20 ways to hack a cruise

For first-time cruisers, there’s so much to know to get the very best value out of your cruise. Even experienced cruisers might not know all of these hacks! Here are 20 ways to make your cruise experience the best it can possibly be by hacking your cruise!

  1. Find the right ship. Now more than ever, choosing the right cruise ship for your vacation style and your group is vital. Do you want to surf, rock climb, and go-kart? Is entertainment important to you? Is an array of dining options paramount? You will need to know what you care about and what is less important in order to find your perfect ship. Of course, a good travel agent knows what ships will fit your style and can hack your cruise even faster!
  2. Itinerary matters. While there may be several ships sailing to your destination, it’s important to check on specific ports and the times in port. It can come as a shock when a ship is in port for just a couple of hours, while another cruise is in port all day.
  3. Arrive a day early. It’s extremely expensive and difficult to catch up with your ship if something happens on your way to the port, so no matter whether you’re flying or driving, it’s best to arrive the day before you embark and enjoy the port city. The added bonus to this cruise hack is that you get an extra day of vacation! Some of our favorite memories are pre-cruise stays in New Orleans and Seattle.
  4. Double-check your documents. Check the website for your cruise, as well as the US Department of State, to check if you need a visa for travel into any of the ports you’ll visit. Be sure to have a passport; while you can sometimes cruise with a birth certificate only, if you need to be evacuated from another country back to the US, you will not be able to without a passport. It’s just not worth the risk.
  5. Check in online. Every cruise line has a process for uploading your passport number and photo, taking a security photo, adding a credit card for onboard payments, and making sure all your contact information is up to date. Be sure to do this well ahead of time so that when you arrive to the port of embarkation, you can walk right on the ship (or at least cut your wait time by a lot!) When you walk past a long line of people, you’ll feel like a super cruise hacker!
  6. Carry on what you need for embarkation day. Your luggage will take a while to get to your cabin. While you can expect to have it in time to change for dinner, you have a vacation to start! Pack your swimsuit, coverup, and flip flops in your carry-on, along with any prescription medications, valuables, and travel documents. When on a scenic cruise to Alaska, Canada or Northern Europe, you may want to swap out the swimsuit for a rain jacket and binoculars; whatever will help you enjoy your first cruise day to the fullest!
  7. A civilized embarkation lunch. When you board, the staff will try to direct you to the buffet for lunch. However, most cruise lines have at least one main dining room open for lunch for limited hours on embarkation day. The dining room is usually not crowded at all and makes for a very different experience than a packed buffet and lido deck.
  8. Take time to unpack. On your first afternoon/evening, when your suitcase arrives, you’ll want to be out and about on the ship, doing all those great activities the entertainment staff has planned! However, it is so worth it to unpack and find a place for everything; it will be much easier to keep the cabin organized throughout the cruise. Don’t forget that you can put your open suitcase under the bed for a laundry hamper!
  9. Everything is magnetic! Your cabin is made of metal parts, which don’t catch fire easily (because fire is the greatest danger at sea). I like to bring both magnetic hooks and some regular magnets to hang bags and jackets, lanyards near the door, and put up my daily activities guides and maybe even a map where I can see them.
  10. Blinded by the light? Use a pants hanger! Especially on cruises to the north in summer, when the sun is out for 18+ hours, the sun wakes me up too early. My cruise hack is to use one of the pants hangers with the clips to secure the curtains closed and keep out the light until I’m ready to get up.
  11. Eat as much as you like! While in the main dining room, you may order whatever you like. I often order two appetizers (salad and soup, for example) but you can also order two entrees if you just can’t decide, or two desserts if you really want. It’s your vacation, after all!
  12. Port days mean quiet ships and big discounts. If nothing interests you in a port, you are not required to get off the ship; it’s a great time to enjoy the amenities of the ship while most people are away. Even better, the spa and other for-fee venues can have steep discounts while in port!
  13. Book your next cruise on board. If you are enjoying your cruise and think you’ll cruise again soon, seek out the future cruise experts on board your ship. They will have a discounted deposit program; while each cruise line is different, they’re always a great value (and your travel agent can still help you when you get home!)
  14. Buy wine by the bottle. If you are a wine drinker, buying a bottle is a good value because you don’t need to drink it all at once. Have a glass or two, and the server at your restaurant will store it for you; when you want another glass from your bottle, just ask; even if you’re in a different restaurant, the server will track down your bottle. This also works with bottles you bring on board and pay a corkage fee for. Some cruise lines allow you to bring a bottle or two for use in your cabin, as well!
  15. No window? No problem! Inside cabins are a great way to cruise on a budget, but a cabin that’s always dark can feel disorienting. The solution? Leave the TV on, tuned to the channel with the bridge camera! You’ll see what’s in front of the ship, as well as having a sense of the “natural” light outside.
  16. Tacky souvenir glasses? Skip them! Starting at the sail-away party, drink servers and bartenders will try to offer you a drink of the day in a souvenir glass or cup. If you aren’t interested in the drinkware, just ask for the drink of the day in a regular glass. You’ll save a few dollars, too, which makes this a great cruise hack!
  17. No drink package? No worries. On cruise lines that are less of a party atmosphere, many people do not buy the drink package, so there are often drink specials or happy hour specials in the bars where live music is taking place. Sometimes these are advertised in the daily activity schedule, and sometimes they are on signs in the bars themselves.
  18. One bathroom for four people? Use the locker room! When my whole family is getting ready for a nice dinner, I often sneak away to the women’s locker room near the fitness area. The showers are clean and often nicer than the one in my cabin, and there’s room to spread out makeup and do my hair, as well! The saunas and steam rooms are usually free, as well…and if there’s a thermal suite, there’s usually a cruise-long thermal pass you can purchase. Check out the thermal suite on embarkation day to see if that’s for you!
  19. Guest Services is open 24 hours! You’ll see crazy long lines at guest services at certain times (at embarkation, the night before debarkation, and mornings before port stops are the worst), but if you are an early riser or a night owl, you can get your needs taken care of when there’s no line at all!
  20. Your room steward can do more than just clean your room! You can ask for extra hangers, pillows, even a mattress-topper if your bed is too hard! They can keep your ice bucket full, remove for-sale items from the minibar so you can put in your own beverages, and even take away items that are in your way. If you’re not going to use those wine glasses or the coffee table just trips you every time you walk past it, they can remove them and store them elsewhere. Just don’t forget to show your appreciation either in a compliment card, with cash, or both!


  1. Reading your tips for the cruise❤️

    • Kelly Gilbert

      Yay! I think your cruise to Canada and New England this summer is going to be amazing! Scenic cruising is just the best!

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