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The Cant Whirlpool aboard Oasis of the Seas. Make sure you build downtime into your trip.

Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

The Cant Whirlpool aboard Oasis of the Seas. Make sure you build downtime into your trip.

5 tips on how to make the most of your time on a cruise

Build in downtime, wait for the bargains, set a budget & more

If you're new to cruising, you might be wondering how to allocate your time during your cruise. After all, there are so many things to do on the ship and on land that the days can quickly slip away. 

Tips & tricks on cruise basics

Based on my experience of cruising for more than a decade on many different cruise lines, I have five tips to help you make the most of your time on board. (See articles below for more tips.)

Set a daily budget and track your spending


Fares are set at levels to ensure that ships sail full. Once they have passengers on board, the cruise lines work hard to entice them to spend money since it's an essential part of their income. So it's important to set a budget before your trip and carefully stick to it, especially as everything you buy is charged directly to your account via your cruise card, and it's easy for charges to mount up. I recommend you ask reception for a printout of your bill every few days and track it against your budget. Alternatively, you may be able to view it on the in-room television.

The major items of additional costs to budget for are gratuities, excursions and touring, drinks, Internet access and shopping for souvenirs.


The daily program on a recent Alaska cruise on Holland America's Oosterdam.
JD Lasica / Special to CruiseableThe daily program on a recent Alaska cruise on Holland America's Oosterdam.

Use the daily program to plan your day


Cruise lines will offer a multitude of things to do throughout the entire day and evening, many of them happening at the same time. To make the most of your time on board, you should spend time reviewing the next day’s daily program before bedtime to plan your day.

Build downtime into your trip


Cruises tend to be port intensive, as this is what most passengers prefer. If you are out touring every day, you may find your vacation tiring. Remember that the ship is a destination, too, and schedule time to relax and enjoy the facilities. Most guests will go on excursions and you will find the facilities less crowded. There are likely to be special offers and discounts in areas like the spa, which means you can treat yourself for less.


Shop for a new watch during your sailing on Holland America's Koningsdam.
Courtesy of Holland America LineNew watches and other fine jewelry available in the shop on Holland America's Koningsdam.

Wait until the end of the cruise before shopping


Resist the temptation to buy from the onboard shops at the start of your cruise, and wait for the promotions to begin. As the trip progresses, there will be promotional events with large discounts on different types of merchandise each day. When in port, especially in the Caribbean, it’s easy to get carried away with the promise of duty- and tax-free shopping. You will be offered incentives, such as free earrings and charms for bracelets, to get you into the stores. Staff are highly trained and experienced in making sales of luxury goods, diamonds and watches to cruise passengers.

Plan for and use self-disembarkation


If you are able to carry all your luggage, you can apply to self-disembark the ship at the end of your cruise. This enables you to get off the ship within an hour of docking, as soon as the port authorities and immigration officials have cleared the ship to disembark passengers. If you cannot manage all of your bags, book a transfer to the airport or back home through the cruise, as these will usually depart the ship early, too.

Your take

What are your tips for making the most out of your cruise? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Updated from an earlier version. See anything wrong? What did we overlook? Be a co-creator!

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Gary Bembridge
I'm a longtime cruise fan and ship geek. While traveling the globe, I operate, where you'll find podcasts, videos and advice about cruising and traveling.


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