Monday, February 14, 2022

Cruise Tips

I received a few messages and requests for cruising tips so I thought it best to give them to everybody here.  As you might know, I used to be a travel agent. More importantly, I am a self proclaimed travel expert.

Carnival Inspiration of the coast of Catalina.

Let me start by saying that cruising is not for everyone.  That's okay.  Why do I say that?  Because it's true.  Cruising requires a certain type of person.  The problem is that you won't know if you're that type of person until you try it.  And you absolutely should try it.  I will touch on ways to help you tell if cruising is for you throughout this post.  I will also use a lot of terminology you may not know.  Don't worry.  There's a glossary included.


Booking your 1st cruise requires some planning on your part.  The planning process breaks down into 3 subjects:  Budget, Locale and Timing.  This can be said for any vacation really.


The 1st step in the planning process is deciding your budget.  You may think that sounds strange but it is true.  First, decide what you can comfortably afford to pay for your vacation, then look at what type of vacation you can take, where you can take it, and when.  Why do you decide budget first?  Because it gives you a field to stay within and will help you avoid falling in love with a cruise you can't afford.  That being said, most of you will ignore this step (as I often have) and do the steps in reverse.  That's okay too, but I find it helps to have a number in my head first.

So what can you afford?  There are inexpensive cruises that last 3 to 4 days.  There are 14 day cruises that travel all over the place.  There is a cruise for most budgets.  Let's assume there are two of you.  Why am I assuming this?  Because cruises are booked double occupancy.  If you are traveling alone, most of the time you will be paying double for the stateroom.  Since I am an expert budget traveler, I am going to give you tips for a small budget.  Deal?

You might be thinking "Great! I got an email for $199 fares!"  WRONG!  That's a base fare and a sale.  It will be good for 1 specific cruise during a week you can't go to a locale you can't get to and doesn't include taxes, port fees, flight, shore excursions, or alcohol.

Discouraged?  Don't be!  Ignore the spam emails and flashy ads on Facebook.  Go directly to the cruise line websites.  More on what to do is coming up but first...


Where do you want to cruise to?  This is a pretty straight forward question but is highly affected by your budget (the previous step).  If your budget is relatively small, you want a port close to home to avoid airfare.  If your budget is bigger or you have airline miles, you can chose a more exotic locale.

Consider this when deciding.  You're taking a cruise for the cruise.  If you want to go to Hawaii, you can just fly there.  If you want to go to Catalina, there is a $35 ferry that can drop you off there from Newport Beach.  The locale is secondary to the fact that you're cruising, especially if you are not planning on getting off the ship.

That being said, cruising can be a nice and affordable way of seeing a little bit of a locale to decide if you want to take an expensive vacation there in the future.  I am assuming you're cruising because you wanted to try cruising so pick an embarkation port close to home.


Timing is actually a two-parter.  You must decide WHEN you want to take the vacation and for HOW LONG you want to vacation.

Let's start with the WHEN of it all.  Cruising, just like any other vacation, has peak and off-peak travel times.  They vary depending on where you are cruising to (the previous step).  Places like Alaska generally only have cruises from May to September with June through August being more expensive and more crowded but May and September being a little colder.  Mexico offers the best rates in the fall.  If your vacation time is flexible, search on the cruise line websites for the cheapest time but remember to Google things like hurricane season.  More on that later.

Now you have your budget.  You have your locale.  You know when you want to vacation.  HOW LONG do you want to vacation for?  If your budget is small, you're looking at 3-5 days.  Large budget means 7-14 days.  Most cruise lines allow you to search by locale or by length of cruise.  Even if you have a big budget, I recommend doing a 3-5 day cruise for your 1st time.  Remember, you don't know if cruising is for you yet!


You now have your budget, your locale, your length of vacation, and when you want to travel.

  • Decide what you can realistically afford FIRST.
  • Pick a home port close to your home to avoid airline costs.
  • If it is your 1st cruise, choose a shorter cruise to decide if you like cruising.
  • Cruise in the off-season for your locale but be careful to research weather!

It's time to move on to actually booking your trip.


Booking a cruise is simple but can be a better experience if you know what you're doing on the internet.  Sure, you can call a travel agent up and book through them.  It's an easy process and won't cost you anything more.  I like to do stuff myself, so I always book my own travel.  DO NOT book through 3rd party websites.  They are not as cheap as you think.  Always go to the cruise line's website directly.  You will get the best price and the customer service you desire.

