27 Secrets Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know

I love cruise holidays, and I’ve very rarely had issues with a particular cruise line. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t a little bit sneaky, and they don’t keep secrets from you.

A surprised young Black man in a plaid shirt gestures for silence with his finger to his lips, standing in front of a large cruise ship on a bright blue ocean background. The juxtaposition suggests secrecy or unexpected discoveries related to the cruise experience.

Based on all my own cruises, and some extra research, I’ve put together this epic list of all the secrets the cruise lines don’t want you to know – so you can always have the best cruise holiday possible.

1. You Can Try Multiple Dishes

A beautifully plated vegetarian dish consisting of layered grilled vegetables, including zucchini and yellow squash, on a vibrant red pepper coulis. The dish is artistically garnished with a pink flower and drizzled with balsamic reduction.

Experienced cruisers know this already, but it can be surprising to a lot of people new to the cruise lifestyle – when you’re dining in a complimentary restaurant such as the Main Dining Room, you aren’t limited to just one starter, one main course/entree, and one dessert.

If you’re torn between a couple of options, you are more than welcome to ask for them all. Don’t feel greedy – it’s a perfectly normal part of the cruise experience, and lots of other people will do the same.

I find that the portions are usually pretty small, particularly if your cruise line caters primarily to older guests who may have smaller appetites. So people who need more calories will usually have no problem finishing two dishes.

Some cruise lines have introduced a fee if you want more than two entrees, but it’s usually only a few dollars anyway.

Just be careful to avoid food waste, which is an issue on cruise ships. Enjoy yourself but don’t let your eyes be bigger than your belly, as they say.

2. Free Options Almost Always Exist

A table setting featuring a glass of water, a cup of black coffee, and a glass of milk, all offered as free drinks on a wooden table in a café. The background includes red and brown chairs, emphasizing the casual and welcoming atmosphere of the dining area.

There are lots of things you can enjoy on a cruise ship that may incur an additional charge. Examples might include afternoon tea, or speciality restaurants, or maybe special smoothies and juices in the spa.

However, there’s typically always a free alternative that might not be quite as good, but will save you money.

You can often get your own sandwiches and cakes from the free buffet restaurant to make your own afternoon tea. The Main Dining Room might have themed nights or one-off dishes that are similar to those in a speciality restaurant. And you can get fresh fruits and juices from the breakfast buffet or dining room too.

If you’re on a mission to keep costs low, there are workarounds for the paid options on your ship.

3. No-Obligation Free Drinks Are Available

Free drinks in Casino

Most of the drinks on a cruise ship are ones you’ll need to pay for, but sometimes you can get a free glass of bubbly if you turn up for certain events – the art auctions are a prime example, but look out for any special spa events too.

The purpose of these events is to sell you something – artworks, spa treatments – so they love to get you warmed up with a free drink. But you’ve absolutely no obligation to buy anything and you could just walk away if you’re really feeling brazen. They can’t stop you.

Suggested read: These 9 Drinks Are Free on Royal Caribbean Cruises

4. Cheaper By The Bottle

A selective focus shot of various high-end wine bottles, including labels such as Screaming Eagle and Penfolds Grange, viewed through the rim of a wine glass. The setting suggests a luxurious assortment, possibly on a Cunard cruise ship.

If you’re a wine drinker, make sure to check the price list for your bar when drinking, as it’s often cheaper to buy wine by the bottle than it is to pay for individual glasses.

Don’t worry if you don’t plan on drinking a full bottle either – you can take it back to your cabin or ask the waiter to save it for you for the next night.

Be careful though, sometimes I’ve noticed that it is actually cheaper to buy three 250ml glasses of wine than it is to buy the 750ml bottle. Also, if you have a drink package, bottles of wine aren’t usually included, whereas glasses of wine are.

5. Say No To Corkage Fees

A person's hand displaying a bottle of Grand Michell Brut sparkling wine in a cabin room aboard a cruise ship, with a teal armchair in the background. The label indicates it's a 'Quality Sparkling Wine, Metodo Charmat'.

Many cruise lines permit guests to bring their own alcoholic drinks onboard, but you’ll be limited to maybe one or two bottles of wine at most.

