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October 26, 2012 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I've never been on a cruise, but will be going on one next year...would appreciate any cruise "hacks" I should take into account as a first timer. The cruise is on the Mediterranean and will be 9 days.
posted by teg4rvn to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've seen people steam the lids off water bottles and substitute vodka to save on liquor costs. Youtube videos exist.

I don't know if this is what you were looking for but there it is...
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:47 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is no storage for small things. Buy an over the door shoe organizer and you will have lots more storage.

If you like quiet, get a stateroom far from the elevators. The lower decks are usually louder (but move slightly less).

There are not a lot of quiet spots on the ship, but the ones that do exist are serene.

It'll be colder than you expect at night.

Everyone can see what you are doing on your balcony when you are docked.
posted by bensherman at 2:59 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a room with a balcony. You'll want time in your stateroom for quiet and relaxation, and you don't want to have to go to a public deck to get some sun.

Unless you're a really heavy drinker, don't bother with drinking hacks to smuggle booze in. You won't save much money, you'll just get nervous getting checked in and whatnot. Buy a couple bottles for your room in preference to hitting the bar, and you can sit out on your deck. The cost of alcohol won't be the major expense of your trip.
posted by fatbird at 3:11 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Waiters by the pool are not going to be willing to bring you non-alcoholic drinks (anything you don't have to pay for) so bring a sports bottle or some kind of cup with a lid to fill with water/iced tea/lemonade at the buffet.

Bensherman is correct about it being cool at night - and pretty windy, too.
posted by Sabby at 3:16 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Adding More! A lot of what people talk about on other message boards has to do with drinking and sneaking liquor on board.

A small corkage fee ($15/bottle) and you can bring your own wine on. We brought 4 bottles and really enjoyed them. Also, liquor prices are wildly different than what we expected. A bud light costs 6 bucks, but a fancy import is $7. Jack Daniels was $8 a shot, but REALLY good scotch was $10. Some higher end wines were less expensive at restaurants than they were available at retail in Massachusetts.

If you don't drink a lot, but do drink high end stuff, you probably won't feel ripped off.

That being said, there were a *lot* of drunk people and smokers all over our ship! It was a constant party. I liked it but was very glad to have my own balcony (I totally agree with fatbird).
posted by bensherman at 3:24 PM on October 26, 2012

I've only been on one cruise, Royal Caribbean. However, this advice was given to me by someone who's been on many:

Your room and checked luggage won't be available for a couple hours after you board the ship. So take a carry-on bag with your swimsuit (if you want to get in the deck pools) and a couple other items you might want immediate access to. I had glasses and a contact case in mine.
posted by sbutler at 3:25 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

On the coming home side, your bags will be picked up the night before docking, so having a small carry on for the items you'll need for the last night and next day is a good idea.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 3:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

My recollection is that each passenger is allowed to bring 2 bottles of booze on board. Do this.

Also, bring a power strip. There are maybe 2 outlets total in your stateroom and they will not be conveniently located.

If at all possible, get a state room with a balcony. It's an absolute game changer. I can't believe I waited as many cruises as I did to get one.

Wine is cheaper in the dining room when ordered by the bottle. Don't worry if you can't finish the bottle in one meal- the wine steward will happily recork your bottle (and tag it with your room number) at the end of your meal so that you can pick it up again the next time you're there.

Bring a watch or other non-phone time-telling device. You will be out of cell range most of the time, and your phone's clock will fall out of sync with time zones.

Some folks bring walkie talkies to stay in touch with others in the party. (see note about cell phones above) My parties and I have never done this, but every cruise there's at least one time when I wish I had gotten some.
posted by bluejayway at 3:34 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always bring ginger pills in case I get seasick. Take them before you feel sick.
posted by interplanetjanet at 3:42 PM on October 26, 2012

I was able to bring a bottle of rum on board in my checked suitcase when I went on a cruise a few years ago (Carnival Cruise Lines) but I'm not sure if that means I just got lucky or what. If you can bring a bottle of liquor that you enjoy mixing with soda, etc. do that. Or...if you like wine, bring a larger bottle and have your friends do the same.

