Not interested in a “cookie cutter” cruise?
We were talking about cruising with friends the other night…
And even though we’ve sailed on many cruises, we learned some cool new cruising tips for how to improve your cruise experience.
Cruising tips to jazz up your cruise
Some of these tips before going on a cruise might take a little extra planning.
But it’s worth it to come up with your own customized cruise trip that offers the travel pleasure and experiences you’re seeking.
Here they are, along with our own cruise hacks for how to improve your cruise.
1) Pack folding bicycles to pedal around each port
We love this idea!
When our friends Louise and Keith go on a cruise, they take their own folding bicycles with them. And they cycle around each port they get off in – sometimes pedaling up to 30 miles a day.
They’ve enjoyed cruises in New Zealand and the Caribbean this way.
How to burn off all that great cruise food – and get off the beaten path too!
However, some cruise lines like Carnival don’t allow folding bikes.
We understand other lines like Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) allow you to bring your folding bike onboard, but it has to be stored in your stateroom and, of course, can’t be ridden around on the ship.
If you want to bring your own bicycle on your cruise, be sure to check with the cruise line before booking.
If you don’t want to tote your own bicycle with you, some cruise lines (e.g., Windstar Cruises) carry bikes on the ship, which they rent out to guests in port.
River cruises are different than ocean cruises. Many luxury river cruise lines (e.g., AmaWaterways and Uniworld) provide complimentary bikes for guest use.
Recommended reading: Go two-wheeling on the best ocean and river cycling cruises!
2) Ask for an air deviation
One of the best cruise tips for a better cruise in the Galapagos?
Ramp up your nature-and-wildlife fix with a stay in an Amazon rainforest lodge afterward – think dugout canoe rides and neon-colored parrot displays.
This might involve an air deviation.
What’s an air deviation?
Normally when you book an air-sea package that includes your cruise and airfare, the cruise line will book you flights on an affordable (and usually reasonable) route to get you to your port of embarkation.
But select cruise lines allow you to request a specific route (and/or airline) – an “air deviation” – for a nominal fee.
Air deviations are great for customizing your trip the way you want.
Fly in early, shake off jet-lag with a leisurely stay at a hotel before your cruise (your pick, not just the pre-cruise hotel offered by the cruise line), perhaps even build in a stop-over somewhere else after your cruise.
Our friend Bernice and her partner have used air deviations on cruises with both Oceania Cruises and Silversea to create one-of-a-kind vacations.
Read next: The best cruise for foodies? Try Oceania Cruises
3) Do two cruises on two different ships or even cruise lines
Flying internationally? A big chunk of your trip cost is the airfare.
So why not squeeze the most out of that expense by booking two back-to-back cruises that cover two different destinations?
You could follow an Eastern Caribbean cruise, say, with a Western Caribbean cruise.
You’ll probably get a discount for the second cruise if booking with the same line.
Or you could really mix it up.
If eyeing a Western Europe ocean cruise that starts or ends in Venice, a river cruise on the Po River between Milan and Venice would give you much more of northern Italy – you could take in the opera in Verona! Bellissima!
How much should you tip on a cruise? Get the complete scoop on cruise gratuities!
4) Cruise hacks: Use an outside shore excursion booking agency
There’s a lot of comfort in booking shore excursions through your cruise ship.
The cruise line will take care of you if the tour bus breaks down and your tour doesn’t make it back to the ship on time.
But there are alternatives.
ShoreTrips, which works with ½ a million cruise passengers a year, offers a huge variety of unique and distinctive tours, from Vietnam war tunnels tours to private Italian cooking classes in Tuscany.
Groups are smaller and excursions are better priced than those sold onboard.
Viator is another leading company for booking excursions and tours.
These can be especially good options if your ship has a late departure or is overnighting in port (no worries about “missing the boat”).
And don’t forget to check the websites of local tourist boards to see what fun tours are offered by local operators.
5) Cruise tips for first timers
Stay on the ship:
This is one of the best cruise secrets: Don’t feel compelled to leave the ship when in port.
Port days are ideal for simply enjoying the ship. The pool deck won’t be crowded, and the spa will probably offer discounts.
Some veteran cruisers go on a cruise just to relax and never get off the ship!
Eat in the specialty restaurant the first night:
Most people head to the buffet or main dining room the first night of the cruise. But this is a good night to score a reservation in one of the specialty restaurants.
Some cruise lines (e.g., Celebrity Cruises) offer discounts off the alternative restaurant fee for dining here the first night.
Free drinks on Viking’s cruises? Some are – see our post on the Viking cruise bar menu
Indulge in room service:
It’s free on most ships. So take advantage of it!
How to feel especially pampered? Sit out on your balcony while having a romantic, room service dinner – perhaps in your PJs…
Do you like cruising?
What cruising tips do you have to improve your cruise vacation?