Photo by author Cozumel, Mexico, February 2020
Being on a cruise ship is like being in a moving hotel. Think Howl’s Moving Castle but with a boat. And a whole group of people to wait on you no matter what you want to do on the ship.
It’s nice to feel like being treated like a princess, but it’s an expensive trip, too. If you’re not careful, you could be broke before you hit the first port. But with common sense and self-control, you’ll be able to enjoy your cruise without worrying about hurting your bank account when you leave the ship forever.
Don’t let the kids have permission to buy things on the ship
Everyone on the cruise ship has a card. This card acts as a room key. You can’t get on or off the boat without your room key. If there’s something you want to buy on the ship, you show the vendor, or bartender, your card, and the money gets charged to your room.
If you have kids, they’ll get a card, too. But you can control if they have permission to buy things or not. No matter how responsible you think your kids are, people’s personalities change when they’re on vacation.
There are lots of free activities for kids to do on cruise ships. Some of these events can result in your kid winning a prize. Also, if you’re worried about them trying to buy food all the time, don’t. They can get a snack anywhere on the ship for free.
You and your family can go without soda for a week
I was on a cruise a couple weeks ago that had a deal on drinks. For $170, you could have a collectible cup and get as much soda as you wish from any soda dispenser.
For myself, I decided not to buy the week-long soda pass. I felt it wasn’t worth it for a week. My partner's children, however, managed to get their grandma to buy them sodas for a week. Not only did they get the cup, but they had a sticker placed on their cards to tell cruise ship staff, they get pops for free.
Later, we found out they didn’t need to carry their cup with them all the time to have a glass of soda. So my partner and I could sneak some for ourselves if we saw a cup lying around our room.
Research the cruise ship’s alcohol policy before bringing any alcohol aboard
Drinks onboard the vessel are expensive. They’re delicious, though. Some ships might let you bring a bottle or two of alcohol on the boat to enjoy, but others might not.
Royal Caribbean, for example, will let anyone bring two bottles of wine or champagne on boarding day. Beer and non-alcoholic drinks aren’t allowed and will be confiscated.
If you want to buy alcohol on the port, then security will take it and give it back to you at the end of the cruise. It’s the same way if you want to buy alcohol on the ship itself. If you’re caught trying to smuggle liquor on the boat, then you could be in trouble.
If you can explore outside the port, do so
In every port a cruise ship takes you, there’s something to do. Even if it’s laying around on the beach for the day, you can get out and explore for a moment.
In port, there are lots of shops and souvenirs for tourists to look at and buy, but most times, these are expensive. If you’re in a safe area to explore outside of port, you can find the same souvenirs for much cheaper than what they sell at the port.
There is one advantage to shopping on the port. Shops on cruise ship ports are usually duty-free. So you won’t have to worry about import tax when you buy presents for people back home.
In some areas, there are little markets outside the ports that sell the same things for a lower price. I’d be surprised if the small markets charged taxes when you bought stuff from them.
Anti-Nausea pills are your friend
If it’s your first time on a ship, you’re going to get seasick. No matter how strong you think your stomach is, it’s not.
If you forget to pack your anti-nausea pills, you don’t need to worry. You can go to Guest Services and get a pack of seasick pills for free. On rough days at sea, it’s natural to see vomit bags at the tops of stairs.
Stay busy on the days at sea
There are going to be days you’re at sea. Sometimes, if the waters are too rough, a port day could be canceled. Even with those things in mind, there are a lot of things to do on the ship.
A lot of the activities on the ship are offered for free. You can watch a movie by the pool, or take a dance class, or see a show. There are so many things to do on the ship, so you shouldn’t be bored.
If you want to take the day at sea to read or sleep, that’s okay too. You can do as much, or as little, as you want while you’re on the ship.
Be extra kind to the staff
This one should go without saying. The team on the ship are working hard to make sure you have the best experience possible. Some of the workers don’t get to leave the boat when it reaches port. There are activities planned for people who choose to stay on the ship on port days.
Cruise ship staff are from all over the world. They’re away from their family and friends for months. It’s their job to wait on you, yes, but a little bit of kindness goes a long way on the ship.
During my cruise, my partner's kids took a liking to two of the servers on our ship. Their names were Idewa and Sanjeev. These two were observant with everyone and attentive to everyone’s needs. They noticed my stepdaughter loves cheese and made sure to have a plate of cheese for the table every time we came for dinner.
One night, they brought out a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries for us to enjoy! The waiters whispered the surprise to the kids, and the kids loved keeping it a secret until they brought out the plate.
Little details like that made the trip memorable for all of us. Their efforts made us look forward to going to the same place for dinner every night.
A cruise doesn’t have to be something only rich old people do. As long as you budget right and limit how much the kids spend, anyone can enjoy a cruise.