On my cruise, you were able to purchase a sticker for your "charge card" (what they use to charge drinks and such to your account so you don't have to do cash or credit cards) that gave you unlimited sodas. If you drink sodas, consider taking advantage of that (depends on how many sodas you drink a day and whether or not the price is worth it).

That drink they offer you as you board the ship? It's not free. Anything someone offers you is probably not free, so be aware.

Consider your travel arrangements to and from port, and give yourself plenty of time to catch your return flight. My ship was late arriving back to port because of fog. The good thing is that they allowed us to make free phone calls to the airlines to reschedule our flights, but make sure you have allowed yourself extra time to catch a flight or have the flexibility to spend the night in a hotel if you need to.

Lastly, ENJOY! There's something magical about being in the middle of the ocean with nothing but the stars above you. Stay up late to look at the moon, get up early to watch the sunrise, and take the time to just absorb how vast the ocean and sky really are. It's awesome!
posted by MultiFaceted at 3:47 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Any cuise novice might benefit from a reading of DFW's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again although his was in the Carribean, not the Mediterranean.
posted by Rash at 4:10 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think a lot of hacks, especially liquor, are really going to depend on the cruise line, every line has different policies. Sometimes you can buy packages ahead or discount drink cards on the cruise line's website prior to the cruise.

We discovered that in room dining was complimentary on our last cruise so we ended up doing that everyday for breakfast, sitting on our balcony and skipping the buffet. It was so much more pleasant. You do have to plan ahead, i.e. put your breakfast selection card out the night before and choose a time, but well worth it. Sometimes we did lunch in room as well when we were at sea, though the menu was limited to sandwiches and salads.

We have a friend who cruises a lot, likes to sleep late, and very particular about his coffee, he brings a coffee maker on board. Not sure if that's really allowed, if he packs it, or buys it at the first port of call or what. He also recommended we take one night and do the 'fancy' dining restaurant (not the regular sit down dining service). There was a slight surcharge, but the food was good and nice to escape the cattle call.
posted by snowymorninblues at 4:13 PM on October 26, 2012

Bluejayway is right about bringing a power strip. I just finished a cruise four days ago, and there weren't enough outlets. My wife wanted to use a heating pad for her sore back, and I had nowhere to plug in my CPAP machine, so I didn't get good sleep those nights.

If you can, bring an extra bag or suitcase that is empty. You can put your dirty clothes in it, then won't have to worry about keeping clean and dirty ones separate on the ship.

On the next to last day of our cruise (on Disney's Dream ship), we got a statement saying "We suggest a gratuity of $XXXX for your room steward, $XXXX for your waiter, etc. We will charge your card these suggested amounts automatically unless you visit the front desk and tell us otherwise." I thought this was a crappy way to do things, so I went to the front desk and told them I would pay my tips in cash. Then I did.
posted by tacodave at 4:15 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Air-sick and car-sick are exactly the same thing as sea-sick: if you EVER get motion-sick, plan ahead with Dramamine or interplanetjanet's ginger pills or whatever works for you.

The folks who have suggested a small carry-on bag are right; among other things, pack ALL your medications in there so it's always available to you. Also pack your electronic devices, camera, etc. in there --- just as you should always carry your portable valuables in your carry-on when you fly (NOT in checked baggage), you should carry those same valuables in your carry-on when you cruise.
posted by easily confused at 4:22 PM on October 26, 2012

Wash your hands frequently to avoid illness. That's a lot of people in a small area.
posted by gjc at 4:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't feel too much pressure to constantly attend all the different activities. On my first cruise, I wasted far too much time feeling guilty about not doing ALL THE THINGS when I really just wanted to sit on the deck reading, eat lots of food, and spend time with my partner. As it turns out, those are my most pleasant memories from that vacation, and I don't really regret missing the napkin folding demonstration or whatever.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 5:30 PM on October 26, 2012

I got acupuncture the last time I cruised, and the acupuncturist told me that lots of experienced cruisers make appointments with her for the the first day of the cruise to get a treatment to prevent motion-sickness. It usually lasts for the duration of the cruise.

Budget more money for on-board expenses than you think you will possibly want to use, because you will probably use it.

