Upgrade your cruise with these genius hacks

Have a luxury cruise for less



Planning on sailing the high seas? Whether you’re blowing the budget on a luxury cruise or opting for something a little more wallet-friendly, we’ve got the best ways to upgrade your ocean adventure without breaking the bank.

Be stateroom savvy

<p>Princess Cruises</p>

Princess Cruises

These days, most cruise lines publish detailed deck plans on their websites, so take time to study them before booking your room. We’re huge fans of Holland America’s color-coded downloadable deck plans, which use symbols to indicate cabin pros and cons, including obstructed views, half-height windows and accessibility. Can’t see a deck plan on the website? Email the cruise line and ask. Cabins with obstructed views can come with hefty discounts and the obstruction could be as little as a dangling line of rigging.

Opt for an older model



Dozens of new cruise ships are launched every year and you’ll almost always pay a premium to bag a cabin on the newest vessel. But don’t be too influenced by hype. Yes, your favorite line’s shiniest ship might have robot butlers, an indoor ski slope and five helipads (we’re slightly exaggerating), but take time to think about which amenities you’ll actually use before splashing the cash. Plus, the newest ships aren’t always the most exciting: Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas launched back in 2008 and serves up glow-in-the-dark laser tag, one of the largest water parks at sea and the Bionic Bar, where drinks are poured by androids.

Board with bubbles



A lot of cruise-goers don’t realise that most cruise lines allow passengers to bring some of their own alcohol onboard, so always research your cruise’s regulations. Just be aware that most lines also stipulate that this alcohol must be consumed in your cabin – if it’s consumed in public areas, corkage fees will be imposed. Celebrity Cruises allows every passenger to bring two bottles of wine onboard on embarkation day and P&O Cruises allows one liter of beer, wine or spirits per person.

Enjoy all-inclusive eating

<p>Princess Cruises</p>

Princess Cruises

Most cruise ships have at least two restaurants in which you can dine for free – typically a buffet restaurant and a more formal dining room with an à la carte menu. Additionally there are often pop up-style options, such as the poolside pizza place found on Holland America's Koningsdam. Royal Caribbean ships are known for their wide range of restaurants and a special mention goes to Anthem of the Seas. The liner has seven venues, including Italian, Mediterranean and all-American outlets, at which guests can dine for free.

Seek out a sanctuary

<p>MarkKatzman/Princess Cruises</p>

MarkKatzman/Princess Cruises

Worried about bagging that poolside sun lounger or nabbing the best spot for the sunset? Give yourself a head start by splashing out on access to exclusive areas of the deck. Perks range from butler service and spa treatments to chilled face towels and poolside cabanas. One of our favorites is Royal Caribbean’s new-for-2022 Suite Neighborhood, which comes with 5-star dining and an infinity plunge pool. Norwegian Cruise Line’s version is The Haven, often referred to as a ship-within-a-ship. Book a Haven cabin and you’ll get butler service, priority disembarkation and access to a private sundeck.

Go low

<p>Princess Cruises</p>

Princess Cruises

Generally, the cheapest cabins are the ones lowest on the ship, but being nearer sea level isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re on a transatlantic cruise or spending long periods at sea, you’re less likely to be bothered about the view from your balcony. And bear in mind that passengers on upper floors are more likely to experience seasickness, due to the greater range of sideways motion.

Spruce up your cabin



Crank up the comfort by adding your own cabin upgrades, whether it’s your favorite pillowcase or a photo of loved ones. Make your cabin soothing for the senses: lighting a scented candle is probably a no-no, but consider investing in a sweet-smelling room spray before setting sail or purchase one onboard. A growing number of cruise lines (including MSC Cruise Lines and Seabourn) now have signature scents, often sold in the form of room sprays and pillow mists.

Book a chauffeur



Don’t assume that chauffeur packages come with eye-watering price tags. Work out the cost of parking and gas if you're driving to the port or the fare if you’re booking a cab, then compare it with your chosen cruise line’s chauffeur prices. It's very possible there won’t be much difference, and these services often come with swoon-worthy extras like early embarkation and staff to deal with your luggage.

