12 Ways to Make the Most of A Cruise Vacation

The average length of a cruise vacation is around 10 days. That’s why a 7-night cruise together with 2 nights at a port hotel prior to departure, plus travel time makes an ideal trip abroad – especially when you want to visit more than one country. So what are the best ways to make the most of your cruise, and your precious, hard-earned vacation time?

Here are our best tips and tricks to help you make the most of a cruise vacation.

1. Plan Ahead

When you have booked your cruise, make a list of pre-departure things you must take care of to ensure you don’t forget anything and to avoid last minute stress. Here are the items that should be on your list:

  • Check the validity of all your passports. Many countries require your passport to be valid at least 6 months after your return date. If you passports are going to expire prior to this, make sure you get new passports ordered in good time.
  • Book a place at your local pet care center so someone can take care of your pets whilst you are away.
  • Call your travel insurance provider and check that you have full protection when travelling abroad, including coverage should you fall ill due to Covid. Remember that if you are travelling with family members who are not domicile at the same address, they will need their own travel insurance. Do not travel without holiday insurance.
  • Download the cruise line’s app on your mobile phone, together with the airline’s app. Register your booking in the app so that you can receive alerts and information that may affect your booking.
  • Check with your mobile phone provider what kind of plan you may need when travelling abroad to ensure you don’t end up with a huge bill to pay when you get home.
  • Check your luggage allowance with both your airlines and your cruise line. Roll out your suitcases from storage and check that wheels and locks are not broken and still working. Wash off the suitcases and cabin cases with a hot soapy cloth and store them for easy access ready to pack.
  • Print out a handy cruise packing list and pick up items you may need as and when you are out shopping and see sale or bargain prices, to avoid a last minute panic when you see you have forgotten your essential items.
  • If you like to travel with cash, then keep an eye on the currency exchange value and change your cash into your destination’s currency when you feel you are best likely to get a good deal. Avoid changing cash at your destination or on board as often the rate of exchange is not as favorable.

2. Read and learn about your cruise destinations

The number one reason we love to cruise is that we see and experience many different places in one and the same vacation.

The down side is that we often only have one day in a cruise port. With a multiple of different types of excursions to choose between, or types of activities and attractions to see in each place, it’s essential to do a little homework before you choose.

Start by researching the city you are visiting. Tourism Bureaus often have excellent websites and will showcase the top tourist spots in the city. Hop on/Hop off buses are a great way to get a good tour of the city in a short space of time.

If you find a place that interests you, read up on the history so you know what you are looking at. Knowing the story behind a painting, a monument, or a palace will add to the whole experience of seeing it in reality.

Then look beyond the city to see what day trips are doable in the time you have. For example if you are calling at the Port of Marseilles in the South of France, I would choose an excursion into Provence rather than stay in the port city. But that’s because I love stunning nature, french food and good wine.

In port at La Spezia, I would absolutely choose to hop on the train to Cinque Terre and go walking and hiking. I will never, ever tire of this beautiful scenery and the quaint villages.

A little research and reading will help you plan on how to make the most of a cruise vacation in every port you visit. Whether your choose to do your own thing, book a cruise line shore excursion, or a day out with an alternative provider such as Viator.

3. Research and compare prices for cruise excursions

Cruise ships excursions can be expensive. And quite a lot more expensive than booking with an alternative provider of a similar excursion, for example Viator.

The advantage of booking a shore excursion with your cruise line is the responsibility of getting you back to the cruise ship on time before departure lies with the cruise line. That’s assuming you do not wonder off by yourselves from the group.

But if you can find a trusted supplier, or a private driver, to offer you the shore experience you are after, then you may find it considerably cheaper, especially if you are a group or family travelling together.

Just let your provider know when your cruise ship departs, then make sure you allow plenty of extra time to get yourselves back to the port in good time at the end of the day.

If you are doing your own excursion and relying on public transportation, then hop in a taxi if things don’t work out as planned and you miss that bus or train you planned on taking.

4. Request an early boarding time

Your cruise ticket will give you an allocated boarding time. This is too avoid congestion at the port on many cruise guests trying to check in at the same time.

We recommend that you ring your cruise line and request early boarding if you can get there from your hotel before midday. We have even just turned up early. It is rare that you will be denied boarding if you are early. They just want to get all guests on board as soon as possible.

And of course the main advantage of early boarding is that you get start to enjoy the ship amenities a lot sooner and head for that fantastic buffet lunch that awaits you.

Just be sure to pack some toiletries, clothing and medicines and a swimsuit that you may need on your first day on board. You will have access to your cabin but your luggage may take a while to reach you. But at least you can head to the pool!

5. Book a cruise transfer bus back to the airport for your return journey

If you are not extending your stay with extra hotel nights in your arrival port at the end of your cruise, then you’ll be heading back to the airport.