However, it’s supposed to be enjoyed in your cruise cabin only, and there’s typically an extra corkage fee if you want to drink your own wine in the restaurants, for example.

But if you were to take a wine glass back to your room and then just happen to fill it up from your own bottle, and then take that glass to dinner with you – well, the cruise line will hardly know, will they?

6. All-Inclusive Is Often A Lie

A man in a business suit sits at a desk, looking at his laptop screen which displays an image of a cruise ship with the words 'ALL INCLUSIVE' overlaid. The office setting includes a modern desk, a black lamp, and shelving units in the background.

Be careful when booking a cruise that’s advertised as all-inclusive, because oftentimes, it isn’t. “All” doesn’t always mean “all” and you might still have some parts of your cruise that you need to pay for.

The most inclusive cruises are the ultra-luxury ones, but even they don’t always include all the speciality restaurants or your excursions in the fare you pay. And more mainstream “all-inclusive” cruises may include some alcoholic drinks but not others, and you might still need to pay gratuities too. Always check exactly what’s included in your fare.

Suggested read: The Best All-Inclusive Cruise Lines

7. Some Cabins Are Better Than Others

The image shows a young woman in a green sweater, posing thoughtfully in a cruise ship cabin. The cabin features a large double bed and additional bunk beds, designed to accommodate multiple passengers. The setting includes modern decor with a patterned carpet and tasteful furnishings.

When you go to book your cruise, you’ll be able to choose from different cabin types – Inside cabins, Balcony cabins, Suites etc. That bit’s hardly a secret. However, within those categories, some rooms are definitely better than others – and cruise lines don’t want everyone to know that, or they have a hard time selling the worst rooms.

Check the ship’s deck plans and look for rooms that are a long walk from the elevators, or rooms directly above or below the theatre or nightclub. Rooms under the pool deck can be loud in the morning too. Ideally, you should always aim for a cabin with cabins above and below if you want to avoid noise, but there are other reasons a room might not be great too.

Suggested read: Why I (Almost) Always Choose an Inside Cabin for a Family Cruise

8. Upgrade Packages Aren’t Always Great Value

One of the upgrades you can do in P & O cruises  which is parking in southhamoton

Some cruise lines offer additional packages or different fare types, but they aren’t always the best value. You should always research what’s included, and then price up what it’d cost to purchase each individual element separately, and decide how much you’d use them.

For example, P&O Cruises offers a basic Saver rate, or a Select fare which includes either onboard credit, parking in Southampton, or coach travel to the port. You’ll also get to choose your cabin, along with a few other benefits.

But if you don’t care about your cabin choice or those other benefits, it’ll be better value to choose the Saver fare.

However, the Princess Plus and Princess Premier packages are always cheaper than buying the individual benefits that come with them – so there’s no one blanket rule. Just look at the different benefits and then decide.

9. Seasickness Is Real

The image captures a young man on a boat, gazing thoughtfully at the ocean. He is wearing a white t-shirt and is holding onto a rope, with the expansive blue sea in the background, suggesting a moment of introspection or seasickness.

Cruise ships are getting bigger, which means seasickness is becoming less of an issue for guests – the bigger the ship, the less you’ll feel the motion of the waves. But it doesn’t completely eliminate it, and there are a lot of smaller cruise ships still sailing – including some older ones with outdated stabilisation features.

If you are worried about seasickness, try to go prepared – pack some medication with you, and book a cabin that’s less likely to make you feel worse. You want a lower deck in the middle of the ship, preferable with a view so you can focus on the horizon.

It doesn’t affect many people, but seasickness can but a dampener on your cruise.

Suggested read: My Top Tips To Prevent Seasickness When Cruising

10. Cheaper Excursions Are Possible

Shore excursions manager

Whenever your ship docks in port, you’ll be able to enjoy a wealth of exciting shore excursions – exciting experiences that might involve tours of cultural landmarks, dining experiences, thrill-seeking adventures and more.

However, the cruise line typically charges an inflated price for these, and you can actually get the same experiences cheaper if you book through a third party. The risk is low, and you may save quite a lot compared to cruise line prices.

