. "Go with the flow. Sometimes you can use the spa's shower and steam rooms even if you don't get a treatment. After I work out, I forgo the tiny cabin shower for the far more spacious spa experience." —April Icsman, Medina, Ohio
21. "Skip the spa on sea days. I've been on many cruises on various lines, and one thing they all have in common is that they offer spa discounts when the ship is in port." —Rhonda Grabov, Philadelphia, Pa.
22. "Book your own excursions. You can usually get the best deal on a day trip if you arrange it directly with a tour operator rather than through the cruise line." —Cindy Rucker, Cary, N.C.
23. "BYO wine. Carnival allows you to bring one bottle per person per cruise, so choose well. We recently carried on our favorite bottle of wine, which cost $110 at our local shop. We paid a $10 corkage fee in the restaurant and ultimately saved $180 since they had the same bottle listed for $300." —Cheri Flores, Fort Worth, Tex.
24. "A rum and Coke made with house rum is the cheapest alcoholic drink we serve ($4.75). The daily drink specials will cost you $6, and something like a piña colada will set you back $6.75."—Steve Martin, Cruise Bartender, Jamaica
25. "Pack for every port. Before I leave home, I make labeled packets for each port. They contain excursion-specific items: maps, sunscreen, insect repellent, disposable cameras, confirmations...even shampoo to use after swimming." —Deborah Plumb, St. Petersburg, Fla.
26. "Avoid a midnight lock-out. Once you're aboard, have the gift shop make a hole in your plastic room-key card (where it won't interfere with the magnetic strip), and wear it on a lanyard around your neck. You won't have to waste time waiting in line for a new card if you lose it." —Sallie Clinard, Las Vegas, Nev.
27. "Baby-proof your cabin. Companies such as Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean are making things easier for families. A sampling of their most useful services: pureeing fruit for custom baby food, and lending toys or Pack 'n Plays, which can double as cribs." —Editors' Advice
TIPS FOR CONQUERING SEASICKNESS
28. "Apples. When I told a fellow passenger that I was feeling seasick, she suggested I eat a green apple. It was like magic! Now I bring some along whenever I sail." —Angie Evans, Bremerton, Wash.
29. "Ginger. Candied ginger is such a good remedy that some ships offer it with after-dinner mints. We always pack a supply in a plastic bag." —Weyman Lew, San Francisco, Calif.
30. "Oranges. If you're feeling nauseous, peel an orange, hold the rind to your nose, and inhale. A waiter taught me this aboard a ship, and I was soon able to eat again." —Rita McGuigan, Monroe, N.C.
31. "Acupressure. I keep Sea-Bands (bracelets that apply pressure to the inside of the wrist) in my purse at all times. They take up such little space and are surprisingly effective." —Lisa Lowe Stauffer, Roswell, Ga.
32. "Have breakfast in bed. The night before an early-morning excursion, order room service. You won't get stuck in a long buffet line and risk missing your departure." —Mirvet Sidhom, Quebec, Canada
33. "Dine in, eat better. In destinations not known for their food, I'll arrange for room service to arrive in my cabin as I reboard the ship from any outings. I end up saving money and avoiding a potentially bad meal in port." —Deanna Chappell, Downingtown, Pa.
34. "Snag a top table. Forgot to request that coveted table for two? You'd be surprised how easy it is to nab it. Just show up at the dining room before service starts on the first night, and be especially nice to the maître d'." —Christopher Wershoven, Brooklyn, N.Y.
35. "Score prime reservations. Some cruise lines—such as Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, and Royal Caribbean—have started allowing guests to secure table assignments when they book their cabins. In fact, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean even permit you to make the request online, and Carnival lets repeat customers ask for their favorite servers." —Editors' Advice
36. "If you feel seasick, try these three tricks: Stay midship and as close to the waterline as possible (that area doesn't rock as much as the front); lie down where you can see the horizon (this places your head in a fixed position); and eat pineapple. Why the last one? It tastes the same going up as it does going down."—Eilif Dahl, Cruise Doctor, Norway
37. "Reward good service. I bring thank-you cards. If a staff member is particularly helpful, I leave behind a card. Being positive encourages good service in the days to come." —Jen Keivel, Beavercreek, Ohio
38. "Go farther ashore. In Ketchikan, Alaska, I grabbed a seat at an Internet café right next to the ship only to find out that another place a few blocks farther away was half the price." —Tina Arnoldi, Mount Pleasant, S.C.
39. "Outsmart onboard Internet. To limit my use of onboard Internet—anywhere from 35¢ to $1 per minute—I type e-mails to friends and family on my laptop in advance. When I'm ready to send them, I log on and simply paste in the completed text." —Jon Faulkner, Chula Vista, Calif.
40. "Roam on your terms. Before boarding, check with your cell provider to learn about the roaming charges you'll be responsible for. Your plan may already include calls and e-mails throughout the U.S., Caribbean, and even farther afield. We were delighted to find that our flat-rate plan worked on several Caribbean islands—for no extra fee." —Jana Riess, Winchester, Ky.
41. "Access your e-mail at the library. During a recent Alaska cruise, we found a city library with free Internet service for up to 30 minutes!" —Gail G. Jenkins, Kuna, Idaho
FUN WAYS TO DECK OUT YOUR CABIN
42. "Tension rod. Staterooms are notoriously short on closet space. A tension rod provides just the trick for hanging extra clothes, and it takes up very little room in your suitcase." —Lisa Palumbo, West Orange, N.J.
43. "Shoe organizers. I hang these on the bathroom door to prevent clutter in a tiny cabin. The compartments are perfect for stashing toiletries, documents, keys, and, of course, shoes." —Jane Tague, Westerville, Ohio
44. "Portable radio. You would be amazed at the stations you can tune in to from your balcony, especially in Caribbean ports. Reggae, salsa, merengue...what comes on is always a surprise, and the news and commercials can be entertaining, too." —Tom Roche, Tucker, Ga.
45. "Fragrance beads. A safe alternative to candles or incense, these pack neatly in a sealed container. Once you open the lid, the fragrance wafts through the whole room." —Julie Nyhus, Eugene, Ore.
46. "Sticky notes. I'm probably known as the Post-it lady on most ships. I leave notes on the cabin mirror asking the steward for more ice, tissues, towels—everything. It works!" —Eleanor L. Benedict, Herndon, Va.
47. "Light sticks. I used to pack a night-light but couldn't always find a convenient outlet. Now I hook a plastic light stick over the bathroom doorknob, where it provides a gentle glow through the night." —Carol Attar, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
48. "Gift bags. Before my trip, I put together a bag of regional specialties from my hometown. Once I'm aboard, I give the present to our attendant, who is usually delighted and rewards us with great service." —Nyal R. Cammack, Las Cruces, N.M.
49. "Tabletop mirror. If you'd rather sit to apply makeup and style your hair, as I do, you'll find this a good use of suitcase space." —Joanie Martin, Fox Island, Wash.
50. "Power strip. Many cabins have only one outlet, which is hardly enough if you plan to charge your laptop, cell phone, and iPod—and to blow-dry your hair." —Jay Van Vechten, Boca Raton, Fla.