How to save money, get room service, relax, and make the best of your first time at sea -- without looking like a newbie.
No pay, no gain. There are many opportunities to exercise on a ship and a few are free -- like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, swimming in the pool, or attending a stretch and tone class -- but the good classes come with a price tag. If you want to take a pilates, yoga or kick boxing, for instance, most lines charge $10 per session.
Eating pretty for a price. Sure, they're intimate and generally offer better service and higher quality food than the main dining room (which is part of the cruise fare), but you pay for what you get. Over the last year or two, most lines have quietly raised the cost of their specialty restaurants to $30 per person (not including drinks).
Five's a crowd. An appealing option for bargain shoppers, families and groups of friends who are really, really close, is to pack five into a standard cabin. A few ships offer cabins for five, including some Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line ships, as well as the Disney's two liners. Otherwise, your options are booking larger suites that sleep more or booking two cabins.
It's over ...NOW. On the last morning of the cruise, be prepared to be booted from your cabin bright and early (8am is typically the hour). Cruise lines want you to skedaddle so that the cleaners can tidy up your room ASAP for the next round of passengers who will board an hour or two after you leave. Even if your ship hasn't been cleared by customs, or hasn't even hit docks yet, passengers are asked to vacate their room early and hang out somewhere else on the ship to play the waiting game. No fun.
Drink up ...for a price. With the exception of the handful of high-end lines (Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and SeaDream), bottled water, sodas and booze are not free (exceptions include Disney, which offers free fountain soda, and Crystal which offers free non-alcoholic stuff). Watered-down juices are free at meal times, but otherwise you'll pay for those too.
Spa excitement. Aside from the now standard hot rock massages, deep tissue rubs and basic facials, many lines offer acupuncture sessions to help relieve tension and improve other conditions, teeth whitening treatments, and fancy shaves and special guy facials for men.
Port pointers. Keep in mind, the time in port can vary from two full days (recently, for instance, I had two-day stays in Laem Chabang/Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City), to barely four or five hours, with the average port stay being about 8 to 10 hours.
Room service equals sanity. Unlike in hotels, where room service comes with a hefty price tag, on cruise ships it's part of the cruise fare. I'm fond of ordering breakfast in. With the kids plugged into some cartoons, we can nibble on toast, fruit and cereal -- and all washed down with a pot of steaming hot coffee of course -- as we getting ready at our own pace. I revel in avoiding the often frenetic scene upstairs in the buffet restaurant.
In search of a roommate. Holland America is the only major line that will help singles find a roommate if you don't want to pay extra to occupy a cabin by yourself -- industry-wide, rates are based on double occupancy.
The pitfalls of pre-booking shore excursions. Most lines allow you to pre-book shore excursions on their websites months before your cruise; doing this saves time waiting in line once on board and it also gives you first dibs on tours that may get sold out later. But (there's always one of those), if you change your mind once on board, you may not be able to make a switch and/or get your money back. If you give the ship enough notice (say, you cancel 48 hours before your tour departs) or if they can resell your ticket to someone else, then you will likely get a refund and or exchange. But it's a risk.
Tip, please. It's the American way and it's alive and well on cruise ships. Although you can always opt out technically, passengers are expected to pay about $10 a day per person in tips (which can usually be added to your on-board account, unless of course you prefer forking over cold hard cash).
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