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Cruise Hacks: Getting the Most Out of Your Cruise Vacation

cruise hacks

Planning a cruise vacation and packing for it takes some organization. Cruises leave from ports all over the world and cater to people of all ages and personalities. Plus, those ship cabins are not exactly the most spacious!

Here are a few cruise ship hacks and tips to make your time on the open seas as smooth as possible.

Planning Your Cruise Vacation

Depending on where and when you’re traveling, cruises can be one of the more affordable vacation options. First decide where you want to go, how many days you want to be gone and how many rooms you’ll need. If you’re in North America, I recommend scoping out Cruise Direct for deals, which can provide information on last-minute departures and you can select by port.

Look over the options for dining and shore excursions before you go and decide if they’re worthwhile. You can always book your own or wing it, so think about this before spending the money.

If you’re flying or driving to the port, give yourself enough time in between to make sure you don’t miss the departure. Consider carrying on your bags on a flight so you don’t lose your luggage on the way. We’ve heard that story before!

Packing Essentials for Organizing Tight Spaces

Cruise cabins are mostly short on space so the less you bring, the less cramped it will feel. Unless you’re traveling to Antarctica, you don’t need to pack much by way of clothing. Bring two swimsuits, a few cover ups and clothing to wear on shore excursions as well as one nice outfit for dinner. Use packing cubes that serve as under the bed storage and keep your clothing organized in your cabin.

For organization, you can do the following:

  • Keep your items organized with suction hooks for the bathroom, which won’t damage the walls.
  • Over the door shoe hangers are also good for toiletries, but some cruise lines have banned them so check the specifics before you go.
  • An automatic shut off power strip with USB outlets will keep your devices charged without needing many outlets.
  • Use magnets to hold papers onto your cabin door.
tips for taking a cruise
Cabins on a cruise are often small

Eating and Drinking On Board

Food and drinks are one of the many aspects of cruises. Most feature seated dinners and more casual options for breakfast and lunch. There are also multiple options, some which cost more. Read up on dining options before you book so that you make sure to get the most for your money and that you will have options if you have dietary restrictions.

In either situation, I recommend bringing a few snacks in your bag to have for shore excursions. They could be crackers, tiny jars of peanut butter or dried fruit and nuts. You’ll have plenty of food on board, including seated meals, the buffet and quick options like coffee and pastries or sushi.

You’re also allowed to bring juice or soda and water is free. I recommend bringing a water bottle or cup of some sort to fill up throughout the day instead of relying on plastic cups or purchasing souvenir glasses. You can also bring a travel mug and either tea, powdered drinks or instant coffee like Starbucks Via to mix with hot water.

When it comes to alcoholic drinks, some cruise lines allow you to bring one bottle of wine or six pack per person. Hard liquor isn’t allowed, but can be brought on board if you’re sneaky. One way is using food coloring and putting vodka in a mouthwash bottle. I also had luck putting vodka in one bottle of a case of water, but it’s a risky move.

tips for taking a cruise
Alcohol can be pricey on a cruise

Your other options are buying an all-you-can-drink package, which comes in either soda passes or alcohol passes at $50 per day, or know when drinks are included. On my Carnival cruise last year, free drinks or samples were offered at the wine and liquor tastings at duty free, the art auction and at ladies night at the onboard nightclub. There’s also either a captain’s reception with drinks and bites or returning guests get a free drink voucher for their loyalty. Gamblers in the casino may also get free drinks after spending a certain amount. Either way, alcohol will cost you, as a pitcher of beer is around $17, providing 4 drinks, and cocktails are $8-12.

Medicine and Seasickness Prevention

Such a large ship shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to seasickness, but it depends on the season (winter has more rocky waves) and what type of ship. You also have to consider if you’ll be taking a tender to shore, which can cause motion sickness.

Either way, you should come prepared with items like acupressure wrist bands, medicine like Pepto Bismol and ginger. I find that aromatherapy and items like Tiger Balm also stave off nausea. Ear plugs and an eye mask can help you from feeling the movement when you’re trying to sleep.

tips for taking a cruise
The Carnival cruise ship Caroline was on

Other Random Goodness for a Comfortable Trip

A few other items can make the difference between a good cruise and a great one:

  • You might not have considered a bathroom air freshener, which is important when you have many people sharing one.
  • A nightlight can be useful if you don’t have a porthole, as is a flashlight.
  • We used walkie talkies to get in touch with each other during my first trip, but now my family picks a time and place to meet up.
  • Ziploc bags are useful for everything from wet swimsuits to taking cereal back to your cabin.
  • A laundry line can be hung in your cabin to dry clothes.
  • For times without a charger, pack a Mophie or extra battery for your phone.
  • I’ve also packed a small ID case for my driver’s license and cruise ship card that prevents me from needing to carry a full bag around the ship.
  • For shore excursions, bring a day bag like the PacSafe Slingsafe. It can also be used as a place to keep important documents like reservations printouts and passports when you’re out and about. Simply lock it up and attach to furniture in your room.

Related Reading

Do you have any additional tips for taking a cruise?

get the most out of your cruise vacation

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Clariza says

    Check if your boat will have a laundry room. It can cut down on packing and reduce or avoid a laundry hanging in your room. I was on a 600 passenger boat and it had a nice little laundry room where we did a couple of loads of laundry for a group of 6 and it made the 10 day trip that much nicer.

  2. Jackie says

    For those who like a hot drink before bed… take a small thermos flask and fill with hot water to take back to your cabin after dinner. Keep a stash of tea bags, coffee and sugar sachets in your room. For those who need milk maybe a second flask is an idea.

  3. cindyhoog says

    Enjoyed your post, we have been on 29 cruises which include 3 on the Paradise and every one of your tips are “spot on”. One of the comments about bringing your own teabags is also something we do as now you have to pay for gourmet tea. Tanks so much for taking the time to post!

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