Or, just forego the excursions and head off to explore on your own. A lot of ports have free shuttle buses to get you to the main town or city area.

Suggested read: Finding Affordable Shore Excursions – My Tips and Tricks

11. The Crew Work Extremely Hard

This image shows a friendly interaction between a cruise ship staff member and a passenger in a stateroom. The female staff member, wearing a dark uniform, is smiling and offering a fresh white towel to a male passenger. The background reveals a cabin with a floral arrangement and a view of the ocean through a balcony door.

The crew on a cruise ship work extremely hard – moreso than the cruise line perhaps wants you to know. Days off are very limited, and cruise ship workers tend to work long shifts for the duration of their contract.

They are forced to take breaks between contracts, so there is some down time, but while they’re on the ship they are grafting as much as possible to make your cruise the best it can be.

Bear that in mind if you were considering cancelling your automatic gratuities – they rely on that money to top up their wages, unfortunately, so it’s always best to pay them even if you feel one or two crew members haven’t offered the best service.

When that happens, just speak to Guest Services, but don’t remove your gratuities as it penalises a lot of behind-the-scenes crew members too.

12. Sickness Bugs Do Spread

A sick lady onboard wearing a black face mask while rubbing her achy head

It’s a myth that cruise ships are disease-ridden, and only a very small number of people will ever get sick when they’re on a cruise. However, due to the confined nature of a ship, some viruses can spread quickly, especially with places like the buffet where everyone is handling tongs and utensils.

There’s an easy solution – wash your hands. And yet, despite there being handwashing stations right next to the buffet, some people seem incapable of following this simple rule. I despair sometimes, I really do.

13. WiFi Isn’t Always Necessary

WiFi packages on cruise ships can be pretty expensive, though nowhere near as expensive as accidentally leaving your phone’s mobile internet switched on if it connects to roaming services. Those are some bills you really want to avoid!

Suggested read: How to Avoid Roaming Charges on a Cruise

Still, if you really want to get online but you’re not working while you’re actually sailing, it’s often best to wait until you’re in port, as free WiFi is usually quite easy to find. The crew will often know of places where you can get online for free, so don’t be shy in asking them.

14. Dynamic Pricing Exists

A chart showing the changes of cruise price overtime

It’s true of many different holiday companies – not just cruises – but the prices to book your getaway are not going to remain static. They’ll change, moving up and down at different times of the year depending on demand and other factors. 

This means that it’s possible for you to book your cruise, and then find the exact same cruise cheaper later. Cruise lines do sometimes offer a price guarantee, where you’ll be given onboard credit to enjoy on the cruise if it is later priced cheaper, but you’ll need to be watching the prices to claim it, and they sometimes have time limits in place.

Suggested read: These Are The Best Times Of Year For Cruise Discounts

15. There’s A Morgue Onboard

This image shows a set of industrial metallic doors, possibly on a large freezer or cooler, illuminated by a cool blue light. The texture of the metal surfaces is visible, and the doors feature handles and latches, suggesting they are used for securing something inside. The atmosphere conveyed is stark and cold.

It’s a little bit of a morbid fact about cruise ships, but they do have a morgue onboard. While cruises are now much more family-oriented and the average age of guests is falling, it’s still a very popular type of holiday for older people.

And when you factor in just how many thousands of people are cruising at any one time, and how older guests typically choose longer itineraries that can last weeks or even months, there has to be some provision onboard for storing a dead body.

Try not to worry about it – if the morgue does need to be used, the crew are super discreet and you’ll probably never even know about it.

16. Pirate Threats Are Real (But Rare)

A dramatic and action-packed scene where a cruise ship is being attacked by pirates. This visually striking scenario is captured with high intensity, showing speedboats and pirates in combat gear approaching the large, luxurious cruise ship. Helicopters hover above, adding to the chaotic atmosphere of the attack. The scene is likely from a movie or a video game, given its high level of detail and cinematic quality. This kind of imagery creates a dynamic and thrilling narrative, contrasting the typically serene and peaceful image of cruise travel.