If this is your 1st cruise, you have a bit more work to do.  If you have cruised before, you'll be going directly to the previous cruise line's website.  Why?  Loyalty.  Cruise lines, like airlines, reward loyalty and you should absolutely find a line that you're happy with and take them up on those perks.  Free drinks, free on board credit, and even free cruises!!!  I am going to assume you're reading this because it's your 1st cruise.

There are vastly more cruise lines than you can imagine.  Some are small little lines and others are massive lines with dozens of ships and still some are lines owned by other lines.  I am going to simplify it for you.

Open up 6 browser tabs and type the following urls:
These are the 6 most popular cruise lines and you are most likely using one of them.


Each line has the ability to search by destination and home port.  Remember step 2 from above?  In each tab, search for your locale.  Does the cruise line have cruises there?  No?  Close that tab. Now search for your home port in the remaining tabs.  Does the line have a cruise to your destination from your home port?  No?  Close that tab.


With the remaining lines, it's time to search for the timing of your cruise.  If you are flexible on dates, search for length of cruise first.  If you are flexible on length of cruise, search by date first.  Does the line have a cruise to your destination, from your home port, for the length of time or dates you set?  No?  Close that tab.


With the remaining lines, price compare BASE FARES on comparable cruises.  Does the line have a cruise to your destination, from your home port, for the length of time or dates you set within your budget?  No?  Close that tab.


With the remaining lines, you have to decide which cruise you want to take.  You can base this decision on ports of call, on board activities and entertainment, or online reviews from other travelers.  This is a call only you can make though.  It takes research and depends on your style.  Looking for the budget line with an emphasis on drinkers?  Do you prefer the family friendly line?  Perhaps feeling like a VIP is more your style.  You decide.


Now it's time to book the cruise to your destination of choice, from your home port of choice for the dates and length of choice on the cruise line of choice.  Wow!  You've made a lot of choices!  Congratulations!

You're about to make a lot more and each one will affect your budget.  This all seems so overwhelming but the cruise line websites make it really easy.


You're going to pick a stateroom type.  Each type will change your base fare.  The base fare is based on an Inside Stateroom.

  • INSIDE-located in the center of the ship, without a window.  These are budget friendly and great if you don't plan on spending a lot of time in the room.  They have a variety of bed layouts that can increase your base far by a couple of bucks.
  • PORTHOLE-these are still budget friendly but will increase your base fare by a few bucks per person per day and offer what lines call an "obstructed ocean view".  These are great if you want a little natural light in the room and I prefer this view over the next category.
  • OCEAN VIEW-these are located on the outside of the ship and will increase your base fare.  They offer a rectangle window that you can't open.  Sure it's a 180 degree view but do you really need that when a few decks up offer a 360 degree view?
  • VERANDAH/BALCONY-these offer an attached balcony which is great if you're don't like people because it's like a private deck just for you.  Be advised that when I say private, I don't mean that people cannot see you on it.  No hanky panky!  These will raise your base fare substantially.
  • SUITE-these are the most expensive room types offering a wide array of amenities depending on the line.  Some also have a balcony.


Next, you will pick your section.  Depending on the ship, you may want to be close to the action or further away. Some ships change the base price depending on which section you choose.  Ships are usually divided into 3 sections:

  • FORWARD-the front half of the ship. You will feel the rocking of the boat here more if you are prone to motion sickness.  You also might be above the engines or the anchor which can be noisy.  I don't find an issue with any of that but I like cruising.
  • MIDSHIP-this is the least rocky part of the ship.  It's also centrally located to everything.
  • AFT-the back area of the ship.  This is usually the quietest area of the ship.  You may feel the motion of the ocean back here as well.


Next it is time to choose the deck.  Not all room types are available on all decks.  Higher decks also may increase your base fare.  You just have to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I prone to motion sickness?  If so, pick a lower deck.
  • Do I want to be closer to the action?  If so, pick an upper deck.


Lastly, you will pick your stateroom.  Close to the elevator?  Close to the ladders?  Away from main passageways?  The choice is yours!  I recommend googling the specific stateroom you're looking into. You'll often find reviews from previous cruisers.  You might be able to find out if that room is above an engine or below the nightclub or if there is a lot of foot traffic from crew.


Wait!!!!  What just happened to that beautiful base fare I found?!?!?  Taxes, Fees, and Port Expenses is what happened!  You are now seeing a total to cruise.  Did it exceed your budget?  If so, back up and choose a lesser costing stateroom.  That might help!  Remember:  you haven't even added in gratuities what does this new amount include?


