• There’s no “open beverage” rule onboard. You can bring drinks from a bar or buffet to your cabin or elsewhere on the ship and no one will bat an eye. (Same goes for food.)
  • It’s often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses — but what do you do if you don’t finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night, even for dinner in another onboard venue.
  • Groups of beer drinkers can save by ordering buckets of beer. You get four or five beers in a souvenir bucket at a per-beer cost slightly cheaper than ordering individual bottles.
  • On most lines, soda is not free — but iced tea in the dining room usually is. Save on soda by buying a soda card, offering a set price for unlimited soft drinks.
  • Most cruise lines prohibit passengers from bringing beer and liquor onboard, but do let you bring a bottle or two of wine or Champagne. Some lines (such as Norwegian) also let you bring a reasonable amount of nonalcoholic drinks onboard — which helps save on pricey shipboard sodas and bottled waters. Royal Caribbean passengers are prohibited from bringing any nonalcoholic beverages onboard, while Carnival only allows limited amounts of soda and juice as long as the drinks are in cans or cartons (and not glass containers).
  • Enticed by all those special drinks in a souvenir glass? You can refill those glasses at a discount — or ask to have the drink of the day in a regular glass to save money. Also watch your daily program for drink specials or happy hours with reduced-price beverages.

Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren’t always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial secrets the cruise lines don’t tell you — which give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard.

Maybe it’s knowing just what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it’s a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase.

But why wait to figure these things out the hard way — possibly after you’ve missed your chance? We trawled through all the great advice on Cruise Critic’s Message Boards to bring you some of the worst-kept cruise food secrets… at least among our readers who love to share. But whether you’re a first time cruiser or an old seadog, you may find there’s something here you didn’t already know.

Food Secrets

  • You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entree and dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It’s a great way to try new foods you’re not sure you’ll like
  • Room service is generally free, except for service charges on certain lines. Check with your cruise line to see what room service charges are covered and which are for a fee. It’s recommended you tip your delivery person, but in-room dining is not the splurge it is at a hotel.
  • Breakfast, you may have more options than just the buffet and main dining room. On Norwegian, it’s no secret that O’Sheehan’s offers tasty made-to-order omelets and corned beef hash, yet many cruisers still don’t know about it. Carnival’s BlueIguana Cantina and Celebrity’s Bistro on Five are other alternative breakfast venues. Check your daily newsletter to see which restaurants are open in the morning.
  • Most people dine in the main dining room or buffet on the first night of the cruise, and many haven’t discovered the specialty restaurants yet. If you book an alternative dining venue for the first night of the cruise, you may get a discount on select lines or have an easier time getting a reservation for a popular venue. For example, Carnival Cruise Line passengers who dine in the steakhouse on the first night get a free bottle of wine.
  • Specialty coffee at the designated coffee shops onboard comes with an extra fee, but the pastries, sandwiches and other food at these venues are often free. While some specialty items (like chocolate-covered strawberries) will have a charge, don’t assume all the small bites do. Some bars also offer complimentary snacks; all you have to do is ask.
  • Like ice cream? Cruise lines will charge for branded licks like Ben & Jerry’s and Blue Bell. However, there’s always a free version — whether soft-serve machines on the Lido Deck or hard-serve stations at the buffet. And do your reconnaissance, many soft-serve machines on either side of the deck can have different flavors.
  • On embarkation day, most people head straight to the buffet to have lunch and wait for their cabins to open. It’s a mob scene. But many cruise ships have alternative venues open — the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crew member or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal. For example, on Princess Cruises, the International Cafe, Pizzeria and Grill also are open; on Royal Caribbean ships, Sorrento’s, the Solarium and Park Cafes, Giovanni’s Table, Cafe Promenade and Starbucks are open on the afternoon of embarkation.
  • Don’t know which night to make specialty dinner reservations? The main dining room menus are planned for the week, and the purser’s desk often has access to those menus. Ask to see them so you can decide which nights are less appealing and which you don’t want to miss, and plan your cruise accordingly.

Spend my vacation in a tiny, windowless cabin? No, thank you!

But guess what? Modern cruise ships are full of inside cabins — the smallest, cheapest staterooms, generally lacking in windows and tight on space — and people book them. On some sailings, cruise lines will fill every one.

Why would booking this type of cruise room be a good idea? We list seven times when an inside cabin is the best choice.

1. You’re on a Tight Budget

Let’s start with the obvious: You can get an incredible vacation for a shockingly low amount of money if you book an inside cabin. We’ve seen inside cabins priced from $50 per person, per night; while deals that low are reserved for special sales, you can often find insides from $100 or less per person, per night. That fare includes not only your room but also food in select restaurants (including the main dining room and buffet), entertainment onboard and use of pools and water slides. If you’re short on cash, but need a getaway, an inside cabin gets you access to most of the awesome amenities found on mega-ships.

2. You Don’t Spend Much Time in Your Cabin

If you go on cruises to explore ports, hang out at the pool or party all night long, chances are you’re only spending time in your cabin to get dressed and sleep. Why waste your hard-earned dollars on a big balcony cabin if you’d rather lounge on a top deck than sit in an upright deck chair all by yourself on your veranda? If alfresco cabin amenities are wasted on you, pick the inside and let balcony-lovers book the bigger rooms.

3. You’re Light Sensitive and Want to Sleep in on Vacation

Inside cabins are dark. Turn off the lights and you have no idea if it’s the middle of the night or high noon. To some, this sense of timelessness is disconcerting. But to others, it’s the best sleep aid in the world. If you like it dark when you sleep and don’t want sunlight creeping in around blackout curtains to wake you up, an inside cabin is definitely for you.

4. You Want to Spend Your Money in Other Ways

Even with an expansive vacation budget, you might not want to prioritize a fancy cabin over other indulgences like spa treatments, shore excursions or shopping opportunities. Downsizing from a balcony cabin to an inside room can free up hundreds of dollars you can use to splurge on that couples massage or flightseeing helicopter tour. Perhaps, you’d prefer to use the money to fund your poker habit at the onboard casino or keep the wine flowing at dinner. Spend money on the most important parts of your vacation — and if you skimp on the cabin, that’s A-OK.

5. You Want an Unusual View

News flash: Not all inside cabins are windowless. Royal Caribbean is the leader in inside cabins with a view. Several of its ships have rooms that overlook the interior Royal Promenade shopping mall. Others have virtual balconies — floor-to-ceiling LED screens that display live footage from outside the ship, creating the sensation that you’re looking out a window. Disney Dream and Fantasy offer similar inside rooms with “magical portholes” — small, round video screens that show exterior views as would a real porthole window. And on Carnival, some cabins labeled as inside, actually have porthole windows.

6. You’re Cruising Solo

If you want to avoid the single supplement and book a cabin designed for one, you might need to settle for an inside. (Solo cabins with a view do exist, but there are only a handful in the industry; the majority are insides.) Norwegian’s popular Studio cabins — with their mod designs and mood lighting — are all interior (though they do have windows that look out into the corridor). Royal Caribbean has a handful of inside solo cabins, as well.

7. You Like Quirky Cabins

Carnival’s 1A cabins are a grab bag of quirky cabin designs. They may share a category and be considered “insides,” but that’s where the similarity ends. Some have two standard beds (that can combine into a queen), while others have one bed and either a sofa bed or a pulldown bunk bed. Some have no views, while others have portholes or even picture windows. If you want something out of the ordinary for a low price (these cabins are favored by solo travelers, too), these inside cabins might be a good choice for you.