I've been on nearly 30 cruises. Here are 12 things I wish I'd known sooner.

  • I've been going on cruises since I was a baby, and now I've vacationed on nearly 30 ships.

  • The best time to be on the boat is when everyone else is on the island.

  • There are different levels to the beverage packages, so pay close attention to what each includes.

Growing up a short drive from a port, my family's favorite vacation has always been cruises. Since my first one as a baby, I've set sail nearly 30 times.

There are a lot of time and money-saving tips I've learned over the years.

Here are 12 things I wish I'd known sooner.

Embarkation is the best time to go to the spa.

highly decorated cake on a cruise ship that says welcome aboard
The spa is usually a little less busy on the first day. Jordana Comiter

The spa tends to get busy, and prices can add up quickly.

Booking an appointment on the day you board the boat — usually referred to as embarkation day — often comes with significant discounts.

Since the cruise festivities haven't begun, and your luggage may not have arrived yet, a relaxing massage is an ideal way to kick off your vacation.

Even the Caribbean has bad weather some days.

storm clouds over an empty pool deck of a cruise ship sailing in the Carribean
It's not always going to be sunny and warm on a cruise. Jordana Comiter

You may expect your cruise to be full of blue skies and white sand, but don't overlook the possibility of cold, windy, and rainy conditions.

I used to skip checking the weather and just pack swimsuits and sundresses. But it's important to be prepared for all possible weather outcomes — especially considering the amplified wind of a moving boat.

I've found that bringing a jacket, pants, and maybe even a few indoor games is the key to staying prepared.

You can bring some of your own alcohol on board.

A bottle of wine in an ice bucket on a wooden table with a wine glass sitting next to the bucket.
Different cruise lines have their own rules, but many allow legal adults to bring a sealed bottle of wine.Joni Hanebutt/Shutterstock

Whether or not you pay for a beverage package, passengers are usually allowed to bring a certain amount of alcohol on board with them.

Royal Caribbean allows each guest (of legal drinking age) to bring one sealed 750-milliliter bottle of wine on embarkation day.

On Celebrity Cruises, the limit is measured by the bottle. Guests of age are allowed to bring up to two bottles of wine per stateroom.

But on most cruises, attempting to bring liquor, beer, or hard seltzer may result in the items being placed on the "table of shame" for pickup upon disembarkation.

Just check the specific rules for your cruise line, as restrictions can vary.

I've learned ways to avoid the lunch crowd at the buffet.

dim dining room on a cruise ship filled with people eating during the day
You can usually eat in the dining room for lunch. Jordana Comiter

Many cruises offer buffet options for passengers, especially for lunch. But at peak hours, those lines can get hectic.

Although it may have limited hours, most cruises open up the dining room for all meals, providing passengers with a more serene option for breakfast and lunch away from the crowds and chaos.

There are a few items I've added to my packing list over the years.

towels clipped to the back of pool chairs on a pool deck of a cruise
Towel clips are an absolute must for cruises. Jordana Comiter

There are a few items I didn't know I was missing on cruises, but once I packed them, they made a big difference during my trip.

Having a reusable water bottle has allowed me to stay hydrated under the Caribbean sun.

Before bringing my own, getting water meant leaving my lounge chair and, on some ships, paying extra to buy some.

Towel clips are invaluable, especially on windy decks.

When the ship is in motion, it can get extremely breezy, and clips prevented the annoyance of my towel constantly falling.

Wrinkle-release spray is a wardrobe game changer.

Most cruise rooms come stocked with shampoo, conditioner, a blow dryer, and lotion, but they often lack an iron or steamer. A quick spray easily removes wrinkles from outfits that have been sitting in my suitcase.

Port days are actually the best boat days.

pool on a cruise ship with a few people sitting around the deck
The boat is usually less crowded when people are out exploring. Jordana Comiter

My favorite days are port days, even when I'm staying on the boat. The buffet is less crowded, the lines for slides are shorter, and there's less competition for spots on the pool deck.

For those who want to explore the port and savor the tranquility of an uncrowded ship, consider booking excursions as early in the morning as possible.

This allows you to embark on your adventure and still have time to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the ship.

Don’t be afraid to ask for things.

towel folded like a swan on a made bed in a cruise cabin
Cabin stewards are incredibly helpful throughout the cruise. Jordana Comiter

Cabin stewards are there to enhance your cruise experience.

They often have items that can make your stay more comfortable — an additional pillow and blanket, extra hangers, a robe — if you ask.

I also think it's important to show appreciation by tipping them at the end of the trip, especially if they go out of their way to improve your stay.

Read the fine print on the alcohol packages.

three martinis on a bar with a menu the reads martini bar in front of them
There are different levels to the alcohol packages on a cruise ship.Jordana Comiter

There's a common misconception that purchasing the alcohol and beverage package means you can order anything. But there are different levels.

Opting for a classic or premium package can determine whether you can enjoy piña coladas by the pool or not. Pay attention to the type of package you purchase if you want access to fancy cocktails at restaurants, bars, or lounges.

If you're only looking to get the premium drinks once or twice, you can probably stick with the low-tier package and pay à la carte. But if you do decide to level up, keep an eye out for flash sales throughout the year to save some money.

The game-show stakes are … low.

people playing a game show on a cruise ship
There are usually opportunities to play game shows on cruises. Jordana Comiter

The stakes in the game shows on cruise ships are quite low, so there's no need to be nervous about participating.

The prizes aren't very fancy — often just a lanyard, pin, or "free dinner for two in the café." Spoiler alert: The losers will be right there with you.

So, don't hold back due to fear of losing. Just have fun, participate, and enjoy the games.

I've always found the beach excursions to be a waste of money.

people swimming in the ocean off a beach in the Caribbean with boats out farther in the water
There are usually some all-inclusive beach packages available on the ship. Jordana Comiter

Opting for all-inclusive beach excursions might seem enticing when visiting a new island. But if you're just seeking some sand and a lounge chair, there's a more cost-effective way to do it.

Since many passengers are likely heading in the same direction, consider splitting a cab. Many times, the cab drivers will even bring you to the spots with the best discounts.

Lounge chairs and umbrellas are usually only a few dollars, and you can rent water activities directly on the beach.

This approach allows you to pay only for the specific amenities that you'll actually use. Plus, you can come and go as you please.

There are ways to skip the disembarkation line.

table full of fancy thank you desserts at the end of a cruise
Getting off the boat can be a tedious and slow process. Jordana Comiter

The worst part of a cruise is always the end, with slow elevators, a crowded buffet, and the realization that vacation has ended.

To disembark, passengers often receive luggage tags with an assigned number indicating the order of departure.

But if you have an early flight or simply prefer not to wait, consider carrying your own luggage off the ship. This allows you to bypass your assigned number and be among the first to disembark.

If you plan ahead, there are some big ways to save on your next cruise.

a large cruise ship docked at a port in beautiful blue water
Booking your next cruise on the ship comes with certain deals and perks. Jordana Comiter

If you had a great time on your cruise, consider booking your next one while you're still on board.

Many ships have a "future cruise" office, and booking with their agents can offer significant discounts and savings for your next voyage.

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