THESE TIPS WILL HELP ALL CRUISING NEWBIES GET MORE OUT OF THEIR VACATION!
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1. DO THE MATH ON THE DRINK PACKAGES.
A lot of cruise ships offer drink packages, which sound like a nice, worry-free way to enjoy yourself while onboard. But in some cases, you'd have to drink at least 8 alcoholic beverages per day to get your money's worth with the package. Crunch the numbers ahead of time to see if a package is the best option for you.
Depending on the cruise line's rules, you can usually bring two bottles of wine onboard per cabin, which will save you quite a bit on drinks. Most people pick up their bottles at the arrival airport's Duty Free Shop. Pack it in your carry on; you'll be able to get it through ship security without any problems.
3. PACK EVERYTHING YOU NEED FOR YOUR FIRST DAY IN YOUR CARRY ON.
The cruise company will generally pick up your checked luggage and bring it right to the ship for you. Convenient, except that you might not get your bag back until late in the evening, so make sure you have a change of clothes, swim suit, prescriptions and any other essentials in your carry on.
4. PREPARE FOR TIGHT QUARTERS.
If you didn't spring for a suite, you might be surprised at how compact the showers are. The majority of the cabins feature showers that are about 3"x 3" so if you're at all claustrophobic or on the larger side, you'll want to talk to cruise director right away to see if they can accommodate you.
5. THE SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS ARE OFTEN WORTH IT.
Most cruise lines have specialty restaurant that require a slight upcharge of $25-$35 per person. While you might feel compelled to make the most of the meals that come included with your cruise, the specialty restaurants often offer a better dining experience and higher quality food. Just remember that you usually need to make your reservation right away on day 1 or day 2.
6. OPT FOR THE LATE SEATING.
Most cruise lines offer two dinner seatings -- one early, one late. Pick the late seating because many of the excursions won't get you back in time for the early seating. Let your travel agent or cruise operator know as early as possible to ensure a spot.
7. TRY THIS "ADJOINING ROOMS" HACK.
This is a new trick I just learned! If your group booked rooms next to each other but didn't pony up for adjoining rooms, you may still be able to share your space -- if you have a balcony. Just ask maintenance to remove the divider on your balcony to open up the space. But don't ask for this until you board the ship; if you ask ahead of time, the cruise company will likely try to upsell you to true adjoining rooms.
8. TAKE THE EXCURSIONS.
As soon as you book, check out which excursions the cruise line offers. If you don't see what you want -- for example something special such as horseback riding or a cooking class -- you can book other activities directly with tour operators on the ground in your destination.
9. EXPECT DECK CHAIRS TO BE IN HIGH DEMAND.
While the ship's at sea, there's not much to do so everybody tries to stake a claim in the seats closest to the pool. Historically, people would try to save pool chairs by waking at the crack of down and laying towels over the seats to reserve them. But cruise lines are now hip to that, so expect the deck police to come along and place a sticker with a time stamp on the back of your chair. If you don't return for 40 minutes, they'll remove your towel to free up the chair for someone else.