Join cruise events for free drinks



Regardless of whether you're bothered about meeting the captain or listening to a lecture about your cruise line’s latest destinations, doing so can pay major dividends. Events like the captain’s cocktail hour, art auctions and flash sales at onboard boutiques often come with complimentary drinks and nibbles. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

Book a speciality restaurant

<p>Celebrity Cruises</p>

Celebrity Cruises

Speciality dining doesn’t have to break the bank as the extra fees are often minimal. Royal Caribbean, Silversea and Norwegian all have brilliant speciality restaurants for guests willing to fork out a little more, but it's not just the luxury lines that offer a wide range of eateries. On Virgin Voyages you'll have dozens of restaurants to choose from, all included in the basic fare, from the Pink Agave Mexican restaurant to Gunbae, where diners can cook their own steaks at a grill built into every table, and Extra Virgin, a beautiful trattoria with a private dining room.

Embrace room service

<p>Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock</p>

Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock

Many cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises and Holland America, offer room service at no extra cost. It’s a win-win situation – you start the day with an in-room feast and the cruise line reduces overcrowding in its most popular restaurants. Windstar Cruises is just one example of a line that goes above and beyond for in-cabin dining. There are no extra charges, the service is available 24 hours a day and the menu from flagship restaurant Amphora can be ordered during dinner hours.

Be clever with kids



Thinking of a multi-generational vacation? Save your hard-earned cash by booking cheaper cabins for certain members of your entourage. Kids and teens are much less likely to spend a lot of time in their cabins – let alone on the balcony you forked out for – when there are roller-skating rinks, water slides and go-karting circuits to check out. Often it is possible to book an inside cabin directly across the corridor from your balcony cabin so you can still keep an eye on them while saving money.

Upgrade your alcohol



We love cruise lines that offer complimentary alcoholic drinks, but some tipples will likely be excluded – like Champagne and premium spirits. If you’re partial to particular beverages your line might offer premium packages – Princess Cruises, for example, offers a Princess Premier package which includes a much wider range. Another tip? If you’ve got a weakness for certain wines, save money by buying a bottle rather than a glass and asking your waiter to cork it and keep it behind the bar for you.

Ask your steward



Don’t underestimate the power wielded by your cabin steward. Ask nicely and he or she can transform your cruise, whether it’s by doing the nightly turndown service at your preferred time, providing extra toiletries and a bathrobe or helping you bag your favorite restaurant’s most sought-after table. It's those little extras that can make your vacation feel more lavish.

Shout about your special occasion

<p>Daniel Novoa/Shutterstock</p>

Daniel Novoa/Shutterstock

Most cruise lines will be more than happy to help passengers mark special occasions, whether it’s with complimentary birthday cakes, bottles of fizz or spa treatments. Email the customer service team well in advance to inform them of any occasions, and we’re not just talking about birthdays and honeymoons. Is it your first time sailing with that particular cruise line or the 10-year anniversary of your first cruise? In a crowded market, cruise lines are keener than ever to stop passengers straying to other operators, and are often only too happy to roll out perks to do so.

Formulate a spa strategy



If you’re planning to log a lot of spa time, book a cruise that offers complimentary access to spa facilities and keep an eye out for onboard spa events, often including skincare masterclasses that focus on certain brands. Yes, these events are often designed to draw you into purchases, but there’s no obligation to buy and therapists typically offer complimentary mini-treatments during these sessions. Another great hack is to book spa treatments during port days – Princess Cruises is one of many lines to offer discounts at these times to encourage passengers to visit outside peak periods.

Search for secret decks

<p>Celestyal Cruises</p>

Celestyal Cruises

Many modern cruise ships make the Titanic look tiny, and there's often more decks than you know to explore. Sure, deck number nine might be a great spot from which to soak up evening views and deck seven might boast the most sun loungers, but to avoid the crowds the lower decks should certainly be on your radar. They’re usually darker with less lighting, which means they’re great for stargazing sessions, and in rougher seas you’ll feel significantly less motion on decks closer to the waterline.

Choose the perfect pillow



Pillow menus are increasingly common on cruise ships (Disney Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines all have them) but don’t be afraid to request a certain type of pillow if you don’t find a menu in your cabin. There will almost always be harder or softer options available, and it’s another reason to stay on good terms with your cabin steward.

Enjoy a midnight snack



You’re on vacation, so normal rules don’t apply. Treat yourself to a midnight feast by ordering your favorite dessert after hours or snacking on those cookies you picked up from the buffet. Love those pillow chocolates your cabin steward dishes out every night? Don’t be afraid to ask for a few extras.

Skip shore excursions...