It used to be that the term ‘pirate’ would only refer to the swashbuckling adventurers (and villains) of the historic Caribbean, but now modern pirates do exist and they do, on rare occasions, think it’s worth attacking a cruise ship.

However, not only are these attacks extremely uncommon, they’re also mostly unsuccessful as ships are equipped with defensive tools and weapons, including some seriously powerful water cannons and acoustic devices. 

Suggested read: 12 Times Cruise Ships Were Attacked By Pirates (And What Happened)

17. There Are Better Times To Book

a couple booking their cruise together on a hotel bed

It’s typically best to book a cruise as early as possible – that’s when the prices are usually lowest, though you can get some great deals on last-minute cruises if you’re happy to risk it. A lot of ships do sell out, especially for school holiday dates, so you might not get lucky if you wait too long.

January and February are also some of the best months to book a cruise, as most of the cruise lines run special offers during this time. There will be other sales throughout the year too, but January in particular tends to be considered the ‘peak’ season for cruise bookings.

Suggested read: How Late Can You Book A Last Minute Cruise?

18. Lifeguards Aren’t Always Provided

The image features a young female lifeguard, wearing a white T-shirt with a red "LIFEGUARD" logo, smiling at the camera in front of a swimming pool. In the background, a young girl in a pink floatie is playing with a colorful beach ball in the water. The setting suggests a relaxed, summery atmosphere at a public pool or recreational area.

A short but important point to make – many cruise lines don’t operate lifeguards for the pools onboard. If you’re using the pool – or importantly, allowing your children to use the pools – you need to be aware that there’s not necessarily a member of staff on lookout for anyone in trouble.

This is also something to be mindful of if you choose to swim early in the morning when nobody else is around.

19. You Can Be Left Behind

This image captures a poignant scene of a young girl crouched next to a large blue suitcase, which has a yellow and blue flag sticker on it. She looks somber and is clutching her knees, with a small plush toy and a backpack beside her. The setting appears to be an outdoor public space, perhaps a transportation hub, suggesting themes of travel or displacement.

It’s not a myth – cruise ships will leave people behind if they don’t make it to the ship on time. This applies to embarkation day, when you’re due to join the ship, and also when you’re in port if you don’t get back onboard before the scheduled departure time.

The ship won’t wait for you – well, in most cases. If you have a genuinely good reason, and you call ahead, and you aren’t going to be more than 30 minutes late then maybe – maybe – the ship will hold on. Don’t get complacent though, and don’t assume the ship works on your time.

20. Your Luggage Will Be Inspected

This image depicts a beagle on a leash, sniffing a stylish brown suitcase with leather accents in a bright, indoor setting. The owner, partially visible, stands beside the dog. In the background, another person and a yellow suitcase are seen, suggesting a busy travel or airport environment where the beagle might be working, possibly as a detection dog.

When you’re boarding a cruise ship, you’ll go through the same kind of security processes as you would when boarding a flight. Your carry-on luggage and your suitcases will all be checked by scanners and searched manually if they’re suspect.

A lot of people like to try and sneak alcohol onboard using rum runners or other ‘hidden’ tools, but cruise lines are smart to this and will check if they think you’re breaking the rules. Some will also trash the alcohol, rather than setting it aside for you to collect at the end of the cruise, so be aware you might lose out!

Suggested read: Can Cruise Ship Scanners Detect Alcohol?

21. Sniffer Dogs May Board Your Ship

drug dogs at cruise ports and on ships

Cruise lines are very strict on drug use, and will deny boarding to anyone who they catch trying to sneak drugs onto the ship. But if they suspect someone has actually managed to get past security – say, someone reports the smell of marijuana on a ship – then drug dogs may be brought onboard when you’re in port, to sniff out the offender.

Marijuana products are completely banned on cruise ships, even if you rely on them for medical reasons. If you have a fear of dogs then try not to worry as it’s very rare that they are needed on cruise ships, but as long as you’re not the drug smuggler you’ll be fine to just stay out of their way while they patrol the corridors anyway.