If The Blue Man Group is performing on your ship, don't miss it.
posted by Brody's chum at 5:52 PM on October 26, 2012

Take extra clothes hangers, your own bottled water (rather than paying for the overpriced water in the room), earplugs (just in case), electric strip with extra outlets are a must, pack essentials like alka selter, band aids, etc or you will pay dearly at the gift shop. You will have a shipping pass - a credit card size card - take something to carry this in unless you will have pockets to keep it in.
posted by just asking at 6:09 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do a bit of research beforehand on the cruise company: a lot of things will be different depending on whether you are with an American company or an Italian one for example.

If you're flying from the States first, then you're going to be limited by the airline baggage allowance rather than the more generous ship one, so I wouldn't think it's worth the effort to bring booze with you.

To make the most of shore time, most cruise companies arrange guided tours, collecting you from the dock and taking in the sights. These are a serious extra expense on top of the cost of the cruise, and if you've any travel experience at all you should be able to manage without them. There will probably be cheap public transport or some kind of shuttle from the dock into town and you can then suit yourself as to what you look at. If you'd be happier with a guided tour, you may find a local company offering tours at half the price of the cruise company - travel review sites will usually have some information on these local independent companies.
posted by Azara at 6:16 PM on October 26, 2012

Cruise best practices / practical practices are right here.
And if you are concerned about safety, or sustainability - look no further than here
posted by seawallrunner at 9:30 PM on October 26, 2012 - tips about your ship, people who will be on your sailing, etc

And I've heard good things about Rum Runners for alcohol on ships

General tips:

• If you go to the office hours of the maître d' on the first day, you can request changes to your dinner reservation (window seat, different setting, etc)
• If you are traveling with someone who is not painfully shy, go early to the lounge shows (not the main theater shows) and chat up the host. There's a pretty good chance you can get your companions called up on stage. A memorable experience for a first time cruiser...
• If you tip cash for bar service and frequent the same bartender/waiter, the service will be very attentive
• Pay attention to the instructions for port days. If tenders are need to get to land you will possibly need to get tickets or meet in the theater at a certain time
• Depending on your risk aversion, you can save a lot of money by booking excursions on your own rather than through the ship. See the cruise critic message boards for recos. The benefit of booking through the ship, however, is that you would be refunded should your ship not stop in the port (due to weather, for example), and in some cases, the cruise ship will wait for you if your tour is late returning
• The library is often stocked with games; a great place to go if you are at sea and the weather is bad. Check your program for the library hours, however.
• If you want to enjoy the ship without the crowds, hang out for a few hours while the ship is in port. You will basically have the place to yourself
posted by halseyaa at 11:41 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the cruises I've been on:
- security has not cared when I've come back from shore with bottles/cartons of whatever in my shopping bag (though usually I've been buying fruit juice, because you can get interesting and unusual flavours in foreign supermarkets, but they weren't concerned by the odd bottle of wine either)
- if you want a soft drink from the deck bars, it still costs $ (although they were advertising their unlimited soft drinks package, so I don't know how that would work. Also, they provided a dispenser of ice water with lemon by the pool, but you still had to walk the whole 20m to go and fetch it yourself - still better than going in to the buffet)
- there are notices in the buffet telling you not to fill your own bottles from the drinks machine, because hygiene.
YMMV depending on the cruise line, I suppose.

I had fun in Istanbul, walking past gridlocked gridlocked coach tours (those streets were not really built for motor vehicles), but YMMV if you are disabled, very old, or for whatever other reason don't like walking. That said, the walk from the cruise terminal to the city was not very exciting, and it's probably worth paying (up to €5 / $10, they will try and charge you a lot more when negotiating with foreign currency, it's probably about 10 TL on the meter) for a taxi to the other side of the bridge. And of course, you are quite probably not going to Istanbul.

Organised tours are way expensive, BUT can be a very good / only way of seeing some things, e.g. Famous Local Museum may be closed on Mondays, but arrangements may have been made for the tours. If you have made a cunning plan to go see a thing privately, check in advance that it will be open that day. Conversely, Greece may be on strike and tours may be suddenly cancelled - as someone else said, read the daily program (and listen to the departure announcement for information about the next port).
posted by Lebannen at 3:09 AM on October 27, 2012

Definitely check out the Cruise Critic message boards - read the one specific to your cruise line. Those people know all the hacks and tricks for the ship you will be on.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:08 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buy as much liquor/wine as you can carry. My girlfriend and I bought 12 bottles and customs didn't so as much as bat an eye. For example, if you were going to Mexico, look up the good tequilas ahead of time since the selection is mind blowing.