You're not obliged to sign up for every available shore excursion. Port days are often the best days to chill out onboard: enjoy some downtime in the crowd-free lounges, treat yourself to some stressless retail therapy or do a few laps of the swimming pool. Spending huge amounts of time – and money – dragging yourself around every excursion in the calendar is hardly a one-way ticket to relaxation.

...or arrange your own



On the flipside, don’t be afraid to go it alone. Cruise lines are looking to make money, after all, and you’ll be able to find huge savings by booking your own activities and tours. This applies to almost any type of excursion – even if it’s a simple, self-guided trip on a scenic cable car or train, you’ll almost always pay extra.

Time for tea



Don’t assume you’ll need to fork out a fortune to enjoy a decadent afternoon tea – you’ll often find it's included in the price. Sail on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and your fare covers daily afternoon teas in the Queens Room or Grills Lounge (we recommend the former, famous for its enormous crystal chandeliers). On Seabourn cruises it's the same and the buffet-style tea sessions come with a mind-boggling range of teas including mandarin, rose and ginger varieties.

Avoid pitch and roll



Nothing will ruin your cruise quicker than a bout of seasickness. If you’re prone to motion-related nausea purchase anti-sickness tablets in advance, or, if you’re caught unawares, ask for some at guest services. You’re less likely to feel the ship’s movement in lower cabins, at the rear of the ship and in the center. Don’t be afraid to ask to change cabins mid-cruise either.

Seek out family-friendly deals

<p>Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock</p>

Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

If you’re planning a cruise with younger relatives, there are countless lines that offer promotions which can see kids sail for free (MSC Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian and others), as long as they’re in your cabin, sleeping in either bunk beds or a pull-out bed. These deals can result in huge savings, although bear in mind that younger guests will still incur taxes and port fees.

Remember that bigger isn’t always better

<p>Holger Wulschlaeger/Shutterstock</p>

Holger Wulschlaeger/Shutterstock

Get more bang for your buck by opting for a cruise on a smaller ship. Fewer passengers means more space at key facilities like the spa, buffet restaurant and poolside, while events often feel more luxurious and intimate. Consider, for instance, the Windstar Cruises alfresco deck barbecue which takes place on every trip. Expect enormous vats of seafood paella and a whole roasted pig, which you can tuck into at tables draped with crisp linens dotted around the deck.

Stay connected



Cruises are perfect for a digital detox, but at some point you'll probably want to send photos to loved ones or check in on the news. If you’re planning to purchase an internet package, we’d advise against buying deals that detail a certain number of megabytes or hours. Ship-based connectivity is improving but it can still be sketchy at sea, and nothing’s worse than watching your allowance drain away while you wait for an email to send. Packages allowing unlimited use for the day or the whole cruise tend to offer the best value for money – typically costing around $12 a day. And if you do opt for a timed package, remember you may have to log off in order to stop the clock. The other option is to buy a data package that allows you to use your phone while in port for a much lower cost than using ship Wi-Fi.

Shower in the spa



Many cabins don't offer the largest or best of showers, but there's a simple solution – take a shower in the spa where you will often find much nicer and larger showering options. Sometimes there's also much better shampoo and conditioner than you'll find in your cabin.

Do drinks-related research

<p>Princess Cruises</p>

Princess Cruises

Most cruise lines offer a wide range of drinks packages to cater to every type of passenger, so have a peruse before you pick. Celestyal Cruises, for instance, offer a $29-a-day Platinum All-Inclusive Package containing 101 different cocktails, liqueurs, aperitifs, premium wines, energy drinks and more, a $16-a-day Non-Alcoholic Package which includes pressed juices, milkshakes, smoothies and ice cream and a $10-a-day Kids Refreshing Package offering mocktails, milkshakes, hot cocoa and ice cream. Just don’t blame us when the sugar rush kicks in…

Double check what’s included



Before you choose your cruise or splash out on added extras, always check what’s included as standard – you’ll often get a pleasant surprise. For example, Silversea offers one hour of free internet a day in some cabin categories, while numerous cruise lines (Viking, for one) include excursions in the base fare.

Shop the sales



If you're in the planning stage of your cruise, it’s worth signing up for newsletters that can tip you off about one-off promotions and sales. You can often enjoy added extras without forking out huge sums: notable examples include Norwegian’s regular Free at Sea promotion, Holland America’s seasonal upgrade sales and Princess Cruises' Best Sale Ever event.

Now check out our review of Norwegian's cutting-edge Prima cruise ship