Each time you cruise, you're likely to become a better cruiser. You figure things out and pick up a few tricks from other cruisers that make a voyage easier and more enjoyable. After returning from our most recent Mediterranean cruise, I created a short list of my favorite cruise hacks, organized in three categories: At Home, On The Ship and On Shore.
1. Always pack a shawl or pashmina. Most restaurants and theaters on ships are air-conditioned and those venues can get chilly in the evenings. Shawls take up minimal space or weight in your suitcase and add a touch of elegance and color to evening outfits.
2. Bring a small bottle of your favorite scent. It's always nice to have a touch of home when you travel and a spritz of fragrance fits the bill. It also doubles as an air freshener in the bathroom.
3. Buy your husband a nice black collared polo shirt. No matter where he dines on board, a black polo shirt is comfortable and easily makes the transition into evening once he's run out of dress shirts.
4. Pack a pair of inexpensive flip-flops. You can wear these when you go to the pool or spa and they double for comfortable slippers in your cabin. (The terry ones provided on ships can have slippery soles.) After a lengthy shore excursion with lots of walking, it's great to be able to slip on a pair of non-binding flip-flops.
5. Book specialty restaurants before you board. Most cruisers enjoy intimate dinners at specialty restaurants that, depending on the ship and line, can be complimentary or at a reasonable additional cost. Because spaces fill up quickly, book them in advance or on your first day onboard. Try to coordinate your reservations so they don't inadvertently overlap with long excursions.
6. Bring a power strip (or two). It's unusual to find all the outlets you need for your electronic and electrical gadgets in most staterooms. Bringing an electrical strip can allow you to charge all your gear, and use a hair blower and curling iron simultaneously. Just be sure the strip matches the voltage and plug format (may need an adapter) available on the ship as well as your appliance requirements. Most computers, smartphones and camera battery chargers will work on 110-240V but cosmetic appliances vary.
7. Bring along a small purse or wristlet to take to meals on the ship. After you get your ship identification card and place your valuables in the safe, you're likely to only need a keycard, cellphone and tissue. A small purse can take a great deal of weight off your shoulders.
8. Invest in a medium-size cross-body bag. You're likely to have a large tote that you've brought on the plane but you don't want to be weighed down with a large purse when you're doing lots of walking or transferring to a tender. A cross-body bag is easy to carry and also can be placed right in front of you, away from pickpockets who prey on tourists.
9. Don't forget to bring along some dryer sheets. These are light as a feather, add a fresh fragrance to your suitcase, are great for removing static and are invaluable if you use the ship's self-service laundry.
ON THE SHIP
10. Carry a small suitcase with essentials with you when you board. It's tempting to let porters deliver all the baggage to your room but depending on the size of your ship and when you board, it may take some time for your suitcase to reach you. If you strategically pack a small carryon with your valuables and essentials, you can feel secure and freshen up as soon as you get to your cabin.
11. Unpack fully. One of the joys of cruising is having to only pack and unpack once. Do the job as soon as possible so you aren't living out of a suitcase. Most cabins are so well designed that they offer a place for everything.
12. Ask for hangers. There are never enough hangers in cabins (or hotel rooms for that matter). Since you're likely to be staying for at least a week, ask your cabin steward for additional hangers at the beginning of the voyage so you don't have to hang layers of clothes on the same hangers.
13. Weigh yourself when you board and whenever else you feel the need. If you are worrying about gaining weight, don't bury your head in the sand. Most onboard gyms have a scale so you can keep tabs of any potential weight gain. Weight loss while cruising seems to be less a less common problem.
14. Make use of the laundry/dry cleaning service onboard. If you find a stain on something you absolutely love, get it dry-cleaned as soon as possible. Most dry cleaning services are only slightly more costly than waiting until you get home.
15. Play hooky from shore excursions once in awhile. Especially on port-intensive cruises, there may be little time to enjoy all the onboard amenities. Allow yourself some time to relax at the pool, spa or even on your balcony.
16. Make it a point to eat a few meals off the ship. Yes, meals are included but no cruise can replicate the ambiance and authenticity of eating with locals. If you are a food lover, do some research on Yelp or Chowhound before you go; if a restaurant is very popular, you may need to make reservations in advance.
17. Get away from the port. If you have the time and opportunity, try to explore the more off-the-beaten-path places, either independently or on excursions offered by your cruise line. Ports are notorious for their crowds and ticky-tacky souvenirs. This is another time when research can help you make good choices.
18. Avoid the bus seats with window stickers. Before you choose your seat on the bus, look up and see if seatbelt and no-smoking reminder stickers will interfere with your views (and your photography).
Irene S. Levine, PhD is an award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). You can follow her blog for travelers over 50 at More Time To Travel.