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Cruise Tips8 Keys to a Stress-Free Cruise Vacation

8 Keys to a Stress-Free Cruise Vacation

Setting sail on a cruise vacation will be one of the most memorable parts of your life. Veteran cruisers tend to go by the motto, “Even a bad cruise is a good cruise!” (Actually, I think it’s just my dad that says that!) Either way, cruising anytime is better than a day at the office.

Cruise ship sailing out of Port Canaveral at sunset showing jettis
Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Even the most experienced of cruisers are bound to run into some form of stress before, during or right after your trip. Unfortunately, that is “just life” when faced with large crowds of people in a confined space. Life is stressful and cruises are not immune.

Luckily, we’ve put together a few “tried and true” tips that should help you avoid a good amount of unwanted stress on your cruise vacation. Keep reading for some great tips to help you maximize your vacation with less headaches and aggravation.


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1. Plan Ahead and Make a Packing List

Photo 150739892 © Citalliance | Dreamstime.com

While this may seem extremely elementary, never underestimate the power of a thorough packing list for any vacation. You may think that you’ve done this a million times and “I know exactly what I need to take”. This may be true, for the most part, but many of us are bound to forget a thing or two that may be essential to our vacation.

Plan ahead and start your packing list a couple of weeks before your cruise. This may seem excessive, especially to the expert procrastinators, but this can be a lifesaver. If you discover early on that there are items you do not have, you’ll have time to order them or have them delivered with time to spare. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to obtain any prescriptions you may need to take or any travel documents that are required.

Fortunately, cruise lines usually have shops onboard that will have some items that can be useful, in the event that you forget something.  Most will have a section dedicated to toiletries and other personal items. If you forget ample clothing, options are available but you will probably be restricted to branded cruise line gear or flowery shirts.

Read more: 10 steps to making cruise packing a breeze


2. Arrive the Day Before Embarkation

Cruise ships lines up in Port Miami
Photo Credit: Cruise Port © Francisco Blanco | Dreamstime.com

If your cruise vacation leaves from a port that you must fly to, consider getting into town a day early. Airlines are notorious for having extensive delays and cancellations at the most inconvenient times.

Arriving into town the day before can lessen your stress levels and allow you to have some valuable family fun in your chosen port city. Cities like New Orleans offer an endless array of activities and tourist attractions to keep you busy and entertained.

By arriving into town the day before you set sail, you won’t have to worry about missing the boat. There’s no way to enjoy a cruise if you miss embarkation!

Related: 7 reasons you should never fly on cruise day


3. Consider Adding Cash to Your Account

There’s nothing quite like the stress of money issues while on vacation. No one envies the guests who are repeatedly called to Guest Services over the intercom. Perhaps they ran out of cash on their account or maybe they accidentally used an old credit card. These are usually easy fixes, but can be highly stressful.

Be sure to make a budget before your cruise. Always plan for the unexpected. No one knows what your budget should be, except for yourself. See how much you want to allot for each day and consider bringing a portion of it in cash.

Guests can easily add cash onto their accounts at any time throughout their cruise. You can take cash to Guest Services and request that it be added to your account. Some cruise lines also offer kiosks that allow you to add cash yourself.

Many people prefer using cash as a way to avoid using credit cards or to help them stay within a budget. Extra cash = Less stress!

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Read more: Why I bring cash on every cruise and how much

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4. Purchase the Drink or Soda Package

Montage of glasses with beverages on a cruise ship

Let’s face it.

Many of us want to drink something besides water, lemonade, or tea while on a cruise. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are readily available throughout the ship. While these are easy to purchase, the cost can quickly add up.

Consider purchasing the Soda or Beverage package, if your chosen cruise line offers it. While this will add an extra, daily charge to your room account, it will provide you with refreshing beverages that won’t break the bank. Soda and Beverage packages usually have a maximum amount of drinks that you can receive each day, but this allows for stress-free bar transactions.

Related: Biggest drink package mistakes cruisers make


5. Research Your Ports Ahead of Time

Royal Caribbean cruise ship in Labadee Haiti
Photo Credit: 117581598 / Labadee Haiti © Solarisys13 | Dreamstime.com

Your cruise is booked and you leave in just a few weeks. It’s time to start mentally preparing for excursions, shopping strategies, and  what to wear in port. Doing a little research on your chosen ports ahead of time can lead to a much smoother experience.

If the port you are visiting offers a horseback riding excursion that you plan to experience, be sure to take proper clothing and closed-toe shoes. If you plan to experience world-class scuba diving in Belize, be sure to pack accordingly or make sure rentals are available.

No matter what you choose to do while in port, be sure to plan a little ahead of time. When you arrive at your destination, there will only be time for fun, not stress!


6. Pre-purchase Shore Excursions

jet ski, swimming with dolphins and snorkeling

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Speaking of excursions, pre-purchasing your excursions is NEVER a bad idea! If you know the type of excursion you would like to take, go ahead and book it before you even set foot on the boat. Taking this additional step will give you the best possible selection of tours and available times for departure.

Some excursions are very limited and might sell out before you set sail. If you or or someone in your family has their heart set on a specific tour, book your excursion online as soon as possible. If you are unable to book your excursion ahead of time, go straight to the shore excursion desk, as soon as you board the ship.

Read more: 10 most over-rated shore excursions cruisers book


7. Make Specialty Dinner Reservations Early

eating at wonderland on harmony

Do you plan on celebrating a birthday or anniversary while on your cruise vacation? Perhaps you would like to try the steakhouse onboard, rather than the standard dining room for a couple of evenings.

Be sure you make reservations ahead of time if you plan to try one of the alternative dining venues on a cruise ship. More than likely, you will have no problems reserving a dining time after boarding, but some evenings are busier than others. You will especially want to reserve a time as soon as possible if you have a special date to reserve. No one wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day the day after.

Related: 5 first spots to check out immediately on embarkation day


8. Bring Extra Cash and Have Access to Additional Credit

Always plan to bring extra cash on your cruise vacation. It’s also a great idea to have access to another line of credit, in the event of an unlikely emergency. Banking is always more complicated when away from your native country, so it’s best to be prepared.

If you think you will need $500 in cash, bring $600. It’s always better to over prepare, rather than under prepare. Give your budget some wiggle room, if possible. Having your finances in order can save yourself a ton of stress while on vacation.


Hopefully, you are ready for your next cruise that will be low on stress and high on fun. Just remember to be prepared and cover your bases. By remembering our 8 tips, you are sure to have a stress-free cruise vacation.

Read more: 12 best tips for avoiding crowds during your cruise

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Kristi Sellers
Kristi Sellers
Kristi took her first cruise when she was 12 years old and is currently planning her 20th. When she isn’t cruising, she loves to visit the Smoky Mountains. Kristi lives in Alabama with her husband and fur baby, Chico.
Cruise Tips8 Keys to a Stress-Free Cruise Vacation
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