10 Money-Saving Tips Cruise Lines Don’t Usually Tell You

secrets the cruise lines won't tell you

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A wealth of information is ready to help you get the most out of your cruise vacation. The problem is there is just too much information to process. 

Fortunately, you’ve got us, and we’ve been sailing long enough to know the tidbits to pass on. Some will help you save money; others will help you save time. 

So, without further ado, here are the 10 money-saving tips cruise lines don’t usually tell you: 

1. You can save money by letting the cruise line pick your cabin

Picking where a stateroom will be on the ship is very important to some. Others, however, are willing to settle for a stateroom in a less desirable location if they can save a little money.

If you fall into the latter category, you may want to consider booking a “guarantee” or “sailaway” cabin. This means you get to choose the category (interior, balcony, etc.), but the cruise line will ultimately decide which cabin you’ll wind up in.

There are, of course, downsides to this option. You may not find out exactly which stateroom you’ll be in until a few days before the ship sails. And there’s a good chance you’ll wind up in a less-than-ideal location, such as beneath a noisy venue.

The upside? You’ll save some money. And occasionally, folks who book guarantee or sail away staterooms wind up in a better stateroom than they would have otherwise. It doesn’t happen often, but it does sometimes happen!

balcony stateroom cruise ship

2. Snacks at cafés are often free

There is plenty of free food aboard the ships. But many don’t realize that others are free.

Every cruise ship has a café where you can purchase specialty coffees, teas, and other delectable drinks. However, these spots also feature treats such as pastries or sandwiches that are entirely free. So, if you’re in the mood for a mid-afternoon pie on your way past the café, stop by and get one. 

javablue cafe mardi gras carnival cruise
JavaBlue Café on Carnival’s Mardi Gras

3. You can get into sold-out theater shows

Cruise lines usually recommend that you reserve popular shows in advance. But if you visit one a few weeks before your sailing and find out that the event is listed as “sold out,” don’t despair; all hope is not lost.

Cruise lines often allow specific seats to be booked in advance. Additional reservations are then available for booking once you board.

The trick? Ensure you snag one of those when you get on the ship!

Celebrity Edge Return sailing

If you still couldn’t snag a reservation on the ship, head to the theater shortly before showtime. You’d be surprised how many people don’t show up for various reasons.

4. You can usually order as much as you want in the main dining room

We think of a meal as an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. But in the main dining room, you can have almost everything! You may order both if you see two appealing entrées on the menu. If you don’t think you can eat both, ask your server if they can give you half each.

This sounds crazy to non-cruisers — this would never fly at a land-based restaurant. But trust me, it’s pretty common on ships, and your request can usually be accommodated. 

One piece of advice to be a conscious cruiser, though: don’t take advantage of this benefit. Don’t order four desserts for yourself, knowing you won’t eat even a third of what’s in front of you.

If you need to try the entire dessert menu, consider creating your little buffet with your group and sharing all the dishes. The less food you can waste, the better.

rotterdam main dining room
The main dining room on Holland America’s Rotterdam

5. The ship will provide seasickness medication

Whether the seas are perfectly calm or the ship is on the edge of a storm, some people are more prone to seasickness than others. 

If you didn’t think to bring seasickness medication or other solutions — or didn’t think you’d need it — don’t worry. You won’t have to spend the day in bed or walking around looking a little green. Head down to the ship’s infirmary and ask for some Dramamine; they’ll give it to you for free.

medicine inside the cruise ship

6. You’ll get spa discounts on port days

On port days, most passengers spend the day exploring the day’s destination. This means that life on board slows way down.

Some venues will close entirely until everyone’s back on board the ship, whereas others — especially those who bring in money for the cruise line — will work to get the attention of those who decided not to disembark. 

On nearly every line, you’ll find that the spa offers discounts on everything from treatments to day passes. So, if you want a spa treatment during your cruise and can spare some time on one of your itinerary’s port days, consider booking your treatment.

Note that you probably won’t be able to book with these deals before your cruise — you’ll either have to wait until you first get onboard or until the day of.

carnival horizon spa massage
(Photo courtesy of Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line)

7. You can bring your alcohol on board

We’ve all heard the stories about folks who have their luggage sent to the naughty room because they’re attempting to smuggle booze on board. You may not realize that most lines will allow you to bring a bit of booze… but there are rules as to what and how much you’re allowed. 

Most cruise lines will allow each passenger (or cabin) to bring two bottles of wine or champagne from home. Some cruise lines, such as Disney Cruise Line, even allow guests to bring a pack of beer. This will save you money if you want to enjoy wine on your balcony or crack open a bottle of champagne for a special occasion. 

Just remember that if you’d like to open your bottle at dinner in one of the ship’s restaurants, they’ll likely charge you a corkage fee. (Some lines will charge a corkage fee when boarding, whether or not you intend to have them open the bottles for you.)

If you genuinely want to save money by bringing your wine or champagne, we recommend pouring it into your cabin yourself. You can request that your steward bring you a bucket of ice to keep it cold.

Also, as a note, cruise lines generally do not allow guests to bring any of their hard liquor on board. And if you buy a bottle in one of the ship’s shops — or while in port — it will be kept until debarkation day.

wine bottles cruise ship
(Photo by Christopher Ison)

8. You can eat in specialty restaurants at lunchtime for a discount/free

Many cruisers don’t know that some specialty restaurants offer free lunches. Obviously, this won’t be the case on every cruise line or ship.

Holland America’s Pinnacle Grill Steakhouse, for example, offers a special lunch menu that costs only $15 per person. Royal Caribbean’s The Mason Jar restaurant on Wonder of the Seas has brunch for $25 per person, compared to the $40 it costs for dinner.

Carnival Cruise Line’s JiJi Asian Kitchen and Cucina Del Capitano have free lunchtime menus. Sure, they’re not the same menus as you’d find at dinner, but they’re both great, customizable options that allow you to eat something besides the buffet or poolside quick-service fare for lunch.

jiji asian kitchen lunch
Carnival Sunshine guests await lunch in JiJi Asian Kitchen (Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line)

9. You can use the showers in the spa without needing a pass

Most cruise ships have showers you can use for free in the fitness center or spa locker room, regardless of whether you have a pass to the spa or not.

Sure, many cruisers will balk at the idea of using a public shower when you have one in your cabin, but there are reasons some passengers love to take advantage of them in the morning.

If you might want to use the ship’s public showers, head to the spa or fitness center beforehand to scope them out and see what you think.

As a bonus, check to see if any other amenities might be available without a thermal suite pass to the spa. Sometimes, the locker room also includes a sauna, which you won’t need to pay to use.

cloud 9 spa shower
Shower space in Carnival’s Cloud 9 Spa

10. Package deals may not be great deals

Want to purchase a beverage or specialty dining package for your next cruise? If you’re on a budget, do the math to see if it’ll be a good deal.

If none of the specialty restaurants onboard sound especially appealing except one, spending the extra cash for a specialty dining package may not be best for you. 

With the drink packages, it’s even more important to do some calculations because this is often the most expensive package passengers buy on a cruise.

Find out the average cost of a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail on your ship. Remember that some days will be port days, and you’ll likely drink a lot less.

carnival cruise cheers package

One thing that often incentivizes people to purchase a beverage package — even if there are a lot of port days — is that many of them also include sodas, specialty coffees, energy drinks, and bottled water. 

READ NEXT: Your Guide to Dining on the World’s Biggest Ship

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10 secrets cruise lines don't usually tell you

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