  • TRANSPORTATION-The cruise itself takes you from port to port so you don't have to fly or drive!
  • FOOD-All of your meals are included from a variety of restaurants.  Some specialty restaurants may cost a bit extra but you don't have to eat there.
  • STATEROOM-How much do you pay for a hotel room on a different vacation?
  • ENTERTAINMENT-Broadway style productions, live bands, karaoke, comedians, etc etc etc.
  • ACTIVITIES-Pools, water slides, sports, trivia, games, etc etc etc.
  • TAXES-The government doesn't let anything happen for free.
  • FEES-Yes, you also pay additional fees for things like customs and fuel.
  • PORT EXPENSES-Each port charges the cruise ships to dock there.  You pay that!


  • GRATUITIES-They are mandatory, sort of and you should prepay them so you don't have to worry about it later.  It usually comes out to $15/person/day.  They cover dining and housekeeping tips among others.
  • SHORE EXCURSIONS-Want to do any activities on shore at the ports of call?  Those are extra and can be very expensive.  Some are worth it and some are not.  Read reviews and policies before booking!
  • ALCOHOL-This is where you can spend a fortune without knowing it.  Some lines offer an all you can drink package which is most likely not worth it.  When I was young, I spent $1000 on alcohol for 2 people on a 10 day cruise.  More recently, I spent about $200 for 2 people on a 4 day cruise.

It's almost an all inclusive vacation and when you break it down, it's very cost-effective.  You now can choose to add the prepaid gratuities and/or travel insurance.  You also have to pay a deposit (or you can just pay the whole thing).

Before clicking that BOOK NOW button, ask what penalties there are for canceling, whether or not the line offers a low price guarantee, and what, if any, perks you got for booking.


You can now spend the time between now and your cruise booking shore excursions.  Figure out what you like to do and what you want to spend money on.  Keep in mind, the ports you visit have plenty of free things to do.  You don't have to book a shore excursion through the ship.


If this is your first cruise, you probably don't know what you're in for.  Hopefully this next section will help.


  • Single person shower
  • Tight space moving around the bed
  • A small TV
  • Single ply toilet paper
  • One outlet for the entire room
  • Plenty of closet space
  • A room steward that learns your name and preferences
  • Towel animals


  • Physical activities like swimming, golf, basketball, a gym, and a lot of walking
  • Trivia, karaoke, dancing, art auctions, movies, seminars, meet and greets
  • Parties and group activities
  • Broadway style shows and comedy shows
  • Live music, casino gaming, and contests
  • Meeting new people


  • Formal night dining
  • Casual night dining
  • Sit down service
  • Buffet service
  • Counter service
  • Room service
  • Bars
  • 24 hour food availability
  • Trying new things
  • Ordering more than one meal and not being judged


  • Quiet spots
  • Loud spots
  • A lot of areas to explore
  • Hidden spots
  • Outside decks
  • Inside promenades
  • Muster station drill on day 1 is MANDATORY


  • Language barriers
  • Friendly smiles
  • A desire to please
  • Having your name said a lot
  • Tipping


  • Plan on showing your card a lot to get on and off the ship at each stop
  • Pack clothes for all types of weather
  • Formal night is an event
  • You'll wear a different outfit during the day than at night
  • You'll charge everything to your room key so check your account often
  • WiFi isn't free and your cell phone can cost you a fortune!


There are a lot of terms on a ship you might be unfamiliar with.  I hope this helps!

  • ABOARD: onto or within a ship
  • ABOVE: a higher deck of the ship
  • AFT: toward the stern of a ship
  • BELOW: a lower deck of the ship
  • BOW: the front of the ship
  • BULKHEAD: the walls
  • DECK: the floor and/or levels of the ship
  • FORWARD: at or toward the front of a ship or further ahead of a location
  • KNOT: 1.15078 MPH
  • LADDERS: the stairs
  • MIDSHIP: near the middle part of a ship
  • NAUTICAL MILE: 1.15078 Miles
  • OVERHEAD: the ceiling in the compartment
  • PASSAGEWAY: the hallways and corridors
  • PORT: the left side of the ship, facing forward
  • STARBOARD: the right side of the ship, when facing forward
  • STATEROOM: the room you sleep in
  • STERN: the rear of a ship


  • Learn the layout of your ship before you go!
  • Pack for everything you think you'll do but don't overpack.
  • Monitor your funds as alcohol and casino purchases can add up!
  • Try new foods.  If you don't like it, order something else.  It's all free!
  • Elevators are busy during peak times.  Take the ladders instead.
  • Do all the activities you can!
  • Don't be an idiot on a ship.  They do have a brig and they will drop you at a port to find your own way home.
If you have any questions or additional tips, let me know in the comments!