Enjoy one last sightseeing tour of your final port by booking an transfer back to the airport with your cruise that includes a tour of the city. That way you can place your luggage on the bus and enjoy the day sightseeing or shopping before heading home.

Be sure to book the excursion that ends at the airport. When booking, you will be asked to fill in your flight departure time to ensure that the bus gets you to the airport in good time for check in.

It’s an ideal way to make the most of the last day of your vacation, and beats sitting at the airport for hours on end waiting for that afternoon or evening flight home.

6. Travel to your origin port 2 days ahead of cruise departure

We cannot overstate the importance of arriving in your cruise departure city at least 2 days ahead of your cruise departure date.

And this advice comes from hearing stories of guests that miss their cruise due to delayed or cancelled flights, late arrivals and traffic jams. Most often your cruise will be non-refundable if you miss check in. And cruise lines wait for no man.

Sure you need to spend money on hotel overnights and meals. But think of the benefits.

You get to explore the city, and even for returning guests you can most often find something new to see or do. If you have visited your departure city before and feel that you have “been there, done it”, then rent a car and spend a day exploring the surrounding area.

For example, if you cruise from Southampton, drive the famed Jurassic Coastsline and visit Lulworth Cover, Durdle Door or the seaside port of Lyme Regis. The country of Dorset has many areas of outstanding natural beauty that are worth visiting.

Budget for these extra days and nights and you will enrich your whole vacation. And you won’t miss the boat.

7. Complete travel documents ahead of time and take printed hard copies of everything with you

As a result of the pandemic, many countries have new strict entry requirements, as do cruise lines.

It is essential to get updated information about documents you need for entry into the country you are visiting.

For example if you are flying into the U.K to start your cruise from London or Southampton, you will find up-to-date information about entry requirements on the Government website.

Sign up for their newsletter to get alerts and latest information as rules and regulations can change.

Complete your travel documents ahead of departure time where possible.

Print out all your travel documents before you leave home. Such as flight boarding passes, cruise tickets, medical certificates, visas and vaccine passports.

Of course most of us these days download everything onto a travel app on a mobile phone. But occasionally you may not get WiFi or your phone runs out of battery. Then you won’t have access to anything. Carry a paper copy with you.

By being prepared, you won’t stress at the last minute and you can enjoy your vacation from day 1.

8. Photograph your passport

Take a photo of the information page in your passport in case you lose it during your vacation. Or if you prefer a paper photocopy.

Having your passport number with you makes things a whole lot easier if need to get a temporary passport.

Remember also to download the contact information for your own country’s embassy in your destination country. Just in case you need emergency help whilst away from home.

9. Pre-book your beverage package

Included in the price of your cruise are drinks from the buffet restaurant, such as water by the glass, juice, tea and coffee. Everything else will cost extra on board. Such as alcoholic drinks, specialty coffees, smoothies, fresh juice and bottled water.

Unless of course you buy a beverage package. And there are many to choose from. Look at the daily price per person and what exactly you get for your money.

Only you can decide if you will drink that much to get value for your money. Or whether you prefer to buy individual drinks on board.

If you do decide to purchase a beverage package, do this before you leave home. It will be less expensive before you board your cruise ship compared to buying on board.

You can book and buy this directly through your online cruise planner or by ringing the cruise line directly. And don’t forget that if you have on board credit you can use this to purchase a beverage package too!

10. Book a direct flight

When flying everyone wants to get the best deal and find cheap flights. Very often flights with multiple stops to your destination are less expensive. But it will also be an awfully long journey.

Consider stretching your budget and flying direct to make the most of a cruise vacation. It will be less stressful and you will save on journey time.

You will also minimize the risk of lost or delayed luggage. And none of us like to cruise with just clothes on our back and those we squeezed into hand luggage.

11. Join in the activities on board

When is the last time you scaled a climbing wall, tried out zip lining, tried surf-boarding, ice-skating or sang karaoke?

A cruise is a great time to shake off those inhibitions and try something new. Do something out of the ordinary and have great fun doing it. It’s an excellent way to make new friends on board and create new memories.

At sea days is a perfect time to make the most of a cruise vacation whilst on board. Check your cruise app for details on what’s going on each day so you don’t miss out on the fun.

12. Learn a new skill

Very often the cruise line have mini workshops on board. For example culinary classes on how to cook a cruise signature dish, or cake decorating. Our last Celebrity Cruise offered a class with the sous chef learning how to prepare and cook the perfect steak.

Dance classes are popular too. So if you have always wanted to dance the Foxtrot, now could be your chance.

Make the most of a cruise vacation and join in. You could find yourself with a new favorite hobby when you return home.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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