22. Some Ports Are Safer Than Others

A small port police station box ready to respond and serve people

Cruise lines have no interest in taking guests to ports that are completely unsafe. They know the risk of being sued, after all. If a place becomes too dangerous to visit, such as Haiti, then cruise lines will cancel all calls there.

Still, some ports have a higher crime rate than others – Roatan in Honduras, Quintana Roo in Mexico, Izmit in Turkey, Cartagena in Colombia, and Santos in Brazil are particularly noteworthy for having crime issues even in tourist areas.

If you’re adamant about heading ashore at these ports, stick to public areas and try to use cruise excursions rather than wandering around on your own.

Suggested read: The Worst Ports of Call For Cruise Ship Tourists

23. You Are Being Watched

A white cctv camera installed on a white wall on a cruise ship

Cruise ships are equipped with CCTV for guests’ safety, in most places on the ship. I’m sure it’s no surprise, but a lot of guests don’t consider that when they spend time on their balconies smoking, having intimate relations, or even fishing from their balcony!

While it isn’t a secret, it’s something to bear in mind. The crew are busy running the ship, but if you do something you’re not supposed to on your cruise then you’ll likely get found out.

24. Crew Drink For Less

A cruise ship bartender serving a drink to a cruise guest

Here’s a secret to think about when you’re sipping on your $8 beer, your $14 glass of wine or your $16 cocktail – the crew on the ship have their own bar on the lowest decks and they are paying a lot less than you are for their drinks.

They deserve it though, since cruise ship salaries are not always super-high (though, remember, they do get accommodation and food free). And they don’t get to take advantage of drinks packages either.

25. Cruise Ships Do Dump Some Waste

cruise wastes floating around the ocean, imposing harm to marine wildlife that's near it

While the cruise industry will always try to put everything in a positive spin, they can’t deny that they do dump some waste in the oceans. They do have treatment plants onboard and ships are getting better with their environmentally-friendly initiatives, but they can’t claim to be the greenest form of travel.

For that reason, try to make sure you’re also being eco-friendly when cruising if you can – don’t waste food, don’t flush anything down the toilet that you shouldn’t and so on.

26. You’ll Gain Weight

This image features a close-up of a man holding his stomach, which is slightly bulging under a teal t-shirt. His hands are gently wrapped around the sides of his belly, emphasizing the fullness. The setting appears to be casual with a blurred brick wall background, possibly focusing on themes of weight gain or body image.

Again, how much of this is a secret depends on how much you’ve cruised before, but most people on a cruise will put on a bit of weight. After all, the ship’s doing all the moving for you, and you’re being spoiled with alcoholic drinks and amazing food, including a lot of free desserts and ice creams.

There are jogging tracks and gyms onboard, and you can get the steps in when you are ashore on port days, but I’d recommend packing some looser-fitting clothing if you’re on a longer itinerary. Elasticated-waist pants and floaty dresses will be your best choices on the second week!

27. No Blood Is Stored Onboard

This image displays a hand in a blue glove pointing to a vial of blood in a laboratory setting, with a prominent red cross mark superimposed on the image, suggesting rejection or ineligibility. The shelves in the background hold multiple other samples, highlighting a medical or research environment where blood testing or collection is being conducted. The red cross might indicate a specific sample that is unsuitable for use or testing.

Ending with a bit of an icky one, but it is important – cruise ships don’t have the facilities onboard to store blood. In the case of an emergency injury, where someone needs a transfusion, an announcement will go out asking for anyone of that blood type to visit the medical centre on the ship to donate.

If you have a rare blood type, you should bear that in mind – and maybe avoid cruises with a lot of sea days where you might struggle to reach a hospital quickly.

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Final Word

There you have it – all of the secrets that the cruise lines aren’t telling you, either to try and get more money out of you or to cover up some of the concerns you might have.

In reality, none of the secrets are earth-shattering (or sea-shattering?). There’s no big hidden way to get cruises for a tenth of the price, and no horrors that could put you off cruising for life. But bear these tips in mind and you’ll have no problem picking the perfect itinerary, the right ship, and making the most of your cruise budget.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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1 thought on “27 Secrets Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know”

  1. Going on our first cruise in December and your advice and tips have been invaluable thanks

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