Hang wet clothes from the air conditioning vent.

Get ready to be heckled by impoverished locals, so bring a stone face.

Wear sunscreen constantly.

It'll be really crowded on the first day, but then everybody spreads out.

Get a balcony room if you want hanging out in your room away from all the people to actually be soothing and calming, not like a weird bunker-over-the-promenade.

Order multiple appetizers with your meal, and if lobster is served, feel free to ask for extra tails :)

Book excursions in advance, these will be the most memorable parts of your trip
posted by oceanjesse at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Mediterranean itineraries are generally great, so lucky you!!!

The coffee is generally terrible - fyi.

Things also get cheaper/go on sale throughout the cruise.

TV stations are generally pretty lackluster as well. Make sure you have a book/movies/stuff to do in your stateroom or while lying around.

Make sure to tip your crew servers and stateroom attendants- they make very little money besides what they get tipped and they are uncannily amazing at their jobs.
posted by ashtabula to opelika at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2012

The one thing about excursions organized by the cruise company (or approved vendors) is that you're pretty much guaranteed to make it back to the ship on time. I've had friends who were stuck on some mountain or on the other side of the city when the ship left port. Massive headache. But the approved excursions also tend to be more expensive and crappier in some way or another, compared to independent guides. Just make sure you're conservative with time estimates.

If the ship says it's wifi-enabled, and you're relying on that, find out specifics. Where exactly does it work on the ship? In the guest rooms or just in the library? And more importantly -- how expensive is it? It can be shockingly expensive, slow and unreliable. Not a big deal unless you're expecting to use it frequently, so come prepared.
posted by barnone at 12:30 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you bought (or will you buy, if you haven't yet) the sort of ticket where, if the price goes down, you can get a credit for the difference? If so, get an account at and drop $5 on an alert for your line and cabin class. It'll email you whenever it notices a change in your fare. Mr Telophase and I ended up with close to $500 in shipboard credit (and a lingering regret that I chose that instead of a cabin upgrade when I sent in the first form!) due to several months of price drops for our honeymoon cruise thanks to the captain of the Costa Concordia. When the price drops send in the form immediately, because if the price goes back up before the agents get to processing it, they may not give you the credit.

If you're booking through an agent instead of directly with the cruise line, you may need to get them to send in the form.

If you need to tip anyone besides your waiter and cabin steward, do it in cash on the day before the last day of the cruise. Mr T wanted to tip a particular barista who always remembered his name and coffee preference and when we went to the customer service desk to do so, as they claimed you could do, they informed us that you could only do it there for the waiter and steward. And by then, her last shift for the cruise was over and we couldn't find her to give her the cash. (The cruise line sent us a survey and I gave them an earful about that and mentioned her name and what awesome service she gave so I *hope* she got at least recognition out of that.)

Usually the fare includes a set amount for tips for your waiter and cabin steward already--you can ask them to remove that if you want to tip them in cash, but from what I understand the information about which people have done that tends to get around the staff even though it's not supposed to. You can always go to the customer service desk and get them to change the amounts up or down depending on the service you get, although in my experience (of two whole cruises) it's always been excellent.

Spa treatments for women in my experience always involve a huge sales pitch for expensive products. I was so annoyed that when Mr T got a shave and a haircut, he got no sales pitch!

The guys who work at the gym tell me that the gym is packed for the first two days and next to empty for the rest of the cruise, so you can go and get a good workout on the machines at just about any time after the first couple of days. The ship we were on had the gym at the front of the ship, with the cardio machines set up in front of huge windows, and it was relaxing to sit there and cycle or run while watching the waves.
posted by telophase at 3:37 PM on October 27, 2012

And if you choose to get stinking drunk, for goodness sake don't lean over the railings to throw up. The heaving of your body is quite likely to send you overboard.
posted by telophase at 3:39 PM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been on one cruise. We had rooms near the front of the boat. We were awakened pretty early every morning by the anchors being pulled up. Of course, other parts of the ship might be noisy for other reasons. Bring earplugs! Have fun!
posted by sarah_pdx at 6:03 PM on October 27, 2012

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