Twelve Tips to Optimize Your Cruise Experience

Julie Royce's picture

In my prior two columns I’ve shared the advantages and the drawbacks of a cruise adventure. This month I will focus on a dozen tips to consider before embarking. Hopefully they’ll allow you to avoid hassle and optimize your cruise vacation.

Twelve Tips to Optimize Your Cruise Experience

1.    Starting with Tipping. 

Be aware of the policy and realize the service folks on the ship aren’t responsible for the fact that you practically stole the trip. They deserve a decent wage for their work, and tips are how they get it. Factor in the tip when you are planning your trip.

Departing Sydney for New Zealand From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

Departing Sydney for New Zealand

2.    Figure the cost of your extras.

When you make your plans for a cruise consider  the extras.  Excursions can run from under a $100 per person to several hundred per person per port. Multiply that by the number of ports and you can be talking serious money.  Worthwhile?  Up to you.  Just be aware.  Try to get an idea of what is available within walking distance or short cab ride of the port where you’ll be docking on any given day, but as mentioned in last month’s column, that isn’t easy.

3.    Bring along something for travel sickness.

Nausea is no one’s idea of fun. Most folks get their sea legs by the end of the first day. The cruise ships have ginger tablets for those with mild problems.  I have major problems with motion sickness.  My solution to avoid a sickening experience comes in the form of a Transderm Scop motion sickness prevention patch.  It requires a prescription, so check with your doctor to see if it is appropriate for you. It’s not cheap and it’s not covered by most insurance but if you need it, it may be the best money you spend on the trip.

The Sydney Opera House from aboard ship From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

The Sydney Opera House from aboard ship

4.    Soda. 

If you can’t survive a day without several Coca Colas, pay your money up front and accept that it is part of the cost of cruising. I think it’s interesting that you can have both a lobster dinner and beef Wellington in the same sitting, that you can hit any of a dozen casual eateries (pizza, burgers, etc), or that you can spend a full day reloading at the buffet and eating only a bite of each dish you take, but if you want a Coke, you are going to pay for it.  I don’t drink soda so it’s not a problem for me. Tea, no-frill coffee, milk, orange juice and lemonade are free.


Coffee and a warm blanket made shipboard viewing the fjords more enjoyable From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

Coffee and a warm blanket made shipboard viewing the fjords more enjoyable

5.    Read the Brochure.

Yes, every word of it.  A few hundred miles out to sea isn’t the time to realize you haven’t booked a cruise that suits you. Since the cruise company handles most of your planning, a line-by-line reading of the rules and conditions isn’t too much to invest in making it a worthwhile experience.

6.    Make a copy of your driver’s license and passport. 

Keep it in your suitcase just in case you lose the originals and need identifying info for replacement.


Passengers gather on deck for views of the waterfalls From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

Passengers gather on deck for views of the waterfalls

7.    Bring along a list of important phone numbers and your health insurance.

They take up no space in your luggage and if you do need the information, you will be grateful you have it. Let your family know how to reach you while you are cruising. The cruise line provides that information in the brochure, which as you now know you will have read thoroughly by the time you depart.

8.    Emails. 

Internet costs are by the minute and you can subscribe to a variety of packages aboard ship. Like most of the add-ons, they aren’t cheap. Connections are slow and you will waste many minutes waiting. We travel with our computer, and if you take along your laptop, net book, or I-Pad, you should compose all of your e-mails before signing on and only do the send-receive while connected. Read incoming electronic mail after you’ve signed off.  If you don’t lug along some form of your computer, consider getting the cruise package that lets you use their computers and offers unlimited minutes. You will skip the aggravation of worrying about apportioning time.


The haze couldn’t obscure the beauty From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

The haze couldn’t obscure the beauty

9.    Magic Jack or Skype. 

We took along a computer phone hook up and were able make room to shore calls (New Zealand to U.S.). The computer phone service let us talk to friends as though they were in the next state room.  My mother was dumbfounded to hear my voice. Be careful about figuring out time differences. Your best friend may not welcome your cheery voice at 3:00 a.m. her time. If you bring these devices, you have additional incentive for getting the unlimited minute package of internet which will be necessary for the connection.

10.    Buy your toiletries at home.

Buying sunscreen, sunglasses or aspirin on board or at a foreign port guarantees you will pay more and waste time. I made the dreadful mistake of planning to buy an extra pair of casual shoes while on vacation. I knew exactly what I wanted, but ran out of time to make the purchase before we departed. I figured it would be as easy to buy them abroad as at home. A month later I was still wearing my old, worn shoes because I refused to pay $250 for a pair I knew would cost half that at my local mall. On the other hand, the last day or two of your cruise you can expect onboard sales of a variety of merchandise:  belts, bags, scarves, watches, jewelry, etc.

Napier had antique cars to welcome us From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

Napier had antique cars to welcome us

11.    Alcohol. 

This is a great place to rack up a big bill aboard ship. Check what you are allowed to carry on. Our cruise allowed each passenger to carry on one bottle of wine at embarkation. At each port, we were allowed another bottle. Local wines were fun to try and much less expensive than ordering bottles at dinner. Rules vary between cruise lines and it seems alcohol is becoming more tightly regulated.

12.    Know thyself. 

I can tolerate a day or two at sea because the floating resort is full of opportunity. But, I try to avoid itineraries with several consecutive days at sea.  I begin to get claustrophobic and yearn to walk dry land.

 Our floating city. From 12 Tips to Optimize your Cruise Experience

 Our floating city


 Happy Cruising.



Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for Wandering Educators.



All photos courtesy and copyright Bob and Julie Royce.